Cut through all the specialised training programmes and every ATP Tour player has one ultimate, yet simple goal for their game: make it a little bit better each day they step on the court or hit the gym.
The four men nominated for Most Improved Player of the Year in the 2022 ATP Awards succeeded in that pursuit more than most this season, their climbs up the Pepperstone ATP Rankings proof positive of their breakthrough years.
Up for the award this year are: Carlos Alcaraz, Holger Rune, Jack Draper and Maxime Cressy. The winner will be announced later this month.
Carlos Alcaraz, 19
Billed as a budding superstar on the heels of a strong finish to 2021 — one that saw him reach the US Open quarter-finals and later claim the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals title — Alcaraz had a lot to live up to this season. The Spaniard not only met those lofty expectations, he exceeded them in record time.
After winning the first of his five titles on the year at the ATP 500 in Rio de Janeiro to break into the Top 20, Alcaraz showed he could deliver on the game’s biggest stages by winning his first ATP Masters 1000 title in Miami after a semi-final run in Indian Wells. He then brought the show to his home fans, claiming a Spanish trophy double in Barcelona and Madrid, beating Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev in succession in the latter event.
More success put Alcaraz in position to reach the top spot in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings at the US Open, and he took the chance with aplomb to become the youngest World No. 1 since the rankings began in 1973.
“For me it’s a dream come true being No. 1 in the world, to be a Grand Slam champion,” Alcaraz told the ATP Tour after the US Open.
Alcaraz Becomes Youngest Year-End No. 1, Nadal Extends Top 10 Record
“Everything has come so fast. I didn’t think at the beginning of the year that I’m going to have the year that I’m having right now,” he continued. “I always believe in my team and in my work, so this is something that came with the hard work that I put in every day, the hard preseason, the work during the year with my team. Everything pays off.”
Holger Rune, 19
Rune completed his rise from outside the Top 100 into the Top 10 with a stunning run to the biggest title of his career at the Rolex Paris Masters. By beating five Top 10 players in a row, including Djokovic in the final, the Dane earned himself a place in that elite group — and alternate status at the Nitto ATP Finals — before finishing the year as World No. 11.
It was a fitting end to a stellar indoor season for Rune, during which he reached four straight finals and won two titles (Stockholm, Paris). But his season began to sparkle long before the final months.
During the European clay swing, which he started with an ATP Challenger Tour title in Sanremo, Rune won his first tour-level title in Munich to break into the Top 50 for the first time. He backed that up with a breakout run to the Roland Garros quarter-finals, beating 2021 finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas in the fourth round.
“It’s crazy in every way” Rune said of his season, speaking with ATP Media in Turin. “It’s been a lot of improvements, beginning the year as World No. 103, and now Top 10. I had a goal to finish Top 25 and now I’m Top 10, so it’s even better.”
Asked to pick out the biggest of those improvements, Rune pointed out his serve and first-serve percentage, his mental game and his physical development.
Jack Draper, 20
Great Britain’s Draper was the lowest-ranked of the four Most Improved nominees at the start of the year, entering 2022 as World No. 265. He put in the hard yards on the ATP Challenger Tour to kickstart his season, winning four titles in three months before taking his powerful lefty game to the ATP Tour.
He splashed onto the scene at tour-level with Top 20 wins against Taylor Fritz at The Queen’s Club and Diego Schwartzman in Eastbourne, going on to reach his first ATP Tour semi-final in the latter event on home soil.
Draper built on those results during the hard-court swing, beating Top 10 opponents Stefanos Tsitsipas in Montreal and Felix Auger-Aliassime at the US Open. Both of those wins made our lists of best upsets of 2022 on the ATP Tour and at the Grand Slams, respectively.
“I think the most satisfying run was [at] the US Open,” Draper told ATPTour.com ahead of the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals, where he reached the semi-finals. “I feel I beat two players in [Emil] Ruusuvuori and Auger-Aliassime who are top players and people I have been watching the past couple of years. The win against Auger-Aliassime gave me confidence that I can play well and really compete with these guys. The Tsitsipas win as well in Montreal. Playing those top players and getting wins and feeling comfortable is crucial.”
Maxime Cressy, 25
Cressy had yet to break into the Top 100 prior to this season, but the Paris-born American had been trending in that direction since turning pro in 2019 following a four-year collegiate career at UCLA. A late bloomer on the ATP Tour, Cressy wasted no time in starting his rise up the Pepperstone ATP Rankings this year as he fine-tuned his unique, serve-and-volley game.
In his first event, he reached the final as a qualifier at the Melbourne Summer Set and gave Nadal all he could handle in the title match. Cressy backed up that run with his best Grand Slam result as he advanced to the Australian Open fourth round, beating John Isner and taking a set off eventual finalist Daniil Medvedev before bowing out.
Firmly positioned in the Top 100, Cressy soared into the Top 50 after reaching his second ATP Tour final in Eastbourne before an upset win against Auger-Aliassime in the Wimbledon opening round. With his aggressive style perfectly suited to grass courts, Cressy won his first tour-level title on home soil in Newport in July with a third-set tie-break win against Alexander Bublik in the final.
“I think it’s the most incredible feeling that I’ve had in my entire life,” he told ATPTour.com after the victory. “It’s difficult to describe. I’ve been looking forward to that first title for a very long time.”
Refusing to be satisfied with his success to date, Cressy has been bold in setting himself a long-term target of reaching World No. 1.
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