Men's Tennis Power Rankings: Rafael Nadal Dominates as U.S. Open Looms
Since the drama of Wimbledon and the excitement of a French victory over Spain in the Davis Cup, many of the tennis headlines have been focused off court.
Rafael Nadal dominated the web with a bare chest sported at a beach on Mallorca’s neighbouring Balearic island of Formentera.
Roger Federer, pictured with this family aboard a huge luxury yacht off the Corsican coast, might have drawn the headline “all at sea” after two Grand Slam quarterfinal losses but for the news that he was the world’s second highest earning athlete in 2009—$61,768,110, since you ask.
There were more behind-the-scenes stories as no fewer than three top players announced the termination of long-term coaching partnerships: Nikolay Davydenko from brother Eduardo, Stansilas Wawrinka from Dimitri Zavialoff, and finally Andy Murray from Miles Maclagan.
And then Federer stole the limelight again with the announcement of a tie-up with Pete Sampras’s former coach, Paul Annacone.
But gradually, the tennis has forced its way into the headlines. Some players have enjoyed one last fling on clay and others have launched into the searing heat of the U.S. Open Series.
Indeed there have been no fewer than eight ATP tournaments since Wimbledon, one of them a 500-pointer in Hamburg, and some players have taken part in three events through a scorching July. Some have even become double winners.
The top three men, however, have played for, and won, no points at all. So although the ATP rankings have changed little, this month’s Power Rankings boast some worthy new faces.
How many of them will still be in the frame as the blue, sticky, synthetic courts of the U.S. Open Series take their toll?
And will the clay exponents who have made hay while the sun shone still be hot news once the “big three” return, refreshed, to the imminent Masters events?
With the help of crystal ball and a large helping of foolhardiness, this month’s Power Rankings also attempt to make a few predictions.
The Top 10
1. Rafael Nadal (Last Power Ranking: 1; ATP Ranking: 1)
Last Four Tournaments: Wimbledon [Winner], Queens London [Quarterfinalist], French Open [Winner], Madrid [Winner]
Power Ranking Points: 711
So great has been the dominance of Nadal since the spring that he continues to carry a huge advantage in the rankings both here and with the ATP. He is still almost 4,000 points ahead of Novak Djokovic and Federer and, with none of them playing before Toronto, he goes to North America with every chance of extending the lead still further.
The days are long gone when the Nadal game was considered too baseline-driven for success on the fast, hard courts. With a vastly improved serve, a highly effective backhand slice, and a willingness to take on the net position, his destiny now is in the durability of his body.
Because he hasn’t needed to take to the courts since his victory at Wimbledon, Nadal can launch his campaign with rested knees and a relaxed head. This must surely make him better prepared than he has ever been for the U.S. Open. He may even fancy his chances of taking the Cincinnati title for the first time in his career.
U.S. Open success? Could make the final for the first time. If the knees stay sound, and the draw is favorable (for example, he avoids Tomas Berdych or Robin Soderling in the quarters, Federer in the semis, and Murray in the finals), it might be his year to go all the way.
2. Nicolas Almagro (Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 16)
Last Four Tournaments: Gstaad [Winner], Hamburg [R32], Bastad [Winner], Wimbledon [R128]
Power Ranking Points: 335
Almagro has found a rich run of form with two titles in three weeks, and this week he climbed from world No. 18 to 16. His 7-5, 6-1 victory over Richard Gasquet in Gstaad follows a win in Bastad two weeks ago over home favorite Soderling.
Almagro talked afterwards of his aim: “To reach the top 10 and stay there.” He failed to reach that target by one spot two years ago, and has since hovered in the 30s. With a dreadful run through the 2009 summer and autumn season, he could now put on points should he sustain his aggressive and attractive attacking game on the hard courts.
However, while the headline figures for the temperamental Spaniard are good (and he reached the quarters of the French Open before encountering Nadal), his latest results mask the fact that he has beaten only one man in the top 30 since Roland Garros: Soderling in Bastad. Indeed, the only top-30 player he’s beaten on anything other than clay this year is Ivo Karlovic (then ranked 29) at Indian Wells.
