Previewing The Rest Of Tennis Season
Since the US Open, there have been some subtle shifts in the tennis landscape, but none nearly as noteworthy as Andy Murray’s breakthrough championship at Flushing Meadows. The budding rivalry between Murray and Djokovic has continued to materialize though: the Scot and the Serb met in another epic final in Shanghai last Sunday. Post- US Open tennis though is not usually a time for the big four to showcase their skills, it’s a time for the middle of the pack to take advantage of the top players resting up before the Aussie Open. Here are a few thoughts as we head into the truly final leg of tennis season.
World Tour Champs. While minor tournaments and Paris are left on the schedule, the only true headliner tournament before the season’s close is the World Tour Finals (WTF for short) in London in mid-November. The top 8 in the ATP rankings square off in a round robin format until the semifinals, where it’s a winner-take-all best of three sets for bragging rights. The tourney is not nearly as prestigious as the Grand Slams, but it’s still good fun, and there is some competition to qualify. Seven of the eight spots are pretty much locked up, but there should be a battle in Paris for that eighth spot. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga currently holds the 8th spot, but he has to defend finalist points at the Paris masters, meaning an early exit could spell doom for the native Frenchmen. Janko Tipsarevic and Nicolas Almagro could be the beneficiary of a Tsonga loss, but don’t count on it- the Frenchman always brings it at his home court.
Tennis Old Age. This topic has been touched on by numerous tennis writers, but it may as well have a few more thoughts on it written down. The age for a tennis players prime is going up, to the point where 27 seems to be the point where players are breaking in on tour and playing their best tennis. The top 15 names on the ATP tour is littered with players 25 to 27 years old, with notable exceptions being (24) Juan Martin Del Potro and (21) Milos Raonic. Raonic is considered a young gun and future slam contender, but he still recently was totally out-classed by Andy Murray at the US Open. But whether or not this age shift is actually true for the tour remains to be seen. There are thoughts that tennis has simply been lacking a true prodigy like a Federer or Nadal or a Djokovic that around 20 years old, and that’s why the top players are older. The elite talent rises to the top, and right now, that elite talent is around 26 years old. We don’t know if a Milos Raonic or a Bernard Tomic can put it all together, but for right now their overall skill set looks less imposing than a 19-year old Nadal. Then again, we have been so blessed with absolute prodigies over the past decade that we may not see a new one for a number of years. Again, this is a development worth looking at and it will monitored over the next few seasons.
State of American Tennis. Periodically TBS has been checking in on the sorry state of American tennis players. With Andy Roddick retired, the US has lost a perennial stalwart of the ATP tour, capable of going deep in grand slams and giving the top 5 a minor scare. The remaining top US players have serious question marks surrounding their ability to make a dent at the top of the game. John Isner is ranked just outside of the top ten (#11), but his performance at Grand Slams has been underwhelming and he can’t do much outside of a booming serve. Mardy Fish could make another comeback run into the top ten, but with continuing heart problems, Fish may have more to worry about than a heavy schedule on the tour. Sam Querrey has steadily returned after a series of injuries, but he has agility problems that will limit him from breaching the top 15. Ryan Harrison- once thought to be the Great American Hope, has been hovering around the top 60 for a while now. He’s still young but has a Querrey-like ceiling, in this case, his lack of weapons limits him from approaching the game’s elite. The two young Americans to watch are Denis Kudla and Jack Sock. Both are twenty years old, and both could make inroads on tour in the upcoming year. Kudla has the type of crafty game to make some serious noise and Sock’s offensive weapons are legit. All in all though, don’t hold your breath for an American Grand Slam champion (let alone finalist) for at least a few years. There are still some exciting tennis story lines for the Americans, but the international nature of the game at this point has stunted American progress.