After an offseason filled with more uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 tennis season is finally upon us, and the start of the Australian Open is mere weeks away. While many of the game’s perennial favorites will likely continue to dominate in the new year, the next crop of superstars is not far behind; the future is quickly becoming the present.
Tennis is full of players who have already made their mark on the sport but can’t even legally drink in the United States. Collectively, this group has already earned two major titles, nine singles trophies on the WTA and ATP tours and made a number of deep runs at Grand Slams.
Who are these rising stars? Here are the 21 under 21 for 2021 in alphabetical order. We have a feeling you’ll be hearing a lot from these names going forward.
Career highlights: Winner of three ATP Challenger titles and three ITF Futures titles; Won his ATP main draw debut at the 2020 Rio Open
Fun fact: Alcaraz loves to play golf in his spare time. “I’m so bad,” he said about his skills on the course, “But I really like playing.”
Despite the circumstances of the 2020 season, Alcaraz still found a way to move up 350 spots the rankings by year’s end, moving from No. 491 to No. 141, even reaching a career-high of No. 136 in October.
He started the year with back-to-back titles on the ITF Futures tour and was granted a wild card into the Rio Open in February. And the then-16-year-old made the most of his ATP tour level debut, upsetting former World No. 17 Albert Ramos-Viñolas in 3 hours, 36 minutes in the opening round to become the first player born in 2003 to win a match and the youngest match winner since 2013. Alcaraz called the victory the high point of his season.
“It was very special for me,” he said.
Following the restart of the season in August, Alcaraz went 20-4 in Challenger events and won three titles at Trieste, Barcelona and Alicante, as well as playing in the final at Cordenons. He was named the ATP’s Newcomer of the Year and is the youngest player in the top 600.
But Alcaraz, who idolizes fellow countryman Rafael Nadal, has even bigger goals for 2021. He hopes to make his first main draw appearance at a major in Australia in February and then play in all of the Slams. As for his ranking? He’s hoping to make another big push in the new year.
“I want to finish the year in the top 50,” he said.
Career highlights: Champion, 2019 US Open, 2019 Indian Wells and 2019 Canadian Open
Fun fact: Andreescu is a fan of all things Toronto. From nearby Mississauga, she was frequently seen courtside at Raptors games prior to the pandemic. Winning her first Slam title just months after the Raptors won the 2019 NBA Finals, the hashtag #SheTheNorth was inspired by their run. Of course, she’s also a huge Drake fan and called him out on “The Tonight Show” for not congratulating her on her victory at the US Open. Several days later, she confirmed he had finally sent her a text message. “I’m actually having a conversation with him, this is unreal,” she said during a news conference.
Andreescu was injured for much of the 2019 season, but to say she made the most of the tournaments she was able to play would be a serious understatement.
Entering the season ranked at No. 178 and without having played in any WTA events in 2018, she stormed through qualifying in Auckland and made it all the way to the final to start the year. She had a semifinal run at the Mexican Open and then stunned the field at Indian Wells to earn her first WTA title. She dealt with injuries for the next several months before making her return and winning the Canadian Open.
She rolled at the US Open, convincingly beating Caroline Wozniacki, Elise Mertens and Belinda Bencic before beating Serena Williams in the final. She won the first set in dominant fashion, 6-3, then calmly held off Williams’ second-set rally with the crowd very much against her to ultimately nab her first major title. She became the first Canadian to win a major singles trophy, the first player in history to take the US Open title in their main draw debut and the first teenager to win a Slam singles trophy since Maria Sharapova in 2006. She jumped to No. 4 in the world by October, and earned the WTA’s Newcomer of the Year award.
However, she was forced to withdraw from the year-end WTA Finals with a knee injury, which persisted into the new season. She missed the Australian Open and had been hoping to make her return at Indian Wells to defend her title. Of course, we all know what happened next — the tournament was canceled and the season was suspended for the next several months. When the tour resumed in August, Andreescu opted out of playing the remainder of the year but is now focused on playing a full 2021 season.
“We’re putting a lot of emphasis on her physical preparation and making sure she’s coming back fitter than she’s ever been, and hopefully that’s going to make a big difference,” her longtime coach, Sylvian Bruneau, said in December while the two were training in Dubai. “She’s been in situations before where she was away from the court for long periods of time and then come back and done really well, and this is obviously for longer amount of time but she was able to manage that before. She’s the kind of player who will always rise to the occasion.”
Career highlights: Semifinals, 2019 French Open; Champion, 2019 Copa Colsanitas
Fun fact: Anisimova shares an agent with Maria Sharapova and is often compared to the now-retired, five-time major champion. Like Sharapova, Anisimova has Russian heritage (her parents moved to the United States before she was born) and is considered to have major marketing potential. She signed a substantial long-term deal with Nike in 2019 (which the New York Post said was financially “worth in the Maria Sharapova neighborhood”) as well as having endorsements with Gatorade, Therabody and Babolat.
