Bernard Tomic and the ATP Top 100: In Perspective

With his quarterfinal showing at Wimbledon, Bernard Tomic will break into the ATP top 100 for the first time on Monday.  He’ll do so with style, jumping from #158 to approximately #70.  (He will be considerably higher in my rankings–before the tournament, I had him just inside the top 50.)

As I’ve written before, a player’s chances of reaching the top of the men’s game have a lot to do with how early he cracks the top 100.  If you’re going to be a top-tenner, odds are you’re flashing some measure of those skills as a teenager.  In fact, to quote myself:

In the last 30 years, only one #1-ranked player (Pat Rafter) hadn’t reached the top 100 as a teenager, and he made it into the top 100 when he was 20.  Almost every eventual top-10 player had broken into the top 100 by age 21.

In that sense, Tomic is well ahead of the curve.  He doesn’t turn 19 until October, making him five months younger than Ryan Harrison, another teenager soon to break into the top 100.  Reaching #70 at such a young age isn’t a guarantee of future success, but it strongly points in that direction.  Again from my earlier post: 11% of players who cracked the top 100 at age 18 went on to become #1, and more than half (61%) eventually reached the top ten.

Tomic’s “comps”

Let’s take a narrower look and examine the 20 players who broke into the top 100 at ages closest to Tomic’s current age of 18.7 years.  It’s an impressive list, including Andy Roddick and Ivan Lendl, along with another 11 top-tenners.  Of these players the only “busts” were Andreas Vinciguerra (peak ranking: 33), Richard Fromberg (peak: 24), and Evgeny Korolev, who may yet improve on his peak ranking of 46.

In this group of 20 players, the average peak ranking is 11, and the median peak ranking is 8.  The average number of weeks in the top 100 is 362 (roughly eight years) and the median number of weeks is 410 (more than nine years).  Even 410 slightly understates a reasonable projection, since a few of these players (Roddick, Gael Monfils, Tommy Robredo, and Mikhail Youzhny) are guaranteed to add to their totals.

What may be most impressive about Tomic’s ranking at such a young age is that he has accomplished it the hard way.  He’s gotten plenty of wild cards–including at the Australian Open, where he reached the third round–but he qualified at Wimbledon, and a substantial chunk of his ranking points come from the challenger level, where he has reached four semifinals in 2011 alone.  His only “cheap” points are from Indian Wells, where he was wildcarded in, then beat Rohan Bopanna in the first round.

Now, Tomic’s ranking ensures that wild cards won’t be an issue, except at a few Masters 1000 tournaments.  If history is any guide, he’ll be a regular feature in the top echelon of the tour for most of this decade.

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