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.
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.
Nadal, Djokovic And Federer Excelled On Manic Monday And That Isn’t A Good Thing
Why the dominance of the trio at Wimbledon should be admired, but not celebrated.
WIMBLEDON: On a day where all the fourth round matches took place at The All England Club there was an inevitability in the men’s draw.
Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic all proved why they are the top three seeds. Producing a display that overwhelmed and frustrated their opponents. The trio along with Andy Murray have won the past 16 Wimbledon titles. A true testament to their dominance in the sport. On the other hand, it is also a somewhat mixed situation for the world of men’s tennis.
“I wasn’t feeling so good about my strokes, my serve, my forehand, backhand, everything. I wasn’t feeling so good, I didn’t expect to be tight, to be maybe not ready, but not like this.” Matteo Berrettini said following his loss to Federer.
“I was saying to myself that it was normal, for me, it was my first time on Centre Court against him.”
The brick wall put up by the Big Three at The All England Club can only be compared with the Great Wall of China. A gigantic structure that requires a huge effort to conquer it. Yet it is possible to scale it and people have done before. So there is one question that arises. Is the Big Three too good or are their challengers on the court not good enough?
World No.1 Novak Djokovic shed some light on the situation shortly after his straight-sets win over Ugo Humbert. The only member of the Next Generation to reach the last 16 of the tournament. Djokovic has been a giant in the world of grand slam tennis within the past 12 months. Winning three titles and reaching the semi-finals at Roland Garros.
“I think we are working as hard as anybody really to be there. I think the experience we have helps confidence, everything that we have achieved in our careers obviously we carry onto the court, then most of the players feel that, feel the pressure.” He said.
“For us, it’s another match on the center stage that we’ve experienced so many times. I think that’s one of the reasons why we, I guess, feel comfortable being there and managing to play our best consistently.”
Experience certainly pays it part. 14 out of the 16 players to reach the fourth round are over the age of 27 and eight of those are over the age of 30. However, when the older guys of the tour has had a shot on Manic Monday in the past against the Big Three they fell short. What is it that they are doing wrong?
“I think the best guys now are fully engaged, they know exactly what to expect from the court and the conditions. That helps us to play better.” Explains Federer.
“I think with experience, that’s good. We haven’t dropped much energy in any way. It’s not like we’re coming in with an empty tank into the second week.’
“All these little things help us to then really thrive in these conditions. I don’t know what else it is.”
Fortunately, Federer and Co are human. Even if it is hard to believe when they illustrate such breathtaking tennis at times. Serena Williams describes Federer’s play as that similar to an elegant Ballerina. The way he moves around the court effortlessly and dictates the points.
One people aiming to rain on the parade of the big guns is Sam Querrey. A 31-year-old American who reached the semi-finals of the major back in 2017. Against Tennys Sandgren on Monday, he produced 25 aces and won 83% of his first service points on route to victory. Setting up a clash with Nadal. Somebody who he beat in their last meeting back in 2017, but trails their overall head-to-head 1-5.
“In order to kind of break that streak, it’s most likely beating Rafa, Federer, Djokovic. The mountain gets very steep from here to break that trend, but I’m going to do the best I can.” Said Querrey.
“I like playing here (at Wimbledon). I’m comfortable here. This seems to be the slam where you’ve got odd results, if you want to call them, over the, you know, last 25 years.”
In an era that is dominated by a selected group of players, there are both admiration and frustration among both players and fans. Their achievements have been incredible, but when will a fresh face live up to the hype on a consistent basis? Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas are all huge threats. Just not on a regular enough basis.
“I am not thinking about sending a message about the next generation, how they are coming or not. I know they’re good.” Nadal stated.
“I know there is going to be a day where they are going to be in front of us because they will play better than us or because we are leaving (the sport), we are not kids anymore. That’s all.”
“It is special what we achieved in the last 15 years. Something special, difficult to repeat I think, so many titles between three players. But sometimes these kinds of things happen.”
Men’s tennis is undoubtedly in the midst of a unique period with some of the greatest ever players taking to the court’s. However, is their dominance too much of a good thing?
Only time will tell when the trio retires and men’s tennis are left facing the prospect of trying to fill in their shoes. A task that is as exciting as it is terrifying for the next contingent of players.
