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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Tuesday October 19, 2021

 
ATP Most Improved

As the ATP season winds down we're ready to make our decision on the most improved.

Photo Source: TN

Now that Indian Wells 2021 is in the books, we think it’s a good time to look at players who have really made a push this year by evolving their games and showing lots of improvement, in both form and function.

Tennis Express

We’ve tracked about fifteen players who could easily make this list, but we’ve trimmed the list down to five, adding on about ten honorable mentions at the bottom of the page.

For the record: we reserve the right to rewrite this between now and the end of the season, but we have a feeling that we might not need to…

1. Aslan Karatsev

No 1 is Russia’s Aslan Karatsev, who has climbed from 112 at the start of the Australian Open to number 22 in the rankings. That 90-place move pretty much says it all, but if you’re looking for something more tangible, look at the quiet confidence that Karatsev exhibits as he crushes heavy groundstrokes off of both wings.

Karatsev’s campaign had to go down as one of the most improbable ATP seasons in history. It started with three ATP level matches under his belt and a ranking of 112 this January. Ten months later he is a Grand Slam semifinalist, an Olympic silver medalist in mixed doubles and the current World No.22. Karatsev also earned a win over World No.1 Novak Djokovic in Belgrade en route to the title there this spring. He saved 23 break points in the match. You read correctly. He. Saved. 23. Break. Points. And defeated World No.1 Novak Djokovic on his home soil. That’s no joke.

2. Cameron Norrie

Second on the list is Cameron Norrie, the new British No.1 who is fresh off his first Masters 1000 title at Indian Wells. Cam has risen from 71 in the world to his current ranking of 16. The 26-year-old, who is a brilliant defender and counterpuncher and one of the most consistent players in the game, offers a puzzling combo that includes a heavy topspinny forehand and a flat-as-a-pancake backhand. His opponents pick their poison but wherever they aim the ball is usually coming back.

Norrie, who is currently 47-20 on the season, is also tied for the lead in ATP final appearances this season, with six. Norrie has improved on all surfaces, going 14-5 on the clay and 6-2 on the grass.

3. Casper Ruud

Casper Ruud, jumping from 27 to No. 9 in the world, is third on our list. He could easily be first. Ruud’s run up the rankings isn’t as dramatic as our first two players, but keep in mind what they say about making it from outside the Top-25 into the Top-10 in one season – it’s pretty near impossible. Ruud has managed to do it while also leading the ATP with five titles in 2021.

But the biggest improvement in Ruud’s repertoire has been his ability to win on faster surfaces. Suddenly he is a force on the hard courts as well. He won the San Diego title, where he blasted Norrie off the court in the final, and has improved his record on hard courts drastically. He was 26-17 prior to 2021. This year he is an eye-opening 19-6.

4. Carlos Alcaraz

Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz, a rising phenom who climbed from 141 at the end of 2020 to his current perch of No. 42, is fourth on the list. A funny aside: we think Alcaraz could actually be on this list again next year as well because it feels like he makes wicked progress every single months.

No matter what happens in 2022 there is no denying that Alcaraz’s 2021 has been remarkable. He started the season with 1 ATP win to his name and he now has 23! And this September, Alcaraz also became the youngest US Open quarterfinalist in history. He plays an incredible brand of tennis that is ultra physical and as his body continues to catch up with his desire over the next few seasons we expect him to become even more dominant.

5. Jenson Brooksby

American Jenson Brooksby, who rose from outside the Top 300 to his current ranking at No. 70, comes in at No.5 on our list. Brooksby, a cagey, cantankerous demon of a player, has burst onto the scene and shown his vast potential in 2021, reaching the round of 16 at the US Open where he took a set over Novak Djokovic in front of a wild crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The Sacramento native also became the lowest-ranked semifinalist in Citi Open history, where he defeated No.15 Felix Auger-Aliassime. It was the biggest win of his career by ranking, and likely the first of many… Look out for this kid in the Top-50 next year and maybe even higher.

Other players deserving mention on our list:

Reilly Opelka, who Became the No. 1 American in June and reached a Masters 1000 final in Toronto and a Masters semifinal on the clay in Rome.

Frances Tiafoe, who made headlines on big stages, earning big wins like his upset triumph over Tsitsipas at Wimbledon, Shapovalov at Toronto and Rublev at the US Open.

Sebastian Korda, who rose from 118 to 40 in the ATP rankings this year.

Brandon Nakashima, the 20-year-old American, who is so even-keeled, and so well-rounded. Nakashima has risen from 166 to 83 thus far in 2021.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, who won his first Masters title and reached the Roland-Garros final as he rose to No.3 in the world.

Matteo Berrettini, who reached the Wimbledon final and who didn’t lose to anybody except Novak Djokovic in his final three Grand Slams of 2021.

Hubert Hurkacz, who won his first Masters 1000 title at Miami and reached the Wimbledon semifinals. Just this week Hubi became the first Polish man to crack the Top-10 since 1977.

Ilya Ivashka of Belarus, Lloyd Harris of South Africa and Marcos Giron of the USA also were given consideration.

 

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