The Tennis Trenches: How To Stay There
 
"Entrenchedness" might not be an official, recognized word in the English language, but anyone can see what the word would mean if it made it into a Merriam-Webster unabridged dictionary.

"Entrenchedness," if made a word in the future ("drudgerous" should also be a word, but it still isn't), would not own a complicated definition. It would simply mean "the condition or quality of being entrenched."

If "entrenchedness" became an official word, it would not own an inherently pejorative connotation, but it would likely be used to reflect negative or worrisome realities more than positive ones. A good example in a sentence: "The entrenchedness of American institutions represents a roadblock to progress and cultural change."

Being entrenched can often refer to stagnation, a lack of adjustments, failing to keep in step with the times.

In tennis, however, being entrenched -- while certainly able to be applied in negative ways -- is more likely to be seen as a positive.

This player has entrenched herself in the top 10. That player has entrenched himself in the second weeks of majors for years. The Big Four have carved out an entrenched position on trophy stands and in the semifinal and championship rounds of all the big tournaments.

Serena Williams owns an entrenched presence in the history books. Rafael Nadal's comfort zone on clay is so entrenched and deep that it's nearly impossible to pull him out of a calm and confident state.

The point is clear. Let's move on to a discussion of Thursday in Madrid, where the centerpiece story of the day concerned this notion of entrenched staying power in the sport.

The young kids -- Nick Kyrgios, Dominic Thiem, Borna Coric, and Alexander Zverev -- all faced different experiences at the work office. Only Kyrgios lost, but the three winners moved through unique moments. Thiem lived on a high wire and came from behind to oust Grigor Dimitrov after saving five match points. Coric beat World No. 1 Andy Murray, a milestone in his career. Zverev was relegated to a side court against fading veteran Tomas Berdych. He won in straights just as Coric did, but quietly and under far less scrutiny.

The middle-20s crowd also swam through the treacherous waters of Masters 1000 tennis on Thursday. Dimitrov absorbed a second loss in 2017 after owning at least four match points. He played a good final-set tiebreaker, but he blew break leads in both the second and third sets. 

Kei Nishikori -- temporarily in reasonably good health -- dispatched a no-longer-fast-enough David Ferrer. Milos Raonic, rusty as hell, fell to another member of his age cohort, David Goffin, in straights. Health is a major question mark for a number of potentially dangerous players at the French Open. Nishikori and Raonic top the list of such performers on the ATP side. Trying to become an entrenched presence in the top tier of men's tennis is hard to do when the body gets in the way.

Then there are the people who have done the best job of remaining entrenched in men's tennis: the great ones. Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray all came into Thursday intent on moving toward the championship stages of the weekend. Murray failed miserably, his body not yet fine-tuned enough to produce elite tennis. Djokovic and Nadal delivered encouraging, solidifying performances after wobbly opening matches. Entering Friday's quarterfinals, Nole and Rafa deserve the benefit of the doubt, because they have earned it time and time again.

The young pups and the middle-twentysomethings want to get to the place Djokovic and Nadal inhabit, and which Murray had entering 2017.

It's plain to see how hard it is to remain entrenched as a relevant, dangerous, fear-creating player in tennis.

The struggles Angelique Kerber has faced this year have been matched by Murray. Remember the 1990s, when Marcelo Rios had a cup of coffee as the No. 1 player in the world? The top ranking used to flow from one player to another like a hot potato. The Federer-Nadal-Djokovic era is not the rule in terms of producing "entrenchedness" in the top spot (and the second and third slots). It's the exception.

Remaining entrenched in tennis -- at the highest level of the sport, not just as a quarterfinalist in the back end of the top 10 -- is extraordinarily difficult.

Nishikori, Kyrgios and Raonic have faced health-related obstacles, Dimitrov a mental one. Goffin is making a push up the ladder, but must now find ways to beat the Big Three to climb even higher. Thiem and Zverev shouldn't be expected to figure everything out this year, but 12 months from now, that will change.

Beyond those performers, Murray faces the supreme challenge of wearing that "[1]" on his back while working through the process of recovering from injuries. The large number of points he is defending this year will have a lot to say not only about the ATP rankings and race competitions, but about the way Murray writes this chapter of his career, the chapter which began after becoming World No. 1.

"Entrenchedness." If it was a word, it would be the main concept tennis writers will take away from Madrid.