Just over half a year ago, I posted a ranking of the 20 best teenagers on the ATP at the time. Now after two grand slams, I am reevaluating the list with new players breaking through and other teenagers crossing the 20-year mark. This is not a ranking of their current form (there is already a computer ranking for that), but rather a ranking of how good of a career each player could have.
In less than a year, the landscape of teenage tennis has changed dramatically. In April 2014, the highest-ranked teenager was Nick Kyrgios at No. 221 in the world. This week, there are eight teenagers ranked inside the top 200 and Kyrgios is still leading the way at No. 35 in the world. The current teenagers are bursting onto the scene in a way that players weren't doing a couple years ago with a whole group of teenagers coming through together.
This is my list of the 20 most promising talents in tennis that are under 20 years old.
2. Borna Coric (CRO) 18-years old, No. 91 -- Being an 18-year old in the top 100 alone lands Coric one of the top spots. Expectations sky-rocketed to unrealistic levels after his win over Rafael Nadal last year, but he certainly does have the talent. He has made one of the quickest transitions from the junior circuit to the world tour level of any player from his generation. He is 1-4 so far in 2015, but played very well in a four-set loss to Jeremy Chardy in Melbourne. After his Zagreb loss, he might need to go back to the Challenger Tour a bit to develop his game and get more match-play and confidence. He is only 18, so there is no hurry here. His potential is very obvious to those who watch him play. He is going to be a key figure on tour for the next 10 to 15 years.
3. Roman Safiullin (RUS) 17-years old, No. 333 -- When I made my first list, Safiullin had only just started his career, and he still hasn't been ranked for a full year yet, but nobody is more on fire at any level of tennis than this 17-year old. After reaching the Russian F5 final, he went on a 26-match winning streak that including five futures titles. Then right after having that streak snapped, he won the junior Australian Open title. He didn't stop after that. He went straight to Burnie where he got through qualifying and advanced to the second round after a three-set win over Jordan Thompson - his first career Challenger Tour victory. In his first year as a professional, he has a 42-4 record in future events with six titles in seven finals, winning over half of the events he enters. He has dominated the futures tour in a way that nobody has dominated either the Challenger or ATP World Tours in the last year.
4. Andrey Rublev (RUS) 17-years old, No. 437 -- Rublev isn't moving on my list. He was at No. 4 six months ago and he has validated that spot on the list. The No. 1 junior in the world may have been surpassed by his countryman, but he too is on a tear right now. After reaching a futures final in Estonia in October, Rublev went on a nine-match winning streak on the senior level. Rublev won the title in at the Dominican Republic F4, defeating red-hot Mitch Krueger in the final, 6-2, 6-4. Then to start 2015, he successfully qualified in the Dallas Challenger, a $100,000 event. He backed that up by taking out No. 3 seed Blaz Rola in three sets for his first career Challenger Tour victory. With a focus on the senior level now, Rublev should see his ranking rise significantly this year.
5. Jared Donaldson (USA) 18-years old, No. 178 -- Just before I had made my first list, Donaldson had won his first Challenger match. Now, he has just won his first Challenger title. He has been on the senior level full-time longer than most of the other 18-year olds on this list and that's reflected in his ranking. He is going to be top 100 a lot sooner than his peers, but the question will be if he can continue to develop and improve once he does start playing on the World Tour level. Another question will be his ability to adapt away from the American hard courts. He has not yet played a challenger match on clay, but did do well in his three clay tournaments at the futures level, which were all on clay. In his run to the one clay title, he didn't drop a single set and didn't lose more than four games in any set. Then in the final, he thrashed Nikola Milojevic, who at the time was another high-profile teenager.
6. Alexander Zverev (GER) 17-years old, No. 135 -- The German dropped a few spots in my rankings since last time, but he is still one of the teens that justifies the hype surrounding him. His results dropped off significantly for a few months after reaching the Hamburg semifinals, which sky-rocketed his ranking. He started playing world tour events, which may have been premature. He went 3-9 on tour after reaching the semifinals in Hamburg, which includes his qualifying results, and his only win of those three that was against a player inside the top 200 was by retirement. Still, the tools that were on display in Hamburg were no fluke. He is 6-foot-6 and moves comfortably on clay. His serve will have to become more of a weapon, but he already has very good groundstrokes. At this point, he is much further along than any other 17-year old.
7. Hyeon Chung (KOR) 18-years old, No. 151 -- Chung is currently the only Korean inside the top 400 of the world rankings, making him one of three players on this list to be their country's No. 1. This may not be the era for court specialists any more, but there are ways to find success on tour without a great clay court record. Chung has only played one clay match on the senior level, which he lost in three sets to Daniel Cox. Aside from absolute beat downs against Omar Jasika and Nikola Milojevic along with an impressive three-set win over clay specialist Christian Garin, Chung didn't have much success on clay in Juniors. His double-bagel victory over Jasika did eventually lead to a Grade 1 title however. On hard courts, the Korean has been dominant, winning four futures titles and one challenger title. Most recently, he took 20-year old British hope Kyle Edmund to the woodshed for a 6-3, 6-2 victory in the Burnie Challenger. In main draw matches at all levels of the senior tour, he is 70-32 on hard courts, and his results are becoming more consistent on the Challenger Tour. He is currently into the final of the Burnie Challenger.
