In this edition of ATP Year in Review we take a look at the players who finished in the 21-25 year end ranking slots including former top 10 stalwarts Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori, and young gun Nick Kyrgios. What lies in store in 2018 for these stars?
#25: Gilles Muller
Of the five players listed here, Muller had by far the most impressive year relative to expectations. Muller had a bit of a resurgent year in 2016. After reaching only one ATP final since 2005, he reached two in 2016 (but lost both). At age 34, he was not expected to repeat one of his best ever seasons. Not only did he continue that success, but he exceeded it. The big server put together the best season of his career and showed no signs of slowing down.
He began the season on a high note, winning in Sydney in January, the first title of his career. He made two more finals this year, losing in Estoril, but capturing a second title of the season and career in s-Hertogenbosch over fellow big server Ivo Karlovic. The two titles are impressive alone, but additionally he made finals on all three surfaces in the first six months of the season. He took his grass court success to Wimbledon and did not slow down. He won his first three matches, already his best Wimbledon result, and set up a round of 16 clash against world number two Rafael Nadal. Muller won the first two sets against the 2-time champion, before dropping two to go to a decider. The deciding set was an absolute epic, with both players refusing to budge. Muller finally won 15-13 to secure the best win of his career and reach the quarterfinals. He reached a career-high ranking of 21 a few weeks after the Championships. After moderate success on the hard courts, Muller’s age caught up to him. He played only one match after the US Open. He may return to a more limited schedule in 2018, but he has shown he can play against any player anywhere.
#24: Milos Raonic
2017 will be a year to forget for the former world number three. The tall Canadian reached the quarterfinals or better in seven of the nine Masters 1000 events in 2016, highlighted by the final at Indian Wells. Additionally, he topped the greatest player on grass ever Roger Federer at Wimbledon to reach the final there. Unfortunately, injuries prevented him from reaching that level this season.
He began the year on a high note, making the quarterfinals at the Australian Open. He made the finals in Delray Beach in the next tournament that he played, but had to retire the morning of the final due to a leg injury. After playing only one tournament in two months, he reached another final in Istanbul, this time losing to Marin Cilic. He was not able to string together many impressive performances, but played his best tennis at majors. He reached the round of 16 on his worst surface at the French Open. He continued that strong play at Wimbledon, this time falling to eventual champion Roger Federer. In August, he underwent surgery on his left wrist. The injury sidelined him for seven weeks, including the US Open. In Tokyo, his first tournament back, he retired in the second round due to a calf strain. These two injuries marked the end of a difficult season for Raonic. He is focused on making a full recovery for 2018.
Raonic showed plenty of promise this year, and injuries did hold him back, but he still achieved strong results when he was able to play. He will face a tough road back similar to Juan Martin del Potro’s where he will be a lower seed. However, 2017 gave Raonic plenty of reason to believe he can still compete at the highest level.
#23: Albert Ramos-Vinolas
After never finishing a year inside the top-50, Ramos Vinolas had a strong 2016 that saw him jump to #27, a ranking he looked to build on this year. Overall, he did not have as consistent success in 2017, but had a career defining finals appearance in Monte-Carlo that accounted for over 30% of his points for the season. He was not able to win a tournament as he did in 2016, but he made an additional final and improved his ranking, including a brief stint in the top 20.
His season did not begin well, losing three of four hard court matches. Once he transitioned to clay, his results immediately improved. He won 10 of his next 14, highlighted by a semifinal appearance in Rio and a finals appearance in Sao Paolo. After more struggles on hard courts, he put together a remarkable week in Monte-Carlo. He won five matches in a row, beating world #1 Andy Murray and world #8 Marin Cilic on the way to the final. His form on clay slowed down after that tournament, but he still managed an impressive round of 16 appearance at Roland Garros. He then managed to lose a lot of first round matches in the second half of the season. He did secure enough points from third round appearances at Wimbledon and Cincinnati. He had a high note near the end of the year, when he made the quarterfinals in Shanghai, a great result for him at a hard court tournament.
Ramos Vinolas will always be a strong clay court player, but has shown to be sporadic on other surfaces. His results in 2017 will be tough to replicated next season, especially after he loses the points from Monte-Carlo. However, he will likely continue to excel during the clay court swing.
#22: Kei Nishikori
Similar to Raonic, Nishikori is another talented player, former major finalist, and former top five player who had injuries hamper his 2017 campaign. He finished the year with a strong 30-13 record, but missed many matches down the stretch to keep his ranking high. He also came in to 2017 as a potential to reach world number 1. Few tennis fans expected Federer and Nadal to accomplish what they did this season, so Nishikori was one of the player predicted to take over as the next generation moves to the top.
His season began well, making two finals on hard courts then taking eventual champion Roger Federer to five sets at the Australian Open. He made consecutive quarterfinals in Indian Wells and Miami, seeing his ranking jump up a spot to #4. He then took a month and a half off due to a right wrist injury. He reached the quarterfinals again in Madrid after returning, but pulled out of the tournament due to the same injury. The time off coupled with Nadal and Federer’s rise saw his ranking drop down to #9. He reached another quarterfinal at the French Open, the last real highlight of the season. His form dropped, only reached the third round at Wimbledon, and the wrist kept nagging him. He only played two hard court tournaments the second half of the year. In August, he revealed a tear in one of the tendons in his right wrist. This caused him to stop for the season. As a result, he missed three Masters 1000s and a major, seeing his ranking fall.
Nishikori is another player who is on the right side of 30, and if healthy will be a force to be reckoned with. A wrist injury on his dominant arm may be a difficult one to recover from, but he has shown he can still play at a high level when health, and will hopefully be back to competing against the best.
#21: Nick Kyrgios
This list ends with the most fun player to write bout. The talented young Australian who has both thrilled fans and angered them. He hot-headed attitude and his statements that he does not like tennis has upset many fans. However, he also is one of the most exciting players on tour both with his powerful strokes and his trick-shot ability. Whatever one thinks of him, he is one of the budding stars in the future of tennis. 2017 was not great to Kyrgios, highlighted by his poor play in majors causing his ranking to drop from 13 at the start of the year to 21 now.
He began the year with a disappointing loss in the second round of the Australian Open. Kyrgios then had his best results of the year back-to-back in Miami and Indian Wells. He reached the quarterfinals in Indian Wells, withdrawing due to an illness, and the semifinals of Miami. There he lost to Roger Federer in three tiebreaks in a match heralded by many as the one of the best this season. His summer is where his season took a serious downturn. He won only three matches on clay and zero on grass. He reached just the second round at the French Open and first round at Wimbledon. Injuries lingered that caused him to miss some early and late summer tournaments as the season transferred back onto hard courts. He finally broke through again, making a run to the final in Cincinnati, beating Nadal in straights en route to the final, where he lost to Grigor Dimitrov. He then lost a lot of potential points again when he lost to countryman and critic John Millman in the first round of the US Open. He reached another final in Beijing, this time losing to Nadal.
Kyrgios had by no means an unsuccessful season, making several big finals and stringing together many match wins, albeit almost exclusively on hard courts. He was hurt by the fact that rankings points heavily favor Grand Slams. With only two match wins in the four biggest tournaments, that is the primary reason he saw his rankings fall. He can easily reach the top-10 next year, but as we’ve seen, he is completely unpredictable.