Early-season ATP winners and losers
Before the clay-court season heats up, Beyond The Baseline is taking stock of the year in tennis so far. Here's a look at the ATP Tour winners and losers from the first three months. Click here for the WTA Tour breakdown.
Stanislas Wawrinka: Wawrinka failed the best he's ever failed -- and, really, better than we ever thought he would fail -- at the Australian Open, where he won his first major title and became the first player to beat Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in a Grand Slam tournament. His vengeful 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 9-7 victory over Djokovic, the three-time defending champion, in the quarterfinals was his signature win of the season and left no doubt that Wawrinka can continue to be a force on tour as long as he stays healthy and motivated. (The 29-year-old Swiss hasn't been at his best since Melbourne, though.) Wawrinka also won the season-opening Chennai Open, climbed to No. 3 to supplant Roger Federer as the Swiss No. 1 and teamed with Federer to lead Switzerland into the Davis Cup semifinals for the first time in 11 years.
Novak Djokovic: The Serb completed the Indian Wells/Miami double for the second time -- Federer is the only other player to accomplish the feat -- and his two losses, against Wawrinka in Melbourne and Federer in the semifinals of the Dubai Championships, were to the eventual champions. Most emphatic was his 6-3, 6-3 dismantling of the top-ranked Nadal in the Sony Open final, which enabled him to cut further into the Spaniard's rankings lead. (Djokovic has sliced a 4,000-point deficit to 2,050.) Djokovic has recovered nicely from a rare loss at the Australian Open, and he's 16-2 this year after finishing last season on a 24-match winning streak.
Rafael Nadal: Who knows what would have happened if Nadal hadn't tweaked his back before facing Wawrinka at the Australian Open? Still, the Spaniard's run to the final was nothing to shrug at, as he overcame inspired efforts from Kei Nishikori and Grigor Dimitrov and dismissed Federer (again) in the semifinals. He won the Qatar Open and Rio Open, and his only significant blip early in the spring was a third-round loss to an in-form Alexandr Dolgopolov at the BNP Paribas Open.
Roger Federer: Federer has undoubtedly improved from last season: After changing rackets and coaches, he's hitting the ball better, serving well and -- thanks in part to better health -- feeling confident again. He beat Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to make the Australian Open semifinals, defeated Djokovic en route to the Dubai title and reached the Indian Wells final without dropping a set. The 32-year-old wasn't able to close out Kei Nishikori in the Sony Open quarterfinals, but he's still 24-4 and has rejoined the top four. And, like Wawrinka, he gets major props for his Davis Cup commitment this season.
Tomas Berdych: His 20-4 start has included a career-best semifinal run at the Australian Open and his first title in 16 months, at the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament. The 28-year-old Czech has moved up two spots, to No. 5, matching a career high.
Alexandr Dolgopolov: Outside of the headline-grabbing names, Dolgopolov is my MVP of the first part of the season. He started at No. 57 and is up to No. 22, the highest jump of anyone in the top 50, thanks to a runner-up finish at the Rio Open, semifinal appearances at the Mexican Open and BNP Paribas Open and quarterfinal result at the Sony Open. The 25-year-old from Ukraine has upset Nadal and Wawrinka on hard courts and defeated David Ferrer and Fabio Fognini on clay. Known for his exciting, if erratic style of play, that consistent success is new from Dolgopolov.
Marin Cilic: Cilic was on the verge of breaking into the top 10 when he was suspended for a doping violation last season, and he started 2014 with renewed fire to get right back up there. He made three straight finals after the Australian Open, winning the Zagreb Open and Delray Beach Open, but wasn't much of a factor at Indian Wells (fourth-round loss to Djokovic after playing an outstanding first set) or Miami (opening-round loss to Edouard Roger-Vasselin). Still, he's hitting the ball very big and clean, and his aggressiveness is paying off under coach Goran Ivanisevic.
Kei Nishikori: His withdrawal from the Miami semifinals because of a groin injury was another reminder of his struggles to withstand the tour grind for a full season. Otherwise, though, Nishikori has quietly excelled. He played high-level tennis in challenging Nadal in the Australian Open round of 16, defended his title in Memphis, saved four match points to outlast Ferrer 11-9 in the third-set tiebreaker in the fourth round of Miami and followed that victory a day later by rallying from a break down twice in the decisive third set to stun Federer.
