A new year looms filled with fresh opportunities and new beginnings. Expectations are high and players are eager to start the season off on the right foot.
As the tennis world starts to prepare for the 2022 season, there is much to look forward to over the month. The 2022 Australian Summer of Tennis will comprise of six Men’s events including the ATP Cup, Adelaide International 1, Melbourne Summer Set, Sydney Tennis Classic, Adelaide International 2 and finally, the all prestigious Australian Open.
This month’s tennis action poses many questions; will Djokovic compete in the Aussie Open? How will Rafa fare after being out due to injury since August? Will Kyrgios finally go deep into the tournament and continue to show the tennis world more of his mouth-watering talent?
I think this Australian Summer of Tennis has the potential to see a real breakthrough on the men’s side…and I’m talking young talent.
Whilst, we’re all seeing the continued emergence of Medvedev, Zverev & Tsitsipas - who will all be salivating at the prospect of competing for a Grand Slam without Novak, there is some younger talent on the horizon on the Men’s side who simply cannot be ignored.
The likes of Holger Rune, Emil Ruusuvuori, Jenson Brooksby, Lloyd Harris and Carlos Alcaraz all scored some impressive results during the 2021 season, and are easily capable of causing some big upsets at Melbourne Park this month. It could be said that these players are the ‘Next Next’ Generation in the men’s game right now. Let me explain why I’ve chosen these particular players…
Holger Rune (DEN)
A very fresh face on the men’s tour, this 18-year-old from Charlottenlund, Denmark is a serious talent. Rune currently sits at a career-high ranking of 103 and will gain direct entry into the Australian Open main draw in a fortnights time. Rune enjoyed three Challenger Tour titles in 2021 (Biella Challenger, San Marino Open and the Verona Challenger).
The Danish young gun successfully qualified for his maiden Grand Slam main draw at the US Open, and faced World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the first round. After dropping the first set 1-6, Rune settled into the match and remarkably took the second set in a tiebreaker, before cramping in the third set, affecting his performance and subsequently costing him the match.
Rune’s offensive style mixed with his high energy made for fun viewing against the World No. 1. In 2021, the Dane notably made the quarterfinals at the Chile Open and Moselle Open, qualifying for the NextGen Finals in November.
The 18-year-old has opened his 2022 season at the Adelaide International, where he navigated his way through qualifying into the main draw.
This kid has everything you want in a young talent; passion and poise. He’s only 18 and still has much to learn, but from what I’ve seen, he has what it takes. Expect to hear his name a lot more in season 2022, and if you’re attending the Australian Open make sure watch him play - he’s exciting, I’ll tell you that.
AO Prediction: 2nd Round
Emil Ruusuvuori (FIN)
The 22-year-old from Helsinki will be another player to watch closely during the Australian Open Summer Series. Achieving a career-best ranking of 66 in late August 2021, Ruusuvuori will begin the 2022 season ranked 95, assuring direct entry into the Australian Open main draw.
Notable performances in 2021 included his excellent Australian Open victory over Gael Monfils in five sets. The biggest scalp of his career came in March, upsetting Alexander Zverev at the Miami Open, where he made the fourth round. The crafty Finn also made the semi-finals at both the Atlanta Open and Winston-Salem Open.
Having attended his clash with Monfils at the Australian Open last year, I can confirm there’s a lot to like about him. He moves very well and I particularly liked how he wasn’t fazed coming up against an experienced opponent.
Ruusuvori will be opening his season at the Melbourne Summer Set. He’ll certainly be a dangerous round one opponent come AO time…especially if you’re Gael Monfils.
AO Prediction: 3rd Round
Jenson Brooksby (USA)
There’s a new wave of Next-Gen Players coming out of the US, thick and fast at the moment. Currently, out of the 12 US players inside the top 100, seven are aged 24 or younger. Jenson Brooksby, a 21-year-old from Sacramento, California is one of them.
