It's back! The best fantasy tennis game in the world is back and it's still free. Last year, tennis fans got their introduction to Racket Rally and now it's time for round two. In 2015, I took fourth place (33 whole points behind third place) in the the Racket Rally Universe out of more than 4000 competitors. Krunic ran away with the competition beating me by almost 45,000 points.
Garbiñe Muguruza was arguably the most impressive and valuable buy in 2015. Benoit Paire and Viktor Troicki were the most important pieces to my fourth place finish, but 2016 is a new season, which means the secret weapons from last year are no longer secret, so it's time to uncover the new ones.
Tip of the Week: Invest in youth
Last year I thought it would be a mistake to buy teenagers, since they are unproven and unpredictable. Also this is a one-season competition. You don't buy teenagers for the next ten years - only one. However, it turns out that the way the ranking system works keeps the teenagers ranked lower than they should be.
The ranking systems on both tours reward playing a full schedule of tour-level events, and the teenagers have not yet had a chance to do that, meaning they regularly defeat higher-ranked opponents. It's almost impossible for teenagers to drop in ranking, so it is almost always a good idea to buy teenagers.
However, just like with any other player, keep an eye on the teenagers' playing schedule, points to defend, and potential upcoming wildcards. Timing is still essential to maximize the value of your shares.
Top Prospects vs. Drop Prospects
1. Grigor Dimitrov, 24, BUL
Price per share: $1,315
Upcoming Events: Delray Beach, Acapulco
Dimitrov had a very disappointing 2015 season, which means his price is extremely low. Most fans expect a bounce back season and if the first two weeks are any indicator, 2016 will be much better than last year. Dimitrov has Federer lurking in his section of the Australian Open draw, while defending 180 points, and doesn't play an event for two weeks after the Australian Open, so it might be worthwhile to wait two more weeks. However, I already bought my five shares of Dimitrov before his points from Sydney get added to his price. Also, a Federer upset isn't impossible for BabyFed, who seems to get closer and closer in each meeting, while Federer showed vulnerability in Melbourne last year against Seppi.
2. Eugenie Bouchard, 21, CAN
Price per share: $1,123
Upcoming Events: None scheduled yet
The Canadian does not have a good draw in Melbourne by any stretch of the imagination, but she showed in Hobart with three wins over seeded players that she doesn't need an easy draw to earn ranking points. In general, this pick is for the long term. Bouchard could certainly make a return to the top 10 in 2016 and she comes at the price of a player barely in the top 50. That's a huge bargain. And you better buy now before her 180 points from Hobart are added to her price. The maximum you can buy is 35 and you wouldn't be crazy to do that in this case.
Price per share: $730
Upcoming Events: None scheduled yet
Konjuh was drawn into Serena Williams' section of the draw at the Australian Open, so don't expect a run to the second week, but Konjuh is a valuable buy that will fly under most tennis fan's radar. At only 18 years old, the Croat has a ton of upside. She also comes at a great price. She could certainly win MVP of the week at some point this year, which means you get court coins. Don't get caught without at least one share of Konjuh. It's only $780 and she is sure to be worth the investment if not an absolute steal when everything is said and done. The other reason to buy is that until Nottingham, she has very little to defend, so her price will only go up in the next few months if you don't buy now.
Price per share: $286
Upcoming Events: Maui, Dallas
Had Tiafoe qualified for the Australian Open, everyone would be buying 50 shares on the well-hyped American. However, he is still worth the investment, because now, he will go to Maui, where there are still plenty of points up for grabs. Tiafoe had an incredible 2015 season, breaking into the top 200 and nothing seems likely to slow him down at this point. He can play on every surface and gets tons of wildcards whenever necessary from the USTA. He is also defending points from futures events last year that he can now replace with Challenger Tour events. You really cannot afford to wait to put Tiafoe on your roster. Also, keep in mind that you cannot add him the weekend before Maui, because it is the middle weekend of the Australian Open.
Price per share: $688
Upcoming Events: Dallas, Memphis, Delray Beach, Acapulco
One day I was working in my office at Azusa Pacific University when suddenly and completely unexpectedly, Marchenko walked up to the desk where I work to great me. He was a little shocked I knew who he was, but he was told there was a tennis fan that was in the office so he went to say hello. After that, Marchenko went into a massive slump. Nice work Jared. However, he just had an incredible run to the Doha semifinals last week and has a decent draw in Melbourne to at least get through the first round. On top of that is an absolutely packed schedule for someone who is loaded with confidence and financially set for the year after taking more than $50k from Doha, which means he can relax his shoulders and start playing the kind of tennis he was once hyped to achieve.
1. Alex Zverev: Talk about a horrible draw for the Australian Open. He might make his first round interesting, but success is winning one set. Then he is playing just one event in February before taking a break to get ready for Indian Wells. Wait until then to buy Zverev. Anything before is a waste.
2. Jared Donaldson: The young American has dropped into somewhat of a slump and is the defending champion at next week's Maui Challenger. Wait at least until those points from Maui drop off his price per share to invest in Donaldson.
3. Borna Coric: He is already No. 40 in the world. Good enough to be in any event, but not good enough to be seeded at any of the big ones, which means he could get some awful draws. This will be a year of steady growth for Coric, but not massive growth. The only reason to buy Coric would be his packed schedule in February, but if he isn't seeded at Indian Wells, sell him right away.
4. All top 10 players: Both tours are dominated by one player who isn't allowing anyone else in the top 10 to win anything, but both those players come at a massive price. Nobody in the top 10 on either side has any room to grow. Don't do it!
5. Juan Martin del Potro: This is like the first two. Not that it would be dumb to buy the Argentine, but for now, just wait. We don't know when exactly he will make his comeback, so let's hold off until we have more information.
Other Players of Interest
Taylor Fritz: Off to a huge start in 2015. Buy him sooner rather than later.
Thanasi Kokkinakis: I opted not to buy Kokkinakis, but he has huge upside. Might be worth the risk.
Victoria Azarenka: She seems like a lock for the top 10 at some point this season. It's a safe investment.
Madison Keys: Everyone's favorite in 2015 comes at a big price this time around. At least wait until after the Australian Open
Ernests Gulbis: Comes at a low price, but always risky.
Jerzy Janowicz: Has a workable draw in Melbourne that could result in a massive run. He's a total risk, but it could pay off big time.
Nicolas Almagro: The Spaniard is a safe bet, but there are better ways to use your money.
Thomaz Bellucci: He has a good draw in Melbourne and a packed schedule in February. He's always capable of going on a run which makes him more risky to not have than to have in your portfolio.
Bethanie Mattek Sands: She was a steal last year. This year isn't so much of a secret.
Paolo Lorenzi: Nobody is busier in the next six weeks or so. Better than having someone who isn't even going to play.
Viktor Troicki: Good draw in Melbourne and will be the No. 1 seed in Sofia at a very low price. Also showed very positive signs in Sydney.
*All photos are from the racketrally.com site and are credited there.