Shapovalov, Anisimova, Kostyuk… who’s the top tennis teen?

Published by Vivienne Christie

Rising fast: top-50 teen Denis Shapovalov has wins over Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro; Getty Images
Combining their sparkling natural ability with a fearless approach on the big stage, a string of exciting teens are lighting up tennis in 2018.

Embracing their opportunities on the game’s big stages, some talented newcomers are stepping boldly into the world tennis spotlight. Here are several that stand out.

1. Denis Shapovalov

Age: 18  Ranking: No.45 *

Armed with a top-50 ranking, dazzling talent and oodles of spirit, Shapovalov is relishing his first full year on tour. A maiden Australian Open ended in a second-round  loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga but the five-set battle had shades of their previous thriller, when the fearless lefty upset the Frenchman to reach the 2017 US Open fourth round as a qualifier. That win followed earlier ones over Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal as the Canadian became the youngest-ever ATP Masters semifinalist in Montreal. Having recently added Kei Nishikori to those big-name scalps, Shapovalov is sure to create opportunities in his Roland Garros debut.

2. Amanda Anisimova

Age: 16  Ranking: No.126

At just 16 years old, New Jersey-born Anisimova has already made her Grand Slam main draw debut (the 2017 French Open), claimed a Grand Slam girls’ title (the 2017 US Open) and a win over a top-10 opponent, after sensationally ending Petra Kvitova’s 14-match winning streak at Indian Wells. While a big game offered no protection from bad luck – a fall in Miami resulted in a fractured foot – you sense the world No.130 American will soon be back even stronger than before.

3. Stefanos Tsitsipas

Age: 19  Ranking: No.69

The foundations to become the highest-ranked Greek player in ATP history were laid in the hard work of qualifying events for the Athens-born 19-year-old. A qualifier at eight ATP events last season, Tsitsipas most notably made his Grand Slam debut at last year’s French Open and promptly repeated that feat at Wimbledon. In Antwerp, he stunned David Goffin for his first top-20 win and first ATP semifinal. Guided into tennis at age three by father Apostolos and Russian-born mother Julia Salnikova, who coached at a summer resort in Greece, Tsitsipas joined Shapovalov and Frances Tiafoe as one of three top-100 teens by the end of 2017.

4. CiCi Bellis

Age: 19  Ranking: No.44

The promise that the then 15-year-old showed by upsetting Dominika Cibulkova in the first round of the 2014 US Open shows no sign of abating. Since that memorable Grand Slam debut, the Californian-born “CiCi” (or Catherine) has achieved three wins in nine matches against top-10 opponents – most recently over defending champion Karolina Pliskova in her quarterfinal run at Doha. In 2016, Bellis declined a scholarship opportunity at Stanford University to turn professional; currently the youngest of four top-100 teens at No.44, that’s transpiring as a smart move.

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5. Alex De Minaur

Age: 19  Ranking: No.114

“Demon” in nickname and demon to many big-name opponents, the slight but lightning-fast Aussie has recent wins over former No.3 Milos Raonic to reach the Brisbane semifinals, plus Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez to secure a first ATP final in Sydney. Drawing many comparisons with mentor Lleyton Hewitt for his never-say-die spirit, there was also a thrilling Davis Cup debut as De Minaur pushed world No.5 Alexander Zverev to five fiercely-contested sets. Born in Sydney but spending many of his development years in Spain, the versatile De Minaur will be one to watch in the Grand Slams ahead.

6. Marta Kostyuk

Age: 15  Ranking: No.153

Where has the Ukraine sensation been since all her “youngest ever” feats at AO2018? Almost certainly building on the weapons that saw her charge through qualifying and stun No.23 seed Peng Shuai as she became the youngest woman, at age 15, to reach the third round of a Grand Slam since 1997. Adding another upset over Daria Gavrilova at Fed Cup, Kostyuk also claimed an ITF event in Burnie, soaring from outside the top 500 in January to her current top 153 spot. Now comes the challenge to craft her schedule with age eligibility rules in mind. Guided by her mother Talina, a former pro, and managed by Ivan Ljubicic, Kostyuk has both powerful influences and a remarkable maturity as she tackles those important next steps.

7. Felix Auger-Aliassime  

Age: 17  Ranking: No.176

When he’s not on court, Felix Auger-Aliassime loves to play the piano – but increasingly it’s the 17-year-old’s tennis that’s most in tune. His ranking helped by the two Challenger titles he claimed in 2017, the world No.182 more recently qualified for Indian Wells and upset Vasek Pospisil in the first round. A close friend and occasional doubles partner of Shapovalov, the young Canadian grew up admiring Roger Federer. In a fascinating twist, Auger-Aliassime was born on the Swiss star’s 19th birthday.

8. Marketa Vondrousova

Age: 18  Ranking: No.52

Describing herself as “quiet” and “calm”, Vondrousova has always seemed wise beyond her years. At age 15, she moved to Prague alone to develop her tennis, at age 16 she was junior No.1 and at age 17, she won her first WTA title (Biel) as a qualifier. At Indian Wells, an upset of Johanna Konta underlined the potential of the youngest top-100 player on the WTA Tour. A lefty who loves clay but says her game is best suited to hard court, expect more from the determined Czech in the months ahead.

9. Corentin Moutet

Age: 18  Ranking: No.147

Don’t let the lack of a headline-grabbing run at ATP level fool you: from outside the top 500 early in 2017, the French teenager made steady progress through the Challenger tour to arrive at his top-140 ranking. Defeating another teen, Tstisipas, to win in Brest last October, Moutet more recently upset Ivo Karlovic to reach his first ATP quarterfinal in Quito. Living within walking distance of Roland Garros and inspired by Rafael Nadal, Moutet is a tricky left-hander who could be especially damaging at his home Grand Slam.

10. Aryna Sabalenka

Age: 19  Ranking: No.61

The Belarusian lists Instagram as one of her greatest loves – which is apt given the many picture-perfect moments she’s recently achieved. Runner-up to childhood idol Maria Sharapova in the Tianjin final last October, Sabalenka surged into the top 70 with victory at the 125k event in Mumbai. Starting 2018 with upsets of Eugenie Bouchard and top seed Shuai Zhang in Hobart, the big-hitting teen stunned two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova at Indian Wells.

* Age and ranking at 09 April 2018

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