With the 2020 tennis season behind us, it’s time to ask who will take a step forward in 2021. The sport’s youth has taken massive strides forward, and more will follow. Who should fans keep an eye on in 2021 and beyond? Let’s look at some rising names.
Five of the ATP Tour’s Rising Stars to Watch in 2021
Lorenzo Musetti is a young talent who has been making swift progress. Wielding an artistic one-handed backhand, he reached the summit of the junior rankings. On the senior tour, the 18-year-old from Italy was ranked #360 in the World in November last year. He has since propelled himself to #123 in the rankings.
Musetti’s potential was shown this September after his wild card entry to the Rome Masters. He conquered veterans Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori on his path to the Round of 16. Musetti even dealt Wawrinka a bagel in his straight sets victory. He won his first Challenger title in Forli the following week.
Musetti has proved he has the talent to beat top-10 players and that he is capable of winning titles. 2021 might be too early for him to settle near the top of the rankings. Next year, however, he should break into the top 100.
It would be easy for Sebastian Korda to succumb to expectations: after all, he is the son of Petr Korda, former World #2 and 1998 Australian Open champion.
By channeling his father’s experience and coaching however, there have been encouraging signs at only 20 years old that he can handle the pressure of his father’s legacy. Korda won his first Challenger title in Eckental earlier this month. Furthermore, he beat Andreas Seppi and John Isner on his way to the fourth round of the French Open in 2020. He has reached #116 in the world due to these achievements.
The American does not yet have a standout shot in his arsenal, however. At 6’5″, he could certainly strengthen his serve. He also won only four games in his fourth round match against Nadal, suggestive of how his game might fair against the greats.
If he counters this by continuing to work on his game and gaining confidence in what he has already achieved, the foundations should be there for Sebastian to break the top 100 next year.
Carlos Alcaraz has been touted as the next Rafael Nadal at only 17 years old. One might be getting ahead of themselves with this opinion, but it is hard to deny the comparisons. He is a Spaniard who has had undeniable power in his game from a young age. He also follows through his mammoth forehand with a lasso-like flourish.
Alcaraz has shown his mettle on clay too. He debuted on the ATP tour in Rio back in February and upset former Monte Carlo finalist Albert Ramos-Vinolas at 16 years of age. This also made him the youngest player to win on the ATP Tour since Cristian Garin in 2013. Under the tutelage of former World #1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, Alcaraz has won Challenger titles on the red dirt in Trieste, Barcelona, and Alicante in the last three months. This has taken him to a career high ranking of #136 in the world.
Like Korda, Alcaraz has the experience of the game’s best in his camp. Where Alcaraz differs however is in having a proper weapon of a shot – his huge forehand could pave the way to the top 50 next year. With time, development and hard work, who knows – the comparison to Rafa could be justified.
Though he could be considered an odd inclusion to this list due to his age, there is no doubt Ugo Humbert is a rising star. Now sitting at a career-high of #30, the 22-year-old Frenchman has made a steady ascension through the top 100 over the last couple of years.
Ugo has been improving his ranking due to his sublime playing style. He outgunned two of the best baseliners in the business in Tsitsipas and Medvedev earlier this year. Humbert proved his prestige as a volleyer in reaching the fourth round in 2019 at Wimbledon last year, knocking out Felix Auger-Aliassime and Gael Monfils before falling to eventual champion Novak Djokovic. He also has the mental strength to complement this offensive game style: in his title run at the European Open this year, he saved four match points against Dan Evans in the semifinals.
With wins at the European and the Auckland Open, and with several respectable scalps to his name, Humbert has the momentum going into 2021. If he continues this vein of form from the last few months, do not be surprised to see him crack the Top 20.
Jannik Sinner played his first ATP main draw match as recently as April 2019–he is likely already a familiar name to even the casual tennis fan. Formerly a skier before committing to tennis at the age of 13, the Italian phenom is a gifted athlete. With this talent, and under the guidance of acclaimed coach Riccardo Piatti (who has coached former Top 10 players Novak Djokovic, Ivan Ljubičić, Richard Gasquet, and Milos Raonic), Sinner’s groundstrokes and serve are explosive. According to analysis carried out by Craig O’Shannessy, his backhand was statistically the biggest on tour in 2019.
His fluid and powerful game has rocketed him to early success. He won his first Challenger title in only his seventh attempt in 2019. This was followed by two more Challenger titles and a win at the ATP NextGen Finals that year. The finals broke him into the top 100 before the end of the season. He was, and still is, the youngest member of this group at the age of 19.
His upward trajectory continued into this year. Sinner has stunned Top 10 players David Goffin, Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas and reached his maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal at the French Open. He even had Nadal on the back foot in the early stages of his straight-sets loss to the Spaniard. He ended the year with his first ATP title in Sofia.
These achievements have earned Sinner a career high ranking of @37. Provided the young star’s mental game catches up with his physical prowess, it would be safe to bet on Sinner continuing this rise into 2021 and beyond. Anyone with an interest in the future of tennis should have their eyes set firmly on this young man.
Brandon Nakashima, Hugo Gaston, Thiago Seyboth Wild, Emil Ruusuvuori