Ranking the Top 10 Men's Players After US Open 2016

Jeremy Eckstein@https://twitter.com/#!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistSeptember 12, 2016

Ranking the Top 10 Men's Players After US Open 2016

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    The 2016 U.S. Open was filled with surprises. Stan Wawrinka is now a three-time major champion, while Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have to get over different kinds of upsets.

    Our rankings examine how the U.S. Open has shaken up the ATP World Tour. Some veterans are hanging tough, but young players took a step back. The grind of the tour clearly wore down several players, including injured Roger Federer and comeback hopeful Rafael Nadal.

    In compiling our rankings, we examine how the players have played in 2016, but with more weight on the U.S. Open. It’s a good measure of each player’s momentum on a fairly neutral court that appeals to most tennis styles. We also consider how they could perform in the final two months of the tennis year as the top eight quality for London’s World Tour Finals.

    Here’s our U.S. Open edition of the top 10 players in men's tennis.

Missing the Cut

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Roger Federer has enough points to be ranked No. 7 in the ATP rankings, but the Swiss star did not play in the U.S. Open and has been inactive since Wimbledon because of injury. He will not be ranked in the top 10 when the year-end tour rankings are finalized.

    Tomas Berdych missed the U.S. Open because of appendicitis. He otherwise remains a borderline top-10 player, but others have passed him this year.

    French star Jo-Wilfried Tsonga missed a big opportunity to climb into the rankings. He had to retire in his quarterfinal match against a vulnerable Novak Djokovic, a match that appeared to be a possible win given some of Djokovic’s nagging injuries and less than optimum play.

10. Dominic Thiem

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    A couple of months ago, Dominic Thiem was a major threat building to battle the ATP elite. Then he hit the wall, ran out of gas and hasn’t been healthy enough to maintain the level he had early in 2016.

    Some of this is attributable to the courts. Thiem has established himself on clay and slower hard courts even though he has the potential to play well on all surfaces. He has a strong serve, heavy groundstrokes, improved returns and the toughness to compete.

    Now he needs to get healthy and drive to finish in the top eight for the World Tour Finals in November. He’s No. 7 in the Race to London (when the ATP updates the rankings on Monday) but only about 700 points ahead of Berdych, who is the outside man looking in.

9. Gael Monfils

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    One of the hottest players on tour, the electric Gael Monfils charged to the semifinals, tying his career-best effort at a major (2008 French Open). Playing as the No. 10 seed, Monfils benefitted from not having to play another seed until No. 24 countryman Lucas Pouille, who was coming off two consecutive five-set matches.

    Then Monfils went out and did what was expected: lose to Novak Djokovic. He did take the second set, but he lost for the 13th time in as many career meetings against the Serb. ESPN color commentator John McEnroe questioned if Monfils was being “unprofessional” by trying to hit moonballs and other off-pace shots late in the first set after trailing 5-0.

    Moving forward, Monfils is positioned at No. 6 in the Race to London. If he continues his torrid play that began in late July, he is a shoo-in to play the WTF.

8. Marin Cilic

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Marin Cilic can be streaky good, so close to being elite, but then not quite enough to get over the hump. This summer he lost a five-set Wimbledon quarterfinal match to Roger Federer that he should have won. He lost a week later in another five-set match to Jack Sock in Davis Cup play before finishing off the Americans with two strong wins.

    Cilic then finished up a disappointing Olympics with his first Masters 1000 title, defeating Andy Murray for the Western & Southern Open. Then he lost to Sock in the third round at the U.S. Open.

    Get the picture?

    Cilic has the talent to be a top-five player every day. His serve and backhand are better than those of Juan Martin del Potro. He moves well and has the reactions and athleticism to dominate fast surfaces.

    The problem is that Cilic is so well-rounded with his strokes that he doesn’t have that go-to shot, nor a real identity that he tries to impose. What’s his true weapon? He’s got the total package but is not always certain of how he should employ the various parts.

    He should be ranked higher.

7. Rafael Nadal

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Another year at the U.S. Open and another five-set loss for Rafael Nadal, this time a tiebreaker that had been locked at 6-6 in the final frame. He battled for over four hours but couldn't hold on.

    It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Nadal lost in the fourth round to young Lucas Pouille, but he would have had difficulties defeating Gael Monfils on the fast hard courts, and surviving that is simply no match for Novak Djokovic, even if the champion is fighting through nagging injuries.

    Nadal is still a factor at majors, but it’s no longer surprising to see him lose to players he would have rolled up and sent packing a few years ago. There are the obvious truths about his advancing age (30), mileage and injuries, but it’s also a tour with more explosive and fearless players who are not afraid to challenge the legends for one great match.

    These days, Nadal’s inconsistent forehand depth, weak second serve and injuries have held him back. It’s tough to see this brilliant champion, perhaps the greatest player ever during his prime, struggle with his play. He’s always been a class act on and off the court, so it’s tough to see him decline while many of us remember when he was nearly unbeatable in big matches.

    Let’s see if he can finish strong in 2016 and get some momentum for the Australian Open in January, a court surface that should have been kinder to his career efforts but has always been a bit of a hex.