Heading into the 2019 season, Anisimova had never won a match at a major. That mattered little as she advanced to the fourth round in Melbourne, won her maiden WTA title in Bogotá and had a star-making semifinal run in Paris, including wins over No. 11 seed Aryna Sabalenka and No. 3 Simona Halep. She surged in the rankings, grew in popularity with her on-court success and entertaining social media presence and looked to be tennis’ next big thing.
However, following the death of her father, who was also her coach, she withdrew from the 2019 US Open, and only played two more events that year. She started 2020 with a semifinal appearance at the Auckland Open to start the year, but was unable to replicate her success in Melbourne, losing in the first round. She didn’t advance past the third round in any tournament last year.
But now she enters what she hopes will be her first uninterrupted season on tour since turning pro. With her previous results and unwavering confidence, she will undoubtedly have high expectations for herself — and try to silence any doubters.
“I get on myself and I push myself as hard as possible,” Anisimova said to ESPN’s Alyssa Roenigk in 2019. “I like surprising people. When people doubt me, I like proving that I can do something that they never would have thought possible.”
Ranking: 21 (77 in doubles)
Career highlights: Fourth round, 2020 US Open; Six-time ATP finalist; Doubles champion, 2020 Paris Masters
Fun fact: Auger-Aliassime had a “Greatly motivating and inspiring” time training at Rafael Nadal’s Academy in Mallorca over the offseason, practicing with the 20-time major champion and working with “Uncle Toni,” Nadal’s uncle and longtime coach, while there.
True teenage phenoms are rare on the men’s side of professional tennis, yet Auger-Aliassime was exactly that. Becoming the youngest player to crack the top 25 since 1999 as an 18-year old and making five ATP finals before his 20th birthday, the Canadian set the bar high for himself almost as soon he joined the tour.
He won his first match on the Challenger tour as a 14-year old — becoming the youngest to ever do so — and notched two Futures titles and four Challenger titles before turning his focus primarily on ATP-level events for the 2019 season. He advanced to his first of three finals that February in Rio.
Auger-Aliassime made two more finals to start the 2020 season — in Rotterdam and Marseille — before the shutdown, and when the season resumed, he picked up where he left off. His best result at a major was a fourth-round run at the US Open, losing to eventual champion Dominic Thiem. He advanced to yet another final in Cologne, falling to Alexander Zverev, but surprised even himself when he won the biggest title of his career weeks later. Teaming up with Hubert Hurkacz, the duo took the doubles trophy at the Paris Masters.
“I never imagined that my first important title would come from doubles and I think that’s what made it so special,” he said. “They say the best things come when you least expect them, and that was definitely the case for the title in Paris. Singles or doubles, it was just a great feeling to win a championship match of this importance.”
With some unexpected new hardware, Auger-Aliassime enters the 2021 season with big goals for himself: breaking into the top 10 and playing for Team Canada in the Olympics.
“Being part of Team Canada at the Olympics would not only be one of the most special moment in my career so far, but it would truly be an honor to represent my nation and to walk among the best athletes in my country,” he said. “[The Olympics] have the power to connect citizens together and inspire a generation of young athletes, and that is priceless to me.”
Career highlights: Third round, 2020 French Open; Finalist, 2020 Mexican Open
Fun fact: Fernandez completed her high school studies in the spring during the tour stoppage. Initially, she was looking forward to finally being done with school after balancing tour life with academics, but she found she missed it and now takes classes through the WTA’s partnership with Indiana University East. She took two courses in the fall semester — a first-year seminar and principles of business administration — and will be taking two more in the spring. “It’s weird to say how much love my online classes and that it’s such a great break from tennis,” she said. “Sometimes I’m disappointed that I don’t have any homework to do because I already finished it all. Trust me, even I am surprised by this.”
Fernandez made her major main draw debut at the Australian Open in January — just a year removed from winning the junior title — but it was what she did in the weeks following the event that raised tennis fans’ eyebrows.
After losing in the first round in Melbourne, Fernandez scored her first win over a top-10 player (Belinda Bencic) while representing Canada in the Fed Cup (now known as the Billie Jean King Cup) in Switzerland. Later that month, she won six matches in seven days as a wild card qualifier in the Mexican Open, rolling into the final, where she ultimately lost to Heather Watson. The following week, she advanced to the quarterfinals at the Monterrey Open, defeating 2017 US Open champion Stephens in the second round.
“I understood and it was the right decision but I couldn’t help being a little bit disappointed they cancelled Indian Wells — just because I was playing so well,” she said. “Still, I’m so grateful for that wild card opportunity in Acapulco because without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. My ranking wasn’t that high before and I couldn’t get into tournaments, so I feel very, very lucky about that.”
Fernandez made a second-round appearance at the US Open and advanced to the third round of the French Open, where she took a 5-1 first-set lead over Petra Kvitova before the two-time major champion came back to win.
