Archives for 2022

2023: The outlook for American women

Jessica Pegula
Rick Limpert

American Jessica Pegula finished the year ranked No. 3, but at times she could be upset on the court. The 28-year-old finally won a huge tournament in Guadalajara dismissing Maria Sakkari in the final. But soon thereafter in the WTA Finals in Texas, she did not win against three opponents.

Oh well, in 2022, she went from flawless to floundering.

“It just gets frustrating after it happening so many times in a year; I don’t think that’s happened so many times to someone else as it did to me, so that’s why I was very frustrated,” she said.

A few years ago, she was outside of the top 60, and she was somewhat consistent, but she was not aggressive enough. Then she had decided that win or lose, when she has a real chance to jump on the ball, she would go for the lines. But that can be risky.

“All these challenges and I just did a good job of handling it, knowing I’m in a really tough section and maybe someone in my section is going to win the tournament and I think just decided more like, ‘Okay this is my chance to work my way through the draw and be that person that’s going to win,’ ” she said.

Pegula is the top American, just ahead of No. 7 Coco Gauff. They both play doubles together, a decent amount, and they are No. 3.

Pegula has yet to reach the semifinals at a Grand Slam, but she could do that next year. To do it, she has thrown in some new shots.

“Luckily it worked out but it’s definitely challenging but at the same time if you take it the right way it can be extremely motivating,” she said.

NOTES

Gauff has had a very good year, as the 18-year-old improved a lot. But there are times when she gets deep into the tournaments, she can miss a lot of shots. She can hit the balls pretty hard, but she can be predictable. It will take her years to correctly decide which strokes to hit. That did happen with former No. 1 Ash Barty. When she started, she always had a lot of variety, but when she played from the backcourt, her shots could be very short. Eventually, she grew up and her forehand, her first serve and the return rose so high.

The good thing for Gauff is that the reason why she plays lots of doubles, that the No. 7 is pretty good at the net and when she returns. In 2023, she can bring it into the singles and possible win a Grand Slam. But that is a big maybe.

With the retirement of 23-Grand-Slam-winner Serena Williams, which players can win a major next year? Obviously, Gauff, but you can throw in the rest of the top 30 such as Americans Madison Keys, Danielle Collins and Amanda Anisimova.

Coco Gauff
Mal Taam/MaltPhoto

The veteran Keys has gone years without great results. When she was playing terrific with her massive strokes, but she has pulled out a lot due to her injuries. She is making the effort, but the No. 11 is not that fast, and she still is not comfortable at the net. At the 2016 US Open, she reached the final, and it looked like that eventually, she would grab it someday. But now, it is very questionable. Maybe she will have a few more years when she is looking like that she is jolly. This year, she had two very good tournaments at the Australian Open and Cincinnati, but that was it. She has to be more advanced, especially about her second serve and at the net.

Collins is so up and down. She did have some strong results, such as at the Australian Open, when she reached the final, beating Iga Swiatek before she lost to Barty. The No. 14 Collins loves to swing away, and she can boom the ball, but she throws in too many errors. The 28-year-old wants to continue to mix it up, and that is a good thing, but in order to get better results, then she should add some different thumps.

Anisimova started at No. 81 in January and now she is ranked No. 23, which is good because she got hurt at the US Open, and then she could not play for the rest of the year. She is only 21 years old. Let us assume that she is continuing how to really play when she is extremely close. This year she did win some tough matches, but she has also lost against Simona Halep twice, Aryna Sabalenka and Ons Jabeur, among others. However, Anisimova did out hit against the four-time major champion Naomi Osaka. She was up in the top of the world. But not always. The Floridian can be very frustrated, but each year, if she wants to build with her strokes, she needs to find something new, and some very cool.

By the way, outside of the top 30, there are three Grand Slam winners who are still playing: Sloane Stephens, Sofia Kenin and Venus Williams. Clearly, the seven-time Grand Slam champ Venus is 42 years old, and she is too slow now. She may retire next year.

Stephens, who won the 2017 U.S. Open, she did not play well almost all year. Will she return and strike the ball hard?

Almost three years ago, Kenin won the Australian Open. But now she is ranked No. 238. She has played quite a bit this season, but she cannot get moving again. Something is going on. Why? No one really knows.

Novak Djokovic vs. Casper Ruud: Who will turn on the tide?

