There’s nothing quite like a good rebound, a good revival. Our Comeback Player of the Year nominees in the 2023 ATP Awards — Dominik Koepfer, Gael Monfils, Jan-Lennard Struff and Alexander Zverev — will attest to that. All four players found a way to overcome injury and battle back toward the top of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings in 2023.
|2023 Low Ranking
Nominees for Comeback Player of the Year are determined by an International Tennis Writers' Association (ITWA) vote. The winner is selected by players from the shortlist.
Stay tuned: ATP Awards winners will be announced during Awards Week, starting Monday, 11 December.
Injuries are never easy — especially when the issue at hand is never fully diagnosed.
That’s been the case for Dominik Koepfer the last few years. After reaching a career-high No. 50 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings in 2021, the German began to experience a nagging discomfort in his left arm, especially when serving. Despite closing out that year with an impressive Round of 16 showing at the Rolex Paris Masters, where he defeated Andy Murray and Felix Auger-Aliassime in succession, the pain lingered and he was forced to take time off.
An MRI, repeated doctor visits, and painkillers did nothing for the former Tulane All-American, and his ranking plummeted as low as No. 262 earlier this year.
“No doctor really knows what it is,” said Koepfer. “It’s probably instability in my shoulder and just maybe some nerve stuff, too, that’s a little stuck. Nothing really helped. I’ve literally tried everything I could. There was no surgery you could do because if there’s no diagnosis, really, you can’t really do anything to fix it.”
Credit the dogged Koepfer, 29, with finding a way to play through the pain. Beginning with the Challenger title at the Mexico City Open in March, he steadily climbed his way back up the rankings. He would reach five ATP Challenger Tour finals altogether in 2023, earn an opening-round shot against defending champ Carlos Alcaraz at the US Open, and finish the year at No. 77.
Dominik Koepfer in Winston-Salem. Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images
There was ample reason for the emotion in Stockholm, where tour vet Gael Monfils became the oldest BNP Paribas Nordic Open champion in tournament history, a 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-3 winner over surprise finalist Pavel Kotov.
The ever-athletic Frenchman has experienced more than his fair share of physical setbacks since turning pro nearly two decades ago. The 2023 campaign was no exception. Monfils struggled with injuries in the first half of the season, and arrived in Sweden at No. 140 Pepperstone ATP Rankings. His trophy run was a testament to his longevity, his career-long dedication to the sport. After all, it was La Monf’s second Stockholm title, having won the ATP 250 event back in 2011. That 12-year gap between titles is the biggest in history. He became just the fourth player age 37 or above to win an ATP Tour title since 1990, joining Roger Federer, Ivo Karlovic and Feliciano Lopez.
Monfils dedicated the win to his mother, Sylvette; wife, WTA star Elina Svitolina; and baby daughter, Skaï.
“It’s the first time I’ve won a title as a father. She is very special,” said Monfils, who also notched Top 25 wins over Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alex de Minaur, Cameron Norrie, Alexander Bublik and Adrian Mannarino in 2023.
Jan-Lennard Struff, 33, was in the midst of a career year, buoyed by runner-up finishes at the Mutua Madrid Open (where as a lucky loser he upended Stefanos Tsitsipas and pushed Carlos Alcaraz in a three-set final) and in Stuttgart. But after a No. 167-to-No. 21 catapult, the German was forced to shut it down due to a hip injury.
“It was a great year so far. I couldn’t have expected this, going this fast up to the Top 30 from outside the Top 150,” he said. “It was crazy how fast it went. It was an amazing year, so it was very hard to accept.”
The right-hander did not pick up a racquet for seven weeks while rehabbing, missing three months in all beginning in late June.
All this made his September return that much more meaningful, a 6-3, 1-6, 6-4 win over Chile’s Cristian Garin in Zhuhai in his first match back. Last month, Struff powered through to his third semi-final of 2023 in Sofia, very much back on track.
Jan-Lennard Struff in Madrid. Photo: Getty Images
The images from Paris are still fresh, Alexander Zverev crumpled on the terre battue, screaming in pain after rolling his ankle in the second set of his semi-final match against Rafael Nadal. His 2022 Roland Garros — his entire year, for that matter — was over.
Fast forward a year-and-a-half and the German is very much back in business, comfortably inside the Top 10 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. Success was not immediate. In fact, Zverev would win just three of his first nine matches in 2023. But not only would he return to the Roland Garros semi-finals (l. to Casper Ruud), he would capture the 20th and 21st titles of his career in Hamburg and Chengdu, and qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals.
“After the injury last year, my first season back, to be back with the top eight players, to be back in Turin, is an achievement for me,” said Zverev at the year-end showdown, where he registered two of his four Top 10 wins on the year over Carlos Alcaraz and Andrey Rublev.