6. Juan Martin del Potro

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Now that Juan Martin del Potro has had a few months to get tuned up after returning from wrist surgery, the 2009 U.S. Open champion is playing like a top-10 player. He defeated Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal at the Olympics and fought Andy Murray in a lengthy gold-medal match. He came away with the silver.

    There was every reason to wonder if Del Potro could maintain his momentum or if he would feel the air go out of his sails while trying to compete with the physical and mental grind that takes its toll on all players.

    The U.S. Open proved that Del Potro will be a contender for the foreseeable future as long as he is healthy. He defeated three top-20 players in succession, taking out Steve Johnson, David Ferrer and Dominic Thiem. He fell to Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinals, with both players bashing the ball as if this were a shootout in an old American Western film.

    He’s certainly one of the most dangerous players on tour even if he has not had a year of points on the ATP tour. But he did move up 79 spots to No. 63 in the rankings. Now let's see if he can stay healthy for a few years and compete with his best stuff.

5. Milos Raonic

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Speaking of health issues, Milos Raonic was a shell of his Wimbledon self after getting ousted in the second round of the U.S. Open.

    "It was probably just nerves and stress, a mental sort of over-exuberance," Raonic said, per BBC Sport. "Cramping in the left arm, right forearm there toward the end of the third set, both quads, a little bit in the hip flexor on the left. It was just catching me all over.”

    The big Canadian has worked hard to overcome injuries the past two years, but he will continue to be a streaky contender if he cannot play with a fresh body. It’s not just the strain, but that he needs the work and timing to develop his growth with baseline and net approaches that worked fabulously at Wimbledon.

    He’s a good bet to do well the next two months on fast surfaces with his huge serve. But will he get back to a major final sometime in the next few years while he’s entering his peak years? We’ll see.

4. Kei Nishikori

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    His biggest major finish was getting to the 2014 U.S. Open final, but getting to this year’s semifinals is not a bad consolation for Kei Nishikori. The Japanese star pulled off the biggest upset win of the tournament by defeating Andy Murray in five thrilling sets, but he was ultimately bludgeoned by Stan Wawrinka in the semifinals, fading in New York’s muggy heat.

    Nishikori is now a proven top-five player with his consistency, but it’s going to take the perfect storm to defeat multiple power players on a final weekend of a major. He’s still without a Masters 1000 title, and it might take a title like Shanghai to help him turn the corner against the big dogs.

    A few players in our countdown behind Nishikori might stand a better chance as a long shot to win a major, but Nishikori gets our No. 4 spot because of his steady play and continued improvement. Can he find a way to climb higher?

3. Stan Wawrinka

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Stan Wawrinka has a way of seizing his opportunities. In many ways, his third major win was a blend of his first two. He had to overcome an injured legend (Nadal) like he did in Melbourne in 2014, and he played some gritty, tough tennis when he found the zone, like the 2015 French Open when he also battled back after losing the first set to Djokovic.

    Is Wawrinka Andy Murray’s equal? They both have three career majors, and they’ve split the final two majors of the year. He doesn’t have the career resume and titles to match Murray and he’s less consistent, but he’s been a great player in big matches. He finished out a year that had been more of a struggle.

    Three majors takes him past players like Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin. He only needs Wimbledon to complete the career Grand Slam, so perhaps this is also a better legacy than Gustavo Kuerten’s three French Open titles. No, he isn’t likely to get the No. 1 ranking, but he’s become a star late in his career.

2. Andy Murray

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    Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

    There’s no question that Andy Murray blew a big opportunity to complete the greatest summer of his career. The Scot had won 26 of 27 matches, including Wimbledon and the Olympics gold medal in singles. To many observers, Murray was the favorite to win the U.S. Open with all of the struggles that Djokovic had with injuries early in the tournament.

    Say goodbye to any chance at the No. 1 ranking in 2016. Murray’s never been Djokovic’s equal, but he had a chance to cut into his deficit had he capitalized on the U.S. Open and finished strong.

    Will Murray show any discouragement going forward? History shows that he’s been remarkably resilient. He’s always understood that he’s playing from behind against three bigger legendary rivals and he’s learned to reload and try again.

1. Novak Djokovic

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    Novak Djokovic is the one player who could have made it all the way to the final of the U.S. Open with all of the physical difficulties that made him a long shot to win the title two weeks ago. He was clearly compromised with a sore wrist, injured right arm, blisters on his toes, cramps and without the conditioning he needed to survive a long match against hard-hitting Stan Wawrinka.

    The loss was reminiscent of what Rafael Nadal had to endure at the 2014 Australian Open final, playing with an injured back. Meanwhile, Wawrinka had to endure the delays and stay tough. In the end, Djokovic’s body did not cooperate, he lost a chance to win three majors in 2016 and must settle for five majors in two years.

    There’s also nothing to dispute about Djokovic as the No. 1 player. He’s the best player in the game, by far, and must do what he can to get healthy and compete at his best level. If so, he will be ready to go for the 2017 Australian Open title.

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