There are usually some positives that can be found in a tight defeat to the eventual champion of a tournament—chief among them is the fact that save for a few points here or there, it could’ve been the loser as the last person standing.
That’s become a necessary way of thinking for players such as Grigor Dimitrov, Jack Sock and more in 2018 as they battle to overcome season-long slumps after career years.
Most recently, Dimitrov fell in the third round of the Cincinnati Masters to Novak Djokovic, after being up a set and an early break. Djokovic won five straight games to level the match, then went up a break of his own before the rain came. When the match resumed the next day, Dimitrov was unable to break back and Djokovic clinched the decider, 6-4.
The Serb went on to win the tournament, the only Masters 1000 title missing from his collection, while Dimitrov was left with another disappointing result this year.
In 2017, the Bulgarian snapped out of a years-long slide where his results didn’t match his ability by winning two of his first three tournaments and reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open. During the summer hard-court swing, he took the title in Cincinnati without the loss of a set. He finished the year perfectly, winning the ATP Finals with an undefeated run that lifted him to a career-high No. 3 in the world.
This year, solid results have been few and far between as he’s only reached one final, which was a loss to Roger Federer back in February. Seemingly at ease on every surface, Dimitrov hasn’t been past the quarterfinals of an event since Monte Carlo in April. His record on the year stands at 22-15, whereas in 2017, he only lost 19 matches over the whole year.
Twenty-two is a number a couple of Americans would surely love to have in their own personal win column, but it would take a monumental run over the rest of the year to reach it.
Similar to Dimitrov, Sock started off 2017 with early-season victories then finished up the year with a career-defining moment. Needing to win the Paris Masters to make the ATP Finals, Sock pulled it off to become the first American since Andy Roddick to triumph at that level. At the year-end championships, he advanced to the semifinals in his debut appearance.
This year, though, he’s lost matches to a wide range of players ranked dozens of spots below him, leaving him with a 5-15 ledger. While he’s had his struggles on the singles court, doubles has been a saving grace: The 25-year-old has won four tournaments with four different partners, most recently at Wimbledon—his second title there—with compatriot Mike Bryan.
While he didn’t advance to a final last year or match his career-high ranking of 38, Donald Young looked as if he had firmly established himself as a threat in any draw and as a consistent member of the Top 50. Over the first half of 2017, he posted back-to-back semifinal finishes at Memphis and Delray Beach, then had consecutive fourth-round runs in Indian Wells and Miami. He also reached his first Grand Slam final, which came in men’s doubles at the French Open. Unable to defend any of his singles points, he’s currently ranked 242 in the world with a 3-11 record.
The demanding nature of the game also takes a physical toll, which has made an impact on the women’s rankings this year. After cracking the Top 10 for the first time last year, American CoCo Vandeweghe is just now making a summer hard-court appearance—where she’s usually at her best—after an ankle injury. Garbine Muguruza, who had been battling an arm injury for the past several weeks, fell early in Cincinnati—where she was the defending champion—and will be entering the US Open ranked outside of the Top 10.
By its nature, the professional tours give players the opportunity to “right the ship” on a weekly basis and no hole is too deep to crawl out of at some point: Young once lost 17 matches in a row in 2012 before working his way back. Age and experience are on the sides of these players, as well.
Realizing that they’re only a year removed from some of the best tennis of their careers is something to build upon, as well, as they look to make a rebound before the year is out.