From Djokovic To Thiem: The Best Performers Of 2018 On The Men’s Tour - UBITENNIS
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From Djokovic To Thiem: The Best Performers Of 2018 On The Men’s Tour

Ubitennis looks back at the achievements of the best players on the ATP World Tour this season.

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2018 looked a lot like 2008, with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic hoarding all the Major singles titles, and ending the year as the top three players in the world. Despite the lack of change at the top of the sport, there were several promising young talents who made significant progress this year.

Here’s a look at the best performers of 2018, listed in order of their year-end ranking.

Novak Djokovic

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  • 9,045 points
  • 53-12 match record (.815 winning percentage)
  • 4 titles, including 2 Majors (Wimbledon, US Open) and 2 Masters 1,000 events (Cincinnati and Shanghai)
  • 8 weeks ranked No.1, including the end of the year.

Recap: Has a world No.1 ever had such opposite halves of the season? Djokovic left Miami on a three-match losing streak following elbow surgery, and parted ways with his new coaching team of Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek. Novak brought Marian Vajda back into the fold, but results did not come right away. He was 6-6 coming into the Rome Masters, and had no titles through the first six months of the year. But everything changed at Wimbledon. His monumental win over Rafael Nadal in an extended semifinal was the turning point of the tennis year, and perhaps will prove to be a turning point in tennis history. Djokovic would win the last two Majors of the year, and go 35-3 in the second half of 2018. Now with 14 Major singles titles, he’s opening talking about overtaking Roger Federer’s mark of 20 Majors.

Rafael Nadal

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  • 7,480 points
  • 45-4 match record (.918 winning percentage)
  • 5 titles, including Roland Garros, 3 Masters 1,000 events (Monte Carlo, Madrid, Toronto), and Barcelona.
  • 36 weeks ranked No.1

Recap: Nadal did not play at all in Q4, but his 2018 accomplishments are still well worth recognition. With more titles, more weeks at No.1, and a better winning percentage on the year, an argument can even be made that Nadal should be named the best player of 2018 instead of Djokovic. Rafa only lost four matches on the year, and two of those were retirements. But with only nine tournaments played, missing significant portions of 2018 due to injury, and of course only one Major title compared to two for Novak, that argument is ultimately defeated. I’m curious to see how much Nadal’s body will allow him to play in 2019, especially as the Major title tally tightens between himself, Federer, and Djokovic.

Roger Federer

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  • 6,420 points
  • 48-10 match record (.828 winning percentage)
  • 4 titles, including the Australian Open, Rotterdam, Basel, and Stuttgart.
  • 8 weeks ranked No.1

Recap: At this stage of his career, any year where Federer remains close to fully healthy, wins a Major, and finishes the year ranked third in the world must be deemed a resounding success. I’m sure Roger would like a redo on a few matches from this year (the Indian Wells final and Wimbledon quarterfinal immediately come to mind, both matches in which Federer had match point). But Federer seems to quickly put disappointments like those behind him. The big questions surrounding Roger’s future are how much longer will he play, and can he add to his Grand Slam trophy room? The Majors will only become more difficult, especially if Djokovic continues on his current tear.

Sascha Zverev

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  • 6,385 points
  • 58-19 match record (.753 winning percentage)
  • 4 titles, including the ATP Finals, Madrid Masters, Washington, and Munich.
  • Spent the entire year ranked inside the top five.

Recap: The last two days of the season were the best of Sascha’s year. He defeated Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic on consecutive days to win the biggest title of his career at the ATP Finals. This may be the boost he needs to propel him to success at the Majors. While he made his first quarterfinal at a Grand Slam event in Paris this year, that remains his best Major result. That will likely change in 2019.

Juan Martin Del Potro

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  • 5,300 points
  • 47-13 match record (.783 winning percentage)
  • 2 titles, at back-to-back events in Acapulco and Indian Wells.
  • Reached a career-high ranking of No.3 in the world.

Recap: 2018 was a banner year for Del Potro, but as has happened all too often in his career, it ended with injury. Juan Martin won his first Masters 1,000 title at Indian Wells, and made the second Major final of his career, his first since 2009. And at Wimbledon, he played one of the best matches of the year, a near-five-hour defeat to Nadal. Unfortunately a knee injury he suffered in Shanghai ended his season early. Hopefully Del Potro is fully recovered as 2019 begins.

Kevin Anderson

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  • 4,710 points
  • 47-19 match record (.712 winning percentage)
  • 2 titles, including the New York Open, and his first 500-level event win in Vienna.
  • Reached a career-high ranking of No.5 in the world.

Recap: In 2018, Kevin Anderson proved his surprise appearance in the 2017 US Open Final was not a fluke. He also dismissed his reputation of choking under pressure at multiple turns. This was especially evident at Wimbledon, where he came back from two sets down and saved a match point to upset Roger Federer. Two days later, he outlasted John Isner in the longest Wimbledon semifinal in history. He ended the year with the biggest title of his career in Vienna, and advancing out of the round robin stage in his ATP Finals debut. There’s no reason to believe Anderson’s career will not continue to ascend in 2019.