Ranked at a career-high 56, Brooksby enjoyed a marvellous 2021 season, which saw him win three ATP Challenger titles (Potchefstroom, Orlando, and Tallahassee). Much of Brooksby’s rise came during the second half of the year, which included an impressive run at the ATP 500 Citi Open in early August, upsetting the likes of World No. 15, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Aussie John Milliman en route to the semi-finals. This semi-final appearance granted his Top 100 debut.
Brooskby was then awarded a wildcard into the US Open, where he remarkably made the fourth round, knocking off the likes of Taylor Fritz and 21st seed Aslan Karatsev. Aged 20 at the time, Brooksby’s tremendous run at the US Open saw him become the youngest American to reach the fourth round at Flushing Meadows since Andy Roddick in 2002.
The American’s great season continued as he reached the semi-finals at the 2021 European Open as a qualifier.
Brooksby will not play a lead-up tournament ahead of his Australian Open main draw debut - which is now in doubt after he withdrew from his only planned lead up event in Adelaide next week. However, his impressive agility and cannon-like serve, along with his heavy groundstrokes will cause major headaches for whoever he faces, if he does make his debut at Melbourne Park.
This man reeks of confidence and in my opinion, he’s the best young gun coming out of the US (despite heavy competition).
I like him and believe he’ll cause an upset or two this year. Remember the name.
AO Prediction: 4th Round
Lloyd Harris (RSA)
Currently sitting at a career-high ranking of 31, the 6’4” 24-year-old South African had an impressive 2021 season.
Harris started the 2021 season in fine form reaching the third round of the Australian Open, beating young Aussie Alexei Popyryn in five gruelling sets in the second round. March 2021 saw Harris reach his very first ATP 500 final in Dubai, scoring big wins over Dominic Thiem, Kei Nishikori and Denis Shapovalov en route to the final, eventually losing to Aslan Karatsev.
The South African achieved his biggest career win in August, stunning Rafael Nadal in Washington and continued that momentum at the US Open reaching the quarterfinals. Harris’ 2021 form speaks for itself.
The South African’s huge serve and agile movement is an attractive style and has the potential to cause major damage at Melbourne Park. Competing in his fourth Australian Open later this month and being seeded will also boost his campaign, allowing him to ease into the draw. Despite withdrawing from the Melbourne Summer Set event, Harris’ big game and match maturity will certainly be something to watch come Australian Open time.
AO Prediction: 4th Round
Carlos Alcaraz (ESP)
If you don’t know about this talented 18-year-old Spaniard, you’ll certainly be hearing a lot more about him this month and over the course of 2022. Currently ranked at 32 in the ATP Rankings, Alcaraz had a standout 2021 season, showing maturity and achieving results well beyond his years.
Coached by former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, Alcaraz became the youngest player to win a match at the Madrid Open in early May (17 years old). He enjoyed an ATP Challenger title at the 2021 Open de Oeriras III, which propelled the young Spaniard into the top 100. Further to this, Carlos’ 2021 resume consisted of:
Third round appearance at Roland Garros
Winning maiden ATP title at the Croatia Open in Umag
Defeated World No. 3 Tsitsipas at the US Open in a 5th set tiebreaker
Reached the quarterfinals at the US Open (youngest quarterfinalist in the Open Era)
Defeated World No. 7 Matteo Berrettini at the Erste Bank Open in Austria
Won the 2021 ATP Next Gen Championship
Possessing a fighting spirit like Rafael Nadal and an effortless fluency like Roger Federer, most tennis commentators and spectators would agree that Alcaraz is the most exciting prospect on the men’s tour at the moment. In a recent interview with the ATP, Alcaraz revealed his goal in 2022 is to break into the Top 15.
Whilst the Spaniard isn’t scheduled to play any lead-up tournaments before the Australian Open, he will be seeded at Melbourne Park come January 17. For an 18-year-old, his blistering power and elite court coverage is something tennis fans haven’t seen since a young Rafael Nadal.
Buckle up and watch out - this man is rising and rising fast. Expect him to do some damage. And, if you’re attending the Australian Open this year, get to this man’s match/es and enjoy the show - an absolute gun and joy to watch.
AO Prediction: Quarterfinals