ATP Year in Review: Top 5

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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 2016 ATP players ranked 1-5.

This has been an incredible year in tennis. We’ve seen Novak Djokovic hold an unthinkably large lead at #1, and we saw Andy Murray slowly whittle that lead down to take the top ranking. Stan Wawrinka won another Slam, and Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal both missed out on the World Tour Finals. Tennis is both changing and staying the same at the same time–the top two players are names you’d expect to be there, but after that we’re finally seeing a new generation arrive.

ATP Year in Review: Top 5

1. Andy Murray

High Points:

There are so many, so how do I pick just a few? To start, Murray won Wimbledon again, always a historic achievement. He also won Olympic Gold in singles, replicating his 2012 success and becoming the first male player to ever do so. The high point of Murray’s season, most likely, though, has to do with his top ranking. It’s either his win in Paris-Bercy, which first earned him the top spot, or his title at the World Tour Finals, which guaranteed him the year-end #1 ranking.

Low Points:

There really aren’t many of these, and it is both difficult and incredibly unfair to call losing two Grand Slam finals (the Australian and French Opens, both to Novak Djokovic) “low points.” Honestly, the worst stretch of Murray’s season was probably his two early losses at Indian Wells and Miami, to Marcel Granollers and Denis Istomin, respectively. Looking back on them, those are the real shocks of 2016.

Other Highlights:
Murray won a personal-best nine titles in 2016, and only improved as the year went on. Murray ended the season on an incredible 25-match win streak, something he will look to ride to a successful early part of 2017.

2. Novak Djokovic

High Points:
Recency bias is real. It’s easy to think that Djokovic had a relatively poor season, considering his results since September. But Djokovic still won two Grand Slams this year, bumping his career total to 12. The end of the season might make us wonder whether he’ll successfully match Federer’s 17, but 14–shared by Nadal and Pete Sampras–seems like it’s within reach.

Low Points:
Again, there’s nothing particularly poor here. If I had to choose, I would think that Djokovic’s third-round loss to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon would be the worst moment of the season, even if his losses in Shanghai and Paris-Bercy (to Roberto Bautista-Agut and Marin Cilic, respectively) ended up losing him the top ranking. It’s not just the result, but the way he played–and that second set against Querrey was the worst tennis that Djokovic has played in many years.

Other Highlights:
Djokovic won seven titles on the season, including another four Masters 1000s. Djokovic is unmatched in success at the Masters level. Three of those titles (and both Grand Slams) were in the first five months of the season, so Djokovic will have a lot of points to defend until June. Unless Murray stumbles, taking back the #1 ranking might not be so feasible until Wimbledon rolls around.

3. Milos Raonic

High Points:
Surprised to see Raonic finish the season this high? In a way, everyone is. Raonic won only one title on the year, in an Australian Open warmup in Brisbane back in January. So what exactly has Raonic ranked this high? To begin with, he was one of only four players to reach a Grand Slam final in 2016. On top of that, his consistency is really what gets him to #3. Raonic reached the quarterfinals or better in seven of the nine Masters 1000 tournaments. When compared to what we expect of the “Big 4,” that might not mean much. But it’s something that no one else on tour does consistently, which is why he is at #3.

Low Points:
Raonic lost in the second round of the US Open to Ryan Harrison. Harrison is a once-heralded talent who hasn’t really been able to put it together on court. The loss was shocking and really reminded us that while Raonic is a top player, we can’t expect “Big 4”-like dominance from everyone ranked near the top.

Other Highlights:
Raonic reached the finals of Wimbledon, Indian Wells, and Queens’, as well as the semifinals in Cincinnati, losing to Murray or Djokovic in all of those. When if feels like only the best two players in the world can beat you at the biggest tournaments, it makes sense why you’d end up at #3.

4. Stan Wawrinka

High Points:
Wawrinka notched his third career Grand Slam title, this time winning the US Open over Novak Djokovic in the final. Wawrinka is now 3-0 in Grand Slam finals, and is a Wimbledon title away from completing the career Grand Slam–something no one ever imagined possible, even when he won that Australian Open back in 2014. He also reached the semifinals of Roland Garros and won a 500-level tournament in Dubai.

Low Points:
There are a lot of them. For all of Wawrinka’s victories and strengths, he is very inconsistent. If you want to see why Wawrinka is behind Raonic, even though Wawrinka won a Slam, consider this. As I said above, Raonic reached the quarterfinals or better of seven of the nine Masters 1000 tournaments this year. Well, Wawrinka failed to reach the quarterfinals at seven Masters 1000 tournaments. That’s the difference between a consistent player and a highly-talented player. The latter might win Slams and more tournaments, but the former will do better overall.

Other Highlights:
Wawrinka won titles in Geneva and Chennai, and reached the finals of St. Petersburg, where he lost to Alexander Zverev. He also reached the semifinals of Toronto, falling to Kei Nishikori.

5. Kei Nishikori

High Points:
Nishikori won only one tournament in 2016, that in the now-250 tournament in Memphis. He did reach four finals, though, including two Masters 1000 tournaments–both of which he lost to Djokovic. Nishikori reached the semifinals of the US Open, where he fell to eventual champion Stan Warinka. He also won Olympic Bronze in singles, defeating Rafael Nadal in the Bronze Medal match.

Low Points:
Nishikori did nothing particularly bad this year, at any tournament, though his second-round loss to Bernard Tomic in Cincinnati has to sting a little.

Other Highlights:
Nishikori reached the final in Basel, where he lost to Marin Cilic. Nishikori was also pretty consistent over the season, reaching the quarterfinals or better in five Masters 1000 tournaments.

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