The more things change, the more they stay the same. Well, sort of.
Since the end of 2019 and the onset of the global pandemic, men’s professional tennis faced unprecedented upheaval. Tournaments have been canceled, moved, and frequently played with only a TV audience. Now, 17 months since the end of the last full season, much of the world’s top rankings and the performance of top players remains near pre-pandemic levels.
Since the pandemic caused the cancelation of significant parts of the 2020 schedule, ATP leadership first froze world rankings in March 2020. After five months of frozen rankings, the system was shifted to a 24-month ranking period to try to maintain fairness within the challenging 2020-21 seasons. With these adjustments, eight of the 10 players ranked in world Top 10 at the end of 2019 remain there today.
A Few Movers
The two players to drop from the 2019 Top 10 did not fall far. Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut dropped from World #9 at the end of 2019 to #11 today. Likewise, France’s Gael Monfils slipped from #10 to #15.
Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman jumped from #14 at the end of 2019 to #10 today. Andrey Rublev made the most dramatic jump. At only 21 years old, the Russian ended 2019 ranked #23. Nearly 17 months later, the now 23-year-old holds the #7 ranking in the world.
Consistency At the Top
The adjustments to the ranking system helped protect player rankings over the course of pandemic-impacted events. Still, many top players really did not let the tremendous upheaval affect their results.
Rafael Nadal ended 2019 as the top-ranked player in the world. The Spaniard captured four titles and finished the season with a 58-7 record. Through the interruptions of the following 17 months, Nadal continued his winning ways. Amazingly, the 34-year-old holds a 45-10 record since the end of 2019. In this time he captured four more titles and currently holds the #3 world ranking.
Current world #1 Novak Djokovic also continues to win despite the circumstances. The Serbian ended 2019 with a 57-11 record and the #2 ranking. Since then, he has again won 57 matches, with only eight losses. In that time Djokovic captured five more titles. Age, pandemic, travel, family… these two tennis titans continue to dominate.
Others in the Top Ten
Like Nadal and Djokovic, eight of 2019’s Top 10 remain, with only modest movement. Daniil Medvedev, Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Roger Federer, and Matteo Berrettini all continue to hold their slot in the Top 10. The biggest mover within this group was Federer, who dropped from #3 at the end of 2019 to #8 today. After 17 months and 50 matches (34-16) Dominic Theim finds himself at World #4, the exact spot he held at the end of 2019.
Young guns Tsitsipas and Zverev both carried their form and winning ways right through the upheaval. Tsitsipas went 54-25, he is 62-22 since. Zverev notched 44 wins against 25 losses in 2019, he is 46-19 since. Both players jumped exactly one spot in the rankings. Tsitsipas now sits at world #6, Zverev at #7.
Actual Results Vary
While the players ranked in the Top 10 remain similar to the end of 2019, some of their play varies greatly. Djokovic and Nadal maintained their steady diet of winning, but not all fared so well. Federer has gone only 6-3 in tour-level matches since the end of 2019. A player must win seven matches to claim a Grand Slam title; Federer has not been able to do that in 17 months. While not as dramatic, Berrettini has won 27 matches in the past 17 months after claiming 43 wins in 2019.
While a once-in-a-generation ranking system changes helped keep some players near the top, in some cases performance on the court has not matched the rankings.
Where are the Americans?
At the end of 2019, only one American player held a ranking inside the Top 20. In 2020 and 2021 combined, John Isner won 17 matches while losing 14, to drop from World #19 to his current #34 ranking. Now, the top-ranked American male is Taylor Fritz at #32. Fritz went 31-30 in 2019; he is 26-24 since. That’s right, currently, there is not an American male ranked inside the top 30. A tennis nation turns its lonely eyes to…whom?
Return to Roland Garros… and Normal?
After an incredibly disrupted 2020, the Grand Slam events are hopefully moving toward normal. Roland Garros begins next week and reclaims its slot, at least partially, in May. Wimbledon, the US Open, and related tune-up events are at least scheduled to be played near their expected slots on the calendar. As the schedule nudges toward normal, look for more movement in the rankings. Then again, despite being 34 years old, it is difficult to pick against Nadal in Paris and Djokovic at Wimbledon. Tennis might be close to normal after all.
Main Photo from Getty.