ATP Report Card
Novak Djokovic: A-minus.
Again, we reiterate the rule -- which we'll deviate from later -- that it's a A-level year for anyone if they win a Slam. For his part, Djokovic had an up and down year on court, with three tough losses at the Slams, to Stan Wawrinka (9-7 in the fifth) at the Australian Open, to Rafael Nadal in the French Open final after winning the first set and to Kei Nishikori in the U.S. Open semifinals after blowing a lead. As for the highs, there was the Indian Wells and Miami titles in the spring, his continued ownership of the Italian Open and his post-U.S. Open dominance, where he won three out of four tournaments entered.
Mentally this was probably the toughest year of Djokovic's career. He was trying to overcome his blinking in tight moments of big matches, a new celebrity coach in Boris Becker and the life-changing matrimony and fatherhood off-court. But he finally came through at Wimbledon, besting Federer 6-7(7), 6-4, 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-4 to win his second Wimbledon title. He shed more than just tears as he hoisted the trophy aloft -- he also shed the weight of his own expectations and doubts. Then, with the No. 1 ranking on the line, he tore through the end of the season to finish the year on top.
Roger Federer: A.
Talk about a rebound. It's hard to even remember the Federer of 2013, who struggled in every aspect of the game and actually engendered a level of pity as he toiled through a terrible season. Armed with a healthy back and his new larger-framed Wilson racket, Federer returned to the level we're used to seeing from him. At 33-years-old he got himself back up to No. 2, won five titles including two ATP Masters 1000s, and came awfully close to winning his 18th major at Wimbledon, where he just couldn't get past Djokovic. Then there was the Davis Cup commitment, as he helped Switzerland bring back the Cup for the first time ever. The knocks on Federer's year are minor. Until the middle of the season he struggled mightily in finals, losing four of six in the first six months of the season. Then he was completely blind-sided by Marin Cilic in the U.S. Open semifinals. But all in all, you couldn't have asked for more from Federer this season.
Kei Nishikori: A-plus.
How good was Nishikori's season? He skipped four ATP Masters 1000s and still finished in the Top 5. In a year that saw the pioneering Li Na retire, Nishikori became the first Asian-born male to make a Slam final and finish in the top five. He also became the first Japanese player to win an ATP clay court title when he won the Barcelona Open. Of course, the story of Nishikori's season can't be divorced from his continuing fragility. He was leading Nadal in the Madrid Open final when he was forced to retire with a back injury. A few weeks earlier he beat Federer to make the Miami Open semifinals only to withdraw. Despite his injury woes, Nishikori proved to himself -- and to everyone else -- that he has the game to beat anyone on any given day.
Stan Wawrinka: A-plus.
Sure, it would have been great if Wawrinka could have been more consistent after winning his first Slam at the Australian Open in January. But when the dust finally settled, Wawrinka's 2014 season included his maiden major, wherein he beat both Djokovic and Nadal, his first ATP Masters 1000, wherein he beat Federer, and his instrumental role in winning the Davis Cup for the Swiss. Accomplishing just one of those goals would have been enough to earn him a top grade, but that he did all three was extraordinary.
Marin Cilic: A.
From a doping violation to Slam champion in a year, Cilic became the most surprising Slam winner since Gaston Gaudio won the 2004 French Open. And really, there's a strong argument that Cilic was still the bigger surprise given the stranglehold the ATP's Top 5 have had on major titles over the last 10 seasons. The Croat still hasn't done much outside of the Slams -- he's never made the semifinal of an ATP Masters 1000 -- and he was a non-factor for much of the year as he worked his way back under coach Goran Ivanisevic. But his run to the U.S. Open title was an incredibly memorable one with wins over Tomas Berdych, Federer, and Nishikori back-to-back-to-back without dropping a set.
Rafael Nadal: B-plus.
And now we deviate from the aforementioned rule about A-level Slam winners. Once again, Nadal brought down the hammer at Roland Garros, winning his historic ninth title at the tournament that might as well be named after him. But set aside those two weeks, Nadal's year loses all its shine in large part due to injuries. He looked compromised in the Australian Open final as he lost to Stan Wawrinka. He took a tight loss to Alexandr Dolgopolov at Indian Wells and was blitzed in the Miami final by Djokovic 6-3, 6-3. There were back-to-back quarterfinal losses on clay to David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro. And then, after winning the French Open, Nadal failed to make it past the quarterfinals for the rest of the year, losing to Dustin Brown, Nick Kyrgios, Martin Klizan, Feliciano Lopez and Borna Coric in the following tournaments. A wrist injury knocked him out of the summer hard courts and the U.S. Open and then appendicitis prematurely ended his season. He still finished at No. 3 with four titles, but this was a tough year.
Andy Murray: B-minus.
The highs: The French Open semifinals and winning three titles in five weeks at the end of the season to qualify for the World Tour Finals. The lows: Pretty much everything else. Murray was a ship lost at sea for most of the season, but there was context: Ivan Lendl abandoned him, he was coming off back surgery and he was also coming off the greatest season of his career which saw him finally win the Wimbledon title. A period of adjustment was expected. But the Brit was a non-factor this season and some of his biggest headlines included his appointment of Amelie Mauresmo as his coach.