When Novak Djokovic gets into the tiebreak, then the 21-Grand-Slam champion can settle in. Over the years, he can miss more than a few shots, but he does know that when the tensio

n is there, then he can be calmer than his opponent.

On Saturday, he ended Taylor Fritz maiden trip to the ATP Finals 7-6(5) 7-6(6) in the semis. The American missed a couple chances, little ones. But in order to chop down Djokovic, he had to really go for it. For the most part, Fritz looked excellent. If he ever wants to win a Grand Slam, then when he practices in November and December, he will have to do something new that could turn on the tide.

Djokovic has had a difficult year, off the court. But on the court, he is wonderful again. He won Wimbledon, but because he didn’t get vaccinated for the coronavirus, he could not play at the Australian Open and the US Open.

On Friday, he edged Daniil Medvedev in three marathon sets. Then in the next day, his legs looked decent — not great— but he is an incredible shape.

“I had to fight to survive,” he said.

On Sunday, he will face Casper Ruud, who played amazing and making only a few errors. He nailed Andrey Rublev 6-2, 6-4. Over the past two years, he worked very hard to hone and fix his strokes. Now, not only is he is super confident, while his coaches, Christian Ruud and Toni Nadal, taught him to be more creative and stable.

The last time that Rudd and Djokovic played was at Rome, and the Serbian won in straight sets. However, in 2022, the 23-year-old advanced into three finals at Miami, Roland Garros and the US Open. He lost those but at least he got there. Now in Italy, that will be four. So go for it.

“It’s tough sometimes because things are obviously going great, but sometimes they can go almost too well,” Ruud said.

ATP Finals: Novak Djokovic is flawless

Novak Djokovic
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Novak Djokovic is climbing. On Wednesday he crushed Andrey Rublev 6-4 6-1. In the second set, the multiple Grand Slam champion played spectacularly, with his super consistent backhand, speed, and deep returns. When Djokovic is on, it is very tough for the best players to upend him.

Rublev can whack his backhand. But, if he can’t figure out his opponent, he collapses.

“He went down in his energy a little in the second and I wanted to use the momentum and energy from my side in the first few games and it was a flawless second set,” Djokovic said.

Djokovic has won four sets in his first two round-robin matches, gaining a path into the semis. Yes, when he is on, he can beat anyone. He is the favorite, ready to win another huge event. , but there are still some very good players who can overtake him.

Stefanos Tsitsipas almost lost against the former No. 1 Daniil Medvedev, but he won 6-3 6-7(11) 7-6(1). Medvedev was up 5-4 with a break. But he made a few awful errors, and it was 5-5. After that, he collapsed, while Tsitsipas rose up, with some wonderful shots.

Medvedev won’t advance to the semis, as he lost both matches. He did win at the 2021 US Open, but this year, he has had some bizarre tournaments. Of course he is extremely consistent when he is on. However, over the past 12 months, he has not added his game. Of course he has a fast first serve, and also, his forehand and his backhand are more regular, but he doesn’t come at the net enough. Also, he does not attack on his returns. If he wants to win another Slam next year, or at the ATP 1000s, then when he practices in December, he was to changed it up.

Tsitsipas and Rublev are are 1-1 in the Red Group and will face each other on Friday. The pressure will be huge. Whomever wins will go into the semis, so they will slash each other, toe to toe.

In the Green Group, Rafa Nadal lost both matches in straight sets and won’t advance. Casper Ruud is undefeated and Taylor Fritz and Felix Auger-Aliassime are vying for a slot in the semis.

Will Stefanos Tsitsipas become No. 1?

Stefanos Tsitsipas
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Stefanos Tsitsipas may actually end the year at No. 1. He has had a very good year, but not phenomenal. The reason Tsitsipas could jump into the top slot is the current No. 1. Carlos Alcaraz got hurt in Paris and has stopped playing the rest of the year. Had he actually played in Turin, then almost for sure, he would have stayed No. 1 at the end of 2022.

Tsitipas has to win all his ATP Finals matches to ascend to the holy grail of No. 1. That streak will have to include Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and Novak. Djokovic in the Red Group.

That will be difficult, because in 2021, he was injured and he could not sustain that level. But when he is on, he can be sprited. In 2019, he won it at the ATP Finals in London edging Dominic Thiem in three tough sets. He wants to do it again. Next week the current No. 3 needs to nail more winners to take down all comers.

