On court, on the sofa or maybe the unknown: men’s tennis number one in 2022 will be a novelty
The scenario facing men’s tennis in the twilight of 2022 is as unusual as the season itself: the number one will be a teenager who can witness his achievement from his armchair at home, or a veteran who was on the brink of retirement.
But it could also be the unprecedented case of a tennis player who did not play in a Grand Slam final this year.
It is clear: 2022 is unique.
The ATP World Tour Finals, is full of special spices and in one way or another, it will end with a novelty.
“Money racquet chips, I have it all haha,” wrote Carlos Alcaraz at the age of 11, on his Instagram account @charly_tenista03 which he used until 2015. In the photo, his Babolat of the time, a 50 cent coin, a bag of potato chips, and a bag of cheesy souffles.
Today, add to that a Grand Slam and a couple of Masters 1000. There are also a few more euros in his pocket than what he used to show in a funny way in his childhood, enough to buy as many chips as he wants. And he also already can tell that he is the youngest number one in history.
But when it comes to rankings, finishing the year on top is far more important than just having tasted it for a certain number of weeks. It won’t be up to him, as an abdominal tear prevents him from playing. So, from his home in Murcia, Spain he will be rooting for Novak Djokovic, favourite in Turin, or anyone else who doesn’t threaten his reign.
The odds are on the US Open champion: the other two contenders for the number one spot have it pretty tough.
Rafael Nadal has already finished the year as world number one five times (2008, ’10, ’13, ’17 y ’19), and today he declares that he is no longer fighting for that position, but to be competitive in the events he plays: “I’ve been fighting to be number one for a long time and I’ve achieved it already. I’m very proud of that, but I’m in another time of my career now”. To close the season on top, he must either win the title or reach the final without defeat in the round robin and not lose to Stefanos Tsitsipas.
After becoming a father and spending time with his family, the Spaniard lands in Italy with little rhythm for a tournament he has never won and with sport conditions that are not his favourites: “I need more days on tour, more practice. That’s why the plan is to arrive early and enjoy the opportunity to play another Masters Tournament”.
He was the first to get to Turin to finish off a very Nadalesque season in which he ate half the cake by winning two out of four Slams, and also had to live with the rawness of his left foot ailments that almost pushed him to retire before Roger Federer.
He says that being number one doesn’t matter to him, but can you imagine a player like Nadal in a semi-final against Djokovic with that prize if he wins? Extra motivation that can never be too much.
In the Green Group he will have Casper Ruud who recently was asking him on social networks for a rematch of the Roland Garros finale, as a way to promote the exhibition tour that will be held in Latin America at the end of the month; Felix Auger-Aliassime who is advised by Toni Nadal who will not give advice to the Canadian to use against his nephew; and Taylor Fritz, who entered thanks to Alcaraz’ injury.
Only the Greek feat works for Tsitsipas
Tsitsipas is depending on himself. His consistency in 2022 puts him in a special position. He is the player who won the most matches in the year (60), and despite “only” having reached one Grand Slam semi-final, the Greek will finish at the top of the rankings if he emerges undefeated champion.
He would be the only player in history to finish the year at the top of the rankings without reaching a major final. The last one to finish the season without winning majors was John McEnroe in 1982. That year the American was Wimbledon’s runner up.
In the Red Group, Tsitsipas will have to beat Russians Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, and Djokovic. The Serb is the overwhelming favourite to become the Master for the sixth time in his career, and first time since 2015. He arrives physically and mentally fit at a time when most tennis players are exhausted.
The winner of 21 Grand Slams is the icon of a very rare year in tennis: because he was not vaccinated, he was unable to play the Australian Open, the US Open, and the four Masters 1000 in North America. He won a Wimbledon that did not give him any points, and even so, a great indoor swing allowed him to qualify directly to the Finals.
A special preview, for a special Masters, in a very special season. Alcaraz will watch the end of the film in the comfort of his home as he focuses on rehabilitating his left oblique muscle. Let’s see if anyone can take the number one spot away from him.
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