The top 32: John Isner got better, but did Jo Tsonga improve?

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The top 32, 2015, ATP, Nos. 12-9

No. 12

Kevin Anderson

The South African really improved this year, adding some new shots, mixing it up and, of course, blasting away with his massive serve. He has been fairly consistent over the season, but he has been unable to knock out the big boys at the majors. However, at the US Open, he out fought Andy Murray and then went down against Stan Wawrinka.

At Wimbledon, he reached the fourth round and he was so close, winning the first two sets against Novak Djokovic. But then the Serbian surged and, in the fifth set, Anderson had some chances but he lost 7-5. Yes, the 6-foot-9 Anderson has had trouble overcoming the top 10 opponents – like falling against Rafa Nadal, Kei Nishikori, Roger Federer, Murray, Wawrinka and Djokovic – but at least he was pretty aggressive and solid. If he locks in early, perhaps the 29-year-old can reach a semifinal at a major and stun another one of the so-called Big Four-plus 1 (Djokovic, Murray, Federer, Nadal and Wawrinka).

No. 11

John Isner

In 2009, Isner cracked the top 10 and reached No. 9, his highest ever. Is he ready to go further in 2016? Why not? The American was not spectacular every week this year, but he has been fairly consistent when he was feeling confident. At Miami, the 30-year-old Isner knocked off Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori before losing against Djokovic. In Madrid, he bested Nick Kyrgios and reached the quarters, when he fell against Tomas Berdych 7-6 in the third. He won Atlanta again; and he reached the final in Washington. At Paris/Bercy, he stunned Federer and then went down against David Ferrer.

Those are the positives. However, the 6-foot-10 man must improve. Without a doubt, first and foremost, he must do something with his return, which really hurt him. His backhand has gotten better, and his volley is more respectable, too. We all know that his serve is mind-blowing, as is his forehand. But if he cannot break, then he has to go to the tiebreaks all the time, and emotionally, that can get him down. That is why he has yet to reach a semifinal at the major. The good thing is he did get better in 2015. During the off-season, if he pushes himself, maybe we will see him surge at Australian Open for the first time. Now that will be a whole lot of fun.

No. 10

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Tsonga IW 12 TR MALT3267In 2008, when the Frenchman reached the final at the Australian Open, I really thought that he was going to win a Grand Slam for sure. Yes, he lost against Djokovic, but still, he was young and he had crushed Nadal in the semis. He was leaping around, he was nailing his forehand and he was dominating the net.

But unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to do it again. He is hurt all the time, especially with his sore knees, and while he can get close – like he did in 2015 when he reached the semis at Roland Garros, overcoming Berdych and Nishikori before Wawrinka whacked him in four sets – he didn’t cross the finish line. At the US Open in the quarters against Marin Cilic, he was right there, but he went down in five sets. He did win Metz, and he reached the final in Shanghai, beating Nadal in the semis and then Djokovic cruised past him.

Just like the other two men above (Anderson and Isner), they can crush their forehands and serves, but there backhands are so-so and they do not return efficiently. At least ‘Jo’ has reached the Top 5 once, and when he is feeling right, he truly believes in himself. But can he go all the way at a major? I am not sure anymore.

No. 9

Richard Gasquet

Here is another 30-year-old player. We have to ask the question: Will the Frenchman even win a Grand Slam, or even a ATP Masters 1000? Maybe, but now, I doubt it. Yes, he has won 12 titles over the years, but he has yet to be able to knock off the highest competitors. He has a wonderful backhand and forehand, he can be creative, and he can hustle, but is just a little bit short. In 2015, he did reach two quarters in the ATP Masters 1000, and he did reach the Wimbledon semifinals once again, overcoming Wawrinka 11-9 in the fifth set. That was a classic. Unfortunately, he was somewhat tired and then he lost against Djokovic. He can be flashy, so perhaps he will change it up in 2016. If he does, Gasquet may push into a Slam final.

Miami: First quarter has taken physical toll

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Sori soared over a hobbled Kerber.

Miami has had no discernable theme whatsoever other than that once again too many players are aching or hurt post the Aussie hard courts swing; the February Euro indoor/Middle East outdoor, Latin American clay or US indoor/outdoor outswing; and of course Indian Wells.

