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.
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.
The talented and frequently unpredictable Kyrgios finished the season ranked 30 giving him his 5th straight season in the top 35. He played two outstanding tournaments winning at the ATP 500 series level in Acapulco and Washington. A combination of injuries and withdrawals coupled with meltdowns meant he did not reach a Grand Slam quarter-final for the 4th straight year.
Despite his mental shortcomings on the court, I have no doubt he will continue to be a top 30 contender in 2020.
Rather than bearing witness to Kygios’s talent every time he steps onto the court, too often we’re subjected to tantrums. Four words shape my opinion of him:
if – as in “If, if, if doesn’t exist,” as per Rafael Nadal in his post-match press conference after playing Kyrgios at Wimbledon 2019; depressing; arrogant, and deflector.
If:If only he would do the hard work and commit to tennis 100 percent. If not love it, then learn how to use it and maximize the earnings from it to provide a means to do what he does love. According to him, this is his NK Foundation. Anyone who wants to help kids and especially underprivileged or sick kids must have something going for them. If only he could channel this passion and remember he is playing for the kids every time he walks onto the court or gives an interview.
Depressing: Watching tennis must be sad for those fans who get duped by his sometimes ingenious play. Whenever he is building momentum with form, and you start believing in him, he so often fails to follow through. For example, when scheduled to meet someone like Novak Djokovic – who he loves to beat – in a later round, we get excited by the possibility. However, he’ll blow up and lose in an early match against a player he should comfortably beat and misses the anticipated moment.
Arrogant: He seems cocksure, which sometimes is fun when he does it with cheeky humour but too often is childish. His sullen arrogance comes across terribly, particularly in interviews. For example, when a reporter asks a reasonable question, his reply might be, “Next question,” or, “You’re the expert, you tell me”.
Deflector: When the going gets tough on the court, he too often starts whingeing and even blaming others for his performance. The worst is when he can’t overcome his mental frailty and says something like, “I’m done, bro; I’m f***ing done” during an outburst. He can’t handle whatever injustice he feels is upon him, so he acts out. Excuses like blaming the crowd for being too loud or the umpire being on a power trip are just weak. It’s all down to his attitude. When he’s feeling especially aggrieved, we get incidents like the chair-throwing and default that occurred in Rome this year.
Likes: Nick has a fantastic serve, that is not only powerful but is backed up by different strategies, spins and paces. I love it when he launches a bazooka forehand and especially if accompanied by an aerial launch. Kyrgios possesses a nasty forehand drop shot that is built on a good disguise. When he does guest commentary at a tournament like AO, he has profound insights and special-comments which are music to a hard-core tennis fans ears. I like seeing Nick also use his surprisingly high tennis IQ on the court. Kyrgios makes no secret that he thinks Federer is the best player ever and that he enjoys getting under Djokovic’s and Nadal’s skin. I don’t mind that he does that if it makes him play better against them.
Dislikes: When he can’t cope with whatever is the source of his actual problem and takes it out by deflecting and causing scenes on the court. He is prone to behave like this in interviews as well. It seems that whenever he is asked to reflect on himself by a reporter, he will get snarky and deflect.
Areas for improvement: His return is below average, and his backhand rally shot is mediocre. His forehand, while it can be spectacular, can also leak errors. Even his volley while not weak is at best average. His homework is to find out and deal with whatever is the real source of his problems that cause him to deflect and act out. Only once he has done that, only once he has addressed his technical flaws and achieved the fitness levels required, will he be able to contend at a slam and obtain a ranking befitting his talent. He might even get something out of watching 30 for 30 Rodman: For Better or Worse on ESPN. There is no point giving Nick tennis homework, he would think he is too good for that.
After a career-best season in 2018 ending at 12 in the rankings, Coric fell back to 28 in 2019. His slide was in part due to some injuries such as back and hamstring that saw him miss Wimbledon, withdraw early at the US Open and concede a quarter-final at Halle. His first half of the season was reasonably consistent but after injuries hit he struggled to regain form later in the year and finished with a six-match losing streak.
Coric has a steady backcourt game and does most things competently on the court. However, at 22 and with a strong contingent in his age bracket, he will need to stay healthy if he is to push up in the rankings to where he was in 2018. My thoughts on Coric are “Baby Novak”, reliable, bland and sometimes-fiery.
Baby Novak: In the same way Dimitrov can look like a “Baby Fed” with a similar style to Federer, so do I think of Borna and Novak. It’s a solid backcourt game with minimal errors and lacking flair but not effectiveness. He wins a lot of his points due to mistakes from his opponent.
Reliable: No-frills consistency and counter punching that gets things done consistently for Borna.
Bland: With minimal flair in his game or risk-taking Borna is not the most watchable player for me.
Sometimes-fiery: True to his Novak inspired game he can occasionally let loose angrily on the court like Novak and has had some epic racquet smashes just like his inspiration.
Likes: When fit, he tends always to give a good account of himself in matches. I admire that he is consistently hard to beat even for the very best. He doesn’t grunt, make excuses or sook, which I admire in players a lot.
Dislikes: His lack of flare is not my cup of tea to watch.
Areas for improvement: He could most benefit from improving his return which is on the lower side for a top ATP player. His forehand is not as strong as his backhand, and his inside variations need to be better. For Borna to improve his flare and variety, his homework is to watch the best all-court attacking player of the modern era on YouTube.
Tsonga struggled with significant injuries the past few seasons that saw his ranking balloon out past 250 at one point in 2018. For him to push into the top 30 finishing the year at 29 is a mighty effort. He won titles at Metz and Montpellier continuing his career trend of playing well in his home country.
Tsonga’s game style has followed the modern trend with a big serve and big forehand his significant weapons of choice. At 34 years of age, those two shots and staying injury-free will be the key to whether he can stay inside the top 30 in 2020. Thoughts for Tsonga are forceful, offensive and passionate.
Forceful: He is 188cms (6′ 2″) which is not tall for a tennis player, but he has a powerful body and presence on the court with his imposing power.
Offensive: Tsonga plays with an attacking style and likes to take the initiative and try to win points rather than waiting for opponent mistakes.
Passionate: He plays with passion and shows his emotions on the court. He plays with a particular flair in front of his home fans.
Likes: Takes the game on with big serve and crunching forehands.
Dislikes: Tsonga is so likeable, and no dislikes from me.
Areas for improvement: His backhand and return are the weakest parts of his game. At 34 could he improve them? It is improbable given the backhand particularly has needed improving for many years. For Tsonga, I suspect it is a matter of staying fit, refining his strengths which are; serve, forehand and volley and strategizing well to maximize their usage as often as possible. Jo’s homework is to watch another player with a superb forehand, serve and volley who is well past 30 years old and knows how to maximize his strengths on YouTube.