Top 32: Djokovic was near perfect; Murray consistent, must get better

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No. 4

Stan Wawrinka

In some ways, it’s all about the majors, isn’t it? At the Aussie Open, the then defending champion had reached the semifinal against Novak Djokovic who he had beaten him last year in five classic sets. He was ready to do it again, as in 2015, he had won the fourth set. Wawrinka could fly away in the fifth set. But instead, he quickly crashed and he lost 6-0 in the fifth. Bizarre-o.

Emotionally, Wawrinka can get down on himself. He is a terrific player, but on court, he can drop down into the basement. In February, he won Rotterdam, but then he slipped, for nearly three months. Somehow though, he walked on to Roland Garros, he breathed again and he began to rip the ball, knocking out Gilles Simon, Roger Federer, Jo Tsonga and Djokovic in the final in four sets. He hit winner after winner, jumping high, and smoking his powerful one-handed backhand. Once again, he had risen and he truly believed that he could out-slug anyone and that he did.

The 30-year-old Wawrinka has won two Grand Slams, and given that his conditioning has improved a lot over the past three years (credit to his coach, Magnus Norman) that he will have a legitimate chance to win another one in 2016. Yes, as he admits, he can go in and out, and he could have been calmer when he went down against Richard Gasquet at Wimbledon (9-7 in the fifth in the quarters), and he could have woken up against his good buddy Federer at the US Open. He looked pretty good during the fall, winning Tokyo, but he lost against Rafa Nadal, Djokovic, and Federer.

Will Wawrinka be more consistent, all year long? That is doubtful, but when he begins to lock in, he can run past anyone.

No. 3

Roger Federer

Five years ago, if the great Federer was unable to win a major, then he would have been heavily criticized. Not now though, as he is 34 years old, and so few fantastic competitors were able to reach two Grand Slam finals, which in a sense, he had a standout season.

Yes, he struggled a bit, being shocked by Andreas Seppi at the Australian Open and Stan Wawrinka overwhelmed him at Roland Garros. However, he knocked out Andy Murray at Wimbledon in the semis, and against Wawrinka, he out-stroked him in the semis of the US Open. Those were gigantic contests. Without a doubt, Djokovic is better than he is now, but in both finals at Wimbledon and the US Open, Federer had chances and if his backhand was more consistent and if he was more forceful returning his serves, he might have been able to win at least one of those matches. ‘Rog’ would have raised a trophy and would have had 18 Grand Slams. Imagine that.

However, Federer only has won 17 Grand Slams (a record by the men in singles) and that is just fine. He was close enough, he will have a chance to do it again in 2016.

Here’s reality though: He has slowed down just a little bit and his serve is excellent, but he cannot overpower the big boys. The right-hander still has the quickest, most powerful and most accurate forehand of all time. It is almost not even close [except with the 14-time champ Pete Sampras]. The amount of his variety is phenomenal, and over the past two years or so, he improved a lot at the net, thanks to his now ex-coach, Stefan Edberg, who loved to charge the net all the time. Federer has an amazing lob, overhead and drop shot.

The Swiss says that he will try to add some new tactics in 2016. He can become impatient, and he can fall off when he isn’t gripping the racket correctly.

Federer won six titles in 2015, which is pretty good. In 2016, he will start at Brisbane (he won last year). Will he be trying a few new tricks? I bet he will, winning or losing. I doubt that Federer will win another major, but he could if he is the right draw and he is feeling it every minute. One way or another, watching Federer will put together another dramatic season.

No. 2

Andy Murray

Props to Murray for helping Great Britain to win the Davis Cup, going undefeated at the singles and the doubles. Heck, if Andy decided to play doubles at the Grand Slam with his lefty brother Jamie, they could win a slew of crowns. But for now it’s all about the singles and in 2015, he was pretty good, but not spectacular.

