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Australia was a blast from the past, but there's a hard-court future

Only two singles players left Melbourne, Australia, bearing a Grand Slam trophy. Few, even among the first-round losers, ought to feel abject failure. (There was, of course, Yanina Wickmayer and those nine match points Lucie Safarova dismissed in their first-round encounter.) For almost everyone else, there were just degrees of success.

There's no reset at the end of a major. The players move on, and in the best case they build on what they achieved as the new year develops. The upcoming small tournaments and the two major, combined hard-court events looming in Indian Wells and Miami will provide plenty of opportunities for players to keep their momentum going. Here are five players to keep an eye on in the coming weeks:


ATP No. 13, Grigor Dimitrov, age 25. Five career titles; Grand Slam semifinalist at Wimbledon 2014, Australian Open 2017

Nobody is going to accuse Dimitrov of flying under the radar. Has anyone ever mentioned his name and failed to remind readers that his nickname once was "Baby Fed"? Dimitrov, easily distracted by the good life, failed to harness his many talents except in brief flashes. But all that, he claims, is water under the bridge now.

Dimitrov backed up that claim in January, going 10-1. He won Brisbane and belted his way into the Australian Open semifinals, only to lose a terrific, five-set semifinal to Rafael Nadal.

The Bulgarian star traces his success to a career restart engineered by a new coach, Daniel Vallverdu. A former consigliere of Andy Murray, Vallverdu helped Dimitrov streamline his game, focusing on his strengths. Dimitrov now plays with a clearer vision of what he needs to do and against whom.

"I feel like I have all the tools to go further, and my job isn't over yet," Dimitrov told the media in Melbourne before his semi. He's the star attraction in his homeland of this week, and he'll be in Marseille before heading for Indian Wells.


WTA No. 10, Johanna Konta, 25. Two career WTA titles; semifinalist, Australian Open 2016

She may be the same age as Grigor Dimitrov, and her start this year is equally impressive, but that may be all they have in common.

When Dimitrov first punched through with a semi at Wimbledon in 2016, Konta was a first-round loser, barely inside the top 100. Dimitrov acquired a reputation as a bon vivant and boyfriend to the stars shortly thereafter, while Konta attracted notice for the determination and work ethic she coupled to her aggressive, attacking game. She's a jock's jock.

Although Konta was ushered out of the Australian Open with little fuss or fanfare in the quarterfinals by an on-fire Serena Williams, she had an excellent January. She was a semifinalist in Shenzhen and won Sydney, and her run in Melbourne included successive wins over four quality opponents. For Konta, every match is a source of tennis protein expected to make her stronger.

After being beaten by Williams in Melbourne (their first meeting), Konta told reporters: "I think it was probably one of the best experiences of my life. I think there's so many things I can learn from that, so many things I can look to improve on -- and also acknowledge some things that I did well."

In other words: I'm going to keep coming. Konta will begin Phase II of her year in Dubai, where she will be seeded No. 7, with Angelique Kerber and Karolina Pliskova at the top of the seedings.


ATP No. 21, Alexander Zverev, 19. One career title; third round, Australian Open 2017

Perhaps this item also ought to include Alexander's 29-year-old brother, Mischa. The older Zverev knocked off top seed Andy Murray at the Australian Open. He also advanced a round further than Alexander in Melbourne, and his swashbuckling style and moving story of personal struggle and hope won him legions of admirers -- and hope for the hard-court future.

Alexander probably doesn't mind having been overshadowed. He's already ranked significantly higher than Mischa, and nobody who lost to Rafael Nadal at this last Australian Open need hang his head in shame.

More to the point, Alexander had a second-round date with one of the most promising among the young American players, Francis Tiafoe. Zverev, who is actually 3 months younger than Tiafoe, schooled him in straight sets. The difference in their experience is already vast.

Zverev has an ATP win over Federer (last year, on the grass at Halle), and he also defeated him in the Hopman Cup exhibition in January. After his loss to Nadal weeks later, Zverev told the media:

"Against Roger, it's always a very quick game. Against Rafa, you always have to play long points. I think both matches I played pretty well. If this would have been a three-set match, I would have won 7-6 in the third. I think both are very positive matches."

Zverev made his main-draw ATP debut at Montpellier last year. He's playing there this week (as was first-round casualty Mischa), then entered in the ATP 250 in Marseilles instead of the ATP 500 in Dubai. Last year, Zverev mangled a choice match point in his fourth-round match with Nadal at Indian Wells. He went to pieces mentally and lost. Nadal, or any other top player, might not be so lucky this time.


WTA No. 20, Coco Vandeweghe, 25. Two career titles; Australian Open semifinalist, 2017

Vandeweghe came into the Australian Open with the goal of making a Grand Slam quarterfinal for the second time in her career. Her secondary goal for 2017 was to win that quarterfinal. Shortly after she accomplished that with a win over Garbine Muguruza, Vandeweghe learned in a news conference that she was also guaranteed to make the top 20.

"Well," she said, "It looks like I have to set three new goals for the year."

A 6-foot-1 Californian with a personality as big as her serve, Vandeweghe has had trouble putting all the components of her big game together for an extended period. Sometimes, she seems moody and unable to focus. But Craig Kardon, who coached Martina Navratilova in some of her peak years, has helped Vandeweghe to a better understanding of the game and her own fiery temperament.

"It's a work in progress," Vandeweghe told reporters after she lost a high-quality match to Venus Williams in the Melbourne semifinals. "Some matches I need more fire, and some matches I need a little bit less."

Vandeweghe will resume her early hard-court segment in Dubai. She crashed and burned in the third round at Indian Wells and Miami last year, neither time to a top-10 player. She needs to do better. As she said, she has new goals.


ATP No. 47, Daniel Evans, 26. No titles, fourth round, Australian Open

OK, it's difficult to see Evans winning a major title, whereas people have not just envisioned but predicted huge careers for Dimitrov and Alexander Zverev. But it's all relative, and Evans is a compelling figure who continues to reinvent himself after years spent wasting his talent.

At 5-foot-9, Evans definitely is at a disadvantage. But his hustling, slashing, creative style won him scores of fans when he took Stan Wawrinka to the brink of elimination in last year's US Open. Wawrinka survived the match point and went on to win the tournament. Some haven't been as lucky when Evans kicks it into high gear. Count everyone's surefire future star, Zverev, among them: Evans took him out at Flushing Meadows last year before he met Wawrinka.

This year in Melbourne, Evans had wins over No. 7 seed Marin Cilic and No. 27 Aussie hope Bernard Tomic. He clearly enjoys major challenges on big stages, quite a turnaround for a player who tried to explain the disparity between his ranking of No. 150 and his obvious talent in a 2013 interview with the BBC. "I know why [I'm not ranked higher]," he said. "It's because I don't train hard enough and don't work hard enough day in and day out. I'm obviously pretty bad at my job. It's up to me, it's not up to anyone else."

Evans was 1-1 in Great Britain's Davis Cup win in Canada last week. He may make some headlines in the coming weeks. The challenge for Evans if he hopes to crack the top 20 will be to sustain the energy he needs to effectively pursue his risky style.