Challengers to the Big Five of Men’s Tennis

Yes, that would be the Big Five of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, and Stan Wawrinka. I'm not quiiiite willing to boot Nadal out of that group yet. Almost, but not quite.

At any rate, I've written before about how those are the only five players winning anything worth a damn these days, and how I miss the parity, unpredictability, and tennis upsets of my youth. But at least I can say that after those five, the next-best in line seem to be changing quite a bit. Here are the six hottest tennis players outside the Big Five right now.

The thing that has helped me quite a bit in deciding who to include is the ELO rankings (you know, like they use in chess, and as a counterpoint in world football rankings) devised by "G.100sic," a user on Check out his rankings here.

Milos Raonic (actual rank: 12) — As a Patriotic God-Fearing American, if a tall North American with a killer serve is going to lay waste to the tour, I want it to be John Isner. But alas, it is the five-and-a-half-years-younger Raonic getting it done. He's beaten Federer and Wawrinka this year, made the semifinals of the Australian Open, and his loss to Djokovic in the Indian Wells Masters final last week broke a string of four straight victories over top 20 opponents. In that Australian Open semifinal, he lost to Murray after going up 2 sets to 1 and then suffering an injury that ultimately put him out for six weeks. He's looking nigh on unbeatable right now.

Gael Monfils (actual rank: 19) — Monfils has long been regarded by tennis purists as a huge talent whose clowning and supposed unseriousness was holding him back. Whether that's true or subconscious racism, I don't know, but I do know he is off to a kick-ass start to 2016. He was the lowest seeded player to make the Australian Open quarterfinals, and he's 16-4 so far on the year in singles. Two of those losses have been to Raonic.

Roberto Bautista-Agut (actual rank: 18) — Coming into this year, Bautista-Agut had won two titles on the ATP tour. He matched that in just the first five weeks of 2016, winning the ASB Classic in New Zealand and the inaugural Sofia Open in Bulgaria. He also won his first match over a top-10 opponent in two years when he took out Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He's cooled off a bit since then, but no one had a hotter start than RBA.

Nick Kyrgios (actual rank: 26) — He's only 20 and a notorious hothead who courts controversy, says he "detests" tennis, and would rather be playing pro basketball. But it's hard to look past the extent to which he has dominated this year when he's been on. That would chiefly be at the Open 13 in Marsielle, where he put on the most dominating display of anyone in any tennis tournament this year: He defeated three members of the top 12 on his way to the title, and did not drop a set all tournament. He followed that up with a semifinal run in Dubai, where he took out world No. 7 Tomas Berdych for the second time in a week.

Pablo Cuevas (actual rank: 25) — The Uruguayan pulled a Bautista-Agut and won two tournaments this year, but his were back-to-back. The first one was the Rio Open (an ATP 500 event), then the Brasil Open in Sao Paulo. He's sporting an 11-2 record since the Australian Open concluded.

Dominic Thiem (actual rank: 14) — The Austrian is in that club with Cuevas and Bautista-Agut with two tournament titles on the year, neither of which occurred on his home continent (his titles were in Buenos Aires and the ATP 500 event in Acupulco). But he also made it to the semifinals in Rio and Brisbane. All-in-all, he's 21-5 on the year, and he only just turned 23.

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