Andy Schooler looks ahead to 2022, picking out five players to watch on the ATP Tour over the next 12 months.
You can check out his WTA preview here.
This talented Norwegian smashed his way into the ATP Finals and the year-end top eight in 2021.
Many will suggest he struggles to replicate that in the forthcoming 12 months but I’ve seen enough to believe he can climb higher still.
Always a strong player on his natural clay, Ruud made two Masters 1000 semis on the surface in 2021 and became the first man in a decade to win three titles in as many weeks on the ATP Tour.
He remains a player I’d expect to go deep at the French Open at some point in the future, potentially this year, particularly if Roland Garros legend Rafael Nadal isn’t able to return to his best form.
But it was the 2021 improvement of Ruud on hardcourts that suggests to me there’s still more to come from the 22-year-old.
He won in San Diego, made the quarter-finals in Cincinnati and the last 16 of the Australian Open on hard before finishing the year with a semi-final showing at those ATP Finals.
It is the sort of transition that reminds me of how Dominic Thiem went from excellent clay courter to one of the world’s very best players a few years ago.
Boasting an under-rated serve, Ruud was in the top 10 for service games won and second-serve points won across the season just finished. Notably, he also improved to 12th place in the return games won category.
In short, I’d expect Ruud to be challenging for titles at many more events in the forthcoming season.
Alcaraz featured in this column 12 months ago and he certainly justified that selection, storming into the world’s top 40 having started the year outside the top 100.
Despite this, I have to admit the level of tennis he was playing come the end of the campaign surprised me – Alcaraz, coached by former world number one Juan Carlos Ferrero, is maturing at a remarkable rate.
And I certainly wouldn’t have had him down for finishing fourth in the return games won category – only Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Diego Schwartzman had better such records.
Don’t expect his rise to stall in 2022.
After beating world number three Stefanos Tsitsipas at the US Open, Alcaraz went on to reach the last eight only for injury to scupper his chances of further progress.
He’s now ranked high enough to be seeded at the Grand Slams and it would be no surprise to see a repeat run at one, if not more, of the next four majors.
Arguably his best chance will be on the clay of Roland Garros, his natural surface, on which he won his first ATP title in Umag in July.
However, like Ruud, his better-than-expected improvement on hardcourts is good reason to believe he’ll be inside the top 20, at least, this time next year.
America’s search for its next big tennis star has been a long one but it might just have struck gold in the shape of Jenson Brooksby.
The 21-year-old only played half of 2021 on the main tour, springing to prominence by reaching the Newport final. He followed that up with two further semi-final appearances, as well as a run to the last 16 of the US Open where he outplayed Novak Djokovic for more than a set.
Brooksby leaves it all out on the court, chasing down plenty of balls, and is a player who likes to play some unorthodox shots, starting with a double-handed sliced backhand. In short, he’s an entertainer and is sure to go down well with fans.
Expect results to match that game style.
Going 15-7 in your first half a season on the main tour, with six top-50 wins, is highly impressive and it’s already carried him into the world’s top 60.
I can see that ranking halving in 2022 with Brooksby likely to be particularly dangerous on the hardcourts in North America.
This Argentine was in record-breaking form on the second-tier Challenger Tour in 2021 and looks capable of making a successful transition to the main tour.
The 20-year-old became the youngest ever player to win six Challenger titles in the same season, while his 44 wins at that level were also a new record for players aged 20 and under.
His six titles all came on clay but his form was good enough to qualify for the season-ending NextGen ATP Finals, played on indoor hardcourts. In Milan, Baez produced a highly-impressive level given his previous lack of experience of the conditions – he had never played a professional indoor hardcourt match – as he made the semi-finals.
That bodes well for 2022 during which his ranking – now at double figures having been north of 300 12 months ago – means he’ll be able to play in many events on different surfaces at the main-tour level.
The drive appears to be there, Baez said last month: “I want to have the greatness that the best players in the world have. I know I can still improve. My ceiling is high and every day I want to be better than the day before.”
In betting terms, Baez could well offer some value in the smaller claycourt events, especially during the South American ‘Golden Swing’ in the first quarter of the season.
The Davis Cup has a track record for providing a springboard to greater success – at the highest level, think Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, winners in 2010 and 2015 respectively and year-end world number ones 12 months later.
Having guided Russia to the famous trophy earlier this month, perhaps Daniil Medvedev can follow suit in 2022. However, there were other performances in this year’s Davis Cup which hint at greater things to come.
Borna Gojo is the obvious one. He played a huge role in Croatia’s surprise run to the final, the world number 281 raising his game to deliver three top-70 wins.
He may well go on to enjoy a strong 2022 but it is Machac who I’m picking out as a low-ranked player to watch.
The 21-year-old ends 2021 as the world number 143 but he showed his potential for much more at those Davis Cup Finals where he beat both Briton Dan Evans and France’s Richard Gasquet only for his Czech Republic side to bow out in the group stage.
Possessing a strong serve and a willingness to come forward, Machac was a winner on the Challenger Tour indoors in Nur-Sultan in 2021 but he also made a final on clay, proving he’s no surface specialist.
It’s a big ask to be making huge leaps in 2022 but I believe he’s capable of cracking the top 100 in the first half of 2022 and from there, who knows?