The ATP Q3 Report Card And The Race To London

Rafael Nadal (zimbio.com)

As we head into the home stretch of the 2017 season, we head indoors in Asia and Europe. Many top players are sidelined for the remainder of the year due to injuries (Djokovic, Wawrinka, Nishikori, and most likely Andy Murray). It’s a big opportunity for new blood to make their debut at the Nitto ATP Finals (re-named this year from the ATP World Tour Finals), where the top eight players compete in a round robin tournament format in London. Let’s take a look top contenders in the race to London, as well as the ranking points they’ve accumulated thus far in 2017.

Rafael Nadal – 9,365 points

Following his 10th French Open title, Rafa struggled at Wimbledon as well as in Montreal and Cincinnati. With the benefit of a generous draw, Nadal got his mojo back in New York and eased his way to his 16th major. This was Nadal’s first hard court title in four years, and the indoor hard court stretch of the calendar has historically been Rafa’s weakest part of the season. The ATP Finals is the biggest title Nadal has never won. In the absence of many of his top rivals, and with the momentum he’s built throughout the year, this may be his best chance to finally take the title. Rafa can also find extra motivation over the next two months as he tries to end the year as world number one for the fourth time in his career. Nadal currently has an almost 2,000 point lead in the year-to-date rankings over the only man within striking distance: Roger Federer.

Roger Federer – 7,505 points

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After skipping the entire clay court season, a well-rested Federer continued his resurgent year by winning his eighth Wimbledon title. A back injury hampered Roger on the summer hard courts, but he appeared to be recovered and rejuvenated while leading Team Europe to victory at the inaugural Laver Cup. Federer excels on indoor hard courts, and is a six-time champion at the ATP Finals. Roger has stated chasing the year-end number one ranking is not his top priority, but achieving such a milestone at the age of 36 must appeal to him. He is currently scheduled to play the Shanghai Masters, his hometown tournament in Basel, the Paris Masters, and the ATP Finals in London. If Federer can begin to close the almost 2,000-point gap between him and Nadal in October’s Shanghai and Basel events, it could make for an interesting November. A Nadal-Federer race for number one would be an appropriate way to close out a year where these two all-time greats have dominated the sport.

Alexander Zverev – 4,220 points

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Zverev added the fourth and fifth titles of 2017 to his mantle in Washington, D.C. and Montreal, respectively. However, he continues to struggle at the majors. He lost a five-setter to Milos Raonic at Wimbledon, and was upset in the second round of the US Open by fellow 20-year-old Borna Coric. Zverev has a massive lead in the ATP Next-Gen rankings, but I assume he will skip the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan to focus on the ATP Finals the following week in London. The best-of-three indoor hard court tournament could potentially be a good setting for Zverev to shine. I expect Zverev to raise at least one more winner’s trophy in what has been a breakout 2017.

Dominic Thiem – 3,715 points

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Q2 of 2017 was the best quarter of Thiem’s career, as he was the second-best clay court player behind Rafael Nadal. Thiem has struggled to maintain those results in Q3, and Q4 has never been too kind to the Austrian. In the past two years following the US Open, Thiem is only a combined 11-13. His heartbreaking loss to Juan Martin Del Potro at the US Open is the kind of painful loss that can effect a player for some time. That being said, Dominic from all accounts is a strong-willed young man who will likely not allow that moment to set him back for long. So far the evidence is mixed: he beat John Isner at the Laver Cup, but was upset in his opening round match in Chengdu to Guido Pella. Thiem is a shoe-in to qualify for the ATP Finals for the second straight year, but can he be a factor there? He went just 1-2 last year in round robin play. It will be key for Thiem to get some momentum going between now and London.

Grigor Dimitrov – 3,105 points

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Dimitrov won the biggest title of his career when he prevailed at the Cincinnati Masters, but disappointed by losing meekly to Andrey Rublev in the second round of the US Open. Grigor is in a prime position to qualify for his first ATP Finals, and has previously won multiple indoor hard court titles. I’d be curious to see how Dimitrov performs in London under the round-robin format where he’ll be facing the best players of the year on the big stage, as Grigor has struggled on such occasions in the past.

Marin Cilic – 2,995 points

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Cilic advanced to his second major final at Wimbledon, but struggled to put up a fight against Federer in the final due to a blister on his foot. He then withdrew from Montreal and Cincinnati with an adductor injury. The lack of play did not help his US Open chances, and he was upset in the third round by Diego Schwartzman. Marin is currently in sixth place among the contenders for London, and likely does not need many more points to qualify. Cilic though is only 1-5 in his two previous appearances at the ATP Finals. The more open field at this year’s event would be a good chance for Cilic to step up and make an impression.

Pablo Carreno Busta – 2,595 points

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It’s been a career-best year for Carreno Busta. He recently debuted in the top 10 after making his first major semifinal at the US Open, and has a real shot at qualifying for the World Tour Finals. Pablo has had success in the past on indoor hard courts: last fall he won the event in Moscow. However, that title was claimed without having to face a top 40 opponent. How will Carreno Busta respond to the expectations that come with being a top 10 player? He’s become dependable in beating players ranked below him, but struggles against players ranked above him. Pablo only has one victory over top 10 players this year. This would not fare too well for his chances should he qualify for London. His efforts this year should be applauded, but it’s hard to see Pablo breaking through to become a top 5 player.

Sam Querrey – 2,435 points

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2017 has also been a career-year for Sam Querrey, and Q3 brought him to a new level. He won his second title of the year in Los Cabos, made the quarterfinals in New York, and advanced to his first major semifinal at Wimbledon. Querrey though still fails to maintain a high level throughout the year. Outside of his four best tournaments in 2017, he’s just 16-15 on the year. It may only take one more good tournament to qualify Sam for London. The streaky, big-hitting American has victories over Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray over the past two seasons. If he gets to London and gets hot, he’s capable of beating anyone.

Kevin Anderson – 2,335 points

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In a wide open half of the draw, Anderson was the player to step up and advance to his first major final at the US Open. Hopefully he takes a lot of positives away from that, rather than focusing on his poor performance in the final against Nadal. He’s currently just 100 points behind Querrey in the chase for the eighth and final qualifying spot for London. Like Querrey, he could be a dangerous opponent on the indoor hard courts. However, like Carreno Busta, he only has one win over top 10 opponents in 2017. The round robin format against nothing but top 10 players may be unfavorable for Anderson’s chances were he to qualify for London.

Other Contenders:

David Goffin (2,285 points) just won the title in Shenzhen and appears fully recovered from the injury he suffered at Roland Garros. I expect Goffin to have a strong autumn and to qualify for London. Tomas Berdych (2,005 points) lost all three of his Laver Cup matches in front of his home crowd in the Czech Republic. That must lower his confidence even more during what was already his poorest season in nearly a decade. Roberto Bautista Agut (1,915 points) won a Q3 title in Winston-Salem and has played well before in Q4: he made the final at last year’s Shanghai Masters. Don’t count Roberto out in the race to London.

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