The Beyond The Baseline awards are our look back at the best — and worst — of the tennis season. Today we offer our final “grades” for the ATP Tour singles players. Rafael Nadal headlines the list after a monstrous comeback season in which he regained the No. 1 ranking. Click here for our complete archive of year-end awards.
Head of the class
Rafael Nadal: He’s the player of the year by any metric. The Spaniard won 10 titles, including his eighth French Open and second U.S. Open, upping his Grand Slam haul to 13 titles. His season was shocking simply because he was able to bounce back from a seven-month injury layoff to dominate the tour so quickly and so consistently. Beating everyone on his beloved clay was one thing, but through the U.S. Open he also transformed into the best hard-court player, outpacing the likes of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and an admittedly subpar Roger Federer. For eight months, the Big Four was reduced to the Big One, and in this era of greatness, that’s one heck of a feat.
Andy Murray: Seventy-seven. It’s a figure that will live forever in tennis history, signifying the number of years that Great Britain had to wait for another male champion at Wimbledon. Murray ended that hand-wringing drought, and that will forever define his career.
Stanislas Wawrinka: His 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 12-10 loss to Djokovic in the fourth round of the Australian Open was the most electrifying match of the season and a harbinger of the type of quality tennis that Wawrinka would play in 2013. For the first time in his career, he looked like a man who truly believed he belonged among the elite. And by season’s end he was in that class, qualifying for the ATP World Tour Finals for the first time and advancing to the semifinals.
Tommy Haas: The 35-year-old bested his fantastic 2012 season to finish at No. 12, winning the Erste Bank Open and BMW Open. His 6-2, 6-4 win over Djokovic in the fourth round of the Sony Open set up a run to the semifinals, his first at an outdoor hard-court ATP Masters 1000 event in more than 10 years. Haas kept it up and knocked off another major career milestone in May, reaching the quarterfinals of the French Open for the first time.
Richard Gasquet: He jumped only one spot in the rankings, from No. 10 to No. 9, but the Frenchman made huge strides this season. He reached his first major semifinal in six years, at the U.S. Open, where Gasquet — who had been 1-15 in the fourth round of Slams — displayed surprising mettle by outlasting Milos Raonic 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4), 2-6, 7-6 (9), 7-5 in four hours and 40 minutes in the round of 16 before turning around and holding off David Ferrer 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3 in the quarterfinals. It wouldn’t have been surprising if Gasquet had wilted after squandering a two-set lead against Ferrer, but the 27-year-old shot maker showed that he could grind, too. Gasquet won three titles and qualified for the ATP World Tour Finals for the first time since 2007.
Ernests Gulbis: The charismatic Latvian had a slow start; he didn’t play the Australian Open because his No. 136 ranking in January kept him out of the main draw, and he lost to the 234th-ranked player at an ATP Challenger event in Bergamo, Italy. Then, after his mom told him to quit the sport, he went on a 17-2 tear before losing to Nadal at Indian Wells. He still struggled with his consistency, and lost to No. 88 Andreas Haider-Maurer in the first round of the U.S. Open, but Gulbis finished the year with two titles and a No. 24 ranking and earned a seed for Melbourne in 2014. And he did it all while remaining eminently quotable. A win-win for everyone.
Tommy Robredo: Coming off a leg injury that shortened his 2012 season, the 31-year-old Spaniard went from being ranked out of the top 100 in January to winning two titles and putting together memorable runs at the French Open and U.S. Open. At Roland Garros, he became the first player to rally from two-set deficits in three consecutive matches, resulting in his first major quarterfinal since 2009. In New York, he stunned Federer to make another Slam quarterfinal. He finished the season at No. 18, his highest year-end ranking since 2009.
Grigor Dimitrov: The 22-year-old Bulgarian began living up to the hype, spending the season checking off a bunch of firsts. There was his first ATP final, at the Brisbane International in January; his first Masters quarterfinal, in Monte Carlo; his first win over a world No. 1, a 7-6 (6), 6-7 (8), 6-3 victory over Djokovic in the Madrid Open; his first third round in a Slam, at the French Open; and his first ATP title, at the Stockholm Open, where he defeated Ferrer in the final. He looks primed for more after ending 2013 at No. 23, though his recent coaching change will be one to watch.
Fabio Fognini: Sure, we could knock him for seeming to give less than his best effort at times, including infamous meltdowns at the Western & Southern Open and St. Petersburg Open, but the Italian was a workhorse on clay (28-10). He won the first two titles of his career and made a third final during his run through Stuttgart, Germany; Hamburg, Germany; and Umag, Croatia, after Wimbledon. That talent has always been there (he’s a former French Open quarterfinalist), and this season he was able to focus and actually win — most of the time.
Jerzy Janowicz: Who knew what to expect from Janowicz after he burst into the top 30 via his breakout run at the Paris Masters at the end of last season? The 23-year-old took another step forward when, in his fifth major, he made the Wimbledon semifinals behind his brazen shot making and booming serve. A back injury derailed him at the U.S. Open, but the Pole inched up to No. 21 and proved to be a legitimate threat.
