Most Improved Player of the Year in the 2021 ATP Awards goes to the player who reached a significantly higher FedEx ATP Ranking by year’s end, and who demonstrated an increasingly improved level of performance through the season. This year’s nominees are Carlos Alcaraz, Aslan Karatsev, Cameron Norrie and Casper Ruud.
|Player||2020 Year-End||2021 Year-End||Career-High (Date)|
|Carlos Alcaraz||No. 141||No. 32 (+109)||No. 32 (Nov. 8)|
|Aslan Karatsev||No. 112||No. 18 (+94)||No. 15 (Nov. 8)|
|Cameron Norrie||No. 71||No. 12 (+59)||No. 12 (Nov. 8)|
|Casper Ruud||No. 27||No. 8 (+19)||No. 8 (Oct. 25)|
Carlos Alcaraz made headlines in 2021 as he enjoyed a standout season. The Spaniard began the year at No. 141 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, but soared to a current career-high No. 32 under the guidance of coach Juan Carlos Ferrero.
In a historic year, the 18-year-old became the youngest man to reach the third round at Roland Garros since 17-year-old Andrei Medvedev in 1992, before earning his first tour-level title in Umag, defeating Richard Gasquet in the final.
Fuelled with confidence, Alcaraz upset then-World No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas en route to the quarter-finals at the US Open and defeated Top 10 stars Matteo Berrettini and Jannik Sinner respectively in Vienna and Paris. He rounded out his season in style by lifting the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals trophy.
“It has been a really good season for me,” Alcaraz said following his title run in Milan. “I am really happy about the moments I have experienced — beating Stefanos [Tsitsipas] at the US Open, reaching the quarter-finals at a Grand Slam and winning my first ATP [Tour title].”
Aslan Karatsev’s season began against Brandon Nakashima in the first round of qualifying at the Australian Open when the Russian was No. 114 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. Fast forward one month and he had reached the semi-finals at the first major of the season, defeating Diego Schwartzman, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Grigor Dimitrov before losing to Novak Djokovic.
It was a run that gave Karatsev a renewed sense of belief and confidence, which he showcased in Dubai, where he soared to his first tour-level title, defeating Lloyd Harris in the championship match.
In a breakthrough season, the 28-year-old also triumphed on home soil in Moscow, reached the final in Belgrade and scored Top 2 wins against Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev, finishing the year in the Top 20 of the FedEx ATP Rankings.
“It’s not just happening right now, there is [a lot of] work that was done before [to get here],” Karatsev said in April. “I had some injuries before and some troubles, and now we’re doing a good job with my coach. It’s been two and a half years and it’s just paying off in 2021… It’s coming from the hard work every day, and it’s a long process. You have to be there every day and work hard.”
When Cameron Norrie was asked in January who he thought was going to have a breakthrough season, the 26-year-old bravely backed himself. It is a statement that Norrie backed up in style, rising from No. 71 in the FedEx ATP Rankings at the start of the year to a current career-high No. 12.
The 26-year-old, who earned Top 10 wins against Dominic Thiem and Andrey Rublev, also reached tour-level finals in Estoril, Lyon, at the Queen’s Club, and San Diego. Norrie finished the season by making his debut at the Nitto ATP Finals as the second alternate in Turin.
On competing at the season finale and reflecting on his year overall, Norrie said: “It was one of the biggest matches for my career, so I just tried to learn from Indian Wells and take from that the experience, the emotions, playing big matches and playing well under the pressure there. It has been a lot of fun playing at this level and playing at this level all year.”
He enjoyed semi-final runs at back-to-back ATP Masters 1000 events in Monte Carlo and Madrid, before he captured his first tour-level trophy of the season in Geneva. However, this was just the start for Ruud, who triumphed in Bastad, Gstaad and Kitzbühel to become the first player since Andy Murray in October 2011 to win three titles in three consecutive weeks.
With the foundations laid for Nitto ATP Finals qualification, Ruud then won his first hard-court title in San Diego. The 22-year-old, who also became the first Norwegian to crack the Top 10 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, delivered at the season finale, advancing to the semi-finals at the Pala Alpitour.
“I think the biggest change for me is my self-confidence and belief that I can play at this level is much higher,” Ruud said in Turin. “I am a guy that hasn’t played as much on the biggest stage. I’ve had a taste of it, but I’ve worked my way up slowly and steady. I hope players respect me a little more now than a year or two ago.”