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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.

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3 Challengers for Top 30 in 2020

In choosing three other players outside 2019 top 30, I have gone for players with no known injury concerns. Players like Kevin Anderson, Andy Murray, Juan Martín del Potro and Milos Raonic would all likely be in the top 30 now if not for injuries, but I have left them out because of questions over their fitness.

  1. Jannik Sinner
  2. Taylor Fritz
  3. Marin Cilic

Fundamentally I have included a new impressive up and comer in Sinner, a ready to mature type in Fritz and a veteran in Cilic who’s 2019 season I think is an aberration.

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ATP Sport Tennis

No 28. Borna Coric

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.

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ATP Sport Tennis

No 29. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

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.