US Davis Cup Team (2011)
As the 2012 tennis season beckons, the American contingent on the men's tour is seeking to improve upon their successes of 2011.
Seeing that the ATP tour has been exclusively dominated by the big four, many accomplishments of some of the lower-ranked players are often overshadowed and unaccounted for. In its entirety, the American tennis scene drastically improved in 2011.
We are not moving back to the days of Agassi and Sampras, but the void left following that era is slowly being filled.
In this slideshow, I am going to rank the current American players with the best chances of contesting for titles and making deep runs in majors in 2012.
Mardy Fish- World Tour Finals (2011)
Mardy Fish had an absolutely stellar 2011.
As a direct result of improved fitness, refined strategy and a well-devised schedule, the veteran American surged into the top eight, qualifying for the World Tour Finals in London. On his path to London, Fish reclaimed his title in Atlanta by defeating John Isner in a gruesome three-set match, fighting past the debilitating summer heat. Fish also made career best runs at Wimbledon and the French Open, reaching the quarterfinals and third round respectively.
The finest representations of Fish's improvement in 2011 were his excellent displays in the Master Series 1000 events. These tournaments are undoubtedly a true test of resolve and consistency, as each and every match is undoubtedly a formidable challenge where nothing can be taken for granted. Fish put together semifinal appearances in Miami and Cincinnati, in addition to reaching the final in Montreal, where he lost to Novak Djokovic.
In 2011, Fish demonstrated quantity and quality in the sense that Fish not only won a lot of matches but recorded many significant victories. Fish compiled wins over high quality players such as Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Juan Martin Del Potro, Richard Gasquet, Tomas Berdych, and Janko Tipsarevic. Triumphing over a top 20 player on a single occasion is one thing, but to perform at the highest level on a consistent basis is a true mark of success.
In 2012, look for Fish to build upon his successes of 2011. Specifically, I expect Fish to perform extremely well at Wimbledon as his serve and volley, first-strike game is extremely conducive to the swift play at SW19.
John Isner- US Open 2011
John Isner matched his career high ranking of 18 in 2011.
The big serving American made a significant breakthrough in New York, reaching the quarterfinals of the US Open before succumbing to Andy Murray in four tough sets. Isner was crowned champion in Newport and Winston Salem, to add to his second-place finish in Atlanta.
Isner's game is clearly predicated off his booming serve. In order for Isner to crack the top 10, this one-dimensional game must be expanded to a point where his fitness and return game are not liabilities. That said, I truly believe Isner can augment his baseline ability and supplement this with improved stamina and condition. I am noting Isner's fitness because, as someone who is constantly going deep into third sets and playing countless tiebreakers, his physicality cannot become a hindrance. However, I believe that Isner will continue to advance every aspect of his game that doesn't involve the serve.
John Isner is an extremely humble player and a fierce competitor who should not be taken lightly by anyone. In 2012, I would definitely look for Isner to strive in Australia and New York.
Sam Querrey- Aegon Championships (2011)
I know placing Sam Querrey above guys like Donald Young and Alex Bogomolov Jr. is extremely questionable, but behind this decision there is legitimate rationale.
Querrey was out for most of 2011 due to a shoulder injury. Only winning 12 matches, his ranking plummeted from 17 to 93. This is important to note for two reasons. One, he has no points to defend. Since Querrey does not have the added pressure of having to defend points, he surely should be free-flowing and primed to climb up the rankings.
Also, Querrey will probably receive wild cards into some of the higher level tournaments which will give him ample opportunity to regain his form from 2010. Evidence of Querrey already regaining his form from 2010 came in Valencia, where Querrey took out Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets.
Querrey is often seen on the doubles court with John Isner, and his singles game should flourish faster as doubles is a perfect medium to improve one's singles game.
One year from now, I would not be surprised if Sam Querrey is the owner of the 2012 comeback player of the year award.
Alex Bogomolov- Most Improved Player Award (London)
2011 was a breakthrough year, to say the least, for Alex Bogomolov Jr. He surged over 130 spots from his 2010 ranking of 166 to end the year at 34 in the world. Due to this vast turnaround, Bogomolov Jr. was justifiably awarded with the Most Improved Award issued by the ATP.
Similar to Mardy Fish, Bogomolov, 28, is peaking in the latter half of his career. In 2011, Bogomolov provided us with a sample of his potential to produce high caliber tennis on the biggest stages defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Cincinnati and Andy Murray in Montreal. From a guy who was forced to qualify for ATP 250 level tournaments in January to receiving a direct entry into the Master Series 1000 event held in Shanghai in October, Bogomolov Jr.'s advancement has been nothing short of remarkable.
Expect Bogomolov to drive opponents up a wall in 2012 and sneak into the second week at majors as an effect of his high percentage, varied, and consistent game.
Donald Young- US Open (2011)
As a junior, Donald Young was touted as the next American tennis sensation.
Winning Kalamazoo, the biggest junior tournament in America, put Young at the pinnacle of American tennis prospects at the age of 15. Seven years later, aged 22, many have been quick to sight Donald Young as a bust. I find it extremely difficult to coin an individual as a bust when they are only 22. Despite what either you or I think about Donald Young, he proved all naysayers wrong in 2011. Reaching a career high ranking of 39 in 2011, Young put together a series of significant wins, defeating Melzer, Monfils, Baghdatis, Wawrinka, and Murray in addition to reaching the finals of Bangkok.
Donald Young hits well off both the forehand and backhand sides and moves quickly around the court. His lefty serve is effective especially on the ad side, as he can utilize the slider out wide to open up the court. If Young is able to improve upon his fitness and introduce more variety in his game, he will be a force to be reckoned with in 2012.
Ryan Harrison- Shanghai (2011)
What can I say about Ryan Harrison besides the fact that the guy has potential?
Harrison, 19, is already ranked within the top 80 in the world, sitting at number 79. He possesses a huge first and second serve, a brilliant transition game, and explosive ground-strokes. He has the physique and fitness to handle playing in long, drawn-out matches, a trademark of a great player. In 2011, he recorded key wins over Viktor Troicki, Milos Raonic, Guillermo Garcia Lopez and Ivan Dodig.
Harrison has a game that, if fully developed, will be able to compete consistently with the top guys. For Harrison, the question comes on the mental side. Harrison is well-known to be unafraid to say exactly what he is thinking. I vividly remember watching Harrison chuck his racket the width of the court after losing a point to Yen-Hsun Lu in Los Angeles. Although these displays of anger are often destructive and immature, they undeniably represent the desire and drive Harrison has to win.
In 2012, I would look for Harrison to escalate to the top 30, possibly even the top 20, if he can improve the mental aspect of his game.
Ryan Sweeting- US Open (2011)
Ryan Sweeting is yet another American who obtained a career high ranking in 2011.
He is now ranked 72nd in the world and is looking to build off a successful year, highlighted by lifting the trophy in Houston. Sweeting is a steady player without any major weapons.
My reasoning for placing him below Harrison despite his higher ranking is because Harrison has the weapons to compete with the top guys, whereas Sweeting is someone who has the potential to ascend in the rankings, but most likely will not be going toe-to-toe with the cream of the crop.
Don't expect Sweeting to be playing for major titles in 2012, but he is someone that could definitely end up in the top 30 or 40 by 2013 if he improves his serve and looks to take the initiative and becomes more aggressive from the baseline.