Jan 05

Five Players Facing a defining 2017

Denis Istomin in orange

Denis Istomin at a Grand Slam – for how much longer?

The 2017 tennis season is already underway, with balls being struck with energy over different time zones and Noumea making it’s once a year move into the wider consciousness.

While some can look back with satisfaction as to their progress, others found 2016 exasperating, injury-laden or simply without enough ticks next to them on scoreboards.

Players can often move from the top 50 to disappearing without trace when it comes to the main tour, sometimes without much apparent explanation. I see you, Marinko Matosevic.

So here are five players who face 2017’s that may tell them more about their careers than they would like to admit.

Can they prove their abilities count for more than 2016 suggested? Or were they a truer reflection of what looms in the future?

1. DENIS ISTOMIN (Age 30, WR 121)

Midway through 2016, Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin dropped out of the top 100 for the first time since February 2010.

An always steady figure and title winner in 2015, Istomin ended up spending the final months of the year scrapping for points in Challengers (he went a useful 14-8), and relying on the Asian Wild Card play-off to make sure he got into the Australian Open.

Even that was a close run thing, as he escaped match point against Prajesh Gunneswaran, before winning the final against Duck Hee Lee.

Istomin only managed back to back wins on Tour once, when he reached the third round of Wimbledon, upsetting Kevin Anderson and Nicolas Almagro.

His good Challenger runs also came in his natural environment of Tashkent and Astana. Maybe quicker indoor court events will help his serve play a part, but it requires a strong mentality to resurface after so long at the highest levels.

2. HYEON CHUNG (Age 20, WR 104)

Everybody loves Hyeon Chung fighting (photo: David Iliff)

The career of Hyeon Chung had progressed pretty smoothly until 2016.

He’d broken into the top 100 by dominating the Asian Challenger circuit, and it was time to take on the ATP Tour, with his ranking hitting 51 at its peak.

The first half of 2016 saw that ranking drift down generally as he went 6-13 on the ATP Tour.

There was just one quarter-final appearance in Houston, before a heavy defeat by Quentin Halys at Roland Garros.

After that, an abductor problem caused more problems than initially anticipated, and Chung spent four months out of action before going back to the Asian Challenger circuit.

That was a huge success – he failed to make the semi-finals just once in six events, and landed three titles to rack up a big stack of ranking points to propel him back to theĀ  very edge of the top 100..

Chung says he’s been working on improvements to his serve and forehand, to go with his already useful backhand two hander.

2017 should offer us an insight as whether or not the Korean can put a dent into some of the biggest names on the ATP Tour.

He has wins over Benoit Paire and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, but is waiting for a first set, let alone triumph, off a top 20 opponent.

3. KIMMER COPPEJANS (Age 22, WR 178)

Kimmer Coppejans – the path of junior success is not running smooth

2012 French Open junior champion Kimmer Coppejans is a Grand Slam junior champion who is currently finding the transition to the seniors problematic.

In 2015, things looked to be gradually coming together. The Belgian qualified at Roland Garros to take his place in the main draw for the first time, there were Challenger titles, involvement in the Belgian Davis Cup team, plus, briefly, a place in the top 100.

2016 offered less such shiny things.

Coppejans went 0-7 in qualifying, and struggled after winning a Challenger title in July, in Tampere. His overall ranking dropped 48 places.

It could be the crop of 2012 boys juniors was simply not that strong. The other two junior Grand Slam winners of that year, Luke Saville and Filip Peliwo, are ranked below Coppejans, as is their main protagonist Gianluigi Quinzi.

For this year, the Belgian has turned to former Wimbledon semi-finalist, Xavier Malisse, for coaching guidance and his Twitter suggests he’s been sweating it out in the off-season in Florida. There’s a photo of him with Kei Nishikori in and around IMG territory, so the corporate backing may be there.

2017 feels like the year that will signal if Coppejans can become a player ranked high enough to earn his chances on the ATP Tour, or like a few recent successful juniors, find the Challenger barrier impossible to break.

4. MARIUS COPIL (Age 26, WR 132)

Marius Copil

Marius Copil – almost, but never quite

Romania’s Marius Copil is capable of catching the eye, especially on quicker surfaces.

He’s blessed with a heavy serve and forehand and usually always throws himself into end of season tennis assessments because of his strength indoors,

He made the quarter-finals of the Antwerp ATP event, won a Challenger late on in Budapest and reached the final in Bratislava.

Copil also has a further advantage over some of his rivals, in the benevolence of compatriot Ion Tiriac when it comes to getting wild cards into ATP events. A couple of appearances in Madrid spring to mind.

With his weapons, and this little nudge in the right direction, Copil has yet to crack the top 100 and should, athletically at least, be in prime condition to try and finally push on in 2017.

A bright start in Challengers and a successful grass court campaign look vital to him pushing that little bit further up the ranking computer.

5. EVGENY DONSKOY (Age 26, WR 125)

What more will Donskoy do? (photo: David Iliff)

Russia’s Evgeny Donskoy has spent most of his career bouncing between the main ATP Tour and the Challenger circuit and he ended 2016 on the more downward end of that curve.

He racked up just 7 wins at ATP Tour level, and that’s counting his two victories at the Olympics, which included the notable scalp of David Ferrer.

That was after a 2015 helped by a run to the semi-finals in Moscow, his best showing in an ATP Tour event.

There were two 2016 Challenger titles, with the second one coming in Astana in July. But after his struggles in the US Hard Court season, Donskoy rounded out the year back in Challengers in a fairly low key style, with one quarter-final in four tournaments.

The Russian has the coaching skills of Boris Sobkin in his corner, and a flat hitting style, but his career best ranking of 65 came three years ago and it looks like a career that currently sits on a plateau.

Is there the game and the energy to take it any further?




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