2017 Top Ten-tative
2016 brought Dominic Thiem his first trip inside the Top 10 in the ATP World Tour rankings. The Austrian burst through the glass ceiling on June 6th when he moved up from 15th to 7th in the world after making his first Grand Slam semifinal the month before at Roland Garros. The 23-year-old began the year ranked 20th, showing how hard it is to move up into the Top 10. Thiem won three titles on the way to that rankings boost and made another final along that route. He finished the year ranked 8th.
Gael Monfils also returned to the Top 10 for the first time since 2011, when he climbed as high as #7. He finished the year at #8. Marin Cilic rose to a career best #6 to finish 2016 after falling out of the Top 10 late in 2015 and Tomas Berdych is clinging to the final spot in the top ten, a place he has resided since July 2010. After you get through the first five in the rankings with Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori – there seems to be plenty of moving parts as we head to 2017.
Only 600 points separates Cilic (6) from Berdych (10) with David Goffin just a few hundred behind th Czech. 2017 could definitely see some new faces ready to run into the Top 10 and perhaps the return of some veterans who could be poised to return to glory.
Here’s my take on some of the players outside of the Top 10 and their prospects for getting back into that spot next season or in some cases, making their Top 10 debut.
11. David Goffin
An obvious choice here as the 25-year-old Belgian is just 310 points behind Tomas Berdych who holds the #10 spot. The Belgian has been consistently in the Top 20 since May 2015, but has yet to climb higher than his current position.
WHY HE WILL
Goffin doesn’t have much in the way of points to defend before the back-to-back Masters swing of Indian Wells and Miami in March. He’ll only need to match a 4th round result from last year’s Australian Open to avoid losing any big points. Otherwise, he mostly has nothing but points to gain in the first two months with mediocre results in 2016 during that span. Berdych also has some points to defend early after making the semifinals in Doha and Dubai last year along with the quarterfinals at the Australian Open.
WHY HE WON’T
If Goffin can’t fight his way into the Top 10 by February, he could have a tough time climbing that hill afterwards. He has 720 points to defend in the Indian Wells-Miami double after making the semifinals in both events last year. He’ll also have quarterfinal results to match at the Rome Masters and French Open later in the Spring. Those results either equaled or surpassed career bests for Goffin. Perhaps he signaled his arrival with those results, but without a track record to prove his staying power, he’ll have to prove himself again in those big events.
Look for Goffin to slip into that 10th spot early as he takes advantage of Berdych. Also look for Goffin’s stay in the Top 10 to be brief for now as I think he fails to measure up to some of those great results during the first half of this past season in those same tournaments in 2017.
13. Nick Kyrgios
This feels like a pivotal season for the 21-year-old Aussie. His suspension for his antics at the Shanghai Masters made headlines as Kyrgios ended 2016 on the sidelines after finishing a career best 13th in the rankings. He talked of using the time to his benefit and hopefully that meant getting himself better both psychologically and physically.
WHY HE WILL
The Australian Summer. Kyrgios gets the benefit of starting the first month of the season on familiar ground with the ATP Tour’s event schedule all based in Australia and New Zealand. Kyrgios does have to navigate past three players to get to that #10 spot, but there are only 600 points or so separating him from that feat as of right now. Kyrgios has very little to defend early this season as he only played in Melbourne in 2016 and was a disappointing 3rd round exit at the hands of Berdych. That’s only 90 points. If he can get closer to matching his 2015 results when he made the quarterfinals in Melbourne, he could gain hundreds of points to rocket off the a solid start. The Aussie Open is likely his only ATP Tour event in January with Kyrgios slated to play the Hopman Cup as his prep event, a tournament that carries no rankings points.
Kyrgios likely won’t find an easy in to the Top 10 early like Goffin could. Kyrgios may actually be better suited to ascend into that spot in the second half of 2017 when he has hardly any points to defend due to a poor finish in 2016. Outside of titles in Atlanta and Tokyo that gained him 700 points, his post-Wimbledon schedule could easily see him rack up points if his mind and body are right. So if Kyrgios isn’t quite there after the first few months, keep your eyes on him from June onward as he will have a great opportunity to move up.