Miami will officially close the first quarter of the season, which is perhaps the physically most difficult portion of the year as player must roar out of the gates within two weeks and then head into Melbourne, and must conclude with two back-to-back Masters Series at Indian Wells in Miami.

The only other quarter that touches the first one in regards to physical effort is the third one, which begins on grass and ends at the US Open and also includes two Masters Series (Canada and Cincy).

The second quarter is a big test for clay courters because it ends at Roland Garros and contains two Masters Series (Rome and Madrid) and a mini Masters Series (Monte Carlo) but the surface remains the same and with grass it is the easiest one on the body.

The fall swing is less mentally taxing because it doesn’t not contain a Slam and is less physically taxing because most of the top players pick and choose where they are playing more carefully.

Indian Wells finalists Rafael Nadal (skipped Miami to rest his knee), Juan Martin Del Potro (his left wrist aches and he was upset by Tobias Kamke) and Caroline Wozniacki (took a troubling 6-2 6-4 loss to the rising Spaniard Garbine Muguruza) are all out of Miami.

The resilient Maria Sharapova, who won Indian Wells, was still around as as she overcame Elena Vesnina in two very tough sets, but Angie Kerber, who reached the semis at IW, apparently is still having back trouble and was smoked by Sorana Cirstea 6-4, 6-0. Thne Maria Kirilenko, who played so well in reaching the IW semis, went down to Klara Zakopalova 6-2 7-6(4). Petra Kvitova, who looked great in Dubai and sort of OK in the California desert, melted once again in the heat and lost to the surging Kirsten Flipkens 6-0 4-6 6-1.

Having to win physical matches in the heat also ended up affecting the little but lethal Lauren Davis, who wore down her friend Madison Keys in a marathon and then lost to Alize Cornet in three, leaving the United States with only two out of its strong phalanx of female players left: Sloane Stephens, who advanced when Venus Williams withdrew with a back injury, and Serena Williams who punched past Ayumi Morita. Serena will face the hard hitting but up- and-down Dominika Cibulkova, while Stephens, who has not been playing well since the Aussie Open, will face a stern test in the form of Agnieszka Radwanska, who overcame Magdalena Rybarikova 7-6(5) 2-6 6-3. The Pole and defending champ hasn’t been playing great either, so this is good chance for Stephens to get back on track if she plays with enough patience and savvy, sort of like Maria Kirilenko did in besting Radwanska at Indian Wells.

Aussie Open finalist Li Na has returned and is certainly a big threat on outdoor hard courts. She downed Varvara Lepchenko 6-2 6-4 and will face the 19-year-old Muguruza, who is tall and hits a pretty big ball. Flipkens will play another talented teen, Croat Ajla Tomljanovic who upended Andrea Petkovic 0-6 6-4 7-6(1). It is not going to be easy for Petko to climb back to the top 20. With each passing comeback, on court life gets little tougher.

The ATP has three blockbusters ahead with Andy Murray and Grigor Dimitrov reliving their final in Brisbane, which was won by the Scott. Murray smoked an ill Bernard Tomic, who must now go ply his trade on clay, which will be a huge test of his so-called improved fitness. Dimitrov has played a bit better since February but he is still missing a marquee win. The 21 year old has a lot of weapons, but his point-to-point consistency is not one of them. His girlfriend, Maria Sharapova, might be able to help with that.

John Isner picked up a big mental win in besting Ivan Dodig in a third set breaker and now would take an even bigger step if he could overcome a more talented Croat, Marin Cilic. So much of that outcome of that match will be determined by the return of serve, which Cilic is a little better at. But playing at home in the southern heat, which Isner likes, should give the American the advantage.

Sam Querrey and Milos Raonic will also face off and both guys would love to grab a win here as they are in a fairly open quarter where the winner would likely play Tomas Berdych, a very good player who is better than both of them at this point, but not a guy whom they have no chance of beating. Querrey won his last meeting against Raonic at Wimbledon. Service bombs away.

Belgian David Goffin appears to be getting out of the mental funk that he fell into after choking a Davis Cup match to Victor Troicki. The highflying Goffin upended Philip Kohlschreiber 7-6(5) 4-6 6-2?and now will have to try and grind one out against Nicolas Almagro under the intense Miami sunshine. Good luck with that.


Bright spots, questions marks for US tennis in 2013

Isner was great in Davis Cup but struggled in the majors.