“It was a little disappointing with the defeat, but I think it showed us where my level is,” she said. “As the last match of the year, that gave us an idea of how we need to train for next season so that when I do play against her, or players like her, in the future, I would know what to do.”
Fernandez thinks her 2021 will be even more successful. Her plan is to reach the top 10 by the end of the year.
“I know I have a long way to get there, but that’s the goal and I think I can do it.”
Career highlights: Fourth round, 2020 French Open
Fun fact: Gaston was the flagbearer for France at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, an event in which he took home the gold medal in singles and the bronze in both doubles and mixed doubles.
With one major match and no ATP Tour wins, Gaston wasn’t exactly on many radars heading into Roland Garros in the fall. But he certainly was by the time the tournament was over.
Ranked No. 239 and receiving a wild card for his home Slam, Gaston notched his first three ATP wins and advanced to the fourth round — including a victory over 2015 French Open champion Stan Wawrinka in the Round of 32 — before falling to reigning US Open champion and 2019 Roland Garros finalist Dominic Thiem in five hard-fought sets. A clearly surprised Thiem later praised Gaston’s dropshots as being “from another planet.”
Gaston was the lowest-ranked player to reach the fourth round at a major since 2004 and was last Frenchman standing and the first countryman to reach the Round of 16 in his debut at the event since 1971.
“It was an amazing tournament for me,” he said.
The 20-year old now aims to crack the top 100 and, having seen what he can do on home soil, wants to go even further in the 2021 tournament.
Ranking: 48 (45 in doubles)
Career highlights: Fourth round, 2019 Wimbledon and 2020 Australian Open; Doubles quarterfinals, 2020 Australian Open; Champion, 2019 Linz Open; Doubles champion, 2019 Washington Open and 2019 Luxembourg Open
Fun fact: Gauff comes from a family of athletes. Her father Corey played basketball at Georgia State and her mother Candi ran track at Florida State. She tried both sports (and even won the first 5K she ever entered, according to her dad) but fell in love with tennis and was training with Serena Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou at his facility in France by the time she was 11.
As a 15-year old, Gauff became an overnight sensation when she stunned Venus Williams, one of her lifelong idols, in the opening round at Wimbledon in 2019. Having come through qualifying, Gauff knocked off the five-time All England Club champion in straight sets to become the youngest player to win a match at a Slam since 1996.
She furthered enamored herself to tennis fans — sparking what soon became dubbed “CocoMania” — with her joyful presence, fearless play and media savvy. Before falling to eventual champion Simona Halep in the fourth round, her matches had become must-see TV and she had drawn the attention of Michelle Obama and Tina Knowles-Lawson (Beyoncé’s mom).
Since her star turn at Wimbledon, Gauff has become one of the brightest young players on tour, drawing capacity crowds at the 2019 US Open and 2020 Australian Open in singles, and during doubles with fellow listee and pal Caty McNally. She recorded her biggest win at a major to date over defending champion Naomi Osaka in the third round in Melbourne last year. Some were surprised, but others who had been following her for some time were anything but.
“Coco has this innate quality where she always believes she can win,” 18-time Grand Slam champion and ESPN analyst Chris Evert said following the match. “I think she’s playing top-10 tennis right now. I think that’s as blunt as I can be. She says she wants to be the greatest of all time, and considering her age now, it’s possible.”
Off the court, she has proven to be just as composed. Over the summer, she spoke up on several occasions in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, including giving a now-viral speech at a peaceful protest in her hometown of Delray Beach, Florida.
Coco Gauff speaks at the protest in her hometown of Delray Beach, Florida, calling for everyone to make a change for the future.
Gauff made a semifinal run at the Top Seed Open in August in the first tournament following the 2020 season restart, but otherwise struggled following the break. Still, the expectations couldn’t be higher for the teenage phenom going into the new year — even if she insists she’s taking it one match a time.
“Every match is, like, a great win,” she said after her first-round victory at the French Open in September. “I don’t really take anything for granted because I’m just happy to be playing. I don’t think winning matches at slams is something I’m used to. When I’m on the court I can act like I’m used to it. When I’m off the court, I’m just happy to be here.”
Career highlights: Third round, 2020 US Open; Seven ITF titles
Fun fact: Gracheva loves to draw and her favorite artist is Vincent Van Gogh, particularly his “Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear” painting.
Thanks to a 70-26 record, Gracheva skyrocketed in the rankings in 2019, from No. 447 to No. 105, but she was still a virtual unknown entering her first major at the 2020 US Open.
And trailing 6-1, 5-1, it looked all but inevitable Gracheva would be sent packing during her second round match against Kristina Mladenovic.
But she clawed her way back — point by point, game by game — and pulled off one of the most staggering comebacks of recent memory. Gracheva staved off four match points and ultimately pulled off the victory in 2 hours, 13 minutes, blanking Mladenovic in the final set.
