1. Grigor Dimitrov
Since bursting on to the junior scene and winning two Grand Slam titles, Grigor Dimitrov has carried the weight of expectation among many tennis fans and pundits. The 22-year old from Bulgaria, who is perhaps most famous for dating Maria Sharapova, quickly worked up the nickname “Baby Fed”. Dimitrov has struggled to draw himself away from the comparisons with Federer and deal with the expectation; however he showed some promising glimpses through an up-and-down 2013.
Dimitrov played Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in back-to-back tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami earlier this year and both times served for the first set of their respective clashes. However, with a spate of double faults he was unable to hold his nerve and ended up losing both matches in straight sets. Dimitrov then put in a richly encouraging performance in Monte-Carlo where he took a set off Rafael Nadal. It was three weeks later in Madrid on the clay when he had his big moment. In a fantastic match, Dimitrov held his nerve and overcame cramping to beat the then world number one, Novak Djokovic.
Dimitrov’s response to beating Djokovic was disappointing as he struggled throughout the summer and failed to make an impression at the final two Slams of the year. He did end the season on a high though as he won his first ATP tour title in Stockholm with the backing of new coach, Roger Rasheed. Dimitrov, who is blessed with a wonderful one-handed backhand and a very potent serve, ascended 25 spots in the rankings this year, but I still get the feeling that 2013 wasn’t seen as a legitimate breakthrough. He’s proved this year he can challenge and beat some of the best players in the world, but needs to improve his consistency playing against the lower ranked players. A big performance at a Grand Slam is also crucial for Dimitrov and the way he ended 2013 was a good indication that 2014 could be a huge year.
Prediction: Dimitrov to break the top 15 by the end of 2014
2. Jerzy Janowicz
There are many big servers on tour with Milos Raonic and John Isner garnering most of the attention, but I think Jerzy Janowicz could be the best of them all. Janowicz burst onto the scene in 2012 in Bercy, Paris when he unexpectedly reached the final of the Masters 1000 event. In that one week, which saw him defeat Andy Murray en route to the final, Janowicz moved up 43 places in the rankings and earnt himself a seeding for the Australian Open.
There were question marks as to whether Paris was a flash in the pan, but Janowicz maintained his position in the rankings throughout 2013. He had a solid, yet unspectacular year which was headlined by an excellent run to the semi-finals of Wimbledon. In a depleted section of the draw that began with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, Janowicz took his opportunities and match by match, grew in confidence on the grass. He gave a great account of himself in a first Grand Slam semi-final winning the opening set against home favourite Andy Murray but eventually going down in four sets.
Unlike most of the big servers, Janowicz returns and moves well for such a huge guy; what I like most though is that he is fearless on court. He hasn’t always attracted attention for the right reasons. His outburst at the Australian Open was one of 2013’s most hilarious moments and if you haven’t seen it then YouTube “Janowicz how many times” and you’ll get the picture. Yes, he is a bit of a loose wire, but I like his passion and energy, and that he leaves all his emotions out on court. As he matures over the coming years and hopefully calms down a little bit I think his desire to win will be one of his greatest assets. If Janowicz can stay injury free in 2014 then he is the one player that I think is most likely to break into the top 10 in 2014.
Prediction: Janowicz to break the top 10 by the end of 2014
3. Pablo Carreno Busta
Currently ranked at number 66 in the world rankings, Pablo Carreno Busta developed a taste for winning in 2013. He won seven straight titles on the ITF Futures circuit, four titles on the Challenger tour and even managed a 39 match winning streak at one stage of the season. The calibre of players he was playing wasn’t particularly high but you have to sit up and take note when a young player produces this kind of consistency, week in week out. Winning can do wonders for the confidence as Carreno Busta made an incredibly smooth transition to the ATP main tour during this year’s clay court swing. He managed to qualify for the main draws of Casablanca, Bordeaux, Oeiras and Roland Garros. In Paris, he drew Roger Federer in the first round and his most high profile match to date. At the 250 events he earnt at least one main draw win per tournament and even made the semi-finals in Oeiras where he beat three top 70 players and pushed Stanislas Wawrinka to three sets in the semi-finals.
His strengths are his consistency from the back of the court and his movement, which helps to explain why he has thrived on the clay. However, much of the tour is based on hard courts these days and he has not yet proved himself on this surface. At the end of this year, he committed more to the main tour and posted a 5-5 W-L record at a variety of hard court events. Carreno Busta, who rightfully earnt the ATP’s Most Improved Player award for 2013 by virtue of rising 649(!)places in this year’s rankings is definitely one to watch out for in 2014.
Prediction: Carreno Busta to break the top 30 by the end of 2014
4. Ivan Dodig
2013 was a great year for Ivan Dodig, but not just in singles. The Croatian player began a very successful doubles partnership with Marcelo Melo, which saw the pair qualify for the World Tour Finals. You rarely see accomplished ATP singles players partake in doubles, but it seems to have been a smart move from Dodig who has flourished with a rise of 39 spots in singles and 24 spots in doubles through 2013.
Dodig’s career highlight came two years ago in Montreal when he beat Rafael Nadal in a remarkable match, 1-6 7-6 7-6. There weren’t any highlights in 2013 that rivalled the magnitude of his win over Nadal, but it was a very consistent year which included a fourth round showing at Wimbledon, a third round showing at the US Open and a semi-final appearance in Tokyo. This shouldn’t take anything away from his year though as he managed at least one win over a top 30 player at eight tournaments in 2013.
At 28 years old, Dodig is playing the best tennis of his career relatively late in his career. Dodig is a real grafter on tour and after years of hard work he is finally seeing a return in his performances. I think Dodig will continue to improve next year and break more career milestones in 2014.
Prediction: Dodig to break the top 20 by the end of 2014
5. Joao Sousa
Joao Sousa of Portugal, not to be confused with Joao Souza of Brazil, made significant strides in the latter stages of 2013 as he ended the season in the top 50 for the first time in his career. It was not until the second half of the season that things started to click for Sousa when he won two Challenger titles including one back home in Guimaraes. Success followed him onto the main tour where he had his best result at a Grand Slam with back-to-back five set wins at the US Open, which included a victory over Grigor Dimitrov.
Normally more accustomed to the clay courts, Sousa ended the season with some of the best results of his career on the hard courts of St Petersburg and Kuala Lumpur. It was in Malaysia where he won first ever ATP tour title beating David Ferrer in the quarter-finals and Julien Benneteau in the final where he saved match points. It was an impressive performance from Sousa, who became the first player from Portugal to ever win a title on the ATP tour. Sousa credits his recent achievements on an improved mental toughness. His new ranking will grant him direct entry at the major events next year and the chance to test his mettle against the best players on tour.
Prediction: Sousa to break top 30 by the end of 2014
James Peeling. Pundit Arena.
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