As part of my 2011 tennis review, I started yesterday with the players we did not expect seeing where they actually ended up. After reviewing the year of Alex Bogomolov Jr and Janko Tipsarevic, the second part will focus on Mardy Fish, Feliciano López and Radek Stepanek. Tomorrow will focus on two last players, even though I know I could go with a few more.
Mardy Fish: the triumph of consistency
When he interrupted his season to have an ankle surgery, in September 2009, I was among the many who thought that Mardy Fish would never achieve anything whatsoever in singles and should thus devote the rest of his career to doubles. However, the surgery has proven a wake-up call for the American, who dramatically improved his fitness and has known an amazing return in 2010, ending the year in the top 20, almost in the top 15, at its closing.
This year, he only built on his good run, but with a consistency that we have rarely seen from him before.
It isn’t new that Fish didn’t do all too good in Australia. Nevertheless, he revived once he got back on US soil, reaching the semi-finals in Memphis (l. Milos Raonic) and Delray Beach (l. Juan Martín Del Potro) and then again in Miami (l. Novak Djokovic) after a hiccup in Indian Wells (second-round loss to Milos Raonic, on a roll).
His good run in Miami, combined to the loss of form of Andy Roddick, ensured Fish to become the no 1 American player, not a small affair, as Roddick had been the best player from the United States for many years. By then, he had permitted himself to aim for a spot in the top 10, which he finally achieved by reaching the round of 16 at the Rome Masters 1000.
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After reaching the quarter-finals of Wimbledon (l. Rafael Nadal), which would be his best Grand Slam result of the year, he suffered two heartbreaking losses in the Davis Cup quarter-finals against Spain, as he was defeated in five tight sets by Feliciano López and in four even tighter sets in the fourth rubber by David Ferrer on the hard courts of Austin.
Heartbreaking as these defeats were, Fish did not let them deter him too long, as two Sundays later, he won his only tournament of the year in Atlanta (d. John Isner) and then went and reached the finals in Los Angeles (l. Ernests Gulbis) and Montreal (l. Novak Djokovic) before falling to Andy Murray in the semis of Cincinnati.
Fish reached the round of 16 at the US Open (l. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga) and started the Asian Swing well, losing to Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals of Tokyo, but lost in his first match at the Shanghai Masters 1000. Then came the hamstring issues, almost keeping him from qualifying to his very first ATP World Tour Finals when he was forced to withdraw after just three games in Basel (vs James Blake) and again at the beginning of the third set of his third-round in Paris (vs Juan Mónaco).
Mardy Fish took part for the first time in his career in the ATP World Tour Finals, but his injury made him questionable until the last minute. Despite having lost his three round robin matches, he still put up a good fight in all of them.
This year, Fish might only have won one tournament and have reached two other finals, but it’s his consistency throughout all the season that permitted him to reach his highest career ranking, at the age of 29 (Fish turned 30 last week). In 2012, I’m hoping that he’ll be as consistent, but also that he will do better during the Grand Slams.
Feliciano López: what a new coach can bring
The year started out pretty badly for Spaniard Feliciano López. A string of bad performances in the first month of the season ended up with him falling out of the top 40 after Johannesburg, where, as defending champion, he lost in the first round to Canadian Frank Dancevic.
In fact, his results were all but brilliant, save for a third round in Miami, until the ATP500 of Barcelona, where López reached the quarters (l. Ivan Dodig). Ironically, Feli is more known for being very good on fast surfaces, but his best performances during the first half of the season were on clay, where he also made the finals in Belgrade (l. Novak Djokovic) and the round-of-16 in Rome (l. Rafael Nadal).
Returning to the beloved grass of Wimbledon, he reached the quarter-finals, where he fell to Andy Murray, but not before taking out Andy Roddick in the third round and fighting a long five-setter to Lukasz Kubot in the round-of-16.
In July, López brought Alberto Berasategui on board, and what a nice move it was for the Spaniard! With him, little details were worked on and we then saw López returning more to his serve-and-volley style, with which he had so much success in the past, and with which he had a lot of success in the second half of this season, reaching the semi-finals in Shanghai (l. David Ferrer) and giving us one of the most entertaining match of the season when he defeated Michaël Llodra (another serve-and-volley player) in the first round of the Paris Masters 1000.
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With his good form at the end of the season, Feliciano López finished the year ranked no 20, where he hadn’t been since February 2005, all this at 30 years old. I’m really hoping that, in 2012, he will continue on this run and maintain this ranking for the most part of the year. His old-fashioned style of play is always a pleasure to watch.
Radek Stepanek: we had almost forgotten him
At now 33 years old, we can only talk about Radek Stepanek as a player in decline, which doesn’t mean that he can’t play really good matches. Another of the rare pure serve-and-volleyers left in the game, Stepanek has known a year full of ups and downs, but the ups are really worthy of mention and a nice bonus for one of the most sympathetic players on the ATP Tour.
2011 started with a semi-final in Brisbane (l. Robin Söderling), but we cannot say that the other tournaments were bad despite the very early losses, as Stepanek lost to players like John Isner (Australian Open, second round), Florian Mayer (Zagreb, second round), twice to Milos Raonic (in Memphis and Barcelona, second and first rounds), Juan Martín Del Potro (Indian Wells, first round), Roger Federer (Miami, first round), and Andy Murray (Monte Carlo, second round), before making yet another semi-final, in Munich, where he was forced to retire against Nikolay Davydenko (who ended up winning the tournament).
But it is really in Washington that Stepanek shone, as, at 32 and ranked 54th in the world, he defeated players like Fernando Verdasco in the quarters and Gaël Monfils in the finals to win his fifth career title and re-enter the top 30. Having to qualify for the Cincinnati Masters 1000, he still reached the third round, where he lost to the eventual runner-up, World no 1 Novak Djokovic.
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His season did not end too badly either, as he reached the quarter-finals in Tokyo (l. David Ferrer), the second round of Shanghai (l. Tomas Berdych) and the round-of-16 in Basel (l. Andy Roddick), among others.
Having started the year ranked 62nd in the world, he finished it no 28, which is a great performance for a veteran closer to the end of his career. Hopefully, next year, he will still bring some of his good ol’ style of play to the courts and amaze us with the craziness of his shots.
Coming up tomorrow
The end of the year of the resurgence, with the last two players on my list.