Her first win over a top-50 player helped her move to a career-high No. 89 in the rankings, and she more than doubled her career earnings during her stint in New York. She was unable to replicate her success during the remainder of the 2020 season, but with her win for the ages, she proved she likely won’t fly under the radar again.
Career highlights: Second round, 2019 Wimbledon, 2020 US Open, 2020 French Open; Seven ITF titles
Fun fact: In her spare time, Juvan loves to paint, study psychology and read philosophy books. “I like Socrates — it’s really interesting because it was right at the beginning of philosophy – he started it,” she said in an interview with the WTA. “And then there’s this saying from Descartes that faith is a projection of humanity, and I think that’s a really smart saying because it’s really related to God, and I think that’s something humans like to do.”
One match away from clinching her first spot in a major main draw, Juvan fell in the final round of qualifying at the 2019 French Open. Being in the third “lucky loser” position, there was no chance she would get a chance to play in the tournament.
Or, so she thought. On the first day of play, she was told Petra Kvitova was withdrawing and she would take her spot. She had just two hours to prepare for her match — on Suzanne Lenglen, no less. Juvan took the first set against Sorana Cirstea before eventually losing, but it was one of the more memorable debuts and a sign of what was to come.
She won her first match at a major the following month at Wimbledon and was awarded a second-round clash against Serena Williams. Playing in front of Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, Juvan broke Williams twice in the first set for an early 6-2 lead. Though Williams came back to win the match, Juvan showed she was more than ready for the sport’s biggest stages.
At the 2020 French Open, Juvan nabbed one of the biggest win of her career in the first round against three-time major champion Angelique Kerber in straight sets. She credited the match against Williams for helping her build to the moment.
“I guess it was mostly how I handled the situation,” she said after the match. “It was just that I wasn’t afraid of it. Obviously the match last year against Serena helped me to stay calm in this match.”
Longtime friends with 2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek — the pair won the doubles gold medal at the 2018 Youth Olympics — Juvan will undoubtedly be motivated by her pal’s success entering 2021 and will look to match her hardware.
Career highlights: Fourth round, 2020 French Open; One title on ATP Challenger Tour
Fun fact: Korda is the son of two professional tennis players — dad Petr won the 1998 Australian Open and mom Regina was ranked as high as No. 26. Not to mention, his older sisters Jessica and Nelly are stars on the LPGA Tour. He frequently uses the hashtag #Kordashians when referring to his famous family on social media, saying he finds it harder to watch his sisters play than actually playing himself. “There was an event Nelly was playing in, and I got to be there in person, and she was leading with a couple of holes to go, and my heart rate was at 182,” he said. “I still have the screenshot from my watch. It’s so nerve-wracking to watch them.”
Korda came to Paris for the French Open in search of his first win in a main draw at a major.
Coming through qualifying, he defeated Andreas Seppi in the opening round and then beat fellow American John Isner in the second round and Pedro Martinez in the third. He had known who he could potentially face in the Round of 16 and he used it as motivation during the three matches.
“I have always said my ultimate dream would be to play [Rafael] Nadal at the French Open and I had seen a [qualifier] spot next to him, so I was praying I would get him in the first round,” he said. “And then I saw I got a couple of sessions above him [in the draw] and I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to work for this now.’
“I wanted it so bad. After every match with my team, we were like, ‘All right, let’s keep going.’ I practiced right next to him before my second-round match and I just couldn’t believe how hard he hit the ball and how intense he was. It was tough to practice next to him because I was just looking over the whole time.”
Nadal ultimately won the match en route to his 13th title at Roland Garros, but Korda still walked away with a parting gift that quickly went viral: a signed shirt from Nadal himself that now hangs on his bedroom wall.
“It was a super cool moment for me and it made all of the hard work and the dedication that I’ve put into this all worth it,” he said. “I took a lot from the match and it really showed me that I have the level to be where I want to be.”
And Korda wasn’t done crossing things off of his bucket lists in 2020. In November he won his first title as a professional at a Challenger event in Eckental, Germany.
“I just want to keep building my body, keep building my game to where I want it to be, and be an aggressive player,” he said. “So just building to that and then working on a couple things, but ideally I want to crack the top hundred very soon. That’s for sure.
“Five years down the road I hope to be at the top of the game and competing for the big Slams. I have a slower process and slower journey than most guys. And I won’t be fully developed for another couple years, but it just shows me that even with not being fully developed, I can do some damage.”
Ranking: 99 (112 in doubles)
Career highlights: Third round, 2018 Australian Open, 2020 US Open; Three ITF singles titles, two ITF doubles titles
Fun fact: Kostyuk’s mother, Talina Beiko, won two ITF singles titles and one in doubles during her professional tennis career, being ranked as high as No. 391 in the world. She represented the Ukraine in the 1995 Fed Cup and now is one of Kostyuk’s coaches. Kostyuk’s uncle, Taras Beyko, also played professionally.
