ATPTour.com has looked at some of the biggest storylines ahead of the 2021 season, with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal chasing history and ascendant stars Dominic Thiem and Daniil Medvedev chasing them. We have also examined some #NextGenATP stars who are ready to shine under the spotlight.
But who else should you keep your eyes on in the upcoming season? We look at five players outside the Top 30 of the FedEx ATP Rankings who could make an impact in 2021.
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Dynamic Australian Nick Kyrgios has not played since the Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC in February, opting to remain home after tennis returned in August following a five-month suspension of play due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But a rested Kyrgios — both physically and mentally — should prove a dangerous one in 2021. The six-time ATP Tour titlist has the ability to beat anyone on his day — he has a 2-0 ATP Head2Head record against World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and three wins from eight tries against 35-time ATP Masters 1000 titlist Rafael Nadal. As players look to find their footing early, if Kyrgios is able to overcome his long period without competitive tennis, he’ll put plenty of pressure on his opponents.
On paper, Kyrgios is the No. 45 player in the FedEx ATP Rankings. But keep in mind he only played nine matches in 2020. In those matches, the big-hitting righty found good form. Kyrgios earned wins in two of the best matches of the year. He battled past Stefanos Tsitsipas in an emotional tilt at the ATP Cup, in which nobody broke serve, leading to three tie-breaks. At the Australian Open, Kyrgios outlasted powerful Russian Karen Khachanov after four hours and 26 minutes.
One of Nick’s losses was a tight four-setter against Nadal in Melbourne. But any close defeat against Nadal is nothing to be ashamed of. Kyrgios will be hungry for more in 2021.
There are few players on the ATP Tour as dangerous as Reilly Opelka. The American has won a tour-level title in each of the past two seasons, and now he’s ready to begin his push for more success at ATP Masters 1000 and Grand Slam events.
The 23-year-old has shown his potential. Case in point: last year’s Western & Southern Open. At that Masters 1000 event, Opelka dismissed Cameron Norrie, Diego Schwartzman and Matteo Berrettini in straight sets to reach his first quarter-final at the level. The 6’11” righty only lost a combined 10 first-serve points against Schwartzman and Berrettini, Nitto ATP Finals competitors in 2020 and 2019, respectively. He actually hit Berrettini with a serve on match point to end that match.
Opelka might be known for his booming serve, but he is deceptively fleet afoot. His two-handed backhand is also a steady tool in the American’s game. The World No. 39 is capable of taking the racquet out of any opponent’s hand. So what is his key for reaching his very best? Opelka has been focussing on his body.
“I have to get stronger so I can last an entire season and last for Grand Slams, and recover better in between matches and my body can hold on for an entire year,” Opelka said. “That way I can play each week at close to 100 per cent. I know it’s not realistic to be perfect, feeling great all the time, but [getting] as close as I can… that is my main goal.”
Daniil Medvedev’s strokes are unorthodox, and they helped take him to titles at the Nitto ATP Finals and the Rolex Paris Masters in 2020. Could another unorthodox game ascend towards the top of the sport in 2021? Daniel Evans hopes so.
The British No. 1 has a different arsenal of weapons then Medvedev. Instead of grinding down opponents with relentless defence and flat groundstrokes, Evans uses a wide variety of spins to create openings and drive opponents crazy. Armed with a one-handed backhand, he almost always hits a low, biting slice off that wing, baiting opponents into going for too much or changing the pace of rallies to open new opportunities in the point.
The 30-year-old earned seven victories against Top 20 players in 2020 and climbed to a career-high No. 28 in the FedEx ATP Rankings in March. Evans is only adding more experience against the world’s best. And if anyone is off their game, Evans is exceptional at keeping them from finding their top level.
Do not blink if you’re watching Alexander Bublik play tennis in 2021, or ever for that matter. The Kazakhstani is one of the most entertaining players on the ATP Tour. Look away for a second, and you might miss an underarm serve, an out-of-the blue winner and more.
Bublik is not all show, though. He is a dangerous player who reached a career-best No. 47 in February 2020 and is currently World No. 50. The 23-year-old earned his first Top 10 victory last year against home favourite Gael Monfils at Roland Garros.
The two-time ATP Tour finalist is unpredictable, and he loves playing in the tightest moments. Bublik ranks 17th in the past 52 weeks on the ATP’s Under Pressure Leaderboard, which combines break points saved, break points converted, as well as performance in tie-breaks and deciding sets.
“I like this feeling when it’s 50-50. When I’m serving full power on a second serve at deuce, I feel fear. I feel the game, I feel nice,” Bublik said. “When I hit that ace in the third-set tie-break at five-all on a second serve, I have an adrenaline boost in my body and it’s awesome… That’s the kind of person I am.”
Two-time Grand Slam finalist and former World No. 5 Kevin Anderson was a finalist for Comeback Player of the Year in the 2020 ATP Awards. In 2019, he struggled with elbow and knee injuries, then he had knee surgery in February 2020.
But despite falling as low as No. 147 in the FedEx ATP Rankings in 2020, the South African showed signs of a resurgence near year’s end. Anderson reached the third round at Roland Garros and then made his lone semi-final of the season at the Erste Bank Open in Vienna. At that ATP 500, the 34-year-old beat Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta and Russian Daniil Medvedev in straight sets. Medvedev did not lose the rest of the year, claiming the title at the Rolex Paris Masters and the Nitto ATP Finals.
If Anderson is able to stay healthy in 2021, he’ll continue to build his confidence. And at full strength, there is little doubt that the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals competitor has the firepower and mental fortitude to compete with some of the best players in the sport. Still motivated to push for big titles, Anderson remains as hungry as ever to make his mark.