2020 year-end review: top 16-20, men

Pablo Carreno Busta

20. Karen Khachanov
He loves to serve, and even without moving much, he can tear winners into the corners. The Russian had a classic match at the Australian Open, losing against Nick Kyrgios, 7-6(8) in the fifth set. They pounded it for many hours. Khachanov was so close, but he didn’t handle the returns, and needed to be faster when he is running around. In 2018, he won the ATP 1000 Paris, upsetting Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokovic en route to the title. But, he hasn’t taken a title since that year. In 2021, maybe he can some new shots with spin and trickery. He can easily stay within the top 20. The next step to the top 10 and consistently making  the second weeks at the Slams is quite possible but the 24-year-old needs to be more patient.

19. Grigor Dimitrov
He is now a veteran, as he won his first title in 2013 and captured the ATP Tour Finals in 2017. He has a lot of variety, and his a one-handed backhand can deliver a lot of twirl. However, this year he was toast. At the US Open, the Bulgarian lost in the second round, showing an incomplete game. There are times when he is on top of the world. Unfortunately, he has never won a major, even though the 29-year-old reached the Grand Slam semis three times. Yes, he can be a force, but he can become erratic. In 2021, he will have some great matches. But, I don’t see a return to the top-5.

18. Stan Wawrinka
How about this? The Swiss won three Grand Slams, beating Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic twice. He knows how to play on clay, and hardcourts. He doesn’t love Wimbledon, but he has made the effort. He has a divine backhand which he can return with depth. However, he has played for a very long time, and he looks to be slowing down. In the past two years, he was hurt a lot. Can Wawrinka return into the top-5 next year? I am sure that he will have some terrific wins. But, if he feels 100 percent, than winning another Slam is not out of the question. Bring it on.

17. Fabio Fognini
Last year, the 33-year-old won the ATP 1000 Monte Carlo, upsetting Nadal, Borna Coric, Zverev and Andre Rublev. The was his the best week ever. On clay, he can dig it and is so steady with a lot of crafty variety. However, during the rest of this year, he did almost nothing, ending tis years, with 6 wins and 10 losses. That is pretty lousy. On hardcourts, he is the not the same player and needs to be more consistent. In 2021, he must turn it around or he can lose quickly. It is his decision.

16. Pablo Carreno Busta
This was a very good year for the Spaniard, who can run all day, hit with a lot of spin, volley well and crack his returns. It is surpassing that he has four ATP Tour titles, three of which are on hardcourts. His career high was No. 10 in 2017 but injuries in 2018 and 2019 knocked him back down as low as No. 6x. His rise back into the top 20 shows the strength of his overall game and ability to plug on. Even though he is still in his prime at 29, you’ve got to wonder if younger and more talented players like Khachanov, Alex de Minaur and Felix Auger-Aliassime will pass him in the rankings.

Top 20 in 2019: Men, 20-16

Grigor Dimitrov

No. 20: Grigor Dimitrov
Two years ago at the end of the year, the Bulgarian had risen to No. 3, winning the ATP Finals. He hadn’t won a Grand Slam tournament yet, but he really thought that in 2018, he was read to triumph. Well, he did not, and he went down somewhat fast in March. Even this year, pretty early, he couldn’t beat many of the players. He fell all the way to No. 78, before the US Open started. Right there, he switched, he woke up. He was steady and aggressive, when he had to. He beat Alex de Minaur as well as the great Roger Federer. That was the positive. While he was still up and down, at least when he begins to play in 2020, he will be confident again. But when he loses, early, then he panics. Dimitrov is a fun to watch, his strokes, but he has to step up ASAP or he will never win a Slam. Ever.
No. 19: John Isner
The American is still crushing his serves, and he also has his gigantic forehand. Also, a decade ago, he was somewhat weak with his backhand, and the very tall man wasn’t fast enough, side to side. It took him a long time to improve his backhand, slightly, and at the net, when he can bend down and put it away. So yes, the 34-year-old works hard aiming to get better. But, can he reach into the top 5 for the first time? Maybe next year, but he absolutely has to return substantially better. He never has, and that is critical. It is up to Isner.     

