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ATP Sport Tennis

No 22. Lucas Pouille

Pouille started the season brilliantly with a semi-final run at the Australian Open Grand Slam losing to eventual winner Djokovic. The season however from here was well below what that performance promised. Lucas struggled to find consistency and suffered several losing streaks during the year. Getting to quarter-finals at Cincinnati Masters 1000 and 3rd round at Wimbledon allowed him to secure enough points to finish in the top 30.

Pouille has an accomplished all-round game that should see him once again challenge for the top 30 in 2020. He is not a player I have watched a lot of although I have seen him practice several times at AO. Thoughts for him are vanilla, steady, quiet.

Vanilla: Like French vanilla ice-cream, you can admire his game as an everyday kind of ice-cream, but often you want to treat yourself to more exotic flavours.

Steady: Pouille does not play with much variety or improvisation, which means he relies on his steadfast groundstrokes looking for ways to attack with his forehand.

Quiet: I have not seen much emotion from him on the court, and he seems to go about his business quietly.

Areas for improvement: Pouille is a good volleyer, so should be looking for more ways to get to the net. He doesn’t own a drop shot on the forehand side and his serve is the weakest part of his game. His homework is to keep training with Federer and stay back to have the master server give him some tips on serving.

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ATP Sport Tennis

No 21. Felix Auger-Aliassime

FAA had an outstanding year for one so young. He impressed early with an ATP 500 final at Rio de Janeiro and made finals at Stuttgart and Lyon as well as semi-finals at Miami Masters 1000. During the season he defeated top 10 Tsitsipas on two occasions. He suffered fatigue and a left ankle problem in the later stages of the season which no doubt stifled his rise up the rankings toward the top 10.

Auger-Aliassime will have significantly benefited from his first full season on tour, and I expect him to improve his ranking in 2020. FAA is a balanced player with nothing flashy about his game but his style looks suited to the modern game, and this should see him able to hold up under pressure in the years ahead. I think of FAA as composed, confident, efficient and grounded.

Composed: For someone as young as Felix, he seems very relaxed and unworried or flustered by pressure situations on the court.

Confident: In a non-cocky way, he seems satisfied and assured of his abilities and has showcased his skills well on the big stage thus far.

Efficient: Felix seems to possess that rare ability to move well without looking like he is working very hard.

Grounded: FAA seems to be wise beyond his years and doesn’t appear at all to have an inflated opinion of himself that can so often come with talented young sportspeople.

Likes: I like his attitude and professionalism he shows toward the game.

Dislikes: None for Felix.

Areas for improvement: His first serve is healthy; however, he can be prone to double faults. He displays decent technique with his strokes; yet, all of them have scope for improvement with age and training. He doesn’t possess a drop shot of any note on the forehand side, and his volleys are weak in comparison to his peers. As he hones, his skills in time, I expect him to become a top 10 regular in the future.

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ATP Sport Tennis

No 20. Grigor Dimitrov

Considering the talent Grigor possesses, 2019 was a disappointing season for him. He finished the year at 20 after starting it at 19. He did not win any titles and at one point had plummeted to 78 in the rankings.

However, Dimitrov salvaged his year in Q4 of the season with a semi-final run at the US Open and semi-final in Paris Masters 1000.

I like watching Grigor, and my thoughts on him are athletic, talented, fun and frustrating.

Athletic: If Grigor were not a tennis player, I could imagine him being a gymnast or circus acrobat. He is not flashy in the way Monfils can be, but he has fantastic movement and is capable of some impressive physical accomplishments on the court.

Talented: Often compared to Federer in style and talent with the “baby Fed” tag, Grigor is a stylish player to watch with an excellent all-court game. 

Fun: Every time I watch behind the scenes on ATP Uncovered or similar programs with Grigor involved, he always seems to be having fun. Dimitrov seems playful off-court and often gives me the impression he is about to laugh and still shows good humour even in awkward moments.

Frustrating: From a fan’s perspective, perhaps unfairly because he resembles Federer, the expectations are too high on him from fans. There is much more to tennis than nice-looking shots, and maybe we should appreciate his skills and good nature as he is.

Likes: I love watching Grigor’s dynamic movement on the court, chasing drop shots, doing the splits getting up again and his repeat efforts during a point.

