After a superb 2018 when he finished ranked 4th and took out the ATP finals, a slide to 7th is not what he would have envisaged in 2019. Even though it was only three places, for a good portion of the season, it looked like being worse. Despite some poor form by his standards, he did pick up after the Laver Cup to ensure he made it to the ATP final 8. However, there is no overlooking the fact he only won a solitary title, an ATP 250 in Geneva this year.
Dropping more than 3000 rankings points indicates that he went backwards. There were some good signs for him in the final stanza of the season, and I would expect him to be in the mix for top 10 again in 2020. I find AZ to be one of the most challenging players to get a handle on. However: emotional, tall, contrived, respectful.
Emotional: Seems to wear his heart on his sleeve on the court. It’s usually not hard to see how he is travelling. Started the year with a sad loss to Raonic at the Australian Open that included a racquet smash Marcos Baghdatis would have been proud to call his own.
Tall: At 198 cm (6′ 6″) it’s stating the obvious, but his height is an asset and contributes to his strong serve and ability to take on balls that would have shorter players having to back up. With the aid of Murray’s ex fitness guru Jez Green he is moving very well for his size.
Contrived: On-court, when he is not showing his natural emotions, he looks like he is trying to implement something that doesn’t come naturally.
Respectful: Whenever asked about the greats like Federer even after having just beaten Federer will always be humble and respectful of his idol growing up.
Likes: His 2hbh and his mobility for someone so tall. He loves Federer. Loves dogs and takes his own with him whenever he can. Gives me the impression that deep down, he is a good guy. Is usually able to rise to the big occasion (outside of slams).
Dislikes: He is a bit of a grunter which is a pet peeve of mine. When he wins an important point or does something well, he demands the crowd cheer and get behind him (contrived). I cringe when he uses his status in interviews to make reporters feel bad. A classic example is when he says “I’ve already answered that” – but hang on AZ you answered that six months ago, things changed and the question is still relevant.
Areas for improvement: His serve. Although it is the foundation for his game, the way he starts it by taking it upward before the take-back is awkward and an unnecessary move that is a liability under pressure. Get up in the court and stop hanging back and being passive. His homework is to go check out Fed’s serve over the break on YouTube and Fed’s volleys too. Even better, keep hanging out with Fed and learning from the master!