No. 18: Alex de Minaur
The young Aussie had a tremendous year, as he is only 20-years-old. He is a blaster, he attacks, he spins it and then he jump on the lines. He is pretty strong, and he moves forward quickly. Like the rest of the young players, none of them have won a Grand Slam yet. They are pushing, but to take down the best players, they need to find a way to shine three-out-of-five-set clashes. Eventually, de Minaur will be very consistent, he will think when he is down, and he maintain focus. Even though he had a fine year, if he wants to reach the top 10, or the top 5 in 2020, he must grow. There is no choice.   

No. 17: Karen Khachanov
When he is totally on, the Russian can spring it. His eyes are very wide, and he can wreck the balls. He is another young player, and he wants to play every day. But, that means he will play good, mediocre or even bad.  He really wants to raise his level. Yes, he had some very good tournaments this season, but in the fall, he was tired and he lost early a lot, and he wanted to go home. He needed to take a break. He has to learn and have a plan, before he walks on the court. If he gets smarter and actually listens, then be can push into the top 10 again. But if he plays all the time, then perhaps he will go even further behind.

No. 16: Stan Wawrinka
A few years ago, we all know the Swiss was brilliant, and incredibly confident. He has won three Grand Slams: the Australian Open, Roland Garros and the US Open. His one-handed backhand is legendary, and he can return well when he is feeling good. It looked like he was going to win another Slam, but he became seriously hurt, and he had to stop for months. This year, Wawrinka was OK but he still isn’t fully healthy. In 2020, he may be 100 percent, and then he could take off, into the sky. However, we have to see if he can be totally locked in.

US Open: Stan Wawrinka is back, and driving

Who would have thought that Stan Wawrinka would rise up at this point in his career? After all, over the past year, he wasn’t really there. He was injured, he had to stop, and then the three-time Grand Slam champion lost a lot of matches. 

But almost everyone kept trying, even though it takes time. You have to be steady, and powerful, and hit the ball deep into the court.

Wawrinka knew that against No. 1 Novak Djokovic, that he had to be very patient. Plus, to beat him, everything has to work, depending on the day. Luckily, in a sense, the Swiss didn’t have to play 100 percent, because Djokovic was hurt, and in the third set, he retired, down 6-4, 7-5, 2-1. The Serb was not happy, he has really irritated.

But that happens with almost everyone. So now Wawrinka has a chance to win the US Open once again. That it possible, but he will have to win it over three more matches. In the second week, at the Slams, it can be a blast, but it is depends who you are playing and whether you are sharp.
Wawrinka’s very good friend, Roger Federer, easily won. He hasn’t had to sweat. Federer has beaten Wawrinka so many times on hardcourts. He will be favored, but he doesn’t know that yet, because the Swiss Wawrinka has to face against Daniil Medvedev on Tuesday. The Russian is playing fantastic ball over the play six weeks. Finally, he is intelligent and he goes for the lines. I would imagine that it is a toss-up. 

Believe it or not, Federer will have to face Grigor Dimitrov, who had to stop over the last few years because his body was messed up. Even this year, he has been losing a tremendous amount, but now, the former ATP Finals winner is back. If he doesn’t get hurt again, he has a chance to shine. Both Federer and Dimitrov have a lot of different shots, so to watch the match on Tuesday, it could be fascinating. But, clearly, Federer is a better player. That is why Federer has won 20 Slams, and Dimitrov has won zero.
It was a huge win by Wang Qiang who stunned Ash Barty 6-2, 6-4. Qiang was consistent, while the Aussie Barty made a ton of mistakes. … Brit Jo Konta is playing substantially better, and she took down Karolina Pliskova 6-7(1), 6-3, 7-5. I don’t know that whether she can win it, but Konta did win Miami two years ago so maybe she can focus this week, and not get so fearful.

