Any tennis fan, casual or avid, will have noticed that the current ATP rankings are deprived of American talent. There is currently one American, John Isner, inside the top 50 in the world. People have been holding out hope that Isner could eventually challenge for Grand Slam titles, but he turns 29 in April and only has a single quarterfinal appearance on his CV. Journeymen aside, is there any real American hope on the horizon?
I wrote a while back about the discouraging state of American tennis and what was being done to remedy the situation. As I’ve highlighted, there has not been much in the way of progress over the past few years. In fact, the current American ATP rankings may be even more unimpressive than they were in 2012. There is however, a crop of American teens who are making noise in the junior circuit.
There are currently three Americans who reside in the top ten in the ITF Under 18 Junior Rankings. As explained on the ITF website, “ A player’s ranking is calculated using the best six singles results plus one quarter (25%) of the best six doubles results”. Though each one of these players exhibits unique styles, collectively they represent one of the most promising groups of US talent in decades. Did I mention that these three Americans are all only 16 years old?
Here are the three that could be making headline on the pro tour in the next few years.
Stefan Kozlov: #2 ITF Ranked World Junior, #1 Ranked US Junior
The top ranked American Junior has had a fantastic run in over the past year, going from the youngest Junior in the top 20 in 2013 to being ranked #2 at the start of 2014. Originally from Macedonia, Kozlov most recently had an injury riddled exit from the Boys Australian Open but remains optimistic about the upcoming season. His game is extremely refined for his age relying on crafty shotmaking as opposed to athleticism. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of player he’ll be once he has developed physically, but all signs point toward a promising career.
Michael Mmoh: #9 ITF Ranked World Junior, #3 Ranked US Junior
Michael Moh is the most intriguing American prospect in quite a while. He already stands 6’2’’ and has a mid 130 mph serve. With unparalleled athleticism for his age, you can see why people compare him Gael Monfils. If his tennis IQ grows into even half of what his physical ability currently is, he’ll be a force on tour. There are some questions about his loose forehand technique but at just 16 he’ll be sure to tighten up his game, especially under the guidance of Nick Bolietieri.
Francis Tiafoe: #8 Ranked World Junior, #2 Ranked US Junior
The NY Times did a feature on Tiafoe and his family back in 2012 chronicling his unique story. Tiafoe and his twin brother lived in an office turned makeshift apartment in the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, MD, where his father worked maintenance. Tiafoe grew up in a tennis center, and it shows. Just last year he was the youngest player ever to win the Orange Bowl at the age of 15. It is clear that physically he has what it takes to become a great player and here’s to hoping that he can put it all together one day on the ATP Tour.