Archives for December 2019

Top 20s in 2019: Women, No. 5-No. 1

  • No. 5: Bianca Andreescu 
    What an incredible year for the Canadian, with the 19-year-old snaring the US Open. She is such mighty and potent. She may not be so tall, but she is so quick and sturdy. She bangs the ball, and when she gets an opportunity, she honker down and strikes. In California, in March, she won Indian Wells, flipping Angie Kerber. She got hurt, but she came back in August and she won Toronto, upending Karolina Pliskova and Serena Williams. When she won in New York, she knocked down Carolina Wozniacki, Belina Bencic and Serena. Then, everyone knew that she will go very deep for years, if she won’t get significantly hurt. Assuming that she will be healthy in 2020, she could reach the No. 1 at some point, perhaps in February. She is coming up so breathless. 

    No. 4: Simona Halep
    The Romanian had a pretty good year overall, snaring Wimbledon. That was surprising, because year after year, the 28-year-old had never gone to the final on grass in London, becoming frustrated. But two years ago, she finally won a major, taking Roland Garros. After that, she was more smooth. Without a doubt, she gets hurt a lot, but she keeps playing tournament after tournament. At Wimbledon, in the final against Serena, she rose up so high, playing one of the most dominant performances in years. After that, Halep did not play well from August through October. She is so steady, all the time. In 2020, if she wants to win another Slam, she had to be more offensive.   

    No. 3: Naomi Osaka
    At the start of the year, the big basher won the 2019 Australian Open, five months after she grabbed the 2019 US Open. She was so darn good, never backing off, hitting oh-so-hard. Then the Japanese became messy, and she was unsettled. She was over-hitting too often. It had gotten mixed messages from coaches, the old one and the new one. Sometimes it doesn’t matter at all, but there are many more players who really listen to their the coach. When they begin to play on court, they can only react. Osaka certainly can grip it, totally, when she goes for it. She appears to be thinking, so that can be good or bad. In 2020, there will be months when she is happy and playing fantastic. When can she win a major again? Perhaps at Wimbledon, on the cool grass.

    No. 2: Karolina Pliskova
    The tall, powerful Czech was pretty consistent, reaching No. 2. But, for whatever reason, the 27-year-old has yet to win a major. Amongst the top 5, they have all snared a Grand Slam, but Pliskova hasn’t been able to take a slam. She should have it already, and maybe she can, but rather than just panicking, she can reassess and re-think her tactics. When she is on a roll, she can defeat one and all. Her huge first serve are possibly the best one on the tour now, and she can crack her forehead and backhand on the lines. However, Pliskova is not that fast and she doesn’t return deep enough. She is a very smart, talking with her, off the court. But, on court, she still gets confused. She can win a Slam, and she really wants to, so in 2020, on the hard courts, she will take either the Australian Open or the US Open. As long as she breathes.    

    No. 1: Ash Barty
    A few years ago, who would have thought that the Australian could actually become No. 1? Doubles, yes, because she was completely in control, but she also was/is a terrific volleyer and returner. But in singles, she would get very nervous and push the ball. However, this year, the 23-year-old started to change things. Not immediately, but she could tell that her heavy forehand, her slice backhand and her deep return were vastly improved. In April, she won a huge title in Miami on hard courts. And, then in June, on clay, she won Roland Garros. In Birmingham, she won on grass. Three different surfaces. At the end of the year, she won the WTA Finals over the top players. That is why that clearly, she is No.1, hands down. Can she continue as No. 1 for the entire year in 2020? That is difficult, for everyone, now, but given that she can still add some new shots, without a doubt, she will snag more than a few more titles. Maybe at the 2020 Australian Open? Absolutely. 

Top 20 in 2019, Men, 10-6

Stefanos Tsitsipas
Stefanos Tsitsipas

No. 10: Gael Monfils
The Frenchman had a strong year, rising from No. 32 to No. 10. Over the past decade, the 33-year-old was injured a tremendous amount. But, as a consummate athlete, he hangs in there, despite the fact that his knees are weathering. He is one of the fastest runners on the circuit, his forehand is massive, and he could be very patient. Some people think that he can push the ball a lot. But, the reason why is he cracked the top 10 because he loves to rally, back and forth. He can wear down the opponents. That is Monfils strategy, which can be good, but the best players can knock him down and frustrate him. On occasion, he falls away. He wants to go into the top 5 for the first time, so it is a huge challenge. In the first three months, he has to go deep a lot, especially at Rotterdam, which he won in 2019. He has to stay healthy and really committed. And then he does, he will dance in front of the net.

