Could Top 10 vulnerability open the door for some in 2017?

Marin Cilic’s poor start to 2017 has put him in a vulnerable position for the rest of the season. (Zimbio.com)

Following Jack Sock’s claim of targeting a Top 10 ranking for the first time, we examine the positional strength of the current Top 10 and their chances of maintaining their positions.

Current Top 10 (week of 27th February 2017)

  1. Andy Murray
  2. Novak Djokovic
  3. Stan Wawrinka
  4. Milos Raonic
  5. Kei Nishikori
  6. Rafael Nadal
  7. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
  8. Marin Cilic
  9. Dominic Thiem
  10. Roger Federer

Looking at that group, there are some names there that could be identified as looking definitively likely to drop sufficient points. Certainly Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Milos Raonic, and Kei Nishikori should all maintain their Top 10 rankings. The only question mark is the extent of the hamstring injury sustained by Milos Raonic in Delray Beach, as a significant tear could rule him out for some time, though there have been no suggestions of yet that it is that serious.

Further down the group, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are both veteran players, but Federer solidified his position with the Australian Open title, and has relatively few points to defend outside of the grass court season. The Swiss legend also did not play at Roland Garros, or the US Open in 2016 so expect Federer to move up rather than down for the rest of the season. Likewise Nadal also had a injury-hit season, forced to withdraw ahead of his third round match at Roland Garros, suffering an early exit to Lucas Pouille at the US Open, and ending his season early. Ample opportunities for the King of clay to add to his tally, and looks to have restored confidence in 2017.

Looking at the names that could drop out then, there are three that could be termed as likely and one as a possible. Stan Wawrinka’s position as the current No.3 player looks relatively secure, but nearly 40% of his points in 2016 were earned with his US Open title. Stan’s game isn’t terribly consistent over a eleven month season, instead peaking perfectly for the Grand Slams. However, it could take just one or two early exits in Roland Garros and/or the US Open (where he defends semi-finalist points and champion points respectively,) to see the Swiss’ strong position erode away. Stan does have room at Wimbledon after being eliminated by Juan Martin del Potro in only the second round last year, but Wimbledon is by a long margin his least successful slam, and he should not rely on going deeper than even the Round of 16 there.

More likely than Wawrinka to surrender their positions in the Top 10 are Dominic Thiem, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Marin Cilic. Of the group Cilic and Tsonga look most vulnerable.

 Marin Cilic has endured a shocking start to 2017, earning back-to-back wins just once so far (Rotterdam). His ranking is propped up by a strong grass court season in 2016, a Masters title in North America, and the Basel title. Due to his poor start to 2017 there will be very little margin for error if Cilic is to maintain his position, and the Croatian looks distinctly vulnerable. Unlike Tomas Berdych, who lost his Top 10 ranking after drawing the lowly seeded Roger Federer in the Australian Open, Cilic’s early defeats have been worrying. Losses to the likes of Jozef Kovalik and Dan Evans are not unlucky draws, but indicative of severe loss of form for the former US Open champion.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is another who has a lot of points to defend late in the year. The Frenchman has made an excellent start to 2017, a quarter-finalist in Doha, the Australian Open, and the Rotterdam title have propelled him back to the Top 10. Yet Tsonga recently acknowledged a potential shift in priority, as with the birth of his first child imminent, he may elect to miss either Indian Wells, Miami, or both. Tsonga consistently reaches the business end of tournaments, but there has never really been a season where he has remained completely free of injury. Whether it is a niggle or a serious injury, it has always prevented Tsonga from truly being considered for the most major titles. At thirty-one, Tsonga is not a young player, and with an already lengthy injury record, the chances of him suffering another this season at some point must be considered high. It would be particularly catastrophic for his ranking should he be unable to defend the points at the end of the year.

Dominic Thiem is everyone’s breath of fresh air, as the Austrian is the newest member of the Top 10, in terms of reaching that group for the first time. The Austrian has a lot of points to defend on the clay later in the year though. He was the Acapulco champion last year, but I have discounted that as a potential loss of points due to his win in Rio. Worth the same number of points, it cushions the urgency of defending the Mexican Open title. More pressure will be applied over Nice-Roland Garros, as Thiem will defend just under 1000 points, having won the Nice title and then reached the semi finals in Paris in 2016. Nadal’s strong form in early 2017 will likely see him a contender on the clay again, and prove a significant threat to Thiem’s points haul earned when the Spaniard was not in top form. Thiem’s ranking also benefited from a ridiculous number of matches played (he played 82 matches in 2016). I do not see him entering nearly as many tournaments in 2017 without risking burnout or injury so the onus will be on him to pick his battles carefully and deliver well at the most valuable tournaments.

Summary –  My picks for being the most vulnerable in 2017 ( in order) 1. Marin Cilic 2. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 3. Stan Wawrinka 4. Dominic Thiem.

For players to fall out of the Top 10, there must be players to take their places. I review the most likely candidates, including the chances of Jack Sock, whose interview goals sparked this piece, tomorrow.

 

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