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Dec 19

Five Tennis Players facing a big 2016

Marinko Matosevic was struggling to get much more than his serve in play (photo: SiRobi)

Marinko Matosevic was struggling to get much more than his serve in play in 2015 (photo: SiRobi)

As some rise into the top 100 – yes, we mean you, Inigo Cervantes – others, inevitably, disappear down the rankings on the ATP Tour.

The replenishing and renewal of tennis talent base is one of the sport’s fascinations, along with the unmerciful number cruching of the rankings computer. If you win matches, you make progress. Lose them, and no one is there to help.

It is also intriguing how some players can have a year, month, or even week, that they never even come close to replicating. Marin Cilic couldn’t be said to have had a bad 2015, but it would be hard to find anyone who would say he looked in the kind of form that took him to the US Open title the year before.

For some of this group, the decline is far, far worse. But for some, there are reasons for optimism.

MARINKO MATOSEVIC (Age 30, WR 296)

Perhaps it shouldn’t be completely surprising that one of the sport’s most volatile specimens on court had a year to match. Having dispensed with former coach Mark Woodforde at the end of 2014, he teamed up with Ashley Fisher. Among the things Marinko railed against was a lack of moral support.

The year began well enough. Matosevic, inside the top 100, picked up a first ever win at the Australian Open, beating Alexander Kudryavtsev, and things were OK until Indian Wells. Matosevic even took out John Isner at Delray Beach, the scene of his one ATP final.

Then came a virus, a stress fracture of the foot, and a back vertebrae issue. There were no more Tour wins, problems getting back in shape and the inevitable sapping of confidence and match rustiness exploring a comeback in Challengers late in the year.

Matosevic’s antics and attitudes from a previous age may not be entirely missed. But with Todd Woodbridge back in his corner and a partial resumption of his partnership with Woodforde he is making the right noises for 2016, though he has a lot of climbing to do. After making confident noises about winning the Australian wild card play off this month, he was beaten by James Duckworth.

ANDREY GOLUBEV (Age 28, WR 175)

Andrey Golubev is not sure what to do about Andrey Golubev

Andrey Golubev is not sure what to do about Andrey Golubev

What IS to be done with Andrey Golubev?

The dynamic, exciting, hitter who won the 2010 Hamburg title appears to have permanently become a thing that can only be accessed by You Tube.

The Kazakh chalked up just three wins on Tour in 2015, one of those against the 350th ranked Fabrice Martin and failed to get beyond the quarter-finals in Challenger play.

He also lost his role in Davis Cup singles play to Aleksandr Nedovyesov.

Golubev has split with his long time Italian coach Massimo Puci, who found him as a teenager, to move to the capital of his adopted nation, Astana. His new coach is his sometimes Davis Cup doubles partner, Yuri Schukin, another of the country’s acquired tennis sons. It’s not had a revitalising effect. Is it simply the curse on players who become Kazhak citizens and then move down the rankings, or something more.

ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ (Age 26, WR 141)

When Alejandro Gonzalez beat Fabio Fognini in the Australian Open in January, 2015 looked as if the year could offer consolidation in the top 100.

But his year tailed off after that on the ATP Tour, with just two more wins, over Facundo Bagnis, and a retirement by Sam Querrey. Gonzalez best performance of the year came in Davis Cup, as he upset Pablo Cuevas in Montevideo to help Colombia against Uruguay away from home.

His tour season ended with a thumping from Filip Krajinovic in the US Open, but one final on the Challenger circuit, and three more trips to the last quarter-finals. The battle for places from 75-120 or so always seems particularly testing, and this year may define if Gonzalez has that little extra in his game which will allow him to have an impact at 250 level. It’s not guaranteed.

MATIJA PECOTIC (Age 26, WR 206)

Matija Pecotic is on the way up thus far (photo: Princeton Tigers)

Matija Pecotic is on the way up thus far (photo: Princeton Tigers)

A left hander, who’s idol is Rafael Nadal, Matija Pecotic is looking to have an impact as a professional player after a successful US collegiate career with Princeton, and his ranking shot up in 2015, as he started to experience success in Futures.

