Has there even been a less well-known Top 10-caliber player than Nicolas Almagro? His unassuming personality can’t bear all the blame for that. He’s ranked No. 3 on the Spanish depth chart (behind two top fivers, No. 1 Rafael Nadal and No. 3 David Ferrer). He also went the entire year without picking up a title—for the first time since way back in 2005—despite having posted a solid 42-23 record.
When Almagro first cracked the Top 10 in May 2011, many pundits wondered if he wasn’t on the cusp of greatness. Although he’s only six-feet tall, he’s strong as a bull and can really load up when he fires his groundstrokes. His one-handed backhand is a thing of true beauty.
The 28-year-old from Murcia appears to suffer from two disadvantages. Given the kind of aggressive, power-based game he plays, he could really use an extra two or three inches of height. And when Almagro plays against the best players, he never seems to have the confidence and poise it takes to stare down and beat them. He is 1-9 against Top 10 players in 2013.
Ad-In: Successfully addressing his tendency to grow mentally weak against not just the very top players but many in his own class (like Stanislas Wawrinka, or Richard Gasquet) could easily propel Almagro back into the Top 10. And while he’s clearly most comfortable on clay, Almagro has the game to do better on hard courts.
Ad-Out: So far, Almagro has been pretty good at lording it over those ranked below him while fighting shy of the top players. Should some of his peers in the Top 25 decide to call his bluff, Almagro could find himself struggling mentally to maintain his superiority, with adverse effects on his game.
As we approach the new year, we'll take a closer look at what's in store for the past year's top performers. To read more of our 2014 Season Previews, click here.