Acknowledged as one of the greatest players of all time, Bjorn Borg was the first real teenage tennis star, making his first steps in 1971 and 1972 and breaking into the Top 20 in 1973 at the age of 17! Super talented Swede had already shaped up his game and despite not winning any title he claimed 46 wins and played in four finals, including the big ones in Monte Carlo and Stockholm where he downed world number 1 Ilie Nastase and world number 4 Jimmy Connors! At the age of 17 years and six months, Bjorn had managed to finish inside the Top 20 that season and he was ready to rock the very core of the men's tennis world in 1974, completing one of the greatest seasons for teenagers to wrap it up in the Top 3! An 18-year-old grabbed 92 wins that season, reaching 13 ATP finals and lifting eight titles to become one of the best players in the world and one of the youngest Grand Slam champions when he conquered Roland Garros crown.
Bjorn is one of only two players who have managed to finish inside the Top 20 before turning 19 twice and we had to wait for eight years to see another Swedish youngster in the year-end Top 20, with Mats Wilander finishing eighth in 1982 at the age of 18.
Just like Bjorn, Mats was able to claim Roland Garros crown (on his debut) and four ATP titles overall from seven finals, winning 62 matches overall to announce his arrival and show his full potential. Two years later, two 18&under players have finished inside the Top 20 for the first and only time, with Aaron Krickstein and Stefan Edberg securing the place in the elite at the end of the season.
Krickstein is the youngest player who has entered the Top 10, just after turning 17, and he was the force to be reckoned with already in 1984, his second year on the Tour! A year earlier, he had become the youngest ATP champion and the following season was even better, with three ATP titles and the place just outside the Top 10 at the end of the year.
Eight places below him we could find an 18-year-old Swede Stefan Edberg who lifted his first ATP title in Milan that year. 12 months ago, Stefan had won all four junior Grand Slam crowns and he was ready for the full season on the Pro Tour in 1984, scoring 27 wins and finishing the season after reaching the quarter-final at the Australian Open in December.
Boris Becker ensured the place on this list just a year later, writing history as the youngest Wimbledon champion and winning 57 matches overall to close the season at the 6th position just a month after turning 18. The red-headed German delivered his first ATP crown at Queen's and he went on to win the Wimbledon as well, writing the record books and almost clinching the Davis Cup crown for his country.
The sixth hero of our story is also the fourth Swede, with Kent Carlsson finishing 13th at the age of 18 years and 11 months. The winner of nine ATP titles on clay was forced to end his career at the age of 21 due to knee troubles but he had great runs in 1986 and 1988, winning titles in Barcelona and Bari in that first season to close the year inside the Top 20 after 44 wins.
The golden 80s were fertile ground for the youngsters and it was the Argentinian Guillermo Perez-Roldan who stole the glory in 1987, finishing just inside the Top 20 at the age of 18 after winning three ATP titles on clay from four finals, leaving many good players behind him with 40 wins.
Andre Agassi had missed a chance to join the list in 1987 by little but he did everything right in 1988, becoming the year-end Top 3 player at the age of 18 as the first player since Borg in 1974! Agassi was the leader of the new generation born in the early 70s and he won no less than six ATP titles in 1988, counting to 63 wins and proving his quality and immense talent that was obvious to anyone who had watched him for only a couple of minutes in those early years.
Andre was the semi-finalist at the Roland Garros and US Open and he was beaten only by Mats Wilander and Ivan Lendl in the rankings for one of the best seasons for U18 players in the Open era. For the last five years, there was at least one U18 year-end Top 20 player and Michael Chang took care to extend that run in 1989 and 1990 as well, becoming the first player since Bjorn Borg with two Top 20 seasons before turning 19.
Michael conquered only three ATP titles in those two years but one of those was Roland Garros, writing his name with golden letters as the youngest Grand Slam champion ever! It was enough for the place in the Top 5, something he failed to repeat in 1990 but still staying in the Top 20 after lifting the Masters 1000 crown in Canada as the youngest ever Masters 1000 champion up to date.
Chang is also the last U18 player who has achieved the Top 20 ranking at the end of the season, with no players who could have repeated that in the last three decades. Of course, Rafael Nadal is the first player that comes to our mind when we think about age records and he was on a great course of reaching this list, finishing inside the Top 50 in 2003 at the age of 17.
The mighty Spaniard claimed 30 wins in the following season, helping Spain to win the Davis Cup title and reaching his first ATP final in Auckland. The youngster was on a steady course but he suffered a nasty left ankle injury against Richard Gasquet in Estoril, missing the next three months and a chance to earn more points during the clay season and crack the Top 20.
He returned even stronger in 2005 when he became world number 2 behind Roger Federer but he was already 19, missing a chance to get his name on this list that will have to wait for some other super talented kid who will be able to pass all the obstacles at such a young age and close the season in the elite Top 20 group. The list of players who secured the year-end Top 20 spot before turning 19:
17y 6m - Bjorn Borg (#18 / 1973)
18y 6m - Bjorn Borg (#3 / 1974)
18y 4m - Mats Wilander (#8 / 1982)
17y 4m - Aaron Krickstein (#12 / 1984)
18y 11m - Stefan Edberg (#20 / 1984)
18y 1m - Boris Becker (#6 / 1985)
18y 11m - Kent Carlsson (#13 / 1986)
18y 2m - Guillermo Perez-Roldan (#19 / 1987)
18y 7m - Andre Agassi (#3 / 1988)
17y 10m - Michael Chang (#5 / 1989)
18y 10m - Michael Chang (#15 / 1990)