Who figured that on Sunday, Elina Svitolina would knock out American Madison Keys, 7-5, 6-4. While Keys has been better at the Grand Slams, but right against each other, Svitolina really hustles and she can switch it within a second. Yes, Svitolina has played some awful matches in the Slams, but now the No. 5 seems to be staying secure. If she can keep dominating with her serve, she has a real chance in New York.
Serena Williams is just so good when she focuses, and right now, she is. Serena beat Petra Martic 6-3, 6-4. While she has won 23 Grand Slams, that doesn’t mean that she can automatically grab it again. She lost in the final last year. This time, Serena will have to mix it up even more.

Top 30s in 2018, Men, 20-16

Milos Raonic

No. 20: Marco Cecchinato
Where did the Italian come from, so suddenly? A few years ago, he looked OK,but this season, the 26-year-old rebelled and he was much more dependable —early on. He won Umag and Budapest, which was not a Slam, or in the ATP 1000s, but still, at least he stuck in there. More than that, at Roland Garros, he stunned David Goffin and Novak Djokovic to reach the semis before he lost to Dominic Thiem. That was impressive. But, after that, he barely won a match during the next five months. He must regroup ASAP or he will begin to drop hard down the rankings. Here comes Australia.

No. 19: Grigor Dimitrov
The Bulgarian looked so good in 2017. He concentrated, focused and hitting the lines. But, not so in 2018 as he slipped, pretty badly. Of course, he is still in the top 20 in 2018. Now, when he is on court against the great players, you can tell that inside he is nervous and almost immediately frustrated. Here and there, he won a few good matches, but it was rare, and he lost to all the elite competitors, like Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, etc. Healso lost to the very good players like Marin Cilic, Kevin Anderson, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori. The only real accomplishments in 2018 were reaching the quarters at the Aussie Open, beating Nick Kyrgios before losing against Kyle Edmund. In February, Dimitrov made it into the final at Rotterdam, but Federer crushed him 6-2, 6-2. After that, he did nothing. At all. However, he is an excellent player when he is on. Still, he has to believe himself again. Will he do that in January? I have no idea, but it will be intoxicating to watch him.    

No. 18: Milos Raonic
The 27-year-old Canadian was OK, here and there, but he has said that he wants to win a Grand Slam. Most people do, and two years ago, he reached the 2016 Wimbledon final, and he was ready to rock. He upset Federer in the semis — a great win — but in the final against Andy Murray, the Brit took him down.Murray was very thoughtful, and he returned well, too, on grass, while Raonic couldn’t break him. Clearly, Raonic has improved a decent amount — especially his backhand — but also, he gets hurt a tremendous amount. Plus, while he has won eight small or medium titles, he still haven’t won an ATP 1000, even though he has lost three finals. In 2019, if he wants to win a gigantic event, he has to breathe, be solid and creative, and once in a while, have some fun.

No 17: Diego Schwartzman
The Argentine plays a ton, but a few years ago, he was so-so. Yet in 2018, he became more skillful on clay. He is still trying to figure out the hard courts as well as the grass, but he will rush the net here and there. His legs are strong and he can be very steady. Just like Cecchinato and Dimitrov, after Schwartzman reached the quarters at Roland Garros and lost Nadal in four sets — a pretty good match — he went down from June through November. Of course, he works a lot, but is he changing any type of tactics in 2019? I would hope so.

No. 16: Daniil Medvedev
Finally, here, among these five players, we have a 22-year-old. Russian Medvedev is getting better all the time. He is 6-foot-6, he can smoke the ball, and this year, he won three titles: Sydney, Winston-Salem and Tokyo. Obviously, they were not huge tournaments, but in Tokyo — a good event — he upset Raonic and Nishikori to grab it. To beat the Japanese in front of everyone in the final was very important. Plus, when he started the year, he was ranked No. 65, and he has to qualify at Sydney. He went all the way, taking seven matches in a row. Medvedev is obviously very healthy and pretty lethal. Without a doubt, he will push into the top-10 pretty soon.  

