Given the abundance of talent that commands our interest at or near the top of the ATP, it’s easy to overlook just how loaded the tour’s Top 50 is these days. To that end, let’s take a look at 10 players who failed to make the cut for London (excluding injured superheroes Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal), but still helped make this a great year in men's tennis.
No. 11 (+5 from his 2015 year-end ranking), 48-23, 0 titles
Goffin is on the short list for the top honor as a “thinking man’s tennis player.” This slight (5’11”), almost frail-looking (150 lbs.) Belgian astonished everyone by reaching the fourth round of the 2012 French Open as a lucky loser. He took a set off Federer then, too, despite looking more like a first-year ball boy than the rookie pro that he was.
Goffin has filled out some since then, and while he’s still short of power he has all the tools and knows how to use every one of them. He’s smooth, a joy to watch. Goffin didn’t win a title this year, but he’s something of a giant killer. At the Shanghai Masters, he posted wins over Juan Martin del Potro and Gael Monfils. His best result was a runner-up finish to Nick Kyrgios at the Japan Open.
No. 13 (+17), 39-15, 3 titles (Tokyo, Atlanta, Marseille)
When it comes to eye-catching entries in the bio of this 21-year-old from Canberra, it’s a dead heat between controversy and accomplishment. Consider this: After his breakthrough win at the ATP 500 event in Tokyo, it looked as if Kyrgios might qualify for the World Tour Finals. Then it all blew up in our collective faces, as Kyrgios tanked his second-round match in Shanghai and received a suspension that ended his year.
Kyrgios is undoubtedly a troubled—and troublesome—young man. Setting aside any psychological issues he may have (he has agreed to see a sports psychologist in order to have his original eight-week suspension reduced by the ATP) Kyrgios failed to live up to the hype that surrounds him at the major events of 2016. But he did break through to win his first ATP titles, one of them a prized 500-level event, and his ranking took a major jump even as he took flak for skipping the Olympic Games.
No. 14 (+11), 48-22, 2 titles (Sofia, Auckland)
It’s so easy to read that name, take in the Spanish nationality and just write Bautista Agut off as another dirtballer laboring in the shadow of Nadal and David Ferrer. But Bautista Agut’s game is much cleaner. This is no standard-issue clay-court expert; he’s worked hard to become a more aggressive risk-taker. It has paid off.
Bautista Agut has deft hands and quick reflexes, which helps explain why he’s been able to win four titles in his career on three different surfaces: grass, indoor hard courts and outdoor hard courts. His best result this year was a career-first ATP Masters 1000 final in Shanghai, where he upset Novak Djokovic in the semifinals before losing to Andy Murray.
No. 15 (+63), 33-21, 1 title (Metz)
Has anyone in recent memory taken greater strides with less fanfare than this 22-year-old Frenchman? The French have produced a dazzling variety of players for some years now, but scant few—Jo-Wilfried Tsonga comes to mind—with the kind of bread-and-butter power game that has served Pouille so well. He brought that game to bear with full force in one of the best matches of the U.S. Open, when he upset No. 5 seed Nadal in a five-set thriller.
Pouille’s year developed into a model of consistency after his first-round loss to Milos Raonic at the Australian Open. He was a quarterfinalist or better at seven events, including Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and held his own at Masters events. His highlight was winning in Metz, in his homeland.
No. 17 (+11), 38-25, 0 titles
Once hailed as a successor to Federer, the 25-year-old Bulgarian has struggled to live up to the hype. But he clawed his way back into the Top 20 with some terrific performances. He upset Murray at the Miami Masters and Stan Wawrinka at the Cincinnati Masters.
But Dimitrov, now 25, still has trouble sustaining his inspiration and/or consistency. Dimitrov’s resume makes you wonder if he wasn’t hurt by overexposure early in his career. He hasn’t won a tournament since 2014, but he was a three-time runner-up in 2016 (it Beijing, Sydney and Istanbul). It’s not too late for him to maximize his talent.
No. 20 (+3), 32-22, 2 titles (Los Cabos, Newport)
It may be hard to believe, but the ageless warrior known to his large fan base as “Dr. Ivo” didn’t win an ATP match in 2016 until the final week in April, in Istanbul. After that, though, the 37-year-old Croatian settled in and used that monstrous serve and rapier-like volley to good advantage on all but the slowest of courts.
The titles in Newport and Los Cabos were undoubtedly satisfying, but the highlight of his year may have occurred at the U.S. Open, where Karlovic whacked a record 61 aces in his first-round clash with No. 73 Yen-Hsun Lu. His best week occurred in Washington D.C., where he knocked off Bernard Tomic, Jack Sock and Steve Johnson before falling in the final to Monfils.
No. 23 (+3), 37-21, 0 titles
The jump of three places from his 2015 year-end ranking may not seem like much, but Sock won some big matches in 2016 and enjoyed an excellent second half. He also won two doubles medals at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games: a gold in mixed doubles with Bethanie Mattek-Sands and a bronze in doubles alongside Johnson.
At 24, Sock is a player who needs to find his niche in the game—Top 5, 10, 20, whatever it is. His results this year suggest that he may still produce a big breakthrough. Sock logged upsets of Dominic Thiem, Marin Cilic, Raonic, Richard Gasquet and Ferrer. His best result was a runner-up finish in Stockholm.
No. 24 (+59), 44-24, 1 title (St. Petersburg)
A 6’6”, 19-year-old from Hamburg, Germany, Zverev established himself as the gold standard among prodigies this year. While not as consistently successful as Kyrgios, Zverev’s level temperament, full focus on his career and penchant for stepping up on big occasions are all major pluses rather than question marks.
Zverev struck his most resounding blow this year in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he won the title over Wawrinka. Just as impressive, he then went to Beijing and hammered, in succession, No. 4 seed—and London final-eight qualifier—Thiem and Sock before dropping a tough quarterfinal to Ferrer. Undeterred, he went on to the Shanghai Masters and took down John Isner and Marin Cilic. This kid is on his way.
No. 38 (+1,004), 30-12, 1 title (Stockholm)
That’s no typo in his rankings jump. “Delpo” has returned to the elite of the game as if shot from a cannon following yet another surgery on his left wrist. Resolved not to expect too much or rush this latest comeback lest it be his last, Del Potro didn’t gain a lot of traction until the Olympic Games, where he emerged as the singles silver medalist.
Del Potro went straight from Rio to the U.S. Open, where he made the quarterfinals, and then avenged his gold-medal match loss to Murray with a Davis Cup win that helped put Argentina in the final. Not long thereafter, he capped his comeback with a title in Stockholm, achieved via wins over, among others, Isner, Karlovic, Dimitrov and Sock.
No. 41 (+61), 21-20, 0 titles
The much-anticipated “Murray effect” has begun to pay dividends in Great Britain, with Johanna Konta and Kyle Edmund acquitting themselves in very un-British-like tennis fashion. They are at the forefront of what fans are hoping will be a Murray-led explosion of successful, talented players from the United Kingdom. It’s certainly been a long time coming.
Edmund, just 21, started the year on the Challenger tour, but commanded attention when he made the quarterfinals in Doha via an upset of No. 43 Martin Klizan. He crafted noteworthy upsets of No. 13 Gasquet and No. 20 Isner at the U.S. Open, and then qualified for and won at least one main draw match in Beijing and at the Shanghai Masters. At the former, Edmund made the quarters with upsets of Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Bautista Agut.