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The 2021 tennis season was full of surprises. We saw two qualifiers make noise at Grand Slams — something that never happens — in Aslan Karatsev and Botic Van De Zandschulp. Some new American tennis stars were born in Jenson Brooksby and Taylor Fritz. Some of the biggest risers from 2020 like Denis Shapovalov and Ugo Humbert gave way to the likes of Casper Ruud and Cam Norrie.
It's anyone's guess what will happen next, and who's destined to rise into the top 20. I've got my eyes on a few players who I think should be primed to break out, and who could come at a discount in the early months of the season.
The secret is out on Brooksby, who has rocketed up to a career high of 56 in the world at just 21 after beginning the season outside the top 300. The American is still rather underpriced given his inexperience on tour, and this season he was the sixth-most profitable player, according to Tennis Explorer's rankings, which assume a one-unit stake on a favorite and a half-unit stake on an underdog.
Brooksby was a cash cow for bettors and made himself quite a bit of coin with his play as well. He won three titles at the ATP Challenger level, won three matches at the U.S. Open, qualified for the French Open and appeared at three Masters 1000s. He also made the final in Newport in his first-ever appearance on grass, and the semifnials in Washington and Antwerp.
It was quite the season for Brooksby, who cemented himself as one of the toughest outs on tour. His relentless competition on court made him perhaps the most annoying player to face, and his need to win matches and his pursuit of a No. 1 ranking refreshed the American tennis outlook. Brooksby's destined to make the top 20 in 2021, and even though he's no longer the underdog in the main draw, he's still getting priced rather generously and should provide us opportunities to make money in the first third of the season.
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We need to touch on the No. 1 money-maker in tennis this season, which was Griekspoor. He was the most profitable player to bet on across the ATP and WTA tours, playing 74 matches and winning a whopping 61 of them, taking home eight titles on the ATP Challenger Tour.
Griekspoor, who comes from a tennis family and has an older player on tour named Scott, has been on my radar for quite some time now. He's probably considered a late bloomer, even if he's just 25, and his talent is evident. He plays (and looks) a bit like Jan-Lennard Struff, bringing the heat on his forehand and sporting solid serving numbers.
Griekspoor was able to make the leap to the main draw in 2021, qualifying for Wimbledon, winning a match at the U.S. Open and scattering some wins in Montpellier (where he should have taken down hometown hero Ugo Humbert) and Gstaad. He really just scratched the surface there, though, and after a couple of years of trying to break through at the main level, I believe Griekspoor will finally do so in 2022. You don't win this many matches and enter the following season lacking confidence.
The best part here is the Dutch is ranked No. 65 in the world, and should no longer have to fight so hard to get into some of the ATP 250 and ATP 500 events. He will have more main draw appearances, which means less pressure, and which also means more opportunities to bet on him.
Yeah, this one is completely out of left field, but we need to have a little fun, right?
Look, the likes of Carlos Alcaraz, Sebastian Korda, Taylor Fritz and Cameron Norrie have already had their breakouts. Alcaraz will likely be in the top 10 by season's end, and it's easy to say these guys are good now and will continue to be good.
I'm looking to bet on Edmund early in the 2022 season, given his talent level and the fact that everyone's seemed to forget about him. This guy has reached as high as No. 14 in the ATP Tour rankings and has extraordinary talent from the baseline. He had a knee issue which kept him out of the entire 2021 season, but I expect him to rise from No. 122 in the world all the way back to the top 30.
Edmund was absolutely feeling it right before the pandemic hit last year. He made noise in Auckland with a couple of nice wins, he won New York and then he turned around and won a couple matches in Acapulco, including one over Felix Auger-Aliassime.
From there, Edmund grinded it out in some exhibitions during lockdown, beating the likes of Andy Murray and Cam Norrie and looking strong. He came out in a funk, winning just one match at the US Open before closing with five straight losses and then dealing with a knee issue.
Assuming the Brit is ready for 2022, I think we should have some opportunities to bet him at great prices in the early going. Like any player coming off of an injury, it'll be important to take a slow, wait-and-see approach, but Edmund certainly has the talent to get right back to work and pick up where he left off not so long ago.
We're not talking about a washed up wasted talent, we are dealing with a guy who will still be just 26 when the Australian Open begins who will be less than two years removed from his last ATP Title. The pandemic hit many players hard, but Edmund may have been one of the hardest hit.
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