The 2018 men’s tennis season on the ATP World Tour was, in simple words, a mixed bag.

The first two Grand Slams of the year were won by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal respectively, continuing the pattern from their historic 2017 season. The two last were won by Novak Djokovic, who, once again, broke their duopoly at the top with a historic season of his own.

 Of the nine Masters, only four were won by people not named Nadal or Djokovic and three of them were first-time winners – Juan Martin del Potro, John Isner and Karen Khachanov.

Last year’s season-ending ATP Finals champion, Grigor Dimitrov, endured one of his worst seasons while Alexander Zverev became the youngest ATP Finals champion since Djokovic in 2008, beating the Serb in the final in straight sets.

One of the most straightforward ways to describe the season would be to see the activity in the top ten rankings chart. The difference between the players and their positions from the start of the season to end, tells a story in itself. Djokovic ending Fedal reign, Zverev making a case for the future, Dominic Thiem and Marin Cilic showing their inconsistent inconsistency and del Potro finally making his way in the top three, even if it came almost a decade late.


2018 Top 10 at the start and end of the year

Name Ranking at end of 2018 Ranking at start of 2018
Novak Djokovic 1 12
Rafael Nadal 2 1
Roger Federer 3 2
Alexander Zverev 4 4
Juan Martin del Potro 5 11
Kevin Anderson 6 14
Marin Cilic 7 6
Dominic Thiem 8 5
Kei Nishikori 9 22
John Isner 10 17

Like he had with a sensational season in 2011, Djokovic broke through at the top creating some new records in the process. He became the lowest-ranked player to become world No 1 in October after being ranked 22nd in May. He also became the first man to have won all nine Masters in his career, the most compelling proof test of his unmatched versatility.


Nadal, whose last year’s record of oldest year-end No 1 was broken by the Serb, was in imperious form… when he was fit. He has a stunning win record of 45-4 this year but he had to retire from the semi-finals at both Australian Open and US Open and didn’t play any tournament since September. Of course, he won his customary French Open, two Masters on clay, and a rare hard court Masters at Rogers Cup. Despite not playing for a large chunk of the season, he is a deserving world No 2.

Christopher Clarey


Year-end ATP rankings 2018 (Same top 3 order as in 2011)

1 Djokovic
2 Nadal
3 Federer
4 A. Zverev
5 Del Potro
6 Anderson
7 Cilic
8 Thiem
9 Nishikori
10 Isner
11 Khachanov
12 Coric
13 Fognini
14 Edmund
15 Tsitsipas
16 Medvedev
17 Schwartzman
18 Raonic
19 Dimitrov
20 Cecchinato

For Federer, this was a truly hot-and-cold season. He defended a Grand Slam after almost a decade when he won the Australian Open, went on a 17-match winning streak, he became the oldest world No 1 at 36 and finished the year as world No 3 – remarkable given his age. Yet in comparison to his 2017 run, he was in poor form. He lost in the two Masters final he reached, won two 250 and one 500 trophies and was beaten often by much lower-ranked players. But tennis’s grand old man is happy with the results, and so are the sport’s many stakeholders.

The names that stand out in this list are Kevin Anderson and Kei Nishikori. The Japanese player returned to action in January after a five-month wrist injury layoff, played on the Challenger circuit to gain match practise but fell to number 39 in the ATP rankings in April, his lowest position since 2011. But in the second half, he made his way back to the top, reaching the US semi-finals.

Anderson, on the other hand, was one of the few top players to build on the momentum from the last season. After reaching the US Open final in 2017, he was a runner-up at Wimbledon in 2018 and made deep runs in almost all tournaments he played.


But not everyone on the tour were able to enjoy resurgence or even hold on to momentum from a good season. A look at the 2017 year-end top 10 and their positions at the end of 2018 tells a tale of deep downfalls and the painful side of comebacks.

2017 year-end top-10 and their 2018 ranks

Name Ranking at end of 2017 Ranking at end of 2018
Rafael Nadal 1 2
Roger Federer 2 3
Grigor Dimitrov 3 19
Alexander Zverev 4 4
Dominic Thiem 5 8
Marin Cilic 6 7
David Goffin 7 22
Jack Sock 8 106
Stan Wawrinka 9 66
Pablo Carreno Busta 10 23

Dimitrov is, with very little argument, one of the biggest losers of 2018. After winning two of his biggest career title and reaching the world No 3 spot in 2017, he went down a path of early losses, not defending most of his points. In fact, he was not even close to getting into the ATP Finals to defend his title.

From 3 to 19 is a huge slide but it was not unexpected given how increasingly poor his game got through the season where the bad invariably overshadowed the good. The Bulgarian has now added Andre Agassi to his coaching staff and it remains to be seen how he recovers.

Two of his first round losses, both at Grand Slams, came to Stan Wawrinka who has also had a steep slide in rankings. But the Swiss player’s slip was due to injury layoff after two knee surgeries. The three-time Grand Slam champion had fallen to world No 256 after the French Open, but has worked his way back arduously and admirably, even if it is not close to what he wanted it to be.


Statistically, the biggest difference in rankings has been Sock. However, Sock is now the doubles world No 2 and the champion at this year’s ATP finals with Mike Bryan, just a year after taking part in the singles event as a Masters champion.

But Sock is the anomaly on the ATP Tour, that largely functioned as it has for the last decade – the veterans dominate, even as the generation that tries to make inroads changes. Will this mixed back season herald the change is something new on 2019? Only time can tell.