Richard Berankis

Australian Open 2011: A Promising Bunch

If you’re like me, which you’re probably not, you’ve been watching at least 5 or 6 hours of tennis a day this week and religiously checking scores when you can’t be near a TV. However, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably watched at least some of the Australian Open this week. While there haven’t been any particularly surprising upsets, there have been a lot of stunning performances by young players both known and unknown. Commentators have been complaining for years that there are no promising young players, but the numbers tell a different story. They may not all be winning majors yet, but give them time. Since all tennis players are relatively young, I’m going to limit my observations to players born after January 1, 1990.

Caroline Wozniacki (Born 11 July 1990)

Probably the brightest star on the list, Caroline Wozniacki usurped Serena Williams’ spot as No. 1 in the world at the end of last year. The fresh faced 20 year old has handled the pressures and criticism of being No. 1 with a lot of grace. Some fans and media have been extremely critical of Caroline as she has yet to win a Grand Slam and because they believe she would never have become No. 1 if Serena Williams remained in good health. While that is probably true, Wozniacki didn’t drop the bottle that cut Serena’s foot. Tennis players get hurt, it’s part of the game and sometimes it gives new players a chance to shine. In 2009, Caroline made the final of the US Open and last year she lost to Vera Zvonareva in the semifinals. Her resume’s not so bad when you consider that she’s only played 15 Grand Slams, not to mention that she won 6 titles last year (the same amount of tournaments Serena played.) At 20, I don’t think Caroline is a flash in the pan player and I do believe that she will win a Grand Slam in the future, possibly even in the next week.

Anastasija Sevastova (Born 13 April 1990)

Anastasija Sevastova is a young player from Latvia, which not traditionally a country to provide a lot of top players, well pretty much just Ernests Gulbis. She provided us with one of the early upsets at this year’s Australian Open. Ranked 45th in the world, she took out the 21st seed, Yanina Wickmayer, who was in white hot form, coming in runner up in the Australian Open warm up tournament in Aukland and beat up and comer Jarka Groth in the first round. Sevastova actually won her first WTA title last year in Estoril, beating Arantxa Parra Santonja. She will be playing Caroline Wozniacki in the 4th round for a chance at her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Either way, there will be a 20 year old in the quarters.

Simona Halep (Born 27 September 1991)

We don’t see as many successful teenagers in tennis as we used to. I attribute this to a physically stronger women’s field and actually think it makes women’s tennis more interesting. This makes it all the more impressive when a teenager actually does manage to hang in there with veteran players. Simona won the junior French Open in 2008 and has since competed in only 3 adult Grand Slam events, already making the 3rd round of this year’s Australian Open. She’ll face Agnieszka Radwanska in the 3rd round.

Ayumi Morita (Born 11 March 1990)

Ayumi is ranked 64th in the world and has also already surpassed her previous Grand Slam performances at this year’s Australian Open. She is also appearing in the 3rd round, against Shuai Peng, who took out Jelena Jankovic in round 2. Morita previously made it to the 2nd round of Wimbledon in 2010. She is currently the second highest ranked Japanese player.

Petra Kvitova (Born 8 March 1990)

Petra is certainly one of the most promising young players on tour right now and you’ve got to love the fact that she’s still in braces. She had her best Grand Slam showing last year at Wimbledon, where she reached the semifinals, defeating Sorana Cirstea, Zheng Jie, Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki, and Kaia Kanepi before falling to Serena Williams. She backed up this performance by making it to the 3rd round of the US Open and is now into the 3rd round of the Australian Open, where she will face Aussie Sam Stosur.

Bernard Tomic (Born 21 October 1992)

Coming into the Australian Open, Tennis Australia got a lot of flak for giving Tomic the last wildcard into the main draw. It appears that Bernard skipped out on the wildcard playoff tournament, feigning illness, because he was so confident that they would provide him a wildcard whether he played or not. It’s never good to be this cocky, and personally I would have skipped him over, but he is most likely the future of Australian tennis. However, his overconfidence seems to have helped him tremendously thus far in Melbourne, considering he’s beaten Jeremy Chardy and Feliciano Lopez. He will face the biggest test in tennis when he takes on Rafael Nadal in the 3rd round. Win or lose, he has proven himself worthy of the wildcard, even if I am still a bit sore that they skipped over Nicolas Mahut.

Milos Raonic (Born 27 December 1990)

This 6’5” Canadian is probably the most promising player to come out of Canada in years. He’s already the first Canadian since Daniel Nestor in 2001 to reach a Grand Slam 3rd round. Milos has beaten Bjorn Phau and Michael Llodra to reach his career best Slam performance, where he will play Mikhail Youzhny. His serve is absolutely massive and he did an excellent job of closing out the match against a seeded player in Michael Llodra. At just 20 years old, he’s bound to get stronger and fitter. I believe he has the potential to be a Top 20 player or possibly even better if he continues to improve his game.

Richard Berankis (Born 21 June 1990)

Berankis hails from Lithuania, also not a country to produce many famous tennis players. There’s been a lot of buzz about Berankis on the challenger and future level and he’s finally been able to break through a bit at a Grand Slam. This is only his third Grand Slam appearance, and his first Australian Open. He’s done a brilliant job, beating Marinko Matosevic, a promising young player from Australia, and absolutely demolishing David Nalbandian before he retired from the match. He will face David Ferrer in the 3rd round, but has already given a career best performance.