The tennis season really starts to get under way this week with the start of the Australian Open. There have been a few events before the Australian Open but it is the first grand slam event of the year so many people look to it as the beginning of the season. Over the past couple of years I’ve really gotten into watching tennis so I thought I would share with you ten male tennis players I think you should keep an eye on.
Country: Switzerland Ranking: #1
Forget about Tiger Woods, Roger Federer is the most dominant athlete in any sport. Federer started 2006 by winning the Australian Open which was the third consecutive Grand Slam event that that was won by Federer. Federer went to the finals of the second Grand Slam of the year, the French Open, but fell to Rafael Nadal. Federer then went on to win at Wimbledon for the fourth consecutive year and if he wins again in 2007 he will tie Bjorn Borg for most consecutive Wimbledon titles. Federer ended the year by winning the U.S. Open, his third Grand Slam win of the year. Federer finished the year with a 92 – 5 record finishing ranked #1 for the third consecutive year. Roger Federer’s record over the last three years is 247 – 15. If that still isn’t enough proof then how about this. The third through tenth ranked players in the world have somewhere between 2800 and 2000 ranking points. The second ranked player, Rafael Nadal, is so dominant that he nearly doubles all of them with 4525 points. But Roger Federer is so dominant that the nearly doubles Nadal with 8120 ranking points. In fact, #2 Nadal, #3 Davydenko and #4 Ljubicic would have to combine their ranking points to equal more than Federer.
Country: Spain Ranking: #2
Rafael Nadal might be the most overlooked athlete today. Sure Federer might not get the attention he deserves but at least he has started to garner some attention. Nadal goes completely unrecognized by the media despite finishing second the past two years with a 138 – 22 record over that time. Rafael Nadal has the best chance of dethroning Roger Federer. Nadal and Federer faced off in the finals of two Grand Slams in 2006 and they split them. The French Open is the only Grand Slam that Roger Federer has yet to win because Nadal has won it the past two years. Nadal also accounted for four of Federer’s five losses last year.
Country: United States Ranking: #5
American men’s tennis is back on the rise. Andy Roddick might be better known and popular but James Blake is actually the highest ranked American tennis player. Blake was having a very promising career when in 2004 he ran into a net post and broke his neck. Later that year he lost his father to cancer. In 2005 Blake began a miraculous comeback as he climbed from #210 to #49. At the U.S. Open James Blake upset #2 Rafael Nadal and then Tommy Robredo. In the quarterfinals Blake finally lost but put on a classic match with Andre Agassi. Blake broke the Top 20 for the first time after the 2006 Australian Open. Blake failed to win any Grand Slams in 2006 but he did win six tournaments on the ATP tour and is now ranked #5 to start the 2007 season. .
Country: United States Ranking: #6
Andy Roddick is the second ranked American tennis player going into the 2007 season. Roddick has one of the most explosive serves in ATP history; he holds the record for fastest serve which once clocked at 155 mph. Roddick has always shown a lot of potential but hasn’t quite lived up to it. At Wimbledon in 2006 Roddick suffered an upset loss to Andy Murray and decided to get the aid of Jimmy Connors as his new coach. Ever since Roddick hired Connors he has seemed to have a new found passion and Connors has helped Roddick with the faults in his game. With his new coach Roddick reached the Finals of the U.S. Open, his first appearance in a Grand Slam final in over a year.
Country: Cyprus Ranking: #11
In 2004 Marcos Baghdatis came onto the scene by winning a set against Roger Federer at the 2004 US Open. It might not sound like a great feat but Federer only lost two sets the entire tournament. In the 2005 Australian Open Baghdatis beat two top 20 players Ivan Ljubicic and Tommy Robredo but was set back because of injuries. Going into the 2006 Australian Open Baghdatis was unseeded when he upset second seed Andy Roddick. Baghdatis became the highlight of the tournament as most of the Australian crowd was behind him. At Wimbledon last year Baghdatis advanced all the way to the semi-finals. At the US open Baghdatis lost to Agassi in the second round but Baghdatis put on a classic match with Agassi. Baghdatis showed his heart when he came up cramping so bad he could barely even walk but since he had no timeouts he had to play on and he continued to push Agassi to a fifth set. Baghdatis is very exuberant and exciting on the court and it’s easy to see how he has become a fan favorite.
