Mission Impossible V: Predicting the Top 10 Americans at the end of 2017

The fifth annual installment of this impossible game is back, and now it may be even more difficult than ever from start to finish. John Isner no longer has a stranglehold on the top of the American rankings. He finished 2016 at No. 1 among his countrymen, but not before being briefly surpassed by Steve Johnson. Jack Sock and Sam Querrey remain threats to Isner and Johnson, as well. The impressive contingent of young stars has also arrived. Who knows just how high–and how fast–Taylor Fritz, Jared Donaldson, and Frances Tiafoe can go? A six-team panel tries to answer those questions–and more–as it predicts the American year-end top 10.

2016 predictions

2016 results

2017 predictions

Ricky Dimon (The Grandstand):

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

Isner was borderline bad in 2016 and still finished as the No. 1 American. He was briefly overtaken by Johnson late in the season but made a run to the Paris Masters final to finish in the overall top 20 for the one billionth straight year. With few points, relatively speaking, to defend early in 2017, Isner should be able to charge into the top 16 and get favorable draws at a number of big tournaments.

Beyond the top four stalwarts, I see Donaldson making the most progress with his game and Harrison to maintain momentum from a productive second half of last season. Fritz has plenty of off-the-court things to deal with (wife, child on the way) and may endure a bit of a “sophomore slump.” I feel good about the top nine, but No. 10 could go in any direction. I’ll side with Kudla’s experience–and his awesome backhand.

Ben Rothenberg (New York Times):

1. Jack Sock
2. John Isner
3. Steve Johnson
4. Sam Querrey
5. Frances Tiafoe
6. Jared Donaldson
7. Taylor (Harry) Fritz
8. Ryan (Harry) Harrison
9. Stefan Kozlov
10. Bjorn Fratangelo

After not going huge on the youth in 2016, I’m pushing hard that way this year–at least to round out my list. Fritz is still the most established and talked about of his generation but I think he’s still learning how to win at this level, whereas Tiafoe will be able to impose himself more with his more physical game. Ernesto Escobedo I have barely seen, but he could sneak into one of those last spots, too.

With how you score this (one point deducted for each ranking spot off with each player), I’m admittedly trying to minimize damage by avoiding any possible Austin Krajicekian grenades. And, worth noting as always, I’ve left of Rampras once again–which is perhaps unwise, but I see him focusing on doubles this year.

Steen Kirby (Tennis Atlantic)
:

1. Jack Sock
2. John Isner
3. Steve Johnson
4. Taylor Fritz
5. Sam Querrey
6. Jared Donaldson
7. Frances Tiafoe
8. Ryan Harrison
9. Donald Young
10. Bjorn Fratangelo

Sock and Fritz in particular should continue to move up the rankings, with Sock adding multiple ATP titles this season in my projection and Fritz cementing himself as an ATP tour regular. Isner seems to be in a bit of a decline, although his serve is still good for a lot of match wins and perhaps a 250 title or two. Johnson and Querrey remain solid, while Donaldson and Tiafoe should get the wild cards and enough victories necessary for valuable ranking points.

It’s hard to predict the last three spots, but Harrison and Young remain reliable bets to play enough ATP tournaments and do well in Challengers to stay around the top 100. Fratangelo should improve a bit if he can keep doing better away from clay.

Joey Hanf (Cliff Drysdale Tennis):

1. Jack Sock
2. John Isner
3. Steve Johnson
4. Sam Querrey
5. Frances Tiafoe
6. Taylor Fritz
7. Donald Young
8. Stefan Kozlov
9. Bjorn Fratangelo
10. Ernesto Escobedo

Top of the order remains slightly tame; Sock has shown that his forehand alone can get him inside the top 20, and Isner’s climbing age seems to be directly correlated with injuries and inconsistency. He deserves a lot of credit for bearing the U.S. torch over the last few years; it would have been much uglier without him. Johnson and Querrey would do well to hold their current rankings.

I see a big rise for Tiafoe in 2017; he’s explosive and has matured well over the last two years. Fritz was always going to hit a wall after his incredible success at the end of 2015/start of 2016. The tour has seen him around and understands a few of his weaknesses, but he should be able to get inside the top 50. Kozlov quietly made big strides last year, and his game will frustrate many at the tour level. Finally, Escobedo may have the most untapped potential of anybody on this list; his rally ball is as big as most players finishing shot.

Jared Pine (The Second Serb)

1. Jack Sock
2. Steve Johnson
3. John Isner
4. Taylor Fritz
5. Sam Querrey
6. Ryan Harrison
7. Jared Donaldson
8. Frances Tiafoe
9. Stefan Kozlov
10. Bjorn Fratangelo

I got burned for leaving Fritz off the list last year, but that’s not happening again this time around. While France and Spain’s top players are getting older each year, the United States is the one top country that is getting younger. Seven of the top 10 Americans will be players born in the ’90s and it might as well be eight since Johnson was born in December of 1989.

I have Harrison at No. 6, which might be the highest of anyone on the panel this year. It’s easy to forget that Harrison is still only 24 years old and he has already been as high as No. 43. There’s no reason he can’t return to that level in 2017. Teenagers Tiafoe and Kozlov had a lot of success on the Challenger Tour last season. Both of them only need to improve slightly to get into the top 100 in 2017.

Pete Ziebron (Tennis Acumen):

1. Steve Johnson
2. John Isner
3. Jack Sock
4. Sam Querrey
5. Taylor Fritz
6. Jared Donaldson
7. Ryan Harrison
8. Frances Tiafoe
9. Donald Young
10. Ernesto Escobedo

The Johnson I expect to see in 2017 is the one who played solid tennis in reaching the quarterfinals of the Olympics and Cincinnati. The fact that Isner has not accomplished more puzzles Nadal: “Nobody likes to play against a player who you will not have the chance to be on rhythm for most of the time. So John is this kind of player that, in my opinion, he should be fighting for the Masters, for the top 10″…and Juan Martin del Potro: “He’s a really tough opponent for us. His serves are unbelievable, and nobody wants to play against him.” Isner still has such tools and abilities yet resides outside of the Top 10 despite what Nadal believes he can and should achieve. Expect Sock to improve, but will he get in the shape that is necessary? Mardy Fish realized that fitness is vital to success too late in his career and when he did, rose to No. 7 in the world. Querrey is indeed capable of knocking out the best in the game (Djokovic), but will we see this confidence on a regular basis in 2017?

I’m looking forward to watching the continued progress of the 19-year-old Fritz and he will continue to build on his first full ATP season last year, when he nearly reached the top 50.  Like Isner, Donaldson tends to play his best tennis in the USA and he will have plenty of opportunities to threaten big names in 201–as he did last year. I’m hoping that Harrison can make some noise this season, but we have been waiting quite a while for him to deliver. Tiafoe showed flashes of what we can expect going forward last year at Indian Wells and he will continue to improve an climb in the rankings with additional match play. Young is the same age as Johnson, yet it seems like he has been around forever. Finally, Escobedo is intriguing and I expect him to compete well in 2017.




7 Comments on Mission Impossible V: Predicting the Top 10 Americans at the end of 2017

  1. I don’t think Taylor Fritz’ wife is pregnant as the article says in Ricky’s segment at the beginning. Unless you know something that they haven’t announced!

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