Paul Annacone says players see an opportunity at top of men's game

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Juan Martin del Potro and John Isner have both benefitted from the game's top pros being at less than 100 percent health. (AP)

Broadcaster and coach Paul Annacone says that with a lot of established champions on the sidelines, the next group of players have an opportunity to actually win Grand Slams and ATP Masters 1000s.

20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer will not play until the grass-court season, No. 1 Rafael Nadal just came back from an injury, Andy Murray is recovering from his hip surgery, Novak Djokovic has not won a round since having elbow surgery this year and Stan Wawrinka is also injured again. That leaves the door open for others to succeed.

“The four great guys at the top—you can throw Stan Wawrinka in there, too—have been so dominant in the majors and the Masters for so long,” Anncone told the Houston Chronicle.

 “If you have a couple of them who aren’t there, it creates opportunity. And now guys are starting to see that 'Father Time' is wrestling with Roger and Rafa a bit. So the players in the next tier are telling themselves, ‘Hey, we can get there. Now we don’t have to beat Roger, Novak and Rafa in the same tournament.’”

Match point from Isner's win over Del Potro in Miami: 

Annacone is in Houston at the U. S. Men’s Clay Court Championship, working with the young player Taylor Fritz. He also works with Tennis Channel.

Since 2004, those five players—Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray and Wawrinka—have won 48 Grand Slams. But things could be changing. In his first big title win since the 2009 US Open, Juan Martin del Potro won Indian Wells a few weeks ago, while American John Isner just won his first ATP Masters 1000 when he grabbed Miami.

That kind of run is harder if all the top guys are in the field, noted Annacone.

“It’s pretty daunting, and it’s the cumulative effect that’s the toughest,” he said. “Yeah, you can get hot and beat Roger one day. But then you come back and have to play Novak in the semis and Rafa in the finals—[beating them also] won’t happen very often. Now, when it’s only one of those guys, no matter which one it might be, the other players know they can do it.

"With all the guys at the top a little vulnerable, it’s an exciting time for the veterans like John and like Sam Querrey. And it’s exciting for the younger guys that are coming up from behind who are seeing possibilities. Then, to throw a carrot on top of that, it’s also going to be exciting to see as Andy recovers, and to see if Novak get himself back on track, what's Rafa going to do about his knees, Roger going to manage his schedule.”

Nadal and Djokovic are scheduled to play during the clay-court season, with Wawrinka also aiming to play some clay-court events as he begins another return to tour.


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—ATP Houston Outer Courts (4/9-4/13)
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