Much of the talk heading into the 2016 tennis season has concerned whether Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams can maintain, or even further, their dominance over their rivals on the men’s and women’s tours, respectively. For even the most experienced of rivals, halting the duos reign at the top of the game will prove an arduous task. Yet on both tours there are players who in 2016 will be vying to enter the mix on tennis’ biggest stages. Here are five players who could make a big splash in the year ahead.
No. 44 Borna Ćorić (Croatia, 19)
Although still a teenager, Ćorić has been tipped for greatness for some time. He enjoyed a steady rise in 2015, going from 102 to 44 in the ATP rankings and scoring the biggest win of his career to date over Andy Murray. Being compared with world No. 1 and 10-time Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic might be overwhelming for some young players. Yet Ćorić has shown no sign of lacking for self-belief, saying last January: “When I’m at my best, I am more like Djokovic, game-wise; when I’m not, I’m more like [Andy] Murray.” With that much confidence, a place in the top 20 will surely be his aim in 2016.
No. 14 Belinda Bencic (Switzerland, 18)
Like Coric, Bencic has had the burden of comparisons to a tennis great from an early age. In Bencic’s case, the tag of “The new Martina Hingis” was an easy one to make. Not only do they both hail from Switzerland, but Bencic has been mentored by Hingis’ mother and former coach Melanie Molitor. Unsurprisingly, then, the 18-year-old also shares the former world No.1’s versatile playing style and mental toughness. Already highly touted, Bencic had a big 2015, rising to 14 in the rankings and winning her first Premier 5 event title in Toronto, when she defeated three current or former world No. 1’s in Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic and Williams.
No. 30 Nick Kyrgios (Australia, 20)
That Kyrgios has the talent to be a top-10 player and win Grand Slam titles is not truly in doubt. Yet whether he has what it takes mentally to do so remains a huge question mark hanging over the Canberra-native heading into 2016. Standing at 6-foot-5 and with a blistering serve and forehand, Kyrgios announced himself as a future star by beating Rafael Nadal and reaching the Wimbledon quarterfinals on debut in 2014. A second Grand Slam quarterfinal followed at the Australian Open last year, but the rest of his 2015 is remembered more for his controversial behavior than his tennis, including infamous comments made to Stan Wawrinka about his girlfriend. If he can cut out the less desirable aspects of his personality and focus on his tennis, he should make big strides in 2016.
No. 3 Garbiñe Muguruza (Spain, 22)
Perhaps it’s cheating to include on a list of rising stars a player who currently sits at No. 3 in the world rankings. However, given Muguruza’s rise from 21st at the start of last year and the strides she could yet take in the year ahead, it feels appropriate. At 6-foot tall and with an aggressive, powerful style from the back of the court, the Venezuelan-born Spaniard earned headlines around the world when bludgeoning Serena Williams, 6-2 6-2 at the 2014 French Open. Last year, she built on that breakthrough, reaching her first Grand Slam final and giving a good account of herself in defeat to Williams at Wimbledon. She could be set to go one better in 2016.
No. 26 Jack Sock (USA, 23)
American men’s tennis has been in the doldrums since the retirement of Andy Roddick, and, with John Isner now past the age of 30, it’s about time for someone to emerge and make that U.S. No. 1 spot their own. There is every reason to believe that over the next 12 months Sock will do just that. Given that he is already ranked No. 26, despite missing the first two months of last season and being forced to retire early at the U.S. Open, the top 20 should be the Nebraska-native’s minimum target. With a fierce, whipping forehand that bears similarities to that of Nadal’s, Sock has a powerful weapon and a compatibility with clay courts shared by few of his fellow-Americans. The next step is to add to his solitary career win over top-10 players.