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Home   News   Tebbutt: The top spot

Tebbutt: The top spot

Oct 18, 2016
written by: Tom Tebbutt

Being No. 1, the very best, the top of the heap is a goal many people have in life – and Andrew Barron Murray is no exception.

There have been 25 players who have reached No. 1 on the ATP tour since computer rankings were introduced in August, 1973, and Murray is currently on a quest to become the 26th.

The 29-year-old Scot has had an impressive career, especially considering the competition he has had since turning pro in 2005 – namely all-time greats Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

One suspects Murray, three times a Grand Slam champion and twice an Olympic gold medal winner, has had it in the back of his mind that his time might come eventually if he was patient. Now, with Federer out of action since Wimbledon, Nadal still not in top form following the left wrist injury last spring and Djokovic seemingly wavering with his commitment to the game, there’s clearly an opening.

murray-talking-paiz

Photo: Mauricio Paiz

To analyze Murray’s chances it’s best to look at the ATP Race To London based on results from the start of 2016. Below are the current ATP Race standings:

  1. Djokovic – 10,600
  2. Murray – 9,685

So Murray, who has spent a total of 74 weeks at No. 2, is 915 points behind and has three events remaining starting next week – winners points available in brackets: Vienna (500), Paris-Bercy (1,000) London World Tour Finals (1,500). Djokovic just has two, Paris-Bercy (1,000) and London World Tour Finals (1,500).

Hypothetically, if Murray wins Vienna, he would just be 415 points behind heading into the two final events.

On the negative side, he could be tired after Vienna (possibly five matches) and be more vulnerable in Paris with its double the amount of ranking points. On the positive side, Djokovic played abysmally in his 6-4, 6-4 loss to Roberto Bautista Agut in the Shanghai semifinals last week and looked unhinged – smashing a racquet and tearing open his shirt in frustration with his uncharacteristic number (29) of unforced errors. With two whole weeks off before Paris, which he won a year ago along with the World Tour Finals, the Serb will be a huge question mark when the tour’s best meet indoors at the Palais Omnisports Paris-Bercy beginning on Halloween – October 31st.

djokovic-armAs an aside here, there appears to be no question that Djokovic’s “personal” matter at Wimbledon, which he has frequently referred to and which seems to have had residual effects, as well as a spate of injuries – left wrist, right forearm, both left and right neck and shoulder as well as the toenail that came off during the US Open final – have contributed to de-stabilizing the fortress of his erstwhile peerless tennis.

“There are definitely things that I need to regain from the emotional/mental point of view,” Djokovic, who has been No. 1 for a total of 220 weeks, admitted after losing to Bautista Agut.

From a historical perspective, there’s little doubt that Murray deserves to be No. 1. His three Grand Slam titles are more than the individual totals for 10 – Nastase, Hewitt, Roddick, Safin, Ferrero, Kafelnikov, Muster, Rios, Moya and Rafter – of the previous players who have ascended to No. 1.

His three is equal to the total of Brazilian great Gustavo Kuerten.

There have been some quirky circumstances associated with the No. 1 ranking including Carlos Moya holding it for two weeks and Patrick Rafter for just one week, both in 1999.

Then there was Yevgeny Kafelnikov losing seven matches in a row – including six in opening rounds – before he ascended to No. 1 on May 3, 1999. The irascible Russian held the top spot for six weeks at an unstable time when four players exchanged the No. 1 ranking over a three-month period.

Mentioning Kafelnikov’s name creates an opening for introducing the inglorious name of Donald Trump to this blog. Kafelnikov’s finest hour was in 1997 when he won the French Open over Michael Stich. That was probably Pete Sampras’s best chance to win Roland Garros and complete a career Grand Slam.

The great American was 11-1 over his career (a loss at the World Team Cup event in Dusseldorf the week before Roland Garros should not count because it was basically an exhibition or warm-up event) with Kafelnikov and that only loss came at the French Open in the 1997 semifinals. On that day, it was suddenly hot and humid – conditions that were anathema to Sampras who suffered from the blood disorder Thalassemia Minor. The then 25-year-old American faded badly after a competitive first set – losing 7-6(4), 6-0, 6-2 to Kafelnikov.

Why mention this? Well, in the crowd that day – about 15 rows up in the west stands – were Donald Trump and his wife Marla Maples. Is that proof that nothing good happens to Americans when Trump is around? Possibly.

