• Chris Wilkinson

Dimitrov leads the new aces in the pack

Chris Wilkinson July 10, 2014
The player everyone is talking about: Grigor Dimitrov © Getty Images

With a cluster of new kids on the block thrusting themselves into the limelight, these are refreshing times on the men's tour. In his latest column for ESPN, former British No.1 Chris Wilkinson discusses three players turning heads, and how those going the wrong way in the world rankings can get themselves back in the mix.

Changing of the Guard

I can't really start anywhere else but with the player everyone is talking about - Grigor Dimitrov. At just 23 he is already one of the most exciting players on tour. He has won on all three surfaces this year, including Queen's, and followed it up with a positive showing at Wimbledon, where he destroyed Andy Murray in straight sets.

He is a player I can see being top five in the not-too-distant future and is without doubt a grand slam champion in the making. I'm not even saying he will have to wait - there is absolutely no reason he can't go to Flushing Meadows next month and put himself in contention at the US Open.

It's difficult to back anyone except Rafael Nadal at the French Open, but there is no reason Dimitrov can't make himself a force to be reckoned with in the other three slams, too, for the foreseeable future.

One to watch: Milos Raonic © Getty Images

Dimitrov works with Australian coach Roger Rasheed, a strong taskmaster who has made big improvements, not least in the way his charge now takes the sport a lot more seriously. His movement is also incredible and he is one of the best athletes in the game now - comparable to Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

A lot is expected of Dimitrov and he's taken a bit more time to mature than was hoped but the experience he is gaining now will stand him in good stead for the next couple of years. And you can't rule out the Maria Sharapova factor. It can only be a good thing for him to be close to a player so driven by the game. Sharapova is as competitive as they come and a born winner - those elements have certainly rubbed off on him.

Another 23-year-old making a name for himself is Milos Raonic. A Wimbledon semi-final under his belt and up to No.6 in the rankings thanks to a big game.

Raonic will always have potential because of such a huge serve but for him it is all about maturing as a player, working on his movement and his returns. Okay, he may not be the most exciting player to watch but he is having a good year and will mix it up with the best in the years to come.

I expected better things from him in the semi-final against Roger Federer but the occasion got to him a little bit. For Federer it was a case of blocking the serve and forcing Raonic into rallies that the Swiss could then dominate.

We can't talk about rising stars without mentioning Nick Kyrgios. This kid is certainly no flash in the pan. His results before Wimbledon, albeit at challenger level, were excellent and when you go out on Centre Court against someone like Nadal and beat the guy … that shows some guts.

It reminded me of 2001 when a 19-year-old Federer beat four-time defending champion Pete Sampras. Then we were witnessing the unveiling of the next big thing, and I get that feeling with Kyrgios this time around.

He has a fantastic attitude - and you need to have that to compete at this level if you want to build the confidence to go on and win these kinds of matches.

Kyrgios is a breath of fresh air to watch. Remember his between-the-legs shot against Nadal - it was incredible and you could only stand and applaud. That is the sort of thing we want to see in tennis and Kyrgios brings something new that must be embraced because it can only be good for the game.

Murray will be back

Andy Murray was not himself at SW19 © PA Photos
  • Andy Murray is down 10th in the rankings - his lowest position in six years. So what next for the British No.1?
  • It's all about getting himself in the right frame of mind for the American hard court swing. He doesn't play again for four weeks or so, giving him a great opportunity to work closer with new coach Amelie Mauresmo. She only started at Queen's and it's difficult to make an impact that quickly but there is a learning curve there.
  • The worrying thing about his Wimbledon defeat to Grigor Dimitrov was the way in which he lost. On paper it was a winnable match for Dimitrov, but that should have been it. But he thrashed Murray and the manner of the defeat is something that will need to be discussed.
  • I spoke to Dimtrov's coach and he said that during the warm-up they could see in Murray's eyes that he didn't seem himself and wasn't quite ready. Add to this Dimitrov being on top of his game and tactically better while Murray was below par and couldn't quite lift himself. A lot of reasons have been suggested to explain why Murray wasn't at his best but it's difficult to know the truth.
  • Murray and Mauresmo are just forging their relationship and it's a team effort. If Mauresmo gels as part of Murray's team, he will be back.

Those going the wrong way…

These are concerning times for the likes of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Nicolas Almagro and Richard Gasquet.

These were players firmly cemented in the top 10 before the new crop of young talent came along. A lot of that is down to fitness and confidence. When players drop out of the top 10, it is very tough to retain that level of intensity - particularly when you've got these young guns firing through, players who are much more hungry for it.

For these players it's about building some momentum. Take Tsonga for example, he is a player who needs to win matches on the big stage.

You only need to look at the matches he's lost at slams this year - he got duffed up by Djokovic in three at both the French and Wimbledon, Marinko Matosevic at Queen's in two - he's lost a lot of matches this year that haven't been close.

When I was coming to the end of my career, I was going to tournaments and standing opposite guys who were younger, hungrier and more motivated.

It's not easy when you've been there and fallen out. The only answer is hard work.

They could do worse than to look closely at the return of Gael Monfils who, in three years, has gone from the top 10 to outside the top 100 and back to within touching distance of the top 20.

It all makes the achievements of Roger Federer all the more remarkable.

How many times has he been written off in the past couple of years? I'm one who has been guilty of that, having predicted he would finish this year outside the top 10 in my final column of the 2013 season. Now he is one of just two players in their 30s, along with David Ferrer, in the top 10.

There are two vital factors: Firstly, fitness. He had a back injury last year and wasn't able to compete at the level he would have liked. Secondly, Stefan Edberg. Watching Federer at Wimbledon this year you could definitely see the influence - serve and volley, chip and charge, coming to the net more. It was a revelation and joy to watch.

It would have been a great story if Federer had won again at Wimbledon but Djokovic deserved it. He had lost five of his six slam finals prior to that and I was pleased he won.

He needed it more than Federer.

The next big thing: Kyrgios © Getty Images

Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view of the world of tennis.

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Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis. Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis.