The tennis year came to an end with two players dominating at the very top, with Novak Djokovic and Iga Swiatek the undisputed world No 1s.
Yet away from the spotlight at the top of the sport, this has been a stand-out year for junior players thriving on the ITF’s World Tennis Tour.
The ATP and WTA Tours naturally steal all the media spotlights in tennis, yet the sport is well served by the ITF’s thriving global tour that gives players outside of the top 100 in the rankings a chance to make a living and thrive.
It is also the stage for the best junior players to make the leap into the professional ranks, with Swiatek and Carlos Alcaraz among the star names that have played on the ITF World Tennis Tour in recent years.
Swiatek won four titles on the ITF tour in 2018 before going on to win her first major title at the French Open two years later.
Meanwhile, Alcaraz won three titles on the ITF tour in 2019 and 2020 before making a breakthrough on the ATP Tour.
So the unvieling of the five players tipped to progress through the ranks and make their mark on the game in the next few years is always eagerly anticipated, with this year’s final five was decided by a panel of experts: Ashley Keber (WTA), James Marsalek (ATP), Mark Woodforde (ITF), Mary Pierce (ITF) and Nao Kawatei (ITF), following a vote from a shortlist of 18 players.
Here are this year’s ITF Class of 2023:
Henrique Rocha (Portugal)
This 19-year-old has been prolific in ITF men’s competition this year and is fast-developing into a player capable of flourishing at the highest level of the sport.
Described as an ‘all-round, very complete player’ by Rui Machado, a former world No. 59 and current head of the Portuguese Tennis Federation’s High Performance Team, Rocha boasts a particularly fierce forehand and is lightning quick around the court.
He has leapt almost 600 spots to a career-high ATP ranking of No. 247 following a fine season on the ITF World Tennis Tour in which he won over 60 matches and clinched six titles.
Marina Stakusic (Canada)
A 19-year-old who spent the first six months of the year sidelined with injury, before returning with a sizzling spell on the ITF World Tennis Tour that culminated in her being selected for – and starring in – Canada’s victorious Billie Jean King Cup team.
She won her first three ITF singles titles in quick succession across five tournaments, completing a run of 17 wins in 18 matches to earn a place – in the absence of Bianca Andreescu – in Heidi El Tabakh’s team for Seville.
There, she burst onto the global tennis scene, recording three wins from her first four matches in the women’s World Cup of Tennis to tee up Leylah Fernandez to secure the winning point against Italy in the final.
Alina Korneeva (Russia)
This rising star of tennis had a big impact at several levels of the game in 2023, with the 16-year-old winning back-to-back junior titles at the Australian Open and Roland Garros.
She then quickly translated that form to the women’s game by winning significant titles as a qualifier at both W60 Pretoria and W100 Figuera da Foz.
She caused a stir on several counts at the latter event, becoming the youngest winner of an ITF W100 tournament and doing so in emphatic fashion: with a 6-0 6-0 victory over established top 200 player Carole Monnet.
Dino Prizmic (Croatia)
Prizmic’s rise through the professional ranks began just over 12 months ago with a run on the ITF World Tennis Tour that put him in a position to surge up the ATP rankings in 2023.
He won four titles in his last five ITF tournaments of 2022, embarking on a 15-match winning streak that December to end the year inside the world’s Top 500.
Twelve months on, he finds himself knocking at the door of the ATP Top 150 and with a maiden ATP Challenger title, an ATP quarter-final, and a fifth ITF singles title under his belt.
Mirra Andreeva (Russia)
Andreeva starred on the ITF World Tennis Tour in 2023, laying significant foundations for a meteoric rise which has seen her become something of a household name.
After reaching the Australian Open girls’ final in January, Andreeva proceeded to win back-to-back ITF World Tennis Tour events at W60 Chiasso, as a qualifier, and then at W60 Bellinzona.
Just a week later, the 16-year-old chalked up her maiden victories against Top 20 opposition on the WTA Tour at the Madrid Open and, as a qualifier, would go on to reach the third round at Roland Garros and the fourth round at Wimbledon.