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Tennis • Reviewing Ricky’s 2020 Predictions for the Year-End Rankings

Rafael Nadal won his 20th Grand Slam title at Roland Garros and finished 2020 as world No. 2.

By Ricky Dimon

For a whole host of reasons, it is tougher than usual to assess the 2020 ATP season. The main reason is that the rankings don’t exactly reflect what happened this year. That was just one impact that the coronavirus had on tennis, another being that it completely wiped out four-plus months of the schedule.

Nonetheless, the good news is there was an actual 2020 season and it came to a successful enough conclusion at the Nitto ATP Finals in London. Now that it’s over, it’s time to look back on my preseason predictions for the year-end championship field.

1. Rafael Nadal – Nadal finished second in the rankings instead of first and was actually third in 2020 points (behind Novak Djokovic and also Dominic Thiem). Still, my call for Nadal to have a big season was not too far off the pick. He played in only two slams—and won one of them (a 13th French Open title). Plus a huge chunk of the clay-court swing is wiped out, and that is obviously where the Spaniard would have seized a leg up on the rest of the competition.

2. Novak Djokovic – Given Djokovic’s unexpected U.S. Open default and his late-season slump starting with the French Open final against Nadal, it would have been plausible for him to finish No. 2 instead if No. 1. To his credit, though, he was simply too good prior to the coronavirus hiatus. Djokovic started the year 26-0, not losing a single time until his infamous “loss” to Pablo Carreno Busta in New York.

3. Dominic Thiem – Did I get this one wrong? Hypothetically, yes; technically, no. Thiem finished No. 3 in the world, as predicted, but he was actually second in 2020 points alone (both going into the Nitto ATP Finals and coming out of it). The Austrian’s most important moment, of course, by earning the long-awaited Grand Slam breakthrough at the U.S. Open. He was also runner-up for a second consecutive year at the O2 Arena.

Stefanos Tsitsipas returned to the ATP Finals in London.

4. Stefanos Tsitsipas – Like many, I overrated Tsitsipas in terms of his 2020 productive. The Greek finished the season two spots lower than this (sixth) and based on 2020 points alone he would have been seventh. It could have been a lot better, but Tsitsipas fell one set short of reaching the Roland Garros final and he suffered the collapse of the year against Borna Coric in round four of the U.S. Open.

5. Roger Federer – Well, Federer is No. 5! Of course, that is where the accuracy of this pick ends. Based on this season’s points alone, the 39-year-old Swiss would be outside the top 100. Nobody benefited more from the rankings restructure than Federer, who reached the Australian Open semifinals and then missed the rest of 2020 due to knee surgery. At least I was correct in saying that Federer would fall in the rankings….

6. Alexander Zverev – I was pretty much right on the money with Zverev. He is officially No. 5 in the rankings but was No. 7 in 2020 points. Yes, take the average of those two and you get six. Congratulations to me! As predicted, the German really take the next step in his career (although he did come within two points of doing so at Flushing Meadows) but he also didn’t decline. For several reasons, it will be very interesting to see what happens with him in 2021.

7. Denis Shapovalov – A lot of people had Shapovalov making the jump to Nitto ATP Finals caliber, but it didn’t happen. That being said, he wasn’t hopelessly far off. The 21-year-old Canadian finished 12th in the rankings and he would have been in mathematical London contention all the way to the Paris Masters (he ended up withdrawing from that event). Shapovalov started hot, but late-season struggles ended his hopes.

8. Andrey Rublev – It has to be said that nobody was more on target than me when it came to predicting Rublev’s rise to prominence. I predicted a “Texas-sized” 2020 campaign for the 23-year-old Russian and that is exactly what it was. He was the ATP’s solo leader in titles with five and he advanced to slam quarterfinals at the U.S. Open and French Open. A debut appearance in London was well-deserved. Rublev finished…you guessed it…No. 8 in the world (although he was even better in truth—sixth in 2020 points).

London alternates

Daniil Medvedev captured back-to-back championships at the Paris Masters and ATP Finals.

9. Daniil Medvedev – Medvedev did well to move up from fifth at the end of 2019 to fourth. But a prediction of a “sophomore slump” really wasn’t that far off. Going into the Nitto ATP Finals, the Russian was sixth in 2020 points and only a few-hundred ahead of No. 8 Diego Schwartzman. By his lofty standards, Medvedev struggled prior to the hiatus and even for a while after it. But his hot streak that concluded with Paris and London titles changed everything.

10. Alex de Minaur – Well, this pick quite simply missed the mark. But there is a valid excuse: injuries. De Minaur missed his home Grand Slam and actually played in only one ATP tournament prior to the hiatus. He returned with a vengeance by making a run to the U.S. Open quarterfinals before being inconsistent the rest of the way. Still, that U.S. Open performance and a runner-up showing in Antwerp should have his confidence—and mine—restored heading into 2021.

Among the players whom I underrated in 2020 were Schwartzman, Carreno Busta, and Milos Raonic. Only taking this year’s points into account, Schwartzman would be No. 8 while PCB and Raonic would round out the top 10 (the latter two would have been London alternates based on 2020 points). Carreno Busta’s season will obviously be remembered for the Djokovic default, but he actually played extremely well on his own accord just about from start to finish.    

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.