Everyone knows about school report cards and how important they are to a student’s academic standing.
The rankings in tennis are essentially a grown-up’s report card that’s crucial for players in their professional lives. And the rankings don’t stop like report cards with the end of school but continue for years and years with individuals such as 36-year-old Roger Federer – No. 1 – or 38-year-old Ivo Karlovic – no. 80 – as prime examples.
As new players come onto the scene it’s intriguing to project just how well they might do in the rankings. Way back in 1992 after 19-year-old Daniel Nestor, ranked no. 238, upset World No. 1 Stefan Edberg in Davis Cup in Vancouver, Tennis Canada officials suggested to prospective sponsors that Nestor was a potential top-35 player. More than 25 years later that projection proved to be off by a bit. The now 45-year-old Nestor reached a career-high of no. 58 seven years later in 1999.
He would likely have gone higher had it not been for some injuries – especially a shoulder surgery in early 2000 – and some debateable decisions related to his development.
Now, more than a quarter century later, there’s another very promising left-handed Canadian, Denis Shapovalov, who at 18 and ranked no. 45 has already surpassed Nestor. The latter, it must be noted, wound up having a spectacular doubles career that saw him be No. 1 in the ATP rankings for a total of 108 weeks.
There was a lot of attention on Shapovalov last week when the possibility existed, with a victory at the ATP 250 event in Delray Beach, that he would overtake Milos Raonic – ranked an unflattering no. 40 after injuries have disrupted his schedule and ability to play his best – as the top Canadian.
Shapovalov had impressive wins over Karlovic, Jared Donaldson and Taylor Fritz in Delray Beach but was then beaten 7-5, 6-4 in the semifinals by a strong performance by eventual tournament winner, no. 91-ranked Frances Tiafoe. Until his loss to the 20-year-old American, Shapovalov had played well enough to make many believe he would get past Tiafoe and then be a favourite to beat no. 64-ranked Peter Gojowczyk in the final.
He struggled after 5-all in the first set against Tiafoe – losing his serve three times in a row as he had a letdown after being broken in the 11th game.
With his current ATP ranking, easily the highest ever by a Canadian at his age, it’s impossible to predict how quickly, or slowly, Shapovalov may move up the rankings.
He broke into the Top 100 last August at 18 years and four months and then into the Top 50 at 18 years and six months in October.
Raonic had a much quicker rise in 2011 but he had already turned 20. Over an amazing five consecutive weeks from mid-January until the end of February, he went from no. 152 to no. 37 based on a round-of-16 as a qualifier at the Australian Open, a second round as a qualifier at the ATP 250 in Johannesburg, a title at the ATP 250 in San Jose and a runner-up finish at the ATP 500 (fell to Andy Roddick) in Memphis.
The now 27-year-old reached his rankings zenith at no. 3 in November 2016 and stayed there until January of 2017. It was an annus horribilis over the rest of 2017 for him as he failed to remain healthy enough to gain any momentum and his ranking began a descent to its current No. 40.
Raonic has some important points to defend – Wimbledon (360), Roland Garros (180), Rome (180) and Istanbul (150) – through the end of Wimbledon, but basically he did very little after that last year so he should be in a position to significantly rebuild his ranking in the second half of 2018 if he remains fit.
As for Shapovalov, he had some good results around this time last year and is defending 27 points for a Futures victory in Gatineau, Que., eight for a Futures semifinal in Sherbrooke, Que., 80 for a win in the Drummondville, Que. Challenger and 48 as a runner-up at the Guadalajara, Mexico Challenger. That’s 163 points in all so he will need some results over the next month in Acapulco this week, Indian Wells in two weeks and Miami in four weeks to protect his current 1,031 points. But even with the very worst case scenario over that period he would remain in the top 60.
Following that for two months – from April 4th to June 4th – he has zero points to defend and should be able to bolster his ranking with good results through the clay court season.
