The Future Four: Discussing all things Dimitrov, Harrison, Raonic, and Tomic

Future Four
For better or worse, four of the game’s brightest future (and current) stars have been making headlines as 2013 surges into its first Grand Slam in Melbourne. Grigor Dimitrov reached his first career ATP final last week, not even the Olympics were immune to Ryan Harrison’s temper tantrums, Milos Raonic lost his season opener to Dimitrov in uninspiring fashion, and Bernard Tomic said that there is no stopping him this year and that he could reach the Top 10 in two to three months and maybe go “even higher” before season’s end. Both Harrison and Tomic have toppled seeds this week en route to the Sydney quarterfinals.

What does the immediate and distant future hold for this crop of ATP up-and-comers. A three-team panel gets the debate going.

Grigor DimitrovDimitrov 3

Josh (The Sixth Set): Dimitrov became the second member of the group to reach an ATP World Tour final when he accomplished the feat at last week’s Brisbane International. The Bulgarian, now on the precipice of the Top 40, was my Most Improved Player of 2012 after a string of semifinal results and a fourth-round finish in Miami. The highly-touted young gun failed to show much of a pulse in years past, largely due to on-court maturity issues and lack of patience with his game, but his talent is unquestioned. Possessing the most complete all-around game of the four when at his best, Dimitrov wields a sensational serve and forehand, dizzying backhand variety and great court coverage. In Brisbane, he displayed a markedly-improved understanding of how to use these weapons and was tactically sound in his decision-making. Until we see more of that level of play, his weaknesses remain his passivity from the baseline as well as footwork issues. Look for Dimitrov, who can excel on all surfaces, to end his 2013 campaign around 25th in the world.

Best 2013 Grand Slam result (depending on draw): Wimbledon fourth round

Predicted career-high ranking: 1

Grand Slam title (yes/no)? Yes

Adrin (@Chalk_Flew_Up): Dimitrov has long been on the tennis radar. Ever since his former coach, Peter Lundgren, tipped him as being better than Federer was at age 18, he was famously (infamously?) dubbed “Baby Federer.” The Bulgarian hasn’t been able to convert his junior success to the main tour thus far, but it’s not for lack of talent. Dimitrov possesses a gorgeous variety of shots, especially on the backhand wing. His serve is precise if not overpowering, forehand is potent, and movement is commendable. Perhaps it is his sheer talent that has held him back…which sounds oxymoronic, but having so many tools to choose from makes it all the more difficult to implement the right tactics on court. There is nothing more emblematic of this than a marathon rally he played against Richard Gasquet at Roland Garros last year, after which Gasquet lost his lunch and Dimitrov (who hit about a hundred different kinds of shots but none that took control of the rally) crumpled to the ground, writhing in cramps.

Best 2013 Grand Slam result (depending on draw): Wimbledon round of 16

Predicted career-high ranking: 1

Grand Slam title (yes/no)? Yes

Ricky: This may sound hard to believe, but the most entertaining set of tennis I saw in person last season (aside from maybe the first set of David Ferrer vs. Lleyton Hewitt at the U.S. Open) came in a match that almost nobody watched: Grigor Dimitrov vs. Juan Ignacio Chela in Miami. After a whole host of insane rallies, Dimitrov gutted it out late in the third set on the way to the best tournament of his professional career. One match does not a bandwagon make, but we’ve witnessed more than enough from Dimitrov over the past few years. As we saw again last week in Brisbane, this guy has all the tools: solid serve, power baseline game, craftiness in the forecourt, and his flexibility on defense rivals that of Novak Djokovic and Florian “Gumby” Mayer. For now, only a lack of experience and a meandering mental game are holding the 21-year-old back. Experience will come sooner rather than later, so his head is the only real question mark. He’s already had run-ins with chair umpires, off-court endeavors include Maria Sharapova, and he blatantly tanked a match just this week against Fabio Fognini. Don’t give me excuses like fatigue, Australian Open coming up, and youth. Rafael Nadal—and other great champions—would never conduct themselves like that on a tennis court; not even at 21. Still, Dimitrov’s potential registers on the Richter Scale.

Best 2013 Grand Slam result (depending on draw): U.S. Open quarterfinals

Predicted career-high ranking: 2

Grand Slam title (yes/no)? Yes

Ryan HarrisonHarrison

Josh: Harrison has the lowest career-high ranking of the four (43rd) and may have the least potential as well. Admittedly, he has admittedly been victimized by a run of bad luck at the slams thus far, frequently drawing Top 10 opponents, but the American also lacks a significant weapon to hurt stronger competition. His strengths fit the mold of Americans of the past decade: power serve and big forehand. At the age of 20, he has time to develop these skills to be even stronger. He is a solid mover as well and also possesses great touch at the net. Although his agility allows him to run around his backhand, it’s still a liability against stronger players who are privy to it being a weakness. In the heat of the moment, Harrison has a short fuse and he has been known to lose his cool. I watched Harrison in person on the first day of Wimbledon last year against Yen-Hsun Lu. He won in four sets but played down to Lu’s game for the majority of the match and was constantly berating the ballkids for not handing him his towel fast enough between points.