Dislikes: Grigor is such a likeable guy so none.

Areas for improvement: His backhand return is mediocre, and his backhand rally shot is a little below average. Dimitrov’s second serve can lack penetration, and double faults can get high at times. You can’t be mentally weak and reach number three in the rankings; however, I feel this is an area that could be improved to handle the high-pressure situations better. Perhaps some homework revising the master on YouTube is in order.

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ATP Sport Tennis

No 19. John Isner

Statistically, it was one of his best serving years since joining the tour.
Nevertheless, he slipped nine spots down the rankings to finish 19th in 2019 with only one tournament victory coming at Newport in July.

Isner with his quality of serve will continue to be in the mix for top 30 again in 2020. Words that come to the forefront of my thoughts for him are giant, serve-machine, awkward and competitor.

Giant: Isner is 208 cm (6′ 11″) and towers above the majority of his opponents. Although his size is a massive advantage for serving, it is challenging for his movement and other areas of his game. He has trained very well to remain durable and consistent over his long career.

Serve-machine: Isner is a serving machine. His entire game is built around his serve even more so than most of his contemporaries. He consistently pounds down service winners from his giant frame. It is the biggest weapon in the top 30 – as an example, he makes around 71% of first serves and wins 81% of those points for a service game win rate of approximately 95%.

Awkward: Not surprisingly, he often looks this way when returning and moving around the court. He has a big turning circle and looks anything but an elite tennis player at times.

Competitor: Isner has a very determined and focused attitude on the court. He can always be relied upon to fight for every point until its time to shake hands at the net.

Likes: I enjoy watching him serve bombs under the highest of pressure situations. It is enjoyable to watch him play a top returner.

Dislikes: Outside serving, he is not an aesthetically pleasing player to watch. His matches can be quite dull to watch when he is playing another big server and points are short and keep going with the server.

Areas for improvement: Too many to mention, in reality, any aspect of his game outside serving could be improved. His statistics apart from the service place him well below the average top 100 players and his backhand is exceptionally poor. His homework is to work on a return strategy. He tends to have a high error count on return because he has worked to be more aggressive, but I would argue he should be making more returns that can get him to at least a neutral position. From here, he would be at least asking the question to his opponent to do something with the return.

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ATP Sport Tennis

No 18. Alex de Minaur

Alex made a blistering start to 2019 winning his first ATP tour title in his home town of Sydney. He backed up this title with two more at Atlanta and Zhuhai. Other highlights were making finals in Basel and NextGen final in Milan. However, he suffered a five-match losing streak leading into Roland Garros which prohibited him from achieving a higher ranking in 2019.

At 20 years of age de Minaur is gaining momentum and will be in the mix for a top 30 spot again in 2020.

My thoughts on de Minaur are fast, diligent, Hewitt-less-mess and respectful.

Fast: Demon is lightning quick and possibly the speediest player on tour. No drop shot or ball hit away from him is safe.

Diligent: de Minaur seems to be very hardworking and well prepared and leaves no stone unturned when it comes to fighting for a match win.

Hewitt-less-mess: This is my term for his never say die attitude on court and willingness to fight for every point no matter the circumstances. This trait and his game style combine to have him often compared to Hewitt. However, I append with less-mess to indicate he does not have the anger trait that Hewitt possessed.

Respectful: Genuinely seems to respect the game and the players etc. who have come before him. He loves to play for Australia and continue on the tradition of Australian team tennis.

Likes: I enjoy seeing him chasing down a well-executed drop shot or racing across the court to hit a forehand winner on the run. Sometimes launches himself airborne to smack a forehand winner.

Dislikes: With his game style, he doesn’t attack enough preferring to counter punch and wait for opponent errors. He does possess a good volley so could initiate coming forward more offensively rather than just opportunistically coming to the net.

Areas for improvement: Although de Minaur has a decent forehand and backhand, they are not well-rounded. The forehand cross is error-prone, and he wins too few points using the inside-out forehand. Alex can also sit back and wait too much and risk getting bossed by an opponent (As evidenced in the Milan final against Sinner and Federer in Basel). He needs to keep working on improving his serve as he doesn’t get enough free points with it. His homework is definitely to seek out the master of all the all-court game on YouTube.