2015 – the best ever year for British tennis? Probably not. The hyperbolic tendencies of British journalists are once again in full swing. Davis Cup champions and a female Brit nominated for WTA Most Improved Player (and one who is genuinely showing top 20 form) is nothing to be sniffed at, sure. But whilst there were less headline grabbing but no less remarkable moments (Andy at number 2, Heather against Serena at Wimbledon) there is also great cause for concern.
In truth these moments and the naturalisation of Aljaz Bedene have covered up a more worrying picture, particularly when you look at the next generation of boys. Liam Broady’s round 1 Wimbledon result aside, it was a tough year for the 21 year old who burst onto the scene in late 2014 with some fantastic Challenger results. Kyle Edmund has made steady if not spectacular progress and even besides his very obvious (and consistent) off court issues, you can’t really call Dan Evans the next generation or, with his track record, committed enough to become a top 100 player. There were no junior boys in Grand Slam main draws outside of Wimbledon and the ones in and around the top 100, results aren’t exactly setting the pulse racing – unless we have some later bloomers, we may have a few years yet to rely on Murray. On the women’s side, our hopes remain with two players. At only 21, we can still call Laura Robson one for the future, and her welcome return from injury cannot come soon enough. Injuries to promising youngsters Eleanor Dean and Katie Boulter have also frustrated but in Katie Swan, we could have a real gem. The transition will be tough but she seems ready for the challenge. Johanna Konta has proved however, that the margins are often fine and in her we could have a player challenging for titles in 2016.
So who are the youngsters to watch out for in 2016? I’ve found six, although there is, with all lists of this kind, an inevitable caveat – results for juniors are not the whole picture and many choose to play on the senior circuit.
Remarkably, Kyle will still be under 21 as the fireworks begin in London. This year’s steady rise up the rankings is anything consistent with what happened off court in 2015. His ranking rise over 12 months went from just inside the top 200 to just inside the top 100 and his finishing position of 102 will likely see him get direct entry into the Australian Open for the first time. His coaching team has unsettled the otherwise mature and consistent Edmund and many began to question the appointment of the polarising Greg Rusedski in April 2014 and his consequent sacking that September. Despite this 2015 year was sprinkled with highlights – three challenger titles and qualifying for the French Open for the first time. But it wasn’t all good. Edmund only beat one top 100 player this year and although commendably went two sets up on David Goffin in the Davis Cup, lost rather limply in 5.
In a country that expects immediate results, some have been frustrated by Kyle’s lack of progress. And yet, there are only five players younger than him ranked higher. The future is still bright for Edmund. But there’s no doubt that 2016 is a huge year for the soon to be adult.
If you’re casual tennis fan, Freya probably isn’t on your radar. But tennis enthusiasts and British commentators alike note her adult game. The former top 100 junior has steadily and quietly made strides up the senior rankings in her first full season on tour. A career high 388 and a year end of 389 for the 18 year old shows good promise. Her end to the year, with a run through qualifying to the final of a 25K, is the best possible end to an already impressive season.
A powerful serve and groundstrokes, the tall Nottingham teenager is also an adept doubles player reaching the Wimbledon Junior Semi Finals with fellow youngster Anna Brogan, which can often bode well for a senior career. Many think her solid and powerful game will see her well on the senior tour. Expect much from 2016.
There’s so much to say about the 16 year old based in the US. A 2015 Australian Open Junior Singles finalist, a first round quals win at Wimbledon against the then 118th best player in the world demonstrated fabulous progress and opportunity for the youngest of our cast of characters.
A good serve, nice athleticism and powerful forehand are developing at pace and with time on her side, the Bristol-born Brit is one of the most exciting juniors in the world, never mind the UK. She’ll need a sensible head and patience in abundance as she transitions but with a stable and supportive family around her and the watchful eye of senior figures like Judy Murray, we could see Swan making significant strides in 2016.
The question for Swan is, what should her goals be in 2016? Junior number 1? Her first junior grand slam win or more senior tournaments? Those concerned with the long game with say a mixture of both senior and junior tournaments, but with ranking loss from playing less junior tournaments comes more difficult early rounds in junior slams. Tricky.
There is a chance, of course, that at 16 that she could decide to take the college route but all roads point to a first full tour of the pro circuit in 2016. She’s carrying the lion’s share of our hopes so let’s hope so.
What does Liam Broady need to do in 2016? The very likeable guy (who wouldn’t be on the list if he was born four days earlier) has much to prove. An incredible run at Challenger level at the end of 2014 saw him catapult up the rankings to inside the top 200. But a poor 2015 with inconsistent results and he’s dropped back outside the top 300.
A Wimbledon first round win to Matosevic – who will likely retire soon anyway – aside, no one will look on the year and see progress. There are reasons from 2015 to suggest he shouldn’t even be on this list. Hard truths maybe, but lots will argue that the 2014 run was a blip. The optimists will say however, that there were glimpses in 2015 of that form – a couple of top 100 wins and seemingly random bursts of good runs, give hope that the form of 2014 could still be made consistent in 2016. Broady has a solid game, it’s about making his game play solid on a more regular basis.
The wildcard on the list because there’s only so much he can do in 2016. A second year of college in the US awaits and so Mr Norrie will once again only play a handful of tournaments. His ranking of 715 matters little having played just seven events. He quietly spent his time popping up at events and beating other talented and more highly regarded youngsters like Broady and Stefan Kozlov.The results were good, the players he beat were good and if his college programme is anyway near as good, we could see this consistent South African-born Brit make big strides in 2017.
Another one for the “huh?” pile. Gaby had an injury ridden 2015, but her inclusion is largely based on the signs that she’s now fully fit and ready to go (unlike Katie Boulter). This youngster burst onto the scene beating a couple of top players in Wimbledon senior qualifying in 2014. Further encouraging results across the handful of events she played in 2015, including a Futures event win just last month, warrant her inclusion.
So they’re our picks for 2016. Is there anyone you think will make a big impact in the upcoming season? Feel free to comment below with your opinions!