2021 year-end review: top 25-21, men

Gael Monfils

25. Daniel Evans
It’s been quite a year for the Brit. He has yet to reach the top 20, but it took the 31-year-old a long time to hit the right ball with more consistency. The keys are for too move forward and swing very hard. Yes, the top 20 players can knock him off. Now he is more thoughtful, and he finally found out where he will be. Can he reach the top 20 in 2022 next year? Is the glass half empty or half full? He will find out soon enough.

24. John Isner
The American had a decent year, but he knows that if he wants to go back into the top 10, he will have to practice all the time, as well as to figure out his so-so backhand. Yes, his massive serves and dominant forehandse are fantastic. He has gone deep before, and he won Miami a few years ago. Then, he knockd off almost everyone. But now the 36-year-old is aging so if he wants to do it again, he has to jump on the jets.

23. Taylor Fritz
The young American had a very good year, during some tournaments when he was super consistent. But, other times when was unfulfilled. He plays a lot, and he travels all the time. Will he show up tired? The problem is he plays a lot, on court, which was 34 wins and 22 losses. In the fall, he upset a number of fine players at Indian Wells and St. Petersburg. He can bang the ball with both of his groundstrokes. Maybe he should slow down and rest more often. If he does, the top 10 is waiting for him.

22. Nikoloz Basilashvili
He has been around for 14 years, and he has some terrific wins. Oddly enough, he had some hard to believe losses. When he is into it, he can pound out winners when he wants to. He likes to slap the ball, which can be very flat, or he can run around and he waits to see there is a chance to clock the winner. A few years ago, he was ranked No. 16. There is no doubt that he wants to reach the top 10 before he retires. If so, it is important that he needs to improve his return and volleys. Something better is needed. 
21. Gael Monfils

The Frenchman is still so fast, and can return some very long shots. He has gone through so many matches, all over the world. When he is healthy, he can be riveting. Everyone knows that he has been hurt a lot, and he pulls out frequently. But if he can push through his sore knees, then in 2022, he will win some rousing matches.  

Djokovic, dominatrix: Novak d. Nadal in Beijing. Shanghai begins


Djokovic IW 15 TR MALT1656

Now what to do with Novak Djokovic? He has essentially won just about everything this season. Oh sure, he was somewhat stunned against losing against Stan Wawrinka in the final at Roland Garros, but he never looked shaken. He has won the Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, Rome, Wimbledon, the US Open and now Beijing. He has won on hard courts, clay and grass. He has beaten Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal. Yes, Federer grabbed a couple matches, but Djokovic has beaten him in the most important contests, out-thinking him in the finals at Wimbledon and the US Open.

The same goes with Murray, who finally beat the Serbian for the first time in two years by upending him in Montreal. But Djokovic did essentially thrash him in the Aussie Open, plus he beat the Brit four times this season.

Djokovic has played Nadal three times this year, and he has not only been beating him, but he didn’t lose a set, winning 6-2, 6-2 in the final of Beijing. Yes, Nadal was happy to even being there, given that he has lost so many times against guys he used to be able to control. Against Djokovic, he has a long way before he can unearth him.

The incredible thing about Djokovic is that he actually likes the fall. A number of players pretty much fall apart after the US Open because they are too tired or they have checked out mentally,. Since 2011, Djokovic has been pushing hard every month. Of course, he hasn’t been able to win every single match, but when he wasn’t hurt during the fall, he has been pretty electric, winning Beijing, Shanghai, Paris/Bercy and the Barclay ATP World Tour Finals in London.

He can do just about anything now, from his intelligent serve; his much improved and forceful forehand; his never-miss backhand; and his amazing return. Right now, over the past four years, he has been the most consistent player around, and the only way someone can knock him out of the top No. 1 is to be substantially better.

Who is ready to do that? Currently, Djokovic is on fire. He can win Shanghai, Paris/Bercy and the ATP World Tour Finals. He might be a little tired, since he is always going deep, but he can do it again. He really can.

Nadal was pretty pleased by reaching the final in Beijing, knocking out Vasek Pospisil, Jack Sock and the dreaded Fabio Fognini. But in the final, the Spaniard was OK, but not even close to winning. Yes, he ran hard, and he was aggressive for the most part, but he didn’t crack enough deep balls, he couldn’t smack enough backhands and his serve is still a little weak. The 14-time champion Nadal was substantially better in 2013 when he was neck to neck with Djokovic, but now, he isn’t confident enough. Perhaps he will continue to improve over the next five weeks, but if the now No. 6 is able to do so, he will have to cut loose.

Nadal is hurt and he may pull out of Shanghai this week if he doesn’t feel better. Federer and Murray are both there, and both of them will have clean shots to go deep, especially the “Great Federer,” who won the tournament last year.

But what about the younger competitors? All of them need to end the season doing very well, or if they cannot, in 2016 they will not be able to take apart the so-called Big Four (Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and Murray) as well as the excellent Stan Wawrinka, who just won Tokyo and grabbed the French Open, owning two Slams now.

Here are some of the 24 and under which are still at Shanghai:

Milos Raonic, Dominic Thiem, David Goffin, Nikoloz Basilashvili, Borna Coric, Bernard Tomic, Nick Kyrgios and Sock.

Every singles player – including Raonic, who was able to end 2014 ranked No. 8 – could use a huge win or two. Thiem is now ranked No. 18 and could face Djokovic. The Aussie Tomic could face the Serbian in the quarters – if he gets there. The 18-year-old Coric will face the other Croatian, Marina Cilic. That will be a gigantic battle.

The Belgian Goffin has to play excellent ball during the rest of the season, as he will have to be the main man in the Davis Cup final at home against Great Britain. He could face Murray in the third round, but first things first as he could play John Isner – not an easy task.

The unknown Basilashvili from Georgia qualified and recently cracked into the top 100. It’s hard to tell how really good he is, but at least he’s rising.

Kyrgios will play against the 25-year-old Kei Nishikori, who was disappointed in losing against Benoit Paire in the semifinals.  Kyrgios has not been spectacular in Asia, but he has been very decent, currently being ranked No. 32. Even though the 20-year-old has been controversial this year, he has tremendous potential and could end the year in the top 20. In order to do so, he has to keep his head on straight. He better run and run, because that’s what the super fast Nishikori loves to do.

The American Sock is currently ranked No. 33 and he was very close against Nadal. He wasn’t patient enough at the end, but he will have a legitimate opportunity in the second round if he gets there against Tomas Berdych. The Czech has not had his best year ever in 2015, but he is still ranked No. 5 and he rarely plays poorly. Sock will have to play as well as he could to be able to upset him. Sock can hold fairly easy with a huge serve, but he is still has to work substantially to improve his return – all the kids need to.