The mark of a great player is not only in their physical strengths but also their mental capacity. That is, the ability to perform well under pressure and achieve success on the tennis court.
So many factors come into play including whether you are playing well or poorly, what your opponent is doing, what the conditions are like, line calls, umpire decisions and, most importantly, how you respond to it all. In our 3-part series, we are focussing on the mental vs the physical aspects of tennis and whether one has an advantage over the other. Last week we focussed on the physical attributes that defined the ATP men’s top 10 players in the world.
This week, in part 2 of our series, we look at their mentality and give each player a rating out of 10.
1: Carlos Alcaraz (9/10)
While Carlos Alcaraz only burst onto the scene just over 2 years ago at the tender age of 16, the young Spaniard already seems well-established. A lot of this has to do with Alcaraz’s incredible fighting qualities, which don’t just stem from his muscular physique. It took a feat that has never been achieved before, with Alcaraz beating both Djokovic and Nadal in consecutive matches on clay, before beating Zverev to win his maiden Masters 1000 title in Madrid, for Alcaraz to truly make his mark. Since then, the added pressure of being the youngest player in the top 10, seemed to put a target on his back, with a few early-round exits from tournaments he was expected to go deep in. However, Alcaraz proved this was only a momentary lapse, as he took out the 2022 U.S. Open in an astonishing two weeks before being crowned the youngest-ever men’s number 1. While he still has a long way to go, the tennis world is now, well and truly, his oyster.
2: Rafael Nadal (10/10)
One of two players that I gave a perfect rating for (if I could give him more points, I would) Rafa’s mental capacity speaks for itself.
Winning two Grand Slams this year at 36, the Spaniard didn’t come out of the blocks slowly, either. He was a great champion right from the word go, winning the French Open in 2005 at the tender age of 19, at his first time of trying. Since then, he has gone from strength to strength and, along with Novak and Roger, become one of the greatest of all time, mainly due to his unrelenting fighting spirit. In later years, he has also been able to adapt his game to play smarter tennis, shortening the points and playing with much more variety.
This is a testament to Rafa’s perfect mental game. He is only beaten when he is outplayed and even that is rare. On clay, it is almost never.
3: Casper Ruud (8/10)
Once a clay-court-only specialist, now a two-time Grand Slam finalist, Casper Ruud has had a steady rise over the last 12-18 months.
This is a combination of having a consistent game across all 3 surfaces, as well as a huge forehand with immense spin. Casper’s ability to go deep at Grand Slam events, however, was always a question mark until this year.
The humble Norwegian has since worked on his mental game, which is clearly paying dividends. It is evident how much belief he now has in his game, which helps Ruud perform under pressure and play well in the big moments.
4: Daniil Medvedev (9/10)
The most successful player, other than Rafa and Novak, of the last 3 years, Daniil Medvedev is a mental beast. Of his last 4 Grand Slam finals, only Rafa (twice) and Novak (once) have beaten him.
Daniil is another player that has seemingly always had a good head on his shoulders. He has a superior head-to-head with most of his major rivals (even an admirable 4-6 against Novak). Having said that, the Russian did struggle at Grand Slam level until his breakthrough at the 2019 U.S. Open. This is largely due to his highly unorthodox technique and brick wall mentality. He’s a player that’s almost impossible to match up against unless you have major weapons like a big serve or a huge forehand. He may still struggle on grass and even clay (his game and build are best suited for hard courts) but Daniil always forces his opponents to outplay him as he rarely puts in a bad match.
5: Alexander Zverev (8/10)
Once one of the most promising of the Next Gen players, Zverev has taken a while to make his mark at Grand Slam level. While he still hasn’t cracked through, he has regularly gone deep since 2020, making it at least to the 4th round at all the majors.
Having won 19 ATP titles, the 3rd most on this list behind Novak and Rafa, the German scores points for his consistent success on the ATP tour. For years, his second serve was the biggest area of concern, hitting plenty of double faults leading to a loss in confidence in his overall game.
While his serve is still a little shaky at times, he has definitely tightened up the screws. If he hadn’t injured himself in the semis against Rafa at the French Open, Sasha may have had a deep run at either Wimbledon or the U.S. Open.
6: Stefanos Tsitsipas (6/10)
Stefanos is another promising player who has struggled at Grand Slams. His best results have come at the Australian Open, with 3 semi-final appearances, and Roland Garros, where he made the final in 2021 and was even 2 sets to love up before succumbing to Djokovic.
The Greek number 1 does have a reputation for taking long bathroom breaks and receiving coaching, even receiving umpire warnings, during matches. While we can only speculate, it is clear that Stefanos struggles when under pressure and can’t always find the answers (on his own) when he is being outplayed. He is a player that often needs to be in front and when he is down, his decision-making can suffer as a result. Stef also appears flustered by external factors at times, like in his loss against Nick Krygios at Wimbledon this year, when he called the fiery Australian a ‘bully.’ Strong on clay, solid on hard courts and weak on grass, Tsitisipas too often relies on perfect conditions and needs to learn to internalise and assess the situation better.
7: Novak Djokovic (10/10)
The only player, other than Rafa or Roger, that rarely looks like losing. When fully fit (or not being allowed to play due to his stance on vaccinations), Novak Djokovic is almost unstoppable. At his peak, few players (if any) have beaten him. Notable exceptions include Stan Wawrinka, the giant killer, and Rafael Nadal (although, mostly on clay). Even the great, Roger Federer has lost his past 5 Grand Slam finals to the impervious Serb.
His almost inhuman ability to conjure up something special time and time again, particularly when his back is against the wall, is beyond remarkable. It is now the norm.
8: Cameron Norrie (8/10)
Cam Norrie scores high mainly because he manages to overachieve despite a perceived weakness in his technique. He’s probably not the guy you’re gonna see late in a Grand Slam, but he’s not a player you want to see early on, either.
He is a player, not dissimilar to Adrian Mannarino, that uses his unorthodox game to neutralise his opponents strengths. His mental strength comes from his tenacity and the knowledge that his opponents have to work hard to beat him. Cam will often get outplayed by better opponents with bigger weapons but it is his fit mind (and body) that troubles even the best players on tour.
9: Andrey Rublev (6/10)
An ATP 500 specialist, Andrey Rublev has a fearsome game when he’s playing well. Where he’s lacking, however, is in his inability to find a way to win when the chips are down. Perhaps this is why Rublev can’t quite break through at Grand Slams, even Masters 1000 level events. His cannon-like forehand, mentioned last week, is his biggest weapon, but when neutralised, he doesn’t appear to have a Plan B.
His main weakness is simply not having enough patience. With an all-out aggressive game, it’s Rublev’s way or the highway. If he didn’t feel the need to blast his opponent off court and learnt to problem solve, Andrey would do much better at Grand Slam level.
10: Hubert Hurkacz (6/10)
Possessing the type of game that should have seen him win more titles and gone deeper at Slams than he has, Hubert Hurkacz is one of the most gifted players on tour. The Pole has the skills to do it all, but rarely does, or not consistently anyway.
Whether it’s the Gael Monfils effect (I.E. trying to be a showman), given his love for the diving volley (ala Boris Becker) or that he simply has too many tricks up his sleeve and overcompensates, is hard to say. Hurkacz also appears, at times, to not have a solid game plan, making careless errors while playing needless shots. Tough to beat when he’s on, Hubie nevertheless lacks that essential ingredient to success: consistency.
And that’s the top 10, in a nutshell, from both a physical and mental perspective.
Next week we conclude our 3-part series by comparing the mental and the physical aspects of tennis and asking that all-important question: which wins out?