Petra Kvitova: Ablaze with clay-court winning streak

FROM ROLAND GARROS – A few years ago, she would look great, and then the next day, she would fold. When she won Wimbledon, twice, she would crush the balls, with her forehand, backhand and returns. On grass, she didn’t care about a lot of spin, she would flatten it out, she would aim for the lines, and hit it as hard as she could.

On clay, though, it is a different story. You have to slide, you have to recover your footing, you have to be stoic. Over the years, Kvitova would do that, but not every week. She would smile a lot when she was winning, but when she would lose, she would be frustrated, and slightly sad. In 2012 at Roland Garros, she reached the semis, but she couldn’t figure out Maria Sharapova.

Maybe this could be the same thing, but this year, she has been much more calm and forceful. She is in great shape, and she is quick. She doesn’t get tired hardly at all.

Kvitova has won 13 matches in a row, winning Prague and Madrid, outlasting Kiki Bertens 6-3 in the third. She has won two matches in Roland Garros, so that’s 15 in a row.  On the hard courts, she was a little bit out of it. But on the clay over the past month, she understands everything.
“I lost in the second round in Sydney and first in Australian Open. Then I won two tournaments,” Kvitova said. “And then Indian Wells and Miami wasn’t really great. So, I still feel it’s still up and down. But so far in the clay, I don’t really think that it’s that bad, so I’m trying to be more consistent. I think on the clay especially you need it, to be more consistent, to play more relaxed, staying in the rally, don’t panic that much, and just try. And that’s what it’s really working well for me right now.” She will face the No. 25 Anette Kontaveit in the next round.

Here’s a terrific match-up between Naomi Osaka versus Madison Keys in round three. Both of them are super aggressive, but both of them have to dig in. … Sloane Stephens is already playing fantastic ball, winning two matches, only dropped six games combined. She will face Camila Giorgi who has a lot of variety. … Novak Djokovic is getting better and better, and he will play against the veteran Roberto Bautista Agut. It would be pretty close for a while, but Djokovic has a much better backhand than he does. … Grigor Dimitrov survived Jared Donaldson 10-8 in the fifth, a long day. Now he will have to face Fernando Verdasco, another smooth veteran like the Bulgarian. Given that it took over four hours for Dimitrov to win, he cannot grind it in the next round. He has to go for it early when he can.  

Tick-tock: In Paris, patience is important on clay

It was a wonderful day in Paris. It was sunny, it was warm, and the fans were smiling. But, on court, in the first Sunday, there were some important losers.

Venus Williams went down, so did Jo Konta, and somewhat shockingly, Jelena Ostapenko , the 2017 RG champion. She said: ‘It was terrible day at the office for me. In general I played maybe like 20% of what I can play. Made like 50 unforced errors and so many double faults. Like I couldn’t serve. Everything together just brought me a really bad result.”

Oh, yes, she did.

There is a tremendous amount of pressure. But, not for everyone, because certain mediocre people don’t think they have a chance to win it all, and that is too bad.

Venus Williams can still play fantastic at times. In two weeks, she will be 38 years old. She is still a top 10 player, and she will play until 40 years old, at least, assuming she is healthy. But that is a long time. Against Wang Qiang, Venus changed her tactics repeatedly, but she couldn’t keep it inside the baseline, spraying 35 unforced errors. On clay, she just can’t figure it out. She may never do that. But really, Wang played aggressive and very thoughtfully. She is an excellent doubles player, but maybe now Wang will feel better in the singles? We will find out, immediately. 

In the first half of 2017, Konta was bashing the ball and she cracked the top 10 after winning Miami. But since then, she has slipped, and she is pretty confused. She has to shake it off. 

The good thing on Sunday among the women was Sloane Stephens, who blasted her foe, Arantxa Rus. Alize Cornet came back and knocked off Sara Errani in three sets, and the No. 4 Elina Svitolina really has a chance to grab the title. If she contains herself.  

