Progress report 2019: the leading men

Published by Matt Trollope

Novak Djokovic celebrates his heart-stopping win over Roger Federer in the 2019 Wimbledon final (Getty Images)
How have the top men fared in 2019? And what might lie ahead? We summarise their progress — and assess a few others — at the halfway point of the season.

The more things change in the women’s game, the more they remain the same among the men.

Continuing to rule at the top of the sport are Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, the three men who were also the top three way back in 2007. Twelve years on, they’re still the top three, and continue to dominate at the Grand Slam tournaments — no other player has won a major trophy since Stan Wawrinka at the 2016 US Open.

FEATURE: Progress report 2019 – the leading women

There have been comebacks — see Wawrinka, Gael Monfils and David Goffin — while injuries have sent Juan Martin del Potro, Kevin Anderson and John Isner tumbling out of the top 10.

Into their place have moved young trio Stefanos Tsitsipas, Karen Khachanov and Daniil Medvedev, rising stars who may ultimately loosen the Big Three’s stranglehold over men’s tennis.

Here’s where things are currently at on the ATP Tour — and what could lie ahead in the coming months.

1 Djokovic This season has been further proof of Djokovic’s ability to peak for the Slams; two of his three trophies have come at the majors. His utter domination of Nadal in the Australian Open final was one of the finest performances we’ve seen, and if anyone was worried by his post-AO slump, he eased concerns when he rebounded on clay to win Madrid, reach the final in Rome and progress to the semis in Paris. That preceded another winning run at Wimbledon, where, despite not playing his best tennis and staring down match points against Federer in the final, he was still superior to the rest of the men in the field. Who can stop him on US hard courts?
2 Nadal After an injury-plagued 2018, the Spaniard has enjoyed better physical health this year, with just two withdrawals — semifinals of Indian Wells, plus Miami the following week – among an otherwise full schedule. Didn’t dominate on clay in the manner of previous seasons, but once Rome and Roland Garros rolled around, he was in top gear. Following a jaw-dropping 12th French Open crown came a second straight Wimbledon semifinal, where Federer stopped him. With Djokovic snapping at his heels on the all-time leaderboard after claiming major title No.16 in London, there may be a greater urgency behind Nadal’s North American swing.
3 Federer The fact Federer got within a point of a Wimbledon title just a month before turning 38 is extraordinary. Despite “such an incredible opportunity missed”, he must be encouraged with how he’s tracking compared with this time last year, when he fell in the Wimbledon quarters before exiting the US Open at the fourth-round stage. He claimed his 100th and 101st titles in Dubai and Miami – with a final in between at Indian Wells – and made a welcome return to clay, culminating in a French Open semifinal. Title No.102 came on Halle’s grass. When he’s taken to the court in 2019, Federer has looked locked in and dangerous – regardless of the surface.
4 Thiem No player has disrupted the continued dominance of the Big Three, yet Thiem has shown he’s closest to doing so. Mostly known for his exploits on clay, he won the most notable hard-court title of his career at Indian Wells, much-needed momentum after a slow start to the season. After winning Barcelona and reaching semis in Madrid, he notched his second straight French Open final, taking a set off Nadal for the first time in Paris. These incremental gains have come under new coach Nicolas Massu. A well-known workhorse, Thiem has sensibly trimmed his schedule to 13 tournaments in the first seven months of the year.
5 Zverev He finished 2018 on a high with victory at the ATP Finals, but that form has not carried over into this season. Struggling with off-court issues, Zverev’s coaching partnership with Ivan Lendl ended this week, and just three times in 16 tournaments this season has he gone past the quarters (won in Geneva, final in Acapulco). Appears to be turning form around in Hamburg this week – after a first-round loss at Wimbledon – and will then turn attention to North American hard courts, where he has traditionally thrived.
6 Tsitsipas The tour has a new workhorse in the young Greek, who has risen to a career-high ranking of No.6 after playing 17 tournaments already in 2019. Breakthrough came at the Australian Open where he beat Federer en route to the semis, and since then he’s scooped 250-level titles in Marseille and Estoril. Great clay-court season also included final in Madrid and semifinal in Rome, before he pushed Wawrinka to five sets in the fourth round of the French Open, the tournament’s best match. Has slowed since then, falling in his opening matches at ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Wimbledon. Struggles specific to grass? Or a sign his workload is tiring him?
7 Nishikori Quarterfinals at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon – consistency is key for Kei. Throw in some strong ATP Tour results, like a trophy in Brisbane, semifinals in Rotterdam and Barcelona and a quarterfinal run in Rome, and you’re looking at impressive form across the whole season and spectrum of surfaces. Yet, still, he generally beats the players he’s supposed to beat and loses to who you’d expect; Grand Slam champions Wawrinka (twice) and Djokovic, Nadal and Federer (once each) have all stopped Nishikori this season. A ceiling persists for the Japanese star. Can he shatter it in the US?
8 Khachanov Powerful Russian made top-10 debut in June not long after reaching his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at Roland Garros. That run saw him turn a corner after a lean period; since his last quarterfinal at Indian Wells until he arrived in Paris, Khachanov went 3-6 and suffered four straight opening-round losses. Quarterfinal in Halle and third-round finish at Wimbledon improved his win loss record to 18-16. A hefty amount of points to defend in the back half of the season.
