By Jürgen Fritz, Tue. 06. Apr 2021, Cover picture: ATP Tennis TV-Screenshot
If we look back at the first quarter of 2021, we can see: For five top eight players the new season started quite well, especially for Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, but for three others extremely badly. Rafael Nadal is not in the top 25 in the ATP Race, Dominic Thiem not in the top 35 and Roger Federer not even in the top 200. Instead, we see three big surprises among the top eight.
Hurkacz, Karatsev and Sinner in the top eight in the Race to Turin
The first three months of the year are over. One of the four Grand Slam events (A) has been played, one of the eight planned Masters 1000 tournaments (C) and four of the estimated 13 ATP 500s (D). Apart from the three Grand Slam events, the Olympic Games in Tokyo (B) and the ATP Finals in Turin (B) are also on the agenda. So of all the major tournaments, only a fifth rather than a quarter have already been played. Nevertheless, this first fifth of the year already gives a first indication of who has a good chance of qualifying for the ATP Finals in November among the eight best players of the season. The ATP Sinlge Race on 5 April 2021 looks as follows:
- Novak Djoković: 2,140 points, match record: 9-0
- Daniil Medvedev: 2,130 points, match record: 17-3
- Andrey Rublev: 1,800 points, match record: 20-4
- Stefanos Tsitsipas: 1,540 points, match record: 17-5
- Hubert Hurkacz: 1,395 points, match record: 14-5
- Aslan Karatsev: 1,310 points, match record: 13-3
- Jannik Sinner: 995 points, match record: 14-5
- Alexander Zverev: 935 points, match record: 9-5
Medvedev is now almost on a par with Djokovic, but he needed five tournaments for his 2,130 points, Djokovic only two for his 2,140. Rublev and Tsitsipas have even played six tournaments this year. And these two players are the closest to the top eight:
9. Roberto Bautista Agut: 765 points, match record: 12-8
10. Alexander Bublik: 630 points, match record: 15-8
The top four places are hardly surprising, not even Alexander Zverev in eighth position. On the other hand, we see three big surprises on the ranks 5 to 7. Hubert Hurkacz, the Delray Beach (E) and Miami champion (C), Aslan Karatsev, the Australian Open semi-finalist and Dubai winner (D) as well as Jannik Sinner, the Melbourne 1 winner (E) and Miami finalist would not necessarily have been expected there at the beginning of the season.
Another surprise is 20-year-old Sebastian Korda, who only really joined the ATP Tour in August 2020. He is ranked 15th in the ATP Race on 5 April 2021 with 495 points. Match record: 10-4, better than Zverev.
Nadal, Thiem and Federer have hardly scored any points so far
On the other hand, three others who are far ahead in the ATP rankings are missing from the top ten in the race so far, even in the top 20 and top 25: Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem and Roger Federer. All three have had a very weak start to the new year, with Federer having played only one tournament since the end of January 2020, which means that he was no longer to be found at the top of the pure 2020 ranking without the results of 2019. They are ranked as follows in the ATP Race of 05.04.2021:
28. Rafael Nadal: 360 points, match record: 4–1
36. Domonic Thiem: 275 points, match record: 5–4
200. Roger Federer: 45 points, match record: 1–1
On 6 April Federer is only on 213, on 7 April he drops even further.
Nadal played only one tournament this year. Before the Australian Open, he cancelled the ATP Cup due to back problems. At the first Grand Slam tournament of the year, Nadal played excellently in the first four rounds, did not drop a single set on four occasions and was already leading 2-0 sets in the quarter-finals against Tsitsipas. But then he lost the match in five sets, probably playing with painkillers. Afterwards, he cancelled all tournaments until the beginning of April because of his back problems.
Next week, he now wants to get back into the race at the Masters event in Monte Carlo (C). For Rafa, the king of clay, the eight weeks that follow will be enormously important. At the five clay tournaments in Monte Carlo (C), Barceolona (D), Madrid (C), Rome (C) and Roland Garros (A), he usually scores 4,000 to 5,000 points when he is healthy and in good shape. The European clay court season is the basis of the Spaniard’s success. If he has scored heavily in these five tournaments, he can then build on this foundation in the second half of the year.
Above all, Nadal’s goal this season will be to win his 21st Grand Slam title. That would make him the sole all-time record holder ahead of Roger Federer. And the soon to be 35-year-old has the best chance of doing so at the French Open on the end of May, beginning of June. That is why he will gear his entire season planning to it. February and March were therefore less important for him. But Rafa now has to score at the clay tournaments if he wants to get back into the top eight in the singles race.
Dominic Thiem’s poor start to the season was not due to an injury but to a severe form crisis. Since January, he is hardly recognisable, has lost four matches in nine and has not even reached the semi-finals of a single tournament, not even in an ATP 250 event (E). Now Thiem has also cancelled Monte Carlo and will only start again the following week, on 19 April, at the E tournament in Belgrade. The more the other players collect points until then, the harder it will be for the Austrian to catch up. But if he gets back into shape, it should be enough at least for the top eight by the end of the season.
For Federer, this seems extremely difficult. The knee operations have set the Swiss back a long way. He certainly hasn’t forgotten how to play tennis, but the question will be how he can physically get through it at the age of almost 40. Federer has not confirmed his participation in either the Masters 1000 event in Monte Carlo next week or the following two weeks in any tournament. So the earliest he is likely to return is from 2 May in Madrid, and he will then have won just one match in the first four months.
The record champion will probably concentrate entirely on Wimbledon and the Olympic Games, then the US Open. Everything else will hardly interest him at the age of 39, soon 40. His dream is to win another big or very big tournament, and his hopes rest primarily on Wimbledon because he thinks he has the best chance on grass. A gold medal in singles would also be an open dream. The signs are somewhat pointing to him ending his career towards the end of the season. Without a victory at a Grand Slam tournament, his chances of qualifying for the ATP Finals again are slim.
Djokovic won the Australian Open, Medvedev and Rublev two tournaments including the ATP Cup and Hurkacz two in the singles
Djokovic, Medvedev, Rublev and Tsitsipas, who all started the season well, will certainly qualify, provided they stay healthy. For Djokovic, who turns 34 in May, it’s all about the big titles. He has even won Masters 1000 events (C) 36 times. He leads Nadal (35) and Federer (28). In the A tournaments, however, he lags behind both with 18. Federer and Nadal each have 20 Grand Slam victories. Djokovic now wants to break the 21 Grand Slam wins mark after also breaking Federer’s 310 weeks as No. 1 in the ATP rankings. He fulfilled part one of his plan in January when he took titles only 18, now he will try to follow up at the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.
Andrey Rublev, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas have won the most matches so far in 2021, with the two Russians also winning two tournaments each, together the ATP Cup in the team competition at the beginning of February and then another singles tournament each in March, Rublev in Rotterdam (D: ATP 500), Medvedev in Marseille (E: ATP 250), while Tsitsipas has yet to win a tournament.
The biggest surprise of the year besides Karatsev, Hubert Hurkacz, also won two tournaments in 2021, both in singles. Hurkacz also won Miami (C), the second biggest tournament of the year so far, which gave him a thousand points.
All top ten players in the ATP Race and 14 of the top 15 will start the European clay court season next Monday just like Nadal in Monte Carlo. In this respect, the second Masters 1000 tournament of the year will have a much stronger line-up than Miami, provided there are no more last-minute withdraws. However, the gap between Dominic Thiem and Roger Federer in the ATP Race to Turin will grow even further.
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