Among the men, a few of the top guys won pretty eroundasily, with Grigor Dimitrov, Alexandra Zverev and Dominic Thiem sailing into the second round. Dimitrov won the 2017 ATP Finals, and he was rising quickly, but this year, he has been so-so. He actually really likes playing on clay, and he said that every year, he has improved, sliding around, slicing it, topping it. But can he won RG for the first time? Or even reach the semis? He has to step up, and he has to be very calm at the Slams, because he has yet to win a major. Even any tournament this season. Tick-tock.  

2018 Aussie Open, The Picks, Day 8

Rafa Nadal vs Mario Cilic
The Spaniard had a pretty tough night against the improving Diego Schwartzman.Nadal won, but it took nearly four hours. He has been there before, and the No. 1 will be there again, but still, it is somewhat early and he has to make sure not to get hurt at all during the AO event. 
For Nadal, the good thing is when he is on court against Cilic, they won’t have too many rallies, The very tall Mario is a terrific player, but he isn’t that fast. Cilic has a big serve, his heavy forehand and he can mix it up, going down low. 
Yes, Cilic can upset Nadal, if he is playing amazing, hour after hour, but in reality, Nadal has won 16 Grand Slams, and Cilic has won just one — at the US Open. Clearly, over the past 13 years, Nadal has been a better player. With his phenomenal forehand and his tough return, Nadal will win in four sets.

Grigor Dimitrov vs Kyle Edmunds
Dimitrov is totally on fire. He took down the Aussie Nick Kygrios on Saturday night, and now, he is locked in. Brit Edmunds has had a fine tournament this week, and he has improved a lot over the past year, but when is he going to figure out what to do with his weapons? Here and there, yes, but Dimitrov has so much variety, when he needs it. The Bulgarian wins in straight sets.

Caro Wozniacki vs Carla Suarez Navarro
This should be a very interesting match. They have never faced off against in the Grand Slams. In 2016 Tokyo, Caro won 6-4 in the third on a hardcourt, and in 2017 Madrid, Carlo won 6-4, 2-6, 6-2  on clay.  
Wozniacki has been better than Suarez over the past 10 years, as she has won 27 titles, while the Spaniard has only won a few. Yes, Wozniacki can fall flat here and there, but in the past 12 months, she has changed it up a little bit and once again, she is very focused.  
Suarez practices all the time, she goes from tournament after tournament. Even though she can sit way behind the court, she mixes it up consistently. Plus, she actually has a one-handed backhand, which is very unusual on the WTA. 
It will go three sets and both of them already know that they will be there for a solid two hours, rally after rally. Neither of them ever gets tired. You never know with Caro: will she be aggressive, or push the ball. Either way, she will win to advance at the semis.

Elina Svitolina vs Elise Mertens
Ukranian Svitolina is coming very close to No. 1. Maybe next week, maybe in a few months, or towards at the end of the year. But first, she has to take down Mertens, a very good player. 
There are times that Svitolina gets angry, inside her head, but she is so driven. She has a terrific first serve, and loads of spin, and she can nail her forehand and her backhand. 
Mertens hustles, too, and everyday, she gets better and better. But can she upset Elena? I cannot see it, yet, but maybe soon. Svitolina wins in straight sets.

2017 top players: men’s 1-5 will review 2017’s top 30 women and men, our annual feature.

No 1: Rafa Nadal
At the start of this year, when he began to play again, after three years when his body was breaking down, all of a sudden, he was fast in his legs and he began to be more aggressive, — finally. His backhand fell deeper, rather than landing too short, and was slightly harder and longer. On occasion, he decided that it was OK to crack it down the line. We all knew that Rafa has one of the best forehands ever, but it took him 15 years to change his backhand and make it stronger. So he won Roland Garros again — 10 times now — essentially dominated on clay. He won the US Open on hardcourts, serving huge, chipping here and there, coming to the net and putting it away, and rarely missing. When he starts to play very well, he goes into the zone, and now he doesn’t fall out of it. That’s why he’s the No. 1. However while Rafa had a great year, there are two negatives: Roger Federer beat him all four times, which is very unusual. In 2018, Rafa has to improve his backhand even more, because the Swiss is hitting his BH even harder now. Secondly, once again, towards the end in the fall, his body began to break down again. Many times. In 2018, he has to stop playing so many events or … another injury will take its toll? I hope not.

