It’s that time of year again when we dive into the prospects of how the projected year-end ATP Tour rankings for 2021 will shape up. Using our crystal ball, of course.
In a year dominated by a mysterious pandemic, the tennis season certainly did take a hit. Miraculously, three Majors were somehow contested and even with a condensed schedule that saw no pro tennis from the end of the February to the beginning of August, the usual suspects still rose to the top.
Djokovic and Nadal Lead the Pack
While Novak Djokovic dominated the Australian Open under “normal” circumstances, Rafael Nadal continued his perennial reign on the red clay in Paris —even though he didn’t like the conditions, the balls, and the time of year—to win his earth-shattering 13th crown in France. Let’s also note that Nadal threw in a bagel against Djokovic during the final, and didn’t lose a set en-route to the title.
The hard-courts at Flushing Meadows did see a new champion in Dominic Thiem. The Austrian work-horse willed his way to a maiden Slam, even though the story of the event was Djokovic being defaulted in the fourth round. Nadal and Roger Federer also didn’t show up to the Big Apple, making Thiem’s path that much smoother. That said, a win is a win and Thiem conintues to prove throughout the last few seasons that he’s the second best hard-court player in the world after Djokovic.
Fresh Faces on Tour
While we missed Wimbledon as a Summer tradition, we were presented with some great-new talent on the men’s side. Italians Jannik Sinner and Lorenzo Musetti poured in some eye-catching results on the back of their flashy games. Sinner in particular was very impressive with his run to the quarterfinals of Roland Garros, before finishing the year with a first-ever title in Bulgaria.
Of course, we can’t forget about the successful exploits of Russian Andrey Rublev. The 23-year-old “haircut and a forehand” slammed his way to five titles and rightfully earned his position in the season-ending Masters in London. Rublev wasn’t the only Russian to have a season to remember, as his higher ranked compatriot Daniil Medvedev ended 2020 with a 10-match winning streak.
With many exciting storylines that developed throughout this unprecedented year, how will 2021 look if we don’t play a full season again and if the key events are shuffled around like this year?
Let’s now take a look at how the Projected Year-End ATP Tour Rankings for 2021 could unfold. Given that the ranking system has taken a completely new life of its own, next year’s projections could be the toughest ever to predict.
Projected Year-End 2021 ATP Tour Rankings:
1. Novak Djokovic: While the Serb could’ve ended 2020 in better form, I don’t believe there’s any rational tennis fan or pundit that would disagree that he would’ve won the US Open if he wasn’t disqualified. (I’m positive that deep down even Thiem would agree). That said, Djokovic is still the favourite to win in Australia, New York and Wimbledon (if it’s played). He’s also still more than capable of reaching the French final and you know he wants to finish No. 1 for a seventh year. Even though he’ll be 34 in April, I just don’t see anyone else having the goods to dethrone his top spot.
2. Dominic Thiem: If there was a player that the pandemic favoured heavily (along with Federer), it was the Austrian. He didn’t have to play Wimbledon (where he’s an abysmal 5-6 in his career), and we all know what happened in NYC along the way to his title. Thiem remains the players player. He’s relentless in his regiment to stay fit, and improve his game and his results on hard-courts have been nothing short of praiseworthy. However, even though he will likely rise to No. 2 in twenty twenty one, he’s still not better than Nadal on clay-courts and he’s still not better than Djokovic on asphalt.
3. Daniil Medvedev: Here’s the thing with the Russian: You just really don’t know how to play him. He’s got the reach, defence, serve, and about as strong of a backhand as anyone in the world. He doesn’t get over emotional and even though you can sense his undercover arrogance, it doesn’t bother you. Medvedev also has a great cushion of 1500 points that he gained from the ATP Finals. He’ll likely play better in Australia (whenever it’s held) and the grass of London should be right us his alley. Now, if he could only figure out the clay of Paris?
