Mar/20

24

Todd’s Tennis Takes: 2020 Review

BY TODD ROBINSON

So with no tennis or any sport to follow right now, we have plenty of time to look at what has transpired the first two plus months of the season, starting with some early awards, given out NBA style, yet another sport I miss terribly. The awards are MVP (MVTP), Most Improved, Rookie of the Year, and 6th Man.

Most Valuable Tennis Player (MVTP) – Novak Djokovic

      Quite an easy selection here, so here are the numbers: 18-0, 2 titles, 6-0 vs Top 10…and yet again, battled back from match point down to win an encounter – this time vs. Monfils in the Dubai SFs. He was down 6-3 in the 2nd set breaker after losing the first set 6-2. Two of the match points he saved included hugely clutch shots – a return of serve on one and a stinging FH on the line in another…big clutch plays when he needed them most. Monfils had no gas in the 3rd as Djoker cruised 6-1, then beat Tsitsipas in the Final, 3 and 4. Djoker now stands at 17-0 lifetime vs the flashy Frenchman, dating back to their first encounter at the 2005 US Open when they were both teenaged hotshots – Djoker won 7-5 in the 5th. How I wish I could say I watched that match!!

MVTP: Runner Up – Nadal, Thiem, Monfils, Rublev…and Garin?

      Nadal is 13-3 with 1 title, but 0-2 vs the Top 10. Thiem is 9-4 with an Aussie R-up, but is 3-3 outside of that tourney for the year. Gael Monfils has 2 titles and 16-3 record. His only losses are twice to Djoker and Thiem at the Aussie. Andrey Rublev started off the year 11-0 with 2 titles, before losing 4th Rd to A Zverev at the Aussie. He has 2 QF losses since for a 15-3 record on the year. Special shout out to young Christian Garin as clay MVTP (only because Rafa hasn’t played on dirt yet). He is 11-1 on dirt with 2 titles early on, though he’s gone 1-5 on hardcourts this year.

Most Improved Player (MIP) – Tommy Paul

      This was a harder selection, as Vasek Pospisil was a very close 2nd. But Tommy has gone 9-5 with a QF, a SF, and a 3rd Rd showing at the Aussie, watching his ranking jump from #90 on Jan 1 to #57 today. I’d expect the talented young American to eventually take residence inside the Top 50 and higher for a good chunk of time once play resumes. Meanwhile Pospisil has had a surprisingly strong start as well to 2020, going 8-5 with a R-up at Montpellier (Monfils) and two Top 10 wins over Goffin and Medvedev, boosting his rank to #93 from #149 at the start of the year.

Rookie of The Year (ROY) – Tie between Corentin Moutet and Gianluca Mager

      First of all, determining who is and is not a rookie on the ATP Tour is a bit tricky and subjective, so I will give my criteria for ‘rookie’ status. It must be the player’s first year where he makes a significant impact on the tour, with at least 25 matches played, and where he establishes himself as a tour regular, almost totally eschewing Challenger events. With this in mind, it is very hard to determine the ROY after only 2 months of play. I wanted to give it to the 18 yr old hot shot Jannik Sinner, but he’s just 3-5 on the year so far. Assuming we have enough of a season by November/December, he could still end up with this award, but for now, it is Moutet and Mager.

      Moutet is a 20 yr old speedster from France, at just 5’9” tall. He played over 10 ATP events in both 2018 (3-11) and 2019 (5-10), but now seems poised to play more full time now at 6-5 on the year and ranked #75 (reached a career-high #70 in January this year). Four of those 6 wins came in his first event of the year down in Doha, where he beat, in succession after qualifying into the tourney, Sandgren, Raonic, Verdasco, and Wawrinka before finally bowing out to Rublev in the final.

      The co-ROY is a more surprising, random player from Italy – 25 yr old Gianluca Mager, who came into 2020 at a career-high rank of 118 having played only 3 tour matches in his life. But much like Moutet, Mager qualified into an event, got hot while pulling off multiple upsets, and lost in the final. This time it was on the clay in Rio, and he beat Casper Ruud (now up to #36) and Thiem before finally losing to Garin in the final. Will the tall, skinny (6’2”, 170lbs) late bloomer have staying power as a tricky clay specialist on tour for the next 5 years or so? Now ranked at #79, we shall see…

6th Man Award – Filip Krajinovic

      So in the NBA, the best 6th men can be relied upon to give a team consistently decent play off the bench night after night…often a player more talented than 1 or 2 of the starters. But generally, he doesn’t do anything overly spectacular. On the ATP Tour, that is the player who gets inside the top 30 and generally beats those ranked below him, while giving decent competition to those ranked above. Someone like Philipp Kohlschreiber in his prime…3rd/4th Rd exits at the majors, couple Masters QFs maybe…a 250 title here and there. This year, so far, that is Filip Krajinovic. He is 9-5, with 4 of those losses to players ranked well above him (he’s currently #32) – Federer, Monfils twice, and Rublev, who he has also beaten this year. His only disappointing loss is to Verdasco, but it’s not uncommon to see accomplished vets past their prime like the 36 year old Spaniard spring those upsets now and then.

