The summer is gone and the ATP tour is coming back to the hard courts. With the Rogers Cup only days away I thought we could take a look back to see how the top 5 of the ATP has performed since my last post with this theme. I will continue where I left off and comment on the year from May to July 2013. So without further ado, here’s my take on where things stand as of now.
Rank #1. Novak Djokovic – 10 tournaments (2 Davis Cup rounds), 39 wins, 6 losses, 3 titles
Believe it or not, the reigning world #1 has not won any tournament since Monte Carlo. He has played 4 tournaments after it and while his Grand Slam runs were great, SFs at Roland Garros and final at Wimbledon, he had a miserable tournament in Madrid and a mediocre one in Rome. Yet Novak is so far out in the front with his ranking points that Murray is nowhere close to taking over the coveted #1 spot. Despite not winning titles Novak is sitting at the top by going deep at the big tournaments, mainly the Grand Slams. Those runs counted for some valuable ranking points and Novak is assured of his ranking through at least October of this year.
The Serb’s goal this year was to win the French Open which was thwarted by Rafa for the 2nd year in row. He fought valiantly at Roland Garros but his Wimbledon final performance was surprisingly timid and his Madrid match was perplexing to say the least. It has not been a stellar quarter for Novak. He had better results same time last year and of course nothing compares to his amazing run of 2011. But I think we’ve already seen the worst of Novak’s year, it will only get better from now on. The tour is back on his beloved hard courts and look for him to try to win Cincinnati to become the only player to win all 9 (current) Masters tournaments. He will be a force to be reckoned with at the US Open and will definitely focus on defending the World Tour Finals at the end of the year. I see him as ending the year ranked #1 for the 3rd straight year unless some magic happens with Rafa to throw all those calculations to the wind.
Rank #2. Andy Murray – 9 tournaments, 34 wins, 5 losses, 4 titles
Andy Murray is now ranked #2. He finally won Wimbledon and all the hysterical British mania that comes with it. Right now it seems like its Andy’s world and we’re all just visiting. But back up for a bit and look beyond June. Andy had an awful clay season that ended with him retiring from his R32 match in Rome and skipping the French Open altogether. His best clay court result was reaching the Madrid QFs where he lost in straight sets to Berdych. I understand the French Open withdrawal due to injury but his performances in Madrid and Monte Carlo left me underwhelmed. This is why despite winning 2 of the past 4 Grand Slams, he is nowhere close to catching up with Novak. And it’s only going to get tougher from now on since he has many points to defend including the US Open.
In my last post I said the following about Andy and the clay season: “It is a long season on this surface and he needs to master it if he ever wants to be at the top of the ATP.” I will reiterate this again; if Andy wants to be #1 he will have to improve his clay season. It is quite a feat that the #2 player in the world has never reached a clay court final let alone won any title on the red dirt. If he is to stop playing second fiddle to Djokovic he needs to develop his game for clay.
In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how handles the pressure of having to defend the US Open; of being the hunted for the first time instead of the hunter. A bit of trivia for you: No one has defended the US Open since Federer in 2008.
Rank #3. David Ferrer – 14 tournaments, 41 wins, 12 losses, 2 titles
Ferrer continued his busy schedule all the way till Wimbledon. By the end of Wimbledon he seemed exhausted and I hope he has used his time off for some much needed relaxation. You wonder why he played so much more than the rest of the top 5 but with his results, why not? All that hard work led him to reach a career high ranking of #3 and cement his position as the Spanish #1. He reached his first ever Grand Slam final at Roland Garros and matched his 2012 Wimbledon result by reaching the QFs. He had decent runs in Madrid and Rome reaching the QFs but having the unfortunate luck of running into Rafa each time, including at the French Open.
He’s not defending as much as Andy or Novak heading into the hard court season and I can see him maintaining his consistency. But holding on to the #3 spot might be tricky and will also depend on Rafa or even Roger and how they change the game towards the end of the year. The other remaining question is whether he will be fresh enough to finish out the year as strongly as he started it. He had a busy 2012 and did not let up the pace this year so one wonders if it will catch up with him. Time will tell but unless a freak injury happens I don’t think there is any real reason for Ferrer fans to worry.