8. Yoshihito Nishioka (JAP) 19-years old, No. 155 -- Nishioka is another player that represents the rise of tennis in east Asia, which has been a result of several factors, and is undoubtedly good for the sport as a whole. Nishioka is currently the No. 4 Japanese right now, but by the end of the year he could be the No. 2 behind only Kei Nishikori. Just last June he was playing in a futures event in Japan, and after winning the title he hasn't looked back as he made the switch to the Challenger Tour. He reached the semifinals in Hong Kong last week, where he lost to Edmund. However, his biggest result of his career so far came last November. After qualifying for the US Open in his first appearance at a major on the senior level, he was forced to retire with an injury in the first round. He then headed straight to Shanghai for a Challenger event during the second week of the US Open. He went on to win that tournament Somdev Devvarman and James Duckworth along the way. The 5-foot-7 south paw has great movement around the court along with incredible racket control. He also has a follow-through on his forehand similar to that of Rafael Nadal, which prevents him from being aggressive, but makes his forehand very reliable. As his game develops, he will probably have to go away from that a bit on the faster courts.
9. Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS) 18-years old, No. 143 -- For most players, I explain why I'm excited enough about their game to put them where I do on the list. However, for Kokkinakis, he is so talented I actually have to explain why he isn't higher on the list. He is extremely talented and has great results on both the junior and senior levels, which is why he is one of the most-hyped players on this list. He even beat the No. 13 player in the world in five sets at a grand slam. No other 18-year old has nearly as impressive of a win. However, his abysmal record on clay courts without the hard court dominance that Chung has had are why he isn't higher on the list. He has just one futures title on hard courts and has never reached a Challenger Tour final. On clay courts he went 2-10 at the futures level. He has lost both of his indoor matches as well. He did play well at the Heilbronn II Challenger, which is on clay and almost qualified for Roland Garros, falling 5-7 in the third set of the final round. However, almost all of his notable results have been on outdoor hard courts in North America and Australia. Still, there is no doubt he belongs in the top 10 and there are few who would also put him as low as No. 9.
10. Elias Ymer (SWE) 18-years old, No. 188 -- Playing in his first career grand slam on the senior level this year, the Swede qualified after defeating Chung in straight sets in the last round. He went on to take Go Soeda to five sets, before dropping the final set 3-6. Ymer saw his ranking climb almost 600 spots last year as he played exclusively senior level events for the first time. His three-set win over Igor Sijsling to start 2015 is the closest thing he has to a signature win. However, he does have an impressive overall record, particularly on clay where he has wrapped up five futures titles in just 11 events and has also won four of his seven challenger events. Now that he has cracked the top 200, he is going to have to defend his futures level results with wins on the Challenger Tour. He may drop back out of the top 200, but his career has a good trajectory at this point.
11. Christian Garin (CHI) 18-years old, No. 249 -- Garin has dropped in my list since last time, because he has done little to show that he is any more than another South American clay specialist. Despite having first cracked the top 300 back in September, he is still dabbling in the futures level. His one appearance in 2015 was at a Challenger qualifying event, which hopefully means he will try to test himself more at that level this year. He has the game to do well at that level at least on clay. If he ever develops his hard-court game he could be in the top 50 in the world someday. Otherwise, he could get stuck just inside the top 100 playing just Roland Garros, clay 250 events, and Challenger events for the rest of his career, which wouldn't be a bad career. Still, the potential is there if he starts spending more time on hard courts.
12. Laslo Djere (SRB) 19-years old, No. 288 -- At 19-years and 8-months, Djere is one of the oldest players on this list. He had an extremely successful junior career, but hasn't developed much on the senior level. He is still stuck playing future events, winning just three career Challenger matches in two tournaments. All three of those wins came in Casablanca earlier this year, which may have saved him from falling off this list completely. He did that after coming up through the qualifying event. In the first round of the main draw, he knocked out world No. 108 Daniel Gimeno-Traver in three sets on clay, which is by far his most note-worthy win on the senior level. He prefers clay courts, but he does have a 21-9 record with one title on hard courts at the futures level. Before eventually losing to Javier Marti in the semifinals of Casablanca, Djere was on a 10-match winning streak, dating back to that one hard court title that closed out his 2014. With a couple consecutive impressive results, it will be interesting to see how the Serb backs those up.
13. Francis Tiafoe (USA) 17-years old, No. 798 -- If you have seen Tiafoe on television, YouTube, or in person, you know he has a level of athleticism that a good chunk of players in the top 100 don't have. If you have seen Tiafoe on paper, you wonder what the hype is all about. He really doesn't have a large body of work to analyze, and he ended 2014 on a three-match losing streak. However, he does have wins over Rublev and the majority of the other top American teenagers. His titles at the Pan American ITF and Orange Bowl are two of his most impressive results and he was only 15-years old at the time. He is starting to garner attention again like he did in 2013 with consecutive semifinal appearances at the futures level, including his first final at USA F5. Both of his losses in 2015 came to 32-year old Benjamin Balleret, who Tiafoe beat in qualifying for Atlanta last year. Tiafoe has issues with his serve, but his speed and power off the forehand are two things that will never go into slumps.
