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The "Rising Challengers"
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El Dude Online
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The "Rising Challengers"
As we all know, the elite inner circle of men's tennis has been pretty consistent--even boringly so--for the last few years, with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic trading places at the top, and Andy Murray hanging around on the periphery, with a more central role over the last year or so. The second tier, or "near-elite", has been more changeable, but still relatively consistent - with Tsonga, Ferrer, and Berdych there for a few years now, and del Potro again in the mix, possibly the most talented of the group. Both tiers have been pretty consistent and static, at least since the fading away of players like Andy Roddick, David Nalbandian, Robin Soderling, etc.

So far there are no true candidates, whether in the second tier or beyond, that threaten to break into the inner circle elite. That said, it seems that this year there are a group of players who are challenging for a higher spot - and even a place in the top 10 eventually. That is, while no one seems to be breaking into the elite, there are a few players who could end up challenging for a place in the top 10 and thus near-elite of the game. Let's take a look:

Richard Gasquet - I personally think that Gasquet has peaked, that he won't reach the top 8 barring an injury to one of the top 8. But he's become very consistent - he's made it to the 4R at each of the last five Slams, and six of the last eight. I don't see him ever making it past the SF, but he's a candidate to upset someone in the QF, or even a dark horse to win an ATP 1000 - perhaps the revolving door that is Paris.

Stanislas Wawrinka - He's actually #6 in the Race to London rankings and playing some of the best tennis of his life. Can he maintain? I don't know but I could see him hanging out with Gasquet and Tipsarevic for a bit.

Milos Raonic - Milos seems to be stagnating a bit, but is holding steady around #15. While he has established himself as a true top 20 player, he's yet to have that big breakthrough into the near-elite which probably has to come through beating a top 10 player in a Slam. He's made it to the 4R in each of the last two Slams, but has yet to make it beyond the QF of an ATP 1000. I think he's a good bet to make it at least to a QF in one of the next three Slams, maybe as far as a SF. I don't think he quite has what it takes to beat Djokovic or Nadal in a Final, though.

Jerzy Janowicz - This kid is great. I personally like his game better than Raonic's - he's much quicker, with more weapons. In a way if we call Dimitrov Baby Federer than Jerzy could be Baby Djokovic. think he's a top 10 player, maybe even top 5 someday, once the Big Four start fading. I wouldn't be surprised to see him beat a top 10 player or two at a Slam this year and sneak into a QF or SF. To go beyond that he'd have to grow up a bit, though.

Grigor Dimitrov - We've seen a significant step up for Grigor this year. Like Raonic and Janowicz, I think he's a top 10 player in the making and should be in the mix for Slams once the Big Four start to fade in a couple years and before the next great player(s) emerges. More and more we're going to see these three challenge, and eventually beat, the near-elite players. I'm not sure if Grigor is ready to beat a Ferrer or Tsonga at a Slam, but I could see him beating a Gaquet, Tipsarevic, or Berdych.

Jeremy Chardy, Benoit Paire, Fabio Fognini, Sam Querrey, Ernests Gulbis - I put these five in a similar category in that I think they're all borderline top 20 talents who we're going to be seeing more of in the next few years. None will make the top 10, in my opinion, but they'll be dipping in and out of the top 20 at points.

Ernests Gulbis, you ask? I think he's capable of hanging around the top 20-30 for a few years. He might not have the consistency to break into the top 10, but he seems about as talented as players like Gasquet and Cilic, so if they can do what they've been doing, why not Gulbis?

Honorable Mention: Kei Nishikori. I have a hard time seeing him get any better than he is now - a true top 20 player.
16-May-2013 02:23 PM
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Front242 Offline
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RE: The "Rising Challengers"
Don't forget Tommy Haas, who's kicking aas with a touch of claas and should be actually in the top 10 soon rather than outside.
16-May-2013 03:53 PM
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El Dude Online
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RE: The "Rising Challengers"
How did I forget Tommy? Thanks, Front242. He's one of my favorites these days!
16-May-2013 06:06 PM
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Front242 Offline
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RE: The "Rising Challengers"
(16-May-2013 06:06 PM)El Dude Wrote:  How did I forget Tommy? Thanks, Front242. He's one of my favorites these days!

