The stars of 2019
12 months to reach greatness for the men and women who could make the next year their own
- Mail On Sunday experts pick athletes who could stand out in the next 12 months
- Starlet Frenkie De Jong is on cusp of greatness and may grace Premier League
- In a Rugby World Cup year, Jonny Sexton has the opportunity to cement legacy
With an Ashes series, a Rugby World Cup and what may be one of the tightest Premier League title races for many seasons, 2019 is shaping up to be a fantastic sporting year.
Across the next 12 months, a number of sporting stars have the opportunity to create greatness for themselves.
The Mail On Sunday’s experts take a look at the athletes to watch out for in 2019.
Pep Guardiola is a huge fan of Frenkie De Jong, and 2019 could be the midfielder’s year
FRENKIE DE JONG (Ajax)
Holland manager Ronald Koeman claims Pep Guardiola is ‘totally wild’ about the holding midfield playmaker who has been at the heart of his national team’s revival in recent months.
Ajax have been the most intriguing team of the Champions League group stages and De Jong will be showcasing his talent against Real Madrid in the round of 16 and against England in the UEFA Nations League semi-final in June.
Manchester City seemed to have him tied up but now are wary of the £70m fee, even though he looks to be the perfect successor to Fernandinho. Barcelona appear to be back in pole position to sign him, which is a shame for the Premier League as the 21-year-old looks to be the future.
One to watch: Harvey Barnes
The Leicester City midfielder, 21, is on loan at West Brom in the Championship but he’ll be back at the King Power Stadium next season where, with James Maddison and Demarai Gray, he will be pushing for a place in the England squad.
CRICKET – Lawrence Booth
Three Test innings against India brought him only 54 runs but even that brief appearance — two places higher than his normal No 6 slot for Surrey —was enough to get a sense of the confidence he oozes. Pope turns 21 on Wednesday, but had the class last summer to score 986 Championship runs at an average of 70, helping Surrey to their first title in 16 years. An overall first-class average of 51 suggests it won’t be long before he reclaims his Test place.
Having made his England debut in 2018, Ollie Pope has been backed to push on next year
One to watch: Pat Brown
He might have been lost to the game had he not been spotted at a cricketing open day staged by Wellington School. Six counties showed an interest but Worcestershire won the race and last summer Brown was the star of their successful Vitality Blast T20 campaign. His total of 31 wickets, including a remarkable finals-day analysis of 8-0-36-4, was central to their success. His mixture of accuracy and knuckle-balls was one of the stories of the tournament. Only 20 years old, Brown can only get better.
RUGBY – Nik Simon
Could Johnny Sexton become the first European No10 to win the World Cup since Jonny Wilkinson? Don’t bet against it. Despite being 33 years old, the Irish lieutenant is in his prime. He does not have the speed of All Blacks’ Beauden Barrett but his decision-making and game management is better than anyone in the world.
Ireland have already beaten the All Blacks this year and Sexton will write his name into Irish folklore if he repeats the feat in Japan.
Jonny Sexton is in his prime and is in the right place to lead Ireland to World Cup glory
One to watch: Joe Cokanasiga
If 2019 is going to be the year of the World Cup bolter, then it could be the year of Joe Cokanasiga. Blessed with speed, skill and power, the 21-year-old wing has shot up the English ranks since he joined Bath in the summer.
No other English winger has his tackle-busting ability, which could make him one of Eddie Jones’s key men.
GOLF – Derek Lawrenson
The prevailing theme running through the mercurial career of the Northern Irishman is that when he has had something to prove he has invariably delivered… and boy, does he have something to prove in 2019. Barely clinging on to a spot in the world’s top 10 after a disappointing campaign in 2018, it’s a grotesque place to find arguably the most gifted player in the game.
Will this be the season that McIlroy returns to glory, with his first major triumph since 2014? You do fear if it doesn’t happen in the year he turns 30, this might become a career that mirrors that of Seve Ballesteros, for whom nearly all of his best years were in his 20s.
Despite the Ryder Cup win, 2018 was a poor year for Rory McIlroy and he has a point to prove
One to watch: Cameron Champ
There is plenty to get excited about with this 23-year-old American rookie, who belts the ball so far he might be the man who finally forces the governing bodies to do something about the distance the ball travels. The scary thing for the competition is that he can really putt as well. By next December, expect to be fed up of reading headline puns on that perfect surname.
FORMULA ONE – Jonathan McEvoy
The kid from Stevenage is now the third-oldest driver on the grid, turning 34 on January 7. But his powers are hardly waning. On the contrary, he won his fifth world championship in 2018 with the best form of his career.
If Mercedes continue to provide him with a car capable of victory, he will surely be unbeatable again. Ferrari must not implode as they did this year, but that was partly due to Hamilton’s supremacy rattling them.
The Briton’s targets are clear for the last few years of his career: catching Michael Schumacher’s records of 91 wins and seven world titles. Hamilton is on 73 wins, 11 of them coming last season. Maintaining that rate, he would hit 91 at some point in 2020.
With five world titles to his name, Lewis Hamilton will want to push on and win even more
Ones to watch: Lando Norris and George Russell
The two most exciting British rookies since Hamilton in 2007. The hope is that Norris’s McLaren and Russell’s Williams teams have turned corners. Regardless, the pair must beat their respective team-mates Carlos Sainz and Robert Kubica to prove their potential as title contenders of the future.
TENNIS – Mike Dickson
While not the most touted of the forthcoming generation in men’s tennis, the 22-year-old Russian may turn out to be the best of them. Part Armenian and trained in Croatia and Spain, this formidable athlete rose from 45 to No 11 in 2018.
While he did not make a massive statement in the Grand Slams it is notable that it took a very good player to stop him in the four majors. He lost twice to Rafael Nadal while his other defeats were by Alex Zverev and Juan Martin Del Potro.
He finished the season by winning the final Masters level tournament, the indoor event in Paris. Personable and handsome with a game of huge dimensions, he may prove to be the whole package.
Karen Khachanov has the all-round ability to emerge as one of the new stars of tennis
Ones to watch: Katie Swan and Jack Draper
It’s worth keeping an eye on a clutch of useful British women attempting to make the top 100 and Swan may be the one with the most potential. On the men’s side Draper, only just turned 17, is a long way from the finished article but begins the year at No 421, the youngest player in the world with such a high ranking.
ATHLETICS – Riath Al-Samarrai
This will be a huge year for her. The only caveat against her performances in 2018 related to the fact the season meant very little to those outside Europe and the Commonwealth. Next year will see the very best peaking for the World Championships and it will be intriguing to see how the European 100m and 200m champion fares. Based on her times, she will soon have more medals.
After finishing the season in style, Dina Asher-Smith can push on to more glory in 2019
One to watch: Niamh Emerson
In 2018 she won the world junior heptathlon title and Commonwealth bronze. Emerson, 19, appears to be next on that female multi-eventer production line following Denise Lewis, Jess Ennis, Kelly Sotherton and Katarina Johnson-Thompson.