A final thought on Murray – above arriving in Shanghai last week after a train ride from Beijing where he won the ATP 500 event – and his chase for No. 1. Many Canadians, despite being Murray fans, will hope that he doesn’t reach the top spot before the end of this year. The reason being that, if he is still battling to get to No. 1 early in 2017, he may not want to make the effort to play Davis Cup versus Canada in Canada from February 3-5, just five days after the Australian Open final. It would be nice if he played from the entertainment point of view, but obviously far more favourable for Canada’s chances of moving on if he did not.

Bouchard’s 2016 is finito

A long season of agonizing matches for Genie Bouchard (31-24) came to an end on Monday when she lost 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 to No. 100-ranked Denisa Allertova in Luxembourg.

The match was dead even at 3-all in the final set when Bouchard was broken during a critical stretch when she lost seven points in a row. In a nutshell, the 5’11” Czech, 23, was the bigger and more aggressive hitter, especially off the forehand, and Bouchard was unable to keep up.

So a year that began with a ranking of No. 48 will end somewhere near her current No. 46.

That’s kind of a wash, or not quite, because a year ago Bouchard had an arm issue in February, a serious abdominal tear through the grass-court season and, of course, a concussion at the US Open which essentially ended her year. In 2016, her main injury issue was an abdominal problem that forced her out of the Charleston tournament in April.

She will now start looking ahead to 2017 – but first she travels to Ankara, Turkey for the TEB Paribas Tennis Star Series exhibition along with 1987 Wimbledon champion Pat Cash and Turkish players Cagla Buyukakcay and Marsel Ilhan. That takes place on October 30.

The Kyrgios suspension

The ATP has come down on Nick Kyrgios for his unprofessional behaviour at the Shanghai Rolex Masters last week.

Krygios has been suspended for eight competition weeks until January 15 (the day before the 2017 Australian Open begins). His obvious lack of effort (above) in a 6-3, 6-1 opening-round loss to qualifier Mischa Zverev and lack of accountability in his post-match media conference merited the suspension for “conduct contrary to the integrity of the game.”

But Kyrgios will be allowed to return early – after only three weeks – if he agrees to enter “a plan of care under the direction of a sports psychologist or equivalent plan approved by the ATP.”

He was also assessed an extra $25,000 (US) on top of last week’s original fine of $16,500. 

The No. 14-ranked Australian, 21 and the winner of three titles in 2016 (Marseille, Atlanta and Tokyo), issued the following statement: “Following the ATP’s decision today I would like to take this opportunity to apologise again for the circumstances in Shanghai. The season has been a long one as I battled several injuries and other challenges towards the end of the summer. The Asian circuit was particularly tough after the long week and win in Tokyo and with the travel throughout the continent, my body finally just gave out in Shanghai both physically and mentally. This is no excuse, and I know very well that I need to apologise to the fans – in Shanghai and in other parts of the world – as well as the tournament organisers in Shanghai who do an amazing job…

I do understand and respect the decision by the ATP and I will use this time off to improve on and off the court. I am truly sorry and look forward to returning in 2017.”

He did not say whether he would comply with the requirement necessary to shorten the suspension.

If he did not – in all likelihood he would not be able to play anything except exhibitions before the 2017 Aussie Open. Currently he is in the line-up, with Daria Gavrilova, for the Hopman Cup team competition the first week of January. But that event is run in conjunction with the International Tennis Federation and it would likely respect the ATP suspension if it was still in place.

Following his actions in Shanghai – and let’s not forget his deplorable performance against Denis Shapovalov in his opening match at Rogers Cup in August – the sanctions against Kyrgios seem entirely reasonable.

In his defence, it’s always hard to play the week after winning an event as Kyrgios had done two weeks ago in Tokyo. Maybe it would have been better for him to withdraw from Shanghai – despite it being a mandatory event – but in the end hopefully the ATP’s actions will help him understand the need to act more professionally.

The bottom line here is that tennis needs this guy – he is arguably the most talented and entertaining player to come along since Roger Federer.

Singapore sans Serena

For the second consecutive year, Serena Williams will miss the BNP Paribas WTA Finals in Singapore. That guarantees that Angelique Kerber will finish the year at No. 1 while Williams remains safe at No. 2.  

From the vault

skydome-worldtennis

There was an ATP event held in the Skydome (now Rogers Centre) in Toronto in February, 1990. It was an interesting concept with a main centre court (at right) and several outside courts – and all of that indoors. Unfortunately the finances did not make sense for a second edition of the event. The first and only Skydome tournament was won by Ivan Lendl 6-3, 6-0 over Tim Mayotte in the final.

Top photo: TennisTV.com