Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have stolen the limelight so far in the young ATP season. With the clay-court season soon to start that should remain the same although perhaps the titles will start going Nadal’s way instead of Federer’s. After all, Nadal has always been more of a clay courter than a hard courter while the opposite is true of Federer. While Fed and Rafa have been the stories of 2017 so far on the men’s tour, there are still plenty of other players to discuss in recapping the season-to-date.
A big part of the 2017 season so far is just the dormancy and poor play of the players that remain ranked No. 1 and No. 2, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic respectively. Both players have elbow problems, and both have played well below standard to start the 2017 season. Murray has a lot of points banked from Wimbledon and the tail end of the 2016 season still. Even with his bad start to the season, he still has nearly 12,000 ranking points, and that promises to keep his competitors at bay for a little while still. However, Djokovic is really coming back to the pack as he lost a full one thousand points with the Miami no-show. If his fortunes don’t change soon then there are scenarios where he’s out of the top five before Wimbledon. After all, he is the defending French Open champion.
Stan Wawrinka has been a big part of the 2017 season thus far, however as of yet he has no titles. The French Open champion from two years ago has been blocked by Federer’s resurgence. The Swiss Maestro took Wawrinka out of the Australian Open at the semi-final stage, and he took Stan out of the Indian Wells final. However, Wawrinka has outclassed numerous other players still, many of which have had disappointing seasons thus far.
Milos Raonic remains the most injury-prone player in the top 10. The Canadian had to default a title match in Delray Beach in late February. Speaking with the ATP, at the time he said the following:
“It’s disappointing in a lot of ways. I’ve been unfortunate with injuries and have been doing everything I can to prevent them. It’s been three tournaments in a row where I’ve sustained some sort of muscle damage.”
After Delray Beach, Raonic would miss Indian Wells with a hamstring problem. He pulled out of Miami before his third-round match with a hamstring problem as well. Going forward, it’s virtually impossible to have any positive expectations with Raonic. He seems like a coin toss just to win or lose a battle against his body, let alone the competition. Looking ahead, Raonic may have trouble hanging on to a top-10 ranking after Wimbledon.
Kei Nishikori hasn’t had a great three months to open the season. He left Miami with a 15-6 record on the campaign, having failed to live up to his two seed in the Masters draw. Nishikori fell to Fabio Fognini in the quarterfinals, a player that the Japanese star should probably be beating in big matches. Nishikori also has losses this season to Jack Sock, Thomaz Bellucci, and Alexandr Dolgoplov. Nishikori dropped three spots with the April 3rd rankings and doesn’t seem dangerous for the big titles at this point in his career.
Marin Cilic is another player that has seen tough times so far in 2017. The Cincinnati 2016 champion and 2014 US Open champion is one player that could be taking advantage of the lull at the very top of the men’s rankings. However, Cilic did nothing in either Miami or Indian Wells, losing his first match in each event and both times to low-ranked players in Jeremy Chardy and Taylor Fritz. Cilic also has losses this season to Dustin Brown, Daniel Evans, and Jozef Kovalik. When things will turn around for Cilic isn’t clear, and I discussed my opinion on him earlier this season.
On the positive side, Jack Sock is into the top 15 thanks in part to the title at Delray Beach. That’s a career-high ranking for the American and he’s just 24 years old. As he leaps over Nick Kyrgios, there is nobody ranked higher than Sock that is also younger than him except for Dominic Thiem. That speaks poorly to Kyrgios, a more talented player than Sock but one who absolutely melted down at the Australian Open and left a ton of attainable ranking points on the table that he could have cleaned up on.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has also enjoyed a strong start to the season, one where he won two titles in Rotterdam and Marseille. He missed Miami, but that was due to personal reasons as opposed to being bothered by an injury. Grigor Dimitrov has a title from Brisbane, and he played excellently at Melbourne Park. However, the consistency isn’t quite there for the Bulgarian yet.
In many ways, the opening to the season has been one where Nadal and Federer have taken full advantage of the opportunities afforded to them. Obviously, they wouldn’t be able to do that without immense talent, but the obstacles have not been as difficult to clear compared to less recent times. Djokovic, Murray, Nishikori, Raonic, and Cilic have all struggled for one reason or another.
With regard to Thiem, I’ll suspend my opinion until after the French Open as he’s a clay-courter. The way things look heading into the part of the season where the game is played on dirt, the Austrian looks like a key player. Don’t be surprised if the French Open semifinals (draw permitting) feature him, Nadal, Federer, and Wawrinka.