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Djokovic, Thiem, Kyrgios, Tsitsipas - Who has most to prove before clay season?

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Tsitsipas, Djokovic, Thiem, Kyrgios

Image credit: Eurosport

ByEurosport UK
24/02/2020 at 15:47 | Updated 24/02/2020 at 15:57

After something of a post-Australian Open slumber, the ATP tennis season is stirring and ready to fully reawaken.

Dubai, Acapulco and Santiago are the venues this week with Masters events in Indian Wells and Miami on the horizon.

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Attentions then turn to the clay in the lead up to Roland-Garros. So who’s got the most to prove over the next month? James Walker-Roberts picks out a few names…

Stefanos Tsitsipas

Having finished the 2019 season by winning the ATP Finals, Tsitsipas was tipped for big things in 2020.

Those expectations were dampened slightly by a third-round defeat at the Australian Open and last-16 loss to Aljaz Bedene in Rotterdam.

But now he’s on the up again after again dominating at the Open 13 Provence trophy in Marseille - winning the title for a second straight year without dropping a set.

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So where now for Tsitsipas, who says he was proud that, during his win over Felix Auger-Aliassime in the Marseille final, he didn’t “mentally crack, not once”.

The 21-year-old is competing with world No 1 Novak Djokovic in Dubai, where he lost in the final last year, before heading to Indian Wells, where he hasn’t yet progressed beyond the second round.

Can he challenge for either Masters title this year and get back into the top five in the world?

Nick Kyrgios

Nick Kyrgios with something to prove? Never?!

Sure it seems like he is looking to prove himself every year, every week and every match, but his form at the Australian Open, plus his efforts towards helping those affected by the bushfires, means there’s a little more hope that he could take another step forward this year.

He hasn’t played since Australia - a wrist injury ruling him out of Delray Beach but not preventing him from expressing his dissatisfaction at clay tournaments in February (see tweet below) - but he is next returning to potentially one of his favourite stops on the tour: Acapulco.

Kyrgios beat Djokovic on his way to the semis in 2017 and won the tournament last year after a memorable run that included three-set wins over Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka.

He’s only once made it past the second round in Indian Wells but in 2017 he showed good form at both Masters events - beating Djokovic and Alexander Zverev in Indian Wells before withdrawing from the quarter-finals due to injury and then losing to Roger Federer in three sets in the Miami semi-finals.

Oh, and if he needs any extra motivation to go deep again in Acapulco there’s the prospect of a juicy final against long-time rival Nadal.

Novak Djokovic

OK, hear me out on this one.

Djokovic has looked in ominous form so far in 2020, as demonstrated by his 13-0 record, but in recent seasons this hasn’t been his best time of the year.

He hasn’t reached the final in either Indian Wells or Miami since 2016, when he won both events. Even last year, coming off the back of one of his finest performances in the Australian Open final against Nadal, he lost his second match in Indian Wells and his third in Miami.

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The year before he lost in the first round of both.

His results in 2019 mean he doesn’t have many points to defend, so can extend his advantage over Nadal at the top of the rankings.

He’s also doing things slightly differently by playing in Dubai ahead of the Masters double. It’s his first time in Dubai in four years and the first time he has played an event between the Australian Open and Indian Wells since 2017.

OK, Djokovic doesn’t have much to prove these days, but if he can shine over the next month it would at least prove troublesome for the field ahead of the clay season.

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Dominic Thiem

After impressing in Australia, it might have been expected that Thiem would take some time off.

But he doesn’t really do that.

Instead he continued his slightly unusual course - at least for the top-ranked players - of heading to Brazil for the clay-court Rio Open for the fifth straight year.

Dominic Thiem played in Rio last week

Image credit: Getty Images

It didn’t turn out too well as he battled through two three-set matches and then lost a rain-interrupted contest to world No 128 Gianluca Mager.

Thiem called the tournament “tricky” due to the very late finishes and also added: “The conditions here are not easy, the balls and the clay. It’s a little bit different than anywhere else.”

All of which makes it an odd choice for Thiem between hard-court tournaments, despite his fondness of clay.

He’s also not scheduled to play this week, which means his next event will be defending the biggest title of his career at Indian Wells. He will then head to Miami looking to avoid a second-round exit for the third year in a row.

It's a big few weeks for the Austrian before he can turn his attentions fully to clay.

Alexander Zverev

Mightily impressive at the Australian Open as he reached the semi-finals without dropping a set, can Zverev carry his form into Indian Wells, Miami and beyond?

He doesn’t have great form in Indian Wells, where he has lost early for the last three years, but, prior to a second-round exit last year, reached the final and quarter-finals in Miami.

Will Alexander Zvevev make an impact at the upcoming Masters events?

Image credit: Getty Images

Before both Masters events he’s competing in Acapulco, where he won the doubles in 2019 and reached the final in singles.

Federer's injured-enforced absence for the next few chunk of the season means there’s an opening for everyone looking to challenge the top two.

Will it be Thiem who rivals Djokovic again? Or will Zverev step up and confirm his place among the very best in the world?

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