Young­sters to watch

Sport360 - - Australian Open -

Ahost of 20-year-olds like Je­lena Ostapenko, Alexan­der Zverev and Belinda Ben­cic have al­ready made waves on tour: Ostapenko won the French Open last year, Zverev ended 2017 ranked No4 and Ben­cic was world No7 two years ago be­fore in­juries slowed her down but the Swiss is cur­rently on a 15-match win­ning streak. Here, Reem Abulleil looks at some other 21-and-un­der play­ers to watch at the Aus­tralian Open…

An­drey Rublev

The young Rus­sian ended 2017 by mak­ing the fi­nal of the Next Gen ATP Fi­nals, and started 2018 by reach­ing the fi­nal in Doha, where he lost to Gael Mon­fils. Rublev, ranked a ca­reer­high No32 in the world, is al­ready a Grand Slam quar­ter-fi­nal­ist (US Open 2017). He hits a big ball and has a quirky per­son­al­ity. The 20-year-old was handed a tough opener in Mel­bourne though. He faces ex-world No3 David Fer­rer in the first round and could take on third-seeded Grigor Dim­itrov in the last-32. How­ever, the good news for Rublev is that he ac­tu­ally de­feated Dim­itrov, in straight sets, at the US Open last year en route to the quar­ter-fi­nals. If the Rus­sian gets past Fer­rer, he could get the con­fi­dence he needs to cause some se­ri­ous dam­age Down Un­der.

Naomi Osaka

The 20-year-old Ja­panese has made the third round in five of the seven Grand Slam main draws she’s par­tic­i­pated in. A power-hit­ter with im­pres­sive com­po­sure on the court, Osaka‘s high­lights from last sea­son in­clude wins over An­gelique Ker­ber and Venus Wil­liams. Osaka peaked at 40 in the world in 2016 and is cur­rently at No70. Come for the fiery ground­strokes, stay for the hi­lar­i­ous press con­fer­ences. Osaka was drawn in Si­mona Halep’s quar­ter of the Aus­tralian Open draw.

Alex de Min­aur

To put it sim­ply, Alex is pure fun. The 18-year-old, ranked 167 in the world, is al­ready prov­ing to be a smash hit this Aus­tralian sum­mer, mak­ing the semis in Bris­bane last week – tak­ing out Mi­los Raonic along the way – and back­ing that up by reach­ing the fi­nal in Syd­ney, los­ing to Daniil Medvedev in three hard-fought sets. He drew To­mas Berdych in the first round of the Aus­tralian Open and the way things are go­ing so far this month, it’s ac­tu­ally look­ing like a tough draw for the vet­eran Czech rather than De Min­aur.

Chung Hyeon

The Next Gen ATP Fi­nals cham­pion hit a ca­reer-high No44 in the rank­ings last year and started 2018 with an im­pres­sive win over world No25 Gilles Muller in Bris­bane. The South Korean, 19, up­set John Is­ner in Auck­land this week en route to the quar­ter­fi­nals. He has a dif­fi­cult Aus­tralian Open draw, fac­ing last year’s quar­ter-fi­nal­ist Mis­cha Zverev in the first round, be­fore pos­si­ble show­downs with Thanasi Kokki­nakis or Alexan­der Zverev. It’s go­ing to be in­ter­set­ing view­ing Down Un­der.

Ash­leigh Barty

One of the most en­joy­able play­ers to watch on the WTA tour, we’re all thank­ful Barty, 21, did not stay too long away from ten­nis, hav­ing spent a con­sid­er­able time pur­su­ing a cricket ca­reer. Seeded 18 in Mel­bourne, Barty heads to the Aus­tralian Open with lots of con­fi­dence, courtesy of her fi­nal showing in Syd­ney this week where she lost to An­gelique Ker­ber in the fi­nal. How­ever, she’s in a dif­fi­cult sec­tion of the draw along­side top-seeded Si­mona Halep, Pe­tra Kvi­tova and Osaka.

De­nis Shapo­valov

The Cana­dian, 18, is prob­a­bly the most ex­cit­ing of the young crew. From his at­tack­ing back­hand to his fear­less­ness on the court, the left-han­der has al­ready claimed big scalps in his young ca­reer, de­feat­ing both Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal en route to the semis at the Masters 1000 in Canada in 2017, be­fore reach­ing the fourth round at the US Open, as a qual­i­fier. He takes on Ste­fanos Tsit­si­pas in the first round and is in a loaded sec­tion of the draw with Nick Kyrgios, Jo-Wil­fried Tsonga, Grigor Dim­itrov and Rublev.

Corentin Moutet

Per­haps lesstouted than the play­ers listed above, this 18-yearold wild­card could be France’s next big hope. Ranked 155 in the world, Moutet went berserk on the Chal­lenger and Fu­tures cir­cuit to­wards the end of last year, win­ning an in­cred­i­ble 28 of 31 matches in the span of two months which in­cluded claim­ing a first Chal­lenger ti­tle in Brest, France. He will make his Grand Slam main draw de­but against Ital­ian An­dreas Seppi in the first round in Mel­bourne. We will surely be watch­ing.

Mar­keta Von­drousova

The latest tal­ented lefty to come out of the Czech Repub­lic, the 18-year-old Von­drousova is the youngest player in the WTA top-100. She won 17 tour matches in a row last year, claim­ing a mai­den WTA ti­tle, as a qual­i­fier, in Biel, be­fore win­ning a $100k in Tr­nava. She then went on to reach the French Open sec­ond round as a qual­i­fier. The world No66 faces Japan’s Ku­rumi Nara in the Aus­tralian Open first round be­fore a pos­si­ble clash with eight-seeded Caro­line Gar­cia. Let’s see how far she goes this time.

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