14. Taylor Fritz (USA) 17-years old, No. 919 -- The bottom of this list gets a little bit American heavy, but it is justified. The only question is which of this batch of teenage Americans do I choose. Fritz is still playing junior events, where he dominated last fall, winning Grade A events in Japan and Mexico. En route to those titles, he claimed wins over Seong Chan Hong, Yunseong Chung, and Andrey Rublev, who are all well established in the top 10 of the junior rankings. He has also defeated Juame Munar and Orlando Luz in junior events. In his one senior level event of 2015, he reached the semifinals with wins over other top American prospects Dennis Novikov, Mackenzie McDonald, and Stefan Kozlov. In the semifinal, he was just a point away from defeating Jason Jung for what would have been his first career final on the senior level.
15. Stefan Kozlov (USA) 17-years old, No. 412 -- Kozlov is another player where it is hard to justify having him so low on the list. Most people would put him much higher. He has incredible hands, a very reliable backhand, and composure that is rare for someone who just turned 17-years old. Outside of the top nine on this list, nobody has a more impressive single result than Kozlov, who advanced to the final of the Sacramento Challenger with four very impressive wins over established names on the Challenger Tour like Ryan Harrison, John Patrick Smith, Rhyne Williams, and Tim Smyczek before eventually falling to Sam Querrey. Any other 16-year old would be out of place facing that lineup of talent, but Kozlov more than held his own. He is now full-time on the senior level and is already testing the waters of the Challenger Tour more frequently. He most recently reached the quarterfinals in Maui after reaching the quarterfinals at his two previous tournaments in the futures level.
16. Seong Chan Hong (KOR) 17-years old, No Ranking -- Last time, one of the requirements was that the player must have a current ATP ranking, but not this time. Hong has only played in one main draw in futures in almost two years, but in the meantime, he has torn it up in Juniors. He is ranked No. 3 in the world in the Junior rankings after reaching the Australian Open final, defeating Fritz along the way. He started 2015 on an 11-match winning streak that includes a title at Traralgon, which is a Grade 1 tournament. He also has wins over Nathan Ponwith, Mikael Ymer, Tommy Paul, and Naoki Nakagawa all since the last June. He is one of four Koreans on this list, so it is exciting times ahead for that country.
17. Duck Hee Lee (KOR) 16-years old, No. 502 -- What a mistake it was to leave Lee off the list last time. At just 16-years old he is already knocking on the door of the top 500, while maintaining a junior ranking in the top 10. He has been ranked as high as No. 3 in the Junior Rankings, and has claimed wins over Seon Chan Hong and Juame Munar, but has otherwise struggled against the other top juniors. On the futures tour, he has had more success, playing only hard court events and collecting a 44-23 record with two titles in four finals. He did beat Johan Sebastian Tatlot en route to the more recent of his two titles.
18. Ernesto Escobedo (USA) 18-years old, 535 -- There isn't much to go off of here considering that just a couple months ago Escobedo's ATP Ranking was better than his career-high in Juniors and he has only played 21 senior level events. Escobedo, who practices at Azusa Pacific University in southern California doesn't travel much to play tennis with the vast majority of his matches being played in driving distance of his home. The best look the tennis world got of Escobedo came in US Open qualifying, where he defeated World No. 154 James Duckworth in straight sets to reach the final round of qualifying, where he lost with a shoulder injury that derailed the rest of his 2014. He is making this list primarily based on the possibility that he ends up being one of the most successful out of all of the players on this list. He has huge weapons that can hit anyone off the court. If he can stay healthy and get more match-play, he could make a huge jump in the rankings this year and really get more attention from other sources.
19. Yun Seong Chung (KOR) 16-years old, 1005 -- He isn't as young of a 16-year old as Lee and is ranked significantly lower, but he does have more eye-catching results than his countryman. He only played four events last year and they were all on the futures level other than one Challenger qualifying event. He would have had the chance to face John Millman, which would have been a good measuring-stick match, but the Australian withdrew before the match. At the Junior US Open, he defeated Michael Mmoh, who just missed out on this list. He also has defeated his countryman Lee to win a title in New Dehli, and also reached the final in Osaka, Japan where he lost a tightly-contested final to Fritz.
20. Noah Rubin (USA) 18-years old, No. 637 -- We will have to wait a couple years to really find out how good Rubin is, because he decided the spend the next year playing college tennis at Wake Forest, but there is already a small sample size to go off of, which includes his title at the Junior Wimbledon as a qualifier. On his way to the title, he went through the gauntlet of American junior tennis, beating Tiafoe, Fritz, and Kozlov all along the way. That is one of only two Junior tournaments he played in the last year, and his senior results have not been nearly as impressive. College will likely be good for him in the long run, but for now Rubin's professional career is on hold.