Thiem, Kyrgios, Wawrinka, Del Potro: Where are the big absent (or almost) of 2021?

The 2021 financial year undoubtedly marked the end of an era. That of an indestructible “Big 3”. If Novak Djokovic still holds the reins firmly, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have suffered physically, ending their season last summer respectively due to a foot injury and a third right knee operation. Due to their status, the two Spanish and Swiss legends have occupied the news a lot in recent weeks as to the evolution of their form and their prospects.

The Mallorcan is considering a return to the Australian Open, while the Balois is aiming next summer probably after Wimbledon. But other big names have also been missing for many months. More discreet, they went a little under the radar. And yet, they could help spice up the 2022 season if they manage to regain their peak, bolstering the competition to Serbian world number 1 alongside Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev among others. A quick overview starting with a recent Grand Slam champion: Dominic Thiem.

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Dominic Thiem / Mallorca Tournament 2021

Credit: Getty Images

Dominic Thiem

Age: 28 years old
2021 results: 9 victories, 9 defeats
Ranking start 2021: 3rd
Current ranking: 15th

  • How it got there

His US Open title in 2020 had made him the designated rival of Djokovic and Nadal this season. Yes but here it is, “Dominator” experienced a real decompression and lost the flame a little after having reached his ultimate goal: a Grand Slam coronation. To this were added physical problems at the start of the season with a chronic injury to the right foot and knee pain. While he intended to revive during the tour on clay, his defeat in the first round at Roland Garros sank him a little more.

Patient and looking for a second wind, he felt he could not fall any lower. He was wrong. Opposed to Adrian Mannarino on the grass of Mallorca in June, Dominic Thiem injured his right wrist. A forfeit at Wimbledon and then another at the Olympics followed, but he was hoping to defend his title at Flushing. This was without counting on a relapse in the heart of the summer after a few training sessions that forced him to end his nightmare in 2021.

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Thiem has not lost his hand: the summary of his beautiful victory against Giron

  • When will he be back and what can he hope for?

In recent weeks, the wheel seems to have finally turned for Thiem with a string of good news. The Austrian avoided the operation, his wrist stabilized and he returned to hitting classic balls in training in early November. After separating from his six-year-old physical trainer Alex Strober – whom he believed to be partly responsible for his relapse – he hired Carlos Costa as a physiotherapist.

Thiem is registered for the Abu Dhabi exhibition from December 16 to 18, where he will be able to test himself for the first time against the competition, in particular Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. The objective is to approach the Australian Open to 100% of its means. If the physical worries are behind him and the motivation to return, there is no reason to believe that he cannot once again become a major force on the circuit, at least on hard and clay, of course.

Nick kyrgios

Age: 26 years old
2021 results: 7 victories – 8 defeats
Ranking start 2021: 46th
Ranking: 93rd

  • How it got there

Nick Kyrgios owes his downfall above all to his choices. Rarely but noticeably have the Aussie shown this season what a formidable tennis player he is. At the Australian Open, his epic fights in five sets against Ugo Humbert (2nd round) then Dominic Thiem (3rd round) ignited a crowd won over to his cause. At Wimbledon, while he landed without the slightest preparation, he still put on the show and amazed by his level against the same Humbert who nevertheless remained on a title in Halle.

But between the two Grand Slam tournaments, he did not kick the racket on the circuit, preferring to stay in the country, rather than dealing with the constraints of a circuit “under bubble” because of the coronavirus. Not serious enough to get back into good physical condition, he did not win a game during the American summer, ending the season at the Laver Cup with his 5th loss in a row. Kyrgios did not hide his doubts about the rest of his career in the aftermath.

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5 stunning sets and 3h20 of combat: this Thiem-Kyrgios has kept all its promises

  • When will he be back and what can he hope for?

Back in Australia, he first had to deal with chronic tendonitis of the left knee. To treat it, he had also announced that he would undoubtedly undergo a PRP treatment (plasma injection, Editor’s note). Recently, Nick Kyrgios seems to have regained some motivation. He regularly shares photos and videos of his physical preparation and training on the courts. He obviously wants to appear in good shape in Melbourne for the first Grand Slam of the year.

