Five Burning Questions for the ATP Tour
Tennis has officially started and many players are already in Australia preparing for the Australian Open. This seasons looks to be promising as fans will see the return of tennis legends Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Add that with players such as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, along with the promising young players, fans should have a magical season. As always there are questions fans will be looking to have answered. Here are the top five.
- Will Americans be in the mix?
Not since Andy Roddick has an American held a grand slam. Not since Andy has an American made it to a grand slam final. Not since Andy Roddick has an American been in a grand slam semis. This being the fifth year since Andy Roddick retired (Andy by the way is up for the Hall of fame this year) it shows how desperately American tennis is for a player to break through. John Isner and Jack Sock have made it to the second of week of majors in the past (Sock made to the second week once last season, Isner made it twice). However, they have yet to prove they are consistent contenders. Sam Querrey made some noise last season with his stunning upset over red hot, world number one (at the time), Novak Djokovic in the third round at Wimbledon. Sam managed to win his next match and make it to the quarterfinals. Despite his success on the grass, Querrey didn’t do much the rest of the year. Therefore the question has to be asked whether or not an American will break through in 2017? There are a plethora of young Americans like Taylor Fritz, Jared Donaldson and Francis Tiafoe trying to make a name for themselves. But it still might be too early for them to gain any real traction. So the pressure remains on Isner and Sock to make America again on the ATP.
Jack is off to a great start just winning a title in Auckland so the hope is that win will translate to other big wins in the season.
- How will the next generation players perform this year?
At the close of last year’s ATP season, it was announced that there will be a season ending tournament for the top ranked eight players 21 years old and younger. For fans this means they get to see the brightest young stars on the ATP tour. For the players this is added motivation for them to do their best in order to show their talents on the big stage. Francis Tiafoe has already gone on recording stating that his goal for the new season is to qualify for this 21 and under season ending championships. Assuming all of Tiafoe’s peers are just as motivated, it stands to reason that fans will see the next generation of players come out in full force. There are already several impressive young players such as Germany’s Alexander Zverev and Australian sensation Nick Kyrgios, who both have wins over elite players such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It will be interesting to see if those two players not only try to qualify for the 21 and under season ending tournament but can go to the next level and break into the top ten and be contenders for the big titles.
- Can Andy Murray dominate the game?
Last season Andy Murray took over the number one ranking for the first time in his career. In route to becoming number one Andy had two streaks of 22 straight wins. Some of the titles Andy won were Wimbledon, the year-end championships and an Olympic gold medal. It was no question that the second half of the year belonged to Andy Murray. However, Murray now moves into unknown territory. Andy now becomes the hunted rather than the hunter. As the number one player Murray has a huge target on his back and he will have players gunning for him. How Murray will handle this pressure remains to be seen. Murray is off to a bit of a slow start losing to his main rival Novak Djokovic in a thrilling three set but he still is the player to beat and will be so heading into the year’s first grand slam.
- How will Novak Djokovic perform?
In the first half of last season, Novak Djokovic was red hot, winning almost every tournament he entered. After winning the French Open, the grand slam that alluded him his whole career, Novak become the first player since Rod Laver to hold all four grand slam titles at once. Fans and experts alike believed Djokovic was invincible, a lock to a calendar slam and perhaps a golden calendar slam (it being an Olympic year). However, it all fell apart at Wimbledon.
Novak was stunned in the third round by American Sