The Picks in Rome: Wednesday, May 10

Fabio Fognini
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Andy Murray over Fabio Fognini
The three-time champion Murray recently said that if he can, he will play Roland Garros if he is feeling good, with his sore body. That is up in the air, but the most important thing is to prove it, with himself, to play excellent, in Rome. Yes, it is pretty darn slow, but it is a historic atmosphere, so almost everyone wants to show from the fans that he is a superior person. Murray can be, early on, but he has to face Fognini, another aging person, but when he was on, the Italian put together some wonderful points. He is a grinder, and his forehand and his backhand with a lot spin. But if you look at him now, he is losing a lot, as his game is slipping. Therefore, Murray will win it in two, long, sets.

Gregoire Barrere over Brandon Nakashima
The American Nakashima can mix it up, a lot, and also, he can attempt to nail his forehand. He is pretty steady, too, but he can also leave it short. Barrere is very interesting, the way he plays, and where he is going on the court.The Frenchman veteran has yet to reach the top 50, but he is hoping that one day, he can upset a few significant players. He did reach the semis in Rotterman, and he was somewhat consistent, but in order to snare of a bunch winners, then he will have to point it on clay. Barrere will play very appropriate, and win it in three, very long, sets.

Marcos Giron over Roman Safiullin
The Russian Safiullin has had a decent year, as when he won a bunch on the qualifying, which it is difficult, but none the less. You just never know what is going on, to finally be better, or just stay there. In Madrid, he qualified, beating Tommy Paul. He must have been happy, even though he lost in the second round. Giron had a good year in 2022, but currently, he has been UP and DOWN. He does like to lash his backhand, and he can also, hammer his forehand. Right now, he knows that he has to try to return better, and crush his first serve. This time, Giron will overcome Safiullin in two, hammer, sets.

Jaume Munar over Thanasi Kokkinakis
The Aussie Kokkinakis is very competed with the doubles, but in the singles, he is still finding the real action. He can be inconsistent, and his forehand is decent, but not great. Still, though, he is excellent at the net, and also, with his return. The Spaniard Munar is another man who wants to reach the top 50. Not the top 20, or the top 10, but the top 50 is good enough. He did win a couple matches at Madrid, so apparently, he is feeling good. Munar does like on the clay, and he plays it all the time, so against Kokkinakis, he will push him in the wall, and win it in two, engaging, sets.

The Australian Open: The middle of the road

Fabio Fognini

Way back, during the middle of their long and winding career roads, Rafa Nadal and Fabio Fognini have played each other 16 times. They have played each other, all over the world. In reality, there were some so-so matches. But there have been some incredible contests, like when the Italian was down two sets at the 2015 US Open and he came back, shocking the Spaniard in five sets. Fognini was on fire. Playing in the New York night, he managed to hit so many winners, with his spinning forehand and backhand, and then flatten them out.

But after that, Nadal continued to improve his backhand and at the net. Since then, Nadal won six matches, while Fognini had just one. That is why Nadal has won 20 Grand Slams. He is the favorite on Monday. He knows that so he has to go for the lines pretty early. When he is healthy, he can grind it, but when Nadal is slightly hurt, he has to leap try to dominate early.

Fognini has also improved over the past couple years, improving his focus. He still can be frustrated when he isn’t going well, but he also lifts his head and he continues to fight. If Fognini is close, then he has to continue banging at Nadal’s backhand. Nadal has refined his backhand, but it is not perfect.
Another Italian, Matteo Berrettini, is more mature and thoughtful. He finally understands where he is going, and also, when he should mix it up. He will face Stefanos Tsitsipas, the cool Greek. Tsitsipas can be patient, or he can go for too much too early. He is tall;his first serves are very hard and his returns is high. He does have a shot to win it all. He is that talented.

How about American Mackenzie McDonald who made it into the round of 16? No one knew him, outside when he played college at UCLA and won the 2016 NCAA singles and doubles crowns. When he turned  pro, he was ready to move up higher and higher, but he became seriously hurt, and he had to stop for many months. Now he is back, and he is true-blue. However, he has to face against Daniil Medvedev, another one who can wins a Slam. The Russian made it into the final at the 2019 US Open, and he almost won, but Nadal beat him in the fifth set. If McDonald plays great, he can push Medvedev, but he isn’t ready yet to overcome the top-5 players. Yet … Another American, Jessica Pegula, has been around for 10 years. It took her a long time to become assertive and accomplished. On Monday, she faces the steady, No. 5 Elina Svitolina. It is time for Pegula to hop in Melbourne. 2020 year-end review: top 16-20, men

Pablo Carreno Busta

20. Karen Khachanov
He loves to serve, and even without moving much, he can tear winners into the corners. The Russian had a classic match at the Australian Open, losing against Nick Kyrgios, 7-6(8) in the fifth set. They pounded it for many hours. Khachanov was so close, but he didn’t handle the returns, and needed to be faster when he is running around. In 2018, he won the ATP 1000 Paris, upsetting Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokovic en route to the title. But, he hasn’t taken a title since that year. In 2021, maybe he can some new shots with spin and trickery. He can easily stay within the top 20. The next step to the top 10 and consistently making  the second weeks at the Slams is quite possible but the 24-year-old needs to be more patient.

19. Grigor Dimitrov
He is now a veteran, as he won his first title in 2013 and captured the ATP Tour Finals in 2017. He has a lot of variety, and his a one-handed backhand can deliver a lot of twirl. However, this year he was toast. At the US Open, the Bulgarian lost in the second round, showing an incomplete game. There are times when he is on top of the world. Unfortunately, he has never won a major, even though the 29-year-old reached the Grand Slam semis three times. Yes, he can be a force, but he can become erratic. In 2021, he will have some great matches. But, I don’t see a return to the top-5.

18. Stan Wawrinka
How about this? The Swiss won three Grand Slams, beating Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic twice. He knows how to play on clay, and hardcourts. He doesn’t love Wimbledon, but he has made the effort. He has a divine backhand which he can return with depth. However, he has played for a very long time, and he looks to be slowing down. In the past two years, he was hurt a lot. Can Wawrinka return into the top-5 next year? I am sure that he will have some terrific wins. But, if he feels 100 percent, than winning another Slam is not out of the question. Bring it on.

17. Fabio Fognini
Last year, the 33-year-old won the ATP 1000 Monte Carlo, upsetting Nadal, Borna Coric, Zverev and Andre Rublev. The was his the best week ever. On clay, he can dig it and is so steady with a lot of crafty variety. However, during the rest of this year, he did almost nothing, ending tis years, with 6 wins and 10 losses. That is pretty lousy. On hardcourts, he is the not the same player and needs to be more consistent. In 2021, he must turn it around or he can lose quickly. It is his decision.

16. Pablo Carreno Busta
This was a very good year for the Spaniard, who can run all day, hit with a lot of spin, volley well and crack his returns. It is surpassing that he has four ATP Tour titles, three of which are on hardcourts. His career high was No. 10 in 2017 but injuries in 2018 and 2019 knocked him back down as low as No. 6x. His rise back into the top 20 shows the strength of his overall game and ability to plug on. Even though he is still in his prime at 29, you’ve got to wonder if younger and more talented players like Khachanov, Alex de Minaur and Felix Auger-Aliassime will pass him in the rankings.

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 30s in 2018: Men, 15-11

Stefanos Tsitsipas
Stefanos Tsitsipas

No. 15: Stefanos Tsitsipas
What a year for Tsitsipas. He was ranked No. 131 during the fall of 2017. He ended up 2018 ranked No. 15. For the 20-year-old, he rose way up and he was upbeat. Even during the fall, he changed a dramatic amount. For him, he was mentally smart, more aggressive and stronger. The Greek Tsitsipas reached the ATP 1000 Canada, upending Dominic Thiem, Novak Djokovic, Alexandra Zverev and Kevin Anderson before losing to Rafa Nadal. He won Stockholm, and he grabbed the Next Gen ATP Final. He may be a little bit erratic, but as long has he continues to get better, he will push in the top-10, and maybe even further. 
No. 14: Kyle Edmund
When he is erratic, the Brit showed that he is worried. But now, Edmund, who finally appears to believe in himself. Without a doubt, he can be confused on court, and he needs to be better with his returns. When moves forward, his returns improve substantially. In the Australian Open, he reached the semis, beating Grigor Dimitrov before he lost to the huge serving Marin Cilic. During much of the year, he was spotty. In the fall he kept working off court and on court, and he won Antwerp in October. Look, Edmund has to go into the net and put it away — more frequently. He still has a lot of work ahead, but if he does, in 2019, he can even reach the final at a Slam or in the ATP 1000. He will move up, that is for sure.  

No. 13: Fabio Fognini
During the last two years, the Italian has been so much more consistent and he is calmer than he used to be. He can smack the forehand and backhand, he is very quick and intelligent. For sure, he can still become angry, and extremely frustrated, and his brain blows up. However, when he begins to breathe, and look at everything, then he can become very intelligent and he can hit so many cool shots. Fognini won three events this year: Sao Paulo, Bastad (on clay) and Los Cabos, on hard court. That shows consistency. However, he has yet to reach to the finals at the Grand Slams and the ATP 1000s. Clearly, he wants to do that for the first time. He is 31-years-old, and he has a few years left, but in 2019, he needs to lock it in and stay there.

No. 12: Borna Coric
A year ago, I wasn’t sure that Coric could focus enough to succeed. In 2018, he played substantially better, he began to grow up, and on court, he decided that he would grind until the sunshine went down. And that’s he did, playing many long rallies — super, long rallies — and when he had an opportunity, he would strike, instead of just hitting the ball back. He won Halle. In October, he reached the ATP 1000 Shanghai in the final, upending Stan Wawrinka, Juan Martin del Potro and Roger Federer, before he losing to No. 1 Novak Djokovic. That was his best week, ever. Next year, he will push really hard to reach the top 5. He is ready, but can he go very deep at the Slams? That will be an investigation.
No. 11: Karen Khachanov
The tall Russian had a terrific fall. He captured the Paris Masters, shocking four top 10-ers: John Isner, Zverev, Thiem and Djokovic. The 22-year-old also won Moscow and Marseille. At the US Open, while he lost against Rafa Nadal, it was very close. He is a huge hitter on both sides, and his serve is massive. But, like the younger players, he does not return very well. Khachanov has to continue to work on his returns; I mean for hours and hours because the Grand Slams winners — like Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, Andy Murray and Wawrinka — they return consistently and deep. Other Russians – Marat Safin and Yevgeny Kafelnikov who won a couple of majors – could jump on the first and second serves. Not only where they capable of putting it away at the net, but were devastating with their return game. The young 6-foot-6 Kachanov is taller and hits harder than both of them. As he as said, he works off court all the time. So in 2019, if is he continues to revamp, he will be there deep in many semis and the finals. He is that good.

Rising: Stephens and Sharapova are locking in

FROM ROLAND GARROS — Sloane Stephens was almost done, playing in the third set, against Camille Giorgi, at 6-6, the summer has arrived, and the heat was on.

The Italian was so, so, close, but while she can smack winners, she can also miss it, on the lines. Really, it was the 2017 US Open champ Stephens to decide which way to go, very deep, short, and faster, harder or slower. No one knows whether Giorgi is locked in, or is she a little bit confused. Right at the end, Stephens was thinking hard, while the Italian was over-hitting. 

Stephens won 4-6, 6-1, 8-6. Now she has reached the fourth round, for the fifth time. Is it time for her to finally reach the quarters? Possibly, but not guaranteed. And, by the way, she is now reach No. 8, the highest women American, passing Venus Williams, at the least this week.  

After 10 months off due to her injury, Stephens did return until late June in 2017. She was always smart, but the good news is that when she was off, she watched a lot of tennis on TV and she learned a lot.

“I would say I see the most change in myself, in my own game, but I do think that things are a little different since I came back. Just making a lot balls, being consistent. Obviously when I first came back I had some really great results ,being consistent and wearing girls down. That worked for me. But ,after a while, it’s not going to work. You have to find other ways to improve all the time.”

Stephens has to play Anett Kontaveit, who upset Petra Kvitova. Kontaveit can smack her forehand and backhand, with a mediocre serve, but she can secure on the net.

Maria Sharapova of Russia during her third-round match at the 2018 Roland Garros Grand Slam tennis tournament

Maria Sharapova played a tremendous, fantastic match, blowing out Katarina Pliskova 6-2, 6-1. Sharapova was gone for 15 months, and when she returned in April of 2017, she was pretty shaky. It has been 14 months now, and she has had a few good wins, a few bad ones and some decent ones. She has been hurt a decent amount, but over the past couple of months, she has been pretty healthy. Now, she is more comfortable and she is beginning to swing it out.     
“I don’t like to feel too comfortable. I think there are definitely matches where you play flawless, you play great. But, I have said in my career where I have come off the court and said that was perfect is just a handful of times, because there are always things that you can improve,” Sharapova said.

“There are always errors that kind of creep up, certain moments in a match. Even today I had that long point where she made a dropshot on the run and it was a really long point, could have given me a chance to go up two break points, but it didn’t. It was 30-all. I actually thought to myself, ‘I was, like, no matter the score, I’m not going to let this point define the match.’ You never know. Tennis, that’s what’s so interesting about this game is that every point can really put you back to reality. I thrive on those situations and those moments.”

Next up for Sharapova is Serena Williams who beat Julia Goerges 6-3 6-4. Serena played very well, the best day this year. She was pretty quick, and her serve, forehand and her backhand were deadly. Now she has to play against Sharapova, which could be a fun match, but Serena is 19-2 in the head to head. In 2013 in the final here in RG, Serena won 6-4, 6-4. That was a little bit closer, but still, Serena had been absurdly dominant. In the past 10 years, Serena has won 24 sets, and Maria has won just one. Even though they have changed a lot over the past two years, still, Serna is the favorite, hands down.

Marin Cilic is playing very well, knocking out Steve Johnson in three sets. He likes the heat, and he can be very forceful. He has to play against Fabio Fognini, who overcame Kyle Edmund is five sets. Cilic is the favorite, but the Italian is on a roll and can be a factor here. … David Goffin was almost downed and out in the fourth set, but he recovered to smash some amazing shots. He wore out Gail Monfils 6-7, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3. The Belgian likes to move it around. … Rafa Nadal is just crushing the ball. He destroyed Richard Gasquet, for the 16th time. You have to think that Nadal will reach the semis, and then go against, I think, Cilic/Fognini/JM del Potro or — imagine this — John Isner, who just won over Pierre Herbert in four sets . On clay, finally, for Isner.

Sloane Stephens finds her footing on clay but falls to Garcia

American Sloane Stephens said this week that she understands how to play better on clay now. She used to get frustrated at times, but now she is learning what she needs to succeed. However, she has to be more tolerant. On Wednesday in Rome, she knocked down Kaia Kanepi 6-0 5-7 6-4.

But, she couldn’t extend the magic against Caroline Garcia, losing 6-1 7-6(7). Garcia has improved huge amount over the past year — in the singles, that is. Both of them can sit back and rally for ages. They are both very accurate, rarely missing some easy shots. Eventually, however, they can swing hard and try to kiss the lines. This match can go for two and half hours. At the end, whomever is willing to go for it and not push the balls back, she will take it, with Stephens or Garcia.
Simona Halep smoked Naomi Osaka pretty quickly and then got a walkover when Madison Keys pulled out. That will keep her atop the WTA rankings.

Venus Williams overcame Elena Vesnina 6-2 4-6 7-5, as the Russian faltered in the last games. But Anett Kontaviet took down Venus 6-2 7-6(3) in the third round. Kontaviet aslo knocked Venus out of Madrid last week.

The amazing thing is for the first time, or very rarely, over the past 20 years, that Venus decided she could play doubles without Serena. Unfortunately, she picked Keys, who withdrew from singles and doubles, citing a rib injury.

On the rise is Maria Sharapova, who dispatched Gavrilova in straight sets. There was no doubt that Sharapova would find her form. Now, the question is can she get back into the mix of the top 5. If Sharapova wins a few more matches, she will be in the top 32, which will help at Roland Garros.

Here is a marathon when Daria Gavrilova took out Garbine Muguruza 5-7 6-2 7-6(6). Muguruza had a few match points and she couldn’t convert. She rarely chokes, and Gavrilova kept pushing her. I am just not sure that the former RG champ Muguruza can take the Paris title again.

Two other notable matches with the guys on Wednesday: Kei Nishikori beat Grigor Dimitrov 7-6(4) 5-7 6-4 in nearly three hours. Good for Nishikori, staying in there, going backhand versus backhand, hitting it hard down the line. Nishikori continued to show he is improving when healthy, pummeling Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-1 6-2 in the third round.
Props to Fabio Fognini, who out-hit Dominic Thiem and then sailing through Peter Gojowczyk. Next up is Rafa Nadal who had no problem with Canada’s newest top player Denis Shapovalov. They have had some classic matches over the years, and they might do that again.

2017 top players: men’s 21-25 will review 2017’s top 30 women and men, our annual feature.

No. 21: Nick Kyrgios
When the Aussie is into it, he is about as good as he gets. Nick has a tremendous first serve, huge forehand, good slice on the backhand and is pretty good when he is at the net. The big downsides are he doesn’t want to play hard all the time and he gets hurt frequently. Then, he disappears. Look, it’s all about him. Nick is very young, but he needs decide if he really wants to be a tennis player.

No. 22: Kei Nishikori
I have no idea what Nishikori is going to do in 2018. Just like Raonic, I really though that the now 27-year-old Kei would get better and better and eventually will win a major. Or even win an ATP 1000. But, he gets hurt constantly. Sure, he is a fantastic player when he is into it, but every time deep in a tournaments, we start thinking, “Is he going to retire tonight, because his body is about to collapse?” I hope not, but he has to figure out how he can adjust his frame to the hard rigors of pro tennis.

No. 23: Albert Ramos-Vinolas
The 29-year-old Spaniard had a fine year. Sure, it has taken a long time to figure out the hard courts, but still, now he is willing to move forward and he can mix it up whenever he can. He needs to push himself even more, with his backhand, especially.   

No. 24: Milos Raonic
A few years ago, I was pretty sure that he was about to win Grand Slam. He came close, reaching the final at Wimbledon, bu,t as he says, he gets hurt all the time. I mean, almost every second. That’s why in 2018, he has to stay healthy for the entire year. On court, when he’s 100 percent, he has become so much better, especially with his backhand and at the net. If he keep focused and not overthink, the 26-years-old Raonic can actually win a major for the first time. Imagine that.

No. 25: Gilles Muller
The 34-year-old had a very good year. It has taken, what, 15 years before he realized that, in order to win a tournament, he had to stick with a strategy and not panic. In 2017 he won his first ATP title – ever – in Sydney. He is very tall, he loves to come into the net and while he isn’t that fast running, he focuses. Maybe he can reach the semi at a major in 2018. He would be thrilled.

2017 top players: men’s 26-30 will review 2017’s top 30 women and men, our annual feature.

No. 26: Diego Schwartzman
The 25-year-old Argentine had a pretty good year, reaching the US Open quarters, and he made it to the final at the European Open in Belgium. He is fast, and quick, and agile. If he wants to reach the top 10, he has to attack the net more often.

No. 27: Fabio Fognini
The Italian had a decent year at time, taking down Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori and Lucas Pouille. He likes to mix it up, to chop it, and he goes for the lines. At times, he is a beautiful player, but at other times, he gets totally losing control. He’s outstripped Nick Kygrios as the current tennis bad boy. In 2018, if he can find a calm space, he could reach the final at a Grand Slam for the first time. But, but not at Wimbledon, because he can’t figure out on grass. 

No. 28 Adrian Mannarino
The 29-year-old Mannarino is up and down, playing great, and then mentally, he gets very frustrated. The Frenchman did reach the final of Tokyo, and he knocked out Gail Monfils at Wimbledon. He is very good, but he is not a fantastic player. Maybe in 2018, he will find a better form.

No. 29: Philipp Kohlschreiber
The veteran plays all the time, and he is rarely injured. He likes to spin, and slice, and crack the ball. He is a very good competitor, but to win a major? I cannot see that.

No. 30: Damir Džumhur
The Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina native Dzumhur had a breakout year, winning Petersburg and Moscow while reaching the final in Winston-Salem.He started the year ranked No. 77 and now he is in the top 30. He seems to like hard courts, but he does not love grass, or even clay. Obviously, the 25-year-old is still learning to play, and he is playing much better.

The top 32’s in 2015: Questions for Azarenka & JJ, Monfils & Fabio

Azarenka IW 15 TR MALT7393



No. 24

Andrea Petkovic

The delightful German loves to speak and she is very bright, but on court she slumped this season, getting hurt once again and she was over-playing. She is a big hitter and she can be steady at times, but she gets frustrated and needs to calm down if she is ever going to reach the top 10 every again.

No. 23

Ekaterina Makarova

The Russian has been very effective on the hard courts at the majors, reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open once again.

After that though, she began to slide, being frustrated when she wasn’t kissing the lines. She got hurt after the US Open and wasn’t able to play the rest of the season. She is under rated, and she can kick the heck out of the ball, but in 2016, the 27-year-old has to add more variety.

No. 22

Victoria Azarenka

In the first match of the year in Brisbane, the former No. 1 Azarenka lost a marathon against Katarina Pliskova, but it looked like she was thrilled to be back on court and ready to rumble. She has looked extremely effective at times, nearly knocking off Serena Williams and going down against Simona Halep in a classic quarterfinal at the US Open. She was right there and had she bested Halep, she could have won it all. The two-time champion has been hurt at times this year and she knows that if she wants to become No. 1 again, she has to reset her mindset. If she does not, she may be left out of the cold.

No. 21

Jelena Jankovic

The veteran Serbian has been around a very long time (15 years to be exact)and clearly she has been aging. However, once in a while, she will play great, rushing around, crushing her phenomenal backhand and smiling widely. She is ‘only’ 30 year old, so ‘JJ’ will stay around until she realizes that she isn’t strong enough to knock off the big girls anymore.


Monfils IW 10 MALT6324

Monfils combines great athleticism and inconsistency. Mal Taam/MALTphoto

No. 24

Gael Monfils

When the Frenchman is on, he can be the most fun, delightful player around. But when he isn’t, well, he becomes pretty shaky. He did have a few good moments, like Marseille, Monte Carlo (he upset Roger Federer) and Roland Garros, when he won two dramatic five-setters but then he finally fell again … to Federer. After that, he did very little and once again, he was hurt frequently. When he is healthy and he is feeling right, he can go very deep. But can the 29-year-old ever win a major? Doubtful.

No. 23

Ivo Karlovic

The 36-year-old Croatian is still in the top 25 in singles, which is pretty darn good, considering that most of his contempories have already retired. The 6-foot-10 Karlovic hits a huge first serve, he can bang a forehand and he isn’t bad when he gets to the net. Clearly, he isn’t that fast and his backhand is nearly atrocious, but he plays almost every week and he doesn’t back off. Who knows, if he stays healthy, he could continue playing until 40. Not bad at all.

No. 22

Victor Troicki

After being in top form from July 2013-2104, he came back, starting from zero. That was very difficult, but in 2015, he was more calm and he was very respectable. Sure, he didn’t play particularly well after the grass season (he reached the final at Stuttgart), but the Serbian played a ton of tournaments and he didn’t quit. Given what occurred, he is back on court, pushing to the limits – that is good enough.

No. 21

Fabio Fognini

Without a doubt, the Italian had some spectacular moments, shocking Rafa Nadal at the US Open after being down two sets, and besting Rafa in Buenos Aires in three sets early this year. He was tricked by Grigor Dimitrov 7-5 in the third set in Madrid, but a week later at home in Italy, he blasted the Bulgarian 6-0 in the third. Yes, he can lose frequently, but he has gorgeous shots and, if he continues to improve, he could reach the top 10 in 2016.