ATP Rising Stars Hurt by the Pandemic

The suspension of the tennis season due to COVID-19 has lead to many issues in the tennis world. Players from across the world are stuck only playing exhibitions at this point, if they even have access to those hallowed events.

But, what shouldn’t lost in the shuffle is the negative impact that COVID-19 has had on some of the rising stars in tennis. Looking specifically at the ATP side of tennis, there were a handful of young players shooting up the rankings and making a name for themselves.

These players have had their positive momentum brought to a halt by the pandemic.  As these players haven’t had a lot of time on tour, they haven’t been able to build up much financial security in terms of prize money earned.

Let’s look into some ATP rising stars whose positive momentum have been halted by the pandemic.

*Note: I chose to focus on players who were set to make a big splash on the ATP Tour stage soon, as opposed to those that already have (such as Thiago Seyboth Wild, who won Santiago). That’s why all of these players are currently below World No. 150.

1. Geoffrey Blancaneaux

Geoffrey Blancaneaux, a 21 year-old Frenchman, was having a terrific start to the year. Starting the year at World No. 323, in the limited season played, he managed to reach World No. 267 at the time of the rankings freeze.

Blancaneaux might be best known for his triumph at the 2016 Roland Garros Boys singles event. Blancaneaux beat Felix Auger-Aliassime in the final to take thetitle.

At the professional level this season, Blancaneaux reached three ATP Challenger Tour quarterfinals and the final of two ITF Futures events. One of those events, the $15k in Cancun, saw Blancaneaux lifting the trophy victoriously.

Blancaneaux’s best surface is clay, having a 65% winning percentage on the surface in professional events. It makes sense given Blancaneaux’s heavy game. The Frenchman’s forehand especially is strong, allowing him to control the court. Blancaneaux’s rally tolerance allows him to stay in rallies and counterpunch at a high level.

However, he is still very solid on hard courts, with a 60% winning percentage on the asphalt.

2. Brandon Nakashima

Brandon Nakashima, an 18 year-old American, was shooting up the rankings at the time of the freeze. Nakashima flew from World No. 376 at the start of the season to World No. 220 when the pandemic gripped the world.

Nakashima won the ITF $25k title in Rancho Santa Fe (beating Blancaneaux). In addition, he reached an ATP Tour quarterfinal in Delray Beach and an ATP Challenger $125k final in Indian Wells.

Frances Tiafoe told ATP staff, “Watch out for this guy. This guy’s special.”

Tiafoe is certainly correct in his assertion. In the shortened start to the season, Nakashima had already beaten players such as Ryan Harrison, Jiri Vesely, Cameron Norrie, and Yuichi Sugita. His groundstrokes, especially his backhand, cut through the court so quickly, leaving opponents little time to react.

Nakashima has played all professional tournaments on hard courts, with an overall 67% winning percentage. However, in 2020, Nakashima’s winning percentage was 73%. The American had gone 16-6 to start the year.

If the season was still going, Nakashima surely (injury aside) would have been on his way towards the top 175 by this point.

3. Jurij Rodionov

At 20 years old, it is weird to say the Jurij Rodionov was having a renaissance during the 2020 season. Yet, that is how it was playing out for the young Austrlan. Rodionov began 2020 at World No. 299, but by the time play stopped due to coronavirus, Rodionov was at World No. 166.

In mid-2018, Rodionov had his initial breakthrough. Rodionov won the first ATP Challenger Tour event of his career, taking down Pedja Krstin in the final after initially having to quality for the tournament.

Upon ATP journalist Josh Meiseles telling him that he was one of four teen Austrians to take home a Challenger title, Rodionov stated, “…It’s a great achievement and I’m very proud of myself and my great team who supported me throughout this long week. All these hours in the gym finally paid off.”

Rodionov had more success at the Challenger level and even made the quarterfinals of an ATP Tour event in Moscow (although he only had to win one match to do so). In his home country’s tournament in Kitzbuhel, he qualified for the tournament, taking down Ernests Gulbis and Lorenzo Sonego.

Rodionov got as high as World No. 187 in the first half of 2019, but then plummeted down the rankings to as low as World No. 362 by the beginning of February of this year.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Rodionov rediscovered his game at the Dallas Challenger, dropping one set on his way to the title. At the Morelos Challenger a couple weeks later, the Austrian showed his fighting spirit, winning three consecutive three-setters to win another Challenger event.

It’s so tricky to play Rodionov. His groundstrokes, but especially his lefty forehand, are so consistent. He shows such variety on court and can crank up the velocity on his groundstrokes seemingly out of nowhere. He’s such a tricky player to face.

Over his career so far, Rodionov has been best on hard courts, with a 65% winning percentage. On clay he hasn’t been terrible, however, winning 60% of his matches. In 2020, he has only played on hard courts, going 16-6 for a 73% winning percentage (like Nakashima).

In 2018, his initial breakthrough season, he was actually better on clay with a 71% winning clay on the dirt compared 66% on hard courts. In 2019, a down year for Rodionov, he only won 21% of his matches on clay and 59% on hard courts.

4. Arthur Rinderknech

Arthur Rinderknech, a 24 year-old Frenchman who played college tennis at Texas A&M, is a bit older than the rest, but I thought I would include him at the end due to his phenomenal start to the season.

Rinderknech started 2020 at World No. 327, but by the time of the rankings freeze, was up to World No. 161.

The Frenchman was able to rise up the rankings so quickly due to two Challenger titles and one Challenger final. Rinderknech won the Rennes Challenger and the Calgary Challenger this season and reached the final of the Drummondville Challenger.

He has a huge game that works particularly well indoors. His huge serve gives him a gigantic advantage in his service games and he is very aggressive with his groundstrokes. It is this offensive attitude that puts a lot of pressure on his opponents.

Rinderknech’s best surface for his entire career has been hard courts, with a 67% winning percentage. He’s also played well on clay, with a 64% winning percentage on that surface. The Frenchman has only played on hard courts in 2020, but his win/loss record is phenomenal. Rinderknech has gone 16-4 this season, winning 80% of his matches.

***

For Blancaneaux, Nakashima, Rodionov, and Rinderknech, the pandemic has halted the positive momentum they had gained through the 2020 season so far.

However, if they’re able to regain their previous form when professional tennis returns, all four can do great things.

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