In Paris, the Greek was so close to beating Novak Djokovic in three amazing sets. But the former No. 1 hit some incredible shots. Tsitsipas could have put it away with great shots close to the corners and deep, but he became confused right at the end and he went down 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(4). He was frustrated,

This year, Tsitsipas won two titles in Mallorca and Monte Carlo. Yes, he took down some of the best players. But he lost to the top 15 a good amount.

“I unfortunately played just one match and I didn’t really have the opportunity to show my real game out there,” Tsitsipas said. “I’m really excited to be playing in Italy. The Italians are really passionate when it comes to tennis. They put a lot of their energy out on the courts and the stadiums. They have a great culture in tennis the last couple of years. They’ve always loved my game, they’ve always greeted me very nicely. They have a sort of different aura when it comes to the game, which I appreciate a lot.”
When he finishes a match, then he can go home at a hotel, and he can think about where he is. He studies the matches, what he did, and also, did he do it the right way, or was it all wrong?

“I do chase [ranking] points a lot,” he said. “I know they are very important. I understand their value, what they can offer in terms of a ranking upgrade or having a better season than the ones before. I calculate, of course, I try to use my mind to improve in terms of points, things like defending and all that stuff.”

If he makes to reach the semis, then he might face Rafa Nadal, Casper Ruud, Felix Auger-Aliassime or Taylor Fritz. The three young players are right there, ready to win it for the first time, in front of the massive crowds.

However, Djokovic has won it five times. The 21-Grand Slam-winner Djokovic is biting his lips, ready to crush all comers. Tsitsipas is doing that too, possibly in a secret. Right now, when it is super close, he has go for the lines and smash another winner. He cannot hold back.

NOTES
What a great year by American Brandon Nakashima, who won the Next Generation ATP Finals in Milan. He beat Jiri Lehecka in the final. He also won San Diego. Next year, the fast hitter has a good chance to get into the top 30 soon. Now, he is very confident.

The Next Generation ATP Finals started a few years ago. The 21-and-under, format has included winners some of whom are now in the top 10. The winners were Alcaraz, Jannik Sinner, Tsitsipas and Chung Hyeon. The runner-up were Andrey Rublev, Alex de Minaur and Sebastian Korda. I think it is pretty obvious that when you see them play, they are already moving fast, with some terrific strokes. Yes, they have to improve their consistency, but if they keep on it, then for sure, they will beat some of the high players. They already have.

Caroline Garcia wins the WTA Finals: ‘She dashed all over the place’

Caroline Garcia
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Over the past 30 years, in the, only four players have won hte WTA Finals without taking a Grand Slam: Agnieszka Radwańska, Dominika Cibulková, Elina Svitolina and now, it is Caroline Garcia.

The now-cool veteran Garcia was never broken and beat the powerful Aryna Sabalenka 7-6 (4), 6-4. Sabalenka, who had a terrific week in Fort Worth. When she became frustrated, she turned it around. She was very close against the Frenchwomen. But, when the match was to be decided, Garcia would go for it with a lot of depth and creativity. While Sabalenka looked very good, but when she had the opening to pull it into the third set, she made some odd errors. 

Garcia was super-focused, and she dashed all over the place. That was pretty surprising, because 10 years ago, she looked very decent, but she was not excellent all the time. On court, she could be intense, but at other times, she would mentally walk away.

But not now. In the past three months, she looked very strong, and finally realized that if she could push her with her forehand, backhand and her terrific first serve, then she could beat anyone.

After beating Sabalenka, she said, “I had to try something new, and I like to challenge when I am going. That was very important.”

Not only did she beat Sabalenka, but it the semis, she almost stunned the No. 1, Iga Świątek. She really earned it. She was very calm and very effective. Plus, Garcia had to play almost every day, and really, it did not matter. Yes, everyone can be tired, but Garcia edged Daria Kasatkina 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (5) in 2 hours, 27 minutes. The next day, she prevailed again, with no fear.

Next year, the now No. 4 Garcia has a chance to win a Grand Slam. She has won 11 titles on hard courts and on grass in singles. But on the clay, she has been spotty. However she won Roland Garros in doubles twice. Maybe next year, she can win it in singles in Paris. That would be phenomenal.

Rune takes down top-10 players to win Paris 1000
Instead on saluting the veterans, how about Holger Rune, the 19-year-old who sort of stunned Novak Djokovic in three long sets in Paris? In January, he was ranked No. 103, and now he is currently No. 10. What a turned around! There are not many teenagers to enter into the top 10, such as Rafa Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz.

