Todd’s Tennis Takes – Djokovic Dominates First Third of Season – ATPTuesday, April 21, 2015 21:00
Notes on the first third of the ATP season – Djokovic dominates.
Djokovic Dominates First Third of Season
And Other News & Notes from the ATP
Novak Djokovic, now 30-2 on the year, is dominating the ATP right now like few ever before. By winning his 2nd Monte Carlo title Sunday over Berdych (7-5, 4-6, 6-3), he became the only man to win all 3 of the first Masters events of the season. In his statement 2011 season, when he opened the year with a 41 match winning streak (43 overall), he skipped Monte Carlo due to a knee injury. Also in 2011, he set a record winning 5 of the 9 Masters titles…with 3 already under his belt and 6 to play, that’s another record in jeopardy. Going back to 2014, he’s now won the last 6 biggest titles on the tour, and going back to the beginning of Wimbledon last year, he’s posted a record of 23-2 vs. ATP Top 10 opponents while taking home 8 titles in that span.
The mental letdowns that plagued him at key moments during big matches in the few years following his breakthrough 2011 have all but disappeared. He was less than his best Sunday against a very improved Berd Dog – much better feel these days – but still relied on his unparalleled, artistic defense to maintain enough steadiness in rallies to force great play and too much risk out of the tall Czech. His 6-3, 6-3 demolition of Nadal in the semis was far higher-level tennis, as Nadal showed glimpses of his old, mind-boggling play (‘How’d he get that?!!!?!?’), but couldn’t maintain his highest levels. And his best wasn’t enough anyway for Djoker’s stellar play in that match.
In the bigger picture, Novak’s stature among the all-time greats is rapidly rising. Consider his resume:
52 Titles - 10th all-time ATP wins.
8 Grand Slams - Tied for 8th all-time…with Perry, Rosewall, Connors, Lendl, Agassi
15 Slam Finals - 8th all-time
25 Slam Semis - 5th all-time
143 Weeks at #1 - 6th all-time
23 Masters Titles - Tied w/ Roger for 2nd all-time
8X Finished Year End Top 3 - 6th all-time
3X ATP Year-End #1 - Tied for 6th all-time
He’s clearly Top 10 All-Time material at this point, and who knows how much higher by the time it’s all over, especially if he completes the career slam at the French this year. Vegas now has him as the 11/10 favorite vs. Nadal’s 13/8. A couple weeks ago they were both 11/8. My eyeballs tell me he’s the favorite, too.
American Jack Sock Vaults to #35
The decline of USA men on the ATP tour has been well chronicled the last few years, but 22 year-old Jack Sock has given America a new hope, recently winning his first ATP title on home soil in Houston (clay). Sock beat fellow American Sam Querrey in the final, boosting him to a career-high ranking of #35, second among Americans behind John Isner (#19).
Sock’s title came on the heels of impressive performances at the U.S. Masters swing in March, where he went a combined 5-2, beating #16 Agut, #23 Fognini, and #36 Muller in the process. He beat Agut again in Houston (2nd Round), and also beat #17 Kevin Anderson in the semi’s. This strong start to 2015 is no fluke, as he recorded four wins over players ranked inside the Top 30 over the last 6 months of the 2014 season, including a win over current ATP #5 Kei Nishikori at Shanghai. With a massive forehand, top flight serve, and good wheels, Sock looks like a good bet to reach the Top 20 before too long. He certainly seems to have more upside than Querrey, who topped out at #17 four years ago.
More ATP Youths Making Noise
There’s more youth to talk about, stealthily rising in the ranks. Beyond the youngsters making waves in the Top 100 is a large group of teens experiencing minor league success while paying their dues in Futures & Challenger events, aka tennis’ minor leagues.
Jared Donaldson (18, #170…Oct 9, ’96) - Donaldson is an American who first made noise at the 2013 US Open when he won two rounds in the men’s qualies, beating two players inside the Top 250 as a 16 year old. Then in 2014, he won 3 straight Futures titles before focusing on Challenger level events, eventually winning his first Challenger earlier this year in Maui. In his latest tourney, he beat former ATP #8 Radek Stepanek (currently #119) in Round 1 before losing to ATP #88 Delbonis in the QFs.
Hyeon Chung (18, #107…b. May 19th, ’96) - Move over Hyung-Taik Lee, there’s now another South Korean making waves on the ATP Tour. Chung is a small, speedy right-hander from South Korea who can play incredibly steady while also choosing the right moments to be aggressive. I watched his Wimby ’13 Jr’s QF match against current ATP #55 Borna Coric, a match he’d win in straight sets…after beating Nick Kyrgios (ATP #41) the prior round. He beat Granollers at Miami a few weeks ago, before then qualifying and making the 2nd round at Houston. He looks to be just a couple years away from being a Top 50 staple for a while.
Elias Ymer (19, #192…b. April 10, ’96) - Ymer is a skinny 6 foot black guy from Sweden, originally of Ethiopian decent. He’s full of fast-twitch fibers and a high-octane game that belies his slight build. I watched his 1st round Aussie match a bit with some tennis broadcasters this year when he blew a 2 set to 1 lead over Go Soeda after qualifying to get in. The consensus opinion was that he had Top 50 game eventually…really knows how to take a crack at the ball.
Quentin Halys (18, #321…b. Oct 26, ’96) - Halys hails from France (sorry…I had to), and is listed as ‘ambidextrous’ at the ATP website, though he seems to play right-handed. He has made 4 Futures finals this year, losing the first two and winning the subsequent two. He also took rising 21 yr old Lucas Pouille (ATP #98) to a 3rd set tiebreaker before losing in the 1st rnd of a Challenger earlier this month. He has good size and a powerful forehand, and watching clips of the 2014 Boys US Open final, looks like he could (and should) dramatically improve his serve.
In addition to these names, longtime ATP stat whiz Greg Sharko pointed out all the 17 yr olds inside the Top 500 via Twitter a couple days ago: #317 Roman Safiullin…#329 Andrey Rublev (beat #54 Carreno Busta 1st Rnd @ Miami)…#382 Omar Jasika (2014 US Open Boys champ)…#434 Stefan Kozlov…#436 Duckhee Lee (just 16 yrs old, recently took his first Futures title)…and then #450 Francis Tiafoe, an athletic young American I watched win the Easter Bowl juniors 18′s a year ago. Tiafoe has recorded five Top 300 wins since the beginning of March, including a win over #166 Bjorn Fratangelo in making his first Challenger QF. He’s an interesting story, too, as he grew up at a tennis academy in D.C., living there with his dad, the facilty’s maintenance man.
And finally, watch out for rising young American star Taylor Fritz from San Diego, also 17 and at #811 in the ATP rankings. Fritz recently won this year’s Easter Bowl 18′s, and also won a round in qualies at Indian Wells in March, beating longtime tour journeyman Dudi Sela 6-3, 6-0. Fritz has clocked serves at 130 mph, using his 6’4″ frame to full advantage. Fritz also recently made the finals of a major International junior tourney, losing to Rublev (above…ATP #329) 6-4 in the 3rd set. Both his parents were tennis players as well, his mom Kathy May Fritz a Top 20 player on the WTA tour in ’70s.
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