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Tennis • Ricky’s Picks for 10 Men Who Could Break into the Top 10 in 2021

Denis Shapovalov became the first Canadian man to reach the US Open quarterfinals.

By Ricky Dimon

It wasn’t easy to move into the Top 10 of the ATP rankings in 2020–or move up at all–because of the points distribution restructuring. Andrey Rublev and Diego Schwartzman managed to do it, but everyone else who finished in the Top 10 was already there before the season began. If the coronavirus pandemic allows for a somewhat normal amount of tennis to be played in 2021, there could be a lot more moving and shaking in the rankings than what we saw this past year.

Let’s take a look at 10 guys currently outside the Top 10 who get there–not necessarily for the first time–in 2021.

Denis Shapovalov – Shapovalov is No. 12 in the world and the two men right ahead of him are an oft-injured Gael Monfils and a struggling Matteo Berrettini. The Canadian shouldn’t waste any time returning to the Top 10; the question is if he can stay there until the end of the season. Shapovalov’s partnership with coach Mikhail Youzhny has been productive for the most part, but the 21-year-old lefty needs to regain momentum following a poor finish to his 2020 campaign.

Roberto Bautsita Agut – At 32 years old, Bautista Agut isn’t your traditional break-into-the-Top-10 kind of guy. Although he has been there before (career-high ranking of No. 9 in 2019), the Spaniard has surprisingly never participated in the Nitto ATP Finals. Bautista Agut was on pace to qualify this past season thanks to a red-hot start and then a runner-up performance at the Cincinnati Masters, but he never recovered from an upset loss to Vasek Pospisil in round three of the U.S. Open. Currently 13th, Bautista Agut is well-positioned to recharge and make another run for it.

Pablo Carreno Busta contested his second US Open semifinal in September.

Pablo Carreno Busta – Like his countryman RBA, PCB is another veteran on this list–the only other veteran, in fact. The 29-year-old, whose career-high ranking is 10th, played in the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals as an alternate so he is no stranger to season-long success. Carreno Busta had a chance to make it back to London this year, but the rankings restructuring and a bad draw in Melbourne (lost to Rafael Nadal in the third round) put a dent in his hopes. One of the most underrated players on tour, the world No. 16 is a stellar all-court played–thus giving him point-earning opportunities every time he plays.

Felix Auger-Aliassime – FAA’s rise to the top of the game–or near the top of the game–was expected in 2020. It didn’t happen, but at 20 years old he can’t be blamed if he simply needed another season of experience under his belt. The 21st-ranked Canadian did well to reach three ATP finals just as he did in 2019, but he is now 0-6 in those situations and that seems to be weighing on him. Once Auger-Aliassime gets over that hump and lifts a trophy for the first time, it could be takeoff time.

Alex de Minaur – FAA and ADM finished two spots apart in the rankings. They would have hoped for that to be something like No. 8 and No. 10; instead it was No. 21 and No. 32. De Minaur started strong at the ATP Cup but another injury sidelined him from his home slam and he played only one real tournament prior to the coronavirus hiatus. The 21-year-old Aussie returned in decent form with a quarterfinal performance at the U.S. Open and a runner-up finish in Antwerp, but it wasn’t really enough to save a season with high expectations.

At age 24, Borna Coric’s best tennis is ahead.

Borna Coric – Coric is kind of lost in the shuffle here between the young guys and the veterans on this list. But it’s not too late for him at 24 years old even though he has not yet lived up to the hype that has already been surrounding him for almost a decade. In addition to his comeback of the year against Stefanos Tsitsipas en route to the U.S. Open quarterfinals, the 24th-ranked Croat also finished runner-up to Rublev at the 500-point event in St. Petersburg. That gives him some positive vibes heading into a very important 2021 season.

Casper Ruud – Ruud making it to the Top 10 would be surprising, but such a climb can’t be entirely written off. One thing working for him is the amount of tournaments played on clay. Having the bulk of the 2020 clay-court swing cancelled was obviously a huge blow, but if he can take advantage of the Golden Swing (this year in March instead of February) and what will presumably be a return of the April-May clay season then the 21-year-old Norwegian could surge from his current perch of No. 27.

Ugo Humbert – Humbert is also among the longshots of this group, but it also isn’t entirely out of the question. The 30th-ranked Frenchman has a ton of momentum going into next season thanks to a closing stretch that included a third-round appearance in Rome, a quarterfinal finish in Hamburg, his second career title in Antwerp (previously nine months earlier in Auckland), and a quarterfinal result at the Paris Masters. Humbert should be seeded at Grand Slams from now on, so that will give his 2021 campaign an extra boost.

Jannik Sinner captured his first ATP title in Sofia.

Jannik Sinner – Even though Sinner is ranked 37th right now, he is a trendy Top 10 pick for 2021. The 19-year-old’s rise in 2020 was remarkable, especially considering the relative lack of tennis that was played and the aforementioned difficulty of advancing in the rankings. Sinner’s fall swing was highlighted by a quarterfinal run at Roland Garros, a semifinal showing in Cologne, and his first career ATP title in Sofia. With good size (conservatively 6’2”) and huge power off both wings, the Italian’s talent is off the charts.

Reilly Opelka – At No. 39 in the world and having never been ranked in the top 30, it isn’t likely. With that kind of serve, however, Opelka has a chance to win any match he plays. The 6’11” American is just 23 years old and obviously on the way up. Opelka won the Delray Beach title right before the coronavirus hiatus and returned from it by reaching the Cincinnati Masters quarterfinals. However, a knee injury ended his run there and erased his U.S. Open hopes–otherwise he would surely be higher in the rankings.

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.