Final 2013 Grades for the ATP Top 20

Jeremy Eckstein@!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistDecember 2, 2013

Final 2013 Grades for the ATP Top 20

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    The 2013 ATP season ended as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic battled for the No. 1 ranking and Grand Slam supremacy. Though they outran their competitors, there were several achievements and highlights that now dot the resumes of the other top 20 players.

    There were also struggles and frustrations for many of the top players, most notably with star Roger Federer. There were also players who underachieved.

    The following analysis examines the journey of the ATP's top 20. What were the expectations for them heading into 2013? Were their achievements a step forward or backward?

    Each player will receive a grade according to his expected talent and subsequent results.

ATP No. 20: Kevin Anderson

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    2013 Expectations: There is a group of journeymen in their late 20's who have cracked the top 20 of the ATP tour. They are veterans who have learned how to maximize their gifts and compensate for their flaws. Unlike many of the heralded young talents, they have shown more acumen and hunger in navigating the grind of the ATP.

    Kevin Anderson epitomizes this group. He has a big serve, tough grit and the patience to persevere despite limited footwork and inconsistent groundstrokes.

    2013 Achievements: Anderson's ranking climbed in the first half of the year with finals appearances at Sydney and Casablanca. He also entered the round of 16 at the Australian and French Opens.

    Anderson's best days are probably in the rearview mirror, but he's a testament to living his tennis dreams. He plays as if he understands that very few professionals ever reach the top 20 in the world. That's to be commended.

    Grade: B-

ATP No. 19: Gilles Simon

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    2013 Expectations: There is a lot about Gilles Simon that is obvious but rarely noticed. For instance, it's easy to find a lot of his action photos in which he is tipped to the side like The Leaning Tower of Pisa. It's easy to take for granted his perpetual consistency, but he can hardly be expected to win big titles.

    Simon has mostly bounced around inside the top 30 for the past six years, but he is past his peak year of 2009 season in which he competed inside the top 10. There was no reason to expect that 2013 would be a return to that outlying season.

    2013 Achievements: He lost to Andy Murray in the round of 16 at Australia. He also reached this point in the French Open before losing his two sets to one advantage versus Roger Federer. As always, he rarely had the firepower to compete against the top players.

    Simon tailed off the second half of the year with a first round defeat at Wimbledon and a non-appearance at the U.S. Open as he nursed broken ribs. He rebounded to win the tournament at Metz, France. It was his bright spot in an otherwise typical and forgettable year.

    Grade: C

ATP No. 18: Tommy Robredo

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    2013 Expectations: Tommy Robredo had suffered a knee injury that put him out for five months to begin 2012. By May, his ranking bottomed out at No. 470. Was it even reasonable to expect that a 30-year-old could summon the desire and health to be a factor in 2013?

    2013 Achievements: He cracked the top 100 in early February while the tennis world's attention watched a higher-profile return with Rafael Nadal.

    He won the title at Casablanca in April, before an impressive streak of wins at Roland Garros that saw him win three consecutive matches in five sets to get him to the quarterfinals.

    Robredo heated up in the summer by defeating hot clay-courter Fabio Fognini for the title at Umag. Weeks later, he crushed Roger Federer in straight sets in the round of 16 at the U.S. Open.

    Never mind that he would lose three of his final four matches to end the year. He deserved strong consideration for Comeback Player of the Year.

    Grade: A-

ATP No. 17: Kei Nishikori

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    2013 Expectations: It should be remembered that Kei Nishikori is only 23 years old and one of the few young players who has made a dent in the ATP tour. Despite his lack of stature, he had shown enough punch to realistically set his sights on the top 10.

    2013 Achievements: Nishikori peaked at a career best No. 11 by mid-June. He had a title for 500 points at Memphis, Tennessee and could be excused for getting rolled at the round of 16 at the French Open. His conquering opponent was Rafael Nadal.

