In January we had a feature outlining three players that we feel will make a big impact on the WTA tour in 2017 (see here). Not wanting to neglect the fans of the ATP tour, we have done the same for the men. We have already seen an extraordinary Australian Open where Roger Federer rolled back the years to secure his 18th career Grand Slam title and there could well be more surprises to come. The French Open may be the closest Grand Slam for years as Rafa Nadal was firing on all cylinders in Melbourne and will no doubt feel he has another big title in him. But what about outside the top 10? Who can we expect to have a big year in 2017?
Juan Martin del Potro
OK, so it may be glaringly obvious that the 2009 US Open champion is well on his way to being a top 10 player once again but it wouldn't feel right to make a list like this and not mention him. The story of del Potro is actually quite a sad one. I fully believe that had he not been blighted by wrist injuries, the media would not talk about a big four but rather a big five. At the age of 21 he had already broken into the top 4 in the world following his triumph at Flushing Meadows but a wrist injury just a few months later caused him to miss almost a year of the tour. After battling his way back up the rankings, his wrist gave up on him again in 2014 and with another two surgeries he missed the majority of 2014 and 2015.
His 2016 return has not only shown his quality on court but the mental strength he possesses and his love for the game. The Argentine has not just played in the big tournaments or those that carry ranking points but also spent 2016 guiding his country to the Davis Cup title, winning both rubbers in the final against Marin Cilic and Ivo Karlovic. As if that wasn't enough glory for his country, he also competed at the 2016 Rio Olympics where he defeated Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal on his way to a silver medal. Further victories against Dominic Thiem, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray and David Goffin have shown that del Potro is ready to compete with the big names once again.
In 2017 there are plenty of opportunities for del Potro to improve on his current ranking as his 2016 schedule was very limited. The Grand Slams may be where we will see just how close he is to returning to the form we saw in 2009 and there will be many eyes on his progress. There is no doubt that the tour is a better place with him on it and if he can return to his best then fans of the ATP tour are in for one hell of a year.
If tennis fans in the Czech Republic are looking for a new man to get behind, then Pavlasek could be just what they are looking for. The 22 year old is already ranked inside the ATP top 100 following a very impressive 2016 where he reached the final of six Challenger events. No other player on tour made more Challenger finals than Pavlasek last year. Although he was only able to convert those final appearances into titles on two occasions (both on clay), the youngster has already started claiming some very respectable victories. Defeating fellow countryman Lukas Rosol in June 2016 was a real sign that the Czech Republic had a new player to watch out for.
As if his success on the Challenger tour wasn't enough to prove that he is ready to make the step up to the top level, Pavlasek also put in some positive performances on the ATP tour. He managed to reach the second round at the French Open after beating Roberto Carballes Baena before eventually losing to Jeremy Chardy. He also reached the quarter final in Kitzbuhel, beating Marcel Granollers along the way.
There are plenty of positive signs around Pavlasek's career that seem to indicate that he could easily be a top 50 player before the end of 2017. There is a lot of buzz around youngsters such as Lucas Pouille, Alexander Zverev and Kyle Edmund and rightly so, but ranked just below these players are plenty of other hot prospects starting to make their first forays into the top 100 and they will be snapping at their heels all year. Pavlasek is certainly one of the chasing pack and if he can translate his Challenger tour form into similar displays on the ATP tour, then he won't be far off come the end of the year.
Still yet to crack the world's top 100, the 19 year old Russian will know that it is only a matter of time before he is there. Despite being one of Marcus Willis' victims during Wimbledon 2016, Rublev actually had a very encouraging year. Victories over Paul-Henri Mathieu, Jeremy Chardy and Benoit Paire may tell you that he is comfortable against French players, but it also shows that he can produce the performances that are required of someone aiming to climb up the rankings as fast as they can.
Rublev made his Davis Cup debut in September 2014, just months after being crowned the French Open junior singles champion. Quite often you will see junior Grand Slam champions fail to reach their full potential, but if anything Rublev seems to have improved further with every year that has gone by. To add to that he has medals at the Youth Olympics, an ATP doubles title and in 2016 won his first Challenger tour title as he copes with the pressure at every level of the game.
2017 will be the ultimate test for him and it couldn't have started much better. He reached the second round of the Australian Open after coming through qualifying, only to be beaten by Andy Murray. He has also been runner up and a semi finalist in the two Challenger events he has played so far this year. What strikes me about Rublev is the amount of tournaments he wants to play in. At the time of writing he is playing in his fifth tournament of 2017 which is considerably more than many other players. His eagerness to get out onto the court and play in these tournaments can only be a good thing as he continues to learn and improve his game with every match that goes by. Russia have produced some fantastic tennis players over the years and the name Andrey Rublev looks certain to become another.
Want to read about who may have a big year on the WTA tour? Click here