Australian Open: Andrey Rublev, Denis Shapovalov and Thanasi Kokkinakis to make their mark?
By James Walker-Roberts
Last Updated: 12/01/18 10:55pm
Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic lead the field at the Australian Open, but who are the youngsters who could make an impact in Melbourne?
With questions over several of the top players heading into the first major of the year, opportunities could open up in the draw.
With that in mind, we take a look at five rising stars to keep an eye on…
Along with Karen Khachanov and Daniil Medvedev, Rublev makes up a trio of young Russian players looking to make their mark.
All three are aged 21 or under and all have risen into the top 100 in the world.
In the case of Rublev, he is now No 32, having started his season with a run to the final at the Qatar Open.
Rublev also reached the final of the ATP's NextGen Finals in November and, since that defeat, has been working hard to make improvements.
"This time of my life, my career is the most important as I lay the foundations for a strong future," he said this year. "In working with [coaches] Fernando (Vicente) and Galo (Blanco) in Barcelona during the off-season, we worked on problems and weaknesses."
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Rublev, who lost to Andy Murray at the Australian Open last year, has a strong forehand and a sometimes fiery nature, and has impressed former world No 1 Mats Wilander.
"I think he is going to have a breakthrough in terms of rankings because mentally he is there, he is consistent, even though the way he plays is kind of inconsistent because he hits the ball so damn hard," he told Reuters.
After two years away from his home slam, Kokkinakis is back.
The Australian was a rising star back in 2015, but injuries threatened to curtail his career as he played just once the following year and then missed much of 2017.
But, helped by a new pilates regime, Kokkinakis, now 21, is on the comeback trail and has made a positive start to the new year.
At the Hopman Cup he beat Vasek Pospisil and also world No 4 Alexander Zverev, sending down 17 aces and coming from a set down to win a near-three-hour match.
Speaking before the tournament, Kokkinakis spoke about Zverev and how his rise into the top 10 serves as motivation.
"I was coming up at the same time as him, and I was probably the higher-ranked junior at the same age," he said. "But then he started playing really well, and I went down with injuries. It's definitely frustrating for me, but also motivating to see what you can get to."
A year ago not many people would have heard of Tsitsipas; still not many might. But that could change in 2018, if the Greek can fulfil his targets.
"I'd like to make the fourth round of a Grand Slam, reach the top 50 in the ATP rankings and to qualify for the Next Gen ATP Finals in November," he told the ATP website. "These are the main goals. We'll see how the year goes. If it goes better then I'll set new ones, but I'd like to start with that."
Tsitsipas rose from No 210 in the world to No 91 in 2017, reached the semi-finals of an ATP 250 in Belgium - beating David Goffin in the process - and made the last 32 of the Masters event in Shanghai.
His strengths are his serve and his forehand, but he says this year he "wants to be more offensive, to press more with my forehand, which should be a bigger weapon."
He faces an intriguing first-round clash at the Australian Open against the player below...
Shapovalov burst onto the scene last summer when he went on a remarkable run at the Montreal Masters, beating both Juan Martin del Porto and Rafael Nadal on his way to the semi-finals.
In 2017 he rose from No 250 to No 51 in the world and he is now the highest-ranked teenager in the top 50.
With a big serve and a powerful and energetic game, the left-handed Canadian is fun to watch. Just ask Roger Federer, who says he is a "big fan".
"I like watching Denis," he told Tennis TV. "I remember watching him in the juniors at Wimbledon on TV. Then I remember practising with him a few years back in Toronto. He had these big shot, great sliding serve and a lot of different types of shot. And I like to see that. I like people who go for it and have a positive demeanour about themselves."
Having been voted by his peers as the ATP's Most Improved Player of 2017, Shapovalov looks set for further progress this year.
"I think his main weapon is that mentally he's really strong. He never gives up. If he feels he's losing, he's still always there. He never complains. He never shows emotion. That's why most of the time he wins tough matches."
Those were the words of Andrey Rublev after he was beaten by Chung in the final of the NextGen Finals in November.
No mention of a blazing forehand or dominant serve because Chung - who wears glasses because of astigmatism, a condition that causes blurry vision - cannot match Rublev's firepower. But along with his mental strength he has a solid all-around game and excellent court coverage that saw him rise to No 44 in the world towards the end of 2017.
While his lack of a serious weapon could prove to be an issue as he progresses, he didn't lose a match all tournament at the NextGen Finals and impressed in beating John Isner in Auckland this month, despite 30 aces from the American.
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