U.S. Open success? Almagro has only ever reached an ATP final on clay and he’s never played a Masters final. Were it Rome and Roland Garros ahead, he might be looking at a big break-through. In North America, even with the benefit of seeding, he will do well to reach the quarterfinals.
3. Juan Carlos Ferrero (Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 21)
Last Four Tournaments: Umag [Winner], Hamburg [Quarterfinalist], Stuttgart [Semifinalist], Wimbledon [R128]
Power Ranking Points: 327
The resurgent career of Ferrero continued this week with a straight sets win over Potito Starace in Umag. After a run of three consecutive finals in the Latin American “Golden Swing” in the spring, the 30-year-old took his third title of the year in Croatia in just 80 minutes. It’s the first time since 2003 that Ferrero has won at least three ATP titles in the same season and it takes him to No. 21 in the world.
However, the last time Ferrero beat a higher-ranked player was Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Monte Carlo, though the Frenchman had swept him aside with ease on the hard courts of Miami just two weeks before.
U.S. Open success? The charismatic Ferrero has had an outstanding season on the clay but made little impression on either hard courts or grass this year (and his highest clay showing in a Masters was the quarters in Monte Carlo). He also mentioned a knee problem after the Umag final, so it’s hard to see him having an impact in any of the forthcoming hard-court events.
4. Tomas Berdych (Last Power Ranking: 2; ATP Ranking: 8)
Last Four Tournaments: Wimbledon [Finalist], French Open [Semifinalist], Munich [Quarterfinalist], Rome [R32]
Power Ranking Points: 327
When Berdych walked onto Centre Court on the last day of Wimbledon, it marked the first Grand Slam final appearance in this 24-year-old’s most successful year. He was also riding a wave of confidence from his four-set defeat of Federer in the quarterfinals and even more comprehensive dismissal of Djokovic in straights in the semis.
With a semifinal place at the French Open also in the bag, Berdych—a big man with a big serve and an equally big forehand—has been taking a well-deserved break until this week, when he breaks cover to take up the novel role of top seed at the 500 event in Washington.
The draw has been reasonably kind to him, too, and there is room for a good run and some useful practice ahead of the August Masters. A clue to his chances of success lie in his results earlier this year in the other American hard-court swing. He reached the quarters in Indian Wells and the final in Miami (taking out Federer and Soderling in the process).
U.S. Open success? The talented Czech seems to have got on top of his nerves this year to begin fulfilling his prodigious big-hitting talent. He will surely make the quarters in New York, and may even pound his way to the final. Will he be 2010’s Juan Martin Del Potro? It’s just possible.
5. Sam Querrey (Last Power Ranking: OLI; ATP Ranking: 20)
Last Four Tournaments: Los Angeles [Winner], Newport [R16], Wimbledon [R16], Queens London [Winner]
Power Ranking Points: 322
Querrey is putting together some pretty solid results this year, most recently the title at last week’s Farmers Classic. The L.A. win marked his fourth title of the year from five finals. Although the Querrey progress in L.A. looked less than convincing—every round went to three sets and included a tie-break—he got the better of top-seed Murray in a two-hour 22-minute final of real grit.
In the Californian heat, it looked initially as though Querrey would concede his fifth match in a row to Murray, but the big American’s forward movement and anticipation have improved in the last 12 months.
Querrey now launches straight into the Legg Mason 500 but must take care not to punish his body out of contention for the biggest of prizes in the most physically arduous of swings of the tennis year.
U.S. Open success? With few points to defend over the coming weeks, he could target a higher ranking on his best surface. If his service percentage improves over the L.A. stats, and he maintains his fitness and form, he could reasonably target the quarterfinals in New York.
6. Andy Murray (Last Power Ranking: 4; ATP Ranking: 4)
Last Four Tournaments: Los Angeles [Finalist], Wimbledon [Semifinalist], Queens London [R16], French Open [R16]
Power Ranking Points: 317
Murray became the first man in the top four to play a match on the ATP circuit since Wimbledon, and the L.A. event proved to be a pretty lucrative move: He lost in the final to reigning champion Querrey.
Murray revealed just ahead of this tournament that he was having problems with his coaching set-up, and this was his first event since parting ways with Maclagan. He broke his usual Miami training regime to take a late wild card for Los Angeles, and his tactical problems—too many drop shots, too many poorly-constructed net advances—could be put down to lack of preparation.