No 2: Roger Federer
It is pretty obvious that the Swiss is the best player ever, with 19 Grand Slams. But that is right now, because in another seven years, will his record be better than Nadal, or even Novak Djokovic, in 2025, when they are all retired? We just have to wait, because things can change extremely quickly. Remember Pete Sampras, who retired in 2002, with 14 majors. “No one can overtake him,” people thought. Ten years later, Federer and Nadal have passed him. Who would have thought it? Now we know. Federer played an amazing year. When he returned in January, he was healthy, and at the Australian Open, we watched his backhand tear through the court. Finally, he stepped in and got on top of the ball. Before, he would go back and against Nadal, Federer couldn’t go toe-to-toe with his one-handed backhand against Nadal’s lefty forehand. He could not, for many years. But Roger knew what he had to do and in the fifth set against Nadal in the Aussie Open, he rose up and he out-hit the Spaniard. Many people were pretty shocked. So was Nadal. Three more times, Federer beat Nadal again and again and again. In 2017, Roger was better head-to-head versus Nadal. However, Roger didn’t play on clay at all this season. Had he played against Nadal on clay, Rafa would have beaten Federer on the dirt so many times. I would imagine that Nadal would have beaten him repeatedly. Let’s not forget that Federer won Wimbledon again. Great as always. But at the US Open, he lost to Juan Martin del Potro. He was so-so at the ATP Finals, losing to David Goffin. Next year, he will turn 37 years old. He is a brilliant player, and he hasn’t slowed down. In 2018, he will another Grand Slam. When and where? Who knows, be he will be super exciting once again. 

No 3: Grigor Dimitrov
The Bulgarian had a terrific year. Even a couple years ago, he had no idea what he was doing. Very stylish, but he was so erratic. He has always mixing it up, but he didn’t know which way to go. So at times, he was very upset, and he would almost give up. But this year, he knew that he had to calm down, decide where to go, and when he had an opportunity, he would jump on it. He began to return substantially better. His one-handed backhand was struck down the line, pretty flat and hard, and he moved forward, quickly. He won Cincy and at the end, he won the ATP Finals — at last. Now can he won a major in 2018? Yes he will, if he remains super confident.  

No 4: Alexander Zverev
The young German is extremely impressive. He is very tall, he can smash his forehand, backhand and first serve and, once and a while, his return. He won Rome and Canada, and he shot up the rankings this year, even though in the fall, he became to be tired, mentally and physically. That happens with the young players: they start strong, and after 6-8 months, it is time to rest more often. It happens with everyone, but as you get older, then your legs, your arms and your brain gets more comfortable. So in 2018, without a doubt, Zverev will get better and be slightly smarter. Can he win a Grand Slam in 2018? Possible, but it will very tough to upset the Big 4 or 5, in the 3 out of 5, not in 2 out of 3 sets. He has to be super patient and add more variety.  

No 5: Dominic Thiem
The 24-year-old from Belguim had a good, but not a spectacular year. Yes, he has won a number of solid matches. Overall, he is up and down. Of course he is still pretty young, and he has to think about which way he is going. He can move quickly side to side, he can smoke his forehand and, to a certain degree, his one-hand backhand. He is OK at the net, and he rarely gets hurt. But can he win major in 2018? Possibly, it he continues to improve, which I think he will. However, can he upset Nada/Federer/Djokovic/Murray/Wawrinka at a Grand Slam in the finals? For me, not yet.  


Dimitov wins the ATP Finals, beats Goffin

Next year, Grigor Dimitov will be a serious contender to win a Grand Slam. This season, he has calmed down, he practiced a ton and, for the first time, he actually listened to his coaches. 

The Bulgarian nailed it, winning the ATP Finals, upending  David Goffin in three fun sets, 7-5 4-6 6-3.

He is very personable, and intelligent. Fine. On court, he needs to find out what his opponent is doing. Right at the end, he was nervous and tight, but he knew that if he just held on, was patient, and when he had an opportunity, then he could crack the ball off both sides. With championship points slipping away, Dimitrov didn’t break down mentally.

