Archives for 2021 2021 year-end review: top 30-26, the men

Reilly Opelka

30. Marin Cilic
At the 2014 US Open, the Croat won the tournament hitting so hard with his big first serve. He was steady and he was controlled. He hit No. 3 but that was three years ago. This year, he looked pretty decent at times. He won St. Petersburg and Stuttgart, which terrific, but at the Grand Slams, or the ATP 1000’s, he did not go far. He is aging and, at 33, will he find a second wind.

29. Karen Khachanov
The Russian is also pretty tall, and three years ago, he became No. 8, as he has a gigantic serve and he can blast the ball. In 2019, he went deep at Roland Garros, Montreal and Beijing. He was riding high. This year he did have a couple good tournaments at the Olympics and Tokyo. He can bash it on the lines, and also, he can be intelligent. The 25-year-old works a lot, on and off the court, and probably plays too often. Maybe he can add more spin and his improve his return.

28. Grigor Dimitrov

The Bulgarian continues to do so many things, playing with a lot of variety. However, he can be frustrated when he is hitting the ball too short. He does like to mix it up, and he can also attack when he sees the chance. At this point, if he wants to come back into the top 10, he is going to have to shorten the points, and go for it, win or lose. If he doesn’t, then he won’t be able to go super deep at the Slams.

27. Lorenzo Sonego
The 26-year-old Italian had a pretty good year, upsetting two excellent players Dominic Thiem and Andrey Rublev in Rome and reaching the semis. He won Cagliari, as he seems to really like on the clay. On the hardcourts, he was mediocre at best. He has yet to go into the top 20, and he is close. But, if he really wants to improve, then he should change a few things, like with his serves, and his backhand. Just swing harder.

26. Reilly Opelka
The tall American had a very good year. He improved his foot speed, his first serve and forehand, which are huge. Mentally, on various tournaments, he finally saw that to win more matches, he had to decide and stick to his tactics. Plus, he ws hitting deeper into the court. That is why he finally broke into the top 30. Yes, towards the end, he wore down, but if he improves his return and works on attacking the net during the off season, then he has a chance to go into the top 15 in 2022. Even further? Sure, why not. 2021 year-end review: top 30-26, women

30. Tamara Zidansek
The Slovenian finally rose, and the 23-year-old came of nowhere, reaching the semis at Roland Garros. Clearly, she likes clay. She started at the beginning of the year ranked No. 93. She is showing more emotion, which has been a key to her rise. While she does have to improve almost everything on court, at least she is hanging in there.

29: Danielle Collins
The American played some fantastic matches, winning Palermo and also San Jose. But this veteran plays all the time, almost every week. Physically, she is pretty strong, but she can also get tired mentally. Next year, she can make more progress if she limits her schedule. Then, when she gets on the court, she will be refreshed.

28: Jelena Ostapenko
She can be on fire, and other times, she makes so many errors. Even though she won the ‘18 Roland Garros, this pattern has been going for years. Her forehand and backhand can be bold and deep, but in order of going back into the top 5, she has to improve her serve and at the net. Perhaps, maybe something new will change her habits.

27: Victoria Azarenka
The two-time former Grand Slam champion can lock it in,and blast the ball. The veteran can take down almost anyone. Unfortunately, year after year, she still gets hurt a lot. In 2021, the big hitter retired on the court six times. That is a lot. At least in the fall, she reached the final at Indian Wells, and while she lost to Paula Badosa, Vika was flashy again. In 2022 she shouldn’t retire that many times.

26: Daria Kasatkina
The Russian had a decent year, winning Petersburg. She grabbed a few terrific matches, like upsetting Iga Swiatek in Eastbourne. She can be consistent, but she still needs to be more patient, and more upbeat. Still, she has to figure out how to defeat the top echelon of players.

While WTA supports Peng Shuai, lack of info still unsettling

Peng Shuai

Everyday, many people will think, ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ The Chinese player has possibly retired this year, and she went home…we think.

But three weeks ago, she disappeared, in the public view. Peng accused former high-level Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. The Chinese governments has said a few things, that she is around, but she does not want to talk, yet. Unfortunately, that is pretty weak.

Peng played for years, in the singles and the doubles, and connected with many in the tennis world. After her match was done, she would come into the press riin and talk with some good expressions.

