Welcome to the first edition of the Blacklabel Tennis Power Rankings. The idea's pretty simple, we'll tell you who the top ten players are RIGHT NOW every month, why they're hot, why they're cold and why you need to pay attention going forward. Agree? Disagree? Leave it in the comments.
Anyone want to take a wild guess who's at the top?
1. Novak Djokovic (SRB)
What's left to say? Australian Open champion, Wimbledon champion, World
No. 1 ranking, long term lease in the head of one, Rafael Nadal. The man who single-handedly destroyed the gluten industry. Oh, and one more thing, he's going into his favorite part of the year, the American hardcourt swing. Right now, only two things can derail Djokovic, injury or complacency. I don't think the latter is a possibility. There's still a lot he wants to win and his next order of business will be claiming that US Open trophy from a guy he's beaten five times in a row.
2. Rafael Nadal (ESP)
He may have lost five times in a row to Novak Djokovic, but he's still beating the tar out of everyone else. He's played a tour high 59 matches this year and is 51-3 against the non-Nole's. What's that mean? This guy is still playing at an extraordinarily high level and like Roger Federer before him, Nadal will wait for his moment to strike. The cloud on the Horizon? The New York Times is reporting that he has a hairline fracture in his foot which may take him out of competition until Cincinnati. A tough time to be on the sidelines for a guy who plays his best ball when he's match tough.
3. Juan Martín del Potro (ARG)
The wild card if ever there were one. After missing a year with a bum wrist, the 6'6" Argentine has not so quietly worked his way back up the ATP rankings. After finishing 2010 at No. 258, he's currently No. 19 in the world and healthy. The 2009 US Open champion has already won two titles this year, in Estoril and Delray Beach. His Grand Slam season has been quiet, in part because his he lost to Djokovic in Paris and Nadal at Wimbledon, but his time of the year is coming. His big, loose-limbed forehand has got a Davis Cup appointment before commencing his hardcourt season in earnest at the Farmer's Classic in LA.
4. Petra Kvitova (CZE)
Wimbledon Champion has a nice ring to it for the impressive Kvitova. After dismissing Maria Sharapova to win her fourth and by far largest title of the year, the question mark is how will she deal with the new demands of the press and sponsors. She's now ranked 7th in the world, but she's a proven winner, more than we can say for many of those ranked above her. A 6 footer with a big serve and a power game, she has the potential to have a breakout summer. Let's see how she handles the attention.
5. Andy Murray (GBR)
Andy Murray performed admirably this summer. After a year spent wandering in the wilderness of bad losses, Murray acquitted himself nicely with a clay and grasscourt campaign that earned him a title at Queen's Club and semifinal appearances at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. In a season where fellow 24-year-old Djokovic has lapped everyone, Murray's next move is figuring out to maximize his talent. The good news is that after a pressure-packed first half of the year, he can swing freely stateside away from the glare of the UK tabloid press. The question, can he use Novak's rise as motivation?
6. Roger Federer (SUI)
Nothing makes you look older than watching the young rival who supplanted you having the same thing happen to him. Things aren't dire for Federer, but considering he traditionally only makes his way to the US for the same big masters events that Djokovic and Nadal play, it's hard to imagine him gaining a lot of ground on his rivals this summer. Last year he won Cincy and made the finals in Canada. The problem is he's not the best hardcourt player anymore. He's certainly in the mix, but he's not on top anymore.
7. Maria Sharapova (RUS)
Really impressive turnaround for Maria. Last summer the tennis cognoscenti were writing her off, a victim of rotator cuff surgery, but still a future Hall of Famer. She has made a valiant comeback, working her way back into the Top 5 for the first time since 2008 when she was briefly the World No. 1. The switch to Thomas Hogstedt as her coach and the support of her fiancé Sasha Vujacic seems to have re-energized the Russian's game. If she can combine a more consistent second serve, maybe a Sam Stosur-esque kick, with her improved defensive skills, she could go all the way again in New York.
8. Victoria Azarenka (BLR)
Everyone seems to have expected more from Azarenka by now, a No. 1 ranking, a grand slam title. It's understandable, she's got the goods. Big serve, big game, quasi-coital shreak and the looks to keep it from being disconcerting. The fact is that Azarenka is improving. She's won two titles this year, including matching her biggest result in Miami. She's a few ill-timed Vera Zvonareva teardrops away from a career-high No. 3 in the WTA rankings and posted career best results at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. She's in the ascendancy.
9. Mardy Fish (USA)
Let's be honest, the real reason it's such a travesty that the US doesn't have more top players is because we have so many tournaments. The US Open Series is basically free wild card season for lower ranked Americans. It's a great chance to boost your bank balance and world ranking against fields usually devoid of the top European players. That's why Fish is No. 9 here, already World No. 8, he's got an opportunity to bank a treasure trove of points against lesser competition in his own backyard. This isn't lost on Fish, he's currently scheduled to play Davis Cup, Atlanta, LA, Washington, DC, Montreal, Cincinnati AND Winston-Salem before the Open. Points hoarding, smart man.
10. Serena Williams (USA)
To paraphrase Robbie Williams, "We love you Caro, but baby, she's Serena/and when she's healthy, there's no chance you will beat her." Yeah, her ranking is in the loo as the Brits would say, but she lost in the fourth round of Wimbledon to Marion Bartoli. That's not a bad loss for a healthy Serena. She's also playing some World Tour Tennis to get her game back in order in a no-pressure situation. I think this might be Serena's last come back, but if we've earned anything about Serena, she won't go quietly.
Keep An Eye On:
Not power brokers yet, but five names to keep on your radar as you're watching tennis this month.
1. Milos Raonic (CAN) - If the big Canadian is healthy, he can make a run this summer on the friendly North American hardcourts.
2. Ryan Harrison (USA) - After a strong showing at Wimbledon, we predict a number of wild cards and deep runs for the 19 year old future of American tennis.
3. Christina McHale (USA) - Another young American with a strong Wimbledon in the books, look for wild cards. If the draw opens up, she can stand toe-to-toe with anyone.
4. Dmitry Tursunov (RUS) - The Russian comedian/tennis player with the big forehand is back in the Top 50 after his s'Hertogenbosch title and usually plays a significant US schedule.
5. Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA) - The top-ranked American woman, World No. 31 had a tough Wimbledon, but she's got a chance to get some home cooking, refresh her wardrobe and make a strong run on the American hardcourts.