Best 2013 Grand Slam result (depending on draw): Australian Open third round

Predicted career-high ranking: 9

Grand Slam title (yes/no)? No

Adrin: The temperamental young American also possesses a solid, well-rounded game, though not quite as flashy as Dimitrov’s. Harrison does everything well but nothing exceptionally well, despite having some nice feel up at net. He’s already reached the semifinals of several 250-point events in the U.S., but he hasn’t been nearly as successful as his three competitors in this group. Harrison has no shortage of competitive fire, but that—unfortunately—manifests itself in the form of on-court tantrums, including a cringe-worthy episode at the 2012 London Olympics, where he was basically forced to make a public apology after demolishing his racquet on grass (no small feat). Harrison would be better-served if he can channel these emotional outbursts in a more positive manner. I predict Harrison to return to the Top 50 this season.

Best 2013 Grand Slam result (depending on draw): U.S. Open third round

Predicted career-high ranking: 15

Grand Slam title (yes/no)? No

Ricky: Speaking of matches I watched in person, Harrison vs. Sergiy Stakhovsky was one of the best in 2010. That one embodied both the best and worst of Harrison. He showcased a stellar all-court game, complete with heavy topspin serves, solid groundstrokes, and consistent forays into the net—most of which ended with success. The American battled back well from two sets to one down but then collapsed at the finish line. Leading 6-3 in the fifth-set tiebreaker, Harrison lost five points in row to throw away what would have been his biggest career win. More than two full seasons later, I’m still waiting for Harrison to realize his true potential. He climbed 10 spots in 2012 (from 79th to 69th), but 10 is nowhere near enough. Many cite the youngster’s considerable temper as a hindrance, but I think it gives him an edge that can actually be beneficial. Harrison is certainly no worse than Andy Roddick or John McEnroe, and it’s safe to say their careers worked out pretty well for them. No, what’s keeping Harrison back is a lack of weapons (or, to put it more accurately, a refusal to use his weapons). Gilles Simon plays defense because he has to. Harrison, although he is quite good at it, does not have to.

Best 2013 Grand Slam result (depending on draw): U.S. Open fourth round

Predicted career-high ranking: 6

Grand Slam title (yes/no)? No

Milos RaonicRaonic

Josh: The big guy from Canada peaked at a career-high 13th in the world to conclude 2012 and has fallen to 15th after last week’s first-round defeat at the hands of Dimitrov in Brisbane. Regardless, the sky’s the limit for the 22-year-old in 2013 (in part because he has relatively few ranking points to defend at slams and Masters). I predict a Top 10 finish to the year. In fact, I think he will supplant Gasquet as world No. 10 by mid-summer. Raonic is much more than a one-dimensional big server. He hits a heavy, penetrating forehand and has developed a mental fortitude that is years ahead of Dimitrov, Harrison, and Tomic. He is much more patient in rallies than he was earlier in his career and has learned to harness his power productively. While Raonic’s agility is improving and he isn’t afraid to attack the net, his movement and volleying can be exposed by stronger opponents (a la Andy Murray at last year’s U.S. Open).

Best 2013 Grand Slam result (depending on draw): Australian Open quarterfinals

Predicted career-high ranking: 3

Grand Slam title (yes/no)? Yes

Adrin: Unlike the others three, Raonic was relatively unknown until 2011, when he had a breakthrough at the Australian Open by reaching the round of 16. I first took notice of him in 2009 at the Rogers Cup, where he very nearly took out Fernando Gonzalez, then ranked No. 10 in the world. His booming serve was prominent even then, but he was still quite raw. Since then, he has taken the tour by storm, rendering opponents helpless with thundering, unreturnable serves and feathering deft volleys at net. It is surprising that fans still tend to think of him as one-dimensional in the way that John Isner is, but that is far from the truth. Raonic has developed an excellent all-court game and does very well to run around his more average backhand as much as possible. When that isn’t possible, he has shown the ability to strike his backhand down the line to keep opponents honest. Continuing with the Isner comparison, Raonic has been finding ways to lose tight matches (for the most part unlike his tall American counterpart). That can be marked down as due to lack of experience, and he can only get better from here. I think he’ll just miss out on a Top 10 ranking in 2013.

