Jannik Sinner, Ben Shelton or Chris Eubanks: Who has been the most improved player in 2023
Breakthroughs on the ATP Tour and Grand Slams, career-high ATP Rankings, Davis Cup heroics, and storybook endings to a Laver Cup debut are just some of the achievements of a quartet of rapidly improving players.
The four 2023 ATP Award candidates for Most Improved Player of the Year have racked up the milestones this season.
Matteo Arnaldi, Christopher Eubanks, Ben Shelton, and Jannik Sinner all stepped up their performances during the year, propelling them towards the top of the ATP Rankings.
Here we look at how the four players went and see who should be named the Most Improved Player of the Year.
Matteo Arnaldi is an aggressive, powerful baseliner from the Italian Riviera who jumped from 134 to 50 in the ATP Rankings in 2023.
The 22-year-old right-hander had a busy year, winning three ATP Challenger Tour championships in Tenerife, Murcia, and Heilbronn before battling through qualifying rounds to reach the main draw in Dubai, Barcelona, Madrid, Wimbledon, Toronto, and Beijing. Arnaldi advanced to the Round of 16 at the US Open after reaching his first tour-level semi-final at Umag, where he upset both Arthur Fils and Cameron Norrie. The highlight of his year came in his Davis Cup debut, when he defeated Australian Alexei Popyrin and helped his country win its first trophy in 47 years.
“It’s very emotional, more because a very important person passed away a month ago for me and for my girlfriend,” Arnaldi revealed after His big Davis Cup win.
“So this is for him and she doesn’t know what it means to me — also for my country.”
Chris Eubanks broke into the Top 100 with a quarter-final performance in Miami, then won his first ATP Tour title in Mallorca before stunning Cameron Norrie and Stefanos Tsitsipas on way to his first major quarter-final at Wimbledon.
What’s more, the former ACC Player of the Year (Georgia Tech) did it all while still working as a Tennis Channel analyst, proving that he’s just as comfortable on the set/behind the mike as he is on the court.
A pep talk from John Isner helped set Eubanks on his path to a great 2023.
“He reassured me, ‘You’re going to be fine, don’t worry about it.’ I think at that time I was ranked around 180, 170, something like that,” said Eubanks.
“He really reassured me I was going to be fine. Practising with him and hearing his input really gave me a little bit extra push to kind of know it’s going to work out.”
Ben Shelton forced his way into the spotlight in Melbourne, making the Australian Open quarterfinals with his huge lefty, power-serving style.
He improved on his performance in the US Open, defeating countrymen Tommy Paul and Frances Tiafoe to earn a semi-final match against Novak Djokovic. By the end of the year, the former Florida Gator had helped Team World win its second consecutive Laver Cup triumph in Vancouver, won his maiden ATP Tour title in Tokyo, and risen from No 96 to No 15 in the ATP Rankings.
Ironically, Shelton’s mid-year slowdown may have helped him the most.
“I definitely learned a lot of things. The list could go on and on,” said Shelton. “Going to so many different countries and playing on different surfaces, and just being exposed to different things. I know that it’s something where there’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve. I think that was a piece for me that I kind of had to keep my perspective and know that, ‘Okay, it’s not like I’m supposed to go out here and win every single match I play just because I did something good early in the season.’”
Jannik Sinner had already reached the quarterfinals of all four majors and won six tour-level championships prior to this year. But it wasn’t until 2023 that everything really clicked for the tall, hard-hitting baseliner, who went 64-15 to set an Open Era record for most victories by an Italian player in a single season.
That total featured a personal-best 13 Top 10 victories, his first major semi-final at Wimbledon, his first ATP Masters 1000 victory (Toronto), and a run to the ATP Finals trophy match, and exchanged victories with year-end No. 1 Novak Djokovic in Turin. He also surpassed Adriano Panatta as the highest-ranked Italian in ATP Rankings history.
“I think, especially the second half of the year, mentally I was much, much stronger,” said Sinner. “I was not complaining so much on court when things were going in the wrong way. I think these kind of things, they make difference sometimes…
“One of the things where I can be really happy is that I played many, many important matches in the biggest stadiums we have throughout the whole year. This is something [that] hopefully can help for the next season.”
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