On court, in the singles, she was good here and there. In doubles, she was darn good, and she became No. 1.and also won Roland Garros and Wimbledon with Hsieh Su-wei.

As many people wrote, or texted, including the players, the coaches, the broadcasters, and the journalists, just how did Peng disappear and why?
In the boldest move so far, WTA CEO Steve Simon suspended all tournaments in China, including Hong Kong, in 2022. There has been universal support for his initiative and courage and we agree with putting pressure on China.

No. 1 Novak Djokovic, supported the WTA move to halt Chinese tournaments, calling it a “very bold and very courageous.” Former No. 1, Serena Williams, decided to tweet, saying, “This must be investigated and must not stay silent.”

No. 2 Daniil Medvedev just said that maybe he might not go to China. “If there was a tournament in China next week, nobody would be comfortable,” he said. “What we all want is to see that Peng is fine, which we do not know 100 percent.”

In 2005, in July and Augustin California, Peng was on a roll. She upset three excellent players including Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina and Kim Clijsters.

The Belgian was started. “She has a great future ahead of her,” Clijsters said. “She’s the best player I’ve played in a long time; everything together, the groundstrokes and the movement. I think she can definitely become top three. She’s one of the hardest hitters I’ve played. She hits incredibly clean, especially from her backhand side.”

Peng was a cheery sort who’s always smiling. Then, she was the first Chinese player who had shown real top-flight potential. Peng was ready to dance way up high.

“A Grand Slam title is every player’s dream but I really just want to try my best,” she said. “I told myself if I got chances to believe in myself.”

She did then, but in the singles, she was up and down for a long time. In 2011, she topped out with a career high of No. 14. Three years later at the US Open she reached the semis beating Agnieszka Radwanska, Roberta Vinci, Lucie Safarova and Belinda Bencic. Then she cramped and had to retire against Caroline Wozniacki.

Those were some great days. Maybe the 35-year old will eventually come out and talk again in December. The world awaits more information to come out and not hindered by the Chinese government.

Davis Cup: Some with fans, some not

Novak Djokovic

At the Davis Cup, in Europe, there are a number of players who want to the event and are fully engaged. Lots of fans attended in some arenas, and there are other cities with no heads at all. That can be messy.

Hopefully, in 2022, crowds will return as things get back to normal

No. 1 Novak Djokovic is playing because he really believes that Serbia can grab the cup for the first time. In the singles, for the most part, he can beat just about everyone, but this year, he did lose a few amazing matches, like when he lost to Daniil Medvedev in the U.S. Open final. The Russian is playing also, so maybe they can meet again. It is super close, going backhand to backhand, cross-court, or down the line. On the forehand, Djokovic can mix it up, but Medvedev can slap it very hard. Next time, they meet, and as Medvedev said, he will throw in a few different hits. Perhaps Djokovic will do it, too, coming into the net more often.

Andrey Rublev is also playing for Russia. They have a strong one-two punch as he teams up with Medvedev and they think if they play well, then they can hoist the trophy.

England lost to Germany. The Brits thought they could go deeper. One of their players, Cameron Norrie, had a fine year. He certainly wants to move into the top 10 next year. He has improved a lot…
A few years ago, we though that Nick Kyrgios will go deep at the Grand Slams. While he has won some terrific matches, he has never gone into the semis in the majors. He gets hurt a lot, so now, the chance of reaching a major final would be surprising. At least one of the other Australian John Millman had a solid year.

The American men lost early at the Davis Cup, which was odd, given that they have three good singles players and a decent doubles team. At least Frances Tiafoe won a tough match, but both Reilly Opelka and John Isner went down, twice, in the singles. Maybe next year they can re-adjust.

Garbiñe Muguruza wins WTA Finals

Gabriñe Muguzura

In the WTA Finals, in Guadalajara, in two match of her matches, Garbiñe Muguruza was mediocre at best. Still, in the final match, she took down a misfiring Annet Kontaveit 6-3, 7-5 to become first Spanish women to take the year-end tournament.

When Muguruza finally got some momentum, she knows that when she is focused, she could find the magic she show years ago. At times, she would get upset, and two years ago, she dropped out of the top 50. She couldn’t focus. But gradually, she got better, week after week, and while she was not perfect, she was more consistent.

