Even with the the rankings freeze due to COVID-19, Milos Raonic and Pablo Carreno Busta stood out for their stellar years, rising 17 and 11 places, respectively. Others, like Gael Monfils and Denis Shapovalov, had up-and-down years due to the break. Let’s move on to recapping five Top 15 players, and all of these men should be in fine form to start 2021, ready to challenge at the biggest events.
11. Gael Monfils
Win/loss record (tour-level matches): 16-7
2019 rank: #10 (-1)
Monfils essentially had two completely different seasons before and after the COVID-19 break. Unfortunately, his top form to begin 2020 was never found when returning in the fall. After the ATP Cup, the Frenchman played in four hard court tournaments to begin the year, winning at least three matches in all of them. A respectable fourth-round loss to Dominic Thiem at the Australian Open began the year and was followed just the next week by a title in Montpellier. He followed that up with a dominant performance in Rotterdam, winning the tournament without dropping a set and defeating young Canadian star Felix Auger-Aliassime in the final. Monfils is one of the most entertaining players on tour, but is not known for his consistency, as this was the first time in his career that he won two finals in one season, much less back to back weeks!
A semifinal in Dubai would be his last appearance before the pandemic cancellations, and unfortunately his last win of 2020. He looked like a completely different player at the end of the year, playing four events and losing all four matches with a set record of 1-8. Hopefully, Monfils simply struggled to regain fitness after the long layoff, and his form showed the talent is still there, and his ranking at the edge of the Top 10 is well deserved.
12. Denis Shapovalov
Win/loss record (tour-level matches): 17-15
2019 rank: #15 (+3)
In the opposite side of Monfils, Shapovalov struggled to begin 2020, with inconsistent play that has held him back much of his young career. He compiled a poor 4-7 record in the early months of the season, underlined by a disappointing first round exit at the Australian Open. Shapovalov returned in the United States, and his real breakthrough came at the US Open, turning his season around. He reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal in New York with wins over Taylor Fritz and David Goffin on the way. His final match was a grueling five-set loss to veteran Pablo Carreno Busta–a tough way to end it but proving he can play under the lights on the biggest stage.
His all-around game adjusted well to clay with a semifinal appearance at the Rome Masters where he pushed Diego Schwarzman to a final-set tiebreak. Shapovalov did struggle at Roland Garros with a disappointing second round loss, but the early Major losses opens a window for massive ranking improvement next year. He did lose his final four matches of the season, but after everything that happened in 2020, fans should not read into that two much and mostly see the encouraging signs of a player many have touted to be a future top player.
13. Roberto Bautista Agut
Win/loss record (tour-level matches): 20-8
2019 rank: #9 (-4)
“RBA” had a typical season of his, with consistent wins throughout the year without making any huge noise on the weekend at big tournaments. Along with Rafael Nadal he helped lead Spain to the final at the ATP Cup, going 6-0 in singles without dropping a set. He reached the third round at the Australian Open, which set the tone for third round appearances at all three of the Grand Slams played in 2020. The highlight of the Spaniard’s season was at the Cincinnati tournament played in New York. He reached the semifinal with a win over Daniil Medvedev on the way and was on the front foot for most of his match against Novak Djokovic until Djokovic clawed out an improbably victory as he has done so many times.
After a respectable 4-2 record on clay, he finished the year on the hard courts in Cologne. He finished the season strong reaching the semifinal and closing 2020 with an impressive 20-8 record, though without a title or a final appearance. RBA had one of his vintage seasons where he wins a lot of matches, is a threat to anyone on tour, but does not have any huge results to get on the radar of more casual fans.
14. Milos Raonic
Win/loss record (tour-level matches): 23-9
2019 rank: #31 (+17)
Raonic will be one of the players most disappointed by the COVID-19 layoff in 2020. Starting the season ranked 31st in the world, he made a dominant run to the Australian Open quarterfinal without dropping a set in his four wins in Melbourne. Following a semifinal in Delray Beach, the Canadian broke into the Top 30 but immediately stopped his momentum with a six-month break. Raonic did not lose a step on the return to tennis, arriving in New York for the Cincinnati Masters where he reached the final and scored his second win of the year over Stefanos Tsitsipas. Likely due to fatigue, he lost in the second round of the US Open to Vasek Pospisil, but his strong performance the previous week took him into the top-20.
He only played two matches all year on clay, his weakest surface, quickly pivoting to the indoor hard court swing to end the season. He amassed an excellent 9-2 record in his final three tournaments of the season, highlighted by a semifinal appearance in the Paris. Raonic finally overcame injuries to have a strong season and going forward he will look to crack the top-10 for the first time since August of 2017.
15. David Goffin
Win/loss record (tour-level matches): 12-11
2019 rank: #11 (-4)
Goffin had a tough year this season with just a 12-11 record throughout 2020, but enjoyed a high ranking bolstered by the ATP’s frozen ranking system. He started the season with some decent results with a third round appearance at the Australian Open and a semifinal in Montpellier, as well as a win over Grigor Dimitrov at the ATP Cup. The Belgian sat at world #10 going into the break, but the lack of match play did not help Goffin coming into the second half of the season.
He held his own at the US Open, reaching the round of 16 where he lost to Denis Shapovalov. His third-round win in New York over Filip Krajinovic would prove to be his last of the season. Goffin lost his final five matches of the year, underlined by an ugly straight-set loss to world #105 Norbert Gombos at the Paris Masters to end the season. He did score plenty of wins, but beating just one player ranked in the top-20 at the time all year is not enough for a player fighting for a top-10 spot. Goffin deservedly kept a strong rank due to his play in 2019, so he does have the chance to turn it around in 2021, but will have to substantially raise his game.
Main Photo from Getty.