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ATP Sport Tennis

No 24. Benoit Paire

Benoit had a very successful season in 2019 winning two titles on clay at Marrakesh and Lyon. He also made the final at Winston Salem as well as the 4th rounds at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

Paire is a very talented player who will be in the hunt for a top 30 spot again in 2020. I think of him as colourful, entertaining, streaky and volatile.

Colourful: Benoit would likely play the most amount of trick shots per match than anyone else on tour. He expresses his emotions on the court with his racquet.

Entertaining: Ever the showman Paire will get the crowd going with shots like tweener approaches and tweener volleys when a standard stroke would be more than enough to win the point.

Streaky: He can find hot patches in matches and is capable of winning a set in quick time with his strong backhand and serving.

Volatile: Paire can get aggravated when things don’t go as he wants and can snap quickly by unleashing a racquet smash or engaging with the crowd angrily.

Likes: That he avoids bland play at all costs preferring to have fun and do unusual things on the court. Often wears some very nice Lacoste gear.

Dislikes: Sometimes erupts like a volcano and can sweat the small stuff for no apparent reason. Paire hasn’t been able to find his best form against top 10 players.

Areas for improvement: Paire’s forehand is well below ATP top 100 standards. Also, Benoit’s first-serve percentage (52%) is on the low side for a top ATP player. He has a good volley, and a world-class backhand so needs to find ways to maximize those strengths and get his forehand up to average standard. For homework, he could do worse than watch the most versatile well-rounded forehand of the modern era on YouTube.

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ATP Sport Tennis

No 23. Andrey Rublev

Rublev was on the comeback from injury, and although he had to battle through some ups and downs in 2019, it was a very successful season for him. He won his hometown tournament in Moscow and made the 4th round at the US Open. He also posted wins over top 10 players Tsitsipas and Federer.

With injury now behind him, Andrey should continue to improve as he is only 22 years of age. Therefore I expect him to be in line for a top 30 place next season. When I think of him, words are grunter, hard-hitting, aggressive and skinny.

Grunter: He likes to hit the ball hard and grunts on all forceful shots. Grunting is a pet peeve of mine, so I do find it hard to watch him sometimes. I have done this at times by turning off the volume if he is involved in a match I like.

Hard-hitting: Except for touch shots, this man seems to crush everything all the time.

Aggressive: With his hard-hitting, he is not one to wait for something to happen in a rally. He will particularly on the forehand side, try to take control of a point and hit his opponent off the court as soon as possible.

Likes: I like his mindset to grab hold of the point and try to win it off his racquet and not wait for opponent errors.

Skinny: At 22 years of age and standing 188 cms (6′ 2″) he weighs only 70 kilos. I feel like he needs to develop his strength more and increase his nutritional intake. Perhaps because of his injuries, he has been unable to spend more time strengthening his body.

Dislikes: As mentioned likes to grunt (a lot) and that is a problem for me :-).

Areas for improvement: Serve, and volleys are two glaring areas for improvement. He doesn’t get enough service winners, and when he comes to the net, his volley skills are below average. Homework for Rublev is to watch the best volleyer on tour and best server of anyone who is not a giant on YouTube.

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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.