Teenagers in the ATP Top 500: Looking Forward to 2021 (Part 1)

The year-end ATP Rankings for the 2020 season feature a total of 18 teenagers in the world’s first 500 ranked players. 14 of them are already 19 years of age, while just two have not yet attained adulthood yet. Some had amazing success on the Juniors tour, while some only broke through on the professional stage. In this article, we look at all the under 20s in the ATP top 500 and ask the question: which of these are ready for the biggest challenges possible? Feel free to come back in a year and torment me with all the predictions that will make me look dumb.

We split the 18 teenagers between two articles. You can find the nine highest-ranked teenagers in this article, while the rest are in the second article.

#341 Juan Manuel Cerundolo

Nationality: Argentinian
Best results: 2019 Montevideo Challenger semifinalist (win over no. 45 Pablo Cuevas); ITF junior world no. 9; 3 ITF World Tennis Tour titles
Age: 19

Here’s a player that seems to have a bigger upside. His brother, Fransisco, won three ATP Challenger Tour events this season and Juan Manuel will not want to be left behind. While he didn’t manage much success in junior Grand Slams, his results in South American events spoke a lot about his talent. After a great finish to the 2019 season, it was easy to expect more of Juan Manuel than he did this year. While his brother exceeded expectations, the younger of the two had a pretty poor time, especially after the restart.

With a game not nearly as powerful as his brother’s, Cerundolo has to focus more on creating a good amount of topspin and patiently constructing the points. Whether he has the same potential as Fransisco we’re yet to see. The pandemic seemed to really derail him and perhaps a more regular-season can tell us more. For now, he isn’t living up to what he showed late last year.

2021 year-end ranking prediction: #250

#351 Jiri Lehecka

Nationality: Czech
Best results: 2020 Prostejov Challenger semifinalist; 2020 M25 Prague champion
Age: 19

Besides Italy, one of the nations that suddenly found a lot of talented youngsters is the Czech Republic. A great chance for the Czech youngsters this year was the four-week swing of Challenger Tour events in their country that was played right after the restart. Lehecka managed to get a great run in Prostejov, scoring three top 200 wins to get to the semifinals.

Most of the aforementioned Czechs play a fun to watch brand of attacking tennis and Lehecka isn’t an exception. A former world no. 11 in juniors, the 19-year-old has been slowly proving his talent in the professional ranks. Right now, he’s playing at a level that should allow him to compete for the biggest ITF trophies and win a few rounds here or there on the Challenger circuit. It doesn’t appear likely that the 2021 season will see him make a sudden breakthrough.

2021 year-end ranking prediction: #270

#362 Jonas Forejtek

Nationality: Czech
Best results: 2019 US Open boys’ singles champion; 2R at the 2020 Sofia Open (a win over world no. 41 Marin Cilic); two ITF titles (1 25K; 1 15K)
Age: 19

Once famous for practicing with a wooden spoon, Forejtek shows a tad more premise than his six months younger compatriot. Once the world no.1 in juniors, the Czech didn’t achieve as much as Lehecka in the aforementioned Czech clay swing. However, he still grabbed a great win over Botic van de Zandschulp and pushed Pierre-Hugues Herbert to three sets in what was a very high-quality contest. The organizers of the Sofia Open liked his game enough to hand Forejtek a main draw wildcard. Despite drawing the 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic in the opening round, the youngster actually managed an unlikely win against a wildly inconsistent opponent.

Forejtek’s maturity and ability to adapt to the opponent make him a more dangerous opponent than Lehecka right now. While he’s ranked lower than his compatriot, he showed up well on the big stage in Sofia, which might open some doors. For now, it’s looking likely that he and Tomas Machac (20yo) will be the ones leading the young Czech charge next year.

2021 year-end ranking prediction: #150

#379 Thiago Tirante

Nationality: Argentinian
Best results: 2020 Lima Challenger runner-up; former junior world no. 1; a title at M15 in Monastir
Age: 19

Despite staying unsuccessful at junior Grand Slams, Tirante made his way to the no.1 ranking through excellent results in big clay-court events. As a pro, he blossomed in the latter half of the 2020 season. First, it was a sixth-week-long stay at Monastir where he won his first title and amassed a 17-5 win/loss record. With that run, he also proved that he is not a clay-court one-trick pony. That said, his runner-up finish at the Lima Challenger still came as a huge surprise. Ranked 539 in the world, Tirante took out players like Pedro Sousa or Fransisco Cerundolo in one of the most outstanding runs of the season.

The Argentinian’s game bears a slight comparison to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina – when he has the time and space to play on his own terms and use his creativity, it gets scary. Tirante has great energy on the court and uses that robustness to run around his backhand and hit as many balls as he can off his stronger wing. The level the Argentinian produced in Lima was really high and he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with in South American Challengers. A big rise in the rankings might be on the cards here.

