2021 year-end review: top 20-16, the men

Pablo Carreno Busta

20. Pablo Carreno Busta
The Spaniard had a decent year, but not fantastic. He won the bronze at the Tokyo Olympics, upsetting Daniil Medvedev and Novak Djokovic. That might have been the best stretch of his career. Not only is he very consistent, but he can mix it up and smash the ball. However, he absolutely loves clay, and he can scramble on the dirt. Outside of that, though, the 30-year-old plays a tremendous amount, which means he will look spotty. Next year, perhaps he can jump on it, early, and grab the points.

19. Roberto Bautista Agut
Another Spaniard had a notably good year, grinding down his opponents. He can move all around the court, hitting well from both sides. However, while the veteran is solid with nine titles, he cannot upset a lot of people in the top 10. He has to get even faster and hit with more aggression. In 2022, he can win ATP 1000, but I doubt that.

18. Aslan Karatsev
Another veteran, the Russian had a shockingly successful year. He won Dubai by upsetting Andrey Rublev in the final. Before that, at the Australian Open, he reached the semis, knocking off Felix Auger-Aliassime and Grigor Dimitrov before he went down against Djokovic. He can crush the ball, and he can be fierce whenever he hads the opportunity. He started the year when he was ranked No. 114 and now he skyrocked up the chart. Like others, he wants to punch into the top-10 in 2022. He could, if he can run faster.

17. Cristian Garin
The 25-year-old from Chile had a good year, when he finally rose up. Like some other players, he loves clay, winning five tournaments in three years. He is fast and more intelligent now. Over the past couple years, he began to believe in his strokes. However, he still has a lot of work to do, because the top players are simply better than he is. If he wants to go even higher, than he will have to hit the ball even harder and with his serve. He just has to ambush his opponents much more often.

16. Roger Federer
The famous Swiss has rarely played this year. He is still recovering from knee surgery. He is 40-year-old, and the 20-tim Grand Slam winner loves to add more game but his top goal will be just to get back on court. Of course, the injury and age has slowed his incredible foot speed. He is without a doubt one of the best competitors over the past 20 years, perhaps the best of all time, excluding Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic. His variety is unconscious, with his forehand, his great eyes when he is returning, and at the net. Next year, he will come back, at some point, maybe in February or March, and then, if he is 100 percent, then he will win at least one tournament. But to win another Grand Slam? That will be surprising, except in Wimbledon, when he will have a small opportunity. If he does, the entire world will cheer as loud as they can.

Alexander Zverev: Is he ready to win a Slam?

Alexander Zverev

The 6-foot- 6 Alexander “Sascha” Zverev can be on fire. But, then in the next games, he will ignore what he is supposed to do. In some matches at the end of last year and through early 2020, he did what he needed to succeed against intelligent players.

Zverev is only 23 year old  and started playing as a pro in 2013. Eventually, he began to figure out how to take tough matches. He started to lock in, then figured that he was going to win a big title. He won Rome, Canada, Madrid and the ATP Finals. He played some excellent ball, and at various tournaments, he looks good. But when he started to slip, he could smash down. He has screamed or throwing his rackets into the ground.

And he could be cocky. When talking with a journalist, he could be irritable with some hard questions and answers.

Well now, even when Zverev is playing so-so, I wonder what he is thinking he walks to the next point. Maybe he is thinking about how to sprint at the net. If the ball is really low, does he bend down and think, “I can put it away. But sometimes, I could miss it.” Maybe he thinks, “OK, I missed it, but in the next point, I can really breath, so now I can really center.”

However, the past 11 days, he seems to be thinking clearly. In the first round, he put down Kevin Anderson, returning deep and attacking early, because he didn’t want to attack the net. That worked.

On Thursday, he will face Pablo Carreno Busta, who the German beat in their only meeting in 2018 Miami. He beat Canadian Denis Shapovalov 36 7-6 (5) 7-6 (4) 06 63, in more than four hours. Carreno Busta had to puff and puff to keep going, and he wasn’t nervous, and hit with a lot of depth. The Spaniard worked with his coach from March through August, and he changed his strokes.

They both know that in order to win one they will have to hit it deep and keep their composure and mental acuity. The key is … don’t panic.