9 Medvedev Another recent Russian top-10 debutant, Medvedev in early May had won by far the most tour-level matches among the men in 2019, helped by victory in Sofia, finals in Brisbane and Barcelona and semis in Rotterdam and Monte Carlo. Completely stalled after Barcelona – his losing streak stretched to five – before rediscovering good form on grass. Seethed after leading two-sets-to-one and 4-1 in the fifth against Goffin in the third round at Wimbledon, but will try to channel that emotion positively as the tour returns to hard courts, and will be seeking a first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
10 Fognini Nearing his 32nd birthday, the Italian broke through for biggest career title in April at the Monte Carlo Masters, a week that saw him notch another win over Nadal. Incredibly, he’d won just one of his previous seven matches before arriving in Monaco. It was a triumph that preceded a fourth-round run at Roland Garros, while a trip to the third round at Wimbledon pushed him to a career-high ranking of No.9.
11 Anderson Right elbow injury has restricted Anderson to just five events and 15 matches in 2019, marring what looked to be unfolding as another solid season, with a title in his first event in Pune and a quarterfinal run in Miami. Returned on grass after three months out, but when he lost in the third round at Wimbledon — after reaching last year’s final — he fell out of the top 10.
12 Del Potro Another year, and more injury struggles for the luckless Argentine. He continues to suffer the after-effects of a fractured kneecap sustained in October 2018 and eventually went under the knife in June. His return date is unclear. Less than a year ago Delpo was ranked No.3 but has played just 12 matches this season, his best result a fourth-round finish at Roland Garros.
13 Bautista Agut A career-best season for the Spaniard, who advanced to his first ever Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open before bettering that with a semifinal run at Wimbledon. Opened season with title in Doha, reached the Miami Masters quarterfinals and has won 28 of 40 matches, helping him improve from No.24 to 13th.
14 Isner Like Anderson and Del Potro, Isner has dropped out of the top 10 after injury troubles in 2019; a foot fracture during his Miami Open final loss to Federer sidelined him until Wimbledon. Gained some much-needed momentum with victory last week on grass in Newport, and now heads into his favourite segment of the season — the US summer hard-court swing.
15 Coric A solid if unspectacular season for the Croat, whose best results have been a semifinal in Dubai, Masters quarterfinals in Miami and Monte Carlo and the fourth round at Melbourne Park. Injury felled him in Halle — where he was defending champ — and also forced him to skip Wimbledon, but he has since returned to the courts.
16 Basilashvili Continues to hold down a top-20 ranking despite a win-loss record of 18-16 in 2019. The real tests begin when he’s forced to defend his 500-level titles in Hamburg (this week, where he’s through to the semis) and Beijing (in October), and also his US Open fourth-round points from 2018. Until this week, semifinal on clay in Budapest the most notable result this season.
17 Cilic Eighteen months ago, Cilic was ranked No.3. But after a wobbly season in which he has notched just 11 match wins, the veteran has slipped to 17th. After reaching the last 16 at the Australian Open, Cilic has won back-to-back matches just one other time — when he advanced to the quarters in Madrid.
18 Goffin Better known for his success on clay and hard, former world No.7 rediscovered some of his best recently on grass, reaching the Halle final and then the quarters at Wimbledon to improve from 33rd to 18th in a month. It was a far cry from the start of the season, where he went 4-6 and briefly dropped back to the Challenger circuit.
19 Monfils Brilliant in the early stages of 2019; beginning the year ranked 33rd, Monfils stormed back into the top 20 after winning in Rotterdam, reaching semis in Sofia and Dubai and progressing to the quarters at Indian Wells. Ankle problems then surfaced, forcing him out of Miami and Monte Carlo and again during his first-round match at Wimbledon.
20 Berrettini Berrettini came close to back-to-back titles when he won Budapest and lost in a third-set tiebreak in the Munich final. But it was grass on which he truly thrived; he won Stuttgart, reached the semis in Halle and advanced the last 16 at Wimbledon, his deepest ever run at a major. After beginning the year at No.54, he’s now a top-20 force.
22 Wawrinka Stan is steadily reclaiming the form and aura that took him to three Grand Slam trophies. He’s chipped his ranking down from No.66 to No.22 this year and, most encouragingly, was a quarterfinalist at Roland Garros, his best result at a Slam in two years. He also reached the final in Rotterdam and quarters in Acapulco and Madrid.
23 Auger-Aliassime The men’s game’s most exciting young talent vaulted from outside the top 100 to a peak of No.21 in less than six months, building a win-loss record of 33-17. A finalist on clay in Rio and Lyon, on grass in Stuttgart, and a semifinalist on hard at the Miami Open, the 18-year-old has a versatile, well-developed game and has scope to rise higher given he has few points to defend during the North American hard-court swing.
48 Kyrgios Ever-enigmatic, Kyrgios has produced an up-and-down year, playing just 22 matches in 11 events yet delivering a memorable series of performances in Acapulco, where he stunned Nadal, Isner, Wawrinka and Zverev to win one of the biggest titles of his career. Also reached the fourth round in Miami, but hasn’t gone beyond the second round elsewhere. Who knows what’s next?
53 Dimitrov Like Cilic, Dimitrov was ranked as high as No.3 within the past 18 months, but he’s slumped even harder. He’s just 11-12 in 2019, on a four-match losing streak, and the first-round losses are mounting: Madrid, Rome, Queen’s, Wimbledon, Atlanta. New coach Andre Agassi is yet to make an obvious impact, while a shoulder injury earlier in the season seems to have robbed him of momentum and confidence.

 

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