Andy Murray, Dominic Thiem and three other ATP stars who need a big 2022

With the new tennis season approaching, there are plenty of ATP stars who are in desperate need of a big season.

It may feel like the tennis season has only just stopped, but the start of the Australian Open is now less than a month away.

That means players have already returned to the practice courts ahead the new season, as well as setting their goals for the coming campaign.

Planet Sport takes a look at five ATP players who need a bigger season than most in 2022.

Andy Murray

It's no secret that the last few years have been unimaginatively tough for Andy Murray.

He went from topping the world rankings to the very brink of retirement with precious little tennis in between, although the last six months has finally offered some encouragement.

He hasn't been winning enough matches, but he has finally been able to get out on a tennis court with a degree of regularity, and that is a huge step forward.

It feels like 2022 will be the key year, though. If Murray continues losing too many matches, he will no longer be able to put it down to not being able to stay injury-free for a sustained period of time.

He has made a big decision to split with long-term coach Jamie Dalgado and is currently trialing new options, but whoever is added to his camp Murray knows it may well be a do or die season for him in terms of his tennis career.

Andy Murray at US Open

Wimbledon remains his best chance, mainly due to how few players are comfortable playing on grass, and if Murray can get himself going in the first half of the year he could have a genuinely decent chance at SW19.

Murray has been awarded a wild card for the Australian Open, so he will have a chance to start the year with a bang. It's a tournament in which he has been a five-time finalist, so it's somewhere he obviously feels comfortable.

The former world number one has also beat an admittedly rusty Rafael Nadal in a prestigious exhibition in Dubai this month, so the early signs are certainly positive.

Dominic Thiem

Dominic Thiem dejected

Right now it looks like Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev are the heirs apparent to the 'big three' in men's tennis, but cast your minds back just a year and it was Thiem who was the man.

He is a few years older than Medvedev and Zverev and he had just won his first major at the 2020 US Open. Everything was trending in his favour.

However, while most expected him to take the confidence from winning the US Open and taking the last step to a truly elite level, the opposite has been true.

Losing the motivation of chasing a maiden major appeared to crush the Austrian, and he put in a desperately disappointing 2021 that was ultimately cut short by a freak wrist injury.

He heads into 2022 ranked outside the top ten and now needing to overcome both shattered confidence and the effects of prolonged absence due to injury - all at a time when younger players are aggressively making their bids for the top.

Frankly, if Thiem can't re-establish himself in 2022, he may not get another chance. If he is back to something like his best for the French Open, he should have a great chance. 

He is probably the best clay specialist in the world behind Rafael Nadal, who is a fading force, and Roland Garros is the one he wants to win the most.

The early signs are not good, with Thiem already withdrawing from the ATP Cup, Sydney and the Australian Open.

Denis Shapovalov

Denis Shapovalov in action

At times, Denis Shapovalov has looked like a genuinely top class player in waiting. At other times, though, he's looked like he's a long way short of the required standard.

The problem that Shapovalov has is not a lack of talent. He has it in abundance. The problem is now time. In terms of matches he is a long way ahead of other top players his age, but in terms of progress he is starting to lag behind some of them.

He has astutely added former Andy Murray coach Jamie Dalgado to his team and that will likely help his consistency, but there really is no substitute for results and that is what Shapovalov needs if he is to get himself in the top ten picture.

Lorenzo Musetti

Lorenzo Musetti looking on

For some time now, three names of youth players have been on the lips of tennis fans: Lorenzo Musetti, Jannik Sinner, and Carlos Alcaraz.

Sinner has already broken into the top ten and Alcaraz is coming into 2022 on the back of a breakthrough season.

Musetti, on the other hand, seemed to stagnate badly after a brilliant Roland Garros and he needs to rediscover his mojo in the coming year.

The Italian has time on his hands, and is a finesse player in the Roger Federer mold, while Sinner and Alcaraz are power players. That means he will probably develop a little slower as his physical growth catches up with his hands.

However, the ATP is rich in young talent right now and Musetti is in danger of being left behind if he doesn't make a good degree of progress in the next 12 months.

Carlos Alcaraz

Carlos Alcaraz backhand

Alcaraz has long had to live with the billing of the 'new Rafael Nadal' and something like that can certainly weight heavy.

However, in 2021 Alcaraz really showed some serious glimpses of the talent that earned him that moniker.

He stunned Stefanos Tsitsipas at the US Open and backed that up with an impressive end to the season to finish they year at world number 32.

Alcaraz knows he cannot rest on his laurels, though, and a strong year can be a double edged-sword for younger players as he now has a lot of rankings points to defend, and therefore lose, in 2022.

There is no reason to expect that to happen, but it does mean he will have to have an even better season again if he is to continue his rapid progression up the rankings.

READ MORE: Dominic Thiem pulls out of Australian Open as he continues to recover from wrist injury