'Baby Fed'
January 15th, 2014
03:02 PM ET

Five future tennis stars to watch

After nearly a decade without any real change at the top of men’s tennis, and not one player in the top 10 under the age of 25, could 2014 be the year the next generation of stars make their presence felt?

As the first grand slam of the season kicks off in Australia, here are five potential champions of the future to keep your eye on.

GRIGOR DIMITROV

The Bulgarian’s classical one-handed technique quickly earned him the moniker "Baby Fed," allowing many to believe he was the heir-apparent to the Sampras-Federer legacy. An outrageous level of expectation for any player, regardless of their talent.

Yet, despite being criticized for much of his short career for winning more hearts than matches - his high-profile relationship with Maria Sharapova has made more headlines than his on-court record - 2013 proved to be a year of baby steps forward for Dimitrov.

Back in May, the 22-year-old defeated then world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in three sets, and capped the season by becoming the first man from his country in the Open Era to win an ATP World Tour title  when he defeated French Open finalist David Ferrer in October's Stockholm final. 

Heading into 2014 on the cusp of the top 20, Dimitrov will be hoping to capitalize on that momentum and he could - if it is indeed possible - at last live up to that nickname.

JERZY JANOWICZ

I was privileged enough to witness firsthand the very best and the very worst of Janowicz up close and personal during the Miami Open last March. In a match that he dominated in every phase of the game over Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci, the big-hitting Pole managed to turn the occasion into a verbal free-for-all between him and the heavily partisan crowd.

He lost on the crowd, and lost the match. But his talent was obvious.

Three months later, Janowicz appeared to have regained his composure and capitalized on early exits from Rafa and Roger to make a run to the semifinals of Wimbledon, showing the world the frightening potential this athletic powerhouse possesses.

Built in the Marat Safin mold, the 6 foot  8 inch  Janowicz is a force to be reckoned with. He’s got a massive serve, moves well, hits heavy from the baseline with apparent ease, and has the deftest of touch moving forward.

If the 23-year-old can keep his composure and stop picking fights with the crowd, the sky's the limit.

MILOS RAONIC

As the most accomplished of the “up and comers,” the big-serving Canadian has already claimed five ATP titles and cracked the top 10.

Noticeably absent from Raonic’s resume are major scalps. In 13 attempts against Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and David Ferrer, the 22-year-old is yet to claim a single victory. Strikingly, however, he actually has a winning record (albeit only 2-1) against Wimbledon champ Andy Murray.

After several years of slow but steady improvement, a favorable draw could see this talented big-hitter - the 2011 ATP newcomer of the year - knock on the door of a grand slam title.

PABLO CARRENO BUSTA

This hitherto unknown is only the 12th-highest Spaniard in the ATP rankings and is yet to win a single set at a grand slam tournament. However, in 2013 Busta claimed a remarkable 92 victories, including 11 titles and a winning streak of 39 matches.

Granted, these successes were at the second-tier Challenger level, but at any rate, one key ingredient a player needs to reach the top of the game is the ability to win week in, week out. It's a skill Busta has in abundance.

He took French veteran Julien Benneteau to five sets before losing in the first round in Melbourne this week, and expect this 22-year-old to claim some big scalps during the clay-court swing of the tour and improve his ranking from 63rd.

NICK KYRGIOS

Back in March 2013, the Australian teenager won the Sydney Challenger event, becoming only the 16th player to ever claim a second-tier professional title before turning 18.

Those who had come before him included Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin Del Potro, Tomas Berdych, Richard Gasquet, Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin, who between them have 24 grand slam titles and currently occupy half the spots in the world’s top 10.

If ever there was an indicator of future success, this would be it. And to emphasize his potential, just weeks before he became the junior world No. 1 by winning the Australian Open boys' title.

Equally impressive was his debut on the biggest stage, eliminating former top-10 player Radek Stepanek in the first round at Roland Garros in May in three straight tiebreak sets. He reached a high of 177th in the rankings, also qualifying for the main draw of the U.S. Open.

Whether or not 2014 will be the season Kyrgios breaks through is hard to say - he won his first-round match in Melbourne this week - but watch out for this talented 18-year-old in the near future.

Which players are you tipping for the top? Have your say in the comments box below or continue the conversation on Twitter with @WillCNN or @WorldSportCNN. You can also follow us on Facebook.

soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Marcia Dixon

    Good article and review of players for someone who does not follow tennis closely!

    January 16, 2014 at 1:47 am | Reply
  2. travelinginmymindseye

    great list of players! but i would like to add Benoit Paire! hopefully, his tennis will pick up!

    January 18, 2014 at 4:59 am | Reply
  3. Raghunandan K.

    Translation from potential to performance will require great mental strength,will power,hard work and dedication-we have seen so many talents shin
    e and fall by the wayside in both the mens and womens side

    February 15, 2014 at 11:17 am | Reply

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