Is The ATP Crown Poised For Eight Kings? - UBITENNIS
Connect with us


Is The ATP Crown Poised For Eight Kings?

With Daniil Medvedev and Novak Djokovic trading the No.1 spot in recent weeks, UbiTennis looks at the other players who could reach the top in 2022.




Daniil Medvedev (Darren Carroll/USTA)

by Kingsley Elliot Kaye

Daniil Medvedev’s loss to Gael Monfils in the second round of Indian Wells went on making the headlines quite a few days after the result on court. The gritty and entertaining Frenchman is a hard nut to crack for any player, and a defeat to him never comes as an absolute upset. But such match result meant that once more Novak Djokovic would return to be the best ranked player in the world, only three weeks after being dethroned.  


Even though Medvedev may snatch back the crown very soon, since Djokovic will not be playing in the Miami Open, this overturn has brought back memories of the shortest reigns in the history of tennis: Pat Rafter’s one week at the top in July 1999 and Carlos Moya’s two weeks in March 1998.

This tennis year has definitely kicked off in amazing style and may open up to even more gripping scenarios in the race for the ATP crown. In fact the current leaders hold about 8,500 ATP points, which is a threshold within the reach of quite a few players.  Eight players could have their say in claiming the crown at some time of the year.  

How long will Djokovic be able to stave off the chasers? Unless US immigration law changes, his season risks being limited to clay and grass. And it will not be easy to better his summer 2021, when he triumphed at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, as well as reaching the final in Rome.

Medvedev is heading towards the European clay season and it is no secret he does not enjoy playing on this surface.  Instead, he declares a fancy for grass courts, where he feels his game works out effectively. In terms of results the months from April to July have always been the least fruitful to the Russian. Will the plot be different in 2022?

Nadal has got off to a roaring start, his best ever, and the third best winning streak in ATP history. He is already nipping at the heels of the leading duo. Now he is awaited by his beloved clay. His 2021 campaign was quite below his standards, also hindered by imperfect physical conditions: “only” quarterfinals in Madrid, and Montecarlo, wins in Barcelona and Rome, and the painful defeat to Djokovic in Roland Garros semifinals. If he is able to keep up his stunning form, which appeared to be slightly slipping in the last days in Indian Wells, he could reap points and secure first position. Last year he put an end to his troubled season after Paris. This year, if he were to play at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club and have a good run, he could raise the bar to such heights as not to be threatened by any other player, and the contest for Number One would just be game over. And this article would just be scrap paper or for the recycle bin.

What about the younger guns? Stefanos Tsitsipas has got off to a rickety start, with ups (semifinals at the Australian Open, final in Rotterdam) and downs (the way he was wiped away in Melbourne by Medvedev and by Felix Auger-Aliassime in Rotterdam). Not to mention his ill-swallowed loss to Jenson Brooksby in Indian Wells. After his elbow surgery he has succeeded in an outstanding comeback and has often showcased his best tennis but is still in quest of consistency.  

His 2021 clay season was classy: final in Barcelona, where he lost to Nadal in one of the memorable matches of 2021, win in Montecarlo Open, his first in a 1000 ATP Master Series, and of course the final at Roland Garros where his dreams were only shattered in the fifth set by Djokovic. If he were to find his goods once more, he could add a few cherries to an already lush cake. And, why not, succeed in a breakthrough at Wimbledon? Which so far has escaped him. Some pundits have pointed out that his groundstroke preparation may be excessively wide for grass courts, but Stefanos has always said to feel confident he can perform proficiently on grass. Could this be his year?  

Neither can we write off Alexander Zverev. Surely he can make up for this unexpectedly disappointing first part of 2022, which followed his triumph in the Master Finals in Turin. Considering his trophy cabinet (titles in Madrid and Rome) he could be a protagonist of the clay season. His blazing serve and return, as well as his well-balanced groundstrokes and excellent net coverage are bound to yield results sooner or later at Wimbledon. Over recent years he has always excelled in the American hard-court season and this makes him a serious pretender to the crown.

Andrey Rublev is one of the most consistent players on the tour. Last year he played two ATP Master 1000 finals (Montecarlo and Cincinnati). He is still striving to reach the final stages of Majors, where he has never gone beyond quarterfinals, but he could succeed at any time. This year he can already boast a 13-match winning streak, interrupted by Taylor Fritz in the Indian Wells semi-final. His famous 23 consecutive wins in ATP 500 Tournaments between 2020 and 2021 are evidence of his potential.

