Five men to look out for at AO2020

  • Michael Beattie

The NextGen are coming, we’re so often told – and while we may have enjoyed another 'Big Four' final at Australian Open 2019, over the course of two weeks it was the young upstarts who provided the biggest stories in the men’s draw. 

Foremost was Stefanos Tsitspias’s seismic fourth-round victory over Roger Federer, the 20-year-old Greek handing the 20-time Grand Slam champion his first defeat at Melbourne Park since 2016. In the same half of the draw, Frances Tiafoe celebrated his 21st birthday with a breakout run to the quarterfinals, downing Kevin Anderson and Grigor Dimitrov before running into Rafael Nadal. 

Downing Federer saw Tsitsipas truly arrive as a star of the present

By then, the Spaniard had already done for Australian No.1 Alex de Minaur, the Sydney International champion who met his match in the third round and looks set to carry his nation’s hopes for the next few years at Melbourne Park.

Behind these young guns were a group of emerging talents that could cause a stir in 12 months’ time, if their recent form is anything to go by. Here’s who to look out for at Australian Open 2020.

Alexei Popyrin

Given he arrived at the Australian Open as a world No.147-ranked wildcard and left with a win over No.7 seed Dominic Thiem before stretching eventual semifinalist Lucas Pouille to five sets, it’s encouraging to hear Popyrin left Melbourne Park with a bee in his bonnet, keen to make sure such chances don’t slip away again rather than resting on his laurels. 

The 19-year-old, who broke the world’s top 125 after the tournament, proved he has the game and the maturity to mix it with the big guns, and a first Davis Cup call-up followed by a solid start to the season should mean more Tour-level opportunities in 2019. Build on this, and Popyrin should find himself with a direct entry into next year’s AO. 

Reilly Opelka

It’s getting almost as hard to overlook Opelka in a Grand Slam draw as it would be in a crowded room. The 21-year-old, who measures a whopping 213cm, came out on top in the tallest Grand Slam match since records began, downing 208cm No.9 seed John Isner in four tiebreak sets in the first round, before losing a fifth-set tiebreak against Thomas Fabbiano in the last 64. 

In many ways Opelka resembles an ‘Isner 2.0’, armed with the devastating serve and showing improving nous in the rallies. Pull it all together, and he’ll take some stopping – as he did two years ago, when he pushed David Goffin to five sets in the first round. Having cracked the top 100 on the eve of the Australian Open, the world No.97’s tournament prospects are looking up heading to the US hard court swing, where he will once again be a name the top seeds will want to avoid early on.

Felix Auger-Aliassime

There’s something in the water in Canada right now, with Denis Shapovalov bagging himself a seeding at the Australian Open at the age of 19, and 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu surging through qualifying in the women’s draw, winning her first round before going down in three sets to No.13 seed Anastasija Sevastova. 

Waiting in the wings to join them is another 18-year-old: Auger-Alliassime, who lost in the second round of qualifying on his Australian Open debut. The Montreal native, who teamed up with Shapovalov to win the junior Davis Cup title in 2015, shares a birthday with Federer, and has the silky game to match. Having collected his third and fourth Challenger titles in 2018 – three on clay, and his first on hard in Tashkent in October – the 2016 US Open junior champion’s senior breakthrough may not have arrived as quickly as his friend Shapovalov, but it’s coming.

Kamil Majchrzak

It’s something of a surprise that it took Poland’s Majchrzak as long as it has to reach his first Grand Slam main draw at Melbourne Park in 2019, given his 2013 US Open junior doubles title alongside Martin Redlicki and gold medal at the Youth Olympics a year later. But the 23-year-old made a splash on his debut, surging out to a two-set lead over No.8 seed and eventual quarterfinalist Kei Nishikori before cramping badly in the third.

How the remainder of 2019 will play out remains to be seen, but a run to the Burnie Challenger semifinals this week, where he defeated Tour stalwarts Go Soeda and Dudi Sela before falling to Australia’s Maverick Banes, suggests his strong start to the season could yet carry into the clay-court season, where he feels most at home. 

Majchrzak gave Nishikori all he could handle before fatigue set in

Rudolf Molleker

Of the four players to feature in the Australian Open 2018 boys’ doubles final, it was 18-year-old Molleker who returned to Melbourne Park to make a splash in the main draw. The German qualified in his first Grand Slam appearance before taking a set from No.18 seed Diego Schwartzman in the first round, and is expected to jump to just outside the top 180 on Monday, a new career-high ranking. 

With wins over compatriot Jan-Lennard Struff and former world No.3 David Ferrer to his name – not to mention his pub-quiz status as the only man to beat 2017 German Open champion Leonard Mayer, who won the title as a lucky loser – expect to hear more from the Ukraine-born right-hander when the Tour hits the clay in April, before he returns to Melbourne for a third crack as his breakout major.