Rafael Nadal may have won the 2013 U.S. Open title, but Novak Djokovic is still the No. 1 ranked player in the world. The final showed some of their best tennis, and that both players are far ahead of the rest of the ATP tour.
With all four of the 2013 Grand Slam opportunities now completed, there will be one more push for important ATP titles on indoors hard courts at Shanghai, Paris and London's WTF. Some players will show their weariness, but others will seize more energy and rankings points to position for 2014.
It's not enough to simply evaluate the players by their ATP rankings. Which players have played well recently? Who is deserving of being a top 20 player at this moment?
ATP Ranking: No. 18
U.S. Open Result: Almagro crashed and burned in the first round, losing in four sets to Denis Istomin. His talent and groundstroke power is evident, but he continues to slump by dropping matches he should win.
Closing 2013: The first of four Spaniards in this top 20, he is arguably only a whit behind Rafael Nadal in terms of talent. But there is a great separation with everything else, including composure, heart, purpose and desire. For every great champion there are hundreds of Almagros who have the package to be excellent but find that the intangibles of tennis are often everything.
ATP Ranking: No. 25
U.S. Open Result: A nice run to the fourth round included a win over John Isner. He even had the audacity to take the first set off Rafael Nadal before the Spaniard decided to change into his superhero clothing. He didn't back down but ran out of gas in losing the fourth and final set.
Closing 2013: Not a particularly powerful player, Kohlschreiber knows how to play aggressive tennis by looking to come to net as often as possible. When serving well, he can be a matchup difficulty for even the best players. He could have a strong cap to the remainder of the season and crash the Top 20 ATP rankings.
ATP Ranking: No. 12
U.S. Open Result: Nishikori has not played up to his ranking recently. He was pasted in the first round by new rags-to-riches hero Dan Evans. This will not do for Nishikori if he hopes to be a consistent Top 10 player.
Closing 2013: It doesn't get easier the next two months. His more defensive game will have to find better attacks against power players indoors. He might be charged up to play Shanghai, but last year it was only good for one win. He needs a strong finish to 2013.
ATP Ranking: No. 23
U.S. Open Result: After a horrendous 2013, Janko Tipsarevic might have regained some of his fire by battling David Ferrer in a tough fourth-round match. He certainly has more upside than many of the competitors near the Top 20.
Closing 2013: It's a good foundation to start a mini-comeback, but Tipsarevic will not have enough points to get back to the Top 8 and appear at the ATP World Tour Finals. The important thing is for him to find his confidence and aggressive groundstrokes. It's only four months until the Australian Open.
ATP Ranking: No. 20
U.S. Open Result: Always a tough competitor with wonderful tennis skills, Youzhny was only a mild surprise in getting to the quarterfinals. The only problem was facing a younger, more talented version of himself. He did take one set off Novak Djokovic before possibly enraging the Serbian into delivering his knockout bagel.
Closing 2013: Expect solid results from Youzhny, but nothing spectacular, in the indoor season. Other players are fighting for bigger points or important steps. Still, he is another fine example of a veteran who continues to prepare himself well and compete for however long his career can continue.
ATP Ranking: No. 19
U.S. Open Result: Yes, he did dominate Roger Federer in the fourth round, but he has earned his success with consistent results throughout the year. Unfortunately in the quarterfinals, he ran into the other Spaniard buzzsaw, Rafael Nadal, who had more teeth in his game.
Closing 2013: Tennis fans know that Robredo has two titles in 2013 and has won nearly two-thirds of his matches. His comeback is another example of veteran skill and savvy as young tour players continue to flounder at becoming consistent winners. They need not look any further than Robredo to witness a true professional.
ATP Ranking: No. 15
U.S. Open Result: Unfortunately, many tennis fans might remember less of John Isner's play and more of his comments about the U.S. Open crowd rooting for his opponent, Frenchman Gael Monfils. For the record, Isner was dropped in the third round by Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Closing 2013: Does Isner have the energy to ride his big serve and get back to the top 10? He looked tired in late August and the pressure of always having to hold serve is mentally taxing. He can fix this with a better return game, but this will not be easy indoors.
ATP Ranking: No. 11
U.S. Open Result: Great effort from Raonic to get to the fourth round. He had a match point against Richard Gasquet but ultimately was outlasted in the fifth set. It's a good sign that he penetrated the second week of a Grand Slam a few weeks after his finals appearance at the Canada Open.
