As the new tennis season gets underway with the Australian Open beginning from January 18, four exciting young upstarts are getting ready to make a mark on the men's circuit. In with a very real chance of upsetting the apple cart at Melbourne are two 19-year-old players – Borna Coric from Croatia (ranked 40) and South Korea's Hyeon Chung (ranked 51). Also battling for a shot at the glory are 20-year-old Australia’s Nick Kyrgios (ranked 30) and the 24-year-old Frenchman Pierre Herbert (ranked 161).
Pierre-Hugues Herbert’s low singles ranking does not do justice to his game, and that can only be because of a lack of consistency. In doubles, he is ranked 14 and has one Grand Slam title to his name. Herbert has a powerful serve that can disorient any player, as he showed in the recent International Premier Tennis League when he beat top-10 player Tomas Berdych. At 6 feet 2 inches, he uses his towering frame to full effect for his serve, uncoiling his body and bringing his racquet down through a wide arc.
Some interesting statistics back his promise. He has an impressive career first-service win rate of 77%. He has also saved 64% of break points, the same as Roger Federer and comparing very well to World No.1 Novak Djokovic’s 60%.
South Korea’s Hyeon Chunga, ranked 51, should definitely climb the ladder by 10 or 15 positions this year. Chunga was voted the most improved player on the circuit in 2015, climbing from 173 to 51 in October. Seventy one percent of his first serves have been on target, while he has saved 56% of break points. This indicates that Chunga possesses both persistence and strategic thinking – characteristics of many top players who consistently save break points. His five Challenger tournament wins last year, including a win in the Kaohsiung finals against young Indian star Yuki Bhambri, show that he is on a winning streak and should be able to carry this form into 2016.
Nineteen-year-old Borna Coric's name is on everyone’s lips and his first ATP Tour final in the Chennai Open last week is a sign that he has a great year ahead of him. Though World No 4 Stan Wawrinka easily beat him in the final at Chennai, Coric has a lot going for him. Like most top players, he has a great first-serve win rate, at 71%. He defeated British No 1 Andy Murray last year in straight sets at the Dubai Championships. Along with his superb court coverage, Coric also has a searing cross-court backhand – similar to Wawrinka – which leaves opponents stranded. Age is on his side and there are indications of an increasingly mature mind.
Renowned as the "bad boy of tennis", Nick Kyrgios actually looks quite focused on his game at the moment. Originally a basketball player, he made a rather late foray into tennis. But the 20-year-old player now has everything he needs break into the top 10, at least by 2017 if not this year. “I feel me and [Thanis] Kokkinakis [a Greek-Australian teammate] have the ability to do something special on court but it’s a bit early to say that [top 10],” he said. "We need to stay grounded, stay humble and keep working hard."
He needs to work on the receiving part of his game though, given that he wins only 34% of points when he is returning serve, as compared to 68 % points while serving.
Apart from these young guns, Australian talents such as Bernard Tomic and Sam Groth are also expected to have a breakthrough year. Japan's Kei Nishikori could well break into the top five in 2016, as current World No 5 Rafael Nadal will desperately try to put his injury troubles behind him.
The other player to watch out for is Canadian Milos Raonic, who seems set to break back into the top five. He has had a fantastic start to the year, defeating 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer in straight sets at the ATP Brisbane finals last week.