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

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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.

 

ATP

Intriguing Team-Ups Lure Eyes Doubles’ Way. Will They Stay For The Problems, Too?

Will the recent surge in high-profile double partnerships have any impact on the long term future of the discipline?

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Cincinnati Open, Western and Southern Open, Andy Murray, Feliciano Lopez
Photo Credit: ATP Tour Twitter

In one of his press conferences at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, Andy Murray said he would not be playing the US Open. His announcement came a day or so after his initial declaration that he would be playing only the two doubles events in the final Major of the season. A few things came out of Murray’s remarks. The first and the obvious was that the former world no. 1 was ready to give it his all (yet again) to play singles. The second, the understated aspect, was that doubles while seeming easy vis-à-vis singles required just as much focus, if not more. Then, there was a third.

 

In tennis’ continuity though, the relevance of the doubles game is not a recent epiphany. However, the last few tournaments of the 2019 season that featured some eclectic partnerships – Stefanos Tsitispas and Nick Kyrgios, Andy Murray and Feliciano Lopez, the Pliskova twins, Andy and Jamie Murray, and so on – has made doubles slightly more prominent than singles.

Singles has become monotonous with the same set of players making it to the final rounds. On the other hand, doubles has brought in more verve to the existing status quo of the Tour, with each player’s individuality adding to the dynamics of the team. After his first outing as Kyrgios’ doubles partner at the Citi Open in Washington in July, Tsitsipas pointed this out.

“It’s the joy of being with a person who thinks differently and reacts differently. I would characterise him (Kyrgios) as someone who likes to amuse. I’m very serious and concentrated when I play, but he just has the style of speaking all the time. It’s good sometimes to have a change,” the Greek had said.

These changes – as seen with Murray’s recent decision – may not extend for a longer period. The culmination of these short-term team-ups does – and should – not mean the end of the road of doubles piquing attention, per se. At the same time, these transitory partnerships also reroute the discussion back to the financial side of the doubles game.

In a recent interview with Forbes, Jamie Murray – a doubles specialist – shared how conducive it had become for players to take up doubles as the sole means of a tennis career these days, as compared to in the past.

“Because the money is always increasing in tennis, it is a much more viable option to go down the doubles route a lot earlier than previous generations. Before, people would play singles and then when their ranking dropped, they played an extra few years of doubles. Now it is a genuine option to start off much younger and have a career in doubles,” the 33-year-old said.

Despite Murray’s upbeat attitude, these increases have not exactly trickled towards doubles, especially at the Slams including the upcoming edition of the US Open. For 2019, the USTA showed-off yet another hike in the prize-money coffer. The men’s and women’s singles champions will be awarded $3.8 million. In comparison, the men’s and women’s doubles teams winning the respective title will get $740,000. This sum gets further diluted for the mixed-doubles’ titlists who will get $160,000 as a team.

This is the third and final takeaway that emerged from Murray’s US Open call. For several of these singles players, intermittent doubles play is an option. For those who play only doubles, that is the only option they have. The doubles game requires similar effort – travel, expenses and fitness – the costs continue to outweigh the benefits. These momentary team formations are a gauge revealing the disparity of tennis’ two sides, visible yet obliviated beyond tokenism.

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ATP

Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic’s Big Four reunion in Cincy

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ATP Cincinnati, Andy Murray, Western and Southern Open
Photo Credit: Western and Southern Open Twitter

A few years before, there existed a quartet called Big Four in men’s tennis. At certain points in their time-line of dominance, injuries plagued each member of this four-member group. However, the severity of their affliction in one player, Andy Murray, saw his name erased from this elite pocket. Thus, the Big Four was reduced to the Big Three with Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer making up the troika.

 

At the 2019 Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, three of the erstwhile Big Four troupe reunited as they re-entered the circuit’s circus. And each player had a different path leading up to the event, too, underlining how divergent their careers had become despite overlapping scheduling.

The 2016 season was the common catalyst leading to this divergence. From Federer’s injury to him pausing his season to focus on rehab after Wimbledon, to Djokovic pushing his boundary as a marauder and completing the non-calendar Slam, and to Murray ending the season as the world no. 1. The year in consideration also threw up other names – Nadal’s season ended in an agony of injury, while Stan Wawrinka won his third Major at the US Open. In its bounty of giving and taking, 2016 changed how we looked at these players – especially the first four – and the irrevocability of assumption that these guys could get past any hurdles stopping their way.

Juxtaposing with Cincinnati, in the three years since 2016, Federer and Djokovic have vaulted past their share of physical problems. Yet, in the Ohioan city, they have different motivations guiding them. This is the first time that Djokovic has entered the Cincinnati draw as the defending champion. Meanwhile, after having been drawn in the same half as the Serbian, Federer has the proverbial score to settle against him. “I can’t wait for my next rematch with Novak or my next time I can step on a match court and show what I can do,” the 20-time Slam champion said in one of his pre-tournament media interactions in Cincinnati.

There are a few opponents to get past before their slated semi-final meeting occurs. Nonetheless, their sustained competitiveness adds its fervour to the already-hefty top-half of the men’s draw. In the midst of their respectively successful opening rounds, Murray’s first-round defeat to Richard Gasquet in straight sets became a contextual misnomer for comebacks.

Yet, Murray’s was the most stirring return. This was not because of the emotional crossroads that had sprung up at the 2019 Australian Open regarding his retirement. But on account of how farther Murray had leapt to put his physical frailties behind and re-join the singles Tour. And, the Briton’s determination to do so is reminiscent of 2016, all over again. It’s the completion of the circle of how Murray had pushed hard to become the world’s best player and now, he is trying just as much to regain his footing back.

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ATP

Nick Kyrgios’ Washington win is about good vs bad: Of situations and opinions

The Australian’s Citi Open win brought forth a wave of positiveness about him. But its enduring or lack thereof is a test for his viewers, hereon.

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Nick Kyrgios
Photo Credit: Citi Open

Nick Kyrgios picked up two titles in 2019 – in Acapulco and Washington – in the time it took opinion to swing between “He is not good for tennis” to “Tennis needs him”. And, in the days after his win at the 2019 Citi Open in the latter city, the subject continues to be a favoured topic of editorial conversation vis-à-vis his importance to the sport.

 

The player in question though does not care for any of these. Yes, after his win in the Washington final against Daniil Medvedev, Kyrgios admitted, “I’ve just been working really hard, on and off the court, to try and be better as a person and as a tennis player. And as I said, I wasn’t exaggerating. This has been one of the best weeks of my life, not just on the court but in general. I feel like I’ve made major strides.” But this came with an addendum of sorts. “And I’m just going to take it one day at a time and hopefully, I can continue on this new path.”

As Kyrgios heads into the Rogers Cup in Montreal, these words need to be stamped onto onlookers’ minds, with their significance getting highlighted each time he steps on to the court, hereafter. Especially, when describing his antics that often tend to be over-the-top.

This past week in Washington, Kyrgios came up with some idiosyncratic behaviour. He shimmied, he put himself in the shoes of the prince while conjuring up an image of Stefanos Tsitsipas as Cinderella, and he asked fans for their opinions about which way to serve on match points, following that with heartfelt hugs after winning the match. All of these were endearing gestures with their enjoyableness magnified by his run of triumph thereby leading to thoughts of why Kyrgios was so important to tennis.

Had these same actions come before a result – in any round – that had not gone in his favour? It is not hard to say, after observing past trends that the reactions would have been about how Kyrgios had disrespected the sport and how he did not do much with the potential he has been gifted. The opinions would have changed that quickly.

It is because of these that the Washington result comes as a timely reality-check monitor. That instead of analysing Kyrgios’ every move, both tactical and non-tactical, the world at large needs to just view him as part of the whole of tennisdom. He is like the others who have taken up tennis professionally. But if his route on the Tour is to be measured by others’ straight-line standards, then, he is not the guy to follow that precedent.

And, why should he? Kyrgios is the way he wants to be, not the way people think he should be. Moreover, if it is that easy to accept him as he is when he wins not being able to accept Kyrgios for who he is when he loses is not his lookout. It’s the viewers who need to pore over their preferences.

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