If Matteo Berrettini can sail injury-free, he could move up that extra notch and be a pretender as well. Last year he was pretty consistent on clay, reaching the final in Madrid and quarterfinals in Paris. He was outstanding on grass, winning the Queen’s Club Championship and just surrendering to Djokovic in the Wimbledon final. His game thrives on grass and he will be one of the favourites for victory this year. His American hard-court season was hampered by physical issues. Yet he still rose to the quarterfinals at the US Open. He is capable of collecting consistent points on all surfaces and at some time he could surface at the very top.

And now an 8th towering pretender to the crown. Carlos Alcaraz of course. The booming 18-year-old Spaniard made his debut in an ATP Masters 1000 last year in Miami, where he was ousted by Emil Ruusuvuori after an engaging battle. In Madrid he lost 6-1 6-2 to His Majesty of Spain Rafa Nadal. He’s gone a long way since then. Currently ranked 15th after his impressive run in Indian Wells, his progress appears limitless, and he is surging to the highest like the Great Swell. He often gives the impression he can win every tournament he plays. Wouldn’t that be enough to drive him to number one? 


It’s Unfair, Rafa Is Too Good In Roland Garros Final

James Beck reflects on Nadal’s latest triumph at Roland Garros.




Rafael Nadal - Roland Garros 2022 (foto Roberto Dell'Olivo)

This one was almost unfair.


It was like Rafa Nadal giving lessons to one of his former students at the Nadal academy back home in Mallorca.

When this French Open men’s singles final was over in less than two hours and a half, Rafa celebrated, of course. But he didn’t even execute his usual championship ritual on Court Philippe Chatrier of falling on his back on the red clay all sprawled out.

This one was that easy for the 36-year-old Spanish left-hander. He yielded only six games.

 It certainly didn’t have the characteristics of his many battles at Roland Garros with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

It must have been a bit shocking to the packed house of mostly Rafa fans.


Nadal didn’t miss many of his patented shots such as his famed reverse cross-court forehand. He was awesome at times. Young 23-year-old Casper Ruud must have realized that by the middle of the second set when Rafa started on his amazing 11-game winning streak to finish off a 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 victory.

Ruud is good. The Norway native will win his share of ATP titles, but probably not many Grand Slam titles. If any, at least until Rafa goes away to a retirement, certainly on his island of Mallorca.

Rafa already has his own statue on the grounds of Roland Garros. Perhaps, Mallorca should be renamed Rafa Island.


Ruud displayed a great forehand at times to an open court. But when Rafa applied his usual pressure to the corners Ruud’s forehand often  went haywire.

Rafa’s domination started to show in the third set as Ruud stopped chasing Nadal’s wicked reverse cross-court forehands. 

Ruud simply surrendered the last three games while Nadal yielded only three points. Nadal finished it off with a sizzling backhand down the line. In the end, nice guy, good sport and former student Ruud could only congratulate Rafa.


The great John McEnroe even called Nadal’s overall perfection “insanely good.”

If Iga Swiatek’s 6-1, 6-3 win in Saturday’s women’s final over young Coco Gauff was a mismatch,  Iga’s tennis idol staged a complete domination of Ruud a day later.

It appears that the only thing that can slow Rafa down is his nearly always sore left foot, not his age. He won his first French Open final 17 years ago.

For Nadal to win a 22nd Grand Slam title to take a 22-20-20 lead over his friends and rivals Djokovic and Federer is mind-boggling, but not as virtually unbelievable as winning a 14th  French Open title.

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 

Continue Reading


At The French Open Rafa and Novak Lived Up To A Battle For The Ages




Rafael Nadal (photo @RolandGarros)

Rafa Nadal is simply amazing.


His herd of fans couldn’t have been more pleased with their hero on this day just hours from his 36th birthday. He was never better, his patented reverse  cross-court forehand a marvel for the ages and his serve never more accurate.

The presence of his long-time friend and rival on the Court Philippe Chatrier that he loves so much made Nadal’s victory over Novak Djokovic even more special. The 59th meeting between these two warriors was a match for the ages, marvelous play by both players. Some games seemed to go on forever, with these two legends of the game dueling for every point for nearly four hours in a match that started in May and ended in June.


The 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory sends Nadal into his birthday on Friday to face Alexander Zverev for a spot in Sunday’s final of the French Open. Win or lose now, Rafa will remain the all-time leader in Grand Slam singles titles until at least Wimbledon due to his current 21-20-20 edge over Djokovic and Roger Federer.

Nadal played like he could go on forever playing his game, but he is quick to remind that his career could end at any time. The always painful left foot remains in his mind.

But the Spanish left-hander has never played better than when he overcame a 5-2 deficit against Djokovic in the fourth set. Nadal sparkled with energy, easily holding service, then fighting off two set points with true grit, holding easily to get back to 5-5 and then holding serve at love for 6-6.


