2021 year-end review: top 5-1, the men

novak djokovic

5. Andrey Rublev
The Russian played 28 tournaments this year, which is perhaps way too much. When he is playing wonderfully, he can smack the lines. He only won a title this season, grabbing Rotterdam, and he reached three more finals, which was a positive. Even though he is a big hitter, he couldn’t break down the top players, losing versus Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev. He was close, but he has to be more patient, and to go for winners early. Plu,s he has to return better and make sure that he smacks second served deeper into the court. He is young enough. If he wants to beat the top 5, then he must improve even more if he wants to win a Slam someday.

4. Stefanos Tsitsipas
At the beginning of 2021 at the Australian Open, he upset Rafa Nadal in five amazing sets, and then in the semis, he lost versus Daniil Medvedev. That was fine, because his body was tired. He did win Monte Carlo and Lyon, on clay, and then he went to Roland Garros. He reached the final, beating Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev. Tsitsipas was red hot. However, once again, the amazing Novak Djokovic edged him 6-4 in the fifth set. Then he slipped a little bit, with no more finals from July through November. As he said, perhaps he is playing way too much and needed to get some rest. “Mentally mostly. Not so much physically,” Tsitsipas said. “Like, too much tennis. When your brain gets used to certain patterns all the time, certain game style and everything, the way you’ve been playing all the time, that works for you, your brain sometimes gets really tired of it and wants to change some things. That’s why I start missing those forehands that I never miss. The brain sometimes cannot cope.” Next year, he is ready to go from major finalist to Grand Slam winner.

3. Alexander Zverev
The German really had a great year, winning six events, winning two ATP 1000’s in Madrid and Cincinnati, as well as winning the ATP Finals. He has grown up a lot, on court, that is. Yes, he can be cocky in the press, but he also has been more thoughtful. He is very vigorous, and he can bash the ball, with a very good serve. He is not wonderful at the net, but he does really likes to rallies and yank it side to side. He really wants to win his first Slam next year and move past letting the 2020 US Open slip through his hands. When he reaches into the final again, he should blitz immediately and put his opponents on their heels.

2. Daniil Medvedev
The Russian took a long time to reach Grand Slam glory and he finally grabbed it, winning at the 2021 US Open in his third major final. Many people thought that Djokovic would out-hit him, but the very tall man kept banging hard. His offense was banging big ground strokes and he can also run and play defensively. He sent the ball low and flat, crosscourt, too. The clever, dogged Medvedev started to combine different strategies, using his height to his advantage when serving, getting a lot of free points. He also prevailed in Madrid and also the Davis Cup Final. Yes, the 25-year-old can be mediocre here and there, but next year, he will have a huge shot to become No. 1.
1. Novak Djokovic
The 34-year-old has won 86 titles, and assuming he will be healthy in 2022-24, he will get to 100 titles. That is a huge amount, just like Roger Federer (103 wins) and Rafa Nadal (88 wins). The Serbian finally became No. 1 in 2011, when he won 11 titles, winning the Australian Open, Roland Garros and the US Open. At the beginning, he was very good, but not yet great. He was already almost at the top of the charts, like his backhand and his speed. But he had to work his forehand, his serve and at the net. Eventually, he did improved, year after year, which is why he has won 20 Grand Slams. His forehand is historic, much more when he started to hit more flat; his first and second serve are so close on the lines; and when he serves, he can scramble and put it away at the net. Hard to believe that winning three Slams and getting to the final of the last can make for a disappointment. Winning four Grand Slams in a year is rare and remarkable. But, for Djokovic, three was good enough. Next year, the brilliant player will attempt to do it again. It is improbable, but why not, as clearly, he wants to be the best player ever.

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