“I feel like I’ve struggled the first couple of matches. One, I didn’t find the way,” she said. “The other one, I did. All of those circumstances help you to find the way, the way to play here, to find your shots, to serve, to have a game plan. Because I struggled and went through the tough times, it’s like a little progression. Sometimes it’s not like that. Sometimes it goes just worst. I feel like in this time it really helped me. Those first matches, two hours and a half on court fighting, trying to find a way, I think it paid off. I’m like, ‘Okay, I know the altitude by now. I’ve spent many hours on the court. I think, Okay, I feel much better.’ ”

As the Finals progressed Muguruza began to turn it around. She began to hustle, to return deep, and with some terrific first serves. Even beyond that, both her forehand and backhand were strong and powerful.

Finally, after the past two years when she was struggling, the two-time Grand Slam champion woke up. She was ready to dance, and celebrate after she nailed a winner.

She also beat Paula Badosa in the semis. Kontaveit, who did have a fine tournament, lost her aggression and made too many unforced errors against the Spaniard.

When Muguruza was young, when she was practicing, she was good, but she wanted to be great. So she added to her stroke variety, and she continued to think constantly.

“I think it started to change. When I was a teenager. I don’t know exactly when was the transition,” she said. “Let’s say like 17 or 16. Also because my body, I’m a tall woman, big arms, and my personality always didn’t match probably the classic Spanish game. I wanted to dominate, be aggressive, be fearless. I had to kind of change my game style. I started playing the Spanish way. I quickly figured out, ‘Hey, this is not for me. I got to step on the court and be aggressive.’ I developed this game. People don’t have to think that the Spanish style is only being further back, more defensive. Like I’m a clear example that I got to go forward.”

Muguruza is now ranked No. 3. Next year, will she be able to leap to the top of the chart, and be No. 1? It is possible. As she says, “I think it paid off.”

Three big winners: Carlos Alcaraz, Paula Badosa, Tommy Paul

At 15 he was already looking very good, but it took him a while to be more smarter on court.

Perhaps another Spaniard, Carlos Alcaraz, will go up very high. On Saturday at the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, he won the tournament, beating American Sebastian Korda in straight sets.

Alcaraz has two gigantic strokes, with his forehand and his backhand. He is very strong, already, and his first serve is mighty. He keeps moving forward when he gets a decent chance, but not all the time. But here is the reality: While many of the teenager or the early 20s, they can look good against some other people who look stylish, but none of them are in the top 30 yet, so in a couple years, then we will all know how they really are.

However in 2017, during the first Next Gen ATP Finals, it looked like they some of the first contestants were nailing it. The ones who won, or reached the final, were Chung Hyeon, Andrey Rublev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alex de Minaur and Jannik Sinner. This year, they are all way up, either in the top 10 through the top 40. That is very impressive. I would think, and maybe I will be wrong, but in 2023, Alcaraz and Korda will be having a good shot to win an ATP 1000, and also go deep at the Slams. Sometimes they can get hurt, but if they are healthy, they can knock out a lot of people.

WTA Finals
Let’s review the young women. Paula Badose has come up gradually, and now driving. A few days ago, she destroyed Aryna Sabalenka 6-4 6-0 in Guadalajara.  If you look at Badosa, who just beat Maria Sakkari 76(4) 64 in the WTA Finals. A couple years ago, she was unfocused on the court. But this week, she is so locked in, and she can mix it up. Sakkari was close, but she made some mental mistakes. Badosa is now composed.

“I suffered but I knew I was going to suffer against a player like Maria, she is an amazing fighter,” said Badosa. “I think the key was to fight as well, I’m the same as her I am a competitor, I like to compete.I stayed aggressive and focused and fighting a lot and I think that was the game plan.”

Tommy Paul

That was a huge win by Tommy Paul, who won Stockholm beating Denis Shapovalov 6-4, 2-6, 6-4. This is his first title, backed with a strong performance with his forehand and his backhand. The 24-year-old from North Carolina is more mature now, and next year, he could even better when he returns more consistent.

“I played some of my best tennis to beat Denis,” said Paul. “It’s the most fun I’ve had playing a tennis tournament. It means everything to win my first title. I’ve worked so hard to achieve this and I’d like to break into the Top 30 at some point.” Go for it.

WTA Finals: Karolina Pliskova edges Garbine Muguruza

Karolina Pliskova

They were both a little bit nervous in the final-set tiebreak. At the end, Karolina Pliskova beat Muguruza 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 [6] in the WTA Finals in Guadalajara.