No. 9: Roberto Bautista Agut
The Spaniard doesn’t mind clay and grass, but he really likes to play on the hard courts. He has won nine titles, seven on the concrete. He can spin it or he can flatten it out, or he can bash it. In fact, given that he has been playing in the ATP for 15 years, eventually, you will figure out all three surfaces. Now 31, he has the experience to succeed at any tournament. At Wimbledon in July, he was sharp, and he reached the semis, but he could not break down Novak Djokovic. He did upset Djokovic at Miami in April, but that is two out of three, not three out of five. That is the big challenge for men with ambitions to win a Slam. He never gives up, but can he win a major before he retires? I doubt that.

No. 8: Matteo Berrettini
Back in September, at the US Open, the Italian stunned Gael Monfils in the quarters, 7-6 (5) in the fifth. He was super happy. Few people knew who he was, and then in the spring, he began to hit the ball hard. He is steady, and he can attack. He isn’t that nervous, except in the ATP Finals where he lost to Djokovic and Roger Federer. He looked afraid. Berrettini has improved a lot, and he practices all the time. So, in 2020, he will be more competitive, which is a lot to say about No. 8 in the world. The 23-year-old won’t disappear; he will be there for many years.

No. 7: Alexander Zverev
When the German is on, and he is hitting on the lines, he is a winner. Heck, he can win the ATP 1000s again in 2020. He has done it before, a couple times. But in 2019, there were months when he was hollow. The 22-year- old lost a lot from March through September. Then in October, he came back and he became tolerant. He couldn’t repeat his 2018 ATP Finals win, but last year, he did stun Federer and Djokovic. Yes, Zverev is still young, and darn good when he is on, but he can become frustrated. In 2020, he will be right there. But, can he finally reach a Grand Slam final? Yes, but not to win it, yet. Maybe in 2021, when he is a little bit more mature.

No. 6: Stefanos Tsitsipas
The 21-year-old Greek is steady, composed and robust. He won the ATP Finals, edging Dominic Thiem 7-6 in the third. He wasn’t edgy at all. There are days that he isn’t sure how he should approach the match, and to go for it, or not? The 6-foot-4 man is just fine when he is in control, but when he is a little bit off, he can swing way too hard and commit too many errors. Both his forehand and his backhand are threatening, and he is more decent at the net. The 30-year-old fantastic veterans have won so many Slam titles, such as Rafa Nadal, Djokovic and Federer. The young snappers have yet to win a major. But, in 2020, the 22-year-old Tsitsipas will win a Slam. He will beat them all.

Top 20 in 2019: Women, 10-6

No. 10: Serena Williams
In 2019, she played 31 matches, which is OK, but the 38-year-old needs to compete more. Yes, she is one of the best players ever, and she could win another major. Then she will tie with Margaret Court, with 24 Slams. I am sure that she wants to do it, but she is aging. While she still crushes the ball, she isn’t quite as fast anymore and she will continue to slow down. That happens to everyone. However, there are things she can go to compensate, like when she has an opportunity, she can rush into the net. To win a Slam again, she has to push herself. To run back and forth, it is difficult to out-run the young, excellent players. In 2019, she did not win an event, even though she reached in the finals at Roland Garros and US Open when Simona Halep and Bianca Andreescu twisted her around. Obviously, Serena has a serious chance to win Slam in 2020. But when? My guess, I would say Wimbledon, if she can through in a bundle of aces. 
No. 9: Kiki Bertens

The tall Netherlander had a solid year, hitting harder, and becoming more patient. A couple of years ago, she won Charleston, Cincinnati and Seoul, and it was clear that she was leaping up. In 2019, she has been respectable, winning Madrid, upsetting Petra Kvitova, Sloane Stephens and Simon Halep on clay. Sadly, at RG, she became hurt and she has to retire in the second round. After that, she was decent, but not spectacular. At least she made the final at Beijing, and then she was on the verge of ousting No. 1 Ash Barty. But, she went down 7-6(7) in the third. Talk about close. In 2020, if she gets better, then she will push into the top 5, but not for No. 1.

No. 8: Belinda Bencic
You have to wonder whether the 22-years-old will win a Slam in 2020. The Swiss finally rose up in the spring, and over the months, she upset Naomi Osaka at the US Open, and she beat Karolina Pliskova, Elena Svitolina and Simona Halep, at different tournaments. When she beats the top 5 players (and she can), then it is so clear that she can grab a major. Her forehand and backhand are big and convincing. She hustles, and she is enthusiastic. However, she plays too much, and in 2019, she was forced to retire here and there. One of the reasons was that four years ago, she was winning all the time. But, she got hurt for many months. When she returned, she had to re-start again. It wasn’t instantaneous, but she was pretty patient, and this year, she finally grew. If she goes deep at the Slams, she will be knocking at the door. 