    Then the wheels came off at the U.S. Open with a first round loss. Only once the second half of the year began did he get through the round of 16 (in native country Japan), and he clings just inside the top 20. Without signature weapons, Nishikori might find it increasingly difficult to win big tournaments on the ATP.

    Grade: D+

ATP No. 16: Fabio Fognini

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    2013 Expectations: There were even tennis fans who had to look up the name Fabio Fognini. The Italian journeyman had barely cracked the top 50 as 2013 dawned. Was he just another clay-court specialist hoping to scrap for points in obscure venues well off the competitive path?

    2013 Achievements: He was a semifinalist at Monte Carlo and won his share of Spring clay-court matches. But after getting eliminated at the first round of Wimbledon, Fognini played the best tennis of his career.

    He won titles at Stuttgart and Hamburg in consecutive weeks, and then got to the Umag final a week later. There, his 13-match winning streak finally came to an end, but he achieved his career best No. 16 ranking.

    How much he improves will depend largely on his efforts to develop more on hard courts and perhaps follow the David Ferrer model of tireless consistency.

    Grade: B+

ATP No. 15: Mikhail Youzhny

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    2013 Expectations: A once-promising player with good strokes and fearless competitive fire, Mikhail Youzhny had settled into a solid veteran, usually keeping his ranking somewhere  in the neighborhood of No. 25-35.

    There was no reason to expect more from Youzhny than to win a couple of matches at each tournament and keep putting away prize money for another nest egg.

    2013 Achievements: He crashed into the rounds of 16 at the European Grand Slam venues, but his ranking still fell to No. 33 by late July.

    Eventually, Youzhny was in the U.S. Open quarterfinals, splitting the first two sets against Novak Djokovic. From there, he could no longer keep up and was quickly defeated.

    A month later he picked up the 500 points for winning at Valencia, Spain and rests firmly at No. 15. Not bad for a cagey and respected tennis fighter.

    Grade: B

ATP No. 14: John Isner

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    2013 Expectations: In 2012, John Isner cracked the top 10 and had some people in America talking about the possibility of being a Grand Slam winner. There were matches he could go toe-to-toe with the likes of Novak Djokovic, such as his semifinal win at Miami.

    He had just changed coaches and was looking for the next level. Could Isner get to a Grand Slam final and find a place as one of the top seven or eight players in the world?

    2013 Achivements: For most of the year, the answer was a definitive "No." Isner was a disappointment, bowing out of tournaments too early and plummeting to No. 23 by April.

    Then, on the North American hard courts tour, Isner played his best tennis, winning the title at Atlanta, and appearing as a finalist at Washington D.C. and Cincinnati.

    There were tennis outsiders who listed Isner as a darkhorse to contend at the U.S. Open. He made headlines when he complained about the New York crowd support for his more charismatic second-round opponent, Gael Monfils. Then he fell flat in his next match versus Philipp Kohlschreiber.

    Grade: C

ATP No. 13: Nicolas Almagro

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    2013 Expectations: Certainly Nicolas Almagro has excellent power and fundamentals on clay. He should be more of a winner on this surface.

    But there are always doubts about his negative intensity and erratic play when the moments are most important. Give him enough rope and he will tighten the noose himself.

    2013 Achievements: He was so close to winning his Australian Open quarterfinals match against David Ferrer but could not close out a fourth set tiebreaker.

    In February, he fought tooth and nail against Rafael Nadal but unraveled in the semifinal match.

    At Barcelona, he was hammered again by Nadal.

    Eventually his ranking fell to No. 18 after a first round disaster at the U.S. Open. He has gained more points to return to No. 13, but it does not appear he is ready for a significant leap. He is what he is.

    Grade: C

ATP No.12: Tommy Haas

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    2013 Expectations: The veteran Tommy Haas had a resurgence in his career in 2012 that steered him back to the top 20. He entered 2013 as a feel-good story and as a symbolic throwback to a prior generation of tennis players that seemingly had more all-court skills rather than relying on powerful groundstrokes. Tennis fans wanted to see him carry his momentum. He was a nice gate attraction.

