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Game Set and Match Coronavirus

Tour suspended

Coronavirus has defeated tennis and all other sports around the world for now. Of course, there are more pressing matters going on than tennis, but it was shaping up as an exciting year on the ATP tour.

Djokovic, as I expected, won the Australian Open defeating Theim who I thought was very unlucky. Djokovic yet again found a way to get offside with all fans except his one-eyed disciples. It is a shame the record books don’t sometimes have an asterisk next to them as this victory surely should have. The note would be Djokovic cheats and wins – taking an injury timeout at a crucial time when Theim had the momentum for basically feeling tired. It amazes me that he can get away with this behaviour and that he doesn’t see anything wrong with it and even seems put out by fans not cheering for him.

Federer after a courageous Australian Open playing injured and coming back from the brink twice suddenly announced he had knee surgery in late February. He stated he would be back for the grass-court season. This announcement was a massive shock to his fans who had no inkling that he was suffering a knee problem. In doing this, I took it to mean he wants to keep playing for as long as possible and saw taking time off mostly during the clay season as the ideal time. Getting the surgery seems to indicate he wants to fix his problem correctly and in doing so, prolong his career rather than battle on with it until it forced him to retire. As it turns out, he will miss no more tennis than all the other players.

With the ATP announcing a shutdown of the tour, there was the bizarre announcement from the French Open that they were moving the slam to late September. This decision seems extremely arrogant to me and done with no consultation to any other tournaments. Hard to believe they would rush this through with so much uncertainty around the coronavirus implications.

Now with most countries in some degree of lockdown, we tennis enthusiasts are faced with not being able to hit the courts. How are we going to keep up our skills? Perhaps doing some home gym if we have the equipment or bodyweight training is the best we can hope for during this time.

It will be interesting to see what not only the ATP does going forward but indeed all the other principal sporting codes once the coronavirus situation resolves. Not to mention the delusional Olympic committee which at the time of writing are still pressing on with preparations for Tokyo.

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Super-Seven for a new decade

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and to a lesser extent Andy Murray dominated the ATP for the past decade. As we enter a new decade which players might take control of the ATP tour?

The standout candidates heading into the new decade I think are Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev, Denis Shapovalov, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Felix Auger Aliassime, Jannik Sinner and Alexander Zverev. When we look back in ten years, I imagine these seven will have shared the majority of big titles on the ATP tour. Therefore, we may find ourselves with a super-seven rather than a big-four.

Once Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have retired, it is not hard to imagine these seven players battling each other for big titles consistently. Leaving the youngest Sinner aside for a moment, the other six have now had at least one year on tour, and we can see that they are very accomplished players who still have varying degrees of scope for improvement. Thiem is the most mature and arguably next in line for grand slam success having already contested two finals at Roland Garros. However, he may find himself in a predicament wherein as he comes to his peak the old guard of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are still very much in contention and may deny him a major. Then as they leave the game, the other six are all in or coming into their prime.

Jannik Sinner is the most speculative selection of this group since we have only had a look at his first abbreviated year on tour in 2019. Based on what I have seen and the performance markers of past players at the same age, I am confident he will be an active force particularly toward the back half of the decade.

For a time, I was somewhat depressed at the thought of having an ATP tour that did not include Federer. There are no players with the style and completeness of Federer’s game, however, during 2019 the accomplishments of these seven players have given me hope that the ATP tour is going to be very exciting during this next decade.

Which players do you think are going to be at the top for the next ten years?

*Honourable mentions to Andre Rublev and Alex de Minaur who miss out on my super-seven.

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2020 Top 30 Prediction

When I started to put these rankings for each player in order, it became apparent very quickly that this is an impossibly difficult task. Having watched players over time, you get an idea of where you think their abilities lie. However, there is so much more to it.

Many variables go into it, such as:

  • injury concerns
  • how many points a player is defending
  • any improvement or decline a player may expect (technical or mental)
  • their age – sometimes aging a year is good and sometimes not
  • any changes to their staff
  • any changes in their personal lives
  • how did luck play a part in their 2019 ranking?

