With tennis largely shutting up shop for the year (although the Futures circuit really is in perpetual motion) it’s time to look at five figures in the tennis world who have done something worth mentioning, be it for year long work or, on occasion, just a glorious one off.
2015 saw some themes continue, with a mature looking top 100 despite plenty of movement, especially in the lower regions, Most of the super elite, though, stayed where they are, leaving the Foot Soldiers ploughing the more traditional furrows in pursuit of ATP 250 titles, Challenger points and making sure that they can, in some sense, make tennis pay.
So here are five people who made some sort of impact, or achieved long held career goals, or frankly, did something a little out of the ordinary to catch the eye.
DANIEL MUNOZ-DE LA NAVA
If you want one example of the ageing profile of the sport, and patience taking a long, long, time to bring rewards, look at Daniel Munoz-De La Nava.
The Spaniard made the top 100 this year for the first time at the age off 33 when he reached the Manerbio Challenger final and he’ll be 34 by the time January’s Australian Open is over.
Munoz-De La Nava has hinted at success in the past with two quarter-finals at Estoril and Delray Beach after coming through qualifying. while he has been within touching distance of a top 100 place before, but this year he breasted the line in some style with three Challenger titles – and that could easily have been four as he had match points in the Challenger Tour finals against Inigo Cervantes. only to be beaten in a final set tie-break.
The left-hander has overcome long standing knee problems after a car accident to get to this new level, and he chould give a few players trouble on tour this year as he works them over with his cross court backhand.
With Munoz-De La Nava reaching just one of his seven finals of 2015 before June, he’s in a good position to remain in the top 100 for the clay court season and see if he can chalk up some wins on the Tour, before decisions have to be made about whether or not to go back to the Challenger circuit to defend the points accrued.
An ATP Tour year isn’t really complete without an unlikely finalist during the season and Luca Vanni played that role on the speedy indoor clay of Sao Paulo
The Italian only really went on a flurry of futures success last year, and did well enough just to qualify for the 250 event in beating Daniel Gimeno-Traver and Rogerio Dutra Da Silva.
A lucky break helped, in that he was moved into a first round bye after the withdrawal of top seed Feliciano Lopez, but Vanni went on to beat Thiemo De Bakker, Dusan Lajovic and Joao Sousa before coming up against one of the world’s finer clay courters in Pablo Cuevas in the final, and he served for the match before eventually being subdued.
Vanni also managed to back up his unlikely run, by beating Bernard Tomic in Madrid and making Roland Garros, while being supremely consistent on the Challenger circuit for the last part of the year, in reaching the quarter-finals or better of his last five Challenger events.
It helped show his ranking just outside the top 100 was no fluke at the age of 30.
The Golden Swing looks important to his chances of maintaining such a healthy position in 2016.
Rajeev Ram makes this year’s list for two reasons. The first is simply for continuing to provide serve/volley tennis in an age of sluggish courts which mitigate against his specialist brand of tennis. Adding some colour to the monochrome is a welcome part of the calendar.
The second is his mastery of the deliciously fast grass of Newport to land the title for the second time in his career. Ram first won the Hall of Fame Championships in 2009 after his run through the event as a lucky loser. This time a ranking of 161 was just enough to get him into the main draw, but his pathway was very testing.
Ram put out top seed John Isner in the first round, then beat Adrian Mannarino in the quarter-finals, before seeing off arguably the biggest server of them all, Ivo Karlovic, in the final.
The American didn’t do a huge amount for the rest of the year, other than thumping Ryan Harrison in the first round of the US Open, and using the altitude in Guadalajara to land the Challenger in Mexico, but it was enough to secure another finish in the top 100.
Not only does Ram play entertaining tennis, but he also gives back to the sport with his foundation, Entouraj for Kids, which offers opportunities for youngsters to get into the game in his home state of Indiana.
Indiana wants him, and he can go back there.
When Britain’s first female Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had just been elected, she quoted St.Francis of Assisi on the steps of Downing Street, saying “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony.”
Thankfully, it is way out of the remit of this blog discuss whether or not that was achieved during her tenure.
But that was what faced Conchita Martinez in trying to patch up the Spanish Davis Cup team that had been left deeply fractured by the appointment of Gala Leon.
While some did seem to fundamentally resent a female captain of a men’s team, it seemed even those who were considering playing were left confused by a terrible lack of communication (as discussed with Inigo Cervantes during Wimbledon), and there was some cynicism about whether or not Leon’s appointment was a political one, rather than being the best candidate.
Drafted in just a couple of weeks before the tie with Russia, Martinez was able to quickly rustle up Tommy Robredo and Pablo Andujar to play in Vlaidivostok in their Euro African Zone tie, hopefully showing that women can gain wide spread respect from men (other than Andy Murray) at the top of the game
You also probably have to look at Robredo and Andjuar for blowing the reverse singles against Evgeny Donskoy and Andrey Rublev, rather than their captain, for the defeat from 2-0 up.
At last, something you can associate with Moldovan tennis, other than that book
Radu Albot keeps achieving things in the sport that have are beyond his other three and a half million compatriots, jammed in between Romania and Ukraine.
In 2013, he was the first Moldovan to win a Challenger, and last year, the first to play in a Grand Slam, after making the US Open main draw. T
This year, it was cracking the top 100, although he ran out of steam a little at the end of the year – as well as winning an ATP Tour title, when he teamed up with Dusan Lajovic to win the Istanbul doubles final, knocking off the hugely experienced pair of Jurgen Melzer and Robert Lindstedt in the final.
He also picked up the best singles win over his career in beating Viktor Troicki Kuala Lumpur.
The comparison with David Ferrer looms large in that Albot is slight of stature but high on energy and he even gave his namesake a good match for two sets in the US Open, winning the first before going down 4-6 7-5 6-1 6-0.
As Albot’s career has progressed, the assumption is his general lack of size will mean his ranking hits a glass ceiling. Each year, he keeps nudging those expectations a little higher.