    2013 Achievements: Haas made some noise in defeating Novak Djokovic at Miami. His semifinal appearance was the highlight of that Masters 1000 tournament.

    He won the Munich title, and capped his clay-court season with a quarterfinal loss to Djokovic. At Wimbledon, he fell again to Djokovic, this time in the round of 16.

    Haas has probably peaked with this latest career burst. He's still a dangerous player on any given day, but unlikely to contend for a Grand Slam title.

    Grade: B

ATP No. 11: Milos Raonic

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    2013 Expectations: For many tennis fans, Milos Raonic is the next generation of tennis. He possesses a booming serve and solid groundstrokes. At some point, he is destined to break through and win a Grand Slam. Right?

    2013 Achievements: The script has not followed a steady plot, nor does it seem likely to see him walking along a red carpet. There are technical deficiencies to be conquered. He has a plodding element to his footwork and game. He is reluctant to finish at net. He has yet to show the special kind of fortitude it takes to be a champion.

    His highlights came late in the summer with a run to the final in the Canada Open, until he was promptly scorched by Rafael Nadal. At the U.S. Open, he ran to the round of 16, but could not finish off Richard Gasquet in a match he arguably should have won.

    He cracked the top 10, but will need much more consistency and improvement if he is to move forward.

    Grade: C+

ATP No. 10: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

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    2013 Expectations: He is often lumped with the second-tier stars of the modern ATP. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga once made it all the way to the 2008 Australian Open final, but has never matched this taste of fame. It's not getting easier.

    Could he be a finalist, or possibly find a way to steal a Grand Slam title in 2013?

    2013 Achievements: His Australian Open quarterfinal loss to Roger Federer was a bitter pill. It wasn't just losing in five sets, but losing both first and third set tiebreakers.

    His highlight was a drive to the semifinals at the French Open. Many tabbed him as the favorite against David Ferrer and thought he had an outside chance to win the title. But he was blitzed in straight sets, further example of the checkered results in his once-promising career.

    Wimbledon undid his season. He retired in the second round of the tournament and did not play the rest of the summer. He missed the U.S. Open and dropped out of the top eight, missing the WTF tournament at London. His momentum at the indoor season was muted.

    Grade: C- (B for first half of season; F for second half)

ATP No. 9: Richard Gasquet

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    2013 Expectations: Gone are the early years when Richard Gasquet was lauded as a future star. The future is now the past and promise has been hardened by the grinding reality of the ATP tour. Even Gasquet's fabulous all-court skills are not enough to dominate as a champion. The tour will expose a player's weaknesses and temerity. Such is the lot of Gasquet.

    2013 Achievements: For most of the year, it was typical Gasquet throwaway. But to his credit, he rebounded with more toughness in driving to the U.S. Open semifinal. There he was pasted by Rafael Nadal.

    He qualified for London's WTF but lost all three of his matches in what seems to symbolize his career. He is a very good player but without the weapons to truly challenge for big titles.

    Grade: C+

ATP No 8: Stanislas Wawrinka

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    2013 Expectations: Stanislas Wawrinka had long been regarded as the other Swiss player, not even a resemblance of his more decorated countryman Roger Federer.

    He began the 2013 campaign ranked No. 17. Though he plays hard and possesses a tough single backhand, there was little evidence to show that he could make a significant career advance.

    2013 Achievements: He fought with heroic bluster versus Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open round of 16 and perhaps should have won that one. Similarly, he was outlasted by Djokovic again at the U.S. Open semifinals.

    Wawrinka did show admirable fight and tenacity but the talent is just not there to beat the best on a consistent basis. His 51-23 record for the year was pretty much about as good as can be expected.

    Grade: B+

ATP No. 7: Tomas Berdych

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    2013 Expectations: The years have passed quickly for the smooth-hitting Tomas Berdych, now 28 years old. He is the model of textbook groundstrokes, beautiful and powerful. There are times he beats the best players in the world.

