© Ella Ling


Six young men's players to watch in 2012

Bernard Tomic
Age: 19
Ranking: 42
Memo for anyone looking for a quiet life: avoid driving a bright orange BMW through the centre of Surfers Paradise on Australia’s Gold Coast. It was while Tomic was behind the wheel of his tangerine sports car that he was stopped by the police for alleged ‘hooning’ (that’s Australian for driving like a boy racer). Tomic, a quarter-finalist at last summer’s Wimbledon, has since claimed police harrassment, saying of the unnamed officer: “He doesn’t like me for some reason – he’s always on my tail. I think it’s really bad. I haven’t done anyththing wrong. I was just going about my business as a tennis player.”
It was not the first time that Tomic has encountered difficulties while “just going about my business as a tennis player”. In 2008, while playing at small, low-level tournament, he suddenly gathered up his rackets and walked off court – having done so at the urging of his father and coach, John, who though his son should protest at the standard of the line-calling and officiating. During the 2009 Wimbledon Championships, he apparently upset Lleyton Hewitt by declining an offer of practising together. And, though Tomic made the third round of last season’s Australian Open, 80 per cent of those who voted in a poll on the Melbourne Age’s website considered that Tennis Australia should not have give him a wild card. That was because he had withdrawn from the play-off tournament for Australians hoping for a wild card, citing illness, and yet was seen practising on the Gold Coast that same day. In between all the controveries, there has been some fine tennis.
Though Tomic may look like a modern young tennis player, at six foot five inches tall, he does not play like a typical one; instead of clubbing every ball that comes near him, he plays an intelligent game, with changes of pace and angles. Tomic had a fine Wimbledon last summer – by qualifying and reaching the last eight, with his run including a victory over Robin Soderling, the punk from the Gold Coast became the youngest player to reach the last eight on those lawns since Boris Becker in 1986.
Milos Raonic
Age: 21
Ranking: 31
The best advert there has been for having your steaks medium-rare. The Canadian, who likes to have steak the night before his matches, has a gargantuan, 150mph serve; he may look like a young Donny Osmond, and is still a bit on the skinny side (hence the need to bulk with the beef), yet he is capable of thwacking the hell out of the ball. There were disappointments and frustrations for Raonic during 2011 – he had to retire from his second-round match at Wimbledon because of a hip injury, needed an operation, and missed the summer hard-court swing through North America – yet he will look back on it as his break-through season. His best tennis came at the start of the year, including coming through qualifying to make the fourth round of the Australian Open, and winning a title in San Jose and reaching another final in Memphis.
Donald Young
Age: 22
Ranking: 39
Twitter can be dangerous, as Young learned when he raged, through his thumbs and the keypad on his phone, against the United State Tennis Association’s decision not to give him a wild card into the French Open. “F*** USTA! They’re full of s***! They’ve screwed me for the last time!” he tweeted, then followed that up with this message to his followers, which was a long way from being an apology: “That tweet was out of character. I’ve never been like that before. But I’m tired of it. Sorry about the language, but not the thought behind it.” Soon afterwards, Young closed his Twitter page, and it seemed as though the kid from Chicago’s story was a tale of too much (wild cards, attention, sponsorship) too soon. Spool back to 2004, and Newsweek chose Young as the only athlete in a ‘Who’s Next?’ feature, in a list which also included Barack Obama. The following year, Young had this to say about his ambitions in tennis: “My dream is to win each grand slam – twice each, so nobody can ever say it was a fluke.” But, during the autumn swing in Asia, he showed what he was capable of when he reached his first tour final at the championships in Bangkok. He was trounced by Andy Murray, losing 6-2 6-0 inside an hour, but nerves had a lot to do with it (earlier in the year, Young had beaten Murray in Indian Wells, but that was when Murray was going through his post-Australian Open funk, so that result said more about the Scot than it did about the American). Then came the surprise announcement during the off-season that Young would be coached by his mother, Ilona.
Grigor Dimitrov
Age: 20
Ranking: 76
Anyone nicknamed ‘Prime Time’ is not going to want to spend their life in the margins. This is not a young man who appears to be hindered by self-doubt – it is Dimitrov’s opinion that he has the talent to win multiple slam titles, and to hold the world number one ranking. Dimitrov’s former coach, Peter Lundgren, once said of the Bulgarian that he was more advanced at his age than another player he had once worked with, a certain Roger Federer. Dimitrov had a good season last year, which took him into the top 100, but perhaps he did not achieve as some had been expecting of him (he almost certainly did not achieve as much as he would have been expecting of himself).
Kei Nishikori
Age: 22
Ranking: 25
There was always something slightly Orwellian about the way that Nishikori was referred to in Japanese tennis circles as ‘Project 45′. They can drop that now. For years, it was hoped that Nishikori had the talent to supersede Shuzo Matsuoka, a former world number 46, and become the highest ranked Japanese in history, and that he did as a result of reaching his first Masters-level semi-final in Shanghai last season, a match he would lose to Andy Murray. That run put him into the top 30. Nishikori once used to share a room at the Nick Bolletierri Academy in Florida with Zachary Gilbert, Brad’s son. Nishikori is still based there, just these days he is coached by Gilbert Senior.
Ryan Harrison
Age: 19
Ranking: 79
While Harrison may not have as striking a name as another young American player, Jack Sock, he has been making an impression at the highest levels. Harrison, who has been inspired and influenced by Andy Roddick, defeated three top-50 opponents to reach the fourth round of last season’s tournament in Indian Wells, where he played a decent match against Roger Federer. He also qualifed for the French Open and Wimbledon. Now his ranking is high enough for him to have direct acceptance into the slams.
  • http://www.demetriad.co.uk/ Cristian Demetriad

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