The Gen-Z tennis stars you need to know for Wimbledon 2022 — from Emma Raducanu to Harmony Tan

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 (ES composite)
(ES composite)

A Greek former sports journalist who’s gone from writing about Rafael Nadal to playing him. A 25-year-old dog-lover from north London who says leaving a bad relationship was key to her on-court success. The son of two tennis icons who’s touted as the next Andy Murray.

These are just some of the (lesser-known) Gen-Z tennis stars set to take centre stage at this year’s Wimbledon as the world’s most famous tennis Championships enter its first week of full-capacity crowds after a two-year Covid hiatus.

Sadly, former number one Naomi Osaka, 24, has had to drop out of this year’s tournament due to a leg injury, but there are plenty of other famous faces to look out for among the up-and-coming under-25s: US teen sensation Coco Gauff, 18, is set to return to the All England Club this week, as is Britain’s golden girl Emma Raducanu, 19, who is already through to the second round. After a bumpy few months since her US Open victory last summer, could this be her chance to take a second Grand Slam trophy and become a winner on home turf?

And then there’s France’s Harmony Tan, 24, who sensationally booted Serena Williams, 40, out of the first round on day two of the competition. The young guns are coming up fast — here’s your guide on the ones to watch.

Emma Raducanu

Age: 19

From: Bromley, south London

World ranking: 11

Known for: Winning the US Open without dropping a single set in 2021

Instagram following: 2.4 million

Emma Raducanu (Getty Images)
Emma Raducanu (Getty Images)

For anyone too dazed by Raducanu’s dizzying success to keep track, a recap of her rollercoaster year: in the few short months since leaving school last June, her ranking has sky-rocketed from 338 to 11 in the world. She reached the fourth round of last year’s Wimbledon as an “unknown wildcard” in July, made history at the US Open as the youngest British female to win a Grand Slam in 44 years, and promptly toured the world’s red carpets as an overnight superstar, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and Daniel Craig, posing for the cover of British Vogue and signing lucrative deals with luxury fashion brands Tiffany & Co and Dior. Oh, and she scored an A* for Maths and an A for economics in her A Levels while she was at it.

Born in Canada, she moved to London when she was two years old with her Chinese mother, Renee, and Romanian father, Ian, both of whom work in finance. Growing up, she undertook ballet and tap lessons, golf, karting and dirt biking, but it was tennis she chose to pursue full-time.

Raducanu has been pegged as “the first Gen Z sporting hero” by marketing guru Mark Borkowski, who praised the player for having “elegance, intelligence, and a girl-next-door quality that makes competing look fun.” In fact, he reckons her star quality could eclipse triple Grand Slam-winner Andy Murray‘s £120m wealth, with sponsors such as Tiffany & Co, Dior, British Airways and Evian already lining up to secure her endorsement.

“I was a very shy little girl who didn’t talk much at all,” she said in her cover interview for Vogue. “And through playing sport, and having to be bold on the court and fearless and fight, it’s given me inner strength. If you have that, then you can really achieve whatever you want.”

Does she feel intimidated, then, to be bearing the weight of Birtain’s hopes in SW19 this year? Apparently not. “Everyone out there on court wants me to do well... they will be cheering,” the 19-year-old said ahead of her first appearance on Centre Court today. “So there’s nothing negative or to feel overwhelmed about because they’re just going to be rooting for me.”

​​Stefanos Tsitsipas

Age: 23

From: Athens, Greece

World ranking: 5

Known for: defeating Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open in 2021

Instagram following: 1.6 million

​​Stefanos Tsitsipas (Getty Images)
​​Stefanos Tsitsipas (Getty Images)

Tsitsipas may have started his professional tennis career in 2016, but his passion for the game started in a different way to most pro players. At 12 years old, the Greek tennis icon was a budding sports journalist who ran a successful tennis Facebook page where he would update his followers on the latest scores and matches from important competitions.

As a player, he first rose to prominence on the tour when he beat Novak Djokovic in his first-ever clash against the Serb at the Canadian Masters 1000 in 2018. Other notable matches since then include Tsitsipas knocking Rafael Nadal out of the quarter-finals of last year’s Australian Open and then later beating him in the Barcelona Open final on a court named after the Spanish tennis star. Now at 23, he’s won five ATP singles titles and is the first Greek tennis player to ever be ranked top 10 in the world rankings.

​​“It’s never easy playing your idols on court,” he said in an interview with the Evening Standard. “As a young journalist, I’d write a lot about Rafa and look how things have changed. I’m now in a position to face him, an idol that’s now a rival. It’s magnificent to be honest.”

He is known for his expressive style of play. “I like emotion, I live for emotion,” he continued. “I celebrate my victories, go down on my knees and share it with others around me. When I see players acting all cool about that, I don’t lie about that. It’s just too robotic. I love players that are natural, such as Nadal, who shows out his emotion. He really fights, he shows he’s willing to fight and puts on a great show, at the French Open in particular. And Roger might be a maestro of keeping calm but he expresses his emotions. They have revolutionised tennis. I’d love to be the same.”

Cori “Coco” Gauff

Age: 18

From: Delray Beach, Florida

World ranking: 12

Known for: beating Venus Williams on Wimbledon’s Centre Court aged just 15

Instagram following: 776,000

Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff (AFP via Getty Images)
Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff (AFP via Getty Images)

You’ll remember the headlines as they were almost as fairytale-like as Raducanu’s: Gauff quickly became an overnight sensation at Wimbledon 2019 after being accepted into the tournament just five days before it started as a qualifying wildcard and aged just 15. She went on to eviscerate three opponents in a row to reach the main draw and was matched against Venus Williams, one of her sporting heroes.

Despite nerves nearly getting the better of her (she wasn’t even able to hold eye contact with the seven-time Grand Slam winner), she won a 6-4, 6-4 win. As tears welled in her eyes at the net, Gauff told Williams as they shook hands post-match: “Thank you for everything you’ve done. I wouldn’t be here without you.”

Since then Gauff has become the youngest player ranked in the top 100 by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and has a career-high ranking of world No. 12 in singles achieved on 20 June 2022 and No. 5 in doubles achieved on 6 June 2022. Most recently, she became the youngest American Grand Slam finalist since Serena Williams (her other sporting inspiration) after defeating Italy’s Martina Trevisan in the French Open semi-finals.

After her win earlier this month, Gauff wrote: “Peace End Gun Violence” on the television camera. This isn’t the first time Gauff has leveraged her platform in the service of social issues. In 2020, days after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, Gauff posted a video to TikTok with an image of herself in a black hoodie, hands raised, under the caption, “Am I next?”

“Since I was younger, my dad told me I could change the world with my racquet,” said Gauff in an interview with The Guardian. She cited LeBron James, Colin Kaepernick, Naomi Osaka and Billie Jean King among her role models in athlete-activism. “He didn’t mean that by like just playing tennis. He meant speaking out on issues like this. The first thing my dad said to me after I got off court, I’m proud of you and I love what you wrote on the camera.”

Jack Draper

Age: 20

From: Sutton, south west London

World ranking: 108

Known for: winning the opening set against eventual-champion Novak Djokovic on his Wimbledon debut last year (Djokovic won overall)

Instagram following: 32,000

 (PA)
(PA)

As the son of two tennis fans - former head of the Lawn Tennis Association, Roger Draper, and a former junior British Tennis Champion, Nicky Draper - the British men’s number four has long been pipped for stardom. But his sporting career hasn’t been smooth sailing. He struggled with injuries during a growth spurt towards the end of his teens and says Covid’s disruption to tennis was badly timed, coinciding with a phase in which his love for the sport was wavering.

Fortunately, he persisted. Last year, Draper stunned crowds by winning the opening set against former world number one Djokovic, and this year he says he’s a “completely different player” as he takes on Belgian wildcard Zizou Bergs. “This year I’ve been able to stay in form, my practice has been more consistent and I’ve been able to get a lot of matches in, whereas last year I was injured pretty much all the way up until Queen’s. And then, even when I was playing Djokovic, something was hurting in my body,” he has said.

Commentators have nicknamed him “Union Jack” and are calling him “the hottest prospect in British tennis right now”, saying he is reminiscent of Andy Murray and shares the Scot’s solid two-handed backhand.

He has the same agent as Raducanu and backs himself to have a similar breakthrough at this year’s Champsionships. His attitude at Eastbourne last week was just a taster of that optimism. “Is that good luck?” he joked during a pre-semi-final interview after being pooed on by a passing bird. “My coach got that yesterday, as well, so it’s good luck.”

Iga Świątek

Age: 21

From: Poland

World ranking: 1

Known for: winning the French Open earlier this month - for the second time

Instagram following: 893,000

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

Yes, you read that right. Iga Świątek is the world number one you’d probably never heard of until the Polish player smashed teen sensation Gauff in straight sets to win the French Open earlier this month. It wasn’t the first time she’s won the tournament. Świątek also lifted the French Open trophy in 2020 but even then, she didn’t full believe in her own abilities to compete with the big-hitters, saying she stayed in high school until 18 because she still felt like she “needed a plan B in case tennis is not gonna work out”.

Hopefully, her latest win is proof that plan B is unlikely to be needed.

The fresh-faced 21-year-old is currently on a 35-game winning streak after her triumph in Paris, with commentators comparing her to a young Serena Williams and calling her the “dominant force in women’s tennis, and one who is poised for future greatness” (though Świątek admits she’s still too “overwhelmed” to say hello to Williams).

It was only fitting then, really, that Świątek should open play against Jana Fett on centre court yesterday, in the absence of defending champion Ashleigh Barty. Barty did the same thing last year after defending champion Simona Halep was unable to play due to injury. Barty went on to win the title - can we expect a repeat from Świątek this year?

Taylor Fritz

Age: 24

From: California, US

World ranking: 14

Known for: Winning Eastbourne last week - for the second time

Instagram following: 216,000

 (Getty Images for Citi)
(Getty Images for Citi)

It was always going to be an American winner, by the time last week’s Eastbourne tournament reached its final men’s round. But it was San Diego-born Fritz - the son of two former tennis pros and currently the top seeded men’s player in the US - who took the trophy over compatriot Maxime Cressy, after not dropping his serve for the entire week.

Hopefully for six-foot-four Fritz, Eastbourne was just a sign of a more promising season to come in the UK. “My grass season wasn’t going great before I arrived here,” he told reporters at Eastbourne after Draper knocked him out of the first round of Queen’s the previous week. “But it is great to beat these players and it gives me confidence. I played really well all week and going into Wimbledon, I feel good.”

Outside of tennis, Fritz has a son with his ex-wife and fellow tennis player Raquel Pedraza (the child was born in 2017 and they divorced in 2019).

In 2020 he took a month off tennis during the Covid pandemic and “spent time being with my son, sleeping in, and playing video games”. “I felt like I really needed that,” he told Interview Magazine at the time. “I haven’t had time like that in five years.”

Harriet Dart

Age: 25

From: Hampstead, north London

World ranking: 94

Known for: Reaching the world top-100 after rising to 94 in the WTA rankings - her highest ever position - this week

Instagram following: 25,700

 (Getty Images for LTA)
(Getty Images for LTA)

Dart believes she’s been playing some of her best tennis in 2022 and puts much of this down to happiness off-court.

“I went through a really bad personal time... and I really had to work on a lot of things,” Dart said of going through a “bad” relationship last year, which she calls the “toughest” year of her life. “I’m a lot happier now, I have a nice boyfriend, which is nice.. I do believe, if you’re happier off the court, you’re happier on the court.”

Her Instagram paints a picture of a sprightly Gen-Zer, posing in her bikini and bucket hat on holiday, dressed up with friends on nights out, and cuddling her dog Lennie in scenic spots around London.

She made it to the quarter finals of Eastbourne last week, defeating Madison Brengle, Jil Teichmann and Marta Kostyuk before losing to Petra Kvitova.

Jay Clarke

Age: 23

From: Derby, UK

World ranking: 159

Known for: Pushing Roger Federer to a second set tiebreak at Wimbledon 2019

Instagram following: 10,900

 (Getty Images for LTA)
(Getty Images for LTA)

Most players’ families will be watching this year’s tournament, but no more so than that of Clarke, one of this year’s wildcards and the youngest of three siblings who’ve all played professionally over the years. His older brother Curtis and sister Yasmin are both former pro tennis players and have both coached him in the past, as has their father Earol.

The 23-year-old’s Instagram is a tribute to his sporting career, his family and his long-term girlfriend, Ariana, who graduated from Loughborough University last summer. He’s most famous for playing Federer at Wimbledon in 2019 and pushing him to a second set tiebreak before succumbing to defeat, but his brotherCurtis is optimistic 2022 could be his younger sibling’s year.

“I think Jay has a great opportunity next week, he’s always played very good on the Wimbledon Lawns over the years” Curtis said this week.

“Jay’s game is naturally suited to the surface, he uses the speed of the court very well and knows when to sneak into the net to finish points which is a vital skill on grass. Plus, he has the physical and mental fortitude for five-setters and big crowds which I believe is the most important quality for any player in a grand-slam event.”

Harmony Tan

Age: 24

From: Paris, France

World ranking: 115

Known for: Knockng Serena Williams out in the first round of Wimbledon 2022.

Instagram following: 7,300

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

When Harmony Tan realised she was going to play tennis legend Serena Williams in her debut Wimbledon match, she was, naturally, “really scared”. Williams is a 23-time Grand Slam singles winner, while Tan had not advanced further than second round in any of her six previous appearances at major tournaments. Resigned to maybe winning one or two games out of the set, the French player was as shocked by yesterday’s antics as anyone.

Newcomer Tan beat possibly the greatest tennis player of all time 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (10-7), an incredible feat considering Williams has only ever lost one other match in the first round of Wimbledon across her almost three decade-spanning career.

“I’m really surprised today,” she said of her win in the on-court interview. During an interview with ESPN shortly after the match, she continued, “I’m so emotional now, I don’t know what to say now because she’s a superstar and when I was young, watching her so many times on the TV and, yeah, for my first Wimbledon, it’s wow. Just wow.”

The player, whose parents are from Vietnam and Cambodia, began her training in the Val-de-Marne League and has continued to train privately at the Bollettieri Academy in Florida. She is currently coached by 1998 Wimbledon runner-up Nathalie Tauziat, who has faced Williams three times, beating her once at the Paris Open final in 2000, which we’re sure came in handy at yesterday’s fixture.

Tan will next face Sara Sorribes Tormo, a Spaniard currently ranked 32nd in the world. Despite losing to Tormo earlier this year in Monterrey, Mexico, perhaps the exhilarating victory against Williams will spur Tan forwards at next week’s match.

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