Predicting the Biggest Risers and Fallers in the ATP Rankings in 2014

Jeremy Eckstein@!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistFebruary 3, 2014

Predicting the Biggest Risers and Fallers in the ATP Rankings in 2014

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    Francois Mori/Associated Press

    Updating the 2014 ATP rankings is fittingly a computer's job. Its cold, calculating database is no respecter of Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic any more than it is for Andreas Seppi or Donald Young.

    The rankings are determined by the tournament points a player accumulates for the exact previous year of any date. Players must grind through injuries and setbacks even as their triumphs are recorded. There is no rest, nor a human committee to oversee exceptions.

    The rankings change rapidly each year. One year ago, Tommy Robredo was trying to come back from injury and his ranking topped 100. He is now ranked at No. 16.

    Conversely, Janko Tipsarevic's 2013 ranking plummeted from No. 9 to his current No. 69. The only way for him to rebound is to accumulate several match wins over months of tournaments.

    The following slides will examine the players who could most significantly rise or fall. This is not done simply by adding the difference between a player's rise and drop in the rankings. For instance, Florian Mayer recently climbed from No. 37 to No. 29. This eight-point jump is good, but not nearly as significant as Stanislas Wawrinka's ascension from No. 8 to No. 3.

    The higher in the rankings a player is, the harder it is to move up. There is a ceiling. This explains why Nadal and Djokovic cannot really move up in terms of rankings climb, but most tennis observers would peg them to battle for the top two ranking slots in 2014.

    We will start with a few names lower in the rankings, but concentrate most on the players who will either drop or rise for top 10 significance.

Honorable Mention Faller: Mikhail Youzhny

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    Alberto Saiz/Associated Press

    ATP Ranking: 14

    Since July, Mikhail Youzhny has moved his ranking up 19 slots from No. 33. He won a clay-court title at Gstaad and had a great U.S. Open quarterfinals run. He added Valencia's indoor title in October.

    The veteran is versatile on all courts and a competitive player. Few players fight as hard.

    However, he is also 31 years old and will find it increasingly difficult to go deep in important tournaments. It's likely he will not back up the aforementioned 2013 accomplishments.

    We love the intensity, the creative backhand and the savvy decision-making, but he will get ground down on the clay. His weaker serve will not help in the second half of the year and he will find it difficult to outlast younger players.

    There's a good chance he will drop below No. 30 by November.

Honorable Mention Riser: Stanislas Wawrinka

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    Andrew Brownbill/Associated Press

    ATP Ranking: No. 3

    There's very little chance Wawrinka climbs up to No. 1 or No. 2, but that doesn't mean he should not be rewarded for his Australian Open title and ascension from No. 8 in the rankings.

    Wawrinka could conceivably be one of the biggest winners on tour for the rest of the year and not qualify as a high riser. It's more likely he could drop several places because he is already brushing the top of the tennis ceiling.

    He has answered preseason questions about contending with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Even if he does not win another tournament, he deserves to be on this list. Every other player tried to win the Australian title, but he is the only one holding it.

    In truth, Wawrinka is already the biggest riser of 2014 and probably will be when we ask this question in November.

Faller: John Isner

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    David Rowland/Associated Press

    ATP Ranking: 13

    John Isner's year started with a title in Auckland, but he quickly fell in the first round of the Australian Open with a foot injury.

    Isner's past couple of years could turn out to be his highlights. He defeated Novak Djokovic in the 2012 Indian Wells semifinals and seemed to have improved his return game somewhat.

    Now his return game has regressed and he constantly has to win tiebreakers. He thrives in mid-level tournaments, but even his 2013 summer streak of winning Georgia and reaching the final at Washington D.C. tired him out. He reached the final at Cincinnati but went out in the third round of the U.S. Open.

    He had injuries at Wimbledon, fatigue in North America and now a foot injury following Australia. He is soon to turn 29 and will find it difficult to match his summer success.

    Look for him to fall from the top 20 by late summer, if not sooner.

Riser: Jiri Vesely

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    Aaron Favila/Associated Press

    ATP Ranking: 81

    Jiri Vesely is a player from the regions far beyond the top 20 who could make one of those half-century leaps.

    The left-hander Vesely, age 20, stands at 6'6" and has both power and good footwork. He showed his moxie in the Australian Open's first round, battling veteran Kevin Anderson to five tough sets.

    He only needs to take advantage of his matches and experiences, but we could possibly see a future star if all goes well in 2014.

Faller: Tommy Haas

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    Hans Punz/Associated Press

    ATP Ranking: 12

    The year got off to an ominous start for Tommy Haas. He had to retire with a shoulder injury in the first round of the Australian Open.

    It's not going to get easier for the 35-year-old Haas. He was unable to capitalize on a great draw at the Australian Open, and it will be difficult to match his runs to the Miami semifinals and French Open quarterfinals. It will take renewed health, energy and more big-match wins.

    He's not going to sneak up on anybody this year.

Riser: Vasek Pospisil

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    Aaron Favila/Associated Press

    ATP Ranking: 25

    By the end of 2014, it might be Vasek Pospisil who leads the charge as Canada' best young player. Just don't tell Milos Raonic.

    Pospisil's upside includes very strong strokes and footwork. He has great athleticism, and has thus far enjoyed his time improving.

    Unfortunately, he could not compete in the Australian Open third round because of a back injury, and it gave Stanislas Wawrinka a walkover. It would have been interesting to have seen his progress in this match. Could it have altered history? (Probably not, so please hold your comments, Stan fans.)