Wimbledon: Where The Young Guns Of Men’s Tennis Failed To Deliver
The grass promised to be a surface where shocks could occur. Instead, the future stars of the sport endured a nightmare.
WIMBLEDON: There was a sense of optimism that this year’s Wimbledon Championships would see the younger protagonists of the men’s tour finally have their breakthrough. In reality, it was a tournament filled with disappointment for almost all of them.
Heading into the second week of the grass-court major only two players left are under the age of 25. Ugo Humbert at the age of 23 and Matteo Barratini at 21. It is a sharp contrast to the women’s draw, which has been shaken by the rise of 15-year-old Cori Gauff. Two-time French open finalist Dominic Thiem, multiple Masters champion Alexander Zverev and Australian Open semi-finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas all fell at the first hurdle.
“I lost my first rounds ’99, 2000, had a run in 2001, then lost first round again 2002. I don’t know if it was because of lack of experience.” Federer reflected about the misfortunes of his younger rivals.
“The panic can set in quickly on this surface. I don’t know if that’s got something to do, and if age calms the nerves there. I’m not sure. I think also it’s maybe a moment in time.”
John McEnroe had previously tipped Tsitsipas to have a deep run at The All England Club. Commenting about the Next Generation earlier this week, the former world No.1 told BBC TV he ‘was still waiting for them to come.’ To a certain extent, he is correct. Although they have previously shined on the ATP Tour winning titles. So what makes grand slams so much harder?
“We know how hard it is to beat Novak, how hard it is to beat Rafa here. Me, as well.” Federer explained. “I have a great record here. We obviously also have better draws because we’re seeded, and we’re away from the bigger seeds earlier.’
“Our path to the fourth round is definitely not as hard as maybe some of the younger guys on the tour, as well.”
Grand slams are played in a best-of-five format. Some would argue that the longer matches can take it tolls on the rising stars of the game. However, the likes of Boris Becker and Rafael Nadal has achieved major success before their 20th birthday. Furthermore, the development is sport science in recent years have been a massive boost for helping players develop.
So maybe the real problem for Zverev and Co is themselves. 18-year-old Felix Auger Allissme, who is the youngest player to break into the top 25 since Lleyton Hewitt back in 1999, fared better at Wimbledon. Reaching the third round before going out to Umbert.
“Pressure got to me, and… it got to a point where it was a bit embarrassing,” The Canadian said following his loss. “It was just tough. I just wasn’t finding ways. I think he just did what he had to do. It was solid.”
For Tsitsipas, he had another explanation for the series of below-par performances. Saying that all of the Next Gen contingent lack consistency on the tour. There are currently six played in the top 50 under the age of 21. Three have those have managed to reach multiple semi-finals of the ATP Tour so far this season – Tsitsipas (6), Auger-Aliassime (5) and Taylor Fritz (3).
“We’ve seen players my age, many years ago. I would like to name Rafa, Roger, seemed very mature and professional what they were doing. They had consistency from a young age. They always did well tournament by tournament without major drops or inconsistency.” The Greek explained.
“Something that we as the Next Gen players lack, including me as well, is this inconsistency week by week. It’s a week-by-week problem basically, that we cannot adjust to that.”
The younger stars of the sport will eventually win at grand slam level. The only thing to wonder if will that happen before the Big Four retire from the sport? Novak Djokovic was just 20 when he won his first title at the 2008 Australian Open. For him, he can relate to the misfortunes of his opponents.
“I remember how it was for me when I won my first slam in 2008. For a few years, I was No.3, No.4 in the world, which was great, but I wasn’t able to make that next step in the Slams and win Slams. I know how that feels.” Said Djokovic.
‘There is time. I understand that people want them to see a new winner of a Grand Slam. They don’t want to see three of us dominating the Slam titles. Eventually, it’s going to come, in about 25 years, then we’ll all be happy [smiling].’ he later joked.
Seven days into Wimbledon, Berrettini and Umbert are left flying the flag for the future generation of the men’s tennis. Both of those will play a member of the Big Four on Monday. Berrettini plays Federer and Umbert faces Federer. It remains to be seen if they can silence critics with a shock win.