Novak Djokovic: Djokovic was the best runner-up for a good portion of the season. He dropped a heartbreaker to Nadal in the de facto final at the French Open, he lost to Murray in the final of Wimbledon and he fell to Nadal again in the U.S. Open final. But he also won the Australian Open for the third consecutive year and ended the season on a 24-match winning streak that included two victories against Nadal. The 26-year-old Serb may have had a couple of uncharacteristic lapses this year, but he still won seven titles (second most in his career) and went 74-9.
Juan Martin del Potro: His 6-2, 6-4 thumping of Nadal at the Shanghai Masters was a revelation, as were his back-to-back wins over Djokovic and Murray at Indian Wells. The Argentine also won four titles, but he lost early at two of the three majors he played and was hit or miss at the Masters 1000 events. His season included a number of entertaining near misses, including a five-set loss to Djokovic in the semifinals of Wimbledon.
Milos Raonic: The 22-year-old Canadian is still the youngest player in the top 15, at No. 11. After making the final of the Rogers Cup in Montreal, Raonic became the first Canadian man to crack the top 10. He didn’t complete a Slam breakthrough or register an earth-shattering victory, but the progress is there and his midseason partnership with Ivan Ljubicic is encouraging.
David Ferrer: The 31-year-old Spaniard made his first Slam final, at the French Open. He finished at a career-high No. 3 despite a 3-13 record against top-10 players.
John Isner: Isner, who missed the Australian Open with a knee injury and retired from his second-round match at Wimbledon with a knee injury, made consistently deep runs at the ATP’s smaller tournaments in the United States. The 28-year-old won two titles for the third year in a row, and he impressed by beating Gasquet, Raonic, Djokovic and del Potro to advance to the final of the Masters 1000 tournament in Cincinnati.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: His year might have looked different if not for a midseason knee injury that led to his second-round retirement at Wimbledon and his withdrawal from the U.S. Open. However, the Frenchman still delivered in the biggest tournaments at which he was healthy. He avenged a spirited five-set loss to Federer in the Australian Open quarterfinals by dispatching the Swiss 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 in the French Open quarterfinals, reaching the semifinals of his home Slam for the first time.
Roger Federer: There’s no way around it: This was Federer’s worst season in more than a decade. His record streak of making Slam quarterfinals ended at 36. He suffered shocking losses to No. 116 Sergiy Stakhovsky in the second round of Wimbledon and to Robredo, who had never beaten him in 10 attempts, at the U.S. Open. He won just one title, at an ATP 250 tournament in Halle, Germany, and collected four victories against top-10 players, including two at the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals.
Kei Nishikori: The 23-year-old Nishikori, who last season became the first Japanese player to win the Japan Open, stalled in 2013. The jury is still out on whether his body can endure the grind of a full ATP season.
Sam Querrey: The American started the year at No. 22 and ended at No. 46. A straight-set win over Wawrinka at the China Open was the only notable result in a 27-22 season.
Gael Monfils: Grappling with injuries, Monfils had a season of memorable losses and few notable wins. His three-set triumph over Federer at the Shanghai Masters was the highlight, but more often than not he was embroiled in unnecessarily long matches that ended in a loss. That said, he did get a U.S. crowd to cheer against Isner, so I suppose that’s a victory in and of itself.
Held back a grade
Ryan Harrison: After a string of seasons marked by improvement, the 21-year-old American went 11-21 on the tour and slipped outside the top 100.
Brian Baker: Baker sustained a knee injury at the Australian Open that knocked him out for most of the season. It was a bummer after he emerged as one of the biggest surprises in 2012.
David Goffin: What happened?
Bernard Tomic: He showed up big time in Australia, beating Djokovic at the Hopman Cup exhibition, winning Sydney for his first title and playing respectably in a third-round loss to Federer in Melbourne. But aside from those results and a solid upset of Gasquet at Wimbledon, Tomic was nowhere to be found during a year that included the distraction of his father’s conviction for assaulting his hitting partner.
Janko Tipsarevic: Injured and slumping through most of the season, the 29-year-old Serb capped it off by missing the Davis Cup final because of a heel injury. He began the year at No. 9 and finished at No. 36.
Juan Monaco: Much like Tipsarevic, Monaco couldn’t back up his 2012 season. A wrist injury slowed Monaco, who lost his opening-round match in his first five tournaments and closed at No. 42, down from No. 12.
David Nalbandian: We’ll miss the backhand, but not necessarily the temper of the former world No. 3. But, boy, did that backhand make up for the temper.
James Blake: The retirement announcement at the U.S. Open from the 32-year-old former world No. 4 didn’t come as a huge surprise. His final match was a five-set loss on Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Nicolas Massu: The Chilean, who peaked at No. 9 and was the gold medalist in singles and doubles at the 2004 Athens Olympics, bid farewell this summer.