Diego Schwartzman and Stefanos Tsitsipas aren’t telling the same story in Rome this week, but their different paths both illuminate a larger truth about the ATP Tour outside the top five: Substantial rankings-based gains are waiting to be made by anyone who can play consistently strong tennis for more than one or two tournaments.
Start with Schwartzman, whose fortunes changed abruptly in Italy this week:
Diego Schwartzman's clay season before this week: Monte Carlo R2 (Fritz) Barcelona R2 (Thiem), Munich R2 (Garin), Madrid R2 (Chardy). 14-12 overall in MDs this year. 30th in the race.
Today he reached his first M1000 semi. Always worth remembering how quickly form can change.
— Tumaini Carayol (@tumcarayol) May 17, 2019
The instructive point to make about Schwartzman is that he started the year at No. 17 and drifted through much of the calendar, as Tumaini Carayol’s tweet above shows… and yet will be at No. 20 on Monday if he loses to Novak Djokovic or Juan Martin del Potro in the Rome semifinals on Saturday. If he WINS that semifinal, he would vault up to No. 16. One Masters final would compensate for months of early exits at tournaments. Schwartzman’s place in the ATP rankings shows how much ground one can cover with a big result at an important, high-value tournament. The players outside the top 15 are bunched so closely together, with point totals below 2,000, that one huge result can change everything.
That is part of this story.
Then consider the related but different story being written by Stefanos Tsitsipas. who began 2019 in a spot similar to Schwartzman’s, but has followed a different path.
Tsitsipas started the year ranked No. 15, two spots ahead of Schwartzman. Stef has been able to record quality results in several different months. With his semifinal in Australia in January; his late February run in which he won a 250 in Marseille and made a 500 final in Dubai; and his May surge with an Estoril title, Madrid final, and Rome semifinal (possibly more if he can beat Rafael Nadal), Tsitsipas has risen to No. 6, possibly No. 5 if he beats Rafa.
Tsitsipas shows how much ground one can cover with sustained quality tennis.
Kevin Anderson has been injured nearly the whole year and is STILL in the top eight.
Juan Martin del Potro has not played a lot of tennis and is STILL in the top 10.
John Isner’s Wimbledon semifinal points will be on the line in several weeks, and Isner will need to defend those points to stay in the top 10, but for now, he is still there. As I have documented here at TWAA, players outside the top five but within the top 30 have not been able to stack together results. Tsitsipas is the notable exception. Schwartzman shows how much good even one tournament can do these days; imagine if more players could produce three strong tournaments in succession.
It could go a long way toward boosting rankings; improving major-tournament seedings; and ultimately changing the dynamic of a large chunk of a tennis season.
Opportunities are waiting to be claimed on the ATP Tour. Schwartzman claimed one opportunity in Rome. Tsitsipas has been claiming more opportunities than anyone else outside the top five in 2019.