One of the surprising features of the tour in 2009 was that only five players recorded a maiden tour win during the season.
Thomaz Bellucci (Gstaad), Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (Kitzbuhel), Jeremy Chardy (Stuttgart), Rajeev Ram (Newport) and Benjamin Becker (s'Hertogenbosch) were the only guys who tasted ATP Tour success for the first time in 2009.
That figure (5) was the joint lowest total during the past decade. Along with 2009, there were also only 5 first-time winners in 2007 - whereas seasons such as 2001 (10), 2006 & 2008 (11), 2002 (12) and 2004 (13) saw many more players breaking through.
A sign of times maybe but also a fact which highlights the need to be extra vigilant when it comes to spotting previous non-winners destined to lift their first title in 2010.These are the guys who can win at big prices!
The 'top ten' below are all aged 24 or below and all have the ability to record a first tournament win in 2010. Players to follow and ones to put in your notebook as the coming season progresses.
Pablo Cuevas (2009 best performance - SF Hamburg, Vina Del Mar)Cuevas considers clay to be his best surface and his record thus far certainly bears that out - with five Challenger Tour titles to date (two in 2009) and a distinct preference for dirt in the main ATP Tour events he played in 2009. He turns 24 on January 1st which means that the clock is ticking on the Uruguayan's career but there is no doubt the 5'11" right-hander has the ability to win an event, on clay, whether that be in his native South America or in Europe.
John Isner (SF Washington, Indianapolis)You might expect a guy who is 6'9" tall to be good at tennis. Well, Isner is good but aged 24 he needs to start winning tournaments - a prodigious server, the North Carolinan is sadly let down by weaknesses in other areas of his game. However, this one-time tour finalist (Washington 2007) has the potential to win, he's won three times on the Challenger Tour (latest Tallahassee 2009), with his best bet looking like being a low-key hard court event, probably in his native USA.
Andreas Beck (RU Gstaad)The 23-year-old German made a first ATP Tour final this year and after a steady rise up the rankings in 2009 can progress still further in 2010. That final was played on clay where Beck has won once before on the Challenger Tour, and five times on the Futures Tour, and the 6'3" left-hander may find 'the dirt' providing his best chance of a first success. Hard to see him becoming a regular winner on the circuit but he's shown the ability to take any opportunity which presents itself.
Ernests Gulbis (QF St. Petersburg, Tokyo)Not a good year for the Latvian. A very moderate 20:26 record meant his world ranking headed due South (from 53 down to 90 at the year end) suggesting that all the belief in his early potential was possibly misplaced. However, looking at the matches he lost, very few were against 'no-hopers' with well over half those defeats coming against players inside the top 50. Still only 21, time is on the side of Gulbis and a hard court success, most likely, in 2010 would be no great surprise.
Leonardo Mayer (SF Los Angeles)The 22-year-old resident of Buenos Aires is a player who could make an impact on both clay as well as hard courts - like so many of his compatriots. On the Challenger Tour his preference appeared to be clay (55:42) as opposed to hard (34:20) but he's prefered the quicker surfaces thus far on the main tour. To date his achievements have been modest but, then again, just enough to go into the notebook as 'one to follow' and it is quite possible that the Argentine could land a first title in 2010.
Evgeny Korolev (RU Delray Beach)Wild expectation might well have superceded natural development with Korolev to a point where, still only 21, he's being unfairly labelled as something of a disappointment. For sure, the very best players have won events by this age but the Russian has shown enough already (including five Challenger Tour wins) to demonstrate his readiness to win on tour when the right opportunity presents itself. A hard court event looks the best way for the 6'1" Muscovite to gain a maiden win.
Horacio Zeballos (RU St. Petersburg)This 6'2" lefty has been very successful on the Challenger Tour. Zeballos ran up a 30:9 record in 2009 winning no less than five times (Buenos Aires, Campos Do Jordao, Manta, Bogota, Bucaramanga) before going on to make a first ATP Tour final in his penultimate start of the year. Question is, can he start the new season where he left off in 2010, as soon to turn 25 the chance to make a mark at the highest level is fast fading. Expect the Argentine to notch a first win in 2010.
Somdev Devvarman (RU Chennai)The 24-year-old from Assam may have made a first tour final in his native India but don't be fooled into thinking he just got lucky on home soil. A back-to-back NCAA champion in the States (beat Isner in 2007) Devvarman has the ability to beat quality opponents (e.g. Marin Cilic in 2009) and mount a serious challenge in tournaments. His age and lack of success to date give the game away as to his overall career potential but a moderate hard-court event is certainly within his reach.
Eduardo Schwank (-)With a 3:14 record on the main ATP Tour Schwank has to show he can transfer his ability on the Challenger Tour (six titles) onto where it really matters. Wins in Lima and Santiago late in 2009 showcase the Argentine's prowess, notably on clay, but the 23-year-old needs to improve a current singles mark of 113 back to a career high of 50 (February 2009) during the coming year. A match history heavily biased towards clay means Schwank must find success that elusive first win on dirt.
Grigor Dimitrov (-)One for the future. The Bulgarian is only 18 years old but as a Wimbledon and US Open junior champion in 2008 he has the potential, and time, to make a very big impact in the game. More than a little optimistic to expect a main tour success in 2010 but from a current mark of 287 in the world it would be no surprise to see him break the top 100 in the next 12 months under the tutelage of Peter Lundgren. Make a note of the name and watch out for this player.
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