Kvitova trending up, Medvedev down as tennis’ March madness begins


The weeks following the Australian Open have produced some major surprises, including Roger Federer‘s decision to undergo minor knee surgery (he’ll be gone until Wimbledon), the retirement of Maria Sharapova and a new setback in the comeback of Andy Murray.

One hopes the revelations in the coming weeks will be mostly on the scoreboard during the upcoming “Sunshine Double,” the combined mega-events at Indian Wells and Miami. Qualifying for Indian Wells begins Sunday, then it’s straight on to Miami.

So let’s have a look at who is trending up — and down — as the two premium events approach. The players are listed in order by ranking.

WTA: Trending up

No. 1 Ashleigh Barty (12-3, champion, Adelaide): Barty bounced back from a painful semifinal loss at the Australian Open, her home major, with grit and grace. She navigated a tough draw before losing to Petra Kvitova in the semis at Doha, Qatar, last week, cheerfully admitting: “She played extremely well and took the match away from me in key moments.” The hard courts at both North American events will allow Barty the full use of her toolbox, which will make the defending champion in Miami a tough out.

No. 2 Simona Halep (10-2, champion, Dubai): The 28-year-old Wimbledon champion was easily overlooked with all the attention on Barty, Serena Williams and Sofia Kenin, but she is one of just a half-dozen women in the top 25 with 10 or more wins. A former champion in the California desert, her stunning win at Wimbledon seems to have calmed and motivated the Romanian dynamo.

No. 5 Sofia Kenin (10-5, champion, Australian Open): The surprise winner of 2020’s first major, Kenin hit a wall in recent weeks, losing in the first round at Dubai and Doha. It’s understandable, given the way she followed up her rousing victory at the year’s first major by playing Fed Cup the very next week. Her losses were to two of her potential career rivals, fellow 21-and-under stars Elena Rybakina and Dayana Yastremska. Kenin should be well rested, and the hard courts at both tournaments ought to please the Florida native.

No. 11 Petra Kvitova (12-3, no titles): Although the explosive left-hander has yet to win a title, she has been to the quarterfinals at every event she entered this year, and recently had wins in Doha over Grand Slam winners Jelena Ostapenko and Barty. A two-time Wimbledon champ, she has taken some heartbreaking losses and is due to make a big statement.

No. 13 Aryna Sabalenka (12-5, champion, Doha): At the start of 2019, Sabalenka’s name was on the lips of everyone. But the 5-foot-11 21-year-old succumbed to the pressure and never developed the consistency of a Grand Slam contender. She looked terrific in winning Doha over Kvitova last week and, propelled by one of the best serves in the WTA game, is on the upswing again.

No. 16 Garbine Muguruza (16-4, runner-up, Australian Open): The two-time Grand Slam champion seems to be enjoying tennis again. Only Rybakina among her fellow top-25 pros has played more matches. Her semifinal upset of Halep in Melbourne, backing up easy wins over ordinarily tough outs Kiki Bertens and Elina Svitolina, looms as a turning point. Muguruza looks as fit as she’s ever been.

No. 17 Elena Rybakina (19-4, champion, Hobart): The 20-year-old Russian who now plays for Kazakhstan leads the WTA Tour with a whopping 23 matches played. Her consistency has netted her four finals, with one victory. Six feet tall, mobile as well as powerful, Rybakina has crisp groundstrokes and a dangerous serve. She isn’t afraid to attack the ball, either, as she showed with upsets this year of Karolina Pliskova, Kenin and Elise Mertens.

No. 44 Ons Jabeur (15-5, quarterfinalist, Australian Open): No Arab woman has climbed as high as this gifted 25-year-old from Tunisia. Jabeur, whose strengths include soft hands and imaginative shotmaking, leaped to life with her quarterfinal finish at the first major of the year. She’s logged 2020 wins over Caroline Wozniacki, Alison Riske, Johanna Konta and Pliskova. After the upset of Pliskova in Doha, Jabeur apologized to her beaten opponent for her enthusiastic supporters and told reporters: “lt’s a crazy crowd, they think it’s a football match, obviously! But I’m glad they were here to support me.”