U.S. Open success? Last year, this was one of Murray’s best phases, winning in Toronto and reaching the semis in Cincinnati. The U.S. Open is his favorite Slam, and hard courts are his best surface. Perhaps he can reclaim his special brand of uninhibited tennis without the shackles of a coach. If he does, he has the wherewithal to win his first Slam.
7. Andrey Golubev (Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 37)
Last Four Tournaments: Gstaad [R32], Hamburg [Winner], Bastad [R16], Wimbledon [R128]
Power Ranking Points: 259
Golubev’s maiden title at the German Open 500 was all the more impressive because the man from Kazakhstan had barely made it outside the Challenger circuit and the main tour’s qualifying rounds all season.
But it became clear, when he celebrated his 23rd birthday by beating top seed Davydenko in the third round, that this fresh face had hit a real vein of form. Golubev went on to take the title in a straight sets win over Jurgen Melzer.
Looking at the Golubev game, it’s hard to see why he’s not made greater inroads before. He has an accurate and penetrating serve and a forehand style not unlike that of Federer: he’s particularly fond of dancing around a ball to take an off-forehand return.
In another echo of Federer, he also boasts a single-handed backhand and shows a willingness to attack the net, though he will need to develop more disguise and penetration to beat the speed and anticipation of a Murray or a Nadal, but the tools are there.
So Golubev is like a breath of fresh air. Thus far, he lacks the muscularity of the top men so perhaps that is his next target: the extra sharpness and power that come from perfect conditioning.
U.S. Open success? Golubev could be another slow-burner, much like Ernests Gulbis has been, and may shake up the men’s tour during the next 12 months. But he has some developing to do before making an impression on the big autumn tournaments.
8. Robin Soderling (Last Power Ranking: 5; ATP Ranking: 5)
Last Four Tournaments: Bastad [Finalist], Wimbledon [Quarterfinalist], French Open [Finalist], Nice [R16]
Power Ranking Points: 255
Soderling’s only tournament since Wimbledon was in defense of his Swedish Open title in the glorious seaside setting of Bastad. Somewhat surprisingly, he has spurned the hard-courts altogether in a truncated schedule, perhaps in response to the injury he sustained last year that forced his withdrawal from the Roger’s Cup.
He lost in the first round at Cincinnati, too, so could gain a bucket-load of points if he’s in good shape from his extended rest.
Should Murray exit early from those two events and Soderling performs at his best, he could even attain a new high ranking of No. 4. Looking ahead to Flushing Meadows, if Federer performs badly and Soderling improves on last year, he could take a very big rankings scalp indeed.
U.S. Open success? Soderling has already made his mark on the American hard courts with semi finishes at both Miami and Indian Wells. He gave Federer a real scare in the U.S. Open last year and now has a win over him for extra confidence. If his big, flat power game is in tune, expect at least the quarters, and possibly the semis.
9. Jurgen Melzer (Last Power Ranking: 8; ATP Ranking: 15)
Last Four Tournaments: Umag [Quarterfinalist], Hamburg [Finalist], Stuttgart [Quarterfinalist], Wimbledon [R16]
Power Ranking Points: 246
Melzer has been one of the busier players on the tour since Wimbledon, playing in three tournaments, all on clay, with some success. He is clearly looking to improve on his career high ranking of 15 after reaching his first Grand Slam semifinal in Paris.
But against Golubev in Hamburg, he was guilty of squandering numerous break points and was, in the end, firmly outplayed by the younger man.
Melzer seems to have gone off the boil since the early summer, and his decision to focus on the clay rather than play any tournament in the U.S. Open Series is telling. It’s a similar pattern to last year, when his results in Montreal, Cincinnati, and New York were modest.
U.S. Open success? A change in scheduling this year may have indicated a more optimistic and confident approach to the hard-court swing. As it is, Melzer seems unlikely to live up to his No. 15 ranking come the U.S. Open.