Sure, he played terrific in winning the ATP Masters 1000 Madrid and Montreal, and he won the ATP 250 at Munich on clay, and the ATP 500 at London/Queens on grass. He scored a win over Nadal in Madrid, and he upset Djokovic at Montreal. But…overall, he lost against Djokovic six times this season, including at the Aussie Open final and Roland Garros; he lost twice against Federer in the semis at Wimbledon and Cincy; and he went down against Nadal in the ATP Finals round robin. Oh, and let’s not forget that the two-time Grand Slam Murray lost to Wawrinka in the ATP Finals in a round robin.

At the very least, Murray was pretty consistent, which is why he is ranked No. 2. He is very smart and he has a lot of variety, which is why he schools the young players.

However, if Murray wants to win more majors then he has to pick it up. His backhand is incredibly steady and powerful, he can crack it wherever he wants to. His forehand is a little stiff, and he needs to loosen it up and he needs to go down the line more. His first serve has improved tremendously over the years, but his second serve can be weak. Murray can chip back his returns, anytime time, anywhere, and he can softly throw in drop shots. Murray is super solid, and he is very efficient at the net, when he wants to come in, which isn’t very often.

He is 28 years old and in the next four years or so, he will have a legitimate chance to win a few more majors, but in order to do so, he has to take more risks, and he has to move forward all the time against the other Big Boys. In 2016, will he be able to disturb Djokovic and out-hit him? We may find out shortly at the Aussie Open final once again.

No. 1

Novak Djokovic

Did the Serbian put together the best season ever? No, not quite, but he was darn close, winning the Australian Open, reaching the final at Roland Garros, winning Wimbledon and the US Open. And let’s not forget that he also won a series of ATP Masters 1000: Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, Rome, Shanghai and Paris. Did we forget that at the end of the year he also won the ATP World Tour Finals. Throw in Beijing on an ATP 500, and the 28-year-old had won 11 titles. Wow. It’s not like he put together a bunch of small events, but he decided that he could beat down all the best competitors. He overcame Federer at Wimbledon and the US Open finals when the great Swiss tried to mix him up, fool him, somehow out-hit him. He over-powered Murray in the Australian Open final, when he was stronger, faster and more concentrated. He was steadier and more aggressive against Nadal – four times in 2015 mind you – upending the Spaniard for the first time ever at Roland Garros. And yes, Wawrinka shocked him in the Roland Garros final, when the Swiss was in a zone and he became nervous and he couldn’t get over it.

But so what? For a few days afterward, he was down on himself. He has yet to win Roland Garros on clay, and maybe he never will, but he was very close and when he reaches the finals once again, he can lift up his chin, stare right at has foes, scream, and touch the lines like he will never miss them.

Djokovic has won 10 Grand Slam titles , which is terrific, but he still has work ahead. Federer has won 17 Grand Slam titles, and Nadal owns 14 Grand Slams, so in order to catch them, he will have to continue improve and stay healthy, just like he has since 2011, when he stepped up, he stopped pushing the ball and he began to truly believe in himself.

Look at how much better he has become: back in 2008, when he won his first major at the Australian Open, he was super quick and steady, but his forehand wasn’t very forceful, his serve was a bit weak, and he didn’t love to coming to the net. But he kept on working and now, he his is nearly perfect. His two-handed backhand has always been legendary, his return is phenomenal, knocking massive serves that he can poke very deep; he is swinging his forehand down the line and crosscourt whether its flat or heavy topspin; and he is very efficient at the net. We all know that he never gets tired, he never gets hurt, and even when he isn’t playing well, he manages to find a way.

Back in 1969, Rod Laver won all four Grand Slams. Since then, none of the males have been able to do that, but a few have been to win three majors in a year such as Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. Can the Serbian do it in 2016? Maybe, because mentally he has shake it off in Paris before he raises the trophy, but at the very least he will be a significant favorite at the Aussie Open, which he has won five times. In order to beat Djokovic, you have to wear him down, somehow, someway. Exactly how, every one has to significantly improve to even get close to him. Right now, Djokovic is domination.

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