As the season comes to its conclusion in the next couple of weeks, we tend to look back on the players who made upward moves, or dropped down the rankings list. However, instead of focusing on the micro, let’s take a look at a more macro level. Which countries had a good year of tennis, and were there any who had a year they’d rather forget?
Currently (late October), Australia had 9 males in the top 100, and 20 in the top 300. The year began with just 5 inside double figures.
Alex De Minaur, Alexei Popyrin, Max Purcell, Aleksandar Vukic, Christopher O’Connell, Rinky Hijikata, Jason Kubler, and Thanasi Kokkinakis (among others), have all reached career highs this season. Despite Nick Kyrgios barely setting foot on court, there’s been no shortage of highlights.
De Minaur is now knocking on the door of the top 10, after a title in Acapulco, and finals appearances at the Canadian Masters, and Queens. Max Purcell has reached 6 Challenger finals, winning 3, plus reaching the quarter finals of the Cincinatti Masters. Rinky Hijikata and Jason Kubler teamed up to win the Australian Open doubles title. Alexei Popyrin won the title in Umag, and also reached the quarter finals in Cincinatti. Nearly every week of the year, there was a good news story for the Aussie men, and hopefully next year we can see one or two of them make a deep run in a Slam.
While the top Aussie women, in Ajla Tomljanovic, and Daria Saville, had injury-ridden seasons, there were some positive storylines, with Kimberly Birrell touching the top 100, and teenager Taylah Preston rising from 600 into the mid 200’s.
Canada have had a horror year. Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime especially, were expected to take the next step in the rankings. Felix has dropped from 6 to 19 this year, and has struggled to find consecutive wins. He’s at 22/18 Win/Loss, after going 64/28 in 2022.
However, there is hope, as he has started to find some late season form, securing back to back titles in Basel.
Denis is also at 50% W/L (13/13), after going 34/26 last year, and hasn’t really shown any signs of regaining form. A drop from the top 20, to nearly outside 100, isn’t the kind of year anyone expected.
For the women, only Leylah Fernandez has held her ranking at around 35. Bianca Andreescu hasn’t been able to play a lot of matches this year, and has almost slipped out of the top 100.
Not a huge tennis nation historically, but they can now celebrate having two males in the top 100. Nicholas Jarry has jumped from 152 at the start of January, up to the top 20, on the back of two ATP titles, and a 4th round at Roland Garros.
Tomas Barrios Vera may not be a household name, but he is knocking on the door of the top 100, at a career high 105. He has built his ranking through a really solid year predominantly on the Challenger tour, winning two titles, and going deep in many more.
China has had a big year on the tennis tour, on a number of fronts. Firstly, tennis returned to the country after a long hiatus due to Covid and the Peng Shuai issue (which doesn’t really seem any closer to being resolved….). China has been a huge part of the late season Asian swing, and the fans have been very enthusiastic in their support for live tennis again.
On the men’s side, Zhizhen Zhang was the first Chinese man to break into the top 100 late last year, but has solidified his standing, reaching a career high 52 in July. His year was topped off by reaching the 4th round of his home Masters event in Shanghai, just falling short against eventual winner, Hubert Hurkacz.
Yibing Wu became the first Chinese man to win a title on the ATP tour, when he took out the Dallas event back in February, ranked 97 at the time. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a whole lot more success for the rest of the year, but nonetheless, it was a historic occasion for Chinese tennis.
On the women’s side, Qinwen Zheng broke into the top 20 for the first time, reaching a career high 18, and winning two titles along the way. Xinyu Wang has also reached her career high of 32, while reaching the top 20 in doubles. Lin Zhu is another Chinese female to hit her career high of 31, and win her first singles title on the WTA tour. Overall, a really strong year for Chinese tennis.
An unbelievably strong year for the Czech women, who now have 3 players in the top 12. Marketa Vondrousova has come from 92, up to 6 in the world, on the back of a stunning Wimbledon title where she went in unseeded.
Karolina Muchova started the year outside 150, and has stormed into number 8 following a Roland Garros final, and a US Open semi-final. Barbora Krejcikova won two titles this year, and has established herself as a top ten player after beginning the season outside the top 20.
Add to that, the consistency of Petra Kvitova, who remains at the top end of the women’s game, and although the Fruhvirtova sisters didn’t quite go on with their explosive start to the season, they both gained loads of experience which will set them in good stead for the coming years.
