Below are ten players age 24 or younger that could be risers in the rankings and bear watching. They are ordered by current official ATP ranking (as of March 4th), and thus before Indian Wells. I’m also including their birth month and year in parentheses.
#16 – Kei Nishikori (12/89) – Kei made a big leap in 2011, going from #98 to #25, but his rise was slower in 2012, finishing the year just six ranks higher at #19. But remember that he missed the French Open, as well as Madrid and Rome, so any points in those three tournaments should help his ranking. Like Milos Raonic, Kei is a good candidate to challenge Janko Tipsarevic and Richard Gasquet for a spot in the top 10 this year and should at least become a player regularly ranking the #10-15 range.
#17 – Milos Raonic (12/90) – Milos cruised up the rankings last year, from #31 to #13. He’s been holding steady in the mid-teens so far this season and hasn’t quite had that breakthrough performance, making it the 4R at the last two Slams and never going past the QF at an ATP 1000. Milos has played seven finals, winning all four ATP 250s and losing all three ATP 500s. Raonic is as good a candidate as any to play spoiler at a Slam or even contend for an ATP 1000, but he doesn’t seem to be able to get over the hump…yet. When he does he could be a similar player to Juan Martin Del Potro at his best.
#22 – Alexandr Dolgopolov (11/88) – Talk about an enigma. Alexandr looked like he was going to rise quickly when he made it to the QF of the 2011 Australian Open, but has been erratic since. Sometimes he looks like a top 10 player, sometimes he goes out in the first round of a tournament. He finished 2011 at #15 and 2012 at #18; he’s now #22, so the trajectory is not a good one. He needs to straighten things out – he’s going to turn 25 at the end of the year, so he should be playing at his best by now. That said, I see him more in the Gasquet/Cilic mold – very talented, but probably not a regular in the top 10.
#24 – Jerzy Janowicz (11/90) – Jerzy bust on the scene last year by making it to the final of the Paris Masters, plowing through Andy Murray and a few other top 20 players before David Ferrer taught the youngster a lesson. He followed up with a solid Australian Open, losing in the 3R to Nicolas Almagro. Jerzy is somewhat similar to Milos Raonic: A big man with a big serve, although his serve isn’t as good as Milos’s. That said, his overall game might be as good or better. Like Raonic, he could be a spoiler this year. I think he’ll have his ups and down but will finish the year in the top 20, maybe higher, and have a chance for big things in 2014.
#29 – Martin Klizan (7/89) – Martin Klizan, you ask? Well, he had a strong performance at the US Open last year – making it to the 4R – and then following it up with an ATP 250 win in St Petersburg, defeating Fabio Fognini. Klizan won’t be an elite player but he could be a perennial top 20 player.
#31 – Grigor Dimitrov (5/91) – Ah, Grigor, what a tease. He still hasn’t gone past the 2R at a Slam, but has risen about 30 spots in each of the last two years, finishing 106, 76, and 48 in 2010-12, and already has risen half that in this early season. Baby Fed is talented, although probably not talented enough to live up to his nickname. But I can’t help but like him – he DOES have some of Roger’s smoothness, and he’ll occasionally offer a backhand and/or dropshot reminiscent of the Great One. But let’s look at Dimitrov for what he is: A rising talent, but probably not an all-time great. At almost 22, it may be a bit too late for that. But I do have high hopes for Grigor. I think he could be one of a few players–along with Raonic, Janowicz, and Tomic, maybe one or two others–that will start taking tournaments from the Big Four in the next two or three years as they begin to age. In other words, a 21-year old Dimitrov might not be a challenge for a 25-year old Djokovic, but a 24-year old Dimitrov might challenge a 28-year old Djokovic.
Expect Grigor to firmly place himself in the top 20 by the end of this year, and perhaps vie for the top 10 next year. He may not be a future #1, but in another two or three years he could be one of the 5-10 best players in the game.
#40 – Benoit Paire (5/89) – For some reason I pair Paire (pun intended) with Klizan. Both will turn 24 in a few months, both seem to have similar upside – top 15-20 at best. Paire hasn’t won a tournament yet, although has made it to two ATP 250 finals, most recently losing to Richard Gasquet in Montpellier. Paire has yet to make it past the 3R at a Grand Slam and most recently went out in the 1R in Australia, so he needs to up his game a bit at the Slams.
#45 – Bernard Tomic (10/92) – The second great tease of this list. Bernard is one of the few players on this list that actually took a slight step back in the rankings, finishing 2011 at #42 and 2012 at #52. But that’s largely due to the fact that he made it to the QF of 2011 Wimbledon, although had an overall slightly better year in 2012 – and certainly played a fuller schedule. i think Tomic is ready to rise up the rankings and, like Dimitrov, could end the year in the top 20. He could suprise, though, and make it to another Slam QF this year.
#54 – David Goffin (12/90) – I can’t help but like David Goffin. He started on the tour late, but made his mark last year by making it to the 4R at the French Open and the 3R at Wimbledon. But he only played in three ATP 1000 tournaments, and only made it past the qualifications once, so this year could see a lot of points added. I don’t see an elite player but, like Klizan and Paire, he could find himself a regular place in the top 20.
#83 – Evgeny Donskoy (5/90) – He’ll be 23 soon, but he bears watching. Why? Well, in his first Slam that he made it past the Qualifications, he made it to the 3R, defeating Adrian Ungur and then Mikhail Youzhny before losing to Kei Nishikori. Yesterday he defeated Tatsumo Ito and will face Andy Murray in the 2R at Indian Wells, so his journey likely ends there. But again, he bears watching. He could rise quickly and enter the top 40-50 in short time.
#330 – Nick Kyrgios (4/95) – Nick Kyrgios? Well, he’s 17 years old and is the highest ranked teenager in the ATP Race Ranking right now, which isn’t saying much but says something. He won the boys event at the AO and is now on the men’s tour. I know nothing about his skills but it is hard not to take notice of a 17-year old on the tour…let’s hope he does well!
Honorable Mentions – Ryan Harrison, Jack Sock, Rhyne Williams, Matthew Barton.