Tomas Berdych: B.
Berdych played another reliable Top 10 season, making the Australian semifinals, two more Slam quarterfinals and ending the season with two titles. But this felt like another stalled year for the Czech. He gets an A-plus for his Twitter game, though.
Milos Raonic: B-plus.
Raonic has been the gold standard for the ATP's next generation over the last two years, but this year he was surpassed by Nishikori in the rankings and Dimitrov in star power. Raonic continued to plug away on the court and finally broke through at a major with a Wimbledon semifinals birth. He was also fairly consistent this season, making the quarterfinals or better at 13 of 20 events.
Grigor Dimitrov: B-plus.
It was another strong year from Dimitrov, who built on his end-of-season success in 2013 to play some mature and exciting tennis throughout the season. He won three titles, including a big one in Acapulco where he beat Murray in a gutsy match. He also made his first Slam semifinal at Wimbledon and worked his way to two ATP Masters 1000 semifinals -- all this while playing some of the most creative and exciting tennis on tour. He finished the season just outside the top ten at No. 11.
David Ferrer: C-minus.
Has the expiration date run on the 32-year-old Spaniard? He won just one title and slipped to No. 10, his lowest ranking since 2010. His season highlight came in Cincinnati, where he made the final and pushed Federer to three sets.
David Goffin: A-plus.
No matter how you slice it, what Goffin did over the second half of the season is nothing short of jaw-dropping. After losing to Murray in the first round of Wimbledon and dropping to No. 106, the Belgian went on a 25-match win streak, winning three consecutive challengers and then beating Dominic Thiem to win Kitzbühel and qualify for Winston-Salem before finally taking his first loss in over a month-and-a-half to Jerzy Janowicz. After the U.S. Open he went on another win-streak before losing to Federer in the Basel final. All that work meant that in the span of four months, Goffin went from No. 106 to No. 22.
Generation Next: A.
We've been waiting for the under-25 generation to make some noise and they finally started to bang the drum in 2014. From Nishikori, Raonic and Dimitrov, all the way down to 19-year-old Kyrgios and 20-year-old Thiem, this was the year of the youth in revolt.
Bernard Tomic: D.
Remember when Tomic won the title in Bogota and it felt like a really big deal and a signal of a turnaround? Tomic started the season at No. 51, finished at No. 56 and didn't do a whole lot of anything in 2014. Much of that is due to undergoing hip surgery after the Australian Open, where he was forced to retire against Rafael Nadal and feel the wrath of an angry Australian crowd. There was also the worst match of the season, his 28-minute loss to Jarko Niemenin in Miami, which set a record for the shortest ATP match ever recorded.
Generation Next: A.
We've been waiting for the under 25 generation to make some noise and they finally started to bang the drum in 2014. From Nishikori, Raonic and Dimitrov all the way down to 19-year-old Kyrgios and 20-year-old Dominic Thiem, this was the year of the youth in revolt.
Fabio Fognini: F.
His antics were, for a time, amusing. Now they're just a scourge on the sport and make a mockery of the ATP's disciplinary arm. The clownish behavior got old very quickly.
Gael Monfils: B-plus.
He checked in and out throughout the season, but some of the year's best moments came with him on the court and he finished back in the top 20. His best match came in the Davis Cup final, where he handed Federer his heaviest loss in his history in the competition, and his "best" loss came against Federer at the U.S. Open, where he played scintillating tennis to come within a point (twice!) of scoring the win. Against the game's best he elevated his level, putting forth some entertaining encounters against Djokovic, Nadal and Dimitrov. We're not going to completely ignore his French Open, where he played two frustrating five-setters against Fognini and Murray, but for now, let's just let Gael be Gael. This was a good year for him.
American men's tennis: C-plus.
It was a better season from the American men, led by John Isner and Steve Johnson. Isner remained a Top 20 player, though he slipped to No. 19. He said it himself: he didn't have the breakthrough he wanted but he's putting himself in positions to do so. As for Johnson, his season went under the radar but he started the season ranked No. 160 and finished at No. 37, an incredibly workmanlike climb that saw him finally transition away from his highly-successful college career and unlock his potential as a professional. Sam Querrey and Jack Sock also climbed the rankings, with Sock winning the doubles at Wimbledon with Vasek Pospisil. But in the end, the U.S. finished with just five men in the Top 100 (Isner, Johnson, Querrey, Sock and Young), down from seven in 2013.
Ernests Gulbis: B.
Better consistency from Gulbis this season, who finished at No. 13. He disappeared after beating Federer to make the French Open quarterfinals, but his first half of the season was a strong one. He made the quarterfinals or better at nine of his first 13 tournaments.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: B-minus.
Yes, there was that electric run to the title in Toronto, in which he beat Dimitrov, Murray, Djokovic and Federer to win the title. But he failed to follow it up in any way and his whole Davis Cup Final weekend was an embarrassment. At 29-years-old, the clock is ticking on the Frenchman to deliver on his talent.
Spanish tennis: C-plus.
It was not the greatest year the Spanish men have seen. Nadal continued his Roland Garros dominance. Felic