Mission Impossible IV: Predicting the Top 10 Americans at the end of 2016

Impossible? Maybe not at the top, where John Isner is a clear favorite to once again lead the American charge on the ATP Tour. But predicting the top 10 men in the United States year-end rankings remains a brutally tough task. Will Jack Sock continue his rise and even challenge Isner. Can Sam Querrey and Donald Young hold off fast-rising youngsters like Taylor Fritz, Jared Donaldson, and Frances Tiafoe? A six-team panel tries to answer those questions, and more.

2015 predictions

2015 results

2016 predictions

Ricky Dimon (The Grandstand):

1. John Isner
2. Jack Sock
3. Steve Johnson
4. Donald Young
5. Sam Querrey
6. Tim Smyczek
7. Ryan Harrison
8. Denis Kudla
9. Jared Donaldson
10. Taylor Fritz

Isner almost finished in the top 10 last season despite basically being non-existent for the first two months due to both injury and general poor play. At 30 years old, he is nowhere near exiting his prime and is actually improving under coach Justin Gimelstob. The top two are no-brainers for me, as Sock is already second in the American rankings right now and is firmly on the rise. Johnson’s potential is not as great, but he is solid enough to hang around No. 30. Young and Querrey are in a tier below, but also clearly ahead of the next wave. Whereas Young is inconsistently flashy but extremely motivated, Querrey is boringly solid but pretty much unconcerned with being anything except mediocre.
The 6-10 group is tough to call. Smyczek slumped through a borderline disastrous second half of 2015, but he has plenty of experience at all levels of tennis–even with ATP and Grand Slam success. Although I don’t foresee a huge rise from Smyczek, Kudla, or Harrison, all three–even Harrison–can finish well inside the top 100 if they start the season well and ensure rankings that will get them into a fair share of tournaments. Of the younger crowd, Donaldson and Fritz are the most talented and most ready to break out. I’m wary Fritz’s extremely small sample size, but it is impossible to deny is blazing hot current form.

Ben Rothenberg (New York Times):

1. John Isner
(1.5. Kevin Anderson — A boy can dream.)
2. Jack Sock
3. Steve Johnson
4. Sam Querrey
5. Taylor Fritz
6. Donald Young
7. Denis Kudla
8. Jared Donaldson
9. Tim Smyczek
10. Austin Krajicek

A three-peat for me in this contest is likely, but 2016 will be tricky since the American boys will become men at a pretty fast clip. Last year I bet against youth and it worked, but this time around a lot of them are in play. Isner should hold on to American No. 1 status with no one else within farting distance–unless he has some unforeseen long-term injury. Sock should maintain No. 2 on talent alone, even if his compete level is not as solid as Johnson’s. Querrey is too good to keep underwhelming forever, right? Then comes Taylor Fritz at No. 5, which I think will work out to around 65th in the ATP rankings–which doesn’t feel as crazy as it might look at this point.
Fritz wins boys title
DY at sixth almost feels optimistic since he’s not been one to string together steady years. And then the last three are a bit of a grab-bag–Fratangelo, Harrison (Ryan, not Christian!), Tiafoe, and Tommy Paul would all be non ludicrous picks. If I lose, it will be because I left off my stalwart Rajeev Rampras. He’s been nothing but good to me and he was a tough, tough cut. Long live Rampras.

Matt Cronin (Tennis Reporters):

1. Jack Sock
2. John Isner
3. Steve Johnson
4. Denis Kudla
5. Sam Querrey
6. Donald Young
7. Jared Donaldson
8. Taylor Fritz
9. Tim Smyczek
10. Frances Tiafoe

Sock played very well in 2015. He is in better shape, he can crush his forehand and backhand, his first serve is gigantic, and he can rush the net. He has been playing smarter of late, too. Sock has a legitimate shot to reach the top 10. But can he go super-deep in the slams? I am not sure yet. The same goes with the rest of the U.S. guys. Isner was OK last year–his backhand has improved–but he is starting to age and he just can’t seem to return serves. He may never be able to do that. Johnson works extremely hard. He may not be able to rip the balls side to side, but he is very consistent. I bet the former USC standout reaches the top 20 for the first time. Kudla might be small, but he’s as tough as nails. Querrey is just so-so and while the veteran does like to play on the ATP Tour, he doesn’t push himself. Young has to improve his backhand and his second serve.  Smyczek needs to mix it up more. All the teenagers are rising: Donaldson, Fritz and Tiafoe. By the end of 2017, they will all be in the top 50…or higher.

Steen Kirby (Tennis Atlantic):

1. John Isner
2. Jack Sock
3. Steve Johnson
4. Denis Kudla
5. Sam Querrey
6. Donald Young
7. Austin Krajicek
8. Jared Donaldson
9. Tim Smyczek
10. Frances Tiafoe

Barring health problems, it’s unlikely Isner will fall below the top 15 given that his style of play is consistent and it earns him a lot of wins against players ranked below him. Sock should continue to improve and top 20 is very feasible given the strides he’s been making year after year. Johnson may be close to his peak around the top 30 at this point, but he’s still a player in the tier above everyone else other than Isner and Sock. Look for Kudla to improve given his ball-striking and confidence from a solid 2015. Querrey should stay about the same with stable but not flashy results.