Best 2013 Grand Slam result (depending on draw): Wimbledon quarterfinals

Predicted career-high ranking: 5

Grand Slam title (yes/no)? Yes

Ricky: Both Harrison and Raonic are perplexing me right now. Harrison’s offensive arsenal appeared to be less potent in 2012 and Raonic’s struggling baseline game actually got worse last season. A tennis net is to Raonic’s groundstrokes as cheese is to mice. The Canadian’s baseline game is almost as bad as Isner’s even though his movement is considerably better than that of the American. The good news for Raonic is that there is plenty of room for improvement. He works hard, keeps himself in great shape, has a productive (albeit curious) partnership with coach Galo Blanco, and—unlike Isner—he has the footwork to adequately set up for shots that will lead to groundstroke success. Furthermore, Raonic’s groundstrokes are nothing more than icing on the cake. He serve is big enough that he can get by on a serve, a one-two punch, and not much more. He’s never going to scurry around the court like Nikolay Davydenko and he’s never going to win the French Open, but aside from that there is nothing Raonic cannot accomplish.

Best 2013 Grand Slam result (depending on draw): Wimbledon quarterfinals

Predicted career-high ranking: 3

Grand Slam title (yes/no)? Yes

Bernard TomicTomic 1

Josh: Tomic is the only member of the group to have reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal (Wimbledon 2011). He is also the furthest from winning a slam at the moment, in my opinion. The Aussie’s abysmal on-court demeanor and off-court distractions are his main hindrances to success. When the “controversies” section of your Wikipedia page is almost as long as your career accomplishments, you know you’re doing something wrong. Tomic’s game is much like that of Alexandr Dolgopolov; a unique style that includes an array of shot-making from both wings, including a superb drop-shot. His slice backhand is one of the best in the game and his volleying ability is above average, as well. Aside from his mental fragility, weaknesses include lack of aggressiveness from the baseline and a weak second serve. A career-high ranking of 27th in 2012 has since plummeted to 64th, and while I believe he climbs back into the Top 20 in the future, I think he’ll hover around the Top 50 for the remainder of the year.

Best 2013 Grand Slam result (depending on draw): Australian Open third round

Predicted career-high ranking: 7

Grand Slam title (yes/no)? No

Adrin: Like Dimitrov, Tomic posted some noteworthy results in the juniors, so many anticipated his rise. But so far, Tomic has gained far more attention for his questionable maturity than his on-court results (see: naked rooftop wrestling, exotic cars, and narcissistic quotes). Aside from a quarterfinal at Wimbledon, where he upset Robin Soderling and pushed Djokovic to the brink, Tomic has achieved little else. The Australian possesses perhaps the most interesting and eclectic game of this group, having an excellent backhand slice, underrated serve, and sneaky power. But Tomic seems to be as much in love with his backhand slice as himself, as he tends to overplay it. You won’t see many other players pull off the shots he does, including one that I can best describe as a forehand dink drop-shot. Tomic said he will manage his schedule better this year to prevent the dubious tank-jobs for which he has been criticized, and I believe he will (partly) back up his talk.

Best 2013 Grand Slam result (depending on draw): Australian Open quarterfinals

Predicted career-high ranking: 2

Grand Slam title (yes/no)? Yes

Ricky: There really isn’t a style of play that I don’t enjoy, but I simply love that of Tomic. Call him a pusher if you want, but he massages the tennis ball like an artist paints on his canvas. Tomic is like a rich man’s Simon; he bunts the ball over and over again, puts his opponent to sleep, then unleashes hell with atomic forehands. He’ll dink and dink with slice backhands over and over again before pulling the trigger out of nowhere and unleashing one down the line. That being said, the talent comes with plenty of red flags. As good as Tomic is, he’s nowhere near as good as he thinks he is. He’s also had more than his fair share of run-ins with the law, albeit minor ones mostly pertaining to traffic violations or wrestling in the nude. As for the flaws in Tomic’s tennis game, his serve can be much improved for a man of his size (ATP lists him at 6’5’’ even though he’s no more than 6’4’’ and possibly 6’3’’) and he rarely ventures into the net even when he forces opponents out of position with one of his rare, penetrating groundstrokes. Still, we have seen glimpses of what the future holds (such as the Wimbledon quarterfinal run) and we should see more of it sooner rather than later.

Best 2013 Grand Slam result (depending on draw): U.S. Open fourth round

Predicted career-high ranking: 3

Grand Slam title (yes/no)? Yes

Comments

  1. would love to hear others’ thoughts on these 4….

    also, a much shorter discussion of Janowicz, Goffin, and Klizan is coming soon….

  2. Kym Brettell says:

    I’m actually much more interested in what you’re thinking about Janowicz, Goffin and Klizan. There’s been a lot less written about them, and I wonder if they don’t possess as much or more potential than the 4 guys listed.

  3. Dimitriov is winning? It should be raonic/ Janowizc, Nishikori, with Nishikori winning most

  4. Interested to know what is so “curious” about Raonic’s partnership with his coach Galo Blanco.

  5. only that Raonic is a borderline ball-basher with a huge serve. Galo Blanco was clay-court baseline grinder….

  6. Ricky Dimon says:

    Harrison hahahahahahahaha

Trackbacks

  1. [...] a trio that comes is just behind (well, not exactly according to the current rankings!) a potential Future Four involving Grigor Dimitrov, Ryan Harrison, Milos Raonic, and Bernard [...]

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