Another big unknown is tournament draws. All this adds up to probably the most challenging prediction in world sport. But here goes:

PlayerRank
Novak Djokovic1
Alexander Zverev2
Rafael Nadal3
Dominic Thiem4
Stefanos Tsitsipas5
Roger Federer6
Denis Shapovalov7
Stan Wawrinka8
Daniil Medvedev9
Grigor Dimitrov10
Marin Cilic11*
Borna Coric12
Pablo Carreno Busta13
David Goffin14
Alex de Minaur15
Fabio Fognini16
Jannik Sinner17*
Matteo Berrettini18
Diego Schwartzman19
Felix Auger-Aliassime20
Roberto Bautista Agut21
Andrey Rublev22
Karen Khachanov23
Kei Nishikori24
Gael Monfils25
Taylor Fritz26*
Lucas Pouille27
Kyle Edmund28*
John Isner29
Benoit Paire30

Which players do you have locked in for your top 10?

*Outside top 30 in 2019.

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ATP Sport Tennis

No 39. Marin Cilic

Cilic experienced a wretched year by his standards in 2019. He started by making the 4th round at AO but suffered poor form and combined with a knee problem could not achieve any consistent results. It was the first time in 12 seasons where he failed to win a title.

Cilic at 198cms (6′ 6″) fulfils the modern trend of big serve and a big forehand that is typical of the ATP men’s game. However, he has a more well-rounded game than most other players of similar stature. Given Cilic has minimal points to defend and appears over his knee problem, I think he can cement himself back in the top 30 in 2020 once again.

Words that shape my take on him are serve, streaky, humble, nervous.

Serve: The foundation of his game is his serve, and when that is working well, he is capable of big wins.

Streaky: Cilic can have hot periods in matches where everything works well, and he can pull off exciting wins with his big weapons.

Humble:  Cilic always comes across as a very ordinary, quiet person who seems to be liked by everyone in the world of tennis. There is never any drama or antics from him.

Nervous: Marin has always struck me as being anxious, particularly in big matches against opponents that either he is expected to beat or when faced off with someone like Nadal or Federer.

Likes: I always admire players who do not complain or blame others, and I’ve never seen him do this. Surprisingly for a big serve, big guy kind of game, he has an outstanding return of serve.

Dislikes: He drives me crazy when he bounces the ball repeatedly before serving. I always hope that he makes his first serve. When he plays another ball bouncer like Djokovic, I have to resist the urge to turn off the TV.

Areas for improvement: His backhand and volley while not significantly weak, do have scope for improvement. I would never say a player who has won a grand slam is weak mentally, but it has appeared that he could improve his ability to handle the significant pressure moments better. I would suggest his homework is to watch how Federer uses his slice to get to the net on YouTube. Learning this would bring a new dimension to his game that might see him breakthrough for another big tournament win.

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ATP Sport Tennis

No 32. Taylor Fritz

At 22 years of age, Fritz experienced his best year on tour to date. He won his first title at Eastbourne and made finals at Atlanta and Los Cabos as well as a challenger at Newport Beach. 

Fritz at 193cms (6′ 4″) is yet another player following the modern trend on the ATP of big serve and big forehand. Despite having many areas for improvement, Fritz finished ranked 32, and I think he can make the necessary improvements to finish inside the top 30 in 2020.

I have not watched a lot of Fritz; however, words that come to mind are competitor, backcourt, irritable.

Competitor: Taylor has always struck me as someone who is up for a fight and will work hard, especially when his back is to the wall.

Backcourt: He appears to be comfortable trading blows from the baseline, looking for opportunities to press with his forehand. He uses his height to stay up on the baseline to take the ball on the rise.

Irritable:  He gives me the impression that he is often unsatisfied, particularly with his play. His behaviour like this does seem to indicate to me though that he has high expectations on himself, and he wants to be competitive. 

Likes: Although I would not say he is an offensive player, he does seem to want to win points off his racquet.

Dislikes: Does appear to run out of ideas sometimes against more accomplished opponents.

Areas for improvement: His volley is weak and requires vast improvement so he can gain the confidence to come forward and aggressively seek to end points. His forehand while his attacking weapon needs tightening up in general rally play to avoid leaking errors that it is prone to do. He has Paul Annacone as a mentor now so he should be doing extra homework with him and drawing on Annacones experience with Federer and Sampras. Annacone should be showing him Federer’s volley skills.