Grigor Dimitrov: It's all coming together for Dimitrov, who is now offering plenty of substance to go with the style. The 22-year-old Bulgarian has gotten stronger mentally and physically since hiring coach Roger Rasheed in October. Both qualities were on display when he made his first Slam quarterfinal (finally!), at the Australian Open, and pushed Nadal in a four-set loss, and then again when he won consecutive three-set matches against Ernests Gulbis, Murray and Kevin Anderson on his way to the Mexican Open title. He's up to a career-high 15th.
Fabio Fognini: Dangerous when he cares to be, the 26-year-old Italian has emerged as one of the top clay-court players in the game. He's 14-2 on the surface this year -- including a title at the Royal Guard Open and a 4-0 record in Davis Cup singles -- after going 28-10 with two titles last season. Fognini carried Italy past Argentina in the first round of Davis Cup and delivered a must-have victory over Murray last week to help send Italy to the semifinals for the first time in 16 years. Oh, and he helped "coach" Flavia Pennetta to the biggest title of her career.
Davis Cup: Djokovic and Nadal are sitting out, but Davis Cup got a nice injection of energy this year with commitments from Federer and Murray. The competition needs big names in the mix. Great Britain surprised the U.S. on clay at Petco Park, and the Swiss continued the intrigue last week when Federer and Wawrinka rallied from 1-2 down to beat Kazakhstan. With four top teams into the semifinals -- Switzerland vs. Italy and the Czech Republic vs. France -- the rest of the competition should be great.
American men: Let's get this out of the way: It's unfair to lump John Isner into this group, given that he's overcome an ankle injury to win the Heineken Open, advance to the Indian Wells semifinals and return to the top 10. But Isner is a rare bright spot for the Americans. Sam Querrey is 6-10, he has tumbled to No. 82 and he has been displaced as the No. 2 American by 65th-ranked Bradley Klahn, a star on the Challenger circuit who has three career ATP Tour victories. (Steve Johnson is the No. 3 American, at 69th.) Jack Sock, Donald Young and Ryan Harrison are among a group of U.S. players hovering around No. 100. The woes continued when USTA coach Jose Higueras questioned the hunger of players in the men's program.
David Ferrer: Is this the season when Ferrer's heavy workload and grinding style finally take a toll? It's shaping up that way. The 32-year-old Spaniard, who began the year at No. 3, has fallen to No. 6, putting him outside the top five for the first time since June 2012. Five of his six losses have come to players ranked outside the top 20, and he's had to deal with a left-leg injury. As we turn to the clay season, just a friendly reminder that he has French Open final points to defend.
Juan Martin del Potro: The 25-year-old Argentine had a strong finish to 2013 and started this year by winning the Sydney International. But persistent pain in his left wrist finally led to surgery last month -- a devastating but familiar development for the 2009 U.S. Open champion, who missed most of 2010 after having surgery on his right wrist.
Andy Murray: Aside from an easy run to the Australian Open quarterfinals -- three of his first four opponents were ranked outside the top 100 -- Murray has had a rough go. That's understandable, given that he's returning from back surgery, but he's down to No. 8 and there's a very good possibility that he'll be seeded outside the top four when he defends his Wimbledon title in June.
The French: Setting aside Davis Cup, where have the best Frenchman been all year? France's lone top-10 player, No. 10 Richard Gasquet, hasn't done much to back up his fantastic 2013 season; his highlight was reaching the final of the Open Sud de France, where he lost to countryman Gael Monfils, who, after a fine start to 2014, is 1-3 in his last three tournaments. Tsonga, meanwhile, still hasn't beaten a top-10 player since the 2013 French Open, and he's lost in straight sets to Federer, Cilic, Ernests Gulbis, Berdych, Julien Benneteau and Murray.
Jerzy Janowicz: The 23-year-old Pole is only 8-8, including opening-round losses in Indian Wells and Miami. An offseason foot injury hasn't helped, but it's hard to believe that he lost to 17-year-old Borna Coric at home in Davis Cup. Correction: This post previously stated Stanislas Wawrinka is 32 years old. He is actually 29 years old.