No prob, one of my favourites too. Easy to forget about him alright as the other challengers are all so much younger. But it's amazing to see him playing as well as he is at his age. Hope he has a few more seasons (like this) left in him.
17-May-2013 03:47 AM
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Didi Offline
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RE: The "Rising Challengers"
Nice thread EL Dude. I would like to say one thing that I only recently really started to grasp. With all due respect to the likes of Janowicz, Dimitrov, Raonic, Tomic, Gulbis etc. - oh boy how much do I miss the young versions of Roddick, Safin, Hewitt, Nalbandian, Ferrero, Blake, Haas, Davydenko, Gonzalez etc. Young and exciting rising stars with charisma and intriguing personalities who made for terrific matchups, uncertainty and flair. The current lack of real elite (or even 2nd, hell even 3rd tier elite) talent just highlights even more what we had in the aforementioned players. We don't appreciate what we have until it's gone, I guess that's the human nature.
(This post was last modified: 17-May-2013 05:56 AM by Didi.)
17-May-2013 05:51 AM
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herios Offline
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RE: The "Rising Challengers"
(17-May-2013 03:47 AM)Front242 Wrote:  
(16-May-2013 06:06 PM)El Dude Wrote:  How did I forget Tommy? Thanks, Front242. He's one of my favorites these days!

No prob, one of my favourites too. Easy to forget about him alright as the other challengers are all so much younger. But it's amazing to see him playing as well as he is at his age. Hope he has a few more seasons (like this) left in him.

Tommy, similar to Roger declared that he'll play on, because he wants his daughter to remember him seeing how he played. So I think he will play a few more years, question is how well he will play.
17-May-2013 05:54 AM
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El Dude Online
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RE: The "Rising Challengers"
Didi, I think the early 00s was a Golden Age for young talent - after the quieter years of the late 90s. Talent comes in cycles or waves; there is a real lack of young (age 24 or so and under) talent in the game right now, but at some point we'll see a new wave. The question is whether that wave is players currently age 18-20 or whether they're off the radar.

But for now, we've got three young players in particular to watch - Raonic, Janowicz, and Dimitrov - and none are super young anymore - with Dimitrov's birthday all three are now 22. To put that in context late-blooming Roger Federer won his first Slam just before turning 22 and finished that year #2 in the world. But all three are showing legitimate top 20 talent and maybe higher. I expect that even if they will never reach the heights of the current Big Four they'll all be Slam contenders at some point as the Big Four start their decline. As I said elsewhere, I can't imagine a 22 year old Grigor Dimitrov defeating a 26 year old Novak Djokovic, but what about 24 and 28?

Three other young players I have my eye on are Jiri Vesely, Nick Kyrgios, and Dominic Thiem I don't know much about their games, but they're the top three ranked teenagers. Vesely and Thiem are 19 and Kyrgios is 18. Unfortunately none are in the top 100 - Vesely is currently #126 and the other two just barely in the top 300. But they're keeping an eye on if only peripherally.
17-May-2013 07:45 AM
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isabelle Offline
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RE: The "Rising Challengers"
What about Paire ?
17-May-2013 07:54 AM
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the AntiPusher Offline
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RE: The "Rising Challengers"
Monfils will return. I know his decision making is suspect and his fitness has to improve vastly. Maybe now that he is in his mid 20's he will finally mature and compete to be back in the top 10.
17-May-2013 07:56 AM
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El Dude Online
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RE: The "Rising Challengers"
isabelle, I included Paire in the list with Chardy et al.

AntiPusher, I hope so but I'll believe it when I see it.
17-May-2013 01:00 PM
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herios Offline
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RE: The "Rising Challengers"
(17-May-2013 07:56 AM)the AntiPusher Wrote:  Monfils will return. I know his decision making is suspect and his fitness has to improve vastly. Maybe now that he is in his mid 20's he will finally mature and compete to be back in the top 10.

Top 10? You must be kidding. He does not have the physical shape to sustain that demand, he has to play well all year long to do that. He is way too injury prone.
Top 20-30 is a possibilty, if he stays healthy a few good months and plays himself back in form.
18-May-2013 06:34 AM
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Broken_Shoelace Offline
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RE: The "Rising Challengers"
(18-May-2013 06:34 AM)herios Wrote:  
(17-May-2013 07:56 AM)the AntiPusher Wrote:  Monfils will return. I know his decision making is suspect and his fitness has to improve vastly. Maybe now that he is in his mid 20's he will finally mature and compete to be back in the top 10.

Top 10? You must be kidding. He does not have the physical shape to sustain that demand, he has to play well all year long to do that. He is way too injury prone.
Top 20-30 is a possibilty, if he stays healthy a few good months and plays himself back in form.

Yeah I agree. Never mind the issues with his game, head, etc... The guy is just way to injury prone. I guess if he returns and gets a few good results in a row, he might make it since he has no points to defend (and even that is unlikely), but he won't be staying there for long.
18-May-2013 06:45 AM
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