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 ATP 2016 players ranked 6-10.
6. Marin Cilic
The big-serving Croat enjoyed some incredible success, particularly in the second half of the season. He won his first Masters title by beating Andy Murray in Cincinnati. Another memorable highlight for Cilic was the Davis Cup run he played a part in as Croatia narrowly lost the Davis Cup final to Argentina in November. Cilic was two sets to love up on Del Potro in the fourth rubber but ended up losing in one of the more heartbreaking defeats of Cilic’s career to date.
So what did we find out from Cilic throughout the course of the year? One thing that was reiterated throughout Cilic’s year was that when he is feeling good about his game, he is capable of beating any player. That was evident in his win over Murray in Cincinnati and also in his ATP title win in Basel over Kei Nishikori.
A lowlight for Cilic was the Wimbledon quarter-final against Roger Federer. The Croatian held match points but could not get the victory. It is a match that Cilic will look back on as a real opening and opportunity to get that second grand slam win because of the way he was playing that fortnight.
7. Gael Monfils
The flamboyant Frenchman experienced his best year on tour. He improved dramatically at the majors. His semi-final appearance at the US Open was an obvious highlight, but he consistently produced great results all season, mainly because his body allowed him to. That is something that has not been the case in previous years. He made the quarter-final of Miami and Indian Wells back-to-back, came close to winning a Masters title in Monte Carlo, made the quarter-finals in Olympics, won a title in Washington and qualified for the World Tour Finals for the first time.
The moment he qualified for the prestigious World Tour Finals event was the ultimate representation of the work that he had done with his coach Mikael Tillstrom at the Good to Great academy. Under his guidance, Monfils has managed to move from a player that plays to entertain to a player that plays to win, which he has found hard to do in previous years.
There was also a low period for Monfils in 2016. One of his targets was to win Roland Garros, which continues to be a dream for him. A viral infection ruled Monfils out of the French Open, which really impacted the consistent season he produced.
One thing that is for certain is that Monfils now will have confidence and belief in the words that Tillstrom is feeding to him. Tillstrom’s helped enormously with Monfils’ overall game and attitude on the court, so I would not be surprised if Monfils can achieve a grand slam final between now and the end of his career.
8. Dominic Thiem
Thiem, who is tipped by many to be the next Grand Slam winner of the batch of young players rising up the rankings, had a phenomenal year. He made his first major semi-final at Roland Garros, appeared in the top 10 for the first time and won 58 matches throughout the season.
What goes unnoticed is Thiem’s ability to transition between the different surfaces. In 2016, he won titles on clay, grass and hard, displaying his credentials on every surface and further showing why he is someone to seriously consider as a contender at the business end of Grand Slams. The lowest moment of Thiem’s season was towards it’s conclusion. The Austrian needs to learn how to manage his schedule and start to organise his calendar like one of the elite players. He does not necessarily have to play each and every week if he is continuing to reach the semi-finals and finals of regular ATP events.
9. Rafael Nadal
Nadal’s year wasn’t the greatest by his lofty standards. He was setback enormously by a wrist injury that curtailed his Roland Garros campaign and ended his season after a shocking loss to Viktor Troicki in Shanghai.
Nadal’s major target at the beginning of the season would be to regain his stranglehold on the French Open. The moment that Nadal did not accomplish that then he acknowledged he was playing below his expectations, which had an adverse affect on the remainder of his season. Another problem for Nadal was dealing with one of the most brutal injuries in tennis – the wrist injury.
Nadal has not reached the semi-final of a major for two years now. He suffered shock losses to Lucas Pouille at the US Open and lost in the first round of the Australian Open to Fernando Verdasco. The aura of invincibility has definitely left Nadal, but can the decorated Grand Slam champion make yet another comeback to the greatest of heights like he did in 2013?
10. Tomas Berdych
In 2016, we did not find out anything else from the mental and physical game of Tomas Berdych. He left the top 10 for the first time since 2010, which illustrates that his consistency did not hold up in 2016. He won a rare title, his only title this year, in Shenzhen and made the semi-final of Wimbledon before losing handily to Andy Murray.
Now under the tutelage of Goran Ivanisevic, Berdych is running out of time to convert his good tennis career into a great tennis career by claiming a Grand Slam before he leaves the game in the years to come.