No. 49 Coco Gauff (4-2, fourth round, Australian Open): Prevented by the WTA’s age-related cap on participation, Gauff has been cooling her jets and practicing for her comeback at Indian Wells. Watch out, world!

No. 190 Leylah Annie Fernandez (10-4, finalist, Acapulco): Fernandez’s recent success has taken people so by surprise that the WTA website can’t tell you her age, her height, her birthplace or even her dominant hand. For what it’s worth, this overnight sensation (she started the year ranked No. 209) is a 5-foot-3, left-handed 17-year-old who was born in Montreal, plays for Canada, and now lives and trains in Boynton Beach. Florida. She’s the reigning French Open junior champion and won seven consecutive matches (from qualifying) to reach her first WTA final last week.

WTA: Trending down

No. 3 Karolina Pliskova (8-3, champion, Brisbane): True, the singles record isn’t bad. But after starting the year 6-0, she’s just 2-3, and that includes a Grand Slam loss to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova followed by failures against Rybakina and Jabeur.

No. 7 Elina Svitolina (6-6, third round, Australian Open): It’s hard to believe Svitolina was ranked No. 3 and seemed a serious threat to win majors as recently as the end of 2017. She seems motivated enough, but that militantly defensive style that has been her trademark might no longer pass muster.

No. 9 Serena Williams (8-1, champion, Auckland): After a rip-roaring start to the year (she won her first singles title in since the 2017 Australian Open), Williams unexpectedly flamed out in the third round at the first major of the year, beaten by No. 29 Qiang Wang. She has played just one match since, a Fed Cup win over Ostapenko.

No. 10 Naomi Osaka (5-3, semifinals, Brisbane): Osaka made her career breakthrough in 2018 at Indian Wells. She was defending champion at the Australian Open this year but played an uninspired third-round match and lost meekly to Gauff. Afterward, Osaka told reporters, “It’s just tough. You don’t want to lose to a 15-year-old.” She hasn’t played a tournament since, but she got creamed 6-0, 6-3 by a 23-year-old from Spain in her only appearance since, in the Fed Cup. Your guess is as good as ours.

No. 15 Johanna Konta (0-3): A former Wimbledon semifinalist who hit No. 4 midway through 2017, Konta is diligent, intelligent and dedicated. It’s not helping.

ATP: Trending up

No. 1 Novak Djokovic (18-0, champion, Australian Open): Djokovic remains undefeated, running his winning streak to 23 matches with his triumph in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, last weekend. Along the way, he survived three match points in his semifinal with Gael Monfils. Afterward he described to reporters his mentality when facing match points: “It’s like being on the edge of a cliff. You know there is no way back so you have to jump over and try to find a way to survive.” Djokovic isn’t merely surviving, he’s dominating. He could very well complete a fifth Sunshine Double in about a month’s time.

No. 2 Rafael Nadal (13-3, champion, Acapulco): The two previous titles Nadal claimed in Acapulco, Mexico, were earned on red clay. That Nadal was able to win his third on hard court last weekend is an encouraging sign for him. Last year, Nadal went into the Sunshine Double smarting from two beatings, the one Djokovic laid on him in the Australian Open final and a controversy-plagued second-round loss to Nick Kyrgios in Acapulco. Nadal went on to have a great year. He has three Indian Wells titles, but he has never punched a winning ticket in Miami.

No. 4 Dominic Thiem (9-4, finalist, Australian Open): Thiem is the defending champion at Indian Wells and the top male candidate for “best player never to win a major” honors. He took a surprising loss to No. 128 Gianluca Mager in Rio de Janeiro last week on the clay that was once his go-to surface. Thiem’s hard-court game has improved dramatically under the supervision of his coach, Nicolas Massu.

No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas (11-5, champion, Marseille): The Greek 21-year-old recovered nicely from his inability to duplicate his semifinal finish at the Australian Open last year. He elevated his game after his third-round loss in Melbourne, reaching two consecutive finals. Tsitsipas won in France, but Djokovic proved too big an ask in Dubai. Tsitsipas will have momentum going into Indian Wells, where he was a first-round loser last year on a hard-court surface he likes.

