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The ATP has a “630” problem

Matt Zemek

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Geoff Burke -- USA TODAY Sports

Is the time 9 o’clock or 11 o’clock? It’s 10-ish… but the clock might strike midnight at 6:30. That collection of words seems like nonsense, so let me unpack it as it relates to the ATP.

Entering play on Thursday, this was the live ATP rankings list from No. 6 to No. 30:

6 – Kevin Anderson

Kei Nishikori, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Juan Martin del Potro

10 – John Isner

Marin Cilic, Karen Khachanov, Borna Coric, Daniil Medvedev

15 – Milos Raonic

Marco Cecchinato, Fabio Fognini, Nikoloz Basilashvili, Gael Monfils

20 – Denis Shapovalov

Roberto Bautista Agut, David Goffin, Kyle Edmund, Diego Schwartzman

25 – Alex de Minaur

Gilles Simon, Pablo Carreno Busta, Frances Tiafoe, Guido Pella

30 – Felix Auger-Aliassime

This is a group of 25 players. If you were to identify players who have had good seasons OR at least one semifinal at the Australian Open, Indian Wells, or Miami, this would be the list from that group of 25:

Tsitsipas, Isner, Medvedev, Raonic, Monfils, Shapovalov, Bautista Agut, Tiafoe, Pella, Auger-Aliassime.

That’s 10 out of 25.

Of those 10, which players have been consistently good on tour? “Consistently” is defined as having a good result in at least two of the three important tournaments played this year before Monte Carlo (Melbourne, Indian Wells, Miami).

Of those 10, the list would be: Raonic (Australian Open quarterfinal, Indian Wells semifinal), Bautista Agut (Australian Open quarterfinal, Miami quarterfinal), and Tiafoe (AO quarterfinal, Miami quarterfinal).

You could say Felix had a good Indian Wells, winning two matches, but in terms of making a deep run, he didn’t meet that standard.

Monfils and Medvedev have had generally good seasons, but they did not make semifinals in any of the three most important tournaments. Monfils was unlucky in that injuries forced him to withdraw from Indian Wells before his scheduled quarterfinal with Dominic Thiem. Both Monfils and Medvedev piled up wins and points in February more than March.

Tsitsipas had the brilliant Australian Open run and then two deep tournament runs in February. He didn’t achieve very much in March.

Ultimately, when I look at the No. 6 through 30 players in the ATP rankings entering Thursday in Monte Carlo, I see a very small number of players poised to be threats at big tournaments in 2019.

Anderson can be a threat IF healthy. Tsitsipas certainly rates as a contender. Isner might be a threat only at Wimbledon, and even then, he can’t be trusted to make a deep run there.

Coric is a threat. Raonic is a threat. Cecchinato on clay only.

If you define a “threat” as a player who can reach the quarterfinals, you could easily add Bautista Agut, Tiafoe, and Felix to this list, but if you are talking about players who can win big titles this year, I’m not sure I would include them just yet.

Let’s meet in the middle on RBA, Tiafoe and Felix: I can allow that they are capable of winning big tournaments in 2019, but if I concede that, I also have to say that they will need some “bracket help” from others, meaning that they will need the Big 3 plus Thiem and Alexander Zverev to be knocked off.

This leads me to a final point about the 2019 ATP season thus far: The three biggest tournaments — Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami — have had championship matches occupied by the Big 3 (4 spots, with Roger Federer making two appearances), Thiem (1 spot, at Indian Wells), and Isner (1 spot, in Miami).

Of the six other semifinal spots at these three tournaments, only Rafael Nadal (Australia, Indian Wells) returned to a semifinal a second time. Tsitsipas and Lucas Pouille (Australia), Raonic (IW), Shapo (Miami), and Felix (Miami) occupied the other five semifinal spots.

We know that Dominic Thiem’s best surface is clay. It should also be apparent that Zverev’s best surface is clay as well. Those two and the Big 3 (Federer the one possible exception) seem poised to control the clay season. Zverev and Thiem won’t get the benefit of the doubt at Wimbledon, but the Big 3 will surely be there. At the U.S. Open, all five players should be factors.

I ask the players ranked 6 to 30 on the ATP Tour heading into Thursday, April 18:

What will you do at the biggest tournaments this year? More precisely, how many semifinals at majors or Masters 1000s will you make?

Keep tabs on this question as the 2019 season continues. We will revisit this after Roland Garros.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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