You never know what will happen with Young, but I’m guessing he’ll fall from the top 50. Krajicek should make ATP-level improvements. Donaldson is still a raw talent, but he’s shown a composure and mettle beyond his years and that should be enough to get him onto the ATP tour on a semi-regular basis. Smyczek and Tiafoe should also improve, and Tiafoe will likely benefit from more wild cards. Notably absent are Ram and Harrison. Ram is now 31; Harrison just appears lost at this point and I’m not sure he’ll ever be able to get back to the player he was. I suggest he look at the career of Ricardas Berankis to try and chart a path back to ATP-caliber tennis.

Joey Hanf (The Tennis Nerds):

1. John Isner
2. Steve Johnson
3. Jack Sock
4. Donald Young
5. Denis Kudla
6. Sam Querrey
7. Taylor Fritz
8. Tim Smyczek
9. Bjorn Fratangelo
10. Jared Donaldson

I don’t see much change at the top, and once again I think Isner is the most reliable. While Sock has the highest ceiling, I’m not sold on him week-to-week to compile enough points to take the top spot. Stevie and Donald are seasoned pros at this point and they should maintain their current positions. I see Kudla making steady progress, perhaps into the top 50, while Querrey continues to settle around 60th.
Johnson Querrey 1
Fritz has become an easy pick with his absolutely dominant play at the Challenger level. His game is made for the tour and its modern surfaces. I think even putting him at the seven spot is a bit conservative on my part. I see Smyczek having a rebound year post-marriage, and he won’t want to let his buddy Kudla–with whom he shares a coach–get too far away from him in the rankings. Fratangelo and Donaldson round out my list, with both of them cracking the top 100 at some point before falling just short at year end, around No. 105.

Jared Pine (The Second Serb)

1. John Isner
2. Jack Sock
3. Steve Johnson
4. Donald Young
5. Sam Querrey
6. Denis Kudla
7. Jared Donaldson
8. Ryan Harrison
9. Austin Krajicek
10. Bjorn FratangeloIsner is now 30 years old, but as Ivo Karlovic has shown, age is not a factor for big servers. The 6’10” giant got a late start to his professional career after playing all four years at Georgia, so he should still be in his prime. Despite missing the first two months of the 2015 season, Sock reached a career-high ranking of No. 25. He could even make a run to the top 10. Johnson endured the most cruel end to the 2015 season of anyone on tour, in terms of heartbreaking losses. That will motivate him in 2016. Young’s 2015 was memorable for his run at the U.S. Open and his win over Tomas Berdych in Montreal, but many will forget that he had another horrendous losing streak in the summer. He has the talent but lacks the consistency, making him the toughest of the Americans to predict. It’s easy to forget that Querrey was once a top 20 player with the way he’s played since his arm injury in 2012, but he is still only 28 years old.Kudla spent the majority of his 2015 campaign on the Challenger Tour, reaching a career-high ranking of No. 65 in October. Donaldson’s poor end of 2015 is going to kill a lot of the buzz around him going into this year, but there is no mistaking the talent that he possesses. The 19-year-old is also sure to get several wild cards from the USTA. For the last three years, my expectations for Harrison have been way too high. But he will take a step in the right direction in 2016. Ninth is where this list gets really tricky, because there are a lot of players to choose from. Krajicek reached a career-high ranking of No. 94 last year and has all the weapons to convert his success from the last two seasons into a successful 2016 campaign. He seems like a lock for the top 100. Leaving players like Smyczek, Fritz, Ram, and Tiafoe off this list could come back to bite me, but Fratangelo was very impressive on the Challenger Tour last year and is about ready to make the transition to the ATP circuit.

39 Comments on Mission Impossible IV: Predicting the Top 10 Americans at the end of 2016

  1. And when I say easily up there that’s if Smyczek plays bad all season so like Harrison or tiafoe gets the tenth spot or something. Just spitballing with sarkissian lol I think he could do it if things went his way like if some of the guys I listed played a poor season or got hurt and he had a few good runs at ATP events or something. Didn’t he test dolgopolov? An in form dolgopolov too.

  2. I think the top five are easy. It’s 6-10 where it gets complicated for me. I am not that familiar with some of those guys. I can see Smyczek, Fritz and Kudla all there in some kind of order. I guess Donaldon would be another. I would like to see Tiafoe in that group, but I don’t think he’s ready. I would still put him in at #10 and see what happens.

  3. 1.Isner

    Johnson, Young, and Querrey will be motivated during 2016 by the movement of young guns coming up behind them. Fritz will lead Donaldson, Tiafoe and Novikov up the ranks — passing Ram and Smyczek. I see Harrison getting left behind at least for the near future. One can never rule out later career surges – keeping my eye on Sarkissian now that he’s come into view.

    • Ben has won the last 2 years. I won in 2013. Google search if you want to see the old ones. They have the same title as this one, with the year obviously different.

  4. 1. Sock
    2. Fritz
    3. Donald Young
    4. Sekou Bangoura
    5. Johnson
    6. Isner
    7. Donaldson
    8. Serena Williams
    9. Felix Auger Aliassime
    10. Micheal Russell

  5. Well? Do You?
    Woke up to find results for some names in our MI lists with a chance/or not, in the AO qualifying final round.

    Taylor Fritz v Mischa Zverev
    Taylor battled one big German, Berrer (in a 3 setter), only to find himself facing a bigger one MZ, (who schussed Norbert Gombos, 61 62).

    Bjorn Fratangelo v Daniel Evans
    Tim Smyczek v Kenny De Schepper
    Dennis Novikov v #2 seeded, Yuichi Sugita

  6. Allez de schepper!! He won 12-10 fifth. I dunno who will win between him and Tim really tough call for me honestly.

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