The Dane Rune was surprised about moving up so quickly.  “I didn’t expect that at all four or five weeks ago but now I’m here,” said Rune. “I’m super happy how I officially ended my season, and if there possibly is more matches.” He will be the first alternate at the ATP Finals. If he plays, then more of the tennis world will see just how good he is.

Rune has won 19 of his past 21 matches, beating four top 10 other players: Stefanos Tsitsipas, Hubert Hurkacz, Andrey Rublev and Felix Auger-Aliassime.

One of his coaches, Patrick Mouratoglou, who also works with the WTA players and appears on TV, too, said: “We have to be very transparent on this. He can progress. He can improve much more. There are elements where he can actually improve very much,” Mouratoglou said. “We are reaching the end of the season. We will work on that. It’s not really that there is a danger, but there is a lot of work to provide. He’s Top 10. It’s not his ambition. I don’t know [if] we have seen actually his top tennis. It’s higher than before, but we have to upgrade his average tennis play and to make sure that his normal average play is as excellent as we have seen so far.”

Carlos Alcaraz: ‘I’m lucky to end the year as No. 1’

Carlos Alcaraz
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

After Rafa Nadal lost couple days ago in Paris. So, in a couple weeks, it appears that Carlos Alcaraz will end the year at No. 1. He already has reached in the quarters in Paris, and win or lose, when he goes to the ATP Finals, he might be thinking that he can win it for the first time with the top eight

Unfortunately, on Friday, Alcatraz retired down 3-6 6-6 in the tiebreak against the very good player, Holger Rune. He said, “Having had treatment on an abdominal muscle.” That is tough and hopefully he will play at the ATP Finals.

He is happy, though, usually off the court. On the court, he pumps himself up many times.
 
“Well, I’m lucky to end the year as No. 1. That’s all I can say,” he said. “It has been a great year for me. But I’m gonna end the year like the previous ones. When I finish the last tournaments, I’m going to have holidays, and then really focus to have a good preseason, to focus on the start next season as great as I can, starting in Australia with all the focus on Australian Open. It’s gonna be a normal end of year for me.”

Not quite normal. When he started this year, he was ranked No. 31, which was very good, but the 19-year-old still has his whole career in front of him to work on his powerful strokes and, also, how to adjust and re-adjust. Also, the superfast player has to grind it, here and there, and then when he has a real chance, then he could go for it. Even if he misses his shots, he could just go to the next point and keep trying to remain focused. He won’t dominate every week, but a heck of a lot of them.

This year Alcaraz won Rio de Janeiro, Miami, Barcelona, Madrid and the US Open. He has beaten many in the top 10, like Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Casper Ruud and Hubert Hurkacz. When he won it at Flushing Meadows, he beat three players in five sets, but he was not tired at all. He just kept churning. That’s when he ascended to No. 1. Talk about being so thrilled.

“Of course it’s a great feeling, to let’s say in a little part to feel the best player in the world,” Alcaraz said with a smile. “For me, it’s just a number. It’s just a ranking. Obviously, it doesn’t mean that you’re gonna win every match, every tournament. Every players can beat you. I see like that, right now. I just feel I can lose every match, and that’s the most important thing. You have to play your best match in every match or at least you have to try to play the best level in every match. That’s what I see in that moment right now.”

He certainly does. His coach Juan Carlos Ferrero has worked with Alcaraz for a while. Fererro won a Grand Slam at ’03 Roland Garros. When Ferrero got on court,at the Slams, he was super nervous, and then he would back off. Eventually, though, he moved forward, and he finally figured it out. When the former No. 1 Ferrero retired, he captured only one Grand Slam. He didn’t step up during the ‘03 US Open final, when Andy Roddick put him down in four tough sets.

If Alcaraz continues to improve at the net and with his returns, then for sure he has a real chance to win many Slams. At the ATP Finals, if he continues to play fantastic, then he could build a way into tennis immortality.

WTA Finals
At the WTA Finals, there have been some terrific matches. But, over the past four days, there have been very few fans coming into to watch the players in Fort Worth, Texas. It is the first year, so it will take a while to get used to it, but over the many years, from Monday through Thursday, early in the day, there are not enough fans and that looks horrible on TV. It is November, when fans can be on vacation.