      Krajinovic is now 28 yrs old. He went 31-18 last year, not at all unlike a typical Kohlschreiber season 6-7 years ago (the German is now 36 as well, ranked #74). I could easily see him slosh around the rankings between #20 and #40 over the next few years. His prime competition for this award should come from guys like Pablo Carreno Busta, Borna Coric, Nikoloz Basilashvili, Daniel Evans, and Casper Ruud. Coric and Ruud are youngsters with upside, though likely not Top 15, while Basilashvili, Evans, and Carreno Busta have probably topped out already…certainly the Spaniard, who made the US Open SFs in 2017. He is currently ranked #25 and has made at least the 3rd round in 4 of his last 5 slams, but no QFs since USO ’17.

Other News/Notes

  • Funny Start to 2020 for Alexander Zverev. He lost 3 straight Aussie Open tune-up matches at the ATP Cup, all to fellow Next-Gen talent – De Minaur, Tsitsipas, Shapovalov. He then made his first slam SF, handily beating Rublev and Wawrinka to get there, before Thiem got the best of him in a hard fought 4-set SF match. He then lost to MIP candidate Tommy Paul at Acapulco. He’s 6-5 on the year, but 1-4 outside of the Aussie.
  • At 13-9 on the year, 19 yr old Felix Auger-Aliassime has probably played the most matches on tour so far in 2020, and still remains jinxed in ATP Finals. In back-to-back weeks he lost to Monfils and Tsitsipas in finals at Rotterdam and Marseille, bringing his record in finals now to 0-5.
  • Denis Shapovalov remains maddeningly inconsistent. He started off the year going 2-2 in the ATP Cup, defeating both Zverev and Tsitsipas while losing to De Minaur and Djokovic. But since then he has gone just 2-5, with losses to Humbert, Fucsovics, Pospisil, Dimitrov, and Bublik.
  • On the strength of a strong showing in Acapulco, American Taylor Fritz is at a career-high #24 now. In Mexico the 22 yr old defeated Millman, Humbert, Edmund, and Isner before Nadal put him in his place in the final, 6-3, 6-2.
  • One of Fritz’ main rivals on the junior circuit, Frances Tiafoe, is quite a distance from his career-high rank of #29 in February last year. Tiafoe is just 2-5 on the year, which doesn’t include losses to #148 Gregoire Barrere, #113 Denis Kudla, and #170 Denis Istomin at Challenger events. Tiafoe is currently at #81, his lowest ranking since Feb. 2018.
  • Daniel Evans, the British ‘Party Boy’, has had an interesting career and strong start to 2020 at 11-5 on the year, including wins over Goffin, Khachanov, Fognini, and Rublev. He was suspended from the tour for a year after testing positive for cocaine in 2017, came back in 2018, and then took 10 months to boost his ranking from outside the Top 1000 to inside the Top 100. He currently resides at a career-best ranking of #28.

Djokovic art by Andres Bella.

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5 comments

  • Scoop Malinowski · March 24, 2020 at 5:03 pm

    Nice read Todd, actually a lot has happened this year in only a few months we saw some balance shifts. Maybe the only addition I would add is Brandon Nakashima to ROY. But I like Moutet for over a year now. Mager came out of nowhere.

  • Todd Robinson · March 24, 2020 at 6:23 pm

    Nakashima has only played 1 tourney, 3 matches, so kinda tough to go to the kid so soon…Mager totally random; too bad he’s gonna miss his favorite part of the year – Euro clay.

  • Scoop Malinowski · March 24, 2020 at 6:36 pm

    Todd, Nakashima is 16-6 in the year, he turned pro in January. 2-1 in ATP (Delray) where he beat Norrie and Vesely (who just won a singles title) both in straight sets and then he lost to Nishioka 63 67 46. I know that is not enough to pass out an award but he may be the REAL ROY. This hiatus will slow his momentum. But you can’t keep a good player down. Nakashima told me that he has played sets in practice with Querrey, Fritz, Giron, etc and he’s right there with them. My call is Nakashima will soon pass Moutet and Mager. He’s at 220 right now. Just 18.

  • Scoop Malinowski · March 24, 2020 at 6:41 pm

    Nakashima beat Ulises Blach 60 61 in Rancho Santa Fe Futures this year. Blanch is 265 in the world. This year Blanch made semis of Monterrey ATP beating Andujar Troicki Lorenzi. He lost to Mannarino in SF 62 64. So Nakashima gave him his worst beatdown of the year by far.

  • Todd Robinson · March 24, 2020 at 7:07 pm

    Impressive stuff…..too bad it is so interrupted, but he’s so young hopefully he can be just a bit bigger/stronger/faster than before once play resumes.

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