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Men's Tennis: Who is the Best of the Rest?

Donal RidgeCorrespondent IJanuary 4, 2010

PARIS - NOVEMBER 10:  Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France celebrates victory after winning his match against Albert Montanes of Spain during the ATP Masters Series at the Palais Omnisports De Paris-Bercy on November 10, 2009 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Over the past few years I have become a very keen tennis fan.  Before then I would have had a moderate recreational interest in the sport, but nothing of any great note.

I’m from Ireland, where tennis does not register strongly on the sporting radar.  But for whatever reason, possibly the emergence of the Roger/Rafa rivalry, I became very interested in it. And although this would be considered blasphemy amongst my soccer, GAA and rugby loving compatriots, I truly believe that at the moment, it is the best sport in the world. 

At the highest level of the game at least, the quality of players and competition is just unbelievable. 

In this article I want to look at the Second Tier of men’s tennis.  I’m going to go ahead and consider the First Tier as including the top five players in the world.  Some people might disagree with that, but I think it’s fair to say that Federer, Nadal, Murray, Del Potro, and Djokovic are in a league of their own.  For now at least.  But who are the best of the rest?

At no point could I ever claim to be an expert, but I’m going to rank them as I see it.

1.  Nikolay Davydenko

I have a lot of respect for the Russian and rank him as the best of the rest.  Although he doesn’t seem to have any outstanding weapon, he is extremely consistent and is above average in every area.  He performed exceptionally towards the end of last season, culminating with a fine win in the World Tour Finals. 

If that form continues into 2010 he has the best chance of breaking into the Top Five, and will be a serious contender in the Grand Slams.  I think Davydenko is a very underrated player, but in part that might be because of his understated and mild mannered persona. 

And if it were not for a certain Swiss maestro he could very well have a Grand Slam to his name.  I expect him to have another solid season.  A Grand Slam?  Only time will tell.

2.  Andy Roddick

After his exploits at Wimbledon, it seemed like the rest of his season anti-climaxed for the American.  I know he might not have been 100 percent fit, but I think there was a hangover from his epic loss to Federer. 

But I was hugely impressed with the new and improved Roddick in those Championships, especially in the semi-final against Andy Murray.  I would safely say it is the best I have ever seen him play.  All aspects of his game have tightened up, and although his forehand is not the formidable weapon it once was, he has added much needed consistency to his game. 

I also think he really believes he can beat the top players now, and has shown he possesses the game to do just that.  He has a great record at the Australian Open, reaching four semi-finals, and I would not be surprised if he continued his good form there this year.

3.  Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Out of all the players in this Second Tier, I think this guy has the most potential.  He is capable of some incredible tennis, and when he is in the mood can blow anyone in the world off the court may I just cast your memory back to the Australian Open semi-final two years ago against Nadal. 

Since then he has showed glimpses of that form, characterized by raw power, but I don't think he has shown his true ability consistently.  He strikes me as quite a mercurial talent, and if he decides to bring his A game to Melbourne in a few weeks time, he will be a tough man to beat.  Here’s me hoping he does, and continues to do so for the rest of the season.

4.  Fernando Verdasco

I think the Spaniard is a really great player.  He seems to have all the attributes to become a top player in the game: explosive forehand, Rafa-esque intensity, great conditioning, and the left-hand advantage. 

Last year was a breakthrough one for him in many ways.  While he had always possessed serious talent, his mental strength seemed to let him down when it really came to the crunch.  I was actually a little disappointed that he did not push on after his Australian Open and have an outstanding year.  But with some more hard work, especially on his second serve, I think he could have a very successful year. 

Also, he has the best hair of any player, which must count for something. Right?

5.  Marin Cilic

I think it’s now time for this guy to break through into the top echelons of the game.  Certainly he went some ways to achieving this at the US Open, with his best performance in a Grand Slam and the biggest victory of his career against Andy Murray.

His performance against the Scot confirmed to me that he is the real deal, and has the potential to be great.  Ultimately ran out of steam against Del Potro in the quarters, having been a set and a break to the good at one point in the match. 

He’s 21 now so by modern standards should be just about coming into his prime.  It’s time for potential to turn into success for the Croatian.

Well that’s how I rank them.  I think men's tennis is in a very healthy state at the moment as it contains a wealth and depth of talent.  There's a lot to look forward to and I’m sure it will be a great 2010.

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