During those last, crucial moments, the Czech was fearless, though not on every sho

Yes, it is important that when you are chasing the ball side to side to just get it back, hopefully deep, doing anything to stay during the point. But, when Pliskova had an opportunity, she should punch it away.

It was a very long match. Pliskova has hit so many aces, easily one of the best in the WTA. Her first serve is a bomb, on the line, or in the corner.

Really though, Muguruza could have won it, especially with her muscular forehand and backhand. Plus, even though she is not perfect at all at the net, her game has improved there. But, in the last couple minutes, she made a few important, fateful errors.

However, the Spaniard has lost only one match. So, on Friday and Saturday, the two-time Grand Slam champion will need to win two matches to move into the semis in Mexico. She just has to continue to battle.

That’s 11 match wins in a row by Anett Kontaveit, who beat Barbora Krejcikova. In August, she started to play excellent ball, moving quickly and depending on her super true-blue strokes. She is still gaining ground on the rest of the players with another victory at the WTA Finals.

It looks like an American man will not finish the end of the year in the top 20. Taylor Fritz is the closest person. Next Monday, he will be ranked 23, more or less. He did have a good year, at times, but not fantastic – yet. Sure, many people are happy that the players can be inside the top 20, but for the most part, they want to move into the top 10, or even better, in the top 5. It is all about winning the biggest events, such as the Grand Slams, and after that, the ATP 1000s. The last American man to win a Slam is Andy Roddick at the 2003 US Open. That has been 19 years ago now. That is a very long time.

Someday, it will eventually happen, but when? Next year, or in two years? How about in 2024? Will it be John Isner? Fritz? Reilly Opelka? Sebastian Korda? Frances Tiafoe? Tommy Paul? Brandon Nakashima?

Outside of Isner, who has reached the semis at the Slams and he has won an ATP 1000, the rest of them have not reached in the quarters at the majors. The younger players had some terrific wins this year. But, when you have to defeat the top 5-ers like No. 1, Novak Djokovic, there is a long way to go. Just take it and grab it.

The spectacular Novak Djokovic overcomes Daniil Medvedev

Novak Djokovic

Everyday whether he is playing fantastic or mediocre, Novak Djokovic shows up to play. Once again, on Sunday in Paris, there was an encore. Like the best music in the final song, the Serbian edged Daniil Medvedev 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 to win another title this year. He grabbed five huge titles in 202
If you go back to see Djokovic’s first Grand Slam at the Australian Open, in 2005 when he fell to Marat Safin, he clearly looked terrific. But, he still had to improve his forehand, his second serve and net game. New, 16 years later, the now 34-year -old has become almost picture-perfect, which is why he won three Grand Slams this year. He almost took a fourth at the US Open, the famous and elusive calendar year Grand Slam, but Medeved caught him in three sets in the final. The Russian was incredibly steady on the rock.

However, Djokovic said he thought about it a lot. And, he re-adjusted.

“I went back and reviewed the final of the US Open to see what I did wrong and what I did right. I tried to read the patterns of his serve and the ball toss, maybe. I tried to look for the small details, because it was a match of small margins,” Djokovic told the Tennis Channel.

“He started better, broke my serve in the first game and I came back. He served the first set out pretty comfortably, but I felt as if I was there. I thought it was only a matter of time when I was going to read his serve better and start to make some plays. You can’t go through him. You have to find a way to play with controlled aggression, play the right shots at the right time and make him come in. It’s variety that wins matches against him. We both suffered on the court and there was a lot of grueling rallies.”

Djokovic has now won 86 titles, mostly because he is still so fast and, plus, he is now more comfortable coming into the net, and his backhand might be the best ever.

”You still have to play some half volleys, some low volleys and come in, but you have the whole of the court to play with,” he said.

A few years ago, Medvedev was almost out there, when he wasn’t playing well. He has always been steady, but he didn’t want to aim at the lines. At times, he would because like almost all of the players wanted badly to become No. 1. Or even the top 10. So, he worked and worked, he added to his game, with his serves and his return.

Right now, he is on the top of the game. Or close. He has beaten everyone in the past two years, and he is just fine to stay out there for hours and battle. He has no fear. Well, almost, because the best players can get nervous, depending on the day. That includes Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, and of course, Djokovic.

