Hello tennis fans and welcome to “Inside the Lines,” a column I’ll be writing for the National Bank Open presented by Rogers each week that features news and storylines from the world of men’s tennis.
As the Sunshine Double comes to a close, we’ve completed the first leg of the race so to speak on the ATP Tour. The early season hard court swing has ended and the players are now about to make the transition onto clay. Before they do, let’s take a look back at the first quarter of the season and assess how some of the top men in tennis have performed up to this point.
CARLOS ALCARAZ: A+
Is there any doubt at this point that Carlos Alcaraz is going to be a really big deal moving forward in the men’s game? Still just 19 years of age and already he’s won a Grand Slam at the US Open last summer, captured eight ATP titles including three at the Masters 1000 level and beaten two of the greatest players of all-time in Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. He’s energetic, ultra-athletic and competes with a hunger I haven’t seen since his Spanish predecessor Nadal came along back in 2004.
After missing the first part of the season due to injury, Alcaraz has amassed an 18-2 record and is poised to challenge Djokovic for the Year-End No. 1 ranking that he has already had for parts of the. It is hard to pick any downside to his game this year and I think we can “forgive” his semifinal finish in Miami last week with all the tennis he’s been playing of late.
DANIIL MEDVEDEV: A+
After dipping out of the top ten briefly in January for the first time in over three years, Medvedev has stormed back towards the upper echelon of the men’s game by making five ATP finals in a row and winning four of them.
Titles in Rotterdam, Qatar and Dubai were followed by a finalist appearance in Indian Wells and now once again a trophy at the Miami Open. It’s unfortunate for Medvedev that the tour is switching over to clay because it’s hard to see him being beaten by many other players on a hard court at the moment.
Medvedev also earns an A+ for his sharp sense of humour which is among the best in the game. He’s a tongue-in-cheek villain but I think everyone can tell that he plays that up for the crowd. He brings a unique flavour to the sport both with his antics and his incredible on court game.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: A
We’ve barely seen Djokovic due to his inability to play the recent American events in Indian Wells and Miami, but when we have he has looked as good as ever. On paper he’s 35 years old but the way he plays on court looks anything but someone who’s approaching the back-end of his career.
A small sample size is likely all that’s keeping Novak from also receiving an A+ and this is due to him missing the Sunshine Double as a result of his vaccination status. One would imagine this will be the last year where this is a headline that tennis fans will have to read as the tour is so much better when the 22-time major champion is on the court.
How badly do we want to see Djokovic and Alcaraz go head-to-head in some big-time ATP Finals in 2023??? Both have been playing near-flawless tennis and yet we’ve only been able to enjoy a single career meeting between the two.
FÉLIX AUGER-ALIASSIME: B+
Félix is getting used to life as a Top Ten player on the ATP Tour and realizing it’s probably even more work to stay there than it was to reach that level. He made the fourth round of the first Slam of the year in Melbourne, then fell in the quarter-finals as he tried to defend his title in Rotterdam and also made the semifinals in Doha.
The Sunshine Double was a mixed bag as he reached the quarters in Indian Wells where he fell to Alcaraz in a very competitive affair and then lost earlier than expected in the third round in Miami. He’s still ranked seventh on the ATP and his consistent play over the past year has Canadian tennis fans thrilled but always wanting more!
DENIS SHAPOVALOV: C-
Denis fought hard in his third-round defeat at the Aussie Open where he fell at the hands of Top Ten player Hubert Hurkacz. Since then, he’s struggled to a 2-5 record and we can only hope the transition to clay can help get him playing like the top twenty player we know he is. Having two previous semifinal showings at clay court Masters 1000 events in his career certainly leaves one feeling hopeful.
To end with a positive vibe about our two Canadian stars, I wanted to mention how great it was to see the two childhood friends reunite for some doubles action together in Indian Wells where they made it to the quarter-finals. It was only the fourth time the duo have played side-by-side in a non-team event and hopefully something that Canadian tennis fans get to enjoy again later this year.
MIAMI OPEN BRACKET CHALLENGE
After a mediocre performance in Indian Wells, I’ve redeemed myself with a strong showing in Miami! I finished 41st last week in my ATP bracket and 19th on the WTA side.
In the men’s draw, I had selected a Sinner over Medvedev final which was pretty close to what actually happened. Overall, I had three of the four semifinalists chosen correctly with my only misstep being that I had Félix in there too. You can’t fault me for that one!
On the women’s side, I had gone with Sabalenka over Rybakina and I have to wonder if anyone was bold enough to have chosen Petra Kvitova to take the title??? It was wonderful to see for sure, but quite unexpected given how strong Sabalenka and Rybakina have performed so far this year along with World No. 1 Iga Swiatek as well.
As in the men’s bracket, my Canadian allegiance did me in, as I had picked Bianca Andreescu to make it to the semifinals. I really liked Bianca’s draw and if not for her injury I do think she would have made it deep in the tournament.
I did back Kvitova to make the quarters and I also made a bold pick with another veteran, Sorana Cirstea, to win a few rounds, though I didn’t have her making the semis!
If you participated in the Tennis Canada Bracket Challenge I hope you had a successful week as well. If not, it’s on to the next one! We’ll see how you fare in the next 1000-level event which has the men playing in Monte Carlo April 9 to 16. Good luck!