Crystal ball rewind: 10 players to watch at AO2020

  • Matt Trollope

Immediately following Australian Open 2019, we predicted five men and five women who could make an impact at the 2020 tournament in Melbourne.

The accuracy of our crystal ball? Twelve months on, the majority of those forecasts came close to fruition. 

Most of the 10 players featured enjoyed significant breakthroughs in 2019 while improving their games, and their position in the rankings, in the past 12 months.

They arrive at Melbourne Park as threats who no player will want to see nearby in the draw.

Here’s a run-down of how our 10 players to watch fared in 2019, and what that form tells us about their chances this January. 

Belinda Bencic

When Bencic lost to Petra Kvitova in the third round at AO2019, she was ranked 55th. She ended the season at No.8 after a brilliant campaign during which she won more than 50 singles matches, claimed singles titles in Dubai and Moscow, reached semifinals at the US Open and Indian Wells, and qualified for the WTA Finals for the first time. She enters this year’s Australian Open fit, full of confidence and at a career-high ranking of No.7.

Felix Auger-Aliassime

Felix Auger-Aliassime will make his AO main draw debut this fornight

It was an exceptional season for the 19-year-old Canadian, who fell in AO qualifying in January 2019 but then soared from outside the top 100 to peak at world No.17 in October. That incredible improvement was made possible by 38 match wins, several of which came in finals appearances at ATP events in Rio, Lyon and Stuttgart and during his run to the semifinals of the Miami Masters as a qualifier. Currently just outside the top 20, Auger-Aliassime begun the year slowly at the ATP Cup, but is looking to rebound this week in Adelaide.

Sofia Kenin

Kenin won the WTA’s Most Improved Player Award for season 2019, winning 49 matches to improve her ranking from No.52 to No.14. After opening her season with a title in Hobart and by pushing world No.1 Simona Halep to the limit in the second round at Melbourne Park, Kenin went on to win two more WTA titles – Mallorca and Guangzhou – as well as reach back-to-back semifinals at big events in Toronto and Cincinnati. She also beat Serena Williams en route to the fourth round at Roland Garros, her best Grand Slam result.

Amanda Anisimova

After upsetting Aryna Sabalenka en route to the fourth round of the Australian Open, the then-17-year-old Anisimova went on to even better things on clay, winning her first WTA title in Bogota before stunning defending champion Simona Halep to reach the semifinals of the French Open. The clean-hitting American rose from 96th to 24th in the last 12 months, peaking at No.21 in October. She begun 2020 strongly with a semifinal run in Auckland.

Reilly Opelka

The towering American vaulted from No.100 to 36th in 2019, beginning the year by stunning 10th-ranked countryman John Isner in the first round of the Australian Open and going on to win the ATP New York title as well as reaching semifinals in Atlanta, Tokyo and Basel. With impressive movement matching his big serve and ground game, the 211cm giant looms as one of the most threatening unseeded players in the draw at AO2020.

Dayana Yastremska

Dayana Yastremska looks set for a deep run in Melbourne

The 19-year-old ended 2019 at world No.22 after beginning the year at No.58, using her hyper-aggressive, flat groundstrokes to notch a 34-22 record. Highlights included a second career title in Hua Hin and a third in Strasbourg, while she also came within a set of the Wimbledon quarterfinals. Now working with Sascha Bajin, the Ukrainian is showing strong form to open 2020.

Astra Sharma

Another Aussie success story in 2019, Sharma rose from No.231 at the beginning of the year to set a career-high ranking of No.85 in June. In between, she qualified for the Australian Open before going on to reach the second round and reached her first WTA final in Bogota. Sharma went on to play the main draw of all four Slams in a year for the first time and completed the season with 28 match wins. She held a match point in Hobart this week before a narrow loss to Lauren Davis.

Alexei Popyrin

Alexei Popyrin gatecrashed the top 100 last year

The Sydneysider surged into the third round of Australian Open 2019, where he pushed eventual semifinalist Lucas Pouille to five compelling sets. And that momentum continued throughout the season; Popyrin won his opening-round match at all four Slams, also advancing to the third round at Flushing Meadows. He posted his first ATP quarterfinal in Atlanta, qualified for the main draw at 10 ATP events and improved his ranking from No.151 to a peak of 87th in July.

Kamil Majchrzak

The Polish rising star went from No.181 to No.101 in 2019 after posting an impressive 49-28 match record. His season began on a strong note when he pushed Kei Nishikori to five sets as a qualifier into the Australian Open, and later went on to reach the third round of the US Open. In between he won two ATP Challenger titles. He lost to Guido Pella at the ATP Cup in his only match of the 2020 season so far.

Rudolph Molleker

Of the 10 players we featured last January, only Molleker will be absent 12 months on in Melbourne. The 19-year-old German improved from 197th to 164th in the rankings during 2019.