We aren’t that much more than half way through the calendar year, but with 3 of the year’s Grand Slams now complete, it almost feels like the tennis season is three-quarters done. Not so for everyone, for two reasons. With the Olympics congesting the calendar, this fortnight or so has offered lower ranked players a chance to cause a little carnage in the smaller events – and some will welcome the indoor season.
But for some, the moment of truth is arriving, that awkward moment where last season’s form has to be found from down the back of the sofa, or several hours of hitting, otherwise a rapid descent down the rankings is inevitable.
It should come as no surprise that Alex Bogomolov Jr and Donald Young look particularly vulnerable. Both have matches with wild cards in Atlanta in Round One (at time of writing) in Jack Sock and Steve Johnson, and some wins are needed. 2012 has offered little for Bogomolov after his endearing rise from journeyman status and more controversial move to represent Russia, rather than the USA. That backfired as he lost both live singles rubbers to Jurgen Melzer and Andreas Haider-Maurer to see Russia defeated in a very winnable a home tie with Austria. Of the 830 points he has over the past year, 630 must be replaced by the end of the year, including making the last 16 in Cincinnatti and the third round of the US Open. For a man with two victories since March, a crash seems inevitable.
The situation for USTA cussin’, parentally coached Donald Young is every bit as bleak. His record for the year is 2-16 (step forward his victims Peter Gojowczyk and another next big thing, Grigor Dimitrov) and he hasn’t won since giant lizards roamed the earth (around the time of the Memphis indoors). By the end of the year Young could do with matching his run to the last 16 of the US Open, reaching the final in Bangkok and semis in Washington. He may be forced to do some serious re-assesment of his entire career as things stand. Having had some success working with Mike Sell of the USTA, the words “tact and diplomacy” and the Young family may collide. The expectations might have always been unrealistic for perhaps the most touted junior number one, but this is beyond slump territory. For number crunchers out there, Young has 665 of his 785 points to come off by season end. If things go nuclear, and he doesn’t win another match he would be somewhere in the 350’s.
Finally to, Portugal’s Rui Machado, nominated in the past as our least deserving top 100 player, He now has to repeat his Challenger purple patch of 2011, with more than 400 out of his 561 points on the line. Machado’s one tour win this year was at home against Estoril, against lower ranked compatriot Pedro Sousa.
FEELING MUCH LESS DEFENSIVE
Among all the doom, gloom and fear, does of course lie opportunity, hope and excitement for others in the opposite situation, with little to defend and only opportunity awaiting. The lord of the comeback, Brian Baker, is clearly in the best position of all, but there are two others who might be in a position to make a real run at the top 100.
Andrey Kuznetsov (currently 121), the former Wimbledon junior champion, is in a reasonable place to make a move. He’s showing signs of improvement, most notably in his tussle with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the French Open. His biggest clutch of points to defend come from winning a futures title, and he has qualified for the last two Slams. If he can show some signs of solid progress, qualify for the US Open and even go deep in some Challengers, he could crack the elite level at the age of 21.
Victor Hanescu has no points to defend whatsoever, and the experienced Romanian is in a great position to finish the year in the top 100 for a 6th year in a row.
Finally, things could continue on an upward curve too for the Belgian Ruben Bemelmans. He has nothing more than a clutch of Challenger quarter-finals from the latter part of 2012, and one good ATP run or a round at the US Open might yet propel him upwards.
A fan of low slice and grass courts, he may have to wait until the indoor season to make his late dash for the top 100, in the hope there are one or two quicker surfaces that his game can exploit. He made his ATP Tour debut on the Far East swing, and it could be a kind draw or two there that presents his best opportunity.