Closing 2013: Plenty of opportunity to cash in on the fast surface in closing out 2013. While veteran players and top guns feel more weariness following the final Grand Slam, big-serving Raonic should be motivated to gain more points and confidence by playing harder. He would love to get his ranking higher by the 2014 Australian Open and take another step forward.
ATP Ranking: No. 13
U.S. Open Result: In the third round, Haas lost to another talented veteran, Mikhail Youzhny. He probably felt better that Youzhny moved along to the quarterfinals and took one set off Novak Djokovic.
Closing 2013: Where does Haas go from here? He may have reached his late-career peak with a strong year of tennis and a ranking that has bordered on the Top 10. He still has throwback all-court skills, a lovely single backhand and big match toughness.
He has Paris to pick up points and Shanghai to defend a quarterfinals appearance, but it's unlikely he can reach the coveted Top 8t and a spot in the WTF tournament.
ATP Ranking: No. 14
U.S. Open Result: Injury really derailed his opportunity to win at the U.S. Open. It was disappointing for Janowicz and those who are poking in new areas to determine the future of tennis. Otherwise, it's unlikely he would have been swept in the first round by qualifier Maximo Gonzalez.
Closing 2013: The indoor hard courts season is tailor-made for Janowic's big serve and forehand. Last year he was a finalist at Paris, where he introduced himself to much of the tennis world. He will have the confidence of this effort to finish strong and prepare for another step forward in 2014. Get healthy, Jerzy.
ATP Ranking: No. 8
U.S. Open Result: This is a reminder that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has not played since a left knee injury in the second round at Wimbledon. He has been unable to participate in the North American hard court swing and was absent at the U.S. Open.
Closing 2013: A few months ago, Tsonga was riding high as a French Open semifinalist. Time off from tennis has seen other competitors gain points and move past him in the rankings. He is looking to return in September at Metz, according to Reuters via Yahoo.com. If he cannot defend quarterfinals appearances at Shanghai and Paris, he will fall from the Top 10 pack.
ATP Ranking: No. 10
U.S. Open Result: Tennis can be cruel. So very close to reaching his first final, he couldn't cash in on a two sets to one lead. He dropped a second-set tiebreaker, and he won the marathon 20-minute third game of the fifth set. Unfortunately, he will have this five-set loss to Novak Djokovic as a bookend to his 2013 Australian Open five-set loss to Djokovic. Did I mention tennis can be cruel?
Closing 2013: Later, Wawrinka will feel better about his brush with history. He has ranking points to grab if he can get past the third round at Shanghai and Paris. He is in good position to crack the Top 8 players and compete for the year-end ATP World Tour Final. Best of all, he has toughened up as a competitor and has a greater understanding of competing in big matches. Now he needs to finish one.
ATP Ranking: No. 9
U.S. Open Result: Some applause is in order for Richard Gasquet's run to the U.S. Open semifinals. He marched past Milos Raonic and David Ferrer in five set matches that proved his toughness. Never mind that he got clubbed by Rafael Nadal in the semifinals. It was still one of the best performances of his career.
Closing 2013: Can he build greater confidence with this effort? For starters, he served with good power and played more aggressively with up-the-line shots. He took more chances in banging winners. It goes against his instinct to play outside his comfort zone, but a little attitude can go a long way.
ATP Ranking: No. 5
U.S. Open Result: His fourth-round loss to Stanislas Wawrinka is proof enough that Berdych cannot string together enough great matches to be a Grand Slam contender. This is one he should have won, notwithstanding his opponent's good play and comparable ranking. He had every chance to march to the semifinals and will now lose more ranking points.
Closing 2013: I don't care what the ATP rankings say. Berdych is not a Top 5 player. Tennis is so much more than being able to hit big, clean winners through the court. It's more than serving and winning an occasional big match. In this era, Berdych cannot defend well enough with his footwork.
He does not have the tenacity and fire to challenge the top players. He has never shown mental toughness and consistency from one match to the next. It's too late to expect otherwise now. He is a personified reminder that talent and skills can only go so far.
ATP Ranking: No. 7
U.S. Open Result: As soon as Juan Martin del Potro becomes everybody's dark horse to win the title, he comes up lame. His second-round loss at the hands of slight, injury-prone Lleyton Hewitt is a particularly painful reminder that if he is to win more Slams, he must overcome nagging injuries.