Just a couple years ago, Dimitov was confused, mixing his backhand. Too often, it was out, or short, but not deep in the court. The players would jump on him. Dimitov would shake his head, would put his face down and he could not recover.

But in 2017, he didn’t give up. Even after he won the ATP 1000 Masters Series in Cincy in August, he lost early at the US Open. He was so-so in Asia. Oddly, when he arrived in London, he knew that if he began to play great, then he could actually win it all.

The now No. 3 Dimitrov did, beating a tenacious Goffin early. Then he beat Dominic Theim, Pablo Carreno Busta, and Jack Sock in the semis. Ithe final, he faced the Belgian Goffin one more time.

He beat him and he was overjoyed.

“This makes me even more locked in, more excited about my work, and for what’s to come,” the two-time Grand Slam semifinal Dimitov said. “It’s a great platform for me to build on for next year.” 

ATP Finals: Sock outlasts Cilic; Dimitrov beats Thiem

Jack Sock has been slumping for five months. At times, he was frustrated and very irritable. But, in the last three weeks, he became so consistent, he hung in there and he changed his tactics.

Two days ago, he lost to the phenomenal Roger Federer.

On Tuesday, in London, he overcame Marin Cilic 5-7 6-2 7-6(4). Now the American has a chance to reach the semis at the end of this week.

Today, he was pretty quick, especially when very close to the net. The court isn’t that fast, which is good, considering that the hard courts can be lighting quick in different indoor tournaments. Not in London, this time.

Sock has been sneaking up on the Top 10, finally reaching No. 9 with his Masters 1000 victory in Paris. Since the American Andy Roddick — who won one major at the 2003 US Open — American men have been underachieving. Surprise Wimbledon semifinalist Sam Querrey was the first American man to break the final four Slam glass ceiling since Robby Ginepri in 2005.

Today, there are a good amount of U.S. male players in the top 100. But, winning a Grand Slam, or even making it into the ATP Finals, with only the top eight players at the end of a season, is very difficult.  

That was surprising two weeks ago, because it looked like that once again, the Americans would be unable to consistently beat the big boys. Now, Sock rose up, and has a chance to go deep this week in England.

Yes, obviously, Federer is the favorite, and yes, Sock will have to face the excellent, very young player Alex Zverev on Thursday. Can Sock win and reach the semis? That is up in the air, but finally, Sock is gaining confidence every day. Maybe, every second.

With a win today over Zverev (61 in the final set), Federer has sealed a spot in the semis for the 14th time.

Nadal calls it a year
Without question, Rafa Nadal has had a terrific year. He has won six titles, two of which were Roland Garros (10 titles in Paris) and the US Open. He has improved at the net, and his softer backhand is landing deep and with even more spin.

Nadal was pretty shaky when he lost against David Goffin in three sets He was limping towards at the end.

Nadal ran around, but he was a little slow and he could not crack his famous forehand. His legs were wobbly.

As Federer said, perhaps his good buddy, Nadal, should not have gone to Asia in October. But he did, winning Beijing and then reaching the final at Shanghai, losing against to, believe it or not, Federer.

Then, after that, Nadal was hurting, once again. On Monday, the No. 1 waved goodbye for the rest of the year.

Now, he needs to rest. And heal. In 2018, who knows? Will Nadal be healthy all the time? I doubt it, because over the past four years, the 31-year-old gets hurt pretty frequently. When he is feeling just fine, he gets better all the time, which is a very good thing.

During the afternoon, Grigor Dimitrov overcame Dominic Thiem 6-3 5-7 7-5. Dimitrov rarely goes away, and he mixes it up all the time. He almost lost though, because Thiem jumped on him and he was winning the one-hander versus the same one-hander. But the Bulgarian was more patient and confident. At the very end, young Thiem sort of gagged. Or panicked.

Either way, with Nadal now gone, Dimitrov is favored to reach the semis. He could actually win the entire event. Imagine that.