While not quite as headline-making as Coco Gauff’s run in 2019, Kostyuk had a similar breakout performance as a 15-year old. Ranked No. 521, Kostyuk was awarded a wild card into qualifying for the 2018 Australian Open, a year after winning the junior title at the event. She won her three qualifying matches and became the first player born in 2002 to play in a major main draw. She became the youngest player to win her first-round match in Melbourne since 1996 and was the youngest to reach the third round of a Slam in 21 years.
Her ranking surged to No. 185 after winning an ITF tournament the next week. But while she had continued success on the ITF circuit and notched a quarterfinal appearance at Strasbourg in 2019, Kostyuk struggled with consistency and failed to make it out of qualifying at Slams throughout the rest of 2018 and 2019.
She seemed to have rediscovered her confidence following the 2020 restart at the US Open. She upset former World No. 10 Daria Kasatkina and 2018 US Open semifinalist Anastasija Sevastova en route to the third round, before ultimately falling in three sets to eventual champion Naomi Osaka.
“I think my biggest takeaway from her game is that she didn’t back down from me or from the speed of my ball, which for someone that young is kind of amazing,” Osaka said after the match. “I feel like she’s definitely going to be dangerous.”
Career highlights: Third round, 2020 US Open; Three ITF titles
Fun fact: Li called Roger Federer her “biggest idol” and Li Na an “inspiration for the Asian community,” but it is a quote from Rafael Nadal’s biography “Rafa: My Story” that she uses as motivation: “Enduring means accepting. Accepting things as they are and not as you would wish them to be, and then looking ahead, not behind.”
After making it through qualifying, Li beat Lizette Cabrera in her main draw debut in Melbourne to open 2020. She lost to eventual Sofia Kenin in the second round, but still left Australia with nothing but “good memories.”
She played in only one more tournament before the season was shut down, but when it resumed, she was more focused and grateful to be able to play than ever. Li advanced to the third round at the US Open — upsetting No. 13 seed Alison Riske in the second round — before falling to three-time major champion and former World No. 1 Angelique Kerber in the Round of 32.
“I think because of the quarantine and not being able to play for a while really allowed me to focus on enjoying the competition more and enjoy playing and having a purpose with every ball,” she said. “It was interesting with no crowd, but regardless I had a great time and a lot of fun playing there.”
“I think because of the quarantine and not being able to play for a while really allowed me to focus on enjoying the competition more and enjoy playing and having a purpose with every ball.”
Now, having proven to herself and her peers what she is capable of, Li is excited for the new season, and especially to play events like Wimbledon and other tournaments that were cancelled last year.
“I get to do what I love every day,” she said. “I can inspire younger people and others to go out and play and have fun. It also allows me to travel to amazing places, experience new things, and meet cool people that I wouldn’t normally have a chance to.”
Ranking: 121 (42 in doubles)
Career highlights: Third round, 2020 US Open; Doubles quarterfinals, 2020 Australian Open; Doubles champion, 2019 Washington Open and 2019 Luxembourg Open
Fun fact: McNally is a huge fan of the U.S. women’s soccer team and even received a framed and singed jersey from star midfielder Rose Lavelle, a fellow Cincinnati native, for her birthday in November. McNally says its already hanging up on her bedroom wall and Lavelle’s “Hold fast, stay true” inscription is something she uses as inspiration.
McNally burst onto the global tennis scene as a 17-year old when she took the first set off of Serena Williams in their second-round match at the 2019 US Open. It was her first main draw at a major, first time playing on Arthur Ashe and first time facing the GOAT — and, in turn, the first time Williams had ever lost a set in the Round of 64 at a Slam.
McNally won over the capacity crowd and showed her poise under pressure as she erased three break points in the set’s final game to clinch it, 7-5.
“I was obviously nervous to go out there and play on Arthur Ashe, but excited at the same time,” said McNally, who ultimately lost the match but put the tennis world on notice. “I just wanted to do my best, show everyone what I’m made of and what I’m capable of doing out on the tennis court. That was obviously a really great moment and I really can remember it like it’s yesterday. It’s insane that it happened.”
Since then, McNally has perhaps become better known as one-half of #McCoco, the fan-favorite doubles pairing with fellow listee Coco Gauff. The teenage pair has won two professional titles together, as well as the 2018 US Open juniors event, and advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2020 Australian Open — and drew massive and devoted crowds wherever they played prior to the COVID-19 restrictions.
McNally said she and Gauff plan on playing together as much as possible in 2021, and she believes playing doubles has improved her overall game and will help her achieve her goal of breaking into the top 100 this year.
“My coaches are always reminding me that it’s the same serves, the same returns, I’m hitting the same balls, it’s just that I have someone out there with me,” she said. “So I kind of just took that confidence from those wins in doubles. I think eventually it gave me more confidence in my game and I was like, ‘Hey, you can do this in singles too.'”