10. Mardy Fish (Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 35)
Last Four Tournaments: Atlanta [Winner], Newport [Winner], Wimbledon [R64], Queens London [Finalist]
Power Ranking Points: 215
What a heartwarming story this has been? Fish came close to retiring last summer but instead he embarked on a training regime to try one last time to fulfil his unrealised talent. He lost 30 pounds in the process, and now seems to have his eyes firmly set on the U.S. swing.
First, though, he won North America's only remaining grass tournament in Newport. He continued his rejuvenated run in a hard-fought 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 win over countryman John Isner in Atlanta.
Fish pulled out of L.A. citing fatigue, but his new-found success won him a seeding in Washington, giving him a valuable bye into the second round.
He has a challenging run, via Marin Cilic in his first ATP outing since Wimbledon, to a possible quarterfinal with countryman and Queen’s final opponent Querrey. Beyond that lies Andy Roddick.
It’s a pretty daunting prospect, but then the original Fish reached the finals of Cincinnati way back in 2003. What wouldn’t the new-modelled one give to take his first Masters title there?
U.S. Open success? Fish’s resurgence, his fitness, his attractive all-court tennis, and his confidence could take him to his first ever Masters title this month, but the rigors of Flushing Meadows look a step too far. But this time last year, his results were so bad that he didn’t even play in the Open. After that, a few wins in New York will probably seem adequate reward for this likeable player.
Outside Looking In
Novak Djokovic (Last Power Ranking: 3; ATP Ranking: 2)
Power Ranking Points: 190
Extraordinary times, when the two outsiders of the Power Rankings are the second and third ranked players in the world.
Since winning in Dubai back in February, Djokovic’s record on hard courts has not been up to his usual level. He took a late decision to pull out of a scheduled Los Angeles appearance, though he was one of the few top men to play Davis Cup after Wimbledon, and led Serbia to a semifinal place against a tough Croatian team.
Djokovic was a finalist in Cincinnati last year and a semifinalist in the U.S. Open, losing to Federer on both occasions. Whichever of the two comes back strong may determine who holds the No. 2 and No. 3 ranking ahead of New York. Either way, they could play each other again for the chance to reach the final.
U.S. Open success? Djokovic has the skill, creativity, and love of hard courts to make this his second Slam success. There does, however, always seem to be a question mark over whether his physical endurance can penetrate enough five-setters to give him the chance. If he can respond to that challenge, look to the semis or better for the still-young Serb.
Roger Federer (Last Power Ranking: 6; ATP Ranking: 3)
Power Ranking Points: 181
Apart from injured players such as Del Potro and Stepanek, Federer, Nadal, and Tsonga are the only men in the top 30 to play no matches before the Canadian Masters.
Nadal played a lot of matches in winning three Masters and two Slams on the trot: little wonder he needs some R ‘n R. Federer’s 2010 campaign has involved fewer matches, just 40 to Nadal’s 52.
That said, Federer came straight into the 2009 hard-court swing with two consecutive Slam titles and two six-week-old daughters, and he promptly won Cincinnati and reached the U.S. Open final.
By all accounts, he’s been practicing ever since his children’s birthday a fortnight ago, is trying out a new coach, and has ambitions to be No. 1 again by the end of the year. If his leg and back are in good order and he’s confident, the lay-off from matchplay may have little impact on that target.
U.S. Open success? He’s been in the last six finals, and won all but last year’s. If he hits the ground running in Toronto, and defends his title in Cincinnati, he should be in good form by New York. But this year, he is carrying losses to players who he beat in New York last year: Soderling and Lleyton Hewitt.
Will Annacone help him tackle the big flat shots of Soderling or Berdych and the high, swinging attack to his backhand from—well, everyone these days? If so, expect to see Federer in a seventh final. Otherwise, this could be another record-breaking run about to reach its end.
Other US Open Contenders
Del Potro: If he is in the draw, his lack of match play will deprive him of his title defence.
Davydenko will have to find his early 2010 form to stand a chance, but judging from his recent matches, he will fall at least as early as last year (R16).
Roddick: After Indian Wells and Miami, the U.S. Open looked a real possibility. Things have taken a slide since then, with tough matches in Atlanta not boding well. Chances of a 2003 repeat seem slim.
With thanks to Feng, whose unique system produces the Power Ranking points.
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