Youngsters to watch
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.