I’ll start with two players who have already established themselves on the tour but who also have room for further improvement.
First up is Khachanov, who I’d expect to see at next year’s ATP Finals in London as one of the season’s best eight players. He’s already shown he can compete with the best and anyone who saw him push Rafael Nadal hard at the US Open should know that the Russian has the tools to contend at the top end of the game.
Khachanov possesses great power and uses it well in his ferocious groundstrokes. The serve is decent too but can still be improved.
The second half of 2018 was impressive with a semi-final run in Toronto hinting at what was to come – namely titles in Moscow and, saving the best for last, Paris. Four top-10 players, including Novak Djokovic in the final, were beaten as Khachanov landed his first Masters title, and that looks a pretty good springboard for success at the highest levels in 2019.
I believe the 22-year-old will be a contender at Masters and Grand Slam level in the new season, although it may take a while for the odds compilers to wise up to his serious potential.
Alex de Minaur
De Minaur is another who is already fairly well known, but it’s more than possible that 2019 could be the year when the young Aussie becomes a household name.
The 19-year-old is the second youngest player in the top 100 following a remarkable climb from 208th in the rankings to 31st during 2018.
After such a rise it was hardly surprising to see him chosen as the ATP’s Newcomer of the Year but don’t expect him to rest on his laurels.
A player with remarkable court coverage thanks to his speed around the court – expect plenty of commentators to bang on about his ‘wheels’ – that aspect has seen him compared to former world number one and three-time Grand Slam champion Lleyton Hewitt, who is now his Davis Cup captain and mentor.
De Minaur posted no fewer than 14 top-50 wins last season. Now the task will be to bag a similar number of top-20 scalps.
In terms of betting, the fact that De Minaur is yet to win a title could be in punters’ favour. He’s still not entirely above the radar and a maiden crown looks certain to arrive in 2019. It may well come at 250 level but this is a player capable of making an impact at higher levels than that too.
Coming from Mallorca, the same Spanish island as Rafael Nadal, Munar will always have that particular shadow hanging over him given he’s unlikely to win 11 Roland Garros titles in his career.
But it will also have its benefits. Munar knows Nadal well, he trains at his academy and says it “feels special to have Rafa behind me, mentoring me”.
It is with the claycourts in mind that I pick out Munar. Unsurprisingly that is his favourite surface and one on which he’s already enjoyed plenty of success.
Last season he won two Challenger titles on it before producing his best ATP Tour result by reaching the semi-finals in Kitzbuhel. That all came after he beat David Ferrer from two sets down at Roland Garros and was then far from disgraced against Novak Djokovic.
Expect Munar to make an impact on clay in 2019. He’s probably not going to win if his friend Nadal is in the field but at 250 level, the 21-year-old could well challenge for his first tour-level title.
Big things have been expected of this Canadian from a young age – and not just because he shares a birthday with a certain Roger Federer (who he has already practised with).
It’s more than two years since he won the US Open boys’ title but he’s still only 18. Despite the tender age, ‘FA2’ is already knocking on the door of the world’s top 100.
2019 could well be the year he showcases his talents to a mainstream audience, just as likes of de Minaur and Stefanos Tsitsipas did last season.
Auger-Aliassime has already claimed some notable scalps at main-tour level in the shape of Lucas Pouille and Hyeon Chung and more can expected to go the same way in the coming months.
Hardcourts are where it will most likely pay to follow this rising star with match betting more likely to be a route to profit than the outrights, although don’t rule out a deep run at an ATP tournament.
Having only turned 18 less than two months ago, Molleker is the youngest player ranked in the world’s top 200.
It may be asking a lot for the German to be enjoying great success at ATP Tour level in 2019 but de Minaur surged from around Molleker’s current mark 12 months ago into the top 40. If anyone can repeat the trick, Molleker looks the most likely candidate.
While boasting a talented all-round game, it is on the clay where the teenager feels most at home, as evidenced by his biggest win in 2018 – victory over David Ferrer in Hamburg, a result which came on the back of his maiden Challenger title. He also saw off Jan-Lennard Struff on the Stuttgart grass.
Molleker is certainly a player to keep an eye on, it’s just a case of whether his big breakthrough will come in 2019 or not.