Wimbledon fourth round players by age
Roger Federer SWI – 37
Fernando Verdasco ESP – 35
Rafael Nadal ESP – 33
Novak Djokovic SRB – 32
Roberto Bautista Agut ESP – 31
Mikhail Kukushkin KAZ – 31
Sam Querrey USA – 31
Joao Sousa POR – 30
Benoite Paire FRA – 30
Guido Pella ARG – 29
Kei Nishikori JPA – 29
Milos Raonic CAN – 28
David Goffin BEL – 28
Tennys Sandgren USA – 27
Matteo Berrettini ITA – 23
Ugo Humbert FRA – 21
Bad Boy Nick Kyrgios Is Both Controversial And A Hit With Fans At Wimbledon
Like his career, Kyrgios’ first round win was anything but ordinary at The All England Club. Not that this is a bad thing for the sport.
WIMBLEDON: In the era of the Big Four it takes somebody unique to be able to attract mass interest at a grand slam and Nick Kyrgios without a doubt fits into that category.
Known for his unpredictable behavior, the Australian has previously been sanctioned for throwing a chair, allegedly tanking and even lobbing his racket outside of the court. At the same time, he has scored high-profile wins over players such as Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
During his first round match at Wimbledon on Tuesday, Court Three was packed with fans wanting to see Kyrgios’ clash against compatriot Jordan Thompson. At one stage there was no room for any members of the media to enter. Shouts of ‘come on Nick’ erupted throughout the marathon encounter, which ended with Kyrgios prevailing 7-6(4), 3-6, 7-6(10), 0-6, 6-1. Setting up a potential blockbuster meeting with Rafael Nadal if he wins his first round match.
“It was incredibly tough,” Kyrgios said following his 213-minute clash. “I think coming into today, Tomo (Thompson) is probably one of the most in-form grass courters of the season. He made his first final in S’hertogenbosch. He’s obviously feeling pretty comfortable on the grass.”
The 24-year-old illustrated why he is one of the most popular characters in the sport during his first round match. At first, it looked as if the world No.43 would be crashing out in no time. Rushing between points and struggling to find any consistency in his play. However, as the match progressed, so did Kyrgios’ level and commitment. Much to the frustration of his opponent and the delight of the British crowd.
A series of failed tweener shots alongside serves exceeding the 130 mph benchmark pretty much summarised his performance. Playing around on the court, Kyrgios undoubtedly entertained everybody with his antics. Prompting laughter on numerous occasions.
“I just go out there, have fun, play the game how I want it to be played,” Kyrgios explained.
“At the end of the day, I know people are going to watch. They can say the way I play isn’t right or he’s classless for the sport, all that sort of stuff. They’re probably still going to be there watching. Doesn’t really make sense.”
It is hard to argue with Kyrgios’ statement when you look at the media back in his home country. Playing at the same time as women’s world No.1 Ash Barty, Channel Seven opted to broadcast live his match instead of hers.
Of course, it would not be a Kyrgios match if there wasn’t drama. After the second set, he took a medical time out for treatment on his hip/back region. Soon after his fragile temperament was exposed as he grew annoyed by members of the crowd.
“They’re bringing a camera the size of a tennis racket to the court and it’s sunny. Maybe the lens is shining in their eyes. I don’t know. You know?” He said to the umpire.
Following on from that a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct came before a poor line called triggered him off once again.
“I’m playing for hundreds of thousands of dollars out here. Why is the linesman not getting fined? Tell me. Why?” He stated.
Despite those outbursts, Kyrgios still had the crowd fullying backing him. Further proof of his popularity. A 22-point tiebreaker in the third set revived his momentum on the court after prevailing on his eighth set point. Causing more anguish for Thompson. Fittingly the match ended in appropriate Kyrgios style with him getting bageled before racing through the decider. Something he admitted was a ‘tactic.’
Should Kyrgios face Nadal next, it is almost certain their clash will be played on Center Court. The Australian may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it is clear that he is a force in the sport.
“I think everyone just goes about their business the way they are. I think that the sport has a serious problem with that. I mean, just because I’m different, I go about it a different way, it causes a stir.” Said Kyrgios.
“I understand that people are different and people are going to play differently. If everyone was the same, it would be very boring, no?’
“I mean, I don’t think there’s a shortage of entertainers. I just think people go about it differently. Different perspectives. I don’t understand why it’s so hard for people to understand that.”
Love him or hate him, Kyrgios has zero plans of changing his ways.
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