    In addition, Pospisil gets a chance to add many points into April, after missing much of the early season in 2013. He is also sure to improve on his performances at the French Open (first round), Wimbledon (second round) and U.S. Open (first round).

    Look for him to rise inside the top 15.

Faller: Richard Gasquet

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    Remy de la Mauviniere/Associated Press

    ATP Ranking: No. 9

    Don't reserve your seats for the ATP World Tour Finals if you are hoping to see Richard Gasquet. This is exclusively reserved for the top eight players. Gasquet won't be back in 2014.

    He was defeated in the Australian Open third round by Tommy Robredo, hardly an upset, but disappointing that he missed a fourth-round date versus Stanislas Wawrinka. Last year, the two battled to five sets in the French Open fourth round, though the two have an obvious results disparity at this point in their career.

    It will also be unlikely for Gasquet to repeat his run to the U.S. Open semifinals.

    Gasquet is consistent and usually defeats lower-ranked players, but if he trips up in this area he will fall further. Nobody is expecting him to be a surprise Grand Slam winner anytime soon.

Riser: Marin Cilic

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    Rick Rycroft/Associated Press

    ATP Ranking: 37

    Since late June 2013, Cilic's ranking has plummeted from No. 12, owing mostly to his suspension because of a performance-enhancing drugs issue.

    Hopefully his return and rise in the rankings will be because he has outstanding tennis talent. He will have to fight through tougher draws for a while, but he needs to feel a "now or never" sense of urgency for his career.

    He did fight hard in back-to-back five-set matches at the Australian Open. He can certainly improve on the rest of his Grand Slam performances from 2013, which include third round, second round and "absent."

    Will he look in the mirror and see what he can become? We're betting he will.

Faller: Juan Martin del Potro

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    Rob Griffith/Associated Press

    ATP Ranking: No. 4

    He wilted in Melbourne's scorching heat in the second round but was able to land at No. 4 in the rankings. Now the hard part begins.

    Del Potro may not be a top star, but he is a top 10 talent. It's just that guys below him, like Andy Murray and Roger Federer, will be making comebacks. He will also be defending trips to the Indian Wells final and Wimbledon semifinal.

    Another recent setback is the severe wrist pain and treatment needed to get him healthy. Fortunately, this is his left wrist, and not the surgically-repaired right wrist that interrupted his career in 2010. But he does use a double-backhand and has continued to be hampered by nagging injuries. It would be nice to see him play with full health and confidence.

    Tennis fans know Del Potro's potential, but it will likely be another year of unmet expectations.

Riser: Roger Federer

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    Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

    ATP Ranking: No. 8

    We are going to examine more about Roger Federer and Stefan Edberg, but it seems likely the former Swedish Davis Cup hero may have said something about his four Davis Cup titles. Federer may also enjoy being the No. 2 Swiss player, at least for the moment.

    For starters, it's a good bet Federer will outpoint Wawrinka for the duration of 2014. Federer will look to improve on every result this year and especially contend for the Wimbledon title. By late summer, he could be back in the top four again, and be the Swiss player with the No. 3 ranking.

    Federer's search to shorten points is the right move. He can neutralize the growing legion of modern baseliners with his aggressive approach. If some tournament courts are sped up, it will only favor him.

    Best of all, his renewed energy and spirit should set him up to try and win at least one more Grand Slam title.

    If there is one lesson writers and fans should learn, don't bet against Federer.

Faller: David Ferrer

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    Aaron Favila/Associated Press

    ATP Ranking: No. 5

    At some point, all the globe-trotting in search of mid-level tournaments is bound to break down the 31-year-old Ferrer.

    But first some praise must be added to how consistent Ferrer has been, including with runs into Grand Slam tournaments. He will fight and push his way (sorry, pun intended) to victory against everyone. He does not back down even when he loses to the other top players.

    But we're going out on a limb to predict Ferrer does not get to the finals at Miami and the French Open. The latter will cost him hundreds of points.

    We will predict a moderate drop, closer to 10 than five. There is the emergence of Stanislas Wawrinka. There will be the comebacks of Roger Federer and Andy Murray. At some point, Ferrer is going to run out of luck when easy Grand Slam draws are revealed.

Riser: Grigor Dimitrov

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    Andrew Brownbill/Associated Press

    ATP Ranking: 19

    Is he really ready?

    Grigor Dimitrov has been highly touted for a few years, but his slow, steady progress may be ready for the next leap into being a consistent top 10 player. The best of Dimitrov can play with anyone on a given day. It's those irritating things like conditioning, commitment and consistency that are needed.

    He showed more skills and variety in defeating Milos Raonic in the third round of the Australian Open. He also had his chances to defeat Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. Add that to his experiences last year at Monte Carlo and Cincinnati in battling Nadal. He defeated Novak Djokovic in Madrid. So, yes, the kid can play.

    Opportunity should open up at the Grand Slams. This year, his Australian Open quarterfinals appearance exceeded his first-round ouster from 2013. He also looks to top his results at the French Open (third round), Wimbledon (second round) and U.S. Open (first round).

    He should be ready to contend for Masters 1000 crowns and consistently penetrate the second week at all Grand Slams. He could be good enough already to grab a semifinal spot, if not more. He must continue to grow in big matches and take care of the ones he should win.

    Is he really ready? We will find out soon, but don't be surprised if he is the one who replaces Richard Gasquet, David Ferrer or Juan Martin del Potro at the ATP World Tour Finals.


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