ATP Young Gun watch: Shelbayh makes move

A JORDAN young gun and teenage American who is flying under the radar in the States highlight our Young Gun watch at Challenger level. The pair both picked up wins to move through to the second round of their respective tournaments, while a couple of other Under 21s suffered defeats.


Abdullah Shelbayh (Jordan)
16/11/2003 | Current Rank:
191 | Career High: 185
Tournament: BW Open (Won in Round of 32)

Shelbayah is Jordan’s top ATP Tour player, ranked 191st in the world. In fact, he is one of only three players on the ATP Tour, and the only one inside the Top 1000. After failing to survive qualifying in Canberra, the 191st ranked Shelbayh headed to the BW Open in Belgium. In the opening round, he knocked off Argentinian-born Italian Franco Agamenone in straight sets, 6-4 6-3 in 69 minutes.

Shelbayh only dropped seven points off his first serve and nine off his second, and while the left-handed 20-year-old would have liked to have had a greater serving efficiency (51 per cent), he converted three of seven break point opportunities to secure the win. Shelbayh moved up to a career-high 181st in the world.

The 20-year-old has a huge opportunity when facing experienced Belgian and fifth seed, David Goffin in the next round, with the 112th ranked 33-year-old a former Top 10 player with more than $17 million USD in the bank across his career.

Maks Kasnikowski (Poland)
06/07/2003 | Current Rank: 273 | Career High: 273
Tournament: BW Open (Loss in Round of 32)

Kasnikowski’s promising start to the BW Open came to an abrupt end in the first round of the main draw having worked his way through qualifying. The 20-year-old Pole moved up to a career-high 269th on the live rankings after overcoming veteran Kazakh, Mikhail Kukushkin to reach the Round of 32.

Unfortunately for Kasnikowski, he ran into compatriot and the tricky Kamil Majchrzak. Funnily enough, Kasnikowski overtook Michalski for the first time in his career to become Poland’s second ranked player – behind top 10 talent Hubert Hurkacz, but was outlasted by his countryman in three sets, 6-4 4-6 6-3. He still broke twice and won an impressive 68 and 63 per cent of his first and second serve points, but ultimately was broken at a critical time in the third set.

Alexander Blockx (Belgium)
08/04/2005 | Current Rank: 350 | Career High: 347
Tournament: BW Open (Loss in Round of 32)

Blocks finished the 2023 ITF Tour season in style, winning both M25 events in Glasgow and Sunderland. He then ran into the incredibly gifted Brandon Nakashima at Danderyd in Sweden, but claimed a couple of good scalps in Corentin Moutet and Jakub Mensik in that tournament. Unfortunately for Blockx, his 2024 campaign has not reached the same heights, with a first round loss in Canberra qualifying to 187th ranked Daniel Rincon who then failed to win a match at the Australian Open qualifying.

Blockx is undoubtedly talented, but at 18 is still finding the form to play consistent tennis. At low ITF level tournaments, the Belgium teenager is far too good, but his form at ATP Tour level is completely unknown. Given Belgium only had one player under 29 in the top 200, there is a huge opportunity for Blockx – who went down 3-6 6-4 7-6 to German lucky loser Henri Squire at the Belgian’s home tournament – to fulfil his promise at ITF level.

Learner Tien (United States)
02/12/2005 | Current Rank: 473 | Career-High: 446
Tournament: Indian Wells 2

Recently turned 18-year-old Tien is another left-hander who is one to watch on the American circuit. Largely unknown the talented teen has only played in the United States and started his career in April, 2022. He has won three titles at M15 or M25 level, and made another final, but only has the one ATP Tour match experience – a tight qualifying loss to former top 20 player Cristian Garin – under his belt.

Coming into 2024, Tien finished the year with a title in Columbus, his first M25 trophy. Since October 23, Tien has won 16 of his past 18 matches, with his most recent coming against eventual Indian Wells champion, Mitchell Krueger last week.

In that time, Tien has shot up from 597th to 473rd, and is closing in on his career-high. In his first round match against Italian Giovanni Oradini, the American won 6-2 6-3 with a dominant serving performance of five aces alongside an 83 and 74 per cent success rate on-serve. He saved his only break point and will now take on third seed Argentinian, Marco Trungelliti

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