No. 7: Petra Kvitova
The Czech has won Wimbledon twice, and she was very close to win the 2019 Australian. But, in the final, she lost 6-4 in the third to Naomi Osaka. That was a terrific contest with huge swings by both of them. Had she found a way to trip up Osaka, then she would have been incredibly happy. But she could not, so Kvitova will have an opportunity in 2020. She has to bear down, and concentrate, all the time. She will be 30-year-old and the best thing for her is not to play a tremendous amount now. How long she will continue to play in the next few years in up in the air. If she is playing great, she will stay there, but if she is mediocre, month after month, then she will stop, and retire. Just like Caro Wozniacki recently said that in January, that is the last time she will play tennis because that will be it and she will wave goodbye. They are the same age. At the 2020 Australian Open, Kvitova will be thinking about her path forward, which would be to improve her second serve, her return and net play. All of it, slightly, and then she can win it at Melbourne.

No. 6: Elina Svitolina
The good thing about the Ukraine is that this year, she finally reached the semis at the Slams, twice, at Wimbledon and the US Open. But, the bad news is that on court, in front of thousands of fans, she backs off and she went down, to Halep and Williams. Clearly, it is not easy to beat the fantastic players, but she has to shake it off and concentrate. Svitolina has won 13 titles. In 2017, she grabbed in Dubai, Rome and Toronto, three Premier 5s. She is super strong, fast on her feet, muscular and ambitious. However, she has done everything, except win a Slam. In 2020, Svitolina has to be tranquil. If she does, she will reach a Slam final somewhere, and grind her opponent into the ground.

Top 20 in 2019: Men, 15-11

Denis Shapovalov

No. 15: Denis Shapovalov
The 20-year-old from Canada had a terrific year.. He can be steady, focused and very powerful. Both his forehand and his backhand are lights out, as is his first serve. But he is not great at the net, as well as returning. Plus, he can become frustrated when he is losing. He is like many youngsters who want to play constantly. They all do, but they have to practice more, instead of just going from the tournament to tournament. That way, the coaches can give them advice, rather than just thinking about when he will win a Slam ASAP. Shapovalov has to learn, and when he does, he will go into the top 10 in 2020. For sure, he will upset a number of the top players. Then he will smile. On court, he is darn good player already.

No. 14: Diego Schwartzman
The Argentine decided that he would be more bold, he would move forward and on occasion, he would rip at the lines. He has been around for a solid decade, and in 2019, he knew that if he didn’t re-think his attitude, then he would never have a real chance to become in the top 10. He hasn’t yet, but he is close. During January, February and March, he knows he can catch up, and win a big title. He is a grinder, and will continue with that style. But if he wants to add his game, he has to take risks. Why not do it? 

No. 13: Kei Nishikori
Many years ago, the Japanese reached the final at the 2014 US Open. He did not win it, but at least he looked very, very good. However, he is injured all the time, month after month. No matter what he tries, he is still frequently hobbled. When Nishikori is healthy, he can leap up high and punch the ball. He is very quick, and he can concentrate. He has upset a few great players, but not often enoguh. In the 2020 Slams, he can reach the second week anytime. But winning it all, when he has to play for so many hours? That would be surprising.

No. 12: Fabio Fognini
The Italian finally played consistently, perhaps for the first time. The 29-year-old always liked playing on clay, but it took him for a number of years to become very respectable on the hard courts. He mixes it up — a heck of a lot — and he runs fast and can play some amazing drop shots. He has played so many tournaments, year after year, and somedays he looks terrific, but there are other days when he is bored. However, now, after he married the former US Open champion Flavia Pennetta, he started to calm down. His backhand has improved, along with his deep return. He wants to go even higher in 2020 on the hard courts, because he is just fine on the clay. Fognini has to attack and change it around. Last year, he won an ATP 1000 at Monte Carlo. Can he do it again, somewhere? Sure he can, as long as he continues to be sharp.

No. 11: David Goffin
He is almost 30-years-old, and the Belgium had a first-rate year in singles. Of course, he has never won a major — and maybe he never will —but at least he was more hopeful. He reached the No. 7 in 2017, but he could not beat the big boys. He was a little bit nervous. Finally, he calmed down, and he pushed hard, especially with his wonderful one-handed backhand.  His forehand is powerful, too, but his serves and net play, is pretty mediocre. Goffin has a solid five more years left to get better, to improve, and be thoughtful. Obviously, he will go back into the top 10. But can he reach the top 5 in 2020? Close, but he has to prove it.  

Top 20 in 2019: Women, 15-11

Sofia Kenin

No. 15: Petra Martic 
One of the smart veterans, the 28-year-old had an efficient year. Yes, she has never been one of the top competitors. But, the good thing is that in 2019, the Croatian changed a few things, and then she made her move. She is somewhat steady, and when she has an opportunity, she can clout it. Can Martic reach the top 10 in 2020? Possibly, but she has to get even better, or she will not be able to go inside to go deep at the Grand Slams. Or even win a huge tournament.

