The first three months of the tennis season pose some of the players’ biggest challenges.
With barely a fortnight to get their hard-court games into fine working order, the first Major of the year is upon them. Yet the Australian Open is just the beginning; ahead lie two months of hard-court rigor, all geared towards a second distant climax at the end of March.
Along the way are choices between indoor and outdoor, cool northern Europe and the hot Gulf states, even between hard courts and the points-rich Golden Swing on the clay of Latin America.
It is a topsy-turvy phase where two of the most prestigious Masters events in the calendar close a season rather than building towards a concluding Major and, therefore, is often full of intrigue, unpredictable winners and surprising losers.
During the two months between Melbourne and Miami—where this edition of the Power Rankings is focused—there have been 10 different champions from 14 tournaments.
Kevin Anderson won his first tour title in Johannesburg, went on to reach the quarterfinals in the Miami Masters and now sits at an all-time ranking of 33.
Ivan Dodig won his maiden title in Zagreb and there was an even more significant first for the surging Milos Raonic, who started the year at 156 and now sits at 35. He announced his arrival big time by winning San Jose and then reaching the final of Memphis. Although he does not feature in this month’s rankings, he will surely join the party when the next hard-court season comes around.
One multiple winner, Nicolas Almagro, took titles in Brazil and Argentina and reached the final in Acapulco and, while he did not impress in the subsequent Masters, his form may impact on the clay road towards Roland Garros.
For each story of success, though, there has been one of ill fortune. Andy Roddick arrived in Miami on the back of his 30th career title in Memphis and with a 16-3 winning record for the year—and his record in Miami was second to none. But it soon became clear that Roddick was unwell during his opening match, and he made his earliest Miami exit since 2002. Now at No. 14 in the rankings, it is also his lowest position since 2002.
The biggest shock of this entire period, though, was the performance of Andy Murray, who replayed his post-Australian slump of 2010 with a vengeance.
Murray loves the North American Masters and was aiming to improve on last year’s quarterfinal finish in Indian Wells and his first-round exit in Miami. However, he lost in his first match at both as well as at the only other event he played, Rotterdam.
He is said to be reviewing his coaching setup ahead of the clay season and, with few points to defend before Wimbledon, that choice will have some time to bed in. One thing’s for sure: He needs to change something, and soon.
But while there have been surprises at almost every turn of the hard-court road that culminated in Miami, there has also been a clutch of constants. At every tournament they have played, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have stayed the course at least as far as the semifinals.
One of them has been as constant as the North Star, the winner of every match in every tournament he has played since the start of the year and he, of course, tops the latest Power Rankings.