WHY HE WON’T
No one expects a miracle from whatever psychological counseling Kyrgios got during his suspension, so many will wait to see if Kyrgios’ short fuse gets the best of him again in 2017. His attitude and dedication to the game are also still a big question as Kyrgios has not hid the fact that he does not share a huge love for the game currently. The other troubling thing that could prevent him from moving up would be a slow start to 2017. Kyrgios does have quite a few good results he’ll need to match from February to April. He won a title in Marseille during that time this season and also made a Masters semifinal in Miami and a quarterfinal in Madrid. That’s over 500 points from those two results alone, but he could off-set that with a better showing at Indian Wells where he lost his opener in 2016.
He’ll make it. Amid all the distractions in 2016, Kyrgios still jumped from #30 to #13 by season’s end. Those last few spots to get into the top 10 may be much more difficult to get past, but if he can keep it together for even half a season – it is something he can achieve. If Kyrgios finally gets everything in tune, then the sky could be the limit.
15. Lucas Pouille
The Frenchman was a big gainer in 2016 as he rose into the Top 20 after starting the season ranked 78th. Back-to-back Slam quarterfinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open helped solidify a spot in the Top 20 by year’s end. At #15, the biggest question now is can he sustain that level of success?
WHY HE WILL
Pouille showed he was not afraid in 2016, going 5-6 against players ranked in the Top 10. That number is slightly skewed when he see that the three times he met Andy Murray, was thoroughly outplayed. Still, it was a great record for a rising star. He made his first ATP Tour Final in Bucharest early in the season, but did not really bust out with eye popping results until Wimbledon. Certainly he beat Juan Martin Del Potro in the third round at less than 100 percent, but he followed it up with a solid win over Bernard Tomic to make the quarterfinals. Considering his lack of much on grass previously, it was a huge accomplishment. After stumbling through the summer, he scored a signature win over Rafael Nadal at the U.S. Open and then won his first title in Metz a month later.
WHY HE WON”T
The number next to his name. Pouille slipped under-the-radar when he was able to make his quarterfinal runs at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. In 2017, he turns more into the hunted as a Top 20 player. Players will now consider wins over him as “scalps” and he’ll have the pressure of being expected to turn in good results consistently. At just 22, Pouille is going to have to show that he can adjust to that added pressure. When you look at his body of work outside of the making the two Slam quarterfinals, the last half of 2017 was mediocre and could be a red flag for 2017. Scheduling will also be key. Pouille played his first “full” ATP season in 2016 with 23 tournaments plus Davis Cup participation. He might do well to cut back a few tournaments to save his body from too much wear and tear.
I think Pouille might be a year away from getting into the Top 10, but there’s also a realistic shot to move up if he does well at the Australian and French Opens where he lost in the opening round in 2016. If he’s not broken through by the time Wimbledon rolls around though, I think it might be another year before he moves up. I’m not sold that he can repeat his feats at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
16. Roger Federer
All eyes will be in the Swiss entering 2017 as he attempts to return to full power after losing more than half of 2016 due to injury. Federer’s rehab from knee surgery and his commitment to the game should have him at full health to start 2017. He’ll need to be if he wants to avoid falling back more in the rankings early on.
WHY HE WILL
At age 35, some will wonder if Father Time has caught Fed. His body has broken down a bit more on him in the last few seasons, but the knee injury truly could have happened to anyone. Federer is one of the best at reducing his schedule to keep fresh during the season, so expect that to play to his favor. That he missed so much time in 2016 will also favor a move up if Federer finds form. Federer played just seven tournaments in 2016 and while his results were solid, he will have a lot of points to gain during the season. The Australian Open could hold the key to his success in the first half of the season. He has semifinal points to defend. It won’t be a breaking point if he falls short of that, but it would likely slip him back a few more spots in the rankings.
The good news is that Federer only played two of the five possible Masters 1000 events before the French Open in 2016. He won’t over schedule in that stretch, but even if he plays three with modest to good results, it will be a boost to his ranking. The French Open will be his chance to really make a push back to the Top 10 if he’s still in need after missing that event in 2016. He’ll have everything to gain there and run into the same position at the U.S. Open. Prior to the injury in 2016, Federer showed he was still capable of making deep runs at Slams with semifinal showings in Melbourne and London. He won’t expect anything less in 2017.
WHY HE WON’T
Physical breakdowns. Federer will have plenty to prove to himself and the rest of the world upon his return, but he was still putting up good results when healthy in 2016. That seems to be the big question for the new season, how will his knee hold up? Will his back flare up? If his knee still bothers him or other ailments begin to pile up, then 2017 might turn out as poorly as this past season and cause Federer to think about his career path.