2021 year-end ranking prediction: #180

#393 – Carlos Gimeno Valero

Nationality: Spanish
Best results: 2019 Wimbledon boys’ singles runner-up; 2020 Barcelona Challenger semifinalist; 3 ITF titles (1 25K; 2 15K)
Age: 19

Despite great performances as a junior and fine results on the ITF circuit, Gimeno Valero’s Barcelona Challenger seemed like a complete fluke. First of all, Christopher O’Connell had to retire up a match point due to rolling his ankle. Then, Facundo Bagnis showed up with an injury to hand him an easy quarterfinal victory. To add to that misconception, Damir Dzumhur gave Gimeno Valero just three games in their final four meeting.

But the young Spaniard made up for that lack three weeks later in Marbella, having to go through Andrey Kuznetsov, Federico Coria, and Steven Diez to make it to the quarterfinals. All of that he did in straight sets and while he failed to make an impact against Alexandre Muller, it was a really promising run.

His loopy, made for clay courts forehand allowed him to move his opponents around and play out the points the way he intended. Interestingly, Gimeno Valero hasn’t shown up on court since and in total, only appeared in six events this year. Adding to that just seven tournaments from 2019, it makes it all the more impressive that he still managed to find himself ranked in the top 400 of the ATP Rankings. Don’t know about you but we still need some convincing that he’ll be able to play like that on a week-to-week basis.

2021 year-end ranking prediction: #190

#397 – Filip Cristian Jianu

Nationality: Romanian
Best results: 2019 Australian Open boys’ singles semifinalist; 3 ITF titles (1 25K; 2 15K)
Age: 19

Out of young Romanians, it was Nicolas David Ionel who made headlines last year, winning four ITF titles in a row. But fast forward a year later, it’s still one year older Jianu that makes more consistent results and finds himself in the top 500 of the ATP Rankings. This season, he managed to get just one Challenger Tour win in five attempts though, taking out the veteran Teymuraz Gabashvili. From what little we’ve seen of him, it will take some time before he’s ready to look for points on the higher levels of competition.

2021 year-end ranking prediction: #340

#427 – Harold Mayot

Nationality: French
Best results: 2020 Australian Open boys’ singles champion; current junior world no. 1; 2020 Pau Challenger quarterfinalist; 2019 M15 Villers Les Nancy champion
Age: 18

After a whole gallery of former junior world no.1s, here’s the one that currently holds that spot. Harold Mayot won the 2020 Australian Open junior title and as a result, received a main draw wildcard to the ATP 250 event in Marseille. Ambitious, yet Mayot actually gave a great performance, making eventual semifinalist Gilles Simon work real hard for the win. After the restart, the Frenchman kept posting decent results in ITF events. He also made the second round at Aix en Provence Challenger, losing in a fairly close contest to Pablo Cuevas. The FFT decided to award him a wild card for the French Open and while he couldn’t take a set, his 6-7 3-6 5-7 loss to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina was nothing to be ashamed of.

Lately, Mayot has been struggling with health issues. In December, he decided to participate in two M15 events in Monastir, yet failed to complete a single match. If healthy, the Frenchman seems to have the potential to make a considerable ranking jump next year. While he doesn’t have that much power, his tennis acumen and court sense are great to watch. These characteristics can only improve under the tutelage of Thierry Tulasne, former world no.10, who used to coach such specialists in these areas as Gilles Simon or Sebastian Grosjean in the past.

2021 year-end ranking prediction: #240

#445 – Timofey Skatov

Nationality: Kazakh (represented Russia until 2018)
Best results: 2017 US Open boys’ singles semifinalist; 3 ITF 15K titles
Age: 19

While Skatov is looking very well on the ITF circuit, his tour-level or Challenger Tour tryouts haven’t been looking well. His win/loss record stands at 1/4 in the Challengers but the most shocking one was the main draw appearance at a tour-level event in Nur-Sultan this year. Despite getting a lot of good ITF results in the weeks prior, Skatov was absolutely dismantled 2-6 0-6 by Emil Ruusuvuori in a match that showed how big the difference of level still is. Lots of work will need to be done until the young Kazakh is able to get to the next level.

2021 year-end ranking prediction: #350

#473 – Holger Rune

Nationality: Danish
Best results: 2019 Roland Garros boys’ singles champion; former world no.1 in juniors; 3 ITF titles (1 25K; 2 15K)
Age: 17

A member of the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy, Holger Rune created some controversies around himself with the way his schedule was made. Thanks to knowing the right people he received a lot of wildcards, which didn’t even seem to help him at all. At one point considered to be the best 2003 born player along with Alcaraz, it quickly turned out that he just isn’t there yet. Thankfully, after the restart, Rune started playing ITF level events on a more consistent basis, which allowed him to rebuild his confidence and start improving.

With Rune starting to get fairly dominant on the ITF circuit towards the end of the season, perhaps next year will be the right time to start playing Challengers more regularly. He should be ready for it sooner than later as he already possesses a very all-rounded game. It appears that in the past year or so he also developed more emotional maturity and the ability to keep up his level over an extended number of games. The Dane is still one of the brightest under 18 talents and he should be getting back on track in no time.

2021 year-end ranking prediction: #260

Which one of these do you think can become a future star of the game? Or will it be someone different, perhaps someone who hasn’t quite reached the top 500 yet?

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