Continuing on from the analysis of the top four players Michael Hale considers the state-of-play for the men ranked 5-8.
Following his second round exit at Wimbledon, which ended a peerless streak of 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarter-finals, Federer has fallen to number five in the rankings. This is the lowest he has been in the decade since winning his first Grand Slam in 2003 and continues a less than stellar year for the Swiss in 2013 to date.
Federer’s reduced schedule in 2013 left little room for error in the tournaments he did play and he has not performed well enough to maintain a top four ranking. This means encounters with the likes of Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic can be expected at the quarter-final stage of tournaments unless Federer can find the points to move back up. With the third and fourth ranked players David Ferrer and Nadal both over 1000 points clear at the moment this is unlikely to happen before Flushing Meadow. While Federer has no points to defend at the Canada Masters after skipping the tournament last year, he is defending 1000 points as reigning champion in Cincinnati.
Typically Federer is up for the challenge and has added two smaller clay court tournaments in Hamburg and Gstaad to his schedule in order to find form and pick up some ranking points. Photographs of a practice session in Hamburg seem to show Federer using a new racquet with a larger head than the previous model. Given the difficulties involved in switching racquets, it is unclear when or if Federer will compete with the new frame but it is impressive that the 17-time Grand Slam winner is leaving no stone unturned as he tunes up for the US Open.
Federer’s season to date is only weak by his own formidable standards and barring injury he will surely be in London for the end-of-year championships (he is currently sixth in the race). The indoor courts at the O2 arena have often been Federer’s stronghold in recent years and, if he fails to improve his form beforehand, could serve as a litmus test as to whether he can still match previous achievements. For now though Federer will be firmly aiming silencing the doubters with a sixth US Open title.
After a disappointing if understandable first round loss to Gael Monfils at Roland Garros, the Czech number one made a solid run to the Wimbledon quarter-finals. The eventual straight sets loss to Djokovic emphasised once more the difficulties of breaking into the winner’s podium at major events. A fixture in the top eight for three years now, Berdych will be looking to make sustained challenge for some of the top titles remaining this season, particularly as it is now almost eight years since he won his lone Masters title in Paris.
Berdych has opportunity to improve on his round of 16 finishes in both the Rogers Cup and Cincinnati from last year before defending 720 points from his semi-final appearance at last year’s US Open. That run included a win over Federer but to claim a first Grand Slam title Berdych will likely have be to beat three of the top players back-to-back.
Juan Martin del Potro (7)
One of the biggest questions post-Wimbledon is whether the atomic-forehand hitting del Potro seen in SW19 is back for good. A straight sets defeat of David Ferrer in the quarter-finals was followed by a great performance that fell just short against Novak Djokovic in the next round. Taking the world number one to the absolute limit, del Potro played his best tennis since 2009 when he won the US Open.
When he returns for the North American hard court season many will be hoping for signs that he will contend for the title in New York. For this the Argentine needs use the post-Wimbledon break to recuperate and minimise risk of injury in the coming months. Del Potro has already missed Roland Garros this season and another absence at a Grand Slam would see him run the risk of missing out on the World Tour Finals.
Tsonga enjoyed a career best performance at his home Grand Slam this year, defeating Federer on the way to the semi-finals of Roland Garros. Wimbledon proved less happy for the Frenchman as he was forced to withdraw from a second round match with Ernests Gulbis due to an injury to his left knee’s patellar tendon.
It is currently unclear how long the rehabilitation process will take and Tsonga’s participation at the US Open is in serious doubt. While an extended absence could lead to the popular world number eight missing out on the end-of-season event in London, he is only defending 55 points across the two warm-up Masters and the US Open so there is some leeway there.