Sunday, February 14, 2016

Reflections from Rotterdam, Memphis and Buenos Aires

It was an action packed week of tennis on the ATP Tour, with Martin Klizan, Kei Nishikori and Dominic Thiem all winning titles.  Here are some thoughts following the week that was.

Fritz is progressing faster than expected:  18 year old American Taylor Fritz has been a highly regarded prospect for some time now, but few expected him to adjust to life on the ATP Tour so quickly.  Fritz had already won a Challenger title (to go with his two from the end of last year) and qualified for the Australian Open in 2016, but this week's run to the finals in Memphis lifted Fritz to a whole new level.  He became the youngest American ATP finalist in decades, and is nearing a spot in the top 100.  Like Zverev, Kokkinakis and Coric, Fritz simply isn't wasting any time in his climb up the rankings.  At this rate, Fritz could be headed toward a spot in the top 50 by the end of 2016.  He's still got some things in his game to improve, notably movement and fitness, but Fritz is already the best prospect American men's tennis has had in over a decade. 

Thiem looks ready to make a run toward the top 10:  Thiem won multiple 250 level tournaments on clay last year, so it shouldn't be surprising that he captured another one early on in 2016.  But given that he had to beat Nadal to win his title in Buenos Aires, this one feels a little more meaningful.  Everyone understands Nadal isn't what he used to be, but beating him on clay still counts for something.  Getting that win over Nadal should do wonders for Thiem's confidence, and he may finally believe he can beat guys in the top ten at bigger tournaments.  The key for Thiem heading into 2016 was whether he could translate his success at 250s to 500s, Masters and Grand Slams.  Even though this was just a 250 and doesn't technically answer that question, it's another positive sign in Thiem's development.  At 22 years old Thiem is clearly one of the ATP Tour's brightest young stars, and a spot in the top ten doesn't seem very far away.

Fortunes can change quickly on the ATP Tour:  From the end of 2015 to the beginning of 2016  Martin Klizan lost 6 straight matches.  He began to turn things around at the beginning of February by making the semifinals of a 250 in Bulgaria, and then captured the biggest title of his career this week by winning the 500 level event in Rotterdam.  On his way to the title he fought off 5 match points against Roberto Bautista-Agut in the quarters, and then three against Nicolas Mahut in the semis.  The win should send Klizan from outside the top 40 to around 25 in the world.  Klizan is a talented lefty with a big forehand, and seems to have the ability to rise higher.  He hasn't fully put it all together at this point in his career, but at 26 still has plenty of time.  It will be interesting to see whether Klizan can build on his Rotterdam title, or if this was simply one of those weeks where everything happened to fall his way. 

Zverev looks like a future top 10 player- at worst:  18 year old Alexander Zverev got knocked out of Rotterdam by Gael Monfils in the quarters, but not before he took out third seeded Gilles Simon 7-6 in the third the round before that.  The week before he made the semis of a 250 level event, and the young German seems ready to rocket up the rankings in 2016.  He has a booming serve at 6'6'', and simply crushes the ball off both wings.  While some guys his height see their movement suffer, Zverev flies around the court and plays extremely effective defense as well.  He does need to get in better shape and improve his consistency, but Zverev seems well on his way to becoming a great player on the ATP Tour.  Whether that means winning grand slams or "merely" settling into a spot in the top 10 remains to be seen, but Zverev is looking more and more like a can't miss future star.

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