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ATP Top 100: Where are the teenagers?

19-year-old Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov is the only teenager in the current ATP top-100.

When Roger Federer says something he means it. The Swiss Maestro recently voiced his concern over the lack of young players coming through the ranks in the ATP Tour. “There’s not a whole lot of promising newcomers. I was asking myself the question, why don’t we have teenagers in the top 100?” the 16-time grand slam champion had asked.

Federer’s question is legitimate. After all, the men’s tennis has witnessed the likes of Boris Becker (Wimbledon champ at 17), Michael Chang (French Open at 17), Pete Sampras (US Open at 19) and Rafael Nadal (French Open at 19). In the late ’90s, when Federer emerged on the scence, his peers Lleyton Hewitt, Marat Safin, Andy Roddick, Juan Carlos Ferrero and  Tommy Hass were not only teenagers, the talented bunch was also in the top-100, constantly punching above their weights.

The positive trend continued until couple of years back as Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Juan Martin Del Potro and Marin Cilic made a mark and blazed a route to the top-10. But since then the conveyor belt has stuttered.

To make it more interesting, I did a small research on the ATP rankings. At the beginning of the 2011 season there was no teenager in the top-100. Currently (as of March 21, 2011), the only teen in the top-100 is 19-year-old Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov (ranked 70 and started the season at 106). There are two 20-year-olds in the top-100, but as many as 17 players are over 30 years with Germany’s Rainer Schuettler being the oldest at 34. The average age is 26.05.

So what’s the reason for the slide in number of youngsters on the Tour? People in the know cite increased physicality of the game as the main reason. The statistics actually underline the competitiveness of the ATP Tour. The growing strength in depth means it is becoming a much longer road to the top. Sometime back, the youngsters who graduated from junior circuit had strong basics. Hewitt, Nadal and Djokovic are very good examples of that. These days, even the players who win junior grand slams struggle when they turn pro. No doubt, the tennis Tour has become more gruelling than 10 years back. Power is the name of the game and calendar has become more packed. It takes a couple of years to build up your body to be able to compete with the style of tennis now.

Although not of the same calibre as the previous generation, there are players who can make it big in the game…

Bernard Tomic (Australian, 18 yrs, rank 180): The German-born Australian had an impressive junior career by winning the Australian and US Open trophies. In the ongoing season, he is one of the biggest movers in the ranking. He served notice to his talent when he toppled three top-100 players on his way to qualify for the Sydney international. His performance earned him a wildcard into the main draw of the Australian Open, where he defeated Jeremy Chardy and 31st seed Feliciano López before losing to Rafael Nadal.

Ryan Harrison (18, American, rank 130): He turned plenty of heads when he became the 10th player in the history of ATP Tour to win a match before turning 16. Harrison had a great start to the 2011 season. After winning the Honolulu Challenger, he upset Guillermo García-López in the second round of the Indian Wells Masters as a wild card and continued his good run to defeat Milos Raonic in the third round before his confrontation with Roger Federer.

Grigor Dimitrov (Bulgarian, 19yrs, rank 70): He had a very successful junior career winning the Wimbledon and US Open. Dimitrov was briefly coached by legendary Peter Lundgren, former coach of Marat Safin and Roger Federer. Lundgren has also been quick to praise Dimitrov, saying that “he is better than Federer was at his age.”

Milos Raonic (Canadian, 20yrs, rank 34): The Serbia-born Canadian is the biggest revelation of the season. Starting the year at 156, the big serving Milos has made huge strides. He qualified for the Australian Open and knocked out World No. 10 Mikhail Youzhny to become the first qualifier to make the fourth round of the Slam since 1999. He clinched his first ATP title in San Jose in February defeating Fernando Verdasco in final. With 380 aces in 18 matches, Milos currently on top of the ace leaderboard. Ivo Karlovic and Andy Roddick are in the second and third place with 280 and 250.

Richard Berankis (Lithuanian, 20yrs, rank 75): Son of a taxi driver, Richard rose to prominence with the 2007 junior US Open title. After turning pro, he finished the 2010 season as the youngest player in top-100. He upset David Nalbandian in the second round of the Australian Open this year and entered the quarterfinals of the SAP Open.

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