ATP Sport Tennis

No 9. Roberto Bautista Agut

The Spaniard completed his 15th season since turning pro in 2005 this year. It was yet another great year from the 31-year-old. It started with quarterfinals at AO where he lost in 4 tight sets to Tsitsipas and a tournament win at Doha. Much to his surprise, he was amongst tennis royalty with a sem-final run at Wimbledon. So much so he had to move his planned bachelor party from Ibiza to London. These results saw him reach his career-high ranking of 9.

There are some very talented youngsters just outside the top 10, so he will need to maintain his level if he is to be in the mix for the top 10 in 2020.

RBA evokes purely positive thoughts when I think of him: tough, hard, exhilarating, humble

Tough: You don’t spend 275 straight weeks in the top 30 on the brutal ATP tour without being tough.

Hard: In body and mind. When an opponent realises they are going to play him, you can be sure they know it will be a hard day at the office. Just ask Djokovic who RBA came back to beat from a set down (1-6) in Miami this year.

Exhilarating: Not a word too many would associate, but he has pulled off some exciting wins in his career. Shows very little emotion during the match, but when he does like at the end of a hard-fought victory, he lets it all hang out with a mighty Vamos!

Humble: No frills, hard-working, get the job done kind of guy. A player you want on your team as Rafa would attest at the recent Davis Cup.

Likes: Strong on both wings, particularly the forehand. Excellent defence. Gives everything he has.

Dislikes: He can be a little bit of a grunter at times. Nothing else really to dislike he is making the most of the talent he has.

Areas for improvement: At 31, with his consistency, not much. He does, however, struggle to get service winners more than most. At 183 cms (6 feet) he is up against the new tennis breed of giants so strategy and shot selection can always be tuned. Homework for this could be watching some YouTube Fed magic.

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No 8. Matteo Berrettini

It was a big year for the charming Italian Berrettini in 2019. He followed up his maiden tour title in 2018 with two ATP 250s and a semi-final at the US Open.

Being 196 cms (6′ 5″), he is another of the bigger breed of modern player and at 23 years old should only get better in 2020. Whether that will be enough to hold his position though remains to be seen. Words for my take on him are: charming, exciting, powerful, gutsy

Charming: Fierce on the court, but relaxed off it, he can light up an interview with his movie-star smile.

Exciting: With his colossal service and canon like forehand, he is exciting to watch. Sometimes you don’t know where the ball is going, and I wonder if he does either.

Powerful: Can bomb serves at around 230 Kms and then back it up with a plus one crunching forehand.

Gutsy: Won’t go into his shell during adversity and except for the demolition job Federer put on him at Wimbledon, keeps throwing punches.

Likes: Attacking game style. Missile serve and forehand — possesses a competent slice backhand and drop shot.

Dislikes: Lack of consistency during matches. His shot selection looks very poorly judged at times.

Areas for improvement: His backhand which was exposed by a genius like Federer at Wimbledon, forcing him to try and hit it on the run. Volley and returning are in much need of work. The defence is a prominent area to improve as well if he wants to win more often at this level. Strength and conditioning could do with some work and will help with defence. His homework is to watch Federer volleys over the break and the defence of Joker and Rafa on YouTube. There are lots of improvement areas for him, and it may take several seasons to improve all of them. The good news is despite this he is world no 8.

ATP Sport Tennis

No 7. Alexander Zverev

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!

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Which players entice you?

Let’s have a look at which tennis players have me reaching for the TV remote to switch them on. We’ll keep the ones I want to turn off for another post. The examples below are some of my favourites and I enjoy watching them play and they inspire me to try and emulate (very poorly of course) what they do on the court.

The criteria for a player to make me want to watch them:

Absolutely can not be a whinger or have victim mentality. Good examples who do not whinge are: Federer, Rafa, Bautista Agut

Attacking mindset – aggressive all court players get bonus points.Think: Shapovalov, Stanimal, Tsitsipas, Sinner

Are great movers and athletes: Dimitrov, Monfils, Federer, Simona Halep

Have very attractive strokes or at least have a couple of smooth moves:
Goffin, Federer, Shapovalov, Nishikori, Amanda Anisimova (the backhand!)

Can take your breath away with a magnificent shot:
Wawrinka, Federer, Shapovalov, Sinner, Rafa, Fognini and Anisimova to name a few.

Possess loads of power: Wawrinka, Thiem, Sinner, Kyrgios, Anisimova, Madison Keys

Can be colourful, explosive and smash the odd racquet as long as they don’t over do it: Fognini, even Federer smashed a few early on and the usually unflappable Isner has smashed the odd racquet

X Factor and variety: Things that can’t be taught e.g. Bianca Andreescu, Shapovalov

Any player who can entice a racquet smash from Djokovic:
Extra drawing power if on more than 1 occasion: Bautista Agut (multiple times), Rafa (multiple times)

The gold standard for me is Roger Federer. This is because I think he is the one player who can do anything on a court and look stylish while doing it. I don’t think there is a box he does not tick for me. There will be fans who say he is not the GOAT and I don’t even care to debate them. This is about aesthetics, artistry and being worthy of watching. Any player who has some similarities to Fed is going to get my attention. There are players who I go back and forth between liking and disliking to watch. Nick Kyrgios is one such player. When he turns up and doesn’t have dickhead moments he is fantastic to watch. Sadly, he too often for my taste has me pushing the TV remote off button due to my first point above. Matches like his with Federer in Miami in 2017 for example make lasting memories. Some players I like do sometimes visit point 1, but as long as they don’t overstay their welcome there and spend plenty of time in the other areas I will continue to watch them.

Who do you like watching and why?

ATP Tennis Tsitsipas

No 6. Stefanos Tsitsipas

Built on his break out 2018 season by winning three titles including the prestigious and highly coveted ATP finals. What an amazing feat to win the Next-gen finals in 2018 and then win the full tour finals one year later. He pulled off some incredible wins and completed at least one victory over each of the top 3. Stefanos also competed in probably the highest quality match of the year losing to Stanimal at Roland Garros in 5 tight sets. This match may have caused his mid-year slump around Wimbledon such was the effect the loss had on him.

At 21 years of age, he has many significant years ahead of him on tour. I wouldn’t expect anything less in 2020. The Greek warrior is a mysterious character and evokes different responses when I talk to other fans about him. Words for my take on him are: vitality, athletic, strong, complex

Vitality: He’s got a spring in his step. Walks the court like he is walking on air when he is playing well. Is very active on social and seems to love life, which may be down to a near-death experience he had while swimming in 2015.

Athletic: At 193 cm (6′ 4″) with broad shoulders and immaculate posture, he has the ideal modern players physique and knows how to move it extraordinarily well.

Strong: Mentally tough. Tsisipas can take setbacks in his stride. Sometimes spits the dummy, but he’s a top player because he moves on quickly.

Complex: Must be the Greek philosopher heritage. He can be thoughtful, exciting and confusing all at the same time in some of his social media and interviews.

Likes: I like his attacking all-court game. Excellent hand skills at the net and I enjoy his inclination to come to forward. With that kind of mindset, you have to have a superb overhead, and he does. Prepared to take risks, but always with situational awareness. He is a smart player.

Dislikes: I think he is guilty of sometimes oversharing on social and can seem dramatic. Not a big deal, some fans probably enjoy that. I’m not thrilled when he beats Federer.

Areas for improvement: His serve while good, looks like it could do with a few tweaks to minimize the chance of 1, breaking down under pressure and 2, putting stress on his shoulder. His homework is to go check out Fed’s serve over the break on YouTube. As his dad has said in interviews “he is a good boy” so I’m sure he will do his homework 🙂