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By Alberto Amalfi | Monday, December 12, 2016

 
Grigor Dimitrov

Grigor Dimitrov, who gave a clinic in racquet demolition during one of his three finals losses, leads our list of five men who underachieved in 2016.

Photo credit: IF Stockholm Open

Tennis is a form of physical chess.

Sometimes even elite players experience a season of stalemate.

Watch: Top 10 Hottest Men's Instagram Posts of 2016

Most players set goals at the start of each season and assess accountability at the end of every year.

Here are our choices for Top 5 ATP Disappointments of the 2016 season.

We believe these players are capable of bounce-back seasons in 2017, too. Note, we did not include players who suffered injuries that substantially shortened their seasons.

No. 17 Grigor Dimitrov

The Good: Deploying his all-court skills with aggression, Dimitrov defeated Steve Johnson, Lucas Pouille and Rafael Nadal in succession reaching the Beijing final where he fell to Andy Murray. Working with Murray’s ex-coach, Dani Vallverdu, Dimitrov was playing proactive tennis over the final four months of the year, rising to No. 17 – his highest ranking in two years.

The Bad: A six-match losing streak saw him spiral to No. 40. Dimitrov battled an excruciating inability to close, failing to convert match point in losing the Sydney final to Viktor Troicki, blowing a 7-5, 5-2 lead and imploding in a racquet-smashing Istanbul final meltdown. The Bulgarian reached three finals, but lost them all, and has not won a title since the 2014 Queen’s Club.

The Ugly: There’s this.



Confessional Comment: "It's no fun when you break strings on such big points and in such big moments. It gets to you. That shows also that we're all human. I let myself down, and mainly like my family and my team. Of course all the audience. I don't usually do that kind of stuff. It sets a super bad example for the youth, in a way." —Grigor Dimitrov on his racquet-smashing meltdown in the Istanbul final.


No. 19 John Isner

The Good: Long John slammed an ATP-best 1,159 aces. Winless in six prior meetings with Marin Cilic, Isner knocked out his nemesis to reach the Paris Masters final, his third career masters final. The menacing server finished in the Top 20 for the seventh straight season and as American No. 1 for the fifth consecutive year.

The Bad: The Georgia bull dog lost a bit of his bite in tie breaks: Isner was 33-31 in tie breaks after dominating breakers in 2015. He lost six matches 7-6 in the third set.

The Ugly: Isner has dropped 14 of his last 15 matches vs. Top 10 opponents.

Confessional Comment: “I think I have a lot of tennis left in me. You see nowadays players playing very well into their 30s and mid-30s. For me, I guess, fortunately, you know, my style of play, I'm not grinding too much out there, or at least I shouldn't be. That's going to save me a bit.” —31-year-old John Isner on his future.


No. 26 Bernard Tomic

The Good: Tomic attained a career-high rank of No. 17 in January, tested Dominic Thiem in the Acapulco final, showed grass prowess advancing to the London semifinals and scored successive Top 15 wins over David Goffin and Kei Nishikori en route to the Cincinnati quarterfinals.

The Bad: Following his surge to the Cincinnati quarterfinals, Tomic managed just one win in four tournaments the rest of the season. Red clay remains a sink hole for the 24-year-old Aussie, who suffered five straight losses in the spring and managed just two clay-court victories in 2016.

The Ugly: Four retirements reinforced Bernie’s reputation as a sometime soft competitor too willing to pull the plug when the going gets tough. Tomic was rightly ripped for blatantly tanking match point in Madrid by turning his racquet around as if preparing to use the handle to hit a return.

Confessional Comment: "I don’t care about that match point—would you care if you were 23 and worth over $10 million?” —Bernard Tomic explaining to the Gold Coast Bulletin he tanked match point in Madrid because he's rich.



No. 47 Benoit Paire

The Good: Contesting four semifinals, including in his season-opening event in Chennai, helped propel Paire to a career-high rank of No. 18 in January.

The Bad: A shocking straight-sets loss to 328th-ranked wild card Noah Rubin in the Australian Open first round signaled issues to come. Paire produced just three wins in Grand Slam play, struggled to retain confidence and composure and plummeted nearly 30 spots in the rankings by year’s end.

The Ugly: The second half of the season was a nightmare for the temperamental Frenchman. Paire, who failed to convert a match point against Fabio Fognini at the Rio Olympics and was subsequently booted from the Games then failed to survive the second round in 11 straight ATP tournaments. Though he did make the semifinals in his final Challenger event of the season, Paire didn’t exactly shed his slacker reputation with the French Tennis Federation.



Confessional Comment: "Now I know how the Olympics are, I am happy to leave. The tournament was good preparation for me.” —Benoit Paire told ouest-france.fr after the French Tennis Federation kicked him out of the Rio Olympics for violating various rules.


No. 62 Alexandr Dolgopolov

The Good: The former world No. 13 showed baseline spark advancing to the Acapulco semifinals and quarterfinals in Sydney and Rio.



The Bad: The 28-year-old Ukrainian started the season ranked No. 36, but won back-to-back matches in just five of 17 tournaments.

The Ugly: One of the sport’s quickest players ended the season on a six-match losing skid and withdrew from six tournaments on the season due to abdominal and back issues.

Confessional Comment: “I had some injuries in my body which were not letting me compete full, so I had to play with what I had. Sometimes you’re hurt a little bit and you have to play a tournament.” —Alexandr Dolgopolov told Vavel.com.

 

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