As the ATP Tour shuts up shop for a few brief hours before resuming, it’s time for annual look at the Kings of Qualifying, the players who have come through in the echoing, empty courts of the indoor season to join to become part of the main draw.
One man alone leads the way, in an unexpected but hugely impressive revival in 2016. Step forward Mischa Zverev.
The German was the only player to hit double figures, qualifying for 10 different events, the last two of which produced some particulary notable results – there was a trip to the last eight of the Shanghai Masters, where he took Novak Djokovic to three sets, and a defeat of Stan Wawrinka in Basel on a run to the last four.
It was a thoroughly unexpected renaissance for Zverev, who has had wrist, knee, back and rib injuries to contend with in recent years – a reminder of the physical toll that comes with the relentless grind of the ATP circuit.
With Zverev Sr now on the brink of the top 50, he can look forward to not being in the position to have to retain his title in 2017, while his attacking style is also a welcome thing to see on the circuit.
The joint-runners up this year are an interesting pair.
Former top 10 man Radek Stepanek turns 38 before November is out. He came through qualifying nine times, including at Roland Garros, where he had a two sets to love lead over Andy Murray in Round One – while he also knocked off a win over Marin Cilic during the year. It compensated for a frustrating year in doubles, where things fell away after reaching the Australian Open final with Daniel Nestor.
Hopefully Stepanek will bring his joie de vivre to 2017.
10 – Mischa Zverev
9 – Ryan Harrison, Radek Stepanek
6 – Radu Albot, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Stephane Robert
5 – Benjamin Becker, Jared Donaldson, Jozef Kovalik, Daniil Medvedev, Yoshihito Nishioka, Dennis Nokivov, Jan-Lennard Struff
4 – Nikoloz Basilashvili, Kenny De Schepper, Kyle Edmund, Thomas Fabbiano, Taylor Fritz, Vincent Millot, Renzo Olivo, Franco Skugor, Tim Smyczek
10 – Mischa Zverev
American Ryan Harrison was the other player to qualify for nine events. As a historic poster boy for US wild card awards, it’s now interesting to see him doing it the hard way, as those wild cards now head to younger and more fashionable names.
Those nine qualifying successes helped Harrison drag his way back into the year end top 100, which had become unfamiliar territory. He’s the one man you can also guarantee to be hard at work in Acapulco.
There’s a significant gap below Harrison to the next three players, all who qualified six times. Pierre-Hugues Herbert‘s record is of note, as they included one Grand Slam (the Australian Open) and five of the Masters Series events. All done while juggling time with his highly successful doubles partnership with Nicolas Mahut.
Radu Albot again battle against his lack of size and power to make six events, while Stephane Robert didn’t really have to concern himself with qualifying any further after the grass court season. Age is no barrier these days.
Among the 5 time qualifiers, Slovakia’s Jozef Kovalik broke through after starting the year outside the top 250, with the highlight a victory over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in Antwerp, the Americans Jared Donaldson and Dennis Novikov didn’t reply on the wildcard train and the 20-year old Russian Danill Medvedev certainly showed some occasionally raw potential amidst playing 96 singles matches during the year.