But it will be tough in Acapulco this week as he has drawn Kei Nishikori in the first round on Tuesday (5 p.m. ET in Canada), could play no. 3 seed Dominic Thiem in the second and possibly no. 6 Juan Martin del Potro in the quarter-finals.
Looking beyond Acapulco to next week’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, neither Shapovalov nor Raonic will be among the 32 seeds. That means both will avoid top-ranked players, who have byes, in the opening round and have a chance to get up to speed in the event without having to face the toughest opponents.
At the moment it’s still all a learning process for Shapovalov and he has had a solid beginning to 2018, compiling a 6-5 record in main tour and Davis Cup matches.
His good friend Félix Auger-Aliassime played this week – losing 6-0,6-4 to No. 192-ranked Ricardo Ojeda Lara of Spain, 25, on Monday in the first round of the $150,000 Challenger event in Indian Wells at the site of next week’s BNP Paribas Open.
Auger-Aliassime, who has had wrist and knee injuries over the past six months, is ranked no. 167 at age 17 and six months. At the same age in the fall of 2016, Shapovalov was no. 239.
There’s an adage in tennis that goes, “you are what your ranking says you are.”
As an absolute, there can be no arguing that. But nothing is ever quite that simple and there are no better examples than the current no. 13 and no. 21-ranked players. Their names happen to be Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray respectively. Each has nine tournaments counting on their rankings and only one title between them over the past 12-month period – Murray’s victory in Dubai 51 weeks ago. When those points come off the ATP computer next Monday, the Brit will drop out of the top 30 and he and Djokovic will have no titles at all over the past 12 months.
Two years ago in 2016, between them they shared 16 tournament victories – nine by Murray and seven by Djokovic.
Talent and hard work are keys to success in the rankings, but being fit and able to perform at or near your best is equally important. That will be vital for many players in 2018 and ultimately determine what kind of report card they get at the end of the year.
REBECCA RE-ENTERS THE RANKINGS
After five years away from tennis, Rebecca Marino has taken a successful first step in her comeback after playing four ITF Futures events in Antalya, Turkey. With a run of 19 consecutive match victories and three titles worth 12 WTA ranking points each, the 27-year-old is now ranked no. 630, with two more points to be added after she reached the quarter-finals of her fourth event last week. That one was on clay and she lost 7-5, 6-4 to no. 432-ranked Nina Potocnik, 21, of Slovenia.
Marino will now take a break at home in Vancouver before heading off for ITF events in Japan beginning in Kofu on March 26. She will tentatively play three $25,000 tournaments in a row and then possibly an $80,000 Challenger in Gifu later in April.
All the events in Turkey were $15,000 tournaments that only allotted winners 12 ranking points. The good thing about the $25,000 tournaments in Japan is that they reward winners with 50 points. That’s a quantum jump from Turkey and will give Marino a chance to bump up her ranking even further should she have success.
When you give 110% in the gym and break your front tooth off of a bar because of it.. #ifeeldumb
— Vasek Pospisil (@VasekPospisil) February 19, 2018
Here’s hoping one of the most winning smiles in the world of tennis hasn’t been affected by a misstep in the fitness room.
A FABIO FUMBLE
Serve. Drop racquet. Pick it up. Win set point.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) February 20, 2018
Trust Fabio Fognini to be able to recover from dropping his racquet to win a set point during his opening round 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-2 win over Thomaz Bellucci at the Rio Open in Brazil last week.
SHORT AND THE LONG OF IT
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) February 24, 2018
The encounter at the net following a semifinal match at last week’s Rio Open in Brazil was a height mismatch between 5-foot-7 Diego Schwartzman and 6-foot-6 Nicolas Jarry of Chile. The diminutive Argentine had to settle for a pat on his opponent’s waist rather than the customary shoulder tap. The 25-year-old Schwartzman went on to win the title in Rio de Janeiro, taking him to a career-high no. 18 in the rankings.
NOTE: Next week’s Tebbutt Tuesday will be from Indian Wells – later in the day.