    Would it be too much to expect another Grand Slam final appearance, or possibly put it all together for an Andres Gomez moment? If this is not the expectation, then why bother competing unless the consistent paychecks at No. 7 are too good to pass up.

    2013 Achievements: He did somehow get to No. 5 in the world in August, though it proved to be a brief affair. Beyond that, his 54-25 match record and zero titles was uninspiring. He made no real noise in the Grand Slam venues. At least he contributed to his country's Davis Cup victory.

    Berdych, Juan Martin del Potro and David Ferrer are light years away from tennis's four biggest champions. Just how deep is the top of the ATP?

    Grade: D

ATP No. 6: Roger Federer

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    2013 Expectations: Roger Federer began 2013 as the No. 2 ranked player in the world. He turned in a strong effort at the Australian Open, losing a close five-set semifinal match to Andy Murray.

    It was reasonable to expect that Federer could defend his Wimbledon title and contend for the U.S. Open. He could still be the best attacking player in the world and dominate fast surfaces. He was looking to pace himself for better rest and recovery between big venues. Federer has always had the mindset to win titles.

    2013 Achievements: In February, Federer dropped matches to Julien Benneteau and Tomas Berdych. But the wheels came off when he suffered excruciating back pains at Indian Wells. He was hammered by career rival Rafael Nadal, and it proved to be an ominous foreboding that would plague the rest of the year.

    Federer could never find the health and time for proper conditioning and competitive confidence. His time on clay was sporadic and his second round exit at Wimbledon was disastrous. Tennis writers and fans more frequently prepared his obituary.

    The back injury bit him again during extra clay-court tournaments in July. He was never able to gain the time for adjusting to a larger-framed racket.

    The losses to journeymen piled up. He suffered a humiliating defeat to Tommy Robredo at the U.S. Open's fourth round. Soon after, he and his coach, Paul Annacone, parted ways.

    Federer did fight back for a berth and semifinal showing at London's WTF year-end tournament, but was defeated for the fourth time in as many matches against Nadal in 2013.

    There were injuries and tough defeats that contributed to a forgettable year for the Swiss Maestro, but though his efforts cannot be questioned, the end results were a failed year.

    Grade: F

ATP No. 5: Juan Martin Del Potro

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    2013 Expectations: Could Juan Martin del Potro prove that his 2009 U.S. Open title was not just an aberration in his career? This was to be the year the big Argentine could prove himself to be a consistent contender for Grand Slam titles.

    2013 Achievements: He continued his saga of undeniable talent and inconsistent results. Case in point was his run in March at Indian Wells. He defeated Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic before fading in the final against Rafael Nadal.

    At Wimbledon, he was a semifinalist, taking Djokovic to a fifth set, but falling short.

    But there were plenty of failures. He was ousted in the third round of the Australian Open, eliminated in the second round of the U.S. Open and did not play in the French Open.

    When talent and potential are mentioned far too often in a player's career, it speaks the obvious: Del Potro is an underachiever.

    Grade: C-

ATP No. 4: Andy Murray

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    2013 Expectations: With the Grand Slam monkey now off his back, Andy Murray looked ahead to an even bigger year. He often insisted that winning Wimbledon was his big priority, but he would also have to become a force on clay and win two Grand Slam titles in hopes of becoming the No. 1 player.

    2013 Achievements: He won the first set against Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open final, but could not keep up as his Serbian rival dominated his net opportunities. Murray was also unable to compete effectively on clay, and a back injury kept him from playing the French Open.

    Perhaps the time off from clay allowed Murray to rejuvenate and prepare more effectively for grass. At any rate, he completed his dream and fulfilled the hopes of Great Britain in winning Wimbledon. Mission accomplished.

    Unfortunately for Murray, he struggled on the North American hard court tour and did not make a strong defense for his U.S. Open title. Then his season ended with more back problems, and his ranking continued to leak points.

    Murray has now won Grand Slam titles in two consecutive years and has bagged Wimbledon. And while he has not lifted himself to the level of Djokovic or Rafael Nadal, the gritty Scotsman has made his mark for a likely hall-of-fame entrance. There could be more Grand Slam titles ahead.