Closing 2013: He is in a three-way race with Tomas Berdych and Roger Federer for determining the No. 5-7 spots in the rankings. Del Potro still has more points to gain with better performances than third round and semifinals at Paris and London, respectively. He also has no points to defend at Shanghai.
Will the big Argentine with the thundering groundstrokes ever be healthy and consistent enough to string together one great calendar year? He will need more than health and motivation. He will need the kind of desire and heart to drive him to obsessive winning. It's just hard to see this happening.
ATP Ranking: No. 6
U.S. Open Result: After three consecutive straight-sets wins, Federer inexplicably crashed against veteran Tommy Robredo in the fourth round. Above all, it showed that Federer's consistency and peak form is missing. Many tennis fans and writers have continued to question if he can still be a Grand Slam contender in the twilight of his career.
Closing 2013: It won't be easy for Federer to close strong in the next two months. He must defend semifinals points at Shanghai and a finals appearance at the WTF. Paris is a great opportunity to score. Bottom line: Federer should qualify for the WTF, but he would like to he healthy and create some noise.
How much can the next two months guide Federer for a resurgent 2014? It could be a positive two months to regain his best form. Never underestimate the heart of a champion.
ATP Ranking: No. 4
U.S. Open Result: Ferrer had a golden chance for another semifinal appearance, but was outlasted by the surprisingly tough play of Richard Gasquet. Perhaps he did not relish another meeting or beating in facing Nadal. No matter, Ferrer is always to be commended for his strong efforts and fight. He just didn't have enough against someone with comparable talent who was having an A-game with his serve.
Closing 2013: He can smell the No. 3 ranking if Andy Murray goes into the tank. Ferrer does not have a problem with motivation and is fighting back Father Time as furiously as ever. It wasn't a great summer, and he will now need to defend his Paris Masters title with better tennis if he wants to catch Murray.
ATP Ranking: No. 3
U.S. Open Result: The defending U.S. Open champion was crushed in the quarterfinals by Stanislas Wawrinka. Murray was outhit and let the loss of a close set avalanche into a racket smash and meek attempts to fight back. It was not his finest effort.
Closing 2013: Murray admitted that he was mentally exhausted following his efforts to win Wimbledon. Maybe it's not fair to compare this to Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, who only become more energized and obsessed with using one Grand Slam win to try and pile on more.
Murray has a great opportunity to rebound on faster indoor courts. He's a distant third in the rankings, but needs to bag at least one of the final three big tournaments to show that he is poised to win more Grand Slams in 2014.
ATP Ranking: No. 1
U.S. Open Result: For Djokovic, anything less than the title was a disappointment. He had to rally past Stanislas Wawrinka in a tough five-setter, showing brilliance but also lapses of inconsistency. In the final against Nadal, he played some of the most hard-hitting, line-smacking tennis angles ever seen. The problem was he could not sustain this for more than one set and fell to his hotter, more consistent rival.
Closing 2013: It's never a bad season in which you win a Grand Slam title, but Djokovic knows he is now looking up at Nadal. Defending his Shanghai and WTF titles may seem secondary to finding new ways to regain his edge against Nadal.
It's imperative that he continue to maintain his No. 1 belief and strike back with big victories of his own. He will have his work cut out for him in defending the 2014 Australian Open, and there will be the continued quest to win his first French Open title.
ATP Ranking: No. 2
U.S. Open Result: Nadal's 2013 U.S. Open title completes perhaps the greatest season ever played on the North American hard courts tour. He won titles at Montreal, Cincinnati and New York by adding more variety to his strategy and serve. Is this the best tennis he has ever played on cement?
There are more superlatives and numbers to pass around, but the title was won by displaying his incredible resilience. His ability to rise above the pressures of defeat and throw it back at Djokovic is a story in itself.
Closing 2013: With no points to defend until February, Nadal will not only seize the No. 1 ranking but have an opportunity to lock it down until at least springtime. He will be eager to ride his great momentum, but history also shows he and his team will play the important venues and pace themselves to keep him fresh and fit.
Next on the bucket list is the 2014 Australian Open title. If he wins this, he will be the only player of the Open era to win each Slam at least twice. For tennis fans who have labeled him as "only a great clay court player," the proof is otherwise.
He continues to carve out a legacy that will get Federer and Nadal fans into more heated discussions for the days and years ahead. But wouldn't it be nice to sit back and enjoy the accomplishment for its own sake? Right now the King of Clay is the King of Tennis.