I went to various WTA Finals over the years in Los Angeles, Istanbul, Turkey and Singapore.

In downtown Los Angeles I would walk over the Staples Center, and there were so many excellent matches. But, during the days, Monday through Thursday, only maybe 1,000-2,000 came in. Now on Friday at night, then more people would come and it would be much bigger in Saturday and Sunday. Here and there, it would be packed.
 
The same thing goes with Turkey and Singapore. There are some really nice people, some very good food, plus in the cities, but again, early on, during the day, there were not enough people walking inside to watch the tennis. The Saturday-Sunday, yes, more people came, but not enough.

How about right now? The World Series is in play with Houston ahead 3-2 of Philadelphia 3 games to 2. Yesterday, they played on Thursday night in Philadelphia and the fans were totally packed. Sold out, 46,000 watching.

The same thing will happen in Houston on Saturday at 5 p.m. So, when they do, how many fans in the WTA Finals will attend on Saturday … maybe 5,000? More? Less? We will find out shortly.

Outside of that, Iga Swiatek is on fire. She won two matches, crushing Caroline Garcia 6-3, 6-2. As Garcia said, she could not handle her this time. The Frenchwoman has had an excellent year, as she is much more aggressive than she used to be. However, Swiatek is so focused, and she can crack her forehand and her backhand. The No. 1 now has an excellent first serve, and she is so fast. Swiatek has made it into the semis, so can anyone upset her? Perhaps, but you have to dig in.

Maria Sakkari won two matches, so she will make it into the semis, too. Earlier, she knocked down American Jessica Pegula. Sakkari is so steady. Pegula looked mentally out of it this week. She lost another match, so she won’t advance.

Neither will Coco Gauff, who lost twice, losing versus Daria Kasatkina on Thursday night, 7-6(6), 6-3. The teenager No. 4 Gauff had a solid year, and she has definitely improved. But to win a huge tournament in 2023, she has to be more stable, on the court. They all do.

Weekend winners: Félix Auger-Aliassime and Daniil Medvedev

Felix Auger-Aliassime

By winning in Basel Félix Auger-Aliassime has taken three crowns in a row. He has been hitting some terrific serves. Last year, when he was serving, the first serve was effective, but the second serve proved to be pretty flat and predicable. But now, he understands how to vary speed and placement. During his winning streak, he knows which way to go.

His confidence is soaring. Now, he has a solid shot to make the ATP Finals in Turin.

Imagine that? The 22-year-old is convinced he finally understands the combinations and how to succeed with his big forehand, consistent backhand and hard returns hard into the corners. Plus, he can thrown in lot of spin, and he change it up. Also, he is very fast.

Perhaps the Canadian can beat all of the top players, eventually. But, right now, the challenge is to win an ATP 1000 or a Grand Slam. He has not done it yet, even though that he upset the No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz in the semis in Switzerland.

“It’s been an amazing week,” said Auger-Aliassime. “Once again in the final, not getting broken all week. … [It’s been] a long year, a long stretch of wins, and it’s not over. So hopefully I can keep going, but right now I’m feeling all the good emotions that come with winning a tournament.”

Medvedev takes Vienna

The former 2021 US Open champ Daniil Medvedev won again, this time he grabbed the ATP 500 Vienna Open, stepping past Denis Shapovalov in three sets. The Russian has had a strange year, winning and also getting upset. So it is still hard to say that when he arrives in Paris, will he be pumped up or a little bit wild on court?

However, last week he was locked in. When he is mentally sound, then he can pound the ball all the time. He can sprint, he can nail it down the line, and he can dominate cross court with both wings.

Medvedev does not smile that much, on court, but when he hits an amazing winner, then he cheers, with the fans. The No. 3 is growing up.

“I like to play indoor hard courts at the end of the season,” Medvedev said. “I feel that I do a great job with my team not to arrive burnt out. I am looking forward to the last two tournaments of the year which are really important and I usually play well.”

Last year in Paris, he lost in the semis to Novak Djokovic. The Serbian will play along with Rafa Nadal, too. But if Medvedev goes deep indoors he could go up against Auger-Aliassime. That could be a fantastic match.

The only U.S. man who have change to play on the ATP Finals is Taylor Fritz. But it is almost impossible to pull it off unless he plays lights out and wins Paris. At least he has a very good year.

