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2012 has been a funny old year with Australia’s involvement in the world tennis fraternity.
We have had our collective share of high points with Samantha Stosur’s strong showings at both the French and US Opens, while Marinko Matosevic entered the world’s top 50 for the first time towards the back half of the year, eclipsing Bernard Tomic for the Australian number one ranking.
There have also been some major disappointments arising from the year that was.
Bernard Tomic’s ultimate collapse in form from roughly the conclusion of the French Open onwards is most notable, while Australia’s worst overall performance at Wimbledon in more than 70 years and the manner which Australia’s Davis Cup squad exited from the competition without making the world group stage for the fifth year running are also at the top of this list.
Accompany this with the knowledge that Lleyton Hewitt only has a couple of years left in him at best and Sam Stosur will turn 30 in two year’s time, you can see that our biggest stars are slowly approaching the twilight of their respective careers.
Don’t get me wrong. I still believe Stosur has the potential to wrap up more Grand Slams, as evidenced by her form in the majors this year. Her dwindling years in the ‘prime years’ of a tennis player though are slowly being numbered.
This is certainly not a doomsday for Australian tennis. There are plenty of mature-aged Aussies who have immense potential to do special things in the foreseeable future – the likes of Marinko Matosevic, Mathew Ebden, Olivia Rogowska and Sally Peers come to mind.
But I want to focus on the era of Australian tennis that encompasses Bernard Tomic as its figurehead – the youth of Australian tennis. Along with himself and female counterpart Ashleigh Barty, there is a collective group of youngsters that have asserted their potential throughout 2012, displaying talent that would excite any diehard Australian tennis fan.
While naysayers have declared that Australian tennis has been on the decline in recent years, the youth not currently in the limelight of Australia’s sporting fraternity certainly display the contrary. So here I bring to you some of Australia’s most talented tennis-playing juniors.
The fiery 17-year-old had a stellar 2012 season, and is one of the most promising up-and-comers ready to make the transition to the professional circuit. The ACT young gun enjoyed much success from his pursuits among the junior ranks, notching up two junior Grand Slam doubles titles with doubles partner Andrew Harris.
With strong showings at the junior Wimbledon and US Open singles tournaments, and winning junior tournaments in Japan and Canada throughout the year, he is Australia’s highest ranked junior at number four in the world.
Carrying this form into his recently concluded December Showdown account, he not only took out the Australian 18s singles and doubles championships, but also upset number one seed Sam Groth in the first round of the 2013 Australian Open wildcard playoff.
It would not be surprising if his recent form commands a discretionary main draw wildcard from Australian selectors prior to his home Grand Slam.
A solid aggressive baseliner, who packs a punch with his booming serve and has a natural ability to hit powerful winners – particularly off the forehand wing, he also has an element of surprise in his game, able to mix up the tempo of matches with deftly placed drop shots and can rush the net when he sees the apt opportunity.
Kyrgios is also renowned for his aggressive on-court temperament, and in most matches can be heard venting his elation or frustrations depending on his predicament. In some respects, immediate comparisons between himself and recently retired American Andy Roddick can be made.
There’s no doubting Kyrgios as a passionate athlete, and Australian audiences will lap up his flamboyancy once he reaches professional status. While his tendency to deliver several self-directed monologues throughout a match could be irritating for some, it undoubtedly works, and is refreshing particularly when he lets his shots do the talking.
With Nick Kyrgios having his name lauded as a potential member of Pat Rafter’s Davis Cup team next year, and a potential Australian Open main draw call up as early as next year, there’s no doubt the young man from the ACT has the potential to be Australia’s next great men’s player.
A good friend of Kyrgios, Thanasi Kokkinakis has taken a different route throughout his junior development. While his current ranking of 1270 in the juniors may not seem ground-breaking, it’s his performances in the more senior ranks of the game that has garnered him plenty of attention from the Australian tennis fraternity.
Competing in Futures events in Australia and abroad, Kokkinakis increased his ATP ranking by over a whopping 900 places throughout the course of 2012, courtesy of strong showings at tournaments in Belgium and Australia during the second half of the year.
Spurred on by the words of established Australian players in his role as Orange Boy during the senior Davis Cup’s teams charge through the zone competition, the South Australian developed a maturity that would translate into success in his own junior Davis Cup pursuits and beyond.
His instrumental part as the number one player in Australia’s youth Davis Cup 2012 side aided the country’s juniors in clinching the silver medal in the annual competition. Remaining undefeated in singles up until the final, his clean sheet guiding Australia through difficult ties against the likes of the United States.
Kokkinakis’ strength lies in his evident consistency from the back of the court. He also possesses the capability to ramp up the pace to slam a winner past his opponent, with his forehand being particularly potent. Contrary to his mate Kyrgios, the world number 751 is more reserved in his demeanour on-court, leaving him less prone to outbursts during play.
The South Australian has all the makings of a future star for Australian tennis. With a year’s experience battling against far more seasoned opponents, 2013 should see Kokkinakis develop even more maturity against his same-aged peers and established professionals, with the transition from junior to professional streamlined by his current experience.
Arguably Australia’s most well known current junior player, Luke Saville has been able to transition quite easily from junior to the brink of professionalism. While Bernard Tomic’s rapid rise to the higher echelons of the men’s game garnered most attention from Australian media and being touted Australia’s next great hope, Saville flew under the radar for much of his junior career.
As the 2011 junior Wimbledon singles champion, and victorious in his quest for the junior singles crown at this year’s Australian Open, Saville has already experienced the pinnacle in the sport for his age.
Add his involvement in the victorious Australian Davis Cup team all the way back in 2009 as a 15-year-old and there’s barely anything he has left unachieved in the junior ranks.
With all of this achieved before reaching the age of 18, the natural transition to full-time professional player commenced this year, with Saville tapering his junior involvements to only the French Open, a Wimbledon lead up tournament and the annual event held at SW19.
Concentrating more on his Futures pursuits inevitably paid dividends for the South Australian, reaching three finals throughout the course of 2012 – a more fruitful year on the Futures circuit for Saville than ever before. Accompany this with three additional semi-finals appearances and it’s understandable how he jumped more than 800 places in the ATP rankings in 2012.
Like the two aforementioned junior hopes for Australia, Saville also possesses a game that lends itself to being largely baseline-oriented, where he’s able to grind it out against his opposition. His forehand is the stronger of his two wings, and can dominate play if he connects from his more effective side.
So where to from here for Saville? He is slowly reaching the age of 19, meaning that junior competition in 2013 is out of the question. If his rapid improvement in Futures tournaments in the past year is anything to go by, it wouldn’t be surprising if Saville starts to become a regular fixture within lower-tiered ATP tournaments.
The South Australian has the perfect avenue to commence this career-shaping season on home soil, and if Tennis Australia selectors look favourably on him, should gain berths in Australian Open lead-up tournaments and the first Grand Slam of the year itself.
The shadow of Bernard Tomic may just have been the perfect place for Luke Saville to develop his craft, and with the former Australian number one looking shaky, now is the apt time for him to step out of the shadows.