In front of his home crowd, it’s a safe bet that Kyrgios can turn his head right side up and pose a threat to any other player. The fundamental question remains whether he will have the desire to play a more or less complete season. The Aussie regularly asserts that his career will not be long. Could it stop as early as 2022? With him, anything is possible, but it would certainly be regrettable for the circuit which needs atypical and talented players like him, even if his excesses can annoy.

Stan Wawrinka

Age: 36 years old
2021 results: 3 victories, 3 defeats
Ranking start 2021: 18th
Current ranking: 82nd

  • How it got there

His season only lasted three months and four tournaments. In winter, even before playing at the antipodes, the galleys had started for Stan Wawrinka who had contracted the covid. Not 100% therefore and eliminated in the second round of the Australian Open in five sets against Marton Fuscovics despite three match points, he then felt he needed time to gain momentum. But his body decided otherwise.

After another defeat, this time against Lloyd Harris in Dubai in March, the Vaudois underwent surgery on his left foot. If he planned to return to competition a few weeks later, the problem, which concerned both the ankle and the Achilles tendon, turned out to be more difficult than expected. A second surgery was eventually necessary, as a result of which Wawrinka had to give up his hopes of returning to the courts in 2021.

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Three match points missed in super tie-break: Wawrinka may have regrets

  • When will he be back and what can he hope for?

Since last August, Wawrinka has put down his suitcases at the training center… of PSG. The Vaudois asked for the help of the president of the club of the capital Nasser Al-Khelaïfi who was himself a tennis player and is also president of the Qatari tennis federation. The latter opened the doors to the state-of-the-art PSG facilities and made available to him the Aspetar medical team as well as physiotherapists such as the Italian Dario Fort, outside the schedule of the Parisian players of course.

Wawrinka posted videos and snaps on social media of his workouts and runs. If he comes “to the end” of his rehabilitation on his own terms, it’s unclear whether he’ll be ready for the next Australian Open. If his motivation to return to his highest level is beyond doubt, the weight of the years is working against him. At 100% of his means, he certainly remains a threat.

Juan Martin del Potro

Age: 33 years old
2021 report: None
Ranking start 2021: 157th
Current ranking: 751st

  • How it got there

A colossus with a body of clay. This is arguably the best description for Juan Martin Del Potro, one of the most talented and unlucky injury players of the 21st century. If the Argentinian has lost nearly 600 places in the standings this season, it is quite simply because he has not been able to strike the slightest blow with his racket on the circuit, and it has been going on for almost three years. After having known many misfortunes because of his wrists in his first part of his career, it is his right knee that has been poisoning him since the fall of 2018 in Shanghai.

Suffering from a fractured patella in his right knee, Del Potro first favored care and patience to find the courts in February (Delray Beach) then in the spring of 2019 (Madrid, Rome, Roland-Garros). But a relapse on Queen’s turf in June had clouded his prospects after 12 small matches that year. Since then, he has had a hard time despite the hope of participating in the Tokyo Games: four operations in June 2019, January and August 2020, and April 2021 for the latest one he announced as “definitive“.

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Del Potro still operated but decided to come back: “The force which inhabits him is extraordinary”

  • When will he be back and what can he hope for?

Given his period of downtime, there can be no certainty about another comeback. During his career, Del Potro has already gone through surgery 8 times, which is to say that his body is bruised. If he admitted to having known difficult times – further accentuated by the death of his father last year – his astonishing perseverance is perhaps on the verge of being rewarded again.

Seen in the stands of Flushing Meadows last September, he took the opportunity to share a training session with John McEnroe out of sight. Recently, he posted pictures of himself in the middle of a tennis session on clay and especially without protection on his right leg. “I am very excited to start a season from scratch, since the start of the year without running out of tournaments. I’m gonna listen to my body and see if I have to go for a 5-set tournament“, he confided in October.

Seeing him at the Australian Open is therefore not completely excluded, even if a possible return to Cordoba ocher in Argentina (January 31-February 6, 2022) seems more likely. From there to once again becoming a major force on the circuit, there is still a world. His first objective will be to be able to replay without hurting himself and to continue week after week.

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