The American men are in Paris are Frances Tiafoe, Sebastian Korda, Brandon Nakashima, Tommy Paul, John Isner and Maxime Cressy. They are all in the top 51. That is good, but for many fans, they want all of them to crack into the top 10. Next year, they hope.

Jessica Pegula finally wins a huge tournament

Jessica Pegula
Rick Limpert

Who would have known five years ago that Jessica Pegula would win a tournament — any tournament. She was steady at times, but she was not blasting the ball. She had chances, yet she would back off, and she would hope that her opponent would miss it.

Pegula knew that if she beat some excellent players, then her confidence would help reset her career.

Finally this year she won a huge event for the first time, winning the 1000 Guadalajara and beating Maria Sakkari 6-2, 6-3 in the final. During the match, she knew that if she attack with her ground strokes to different areas, then she could eventually prevail. That she did. Also, her return was excellent. Not only that, she also beat Elena Rybakina, Bianca Andreescu, Sloane Stevens, and Vika Azarenka, four Grand Slam champs. Whether she had to go for it soon, or just be patient, and she had it all.

Currently, she is No. 3 for the first time, and she is close to pushing past the No. 2 Ons Jabeur at the WTA Final, which will start on Saturday in Fort Worth. She will not be able to pass No. 1 Iga Świątek. But if they play each other, maybe Pegula can find a path to victory. They played each other this month in San Diego and the Pole out-hit her in three sets. To win the match, Pegula will have to be super assertive, because Świątek slams the ball all the time.

Auger-Aliassime rises

Last year, Felix Auger-Aliassime looked super when he was playing well. Plus he can be very enthusiastic. But he could not win the tournaments, falling in the Stuttgart and Melbourne finals and in Marseille this year.

Then, all of a sudden, he changed. His serve became more harmonious, his backhand was going deep and his return was finally thoughtful.

On Sunday, he beat American Sebastian Korda 6-3, 6-4 in Antwerp. In 2022, Auger-Aliassime has won three titles, and the Canadian is up to No. 9, and he has a real chance to play in the ATP Finals. The biggest thing will be in the Paris Masters, which will start in October 31. There will be serious pressure.

During the last two weeks, Korda finally came up, and he reached into finals twice. The 22-year-old decided to be more patient and, when he had a real opening, he shattered the ball. His father, Petr, won the Australian Open,in 1998, would also be patient but then he would rush into the net. Maybe the No. 33 Sebastian will do the same.

It was a bit of a surprise when Holger Rune took down Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 6-4 to win Stockholm. However, the Dane is only 19 years old, so he can really hit it. He still isn’t perfect, yet, but he did have a fine run at 2022 Roland Garros beating, believe it or not, Tsitsipas.

Another youngster, Lorenzo Musetti, upset Matteo Berrettini 7-6(5) 6-2 in the Naples final. This season, Musetti did not win that many matches in the hardcourts, but the teenager is getting smarter each month. He was aggressive in the match. But, to move up the rankings, his serve and his return needs to grow and blossom.

The American men: ‘Turn on the lights’

Sebastian Korda
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Sebastian Korda won today in Belgium. He is ranked No. 36, which is very decent. But like everyone, he wants to go much higher. He plays a lot, and he can be super consistent, and he can also mix it up, a lot. Just like his father, Petr, who won the 1998 Australian Open, who was an aggressive player. He rose to  No. 2 but wasn’t quick enough to stay there.

The younger Korda is faster on the court, but at times he is not aggressive enough. He is only 22 years old, and should be able to make up for the lack of power by being much more thoughtful on the court.

The American men can be very good, but they have yet to win a Grand Slam yet. Taylor Fritz is ranked No. 9 and he has a solid shot to play in the ATP Finals. He did win Indian Wells over Rafa Nadal. He can be in-your-face with his outstanding forehand and backhand. He can get frustrated and get upset, but now he can turn it around. He finally went into the top 10, which is huge, and he has beaten some excellent players, such as Andrey Rublev, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Alexander Zverev. However, he has lost to some mediocre players.

The same lack of consistency is styming the other young American.  Fritz beat Korda in 2022, and he also tripped up Frances Tiafoe, another fine American. This season Tiafoe rose higher, not only riding his big strokes, but now he can read  how to combat his opponent. His first serve can be huge and he is now much better at to the net. He can be spin his groundstrokes and bash them back. He likely will not qualify at the ATP Finals, but the No. 17 can eventually rest when the year is over and realize that in 2023 he can leap into the top 10.