No. 14 for Rafa at Roland Garros
4. Rafael Nadal: The helicopter hitting Spanish sensation is still a force on Tour. A shortened season did in fact help Nadal this year. He stayed fresh and the new time slot for Roland Garros didn’t dent his confidence one bit. That said, he didn’t look great at the Paris Indoors or in London, and that form on hard-courts should spill over into next year. Nadal will remain the clear favourite to grab Major No. 21 and become (for the moment) the grandest Grand Slam winner on the planet. That should remain his greatest highlight of the season ahead.
5. Stefanos Tsitsipas: The philosophical Greek with locks to envy remains in a slight holding pattern. What type of tennis does he actually want to play? Hard from the baseline or finesse at the net? This uncertainty from Tsitsipas remains evident on court. He also needs to gain some strength to hit his backhand earlier, and more importantly he needs to stay grounded as his over analytical demeanour isn’t the best for a world-class athlete.
6. Alexander Zverev: Have we really seen the type of improvement in Zverev’s game that we would’ve liked? His forehand and second serve are still suspect and his unwillingness to win under pressure was further magnified by his final in New York. Let’s not even begin to discuss the off-court drama that he’s involved in. There’s no telling what affect that will have on his tennis.
7. Andrey Rublev: The dynamic Russian is great for the sport. His style attracts fans and his game is more than good enough to bother anyone on any surface. Things to improve: his second serve still needs some work for him to break into the top five. His forehand, though, could become the best in the world in the next few years.
8. Roger Federer: Over a 1000 words into this piece and not much on the great RF. 2020 was a year of rest for the Swiss Mysterio (playing only one event), while his points from 2019 stayed in check. The great Federer isn’t getting any younger and he’ll be 40 in August. I’d be surprised if he plays more than eight events next year and he’ll have to optimize those opportunities to give himself a chance at a top 10 finish. Do we still think Federer has a Slam left in him? Probably not. But, if he did end up winning one, no one would really be that shocked, now would they?
9. Denis Shapovalov: The feisty Canadian will be hitting many scissor-kick backhands in 2021 – this we know. What remains uncertain is his consistency. Shapovalov’s results are starting to mirror a microwave. His game goes hot and he can hit winners all over the place and leave his opponents stranded. The flip-side of that is when he can’t find the court, and starts looking to his box for answers. Remember, the greats (presumably the three names listed above that have pretty much been around before Denis was even born) predicate their games on consistency and defence. Denis has the offensive quotient covered in spades but when that’s not there, what does he have left? How many Majors did Fernando Gonzalez win again?
10. Jannik Sinner: Living up to the hype and brushing it off like it’s no ones business, Sinner didn’t put a foot wrong throughout the 2020 season. He’s got the height, serve, groundstrokes and most importantly the temperament to be a staple at the top of the game for many years to come. If you’re looking for a player to back longterm (like backing the Apple stock), then Sinner is your man.
Players to Watch in 2021:
Lorenzo Musetti: As mentioned in our opening, this one-handed Italian is only 18 and already ranked No. 127 in the world. His game is polished for a youngster and his grit on court is exactly what you want to see from a future prospect. His game will continue to evolve like the magazine covers that he will grace.
Brandon Nakashima: This 19-year-old American has seen his ranking jump from No. 355 at the beginning of the year to its current position of No. 166. What stands out about Brandon isn’t his forehand or athletic prowess but his acumen for the game. He’s very calculated in every move he makes on court and he reads his opponent’s very well. It’s only a matter of time before he breaks into the top 100 and takes it from there.
Alejandro Davidovich Fokina: Slightly older than Musetti and Nakashima at 21, Davidovich Fokina has just the right amount of salt and vinegar in his game to become a top 30 player. He seldom suffers a bad loss, and his ability to play week in and week out like a Thiem will serve him well as he looks to steady his ranking. Wins over Marin Cilic and Karen Khachanov earlier this year, also bode well for his future.
What’s your projected ATP top 10 rankings for 2021? Sound off in the comments below and let us know.