Country: Scotland Ranking: #15
Andy Murray is another one of the very passionate up and comers that are getting a lot of fan support. In 2004, at the ripe age of 17, Andy became a member of Great Britain’s David Cup squad and was named the Scottish Young Sports Personality of the Year. At the 2005 Wimbledon Andy Murray made his first appearance in a grand slam ranked 374th in the world. Murray beat George Bastl, who was ranked 150 spots higher, in straight sets. Then Murray defeated the 14th seed Radek Stepanek, also in straight sets. Murray has been hit and miss at times, which is no surprise for someone his age, but has had some impressive upsets like beating Andy Roddick at the 2006 Wimbledon and Murray was also the only tennis player other than Rafael Nadal to beat Roger Federer in 2006. Murray’s current coach is Brad Gilbert, former coach of Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick.
Country: United States Ranking: #45
Mardy Fish is another hopeful to boost America’s men’s tennis. Fish first joined the pros in 2002 playing doubles with fellow American Andy Roddick. Mardy Fish started climbing the ranks pretty quickly as he reached 20th in the world by 2003. Unfortunately Fish has been slowed by injuries including two surgeries on his wrist which limited him to just 17 matches in 2005. In 2006 Mardy didn’t make much of a splash until Wimbledon where he reached the third round. He has been on the rise again ever since then. Fish got off to a great start in 2007 by upsetting the fourth seed Ivan Ljubicic. If Fish continues to play well he could be back to ranked in the top 20 by late 2007 or early 2008.
Country: Russia Ranking: #3
Nikolay Davydenko has been sky rocketing up the men’s rankings going from 85th to 3rd in the world over the past three years. Davydenko has yet to win a Grand Slam but not many have with Roger Federer around. Davydenko has captured 10 titles in other tournaments and Nikolay continues to get farther in the grand slams. Up through 2004 Davydenko had never gotten past the third round in the grand slams but in the past two years he has made the quarterfinals three times and the semifinals twice. Davydenko does struggle on grass though which is why he’s only made it past the first round of Wimbledon once in five tries.
Country: Croatia Ranking: #4
Believe it or not at the age of 27 Ljubicic is one of the elder statesmen of this group of tennis players. Ljubicic became a pro tennis player way back in 1998. However, it wasn’t until 2001 that Ljubicic won his first singles title. Ljubicic peaked at #29 on the rankings that year but finished the year ranked #37. Ljubicic has improved every year. In 2002 he made two semifinals and four quarterfinals, in 2003 he reached four semifinals and the quarterfinals in another. In 2004 Ljubicic made his first finals, made three other semifinals and won a bronze medal in the Olympics. In 2005 Ljubicic made his biggest climb as he finally won two ATP titles, made the finals in six others and finished the year ranked #9 in the world. Ljubicic has gotten off to a rough start in 2007 as he got upset in the first round of the Australian Open, but expect him to stick around the top ten for a while.
Country: Argentina Ranking: #8
David Nalbandian turned pro in 2000 and was already in the top 50 by 2001. By 2002 Nalbandian was the highest ranked South American after winning two ATP titles and reaching the finals of Wimbledon. When Nalbandian made it to the finals of Wimbledon it was actually his senior debut and he was the first player to ever make the finals of Wimbledon in his debut, it was also his first pro tournament on grass in his career. Nalbandian continued to climb up the rankings reaching as high as third behind Federer and Nadal in March of 2006 but with the emergence of Roddick and Blake he has fallen back down the lower half of the top 10.