Career highlights: Semifinals, 2020 Sardinia; Third round, 2020 Italian Open; One ATP Challenger title and two ITF Futures titles
Fun fact: Musetti’s favorite actor is Al Pacino, and if he wasn’t playing tennis, he thinks he would be pursuing an acting career himself.
A former junior No. 1 and Australian Open boys’ winner, Musetti didn’t make his first main draw appearance on the ATP Tour until 2020 — but he needed little time to make his mark.
In just his second event in the main draw — coming through qualifying as a wild card — the 18-year old beat three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka in straight sets in his opening-round match in Rome to become the first male player born in 2002 to win a tour-level match. He followed that up with a victory over former World No. 4 Kei Nishikori to become the youngest male player to reach the third round at the Italian Open since 1991.
“Even playing with no crowd because of the pandemic, it was an incredible feeling to beat Wawrinka and Nishikori on Centre Court,” he said.
He won his first Challenger title the very next week and advanced to the semifinals as a wild card at the Forte Village Sardegna Open in October in his final ATP tournament of the season.
Musetti entered 2020 ranked No. 360 and finished it at No. 128, and he hopes to continue that upward trend in the new season, as well as play in many events — and against some big-name opponents — for the first time.
“I can’t wait to play in the main draw at Wimbledon for the first time in my career,” he said. “Like many I believe, I grew up admiring Roger Federer. It would be a dream to get to play against him, maybe even at Wimbledon.”
Career highlights: Second round, 2020 US Open; One ATP Challenger title and two ITF Futures titles
Fun fact: Nakashima graduated high school a semester early and enrolled at Virginia for the spring 2019 semester. Playing for the Cavaliers, he recorded a 17-5 record in singles play and a 20-3 record in doubles. He earned ACC Freshman of the Year honors and was named All-ACC first team. Nakashima turned pro following the season, but credits his brief time in college for helping prepare him for life on tour. “I think playing college matches and getting the experience of living away from home for a long period of time definitely helped me adjust to pro life,” he said. “I always wanted to go to college before I turned professional, no matter how well I was doing, so I’m really glad I did that.”
Nakashima earned a wild card into his first ATP-level tournament at Delray Beach in February 2020, and he took full advantage of the opportunity. He beat Jiri Vesely and Cameron Norrie in his first two rounds and became the youngest quarterfinalist at the event in 12 years. While disappointed when the season was shut down just weeks later, he was determined to use the break as productively as possible.
“We never knew when the tournaments would start back up again,” he said, “but I was out there every day, just trying to get better, so when tournaments came back, I would be ready.”
His attitude paid off. He was given a wild card into the US Open when the season resumed, and he won his opening-round match in his major main draw debut against Paolo Lorenzi. He lost in the next round in four sets to eventual finalist Alexander Zverev, but said the tournament experience was invaluable.
“It was so great for me just to get those matches in against those top players,” he said. “To win the first round was great for my confidence, as was having a good second round match against a top player. I knew after that tournament that I could compete with all these top guys.”
Nakashima finished the season in November with a Challenger title, his first, in Orlando. He celebrated with a round of golf with his coach before coming back to California to train for the new season.
“Winning the tournament was a validation of all of my hard work that I put in during those five months when there were no tournaments and showed how much I was progressing going into the offseason and the new year,” he said. “I definitely feel like I’m going in a positive direction and the tournament win gives me a lot of confidence going into the new season.”
Ranking: 101 (133 in doubles)
Career highlights: Second round, 2019 Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon; Finalist, 2018 Moscow River Cup, 2018 Tashkent Open; Doubles champion, 2018 Moscow River Cup, 2019 Lausanne
Fun fact: If Potapova wasn’t a professional tennis player, she says she would be a writer or archaeologist.
Potapova earned her first victory in the main draw of a Slam at the 2019 Australian Open. A year later, she faced Serena Williams in her Melbourne opener in front of a packed crowd at Rod Laver Arena.
“I loved every second on court and the experience I got during the match,” she said of the 6-0, 6-3 loss.
Despite her early exit, the match clearly motivated her. She advanced to the quarterfinals in her next three events in St. Petersburg, Acapulco and Monterrey. She spent the time off trying to recover from a lingering right ankle injury, undergoing surgery in July and missing the remainder of the season when it resumed — but it made her hungrier than ever to get back to competition.
Potapova’s main priority going into 2021 is to stay healthy, and she is looking forward to resuming the grind of the tour.
“I love everything about it,” she said. “Traveling around the world, meeting new people, playing [in front of] the big crowds. It’s a dream life for me and I’m enjoying it.”
Thiago Seyboth Wild
Career highlights: First round, 2020 US Open; Champion, 2020 Chile Open
Fun fact: Seyboth Wild loves to go fishing whenever he has a chance and says it’s the perfect way to clear his mind. “I love the adrenaline you get when you catch a fish, and I can take my focus away from everything else,” he said. “People get it wrong about sitting there and waiting to catch a fish, you can go look for it and use live baits. There are so many different techniques.”
