In 2018, two players who would eventually qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals spent the early part of the season struggling to recover from injuries. Novak Djokovic overcame a right elbow procedure and a 6-6 start to climb from No. 22 to No. 1 in the ATP Rankings. Kei Nishikori, who began the year on the ATP Challenger Tour as he returned from a wrist injury, also earned his spot at the season finale in London.
Will we see more impressive comebacks in 2019? Four former Top 5 stars who missed chunks of time in 2018 could make a major impact next year.
The former World No. 1 underwent hip surgery this January, falling as low as No. 839 in the ATP Rankings in July. Murray returned in June at the Fever-Tree Championships, competing in six events before ending his season after the Shenzhen Open to fully recover for 2019.
But despite Murray understandably not roaring to the top of the sport from his first tournament back, he gave fans around the world plenty of reason for optimism heading into 2019. The former World No. 1 was perhaps most impressive at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. In just his third tournament back from surgery — and his first on hard courts — Murray won three matches to reach the quarter-finals. But it’s not the fact that at World No. 832 he made the last eight, it’s how he did it.
Murray won three three-setters, including an impressive victory against British No. 1 Kyle Edmund. The Scot showed that his will to win is as strong as ever in the Round of 16 against Marius Copil, surviving a third-set tie-break that ended at 3:02 am before bursting into tears, showing his investment into the moment.
In his final event of 2018 in Shenzhen, Murray defeated 2017 Nitto ATP Finals runner-up and 2017 Shenzhen champion David Goffin before ultimately losing to Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco. Murray showed that his level is still there, but it may just take matches to round into top form. So look for him to steadily improve in 2019, with perhaps one big result giving Murray all the momentum he needs.
The Swiss No. 2 underwent two surgeries to treat a knee cartilage injury in August 2017. But already back to No. 66 in the ATP Rankings after falling as low as No. 263 this June, Wawrinka has shown that he is well on his way to returning to his very best.
The former World No. 3 beat 2017 Nitto ATP Finals titlist Grigor Dimitrov in the first round at both Wimbledon and the US Open, winning six of the seven sets they played this year. Those were particularly strong wins as the Bulgarian had come out victorious in their previous four FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings.
Wawrinka improved towards the end of the season. Not only did he push then-World No. 1 Rafael Nadal in a tight two-setter at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, but he extended Roger Federer in the quarter-finals of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, battling through a second-set tie-break to force a decider before succumbing in the all-Swiss affair.
Throughout 2018, Wawrinka has remained optimistic, saying repeatedly that he believes that eventually he will find his best tennis. And with the momentum of his first semi-final in seven months at the St. Petersburg Open in September, Wawrinka looks set to come out firing in 2019.
Tsonga was forced to miss more than seven months of the 2018 season due to a knee injury. And while the Frenchman won just one of his six matches after returning in September, he showed that his game is not far off.
The former World No. 5 might have struggled to get over the hump in his return when it comes to winning matches, but five of his six clashes went to a deciding set, with all of his opponents in those meetings sitting inside the Top 65 of the ATP Rankings. The 16-time tour-level champion was competing well against some of the best players in the sport.
Tsonga has long been one of the most athletic players on the ATP Tour, and his all-around firepower will keep him in many matches early in 2019. And once he adds more wins under his belt, his confidence will continue to build.
Tsonga also has consistency on his side. While 2018 will be seen as a hiccup, the 33-year-old has proven his ability to maintain his standing towards the top of the sport, finishing inside the Top 20 of the year-end ATP Rankings in 10 consecutive seasons (2008-17). It’s safe to say that Tsonga will not be World No. 256 for long.
Berdych did not compete after the Fever-Tree Championships in June due to a back injury. And while the Czech — who had finished 12 consecutive seasons (2006-17) inside the Top 20 of the year-end ATP Rankings — will be disappointed to have fallen as low as World No. 77, there’s no reason to believe the former World No. 4 will not be able to bounce back.
Berdych began 2018 on a high note, reaching the quarter-finals at the Australian Open, losing to eventual champion Federer. But in that event, Berdych defeated Juan Martin del Potro and Fabio Fognini, two of the season’s biggest standouts. Del Potro won his maiden ATP Tour Masters 1000 title less than two months later in Indian Wells, and Fognini would capture three titles.
Berdych is scheduled to return to action in Doha, where he reached the final in 2015 and the semi-finals in 2016-17. The Czech star is also entered in the Australian Open.