When it comes to the ATP rankings ahead of this year’s Australian Open, the adage ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ has never been more apt.
Cast your eye over the year-end rankings for the 2022 season and you’ll have an idea of the hierarchy, but take into account two key factors and the whole table turns on its head.
The first factor is Wimbledon, which the tennis world so often revolves around but this time did so in a way no one could’ve predicted.
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Tennis legend cancels plans for Aus | 00:31
Tennis’ most prestigious tournament was stripped of both ATP and WTA ranking points in 2022 after the All England Club barred players from Russia or Belarus from participating, a move made in condemnation of the two countries amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Whatever the cases for and against the decisions, there can be no denying the havoc it wreaked on the rankings as a result.
Living in a world of what-ifs is a dangerous game, but consider the fact that, if rankings points had counted, 21 of the world’s top 30 players would hold a different ranking.
While some of the movements would be minute, one player was clearly adversely impacted more than any: Nick Kyrgios.
The Australian’s run to the Wimbledon final – where he lost to Novak Djokovic – would’ve seen him rocket up the order had points been awarded.
With the Wimbledon runner-up receiving 1200 ranking points (the winner receives 2000), Kyrgios would’ve ended the year 11 spots higher than he did in reality, going from world No.22 to world No.11 at year’s end.
Instead, sitting just inside the world’s top 25, Kyrgios will meet some of the world’s top order earlier in the Australian Open… not that the 27-year-old would be all that intimidated.
Kyrgios would be the first to point out he should be ranked higher than he is given his Wimbledon run, but he has also taken issue with the system overall.
At the close of last year, the Universal Tennis Rating (UTR) rankings were released, with some seeing the alternative system a more accurate picture of the tennis hierarchy.
The system takes into account the strength of opponents faced, games won and the player’s last 30 matches within 12 months.
In December, Kyrgios finished world No.2, surpassed only by Djokovic in top spot.
“I’ve said it before,” Nick Kyrgios tweeted in all capital letters in response to the UTR rankings.
“The current ranking system is based on consistency and how much you play. Not skill and form.”
Djokovic, the Wimbledon champion of 2022, is the other big factor.
Had Djokovic’s points have counted, he would’ve defended his 2021 title and retained the 2000 points that come with it.
The 21-time grand slam singles champion, instead of finishing as world No.5, would’ve finished at world No.2, with just 180 points separating he and the top-ranked Carlos Alcaraz.
In Djokovic’s case, however, he could’ve finished well and truly king of the mountain for an unprecedented eighth time (he already holds the record of seven), if not for his decision to refuse vaccination against Covid-19.
The most glaring example of what Djokovic’s stance cost him came at the 2022 Australian Open.
Instead of vying for a fourth consecutive title at the event and breaking the 20-slam deadlock between himself, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Djokovic instead fought, unsuccessfully, to retain his visa.
The then-world No.1 was deported from Australia, drawing to a close a saga that had engulfed the sporting world at its peak.
Djokovic would also miss the 2022 US Open as a result of his vaccination stance, marking the first time since 2004 he had failed to compete in the main draw of two major tournaments.
Vaccine mandate rules also saw him withdraw from both the Indian Wells and Miami Masters, where a combined total of 2000 points were on offer.
Djokovic finished the season with a 42-7 record, but punctuated it with a record-equalling sixth ATP Finals crown, going undefeated in six matches against some of the world’s best players.
While Alcaraz finished the season as world number one, world No.9 Taylor Fritz put things pretty simply when asked whether Djokovic was still, in practice, the best player in the world.
“There’s no doubt about that,” Fritz said in late November after falling to Djokovic in two tiebreak sets at the ATP Finals.
“Take Novak out of the equation, and there’s 15 to 20 people that can all beat each other on any given day given the circumstances,”
After sealing the ATP Finals, Djokovic himself was asked whether he felt he was the best player in the world despite the rankings.
“I always see myself as the best player in the world,” he said.
“I have that kind of mentality and that kind of approach. Regardless of who is across the net, regardless of what the surface is, regardless of what season it is, what number of the professional season in my career we’re facing. It’s always the same. The ambitions are as high as possible.”
Seeing Djokovic ranked at world No.5 is, like Kyrgios at No.22, a product of factors unrelated to their pure tennis ability.
Now back in Australia, there’s little doubt Djokovic enters the first major of the year as the undisputed favourite, while Kyrgios likely enters it as the undisputed crowd favourite.
Both loom large over the Australian Open – far, far larger than their ranking otherwise suggests.
ATP YEAR-END TOP 30 WITH WIMBLEDON POINTS INCLUDED
No.1 Carlos Alcaraz
No.2 Novak Djokovic (+3 spots)
No.3 Rafael Nadal (-1)
No.4 Casper Ruud (-1)
No.5 Stefanos Tsitsipas (-1)
No.6 Felix Auger-Aliassime
No.7 Daniil Medvedev
No.8 Andrey Rublev
No.9 Taylor Fritz
No.10 Cameron Norrie (+4)
No.11 Nick Kyrgios (+11)
No.12 Hubert Hurkacz (-2)
No.13 Holger Rune (-2)
No.14 Jannik Sinner (+1)
No.15 Alexander Zverev (-3)
No.16 Pablo Carreno Busta (-3)
No.17 Matteo Berrettini (-1)
No.18 Frances Tiafoe (+1)
No.19 Denis Shapovalov (-1)
No.20 Marin Cilic (-3)
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