At the ATP Finals in Turin, in a couple weeks, Djokovic and Medvedev might clash again. That are 5-5, head-to-head. That is enough times for them to know each others games. Plus, they have had some fascinating matches. However, as Djokovic knows, (he who has played Nadal 58 matches), there needs to be some new adjustments. Medvedev will do that, too.

Coming of age: Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe reach the finals

Taylor Fritz

No. 1 Novak Djokovic is back, planning to play again in Paris this week. During the summer, he looked mind blowing, but, once in a while, he can lost. You cannot be perfect each match.

However, in the US Open final, Daniil Medvedev was so patient and powerful. The No. 2 is also in France, along with Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas. The so-called top four.

Zverev just won in Vienna, beating American Frances Tiafoe, 7-5 6-4. Zverev crushed his serves, and he had no double-faults. He was patient and courtly. Since the summer, he began to re-think of what he had to do. For example, when he missed a few bad shots, he used to get very agitated. But now, he will turn it around and be super intent. Not only can he bust the ball, Zverev also he can meld it up. He is feeling startling competent.

Tiafoe had a terrific week. He did not win, but he has the best week this year. He took down three very good players, stunning Jannik Sinner, Diego Schwartzman and Tsitsipas. He is playing consistently and more aggressive. His esteem has finally rose. He needs to return better and, at the net, but both his forehand and his backhand is tracking deeper.

Taylor Fritz reached the final in St. Petersburg, but he lost, too. However, he was very close against the veteran, Marin Cilic. Both of them like to pummel the balls, but they also like to rally. Cilic won 7-6(3) 4-6 6-4, and he toughed it out. There are times when he is loose with little self-confidence, and there are times when he can focus. This year, he has been so-so. But, on certain days when he keeps his head, he is a worthy opponent, Remember, when he won the 2014 US Open, he was almost perfect.

The San Diego native Fritz has played a lot, playing 20 tournaments in 2021. He is now ranked No. 26, which is pretty good, Perhaps in the next few weeks he can reach the top 20 before the end of the year. That would be just fine, which will be his career high. He can volley, and he can go for the lines, but if he wants to push into the top 10 next year, then he has to re-adjust, and like Tiafoe, he has to return more efficiently.

The ATP race is on for the men

Novak Djokovic

As fall rolls on and we come to near the end of the tennis year, there will be some players want to go home. But there are also the intense competitors who want to grab a lot of match wins. For the wonderful player sho have already made it into the ATP Finals, or have previously gone deep, or won it, so they were thrilled to continue playing.

Coming up in November, there will be some huge tournaments. Yes, Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, and Andrey Rublev are already in, while Matteo Berrettini is likely to get in, too. Then, there also are Casper Ruud, Jannik Sinner [read my article on] and Hubert Hurkacz, just 110 points away rom qualifying. However, Hurkacz just lost in the first round in Vienna against Andy Murray, so he will have to push it hard in Paris next week.

Cameron Norrie is also close to getting into the ATP Finals, too. Whoever makes it, it will be a great draw.

Here is a funny story: When Norrie went to the restaurant in 2018 at Indian Wells, he saw Dominic Thiem and Juan Martin Del Potro together, eating the same meal day after day. The Brit — who hadn’t been very high in the singles, yet — Norrie was a bit startled. The same meal after practicing or playing, munching pasta.

 “I went the first night. They told me Dominic Thiem and Juan Martín del Potro won the tournament here and they ate here every night. So, I said I would come back if I win,” Norrie said. “I came back and had five or six nights in a row there. The same meal on match days. I mixed it up on the other days. I am usually never like that.”

Norrie won the 2021 Indian Wells, the first time he had won such a 1000 title. Finally he nailed it. “Maybe it did work this week,” he said. He sure did.

Stan Wawrinka, who has won three Grand Slams, is aging and he pulled out the rest of the year. Another two fantastic players, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer, who are also hurt and have stopped in 2021.

So now it is up to Djokovic —if he actually plays at the ATP Finals, to carry the torch for the veterans. He has won it five timesMedvedev (who won it last year), Tsitsipas (also he won it in 2019), Zverev (who grabbed it in 2018).

But, the ATP Finals is a demanding assignment. Just ask about Thiem, who reached the final at the ATP Finals the last two times, and he was so close at the end of the third set. But he couldn’t do it. As he said, “I just not good enough.”