    Grade: A-

ATP No. 3: David Ferrer

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    2013 Expectations: He is tennis' ironman, circling the globe to feed on points at overlooked tournaments while still finding the energy to play in every Masters 1000 tournament and Grand Slam venue. He knows he cannot outdraw the big guns, but he can outlast almost everyone else.

    Ferrer had gained the everyman's respect as a working class hero, but had never appeared in a Grand Slam final. Would it be too much to expect?

    2013 Achievements: He stubbornly dug in his heels to climb up to the No. 3 ranking while Andy Murray and Roger Federer fell victims to injury and adversity. Somehow he achieved this milestone with only titles in Buenos Aires and Auckland.

    And he did get to that Grand Slam final after all, the French Open. Unfortunately, he was whitewashed by compatriot Rafael Nadal.

    Will he ever reappear in another Major final? The sands of the hourglass are nearing the bottom. Ferrer is the ultimate B+ student who studies hard but will never be the renowned genius.

    Grade: B+

ATP No. 2: Novak Djokovic

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    2013 Expectations: Novak Djokovic looked for a likely third straight year as the World No. 1 player. He was the favorite to win the Aussie Open and the heir apparent to capturing the French Open if Rafael Nadal faltered in his comeback.

    His remarkable consistency pegged him as at least a co-favorite in every tournament he entered. Certainly, he and his fans hoped for another three-Slam encore of 2011.

    2013 Achievements: It was a bittersweet year featuring his best and most disappointing tennis, something perhaps best contrasted on page one of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.

    He was a big winner in grabbing his third consecutive Australian Open title. He broke Rafael Nadal's stranglehold on the clay courts of Monte Carlo.

    But the center of his 2013 tennis odyssey was a crumbling muffin. He was outlasted in a bitter five set semifinal loss to Nadal at the French Open. He ran out of gas in the Wimbledon final and became a trivial note in ending Great Britain's futility in men's tennis. He lost the upper hand of a powerful effort in the U.S. Open final, falling to Nadal once again.

    Djokovic rebounded by sweeping the post-U.S. Open swing in China, Paris and London. He lost his No. 1 throne to Nadal but not without winning every match after the U.S. Open to close with seven titles.

    It was a great year for almost anyone on the tour, but below the expectations for Djokovic. One Grand Slam title is not enough for Djokovic, who is in his prime.

    Grade: B

ATP No.1: Rafael Nadal

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    2013 Expectations: Rafael Nadal headed into February without having played a match since his 2012 Wimbledon flame-out to second round opponent Lukas Rosol. Many tennis fans questioned if his left knee would be healthy, or if he could regain his timing and competitive fire.

    It had also been over two years since Nadal had won a hard court tournament. Realistically, it seemed a tall order for him to defend his clay court titles and capture another French Open title. Had he only done this, it would have been a successful season.

    2013 Achievements: Nobody predicted that Nadal would win 10 titles including his eighth French Open crown and the U.S. Open trophy, both primarily at the expense of arch rival Novak Djokovic. He now has five Grand Slam victories outside Roland Garros.

    In addition, Nadal hauled in Masters 1000 titles at Indian Wells, Madrid, Rome, Montreal and Cincinnati.

    It was one of the three best years of his career. His spectacular play on hard courts included an undefeated 26 straight wins before losing in the semifinals at the China Open in October. Though his 64-3 record at the time would taper into a 11-4 run his last 15 matches, he had conquered the top of the rankings with over 13,000 points.

    Most of all, his fire and competitive spirit were on full display. Tennis fields were tougher and more interesting with his presence. Renewed discussions about his legacy attracted more weight from fans and pundits, who pitched him as the greatest player to ever play the game.

    Nadal thrived when he was counted out. He won big matches. He continued to stack his winning record against his big rivals and versus the ATP field.

    Nadal is still the Spanish bull, and once again the tennis king of the world.

    Grade: A+