Having 9 players inside the top 100 is a stunning effort for such a small country.
On the men’s side, Jiri Lehecka made a move back in January, after reaching the Australian Open quarter-finals. He also made the 4th round of Wimbledon, and has reached a career high ranking of 29, after starting the year at 81.
For the men, having 13 players inside the top 100 is a brilliant performance. This is up on 10 from the opening week of the season. Nineteen-year-old Arthur Fils has come from outside 250, to be entrenched inside the top 40. At the other end of the scale, 35-year-old Adrian Mannerino is almost at his career high (22), currently ranked 24, after taking out two titles in Astana and Newport.
Fan favourite, Gael Monfils showed there’s still some life in his legs too, having recently won his first title of the year in Stockholm. And who could forget his dramatic 5 set win over Sebastian Baez in the first round of the French Open!
Nothing huge from the Germans this year, but on the men’s side, they’ve quietly gone from 1 player, Alexander Zverev, in the top 75, to having 4 on the brink of the top 50. Zverev remains steady on the edge of the top ten, but Jan-Lennard Struff, Danial Altmaier, and Yannik Hanfmann have all had strong years, reaching career highs, and giving themselves the chance to push higher in 2024.
Interestingly enough, Russia’s top 8 ranked men, are all in exactly the same order at the end of year, as they were at the start of the year. But the huge positive for Russian tennis, is that each one of those 8 improved their ranking. There are now 7 in the top 100, as opposed to 5 in January. Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, and Karen Khachanov have all moved up a few spots, while Aslan Karatsev, Roman Safiullin, Pavel Kotov, and Alexander Shevchenko have taken some big leaps this year.
On the women’s side, Russia has lost a little bit at the top end, with Daria Kasatkina and Veronika Kudermetova falling out of the top ten, but they now have 11 players in the top 100, which is up from 8 at the beginning of the season.
Definitely not a great year for Spanish tennis overall, despite the obvious Wimbledon triumph of Carlos Alcaraz. While he has held up his end of the bargain, there have been some disappointments.
The biggest clearly being the absence of Rafael Nadal for the majority of the season. In addition to that, there are now only 7 players inside the top 100 (4 inside 80). Back in January, Spain had 10 players inside the 100, and all were inside 75, so there has been a clear drop off, with some more senior players starting to move into the twilight of their careers, such as Pablo Carrena-Busta, and Roberto Bautista-Agut.
While the political situation in the country hasn’t improved a lot, if you’re a Ukrainian tennis fan, there was a bit to get excited about this year. The comeback of Elina Svitolina has been the clear standout, moving from 240 in January, all the way up to 25. The highlights being a semi-final run at Wimbledon, a quarter-final appearance in her adopted country at Roland Garros, and winning the trophy in Strasbourg. Other players to make moves this year were Anhelina Kalinina (39 to 27), Lesya Tsurenko (137 to 31), and Marta Kostyuk (69 to 39).
Hard to believe, but the USA have not only had a better year as far as big wins go, but they’ve also increased their depth. On the women’s side, they’ve gone from having 14 players in the top 100, to 16. One of the highlights was seeing Sofia Kenin rise back into the top 30 after a tough 18 months or so. Madison Keys striking some form at Wimbledon and the US Open, and Jess Pegula consolidating her place in the top ten were positive stories.
But clearly, Coco Gauff winning her home Slam at Flushing Meadows, after being somewhat doubted earlier in the year, has to be the biggest story in US tennis. It seems her game clicked into another gear, and when it did, there was no stopping her.
For the men, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag, with some players retiring (John Isner), being plagued by injuries (Reilly Opelka), or dropping well down the rankings (Maxime Cressy). However, there’s been a few really good stories, and none bigger than Ben Shelton, who decided he’d finally leave his home country to play overseas.
He then reached the quarter finals of the Australian Open, semi-finals of the US Open, and recently won Tokyo, boosting his ranking from 96 to 15. Other good stories, are Christopher Eubanks who jumped from 123 to 34, and teenager, Alex Michelson, who has risen from 600, to the verge of the top 100.
Sometimes we get caught up in winning majors, and big titles as a form of success. But look a bit deeper across the tennis landscape, and you might just find, the 2023 season was a triumph for a number of regions across the globe.