No. 14: Sofia Kenin
The young American broke out early and she didn’t stop. The huge hitter won three events — not gigantic — but good enough. She won Hobart, Mallorca and Guangzhou. Yes, she has yet to beat the great players, but she did upend with Elina Svitolina and Belinda Bencic. She played a ton of tournaments, almost every week, helping the 21-year-old became more intelligent on court. She started in January ranked No. 48, and Kenin had to battle and take a lot of big swings. At times, she did, and she began to climb up. Just like many of the young players, she has to mix it up more, serve harder and go down the lines. She is competitive, and enthusiastic, so in 2020 she will continue to trip up the top-tier players. 

No. 13: Madison Keys
The now 24-year-old American had a so-so year, not because she can is capable of knocking out any player when she is on, but she is still constantly hurt. She has come close to winning a Slam; when she gets there, she has froze up like she did at the 2017 US Open against Sloane Stepehns. Even this year, she looked terrific, winning Cincinnati by knocking out Garbine Muguruza, Simona Halep and Kenin. But, then after that, she went down, losing in the fourth round against Elena Svitolina. In the fall, she skidded. Keys is very powerful, her first serve is vast, as are the forehand and her backhand, but she needs to run a little faster. Plus, she has to commit at the net. If Keys does, she can win a Slam, but she has to stay healthy. That is her plight and she has to change it.

No. 12: Johanna Konta
The British woman finally turned it around this season, being thoughtful, skillful and she was really listening. When she cracked the top 10, in 2017, it really looked like that she had a legitimate opportunity to win a Grand Slam. She made an attempt, went deep at Wimbledon. But, against the great Venus Williams, she became nervous and over-hit. Plus, she has to serve better, and return deeper. After that, Konta went down fast, losing all the time. She did nothing in 2018, and in 2019, she almost went into the top-50, but finally, she took a big breath. In May, she pushed herself. She went deep in Rome, Roland Garros and the US Open, before she became hurt. If she does the exact same thing, then Konta will back into the top 10 and grab an immense tournament 

No. 11: Aryna Sabalenka
There were great days by the Belarus, crushing the balls, knocking off many terrific players and winning a few events. But, that was in 2018. This season in the beginning of January, she won Shenzhen. Yet after that, she crashed. Sabalenka lost because she couldn’t keep her focus. In took her eight months to get back, and in the fall, she locked in again. She won Wuhan, upsetting the No. 1 Ash Barty, and in her last tournament of the year, she won Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai. It was not a good year overall, but the huge hitter is only 21 years old. So, without a doubt, she had listen her body and her mind. Hopefully, in 2020, she will become steadier, because she hits the heck out of the ball. If she does, she can win a Grand Slam next year. She is that good.

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.

Top 20 in 2019: Women, 20-16

No. 20: Angelique Kerber
This was not a great year for the German. She has won two Grand Slams, and she became to No. 1. But, this year she was darn frustrated. She didn’t win an event, and, after she reached the final in Eastbourne in late June, she did nothing the rest of the year. On court, that is. Kerber is so steady and fast moving to the left and to the right. When she is on, her strokes were deep and true. But she can get upset for many matches. If she can become confident again, then she will go deep at the big events. Really, Angie has to, because she is aging.

No. 19: Donna Vekic
The Croatian had a pretty decent year, gaining ground. Over the past couple years, she has improved, month after month, hitting very hard and snapping it. She can over-hit, and she can be disheartened, but usually, she fights to the end. If Vekic improves her serves and net play, she can crack the top 15 in 2020. But will she leap into the top 10? Right now, I would say no.

No. 18: Alison Riske
A few years ago, the American did very little on the hardcourts and on the clay. But she loved to play on the grass, crashing the ball. However, she had to change, gradually, or else. Very few people knew how good she was. In 2019, Riske started going pretty deep at the tournaments, hitting super hard. She has been around at the WTA for 10 years, and finally, she understood how she should play. In 2020, when she will be a 30-years-old, she will win a big event. A huge one.

No. 17: Elise Mertens
The 24-year-old played a lot of three-setters this year, battling to the end, which is good. Still, she lost a number of them, against the very fine competitors. Yes, she is very consistent, and she thinks out there for two sets. But, deep into the third set, she can rattle and push back. She did win Doha in February, beating Kerber and Simona Halep, which was tremendous. Then, over the next eight months, she couldn’t beat any of the top 10-ers. In 2020, Mertens has to add more to her game.

No. 16: Marketa Vondrousova
The 20-year-old has been coming up very fast. She reached the final at Roland Garros, on clay — which she loves — and in looked like she was going to be around at the critical moments in big matches. In late June she hurt her left wrist and she stopped for the rest of the year. Vondrousova will return in January, to start again. She is very young and keeps her calm during matches. After her injury, it will take her awhile to reset. If she does, she will punch herself into the top 10.