It was a trip to Nigeria that really got things going, with back to back victories in two futures events, before making it three in a row when he beat Tennys Sandgren in the final of a third Futures event in Winston Salem.

A move to Challenger level started to yield some progress in the final months of the season in Asia, and was capped off by a run to the final of the Suzhou event in China, where he had to retire against Dudi Sela.

Pecotic’s season took in Europe, Africa, Asia and North America for the not so grand sum of $34,776, but a rich haul in ranking points and a rise of more than 300 places in the world rankings. His year was almost exclusively confined to hard courts.Perhaps a Croat who settled in Malta as a child is always likely to have a touch of wanderlust. .

He has a useful forehand which can end points, and an occasionally deft touch to go with the inherent benefits of a left hander’s serve. This is his year to grasp the chance to play regular Challenger tournaments, and the opportunity to make qualifying for the Grand Slams. That strong ending to 2015 should give him some confidence going into the Australian Open.

JAMES WARD (Age 28, WR 156)

James Ward had a quirky 2015 (photo: Carine06)

James Ward had a quirky 2015 (photo: Carine06)

In many ways, 2015 was the best year of James Ward’s career. A valuable part of Britain’s title winning Davis Cup squad (especially with his ability to defeat John Isner), Ward also broke into the top 100 for the first time in 2015. And yet, and yet…the Londoner’s form fell off abruptly during the year, and his place in the final was taken by Kyle Edmund, who also dislodged him as British number two in the rankings.

Despite a hit and miss first half of the year, Ward finally had a significant run at Wimbledon, reaching the third round with victories over Luca Vanni and Jiri Vesely, before a fairly epic five set defeat by Vasek Pospisil in the last 32. But then came an ugly run of 10 consecutive first round defeats, albeit against some capable opponents such as Aleksandr Dolgopolov and Hyeon Chung, before the nadir was hit in losing to 430 ranked Ilya Ivashka in a Challenger in St.Remy. That meant a psychologically damagng three months without winning a match from July to September.

Yet in October, Ward would be in the Challenger winner’s circle with success in Bangalore and following that up with a semi-final run a week later, plus two revenge wins over Ivashka, before the final part of the year was sacrificed for Davis Cup, by heading to South American to get some clay court practice for the Davis Cup final. That cost him points accumulated late in 2014 in a hectic global dash to try and hit the top 100.

With those fine wins against Isner, and the victories at Wimbledon, Ward has shown ability to win matches under significant pressure – it will be interesting to see if the experience of being a Davis Cup winner, and spending significant time with Andy Murray can push him back up the rankings, or prove to be a career high. Scheduling is also an interesting dilemma. Ward made a significant commitment to trying to qualify for ATP events for the first half of 2015, rather than opting for Challenger play. The dark arts of scheduling can often make all the difference. No doubt Davis Cup will remain a significant part of his plans for 2016. There is a title to defend, and Andy Murray’s continued presence cannot be guaranteed with a new family and the Olympics to pack into the usual schedule of Slams and Masters series events.

POSTSCRIPT

Wondering what happened to the five players picked this time last year with a defining 2015?

Poland’s Michal Przysiezny couldn’t get back close to the top 100 and didn’t win a match on the ATP Tour, but he ended the year by helping Poland into the Davis Cup World Group, so life wasn’t all bad.

Injury hit Irish number one James McGee, leaving his ranking virtually static (200 to 202)

Australia’s Matthew Ebden bounced back well from dropping into the 200s. He won 2 Challengers, qualified for 5 ATP events and made the second round at Wimbledon to end the year ranked 106.

British enigma Dan Evans had another injury hit year, but won a Davis Cup recall and a Challenger. That was good enough to get him back into the top 200.

But Egypt’s Mohamed Safwat was unable to step up from Futures success to having an impact on the Challenger Tour, going 2-9.

 

 

 

 

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