Top 30s in 2018: Men, 10-6

Kei Nishikori

No. 10: John Isner
The tall American had a solid year, surely his best ever. His backhand has improved, he doesn’t get so angry on court when he isn’t playing well — which he used to. When he charges to the net, he can be passed, but when he is on top of it, he can put it away. We all know that his serve is massive — 10,937 aces and counting — and his forehand is huge. However, the 33-year-old has yet to reach the final at the Grand Slam. At this year’s Wimbledon, he came very close to beating Kevin Anderson in the semis, but he lost 26-24 in the fifth set. He did win his first title at the ATP 1000, winning Miami. He was extremely pleased. Can he go even higher in 2019? That is a tossup. It is all about him. 

No. 9: Kei Nishikori
The Japanese started very slowly,  because he had been hurt, pretty badly, but he just wanted to play again. He was a little slow, and a bit nervous, but in the spring, he rose again. He reached the final at the ATP Monte Carlo, beating Marin Cilic and Alexander Zverev and he finally lost against Rafa Nadal. For the rest of the year, he played decently well, but he lost against all the top players: such as Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka — the Slam winners. Here and there, over the years, he can pull a win, but for the most part, they are just better than he is. Yes, he is super  quick, and he can jump up in the air, and he can whip his forehand. But to confuse the great players is very difficult. Plus, Nishikori almost always get hurt and pulls out. Who knows what he will do in 2019? Will he avoid his injury factor, or just play on,win or lose? That is a huge toss up.   

No. 8: Dominic Thiem
The Austrian has had a pretty good year — not fantastic, but solid overall. He won three events: Buenos Aires, Lyon and St Petersburg. Those were not huge events, but at least he pounded the ball and mixed it up a lot. His biggest event was at Roland Garros, when he defeated Zverev and Nishikori before losing in the final against the Rafa Nadal, who has won it 11 times. There is nothing you can do against him on clay but Thiem kept pushing. At the US Open, they played each other again — on the hard court — and it was a marathon. Thiem played as well as he could, running around, spinning and out hitting him on occasion. However, he lost 7-6 in the fifth. That was brutal, but the fans really liked how he played. He throws in a lot of spin, he can be patient and he can crush the balls on the lines. What’s stopping  him? Thiem is 25 years old, not young and not old. Mentally, in the fall, he was tired, so perhaps in 2019, he should back off from playing too many tournaments. If he does, he can win a Slam in 2019.   

No. 7: Marin Cilic
The good thing about the 30-year-old is that on court, and he is feeling good, he can be so comfortable and powerful. He reached the final at the Australian Open, beating Nadal in the quarters when Rafa retired due to injury. He then took down Kyle Edmund in the semis. In the final, he played extremely well at times, but he mentally let it go against Roger Federer in the fifth set. The great RF was locked in, and Cilic didn’t know what he should do. Recall that he did win the US Open in 2014, and Cilic was banging the ball. But that was it. Can he do win another Slam at some point? It is possible, because he has a terrific serve, and strong off of both sides. But, he needs to improve his returns, and strategy. He still has a few more years to get better. If he does, he could lift a trophy at the Slams, in 2019 or 2020.  

No. 6: Kevin Anderson
The South African has played so much better over the past two years. Yes, he has not won a huge title, but he has reached finals at the 2017 US Open and the 2018 at Wimbledon. He has a gigantic serve, his forehand is massive, and he actually runs fast. When he gets to the net, on occasion, he bends down, stands up and puts it away. Still, he has to return substantially better, and he use his slice more often. The good thing is that he always practices, so perhaps the 32-year-old will bash into the final at the majors and snag it — finally. The bad thing though is the older you get, it gets very hard to reach the a Slam final again. But, how about winning an ATP 1000 for the first time in 2019? That would be thrilling for Anderson.