Marin Cilic

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  • 4,250 points
  • 44-20 match record (.688 winning percentage)
  • 1 title (Queen’s Club)
  • Reached a career-high ranking of No.3 in the world.

Recap: Cilic started the year extremely strongly, making his third Major final in Melbourne, where he pushed Federer to a fifth set. In June, he saved a match point to defeat Djokovic in the Queen’s Club final. But it was at Wimbledon where his year took a turn, as the second half of his season saw him choke away leads to almost a dozen opponents. However, Marin ended the year by clinching the Davis Cup title for his country of Croatia, which may be exactly what Cilic needed to regain his confidence heading into 2019.

Dominic Thiem

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  • 4,095 points
  • 54-20 match record (.730 winning percentage)
  • 3 titles (Buenos Aires, Lyon, St. Petersburg)
  • Spent the entire year ranked inside the top 10.

Recap: As usual, Thiem’s clay court results were impressive. For the second straight year, he was the only player to defeat Nadal on the terra baute. And at Roland Garros, Dominic advanced to his first Major final. But the most impressive part of Thiem’s year was his hard court play. Historically a poor performer in the second half of the season, Thiem played some excellent tennis in taking out Kevin Anderson at the US Open. And in the quarterfinal, he played one of the best matches of the year in a loss to Nadal, a match that went past 2:00am in the morning. While Thiem is yet to win an event bigger than 500-level, he seems poised for a breakthrough in the coming year.

2018 Honorable Mentions

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Kei Nishikori started the year missing the Australian Open due to injury, and playing challenger events to get match tough again. Yet he still was able to be one of the tour most consistent performs of 2018. John Isner won the biggest title of his career in Miami, and made his second Major semifinal at Wimbledon. 22-year-old Karen Khachanov won three titles in 2018, most notably defeating Novak Djokovic to claim the Masters 1,000 event in Paris. 22-year-old Borna Coric twice defeated Roger Federer, including in the final of the grass court event in Halle, and ended the year as a Davis Cup champion. 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas was the revelation of the season, making the finals in Barcelona and Toronto. He ended the year by winning Stockholm, as well as the Next Gen ATP Finals.

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Hubert Hurkacz Undergoes ‘Knee Procedure’ Ahead of Olympic Bid

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Poland’s top player on the ATP Tour is not giving up on his dream of winning a medal at the Olympic Games despite recently undergoing a medical procedure.

World No.7 Hubert Hurkacz suffered a knee injury during his second round clash at Wimbledon against France’s Arthur Fils. In the fourth set tiebreak of their clash, Hurkacz dived for a shot but landed badly on his knee and required on-court medical attention. He then played two more points before retiring from the match. 

In a social media post published on Wednesday, the  27-year-old confirmed he underwent a procedure on his knee earlier this week but didn’t provide any further details.  Although Hurkacz has stated his intention to play at the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris, where the tennis event will be held on the clay at Roland Garros. 

“I had a knee procedure this Monday, but I’m feeling better already and my team and are dedicating extensive time each day to the rehab process.” He wrote on Instagram. 

“It’s a dream for every athlete to represent their country at the Olympics, and I want to make sure I am fully fit and ready before making the final decision to step on court. The aim is not only to participate, but to win a medal for my country.”

So far this season Hurkacz has won 34 out of 48 matches played on the Tour. He won the Estoril Open in April and was runner-up to Jannik Sinner in Halle. 

The Olympic tennis event is scheduled to begin a week Saturday on July 27th. Poland is yet to win a medal in the event but expectations are high with women’s No.1 Iga Swiatek also taking part. 

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Motivation, Pressure And Expectations – Novak Djokovic Targets History At Wimbledon

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image via x.com/wimbledon

Novak Djokovic has broken numerous records throughout his career but he still feels the pressure of trying to make history in the sport. 

The world No.2 is through to his 10th Wimbledon final where he will play Carlos Alcaraz, who beat him at this stage of the tournament 12 months ago. There is plenty on the line for the Serbian who could equal Roger Federer’s record for most men’s titles won at SW19 and break the overall record for most major singles won in the sport if he triumphs over the Spaniard. Djokovic currently has 24 Grand Slam trophies to his name which is the same as Margaret Court, who won some of her titles before the Open Era started. 

“Obviously I’m aware that Roger [Federer] holds eight Wimbledons. I hold seven. History is on the line.” Djokovic said on Friday after beating Lorenzo Musetti.

“Also, the 25th potential Grand Slam. Of course, it serves as a great motivation, but at the same time it’s also a lot of pressure and expectations.”

Coming into Wimbledon, there had been doubts over Djokovic’s form after he underwent surgery to treat a knee injury he suffered at the French Open. However, he has defied the odds to reach the final. His run has also seen him beat Alexi Popyrin and Holger Rune before getting a walkover in the quarter-finals from Alex de Minaur, who sustained an injury during the tournament. Then on Friday, he overcame a spirited Musetti in three sets. 

