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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
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?
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.
Svetlana Kuznetsova upsets Ashleigh Barty in Cincinnati to reach the 42nd final of her career
Russian wild card Svetlana Kuznetsova edged top seed this year’s Roland Garros champion Ashleigh Barty 6-2 6-4 in the semifinal of the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati to reach the 42nd final of her career.
Two-time Grand Slam champion Kuznetsova, who is now ranked world number 153, scored her third win against top 10 players this week after beating former US Open champion Sloane Stephens and Karolina Pliskova.
Barty missed her chance to regain world number 1 spot from Naomi Osaka, who was forced to retire from her quarter final.
Barty earned the first break of the match in the second game of the opening set, when Kuznetsova netted a backhand. Kuznetsova broke back in the third game with a smash winner and earned another break at 2-2 when Barty netted a backhand. Kuznetsova hit a return winner to build up a 5-2 lead. Barty asked a medical time-out to treat he right leg. Kuznetsova held serve at 15 to close out the opening set after 30 minutes.
Kuznetsova went up a break in the first game of the second set. Barty won just three points on return in the second set. Kuznetsova closed out the second set with three winners in the 10th game.
“I am really happy. I am not really an analyzing person, but on my intuition, I am doing so much better, not repeating so many of my mistakes, just playing smarter and wiser now. It’s been so many different things when I was off, so I just enjoyed time off. Honestly, I was not missing at all the travelling and all the stress when you play tournaments, but now I have missed it and I feel good. I feel joy staying here and being here. It definitely helped me to have some time off to see other things outside tennis”, said Kuznetsova.
Kuznetsova set up a final against Madison Keys, who beat Sofia Kenin in straight sets. The Russian 34-year-old veteran player has qualified for her first final since last year, when she beat Donna Vekic in Washington.
“Madison is extremely tough. When she is on fire, it is really hard to play against her. It’s going to be a difficult match-up”, said Kuznetsova.
David Goffin reaches his first Masters 1000 in Cincinnati
David Goffin beat Richard Gasquet 6-3 6-4 on an overcast afternoon to reach the first Masters 1000 final of his career and his 13th title match at ATP Tour level at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati. Goffin has dropped just one set en route to the final.
Goffin is returning to his best form this summer under the guidance of former Swedish player Thomas Johansson. He reached the final in Halle and his first quarter final at Wimbledon. He received a walkover after Yoshihito Nishioka was forced to withdraw from the match due to food poisoning.
The Belgian player started the match with two consecutive holds before breaking at love to open up a 4-1 lead with a backhand winner down the line.
Goffin held his next service games to seal the opening set 6-3. Gasquet earned an early break to open 2-0 lead, but Goffin won five of the next six games with two breaks. The 2017 Nitto ATP Finals runner-up served out the win at love in the 10th game after 1 hour and 16 minutes, as Gasquet sent his backhand long.
Goffin reached the semifinal in Cincinnati last year, but he was forced to retire due to an arm injury.
“I am very happy. It’s a tournament I like and I have played the best tennis in the past few years. I am really happy to reach my first Masters 1000 final here. It’s a great moment for me.”
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