The tiebreaker belonged to Rafa for six of the first seven points. That was too tough a task for even Novak to overcome.

Rafa’s podiatrist must have felt relieved at least for now. If Rafa was in pain, he didn’t show it for the first time in quite awhile.

If Nadal could pull off the feat of taming the big game and serving accuracy Zverev displayed while conquering potential whiz kid Carlos Alcaraz, and then taking out whoever is left in the battle between Denmark’s young Holger Rune, Croatia’s veteran Marin Cilic, Norway’s Casper Ruud and Russian Andrey Rublev, Nadal might own a nearly unbeatable lead with 22 Grand Slam 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 

Continue Reading


The Next Group Of Hopefuls To Replace The ‘Great Trio’ May Be Beaten Out By Youth




Carlos Alcaraz - Roland Garros 2022 (photo Roberto Dell'Olivo)

What is it with this supposedly great crop of newer and younger players groomed to take the places of the “Great Trio” of  Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic at the top of the men’s game?


Only Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem have won Grand Slam titles, both at the U.S. Open. And that’s about it. Medvedev just fell to Marin Cilic in the French Open round of 16.


You remember the 33-year-old hard-hitting Croatian who won the 2014 U.S. Open. Cilic had hardly been heard from since the 2018 Australian Open where he was runner-up . . . until  Monday when he needed just 45 minutes to conquer Medvedev.


Thiem? He looked like the real deal in 2020 when he won the U.S. Open. The Austrian is now 28 years old and an injured right wrist in 2021 has pushed Thiem far down the ATP rankings.

Then, there was the next presumed superstar: Stefanos Tsitsipas. The aggressive potential superstar came up empty on Monday against a virtually unknown teenager. Holger Rune was fantastic in his four-set domination of Tsitsipas.

The just-turned 19-year-old Rune appears to have it all: speed, quickness, power and touch. A 40th ranking isn’t too bad for a teen-ager, especially when it will zoom higher as the result of his advancement to a Grand Slam quarterfinal.


Maybe Medvedev, Thiem and Tsitsipas aren’t really as good as they once appeared to be. They are certainly not in the category of all-time greats. They have had their chances to become household words.

Maybe the members of this group weren’t meant to be the superstars to replace Federer, Nadal and Djokovic as fan favorites.

Maybe, it’s the next group of younger players, even teenagers. Yes, it appears that Carlos Alcaraz may outshine the likes of Thiem, Medvedev and Tsitsipas in the next few years.


It just happens the 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz may become one of the eventual replacements for Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

Carlos Alcaraz is one week younger than Rune.

Alexander Zverev might have been ahead of the others if he hadn’t blown so many chances for stardom the last few years. Still, he is the Olympic champion and probably has more potential than Thiem, Medvedev or Tsitsipas.


There is a herd of virtually unknown players waiting to make their mark. For instance, take Casper Ruud, 20-year-old Jannik Skinner and Matteo Berrettini. They have the potential to beat anyone.

But Alcaraz and Rune look like the best of the new young guns of tennis.

Of course, it really doesn’t matter who wins the Nadal-Djokovic quarterfinal showdown in Paris. They are two of the greatest players ever. Nothing is going to change that, not in Paris or anywhere else. Their place in history is written in stone, alongside Federer.


The women’s game is even more unpredictable than the men’s game. One reason is because the WTA no longer has superstars the likes of Venus and Serena Williams, and Ashleigh Barty.

Top-ranked Iga Swiatek looked ready to take over the women’s game with her long string of consecutive wins. But in the last two rounds of the French Open, Swiatek has looked like just another good player at times.

That may be due to the fact that the Polish sensation is going for her second French Open title while taking a 31-match winning streak into the quarterfinals. But it happened in the third round against 95th-ranked Danka Kovinic and then again Monday in round of 16 against 74th-ranked Qinwen Zheng.

Swiatek suddenly looked very average, but then bounced back to take both matches in the cool weather once she put on a white jacket in each match. She aroused her game early enough to avoid losing a set against Kovinic, but not against Zheng.


Swiatek now will face newlywed Jessie Pegula in the quarterfinals. Pegula is now playing the best tennis of her career and has rocketed to No. 11 in the world. Like Swiatek, Pegula is a fighter. She won’t go down easily and may be Swiatek’s toughest test remaining in Paris.

The 28-year-old Pegula called Charleston her home while she trained for a couple of years at the then Family Circle Cup complex, which is now the home of the Credit One Charleston Open stop on the WTA Tour. Pegula was married in last October at the famed Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.

Pegula also is having doubles success in Paris. She teamed with Coco Gauff to reach the third round in doubles, hoping for a victory there to advance to the doubles quarterfinals as well.

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 

Continue Reading