As we reveal this year's edition of The 21 & Under Club, we'd like to call your attention to Team Luke Hope for Minds, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that supports families with children who have suffered an acquired brain injury. Headed by former Texas Tech tennis coach Tim Siegel—whose son, Luke, suffered severe head and chest trauma from a golf cart accident which resulted in an anoxic brain injury—Team Luke Hope for Minds has lost numerous fundraising opportunities throughout 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To learn more about the organization, and for information on how to donate, go to teamlukehopeforminds.org
ATP Rank: 26
UTR Rank: 8
What he's done since last summer: Won Atlanta and Zhuhai; finished runner-up at Basel and in Next Gen ATP Finals
“How can this kid play with the pros?”
That was the question a fan asked her friend at the US Open a couple of years ago, after getting her first look at Alex de Minaur as he warmed up for his third-round match against Marin Cilic. She wasn’t the only one wondering. At a wiry 150 pounds, with a clean-shaven baby face, the 19-year-old de Minaur didn’t seem like he should stand a chance of surviving against the 6’5” Cilic, or on today’s ever-more-physical ATP Tour.
But de Minaur has survived, and thrived, since making his pro debut in 2015, and that night at the Open he showed the fans in New York how he does it—or at least those few thousand who were still in Louis Armstrong Stadium when he finally succumbed to Cilic at 2:22 a.m. Skidding across the baseline, whirling in circles to get back into rallies, rocketing winners from the far reaches of the court, and drawing gasps from the crowd with his full-stretch gets, de Minaur was a blur in a backwards cap.
That wasn’t an unusual performance for the young man known as Speed Demon. The 21-year-old Australian can turn defense into thrilling entertainment. But unlike his mentor, Lleyton Hewitt, de Minaur is also comfortable attacking, and few players of any age are as adept at injecting pace into a point and delivering one-two punches. His lack of size forces de Minaur to think on his feet and find inventive ways to take control of rallies.
De Minaur’s hybrid game may be a product of his hybrid upbringing. He grew up in Australia and Spain, plays for Australia but works with a Spanish coach, and speaks English and Spanish fluently. From a mental standpoint, he seems to have absorbed the best of both countries’ tennis traditions: He’s an old-fashioned Aussie gamer and an old-fashioned Spanish grinder rolled into one. De Minaur never gives an inch in a rally, or goes away in a match.
Of course, as that fan in New York noted, there may always be limits for a player of his build. De Minaur has won three ATP titles, but so far his ranking has topped out at No. 18, and he’ll start a reopened 2020 season at No. 26. He’s only reached the fourth round at a major once, and Grand Slams, with their best-of-five-set matches, may be a physical test he’ll never pass. But it will be fun staying up until 2:00 in the morning to watch him try.
Q. Were you surprised at the level that Alex got to in that first set, until first two sets really he was going with you?
"No, I wasn't surprised, no. He's young. He has a lot of energy. He plays with a lot of passion. Sometimes even too much (smiling)."
—Rafael Nadal, after defeating de Minaur in three sets at this January's ATP Cup
WTA Rank: 25
UTR Rank: 16
What she's done since last summer: Reached round of 16 at Wimbledon, third round of US Open, and finished runner-up in Adelaide
With her high cheekbones and braided ponytail, Dayana Yastremska graces the court with her effortless beauty and calm demeanor. However, the Ukrainian’s game is quite the opposite—controlling the court with heavy groundstrokes that push her opponents far past the baseline.
“Dayana is a very good player, she can very well punch the ball,” said fellow Ukrainian Elina Svitolina following their third-round clash at last year’s US Open.
Yastremska’s power punches and passion come from her humble core. She has a hunger to win for her family, friends, country and, most of all, to make others happy.
This was on full display when the Odessa native rallied her way back from a 2-5 deficit against Ajla Tomljanovic to capture the 2019 Thailand Open while her mother Marina was in the hospital. Marina nearly lost her left eye when a champagne bottle exploded in her hands.
With the grim circumstance weighing on Yastremska’s mind, her will and determination pushed her to the top of the mountain that week.
In the game that begins at “love-love,” it will be just this that drives the rising star across more finish lines with trophies in hand. She has three at the tour level so far, and reached her first Premier final in Adelaide in January of this year to rise to a career-high No. 21.
“My goal now is to perfect myself on the court and off the court, be more disciplined, get Top 20, win a Grand Slam,” Yastremska shared with WTA in March.
Doing what she loves, it's certainly possible to see Yastremska checking all of those boxes.
“Her game is just amazing. Her mindset is so good. She's always focused. She goes for the winners, and I think this is what makes her game so good, because she's not afraid to play aggressive. This is what I really like about her and her game.”
ATP Rank: 36
UTR Rank: 53
What he's done since last summer: In 2020, won first ATP title in Buenos Aires, and finished runner-up in Santiago
Getting over the hump of winning your first title is a big feat. What’s even more impressive is making national history while doing so.
That’s what Casper Ruud achieved when he captured his first career ATP title in Argentina earlier this season. By doing so, the 21-year-old became the first Norwegian to win an ATP title, something his father, Christian, was unable to do during his 10-year stint on tour from 1991-2001.
Unlike his more heralded contemporaries, Ruud’s young career has progressed somewhat under the radar. But don’t mistake that for a lack of passion, because he has no shortage of it. Ruud is full of unwavering determination, ready to take on any challenges thrown at him. Especially when it comes to clay-court tennis.
“When I step on a clay court, [I want] the guy on the other side of the net to think, ‘Oh, this guy is a really, really good player and I’ll have to play my best tennis for three hours if I’ll have a chance to beat him,’” said Ruud.
He won’t have to wait very long, as players have started to take notice. When Roger Federer and Ruud met in the third round of the 2019 French Open, the Swiss had nothing but praise for his young opponent.
“I think for the time being, probably his strongest surface will be clay because he can return from back,” Federer said. “He's got time to set up the shots with his forehand and really use topspin and the variety and the sliding on clay, that, you know, he's searching.”
The 20-time major champion also predicted that the NextGen star would soon land inside the Top 50.
“I think he's going to be obviously easy Top 50, Top 20, hopefully soon,” Federer said.
That was another spot-on remark. Ruud has jumped more than 20 spots since then to sit inside the Top 40 at No. 36.
Under his father’s tutelage, Ruud has made the Rafa Nadal Academy in Mallorca, Spain his training base. It’s no surprise he plans to follow in the Spaniard’s and Dominic Thiem’s footsteps, two of the world’s best clay-courters.
“I’ve always looked up to Rafa a lot and players like him and Thiem, they play with great intensity and in some matches,” Ruud said. “When you look at them, they’ve kind of already won the match, it seems like, before they walk on the court because their opponent knows it’s going to be so tough to beat them on clay.”
Q. What do you think about your Norwegian opponent today and what he did? Did he surprise you in any way?
"...it's nice to see that he's very focused, he's got good energy. Even though he is maybe more on the calm side, also very fair, and no grunting and all that stuff. It's just nice to play against a guy like that, to be quite honest.
Yeah, I mean, he's going to be doing all the right things, thanks to his father and his team, I'm sure. His work ethic is there, you can see it already. He's very strong."
—Roger Federer, after defeating Ruud at the 2019 French Open, 6-3, 6-1, 7-6
Golfing time in Indian Wells..????????♂️✌???? https://t.co/yVFnIFMJgE— Casper Ruud (@CasperRuud98) March 11, 2020
The Class of 2020 is now on TENNIS.com and Baseline.
Monday, July 27: Sofia Kenin | Monday, July 27: Elena Rybakina | Monday, July 27: Alex de Minaur, Dayana Yastremska, Casper Ruud | Tuesday, July 28: Stefanos Tsitsipas | Tuesday, July 28: Thiago Seyboth Wild | Wednesday, July 29: Amanda Anisimova | Wednesday, July 29: Brandon Nakashima | Thursday, July 30: Coco Gauff | Thursday, July 30: Caty McNally | Thursday, July 30: Jannik Sinner, Iga Swiatek | Friday, July 31: Felix Auger-Aliassime | Friday, July 31: Carlos Alcaraz | Saturday, August 1: Denis Shapovalov | Saturday, August 1: J.J. Wolf | Sunday, August 2: Bianca Andreescu | Sunday, August 2: Leylah Fernandez | Sunday, August 2: Marketa Vondrousova, Miomir Kecmanovic