Seyboth Wild wasn’t exactly the favorite entering the Chile Open last February after cracking the top 200 for the first time. But having notched one of the biggest wins of his career the week prior at the Rio Open in 3 hours, 49 minutes — the longest match ever in tournament history — over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, and taking World No. 32 Borna Ćorić to three sets the next round, the then-19-year old was flying high entering the event.
What he did over the course of the week in Santiago was even more impressive.
Seyboth Wild knocked off three seeds en route to the title, becoming the first player born in the 2000s to win an ATP event and the youngest Brazilian champion in the Open era.
“I don’t think anybody expected that [result], and neither did I,” he said. “I think I started playing really well in Rio and I think that I just helped my confidence. In the quarterfinals, when I was playing [top-seeded] Cristian Garín, I felt like I could win the tournament because we were playing at the same level.
“I think it’s is more mental than anything else because physically, all the players in the top 100 are the same, they’re all pretty talented and can strike the ball really well and really clean. So the mentality makes all the difference. When you go on the court thinking that you can beat anyone, that you’ve been working just as hard as anyone else, or even more than them, and that you actually deserve it, that’s what makes you win.”
He found mixed results after the restart, losing in the first round of the US Open and not making it past qualifying at the French Open. But he made a finals appearance at a Challenger event in Aix-en-Provence, which lifted him to a career-high No. 106 in the rankings.
Seyboth Wild hopes to build off what he achieved in 2020 in the new year, although he says he focused more on some of the small things during the preseason.
“I’ve been working a lot on my fitness, but nothing specific, more like strength gaining and being faster on the court, moving better and being more coordinated,” he said in December. “I’ve been working on my serves and my backhand because I actually think I need to improve my first serve a lot. I haven’t decided my exact goals for 2021 yet but I will sit down with my team at some point and figure that out.”
Career highlights: Quarterfinals, 2020 French Open; Champion, 2020 Sofia Open, 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals
Fun fact: Sinner was a competitive skier growing up and was one of Italy’s top juniors. He won the national championship in giant slalom at 8 and earned a second-place finish in the event as a 12-year old. He ultimately gave up the sport at 13 to focus on tennis. He still enjoys skiing as a hobby, but now also says he enjoys driving. “If I could I’d like to spend some times racing with go karts or in a circuit with really fast cars,” he said. “I know some Formula 1 [drivers] because we all live in Monaco and I’d love to learn some tricks from them.”
After a breakthrough 2019 season in which he cracked the top 100, won the Next Gen ATP Finals and was named ATP Newcomer of the Year, Sinner looked to be one of the brightest young stars in tennis.
He further cemented that status in 2020.
Sinner notched his first top-10 victory over David Goffin as a wild card at the Rotterdam Open in February and earned another one against Stefanos Tsitsipas in Rome in September. But the French Open was where he truly had his star-turn, as he became the youngest male player to reach the quarterfinals at the tournament since Novak Djokovic in 2006, and the first to do so in his Roland Garros debut since Rafael Nadal in 2005. During his Parisian run, he again defeated Goffin, as well as sixth-seeded Alexander Zverev, before ultimately falling to Nadal.
“I really enjoyed playing in Paris, because it was my first Roland Garros, although it was incredibly cold and there was zero public,” he said. “But I played a couple of good matches and I was not expecting to play well on clay. I always thought I was going to do better on hard, like in Australia or New York.
“But Paris was only my third Slam in a main draw so I guess I might have more nice surprises in the future.”
Sinner had a nice surprise the following month at the season-ending Sofia Open, earning his first ATP title. With a three-set victory over Vasek Pospisil in the final, he became the youngest Italian champion on tour in the Open era and the youngest player to win an ATP title since Kei Nishikori in 2008. He is currently the highest-ranked teenager on tour.
“Well obviously it was super nice,” he said about winning the Sofia title. “I really wanted to get the title because I felt I’ve worked a lot to get there and also because I couldn’t play as much as I would normally have, like everyone else. [It was a] lovely way to finish the year.”
Ranking: 17 (75 in doubles)
Career highlights: Champion, 2020 French Open
Fun fact: Swiatek didn’t just enamor herself to fans with her incredible play at the 2020 French Open; she also became beloved for her eclectic taste in music and she was frequently asked by reporters what she was listening to. “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses, a song that was released almost 14 years before she was born, was her go-to pump-up song at the tournament, and she also revealed Pink Floyd, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and Lana Del Ray as part of her playlist.
The second of two major champions on this list, it almost feels disingenuous to call Swiatek a rising star when she proved she is very much the present with her dominant performance at Roland Garros in the fall.