No. 9 Gael Monfils (16-3, champion, Rotterdam): The ultra-popular showman, now 33, has been the sensation of the ATP in this young year. Only Felix Auger-Aliassime and Andrey Rublev have played more matches. It took everything in Djokovic’s arsenal (he was down three match points) to halt the 13-match winning streak compiled by “La Monf.” Monfils has been as far as the quarterfinals at Indian Wells twice, including last year. Can he keep it up?

No. 14 Andrey Rublev (15-3, champion, Doha): True, the 22-year-old, 6-foot-2 Russian has played just two men ranked above him in his heady start to 2020, bouncing No. 11 David Goffin before No. 7 Alexander Zverev KO’d Rublev in the fourth round of the Australian Open. But this Next Gen veteran, whose injury woes seem over, is exceptionally quick around the court, and he generates enormous pace with his forehand despite his almost frail appearance. Rublev is one of three Russians ranked in the top 15 (the others are Daniil Medvedev and Karen Khachanov). That’s an open-era first for Russia.

No. 19 Felix Auger-Aliassime (13-9, finalist, Rotterdam): He’s still just 19, but Auger-Aliassime has already played five ATP Tour finals. He has yet to win one. To an outsider, it seems more a matter of “when” not “if,” but that’s cold comfort to a player trying to clear that hurdle. Indian Wells, where he made the third round last year, will be a great opportunity. But Miami, where Auger-Aliassime was a semifinalist last year, might be an even better one. The hard courts show his aggressive, athletic game in the best light, although his 65 double faults are second among the top 25 only to Benoit Paire‘s whopping 93.

No. 38 Casper Ruud (10-5, champion, Buenos Aires): The only Norwegian in the top 100, Rudd lost a heartbreaker in the fifth-set tiebreaker in the first round of the Australian Open. But the 21-year-old right-hander rebounded with a big win in Buenos Aires, eliminating some expert clay courters along the way. Ruud was stunned in the Santiago final on Sunday by No. 182-ranked Brazilian wild card Thiago Seyboth Wild.

No. 43 Ugo Humbert (11-6, champion, Auckland): The flexible, hard-serving Frenchman knocked down Denis Shapovalov and John Isner in back-to-back matches on his way to his first ATP Tour title. He’s embroiled in a spirited rivalry with his Next Gen peers, including Miomir Kecmanovic (their series is tied 1-1), who’s also on the upswing and now within the top 50.

ATP: Trending down

No. 5 Daniil Medvedev (8-4, fourth round, Australian Open): He put together one of the most impressive runs in recent memory on the hard courts last summer, but it might have taken more out of the 24-year-old Russian than he imagined. While he isn’t exactly struggling, he has tailed off after winning four of his five singles matches in ATP Cup. The spoiler? Who else but Djokovic, who led Serbia’s win over Russia.

No. 8 Matteo Berrettini (1-1, second round, Australian Open): After his breakout 2019, Italy’s Berrettini has struggled with an abdominal injury and hasn’t played a tour match since the Australian Open. He plans to begin anew at Indian Wells.

No. 11 Fabio Fognini (4-6, fourth round, Australian Open): Another Italian whose game has fallen off, Fognini hasn’t won a match since his third-round victory in Melbourne. He can play on any surface, though, and is a master of spins and asymmetrical tennis.

No. 15 Denis Shapovalov (4-7, quarterfinal, Marseille): Although the 20-year-old Canadian has managed to keep his place in the top 20, he seems to have fallen into a one step forward, two steps back pattern. But he’s still four rungs above friend and countryman Auger-Aliassime.

No. 23 Nick Kyrgios (6-3, fourth round, Australian Open): A promising start at his home major came to a grinding halt as Kyrgios pulled out of the New York Open, after which he was booed off the court after he abandoned his first-round match in Acapulco after losing the first set to Humbert. Kyrgios cited a wrist injury and is still penciled in to start at Indian Wells.

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