The fascinating thing is at some point one of the Americans will have the goods to win a Grand Slam. I do not mean the women, because Serena and Venus Williams have won 30 majors, a record for sisters. That is almost mind-blowing.

But can the American men chop down the top 5 players in the three out of five sets, such as No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz, Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Casper Ruud, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas have done? In the two out of three, it is possible. Nadal and Djokovic are the smartest player perhaps ever, and their fitness is over the top.

How about this? None of these American men have reached the semis at a Slam, which means they have miles to go.

When they talk, they do believe that they can beat the odds and put together a huge amount of aces. And winners, too. This week, Mackenzie McDonald has reached the semis. Reilly Opelka has had a good year, as well as Tommy Paul, Maxime Cressy, Jenson Brooksby and Brandon Nakashima. They are in the top 50, and you can throw in John Isner, who is ranked No. 49. But the 37-year-old is sliding. He has had some wonderful matches, but you cannot stay a force forever.

At the start of 2023, they will be so enthusiastic to excel. So in January, turn on the lights.

The weekend winners: Auger-Aliassime, Rublev, Świątek

Felix Auger-Aliassime
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

It has taken Felix Auger-Aliassime a while to be more consistent when playing finals. But this year, his experience and mental game has gained ground. The Canadian won the event in in Florence, beating American, J. J. Wolf, 6-4 6-4. A couple years ago watching Auger-Aliassime, he looked very decent, but there were times when he made to many mistakes and then he would lose. However, week after week, he began to understand what he would do. Not only could he have many long rallies, but then, when he was feeling good, he would push himself and slam the ball. He is back in the top 10 now and he really wants to play in November in the ATP Finals. That is a gigantic challenge, but he will make a galactic effort.

Wolf went to Ohio State University and starred there for three years. He won a lot of matches, and then he was ready to play on the ATP Tour. It has taken him a solid two years before he was more comfortable to do for it on court. He decided he is ready and now he is ranked No. 56, which is pretty good because he is only 23 years old. He swings super hard although he can be upset when he misses. Whether he can get into the top 32 next year and have a seed at a Grand Slam, that is possible, but you never know about anyone.

Rublev wins in Spain
Speaking of Andrey Rublev, who won Gijon, beating the other American Sebastian Korda 6-2, 6-3. Rublev was super solid, and he hit a lot of winners from the backcourt. He can be ticked off and upset, but when he was on the court, he was locked in early. When he is reading the ball, the Russian can spin it around and move it all over the place. He can also return well, here and there, getting it deep. The No. 8 is very good, but he has yet to win a huge event. If he isn’t injured, then he has to prove it. He can beat anyone either at the ATP 1000 [he has reached two finals before] or a Grand Slam. He has won 12 titles, but he has to shine on a bigger stage.

American Korda can look terrific on court but he can also be a little bit wild. He is still pretty young, and he plays a lot at the tournaments, but perhaps he should go home and practice a lot. The No. 36 can be fun to watch, but he can also look pretty spaced out.

The last American man to win a Slam has now been 19 years ago when Andy Roddick won the 2003 US Open. In 2023, that will be 20 years with no guys in the final? Perhaps Taylor Fritz can pull it off, given that he won the 2022 Indian Wells, a 1000 ATP tournament. But again, he has to improve every month, just like Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic have done.

No. 1 Świątek takes San Diego
In San Diego, Iga Świątek won another title again, beating Donna Vekic 6-3, 3-6, 6-0. In the third set, the Pole turned it on, stringing together so many spectacular winners. She is just so firm and intense on the court. Last year, she looked pretty good, but she could be erratic. Then, in February, after Ash Barty retired, she rose up with her massive forehand and backhand. She can really hustle, and she can go way down on the ground and slap it back.

Świątek has matured a lot and there is no doubt that she will continue as No. 1 until someone else trips her.

Vekic had a terrific week, hitting super hard and finally being more consistent. She has been around for a while, and yes, she has beaten some good players, but she has seldom upset the top 10 competitors. At least she did this week, when she upset the other American Danielle Collins 7-6(2) in the semifinal third set. It finally rained in Southern California (very, very rare) at night. So, they had to wait to play again until it was dry on Saturday night.

However, in the third set against Świątek on Sunday, Vekic disappeared. Maybe she was exhausted. But next time, she has to be more confident. They all do.