This offseason, Last Word On Tennis will be looking back at the seasons of the top 50 players on each tour. This installment includes the 2016 ATP players ranked 11-15.
11. David Goffin
The Belgian capped a strong 2016 season with his first ATP World Tour Finals appearance, albeit due to Gael Monfils’ substitute. A $100,000 check for receiving a 6-1 6-2 demolition at the hands of Novak Djokovic in barely over an hour doesn’t sound like a bad deal, does it?
The 26-year-old soared to a career-high number 11 in the ATP rankings owing to his steady play throughout the campaign. As opposed to previous years, Goffin wasn’t a minor tournaments vulture. In 2016, he obtained the majority of his 2,750 points via solid showings at premier events. Thus, he collected 29 out of his 49 wins at Grand Slams and Masters 1000.
Goffin possesses a notable attribute in his above-average surface adaptability. On hard, he strung together back-to-back semi-final appearances at Indian Wells and Miami. Later in the spring, he annihilated Tomas Berdych on the slow Italian clay without dropping a single game. The Czech, who won just 15 out of 65 points that day, rapidly fired his coach Dani Vallverdú afterward. On grass, the Rocourt native squandered a two-set lead over eventual runner-up Milos Raonic at Wimbledon’s round of 16.
At 5’11’’, the Belgian has an obvious physical disadvantage. His superb tennis IQ is good enough to dispatch lesser opposition, but he simply lacks an A+ weapon against the top dogs of the circuit, as his lousy 3-9 record against Top 10 foes in 2016 indicates. Barring substantial improvement, he might have reached his ceiling.
According to The Tennis Base:
Tsonga’s career winning percentage
|68.31% (388 Ws – 180 Ls)|
|Tsonga’s 2016 winning percentage||
68.52% (37 Ws – 17 Ls)
Statistically speaking, the Le Mans native had an average year by his standard. He is still a fringe Top 10 player. Starting in 2008, he’s finished between No. 6 and No. 13 in the ATP year-end rankings. Similarly to Stan Wawrinka, Tsonga tends to bring out his best tennis on the big stage.
The 31-year-old had a mediocre start to the year, but took advantage of a relatively easy path to reach the Australian Open round of 16. After sleepwalking through the South American clay swing, Tsonga only participated in Slams, Masters 1000 and the Olympics for the next eight months. His level was certainly consistent, reaching the semis at Monte Carlo, quarters at Indian Wells, Shanghai and Paris at Masters level. At Roland Garros, the soon-to-be dad picked up an ill-timed injury against Ernest Gulbis in the round of 32. A month later, Tsonga went the distance versus eventual champion Andy Murray at Wimbledon QFs. At the US Open, the Frenchman was again forced to retire when he trailed by two sets to love against Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals as well.
Tsonga had to wait until late October to reach his lone final of the campaign, dropping in straight sets to Murray in Vienna. While he’s perhaps past his peak, ‘Ali’ has not shown signs of severely slowing down. Unless his body betrays him, expect Tsonga to remain a force to be reckoned with in 2017.
13. Nick Kyrgios
Providing a spot on assessment on Kyrgios’ year is impossible, because his own aspirations starkly differ from his potential. What standard should we hold him to? I used a different approach with him.
|· Started the year at ATP No. 30, finished at No. 13.
· Won first three career titles (Marseille, Atlanta and Tokyo).
· 39 Ws / 15 Ls record is elite, .722 winning percentage is eighth-best on the tour.
· At Marseille, he crushed three bona fide stars back-to-back-to-back in Richard Gasquet, Berdych and Marin Cilic winning well over 90% of his first serve points. Check out this effortless four-ace game to seal the match vs the French.
· Kyrgios was remarkably good on clay, notching straight sets wins over Wawrinka or Raonic; pushing Kei Nishikori and even Rafael Nadal to the edge.
|· Underwhelming year at Grand Slams.
o Australian Open: Mental collapse vs Berdych.
o French Open: Not enough patience to battle vs Gasquet.
o Wimbledon: Too busy playing video games rather than preparing his afternoon round of 16 match vs Murray.
o US Open: He gets a pass here as he retired injured vs Ilya Marchenko.
· Sub-par effort and putrid attitude at Canada and Shanghai Masters 1000.
Whether the mercurial Australian keeps surging through the rankings or suffers a dip in 2017 depends on his ambition. If picking up Twitter scuffles and playing Pokemon Go are his top priorities, the later scenario is likely. If he gets his act together, the sky is the limit for him.
The 2016 season was unfolding as the prototypical Bautista campaign, i.e. solid but under the radar, until he reached his maiden Masters 1000 final at Shanghai in October. The Castellón native caught fire in China, defeating Bernard Tomic, Taylor Fritz, Viktor Troicki, Tsonga and defending champion Novak Djokovic all in straight sets. Curiously, that was the last match Bautista won. Aside from a predictable loss to the streaking Murray in the final, the Spaniard lost in his debut at Moscow (to 266-ranked Alexander Bublik), Vienna (to No. 417 Jurgen Melzer) and Paris Masters (to Gilles Simon). Success hangover?
Up to that magical week in Shanghai, Bautista was completing a routine season. He lifted two ATP 250 trophies within the first five calendar weeks at Auckland and Sofia, so he needs to be sharp in early 2017 if he wants to preserve his ranking.
At the Grand Slam level, Bautista was consistent, rarely beating superior foes but never falling to clearly inferior opponents. That translates into two R16 and two R32 appearances.
An all-around solid player and tireless worker, the 28-year-old lacks a special weapon that could help him make a leap.
If any film director ever wanted to do a sequel to The Natural, Pouille would be the perfect athlete to be Robert Redford’s heir. His strokes are as smooth as Roy Hobbs’ swing. The 22-year-old Frenchman took the circuit by storm in the second half of 2016.
Pouille had a lackluster first three months, but quickly gained momentum once he started racking up wins on clay. He reached the Bucharest final (losing to Fernando Verdasco) and the Rome Masters semi-final (losing to Murray), so his straight sets second round French Open defeat at the hands of Andrej Martin was shocking.
The French stalwart reverted the trend on grass. Despite arriving at Wimbledon winless in two warm up events, he reached the quarter-finals at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, upending the likes of 2007 boys champion Donald Young, Juan Martin Del Potro and Bernard Tomic.
Pouille’s signature win came merely two months later at Flushing Meadows, where he beat two-time champion Nadal 6-1 2-6 6-4 3-6 7-6(6) en route to another quarter-final berth at a Grand Slam. Despite squandering three match points in the final breaker, the budding star demonstrated a titanic mental fortitude to still prevail over one of the best players of all time.
In September, Pouille conquered his first ATP title with a 7-6(5) 6-2 win over Dominic Thiem in Metz.
As with Kyrgios, Pouille’s upside is tantalizing. Whether he is bound to be consistently great or not remains to be seen. For what it’s worth, he’s been spotted practicing with a fellow United Arab Emirates’ resident (originally from Switzerland) in Dubai. Moreover, he hired Ion Tiriac to oversee his career.