With the No.1 ranking looking set to be assumed by Rafael Nadal in the not-too-distant future, another question arises – how long can he stay there once he returns to the summit?
That’s the burning question dominating this ranking-focused edition of SmashTalk, where we also discuss the make-up of the top five in coming months as well as Karolina Pliskova’s claim to the No.1 ranking on the women’s side.
This week, special guest Nick McCarvel, the New York-based freelance writer and host, joins the Tennismash team of Paul Moore, Vivienne Christie, Matt Trollope and Leigh Rogers to give his thoughts!
McCarvel: That’s a good question. In short, I would say yes, mostly because he has so little to defend the rest of the year: He lost in the fourth round of the US Open, then played only Beijing and Shanghai, where he won a combined two matches. Even a decent run for him the rest of the year – and appearance at the ATP Finals – will secure him as year-end No. 1 for the first time since 2013.
Moore: No. That Rafa is going to be No.1 by the US Open is beyond doubt. That Roger Federer is consistently outperforming him is also beyond doubt. If the status quo continues through the season (and they can both stay injury free), I firmly believe that Roger will be back on top before the Paris Masters.
Christie: Yes, Rafa will be a deserving world No.1 before too much longer. Holding on to it, though, will add another intriguing chapter to his long rivalry with Roger Federer. It would take a brave person to tip against the Swiss returning to top spot before the season is over. Positioned less than 900 points behind the Nadal at world No.3, the superstar has nothing to defend until the Australian Open in 2018.
Trollope: I’m not convinced. I feel Federer is primed for a strong run home, and he has two advantages over Nadal – he can only gain points as he has none to defend in the second half of 2017 (unlike Nadal) and he typically performs more strongly in this segment of the season. Nadal is often cooked after the US Open – although he is managing his schedule and health quite well – and it’s also when Federer dominates at fast indoor events like Shanghai and Basel. Rafa could struggle to keep the Swiss at bay.
Rogers: Yes. I don’t think Roger Federer will want to push his body too much after the US Open, which will give Rafael Nadal a chance to pick up even more points in the Asian swing and guarantee he holds onto top spot.
McCarvel: Look at what Sasha Zverev did in Washington D.C. I think he’s a viable candidate to make that move, as are Milos Raonic and Marin Cilic. Those latter two are guys that have been hanging around the hoop for a while… well, now is their chance! Let’s see it.
Moore: There are so many hobbled and misfiring players wandering around at the moment it’s hard to say. I can’t see Andy Murray slipping out the Top 3, and Marin Cilic is playing great tennis at the moment. As for No.5, I think I’m going to punt for Alexander Zverev – he’s on fire at the moment.
Christie: Marin Cilic seems logical, given his current career-high world No.6 position and his tendency to thrive on a hard court. But injury is the worrying asterisk for the Croat, who is out of Montreal with an adductor issue. Dominic Thiem is well positioned but struggling to achieve consistency – with one breakthrough after another in 2017, I suspect Alexander Zverev is the most likely to add “top five” to his growing record.
Trollope: I think we’ll see Alexander Zverev and Marin Cilic fill the void. Both are trending in the right direction – Zverev just won in Washington DC while Cilic reached the Wimbledon final – and Cilic, in particular, has a history over performing exceptionally on US hard courts, if he’s healthy. With Nadal and Federer at the top of the tree, I could see Zverev and Cilic coming in behind them, and probably Andy Murray clinging on to his top-five ranking and rounding out the group.
Rogers: Dramatically different is the perfect description – and it is exciting for men’s tennis! Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev look in the best position to capitalise, and I think Marin Cilic (who only has third round points to defend at the US Open) will also soon make his top five debut.
McCarvel: It’s a discussion we’ll have forever if the points systems remains the way it is, but I think yes only because there is no one that has truly stepped up and played consistently well year-round outside of Serena. I would say Garbiñe Muguruza has the best game on tour right now, but she hasn’t produced the way she needs to on a consistent basis. Pliskova has three titles, a major semifinal and quarterfinal to her name in this year alone, which is not considering her US Open runner-up and Cincy title points from last year.
Moore: I’m torn on this one. Pliskova is the best currently active player in the world – I have no doubt about that. But until she wins a ‘big one’, it’s hard to say that she is The Best. It’s a bit like a football team finishing top of their league and then losing in a Superbowl / Grand Final: they were great, but nobody would call them the champion.
Christie: This is a question about the system, not Karolina Pliskova. As it stands, rankings reward the most consistent players over a 52-week period. And with four titles, as well as the 2016 US Open final, the Czech is numerically deserving. You’d love Jelena Ostapenko and Garbine Muguruza, our most recent Grand Slam champions, to also be at the top of the rankings but the reality is that in the past 52 weeks neither has claimed one other title.
Trollope: I think slamless No.1s are simply a product of the WTA’s dire ranking system. That’s worth another #SmashTalk discussion all of its own. It’s not Pliskova’s fault she’s ended up there – she’s been consistent in the past 12 months, performed strongly at the majors and owns a swag of titles. And if not Pliskova, who else? But it’s never a good look to see the world No.1 – which fans equate with “best player in the world” – at the top of the tree without one of the sport’s biggest titles to her name.
Rogers: Of course she does. Pliskova has won more matches and been more consistent than the current Grand Slam holders (Serena Williams, Jelena Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza and Angelique Kerber) in the past 12 months. Let’s remember too that Andy Murray is currently ranked No.1 on the men’s tour and he hasn’t made a Grand Slam final in the past 12 months – and Pliskova has. Rankings reward consistency, not Grand Slam performances.
McCarvel: Angelique Kerber (why not?!) and Rafael Nadal.
Moore: Alexander Zverev and Caroline Wozniacki.
Christie: Rafael Nadal and Caroline Wozniacki.
Trollope: Simona Halep and Rafael Nadal.
Rogers: Rafael Nadal and Karolina Pliskova.
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