Having never advanced past the fourth round at a major, and just two years removed from winning the junior doubles title at Roland Garros (with fellow listee Caty McNally), Swiatek arrived at the French Open ranked No. 54 and coming off a first-round loss at the Italian Open. But fueled by her incredible self-belief and calm under pressure, Swiatek steamrolled her opponents in Paris and never dropped a set.
Just how good was Swiatek at the tournament? In the fourth round against Simona Halep, she lost just three games in total and completely dismantled the 2018 champion and overwhelming favorite to win the title. Considering Halep had defeated Swiatek, 6-1, 6-0, at the 2019 French Open, it was a staggering display of just how far the Polish teenager’s game had come.
In the final she beat reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin 6-4, 6-1 to become the first Polish player to win a major, the lowest-ranked French Open champion in WTA history and the tournament’s youngest singles champion since Rafael Nadal in 2005.
Swiatek more than doubled her career earnings with the victory and jumped into the top 20 of the rankings. The praise and predictions for the sport’s newest royal were immediate with former players like John McEnroe, Chris Evert and Tracy Austin weighing in on TV and on social media.
“What a sterling two weeks of brilliant tennis,” Evert wrote. “Many, many more GS titles to come.”
While she was more humble in her expectations for herself, it was clear Swiatek was already thinking about the future immediately after the win.
“I know my game isn’t developed perfectly,” she said at her champion news conference. “Also, I think the biggest change for me is going to be to be [consistency]. I think this is what women’s tennis is struggling with. That’s why we have so many new Grand Slam winners because we are not, like, as consistent as Rafa, Roger [Federer] and Novak [Djokovic].
“That’s why my goal is going to be to be consistent. It’s going to be really hard to achieve that.”
Career highlights: Second round, 2020 French Open; Seven ITF titles
Fun fact: Being from Denmark, Tauson is often compared to former World No. 1 and 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki. Tauson became the first Danish woman other than Wozniacki to advance to the second round of a major in 31 years in Paris. The two have practiced together on a few occasions, and Tauson said she was her “biggest role model growing up” during an interview at the French Open but she doesn’t like the frequent correlations. “We get compared a lot, but I am my own person, and she is her own person,” she said. “I am just trying to focus on myself.”
Tauson had one of her most fearless performances at her first Slam main draw at the 2020 French Open. Faced with the unenviable task of facing the red-hot Jen Brady, the then-17-year-old saved two match points and stunned the US Open semifinalist 6-4, 3-6, 9-7 in 2 hours, 45 minutes, calling it “the highest quality tennis I’ve ever played in my life.”
“It was a dream come true, of course, and then winning the match, I don’t have any words yet,” she said after. “It was so great. I’ve never really experienced a match like that.”
Tauson lost in the next round to Danielle Collins but still cemented herself as a player to watch, and it’s clear she exceeded her own expectations in a difficult 2020 season but still has higher hopes for the new year.
“This year has taught me so many things about myself inside and outside the court,” she wrote on Instagram. “If anyone had told me at the beginning of this year that there was gonna be a global pandemic outbreak with no tournaments for six months and that I was gonna be in the second round of French Open I would probably have laughed at them but all of this happened and I couldn’t be more grateful for my team, sponsors, friends and family for helping me and supporting me through these times. Can’t wait to be back better and stronger in 2021!!”
Ranking: 29 (90 in doubles)
Career highlights: Fourth round, 2019 Wimbledon; Champion, 2018 Hong Kong, 2019 Hua Hin, 2019 Strasbourg
Fun fact: Yastremska released two singles during the tour’s suspension: a slow jam called “Thousands of Me” and a synth-heavy dance song called “Favorite Track”. “I do not strive to become a cool artist,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “I just like to sing.”
After a fruitful junior career, it didn’t take Yastremska long to rise up the WTA ranks. She won her first tournament as an 18-year-old in 2018, and followed it up with two more titles in 2019, as well as third round appearances in Melbourne and New York and trip to the Round of 16 at Wimbledon. She ended the 2019 season with a career-high rank of No. 22 and earned a spot at the year-end WTA Elite event.
Yastremska opened 2020 with three consecutive victories over top-20 players (Angelique Kerber, Donna Vekic, Aryna Sabalenka) to make the final at Adelaide before the sports world paused.
She found herself embroiled in controversy over the summer when she posted pictures of herself in blackface on social media.
“I sincerely apologize to all the people I have offended,” she wrote in a statement in July. “I truly had only good intentions.”
When tennis resumed, she failed to advance past the third round at another tournament in 2020. During the offseason, tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in two weeks when she was unable to train.
“The symptoms were very strange, it was bad,” she wrote on Twitter about her experience. “I [have] fully recovered now and my focus is to go back training.”
Editor’s note: Shortly after this story was published, Yastremska was provisionally suspended by the ITF after testing positive for a banned substance. She denied using any performance enhancing drugs in a statement posted to social media, saying she was “resolutely determined to do everything to clear my name.”