Rafael Nadal completed a sensational return as the King of Clay with victory over Stan Wawrinka. Nadal’s form was truly spectacular and nobody else stood a chance so here we look at some of the players to keep an eye out for over the next three months after impressive performances.
1. Hyeon Chung
Korean Hyeon Chung is starting to build on his breakthrough year in 2015. After an impressive clay season, Hyeon continued his excellent form on the clay in Paris securing some impressive results and almost causing a huge upset in the third round.
In the opening two rounds the Korean saw off the ‘Novak Conquerers’, Sam Querrey and Denis Istomin. But it was round three that Hyeon Chung showed his potential. Trailing by two sets to Kei Nishikori, Hyeon stormed back and seemingly rattled the Japanese number one to go 5-7 4-6 7-6 3-0 and a double break up before the rain came down. Now, while Chung went on to bagel Nishikori in the fourth set, the rain delay clearly helped the Japanese start recompose himself and seek treatment on a wrist injury.
One of the so-called Next Gen stars, Chung’s run at Roland Garros sees him rise to world number 58, just seven places behind his career high ranking. However, this year, the Korean is ranked at 35 and continues to climb the rankings. He has already achieved some notable scalps this year, defeating Gael Monfils in Munich and Sasha Zverev in Barcelona, where he also had his chances against Rafa Nadal in the Quarter Finals.
Hyeon Chung is currently at the transitional stage of Challenger to ATP tour level, however he has shown his potential over the last three months that he could become a future top 10 player. His next tournament is s-Hertogenbosch, where he faces Ernesto Escobedo, and he’s certainly one to keep an eye out on.
2. Karen Khachanov
What a tournament Karen Khachanov has just had. A forage to the second of a Slam for the first time, the young Russian saw off qualifier Nicolas Jarry, Tomas Berdych and John Isner before losing to Andy Murray in round four. So what do we know about him?
Set to rise to a new career high of 39, Khachanov is another in the Next Gen race. After reaching the second round of the Australian Open (losing to Jack Sock), Khachanov hit a dreadful run of form, losing five matches in a row, before ending that run against Tommy Robredo at Indian Wells.
But it’s the clay courts where Khachanov has found his form and shown his potential. He reached the Quarter Finals at both Barcelona, defeating David Goffin and Pablo Cuevos en route, and in Lyon where he was defeated by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the last eight. And after doing so well in Paris, Khachanov will have to deal with a bit more expectation doing into the second half of the year.
He will be making his first ever main draw appearance at Wimbledon and will also have to defend his first ATP title in Chengdu, so Karen will need to be on top form, otherwise we may see a dip in the rankings. If he plays anything like he did against Berdych and Isner then he shouldn’t find it tough to transition over to the grass.
Definitely one to watch.
3. Diego Schwartzman
We don’t want to make this all about the #NextGen and so we think Argentine Diego Schwartzman deserves a shout out. His performance levels against Novak Djokovic were unreal for the first three sets and it’s a shame he ran out of steam against the Serb in the final two sets.
That being said, Schwartzman needs to use this performance to really kickstart his career and realise his potential. Set to rise to number 35, just below his career high (34), Schwartzman has proved he can compete consistently against top 30 players. This year alone, he’s defeated Sam Querrey (hard), Pablo Cuevas (hard), Roberto Bautista Agut (clay) and Albert Ramos-Vinolos (clay).
It’s safe to say he might not be looking forward to the grass court season. Over the last two years he hasn’t won a single game on the surface at ATP level, although he came close at Wimbledon after losing a tight five-setter against Robin Haase. However, where some might see a weak surface, you’ve got to think that the Argentine could pick up some victories and continue his rise up the rankings ahead of the US hard court swing. If he could pick up some wins, we could see Diego Schwartzman push towards a place in the top 20 and continue to challenge the sport’s elite.