Until Federer shows up on court and prove his health, it’s difficult to truly say where he can go in 2017. If he’s the slick and aggressive Federer who reinvented himself a few seasons ago in that manner, then he’s certainly got a solid shot to get back into the Top 10 with a little more than 900 points to make up. If he’s healthy to open 2017, the guess is he’s got that completed no later than the conclusion of the French Open.
17. Grigor Dimitrov
The Bulgarian survived coaching changes and uneven form for the first half of the season to work back into the Top 20. That was Dimitrov’s first trip back inside the Top 20 since falling out of that spot in September 2015. He has not been in the Top 10 for more than a single week since the end of 2014.
WHY HE WILL
Coaching stability. Dimitrov enters the new year with Dani Vallverdu slated to continue as his coach. The two linked up in July after Dimitrov got rid of Franco Davin after a pretty disasterous first six months of 2016. Dimitrov was so lost at times in 2016 that he lost his first match at a tournament six of seven times in a stretch from May to August. Under Vallverdu though, he started a late season surge that saw him make the quarterfinals at the Rogers Cup and the semifinals at the Western & Southern Open. Both were key Masters events before the U.S. Open where Dimitrov made it to the fourth round, his best Slam finish of the season. With a fairly anemic showing through Wimbledon this year, Dimitrov has plenty of points to gain in the first half of the season.
WHY HE WON’T
Despite a surge in the last few months of the season, Dimitrov still never really lit the world on fire. He had some good, but not great results outside of a finals run in Beijing. He continued to look over matched against most Top 10 players he met with a 3-6 mark to bring his career record to a putrid 13-46 against players inside the Top 10. His biggest weakness since arriving in the Top 10 for the first time in 2014 has been big events like Masters 1000s and Grand Slams (of late). Since making his first Slam semifinal at Wimbledon in 2014, he has only made it as far as round four in three of the nine Slams since then. His Masters quarterfinal in Canada was his first since Madrid in 2015. He’s had more trouble getting past round three more often than not and that’s not going to help him gain many points if that stays the case.
I don’t see it in 2017. There are too many talented and more consistent players ahead of him that he would need to not live up to expectations to have a good shot. Dimitrov does have opportunity though because of those Slam failures, so one or two deep runs could scoot him closer to the Top 10. The best thing for Dimitrov is he looked more comfortable with Vallerdu in his corner and the mental aspect of his game seemed to be what ailed him the most in 2016. An easier coach-player relationship that is clicking can resolve some of that and give Dimitrov hope that the 25-year-old can still fulfill the potential that so many saw in him a few years ago.
38. Juan Martin Del Potro
Del Potro still has a lot of bodies to climb over just to get into the Top 20, but his return to health and form in 2016 give notice that he’s definitely still a threat. He’ll start the season around 2,000 points out of the 10th spot, but has virtually nothing to defend until the U.S. Open.
WHY HE WILL
Del Potro gained just 420 points through Wimbledon in 2016. That’s right around half the season. Assuming he stays healthy early on in 2017, he should be racking up points frequently and continuing his meteoric return to relevancy. DelPo started 2016 in DelRay Beach ranked outside the Top 1000 and was into the Top 40 by season’s end. A jump into the Top 20 is only about 700 points away for the Argentine and that should a key goal early in 2017. If he can pull that off by the time the summer rolls around, he could rack up more points on the North American hard court swing where he’s had a great deal of success.
WHY HE WON’T
Health and schedule. That’s really been the only question surrounding Del Potro. He did a pretty solid job of not over scheduling in 2016 and really didn’t start to reach his peak form until the summer. He came up with huge wins in Davis Cup play at the end of the year, that although they don’t earn him any rankings points, proved he is again a big match player with the ability to beat the best of the best. If you count the Olympics (a non-Tour event), Del Potro played in 13 tournaments in 2016. A full season would likely see him play a handful more in 2017. For me, anything more than 20 tournaments would be over scheduling for the Argentine. He’ll likely have Davis Cup commitments after helping lead his country to the title in 2016, so add a couple of appearances in there and you can see how scheduling will play a key role in what he does next season.
It might be a long shot to move up nearly 30 spots in one year, but it’s possible if he maintains health and puts up good results consistently. He’ll likely need some of the fringe guys in the 11-20 range to drop off to give him a legit shot at the Top 10, but that’s always possible. I think 2016 taught him the importance of putting health first and worrying about commitments later, so I don’t think over scheduling will be an issue. Given that he did not play the Australian Open or French Open in 2016, those two events could be key determining factors in how high he can go. An electric start down under could catapult him up the rankings quickly.
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