Juan Martin Del Potro
It’s rare for a former U.S. Open champ to come into the event as a dark horse, yet such is the fate of del Potro. In 2009 the then 20-year-old Argentine blazed through the draw, taking down the mighty Nadal and Federer in succession and winning the first major of his career. Then, as if it were a Mephistophelian bargain, he promptly injured his wrist and missed virtually all of 2010. Having started this year ranked outside the top 250, del Potro is healthy again—clubbing forehands, winning matches, and fighting his way back to where he once belonged.
At last year’s Open, Petkovic, then a little-known, Bosnian-born German, won a grueling match and then did something rare for a tennis player: She danced. Reminiscent of the Running Man, the “Petko-dance” has since become a cult hit, with fans seeing it performed quite often, as Petkovic has been winning matches in bulk lately. In the past year the 23-year-old has established herself as a dynamic player on the WTA tour, with loads of talent and charisma. That said, the most exciting German player since Steffi Graf isn’t quite ready to dance off with the title— at least not yet.
Hockey players? Yes. Curlers? You betcha. But one doesn’t tend to think of Canada as an incubator for tennis talent. That will change, though, if Raonic, 20, continues moving up the Association of Tennis Professionals rankings. Listed at a lowly No. 156 to start the year, Raonic improved his fitness, dialed in his titanic serve, and bolstered his confidence. By Wimbledon, he was ranked in the top 25—enough to both establish him as the highest-ranked Canadian male ever and make American tennis fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium wonder: How do we get one of those?
The Russian revolution that swept women’s tennis during the past decade may be winding down, but the tour players of Eastern European extraction are gathering momentum. Consider Kvitova, a 21-year-old from the Czech Republic whose ranking seems to improve with each passing month. A rare left-hander in the women’s game, Kvitova is equally precocious and ferocious, belting balls with concussive force and closing out matches with a maturity that belies her age. Kvitova has already infiltrated the top 10 and—with a straight-sets upset of Maria Sharapova to take this year’s Wimbledon crown—proven she’s more than ready for the big time.
The notion that the contemporary game has devolved into a pair of behemoths hurling thunderbolts back and forth over the net is single-handedly dispelled by a 22-year-old who could be mistaken for a ball boy. Dolgopolov is listed (generously) at five feet eleven and 157 pounds, and his power is modest. Instead, he relies on old-school virtues like accuracy, anticipation, variety, and blinding speed.
If Australia’s last tennis hero, Lleyton Hewitt, was a throwback—an undersize scrapper who prevailed with a surfeit of speed and guts—the country’s next likely star represents the new school. Tomic was born in Stuttgart to refugees from Croatia and, with his family, immigrated to the Gold Coast. His father, who once drove taxis for a living, is now Tomic’s full-time coach. At 18 he is already ranked in the top 75, fresh off an impressive Wimbledon quarterfinal showing. Standing six feet three, he serves ferociously and pounds ground strokes with a force that, inevitably, will spawn the nickname A-Tomic.