Looking back on the 2022 ATP season there are three names that stand above the rest: Carlos Alcaraz, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Others deserve mention; Casper Ruud made two Grand Slam finals, reached world No. 2 and made the final of the ATP Finals, Holger Rune and Felix Auger-Aliassime enjoyed very strong finishes to the year, and Stefanos Tsitsipas finished with more wins (59) than anyone else on tour.
But it’s hard to make the case for anyone other than Alcaraz, Nadal or Djokovic to be the best player of 2022.
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So what is the case for each of them? And who has been the standout player of the season?

Carlos Alcaraz

Alcaraz has had the biggest breakthrough season in recent memory.
From starting the year as No. 32 in the world, Alcaraz hit No. 1 after winning the US Open in September. Along the way he won two Masters titles in Miami and Madrid, where he beat Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev in succession, along with two other clay events. He also made two other finals, the quarter-finals of the French Open, and pushed Nadal close in the Indian Wells semis.
The finish to the year might not have been what he hoped for, but this was still an incredible, history-making season.
His feats include: becoming the youngest No. 1 in ATP history at the US Open, becoming the youngest-ever year-end No. 1, and taking just 140 days from entering the top 10 to reach No. 1, which is the shortest time in history, 21 days quicker than previous record holder Marat Safin.
“We've got to remember that what Alcaraz has done is almost a miracle because fighting for what he actually fights for at the age of 19, no one had ever done it before,” two-time French Open runner-up Alex Corretja told Eurosport.
Alcaraz has been a destructive force this season, taking on the best in the game with his fearsome groundstrokes and physicality. At the US Open he won one of the matches of the year against Jannik Sinner in the quarter-finals, then returned to beat Frances Tiafoe in five sets in the semis. While Corretja thinks Alcaraz’s exertions in New York eventually caught up with him, he has shown over the season that already he can go the distance in matches against the very best and hold his nerve in key moments.
This will be a season to remember.
Alcaraz’s 2022 record: five titles (one Grand Slam, two Masters, two ATP 250) and 54-12 win-loss record

Rafael Nadal

A 20-match winning streak to the start the year, two Grand Slam titles, and back up to No. 2 in the world rankings, surely it's been a very successful season for Nadal?
It certainly seems likely that if Nadal had been offered the above at the start of 2022 then he would have taken it, considering he missed the last four months of 2021 due to injury. Yet Nadal did not give off a message of being totally satisfied when he spoke at the ATP Finals.
“Winning two Slams was not enough. Of course, was not enough because I was not able to play. I don't know how many tournaments I played, 10, 11, maybe 12. Finished maybe nine, 10, in good conditions.”
Nadal played 12 tournaments across the season and finished with a 39-8 record.
Perhaps the hint of frustration is that when he was 100% healthy he was playing really well, as he showed at the start of the season. At Wimbledon he might have had a chance to win if injury hadn’t forced him to withdraw from his semi-final against Nick Kyrgios, if he was at his best at the US Open then he might well have gone beyond the fourth round, in the Indian Wells final against Taylor Fritz he was hampered by a rib issue. Even his pre-French Open clay season was disrupted by injury – first by the rib problem that caused him to miss a few weeks and then by a foot issue in Rome.

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If there is a sense of ‘what if’ for Nadal then his achievements at the age of 36 should also be lauded.
He was not fancied to win the Australian Open but managed to do so with a remarkable comeback victory over Daniil Medvedev in the final. Acapulco he won in straight sets and at Indian Wells he beat Alcaraz and Kyrgios before injury scuppered him in the final against Fritz. Then at the French Open, where there was doubt over whether he would even play due to his foot problem, he held off Felix Auger-Aliassime in five, beat Djokovic in four, was edging a high-level semi-final before Alexander Zverev's injury, and swept past Casper Ruud in the final.
Would a few more non-Grand Slam tournament wins have added that much to Nadal’s season? At this stage of his career it is clear that Grand Slams are the priority, and Nadal scooped up two of the four in 2022.
Nadal’s 2022 record: four titles (two Grand Slams, one ATP 500, one ATP 250) and 39-8 win-loss record

Novak Djokovic

Two months ago Djokovic would not have been in this conversation.
He did win Rome and Wimbledon in the first half of the year, but by the US Open it was more about what tournaments he had missed rather than those he had played. His impressive finish to the season – three titles, including the ATP Finals, and an 18-1 record since returning after the Laver Cup – only adds to the question of how much more successful 2022 might have been if Djokovic was vaccinated.
Former world No. 1 Andy Roddick said during the ATP Finals that you would be “hard pressed” to find anyone who doesn’t believe Djokovic is the best in the world despite sitting five places below Alcaraz. In Turin he certainly looked a level clear of the competition, dropping just one set in five matches, raising his game when it mattered most, and physically outlasting his opponents.

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Alcaraz beat Djokovic in their only previous meeting in Madrid earlier this year and their next match-up will be hugely anticipated, especially if it comes at the Australian Open, where Alcaraz will be the top seed and Djokovic will be bidding for a 10th title.
Djokovic has to be in the conversation for having the best season because of the way he has reinserted himself into the conversation to be the best in the world. Whether he is or not will be played out in 2023, but Djokovic clearly had the strongest finish to the year. He is the oldest ATP Finals champion by five years, has tied Roger Federer’s record of six titles at the event, and now looks primed for more success moving forward.
Djokovic’s 2022 record: five titles (one Grand Slam, ATP Finals, one Masters, one ATP 500, one ATP 500) and 42-7 win-loss record

Verdict

It’s a close call.
With three majors and the world No. 1 ranking between them, though, the final debate has to be between Nadal and Alcaraz. But how do you weigh up two Grand Slam titles vs one Grand Slam title, two Masters titles and becoming the youngest No. 1 in history?
Alcaraz just gets the nod due to achieving so much in his breakout year.
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