Rank #4. Rafa Nadal – 10 tournaments, 43 wins, 3 losses, 7 titles
Rafa lost in the Monte Carlo final. After that he went on a streak of 21 wins across 4 tournaments. He won Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros capturing his 12th Grand Slam and becoming the only player in history to win 8 Slams at a single Grand Slam. This was also his 7th title of the year – 7 titles and we were only in June. And remember, he didn’t start the year till after the Australian Open. The summer seemed all about Rafa until Wimbledon when it came crashing down with a first round loss.
What to make of the sudden loss? Do Rafa fans have to start worrying? In the short term, absolutely not. He’s had the best year of the top 5 so far. He leads the points in the Race to London and is the only player to have qualified for the World Tour Finals. He could definitely give Novak a run for the #1 ranking, more so than Andy, since he has no points to defend for the rest of the year.
You could say his tactic of playing so many clay tournaments in such a short time has worked for him and the results would support your theory. But it also left him exhausted. Perhaps the strategy is to play to his strengths and let the rest of the year shape up as it may. As such I think in the long run, fans might see less of Rafa at non-clay tournaments. But back to the present, no one is sitting more pretty than Rafa right now. Any match he plays is a bonus since he has nothing to defend so he’ll be able to play as much or as little as he likes. Just sit back and enjoy the show.
Rank #5. Roger Federer – 11 tournaments, 30 wins, 10 losses, 1 title
“Roger’s situation will remain a mystery till we see whether this time off has helped him like it did last year. Either he will come back fresh and rejuvenated, or he will suffer from lack of match practice; or worse, the back issues could come back to ruin everything.”
That’s my own quote from my previous post and since then the mystery has been solved. Not only did he suffer from lack of match practice, the back issues did come back and ruin everything. Our champ has been having a bad year. His return back on tour quickly hit a roadblock when he crashed out of Madrid in R16. However, he then made a deep run in Rome reaching his first final there since 2006. At Roland Garros he reached his 36th consecutive Grand Slam QF but then lost that QF strangely without putting up much of a fight. Then came Halle and despite having an uneven performance in the later stages of the tournament he won his first title of the year. This was his 77th singles title tying him at 3rd place with McEnroe for most singles titles in history.
After Halle there was reason to be optimistic about Wimbledon but who knew it would be the source of such pain this year. Roger lost in the second round and dropped to 5th place in the rankings. Even with the media, his haters and pseudo fans calling for his retirement, he decided on his next course of action and entered 2 additional tournaments, Hamburg and Gstaad to get some much needed match practice. At the start of Hamburg we saw Roger also trying out a new racquet. With a new schedule and new racquet he seemed determined to make changes. It was going according to plan till the back flared up in his Hamburg QF match. He won that but lost the SF. He then headed back home to Gstaad where they had a special ceremony in his honour of returning to the tournament after 9 years. Perhaps this home pressure is what convinced him to participate with his bad back, even though his team advised against it. He played and lost his very first match.
Fast forward to the present and Roger’s back hasn’t healed enough to play in Montreal. On behalf of Roger I would like to scream at the tennis gods, they’ve been very cruel this year. After a decade of being able to avoid serious injury, this year his back issues have followed him like the plague: at Indian Wells, then Hamburg and Gstaad. His 7 week hiatus has backfired and he hasn’t been able to test his new racquet enough before the US Open. Roger keeps trying out new strategies and yet before he can get in a rhythm and gain some confidence he gets stopped each time by either a bad back or sudden inability to close out matches and is back to square one.
I don’t know where things go from here because a lot of it depends on his back. If his back allows him to play Cincy and he can get used to his new racquet, maybe he can go deep at the US Open. If his back allows him, he can add a tournament in between the US Open and Shanghai to get some extra points. If his back allows him, he will do everything in his power to make sure he qualifies for the World Tour Finals. He’s dangerously close to not qualifying and needs a pain free back, some luck, and a ton of confidence to turn things around.
But he’s Roger Federer, he’s been making the impossible possible for over a decade. When people thought he was done in 2008 he came back and produced 2009. When he entered Wimbledon 2012 it had been 2.5 years since he last won a Slam and then he walked away with his 17th one. This man loves to prove his doubters wrong when their voices are the loudest and I want to be there by his side to watch their faces when he does just that. So come on Roger! Finish the year strong! I still believe! Allez!