Despite the challenge, Djokovic has insisted that his expectations to do well are always high no matter what the situation is. During what has been a roller-coaster first six months of the season, he is yet to win a title this year or beat a player currently ranked in the top 10. Although he will achieve both of these if her beats Alcaraz on Sunday. 

“Every time I step out on the court now, even though I’m 37 and competing with the 21-year-olds, I still expect myself to win most of the matches, and people expect me to win, whatever, 99% of the matches that I play.” He said.

“I always have to come out on the court and perform my best in order to still be at the level with Carlos [Alcaraz] or Jannik [Sinner] or Sascha [Zverev] or any of those guys, Daniil [Medvedev]. 

“This year hasn’t been that successful for me. It’s probably the weakest results the first six months I’ve had in many years. That’s okay. I had to adapt and accept that and really try to find also way out from the injury that I had and kind of regroup.”

Djokovic hopes that a Wimbledon win will help turn his season around like it has done in the past for him. 

“Wimbledon historically there’s been seasons where I wasn’t maybe playing at a desired level, but then I would win a Wimbledon title and then things would change.” He commented.

“For example, that was the case in 2018 when I had elbow surgery earlier in the year, dropped my rankings out of top 20, losing in fourth round of Australian Open, I think it was quarters of Roland-Garros, and just not playing the tennis that I want to play. Then I won Wimbledon and then won US Open and then later on became No.1 very soon.”

Meanwhile, 21-year-old Alcaraz is hoping to stop Djokovic in his tracks. Should he defend his title at Wimbledon, he would become the first player outside the Big Three to do so since Pete Sampras more than 20 years ago. He has won their only previous meeting on the grass but trails their head-to-head 3-2. 

“I’m sure he knows what he has to do to beat me,” said Alcaraz.

“But I’m ready to take that challenge and I’m ready to do it well.”

When the two players take to the court to play in the Wimbledon final, Djokovic will be 15 years and 348 days older than Alcaraz. Making it the largest age gap in a men’s Grand Slam final since the 1974 US Open. Whoever is victorious will receive £2,700,000 in prize money. 

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Carlos Alcaraz And Novak Djokovic Wouldn’t Yield To Medvedev And Musetti At Wimbledon

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image via x.com/wimbledon

Carlos Alcaraz seemed to be on his own against a vastly improved Daniil Medvedev. The defending Wimbledon champion appeared to be out of tricks.

And Medvedev sensed it.

Alcaraz still scored a 6-7 (1), 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Medvedev. It may look rather easy on paper, but there was nothing easy about Alcaraz’s victory. The young Spaniard just came through when he needed it to advance to what he hopes will lead to his fourth Grand Slam title.

MEDVEDEV APPLIED ENDLESS PRESSURE

Medvedev was always there, ready to pounce on any mistake by Alcaraz. But mistakes didn’t happen that often after Medvedev took the first set in a tie-breaker.

Alcaraz hadn’t served that well in the first set that Medvedev had taken in a tiebreaker. But it was a different story once Alcaraz found the mark on his serves. He just kept holding service until the match was his.

Remember, he’s only 21 years old. But now he faces someone in this Wimbledon final almost twice as old in 37-year-old Novak Djokovic.

NOVAK DIDN’T LET INJURED KNEE STOP HIM

Early in the match, Djokovic looked like he might have problems against Lorenzo Musetti. He appeared to have a slight limp in the right knee that was covered by a band. Of course, it’s been less than six months since Novak underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in that knee.

Djokovic didn’t always chase after balls in situations where his service game wasn’t in jeopardy. He just hit winners when the opportunities came along, and his serve was always ready to win a point, a game or the match.

MUSETTI WASN’T THE SAME

Young 25th seed Musetti had been so strong and talented in his quarterfinal upset of Taylor Fritz. The 22-year-old Italian had looked like he might be a threat to the likes of Djokovic and Alcaraz in the last two rounds in London.

Musetti appeared to be able to run down everything against the speedy Fritz, until Fritz seemed to grow tired in a fifth set that Musetti won easily.

The Italian wasn’t the same against Djokovic.

Djokovic was just too good and too consistent to allow Musetti to stop his bid for another title.

NOVAK THE VIOLINIST

The setting was completely different this time with Djokovic looking questionable at the start. But Musetti could hardly push Djokovic, and ended up losing by a 6-4, 7-6 (2), 6-4. Once Novak charged through the second set tiebreaker, dropping only two points, Musetti couldn’t get back into the match.

And then Novak came out pretending to play a violin on his racket for his precious 6-year-old daughter Tara, whom Novak said has been learning to play the violin for about six months.

Some fans apparently didn’t like this, but then there probably were others who became Novak Djokovic fans. Novak obviously is a great guy and dad these days.

After all, Novak has just played his 97th Wimbledon match, and he’s hoping in his 37th Grand Slam final to tie Roger Federer’s record of eight Wimbledon titles.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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