Australian Open: We look at five young hopefuls ahead of the 2014 tournament
By Razwan Mirza - Tweet me: @RazMirza. Last Updated: 08/01/14 5:30pm
The last 34 men's singles Grand Slam titles have been shared between just five players.
And given the fact that Andy Murray has so far racked up two major titles and Juan Martin Del Potro just the one in 2009, that has left Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic to share an incredible 31 crowns between them.
But all eras must eventually come to an end and with 32-year-old Federer dropping down the rankings, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray are ready to be challenged by a new generation of stars.
Here, we take a look at five youngsters who will be aiming to make a major breakthrough at Melbourne Park.
Milos Raonic (Sky Bet odds: 80/1)
Milos Raonic: Led Canada to the Davis Cup semi-finals
Born in Podgorica, Montenegro, Raonic moved to Canada with his family at the age of three and started playing the game at the age of eight. He has since grown into a 6ft 5in powerhouse. In 2012 he was named Newcomer of the Year after rising 125 places to No 31 in the ATP rankings and is now just outside the top ten. Raonic, who celebrated his 23rd birthday on December 27, reached the fourth-round of the Australian Open last year before losing to Roger Federer, but won the SAP Open title in San Jose title for the third year in a row soon after. He then went through a slump in form, losing to Fernando Verdasco in Madrid and suffering a shock early exit to Philipp Kohlschreiber in Rome. In June, Raonic hired former Croatian star Ivan Ljubicic as his coach, a month after he split with Galo Blanco. He is known for his huge serves and bludgeoning groundstrokes - a perfect game for grass - but he fell to Igor Sijsling in the second-round at Wimbledon. His form picked up again as he reached the semi-finals of the Barcelona Open before losing out to Rafael Nadal. He went down to the Spaniard again after reaching his first ATP Masters 1000 final in his hometown of Montreal in August and then missed out on a quarter-final spot at Flushing Meadows after losing to Frenchman Richard Gasquet. He did finish the year in strong fashion though. He lifted his second ATP title of the year by winning in Bangkok and then finished as runner-up to an in-form Juan Martin del Potro in Tokyo.
Grigor Dimitrov (Sky Bet odds: 100/1)
Grigor Dimitrov: The Bulgarian was an ATP Tour winner in Stockholm
Dimitrov is finally starting to make huge strides in the men's game. He earned the tag 'Baby Federer' following his triumph at Wimbledon and the US Open as a junior in 2008. And he began last season by reaching the final in his first tournament in Brisbane - a match which he lost to Andy Murray. In October, coach Roger Rasheed knocked back a raft of offers to take on Dimitrov as his next protégé. "It's a really exciting challenge for me," Rasheed said. "He's one of the most, if not the most, exciting young talents around." And just a matter of a few weeks later, he became the first Bulgarian to clinch an ATP Tour title in the Open Era after defeating David Ferrer for the first time in four meetings in Stockholm. The 22-year-old also stretched Rafael Nadal to the limit in the quarter-finals at Monaco in April and then shocked Novak Djokovic in the Madrid second round after the longest three-set match of the year, spanning three hours and five minutes, for his first ever victory against a top-five player. The Serb did exact his revenge in the third-round of the French Open with a straight-sets win though. The Bulgarian, who has been dating Maria Sharapova, failed to make an impact on the grass, but did reach the semi-finals in Bastad back on the hardcourts in July. His country feel they may have found a new hero after Hristo Stoichkov - a former footballer who led the national side to the 1994 World Cup semi-finals. And they may just be right because this could be the year that the 23rd-ranked Haskovo-born player makes his mark at a Grand Slam.
Jerzy Janowicz (Sky Bet odds: 80/1)
Jerzy Janowicz: Has risen swiftly through the rankings in the last two years
Janowicz claims to have Pete Sampras' style and Marat Safin's attitude. He is Poland's very own rising star at 6ft 8in and is also climbing up the rankings like a steam train. He has gone from 161 in the world to No 21 in a little over two years. His parents were both professional volleyball players, so it was a no-brainer that he was going to follow in their footsteps and become a professional sportsperson. He picked up a racket at the age of five and hasn't looked back. After making his Grand Slam debut as a qualifier at Wimbledon, Janowicz rose to prominence at the 2012 Paris Masters by reaching the final in his maiden Masters 1000 event. Although he lost in straight sets to Spain's David Ferrer, he has been trying to become the first Pole to win a title since Wojtek Fibak in 1982. 2013 was quite a year for the 23-year-old after reaching his first grand slam semi-final at Wimbledon. Despite losing to eventual champion Andy Murray in four sets, he did rise to a career-high World No 17. The big-hitting beanpole plays with passion and flair and never holds back with a dangerous cross-court forehand and flat serves which hit top speeds of up to 135mph. A foot injury recently forced Janowicz to the sidelines and out of the Hopman Cup, but he hopes to be fit in time for the start of the Australian Open. His achievements have been quite remarkable considering he has gone from playing a tournament in Barnstaple to SW19 in the space of 18 months.
Benoit Paire (Sky Bet odds: 500/1)
Benoit Paire: The Frenchman has been one of most improved players
The up-and-coming Frenchman has been tipped as a future world beater by sports daily L'Equipe and there is no reason why this 24-year-old from Avignon can't go on and fulfil that promise. He's currently ranked 26 in the world, but was one of most improved players a couple of years ago. He plays with his own special brand of creativity, power and panache on the tennis court, capturing the imagination of the public. He reached his second career final in Montpellier in 2013, but lost out to his compatriot Richard Gasquet. He also reached the semi-finals in his first tournament of the year in Chennai as well as making his first career Masters semi after a breakthrough performance in Rome. Paire defeated Juan Martin del Potro to record his first win over a top-ten player at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in April. After Kei Nishikori beat him at Roland Garros, things went pear-shaped for poor Benoit at Wimbledon when he lost in the third round for the second successive year. In July, a right elbow injury caused Paire to pull out of the event in Hamburg. After plenty of rest and recuperation, he will hope for a major improvement in focus and consistency Down Under.
Bernard Tomic (Sky Bet odds: 125/1)
Bernard Tomic: The youngster will have the support of the Melbourne crowd
Tomic was born in Stuttgart, Germany to a Croatian father and a Bosnian mother before the family migrated to Australia when he was three-years-old. He had a talent for the game from a young age and won the Australian Open Junior Boys' Championships at the age of 15. Tomic went from world No 208 at the end of 2010 all the way to No 42 the following year. He reached his first grand slam quarter-final at Wimbledon, but lost out to eventual champion Novak Djokovic. He disappointed in 2012 with a number of early-tournament losses and created more headlines off the court than on it, including run-ins with police in his sports car and claims he was not trying hard enough. He was recalled to Australia's Davis Cup team after captain Pat Rafter disciplined him for a lack of professionalism earlier in 2012. Tomic began last season by bagging his first ATP title at the Apia International in Sydney. However, just as things seemed to be looking up, he went missing from the draw for the Rome Masters after his father, John, was charged with assaulting his hitting partner, Thomas Drouet, and was subsequently banned from attending all tour events by the ATP. Tomic, who is currently ranked 52st in the world, made more headlines recently after being pictured celebrating his 21st birthday in a Gold Coast nightclub. He has since appointed Velimir Zovko as his new co-coach, and is targeting a rise into the top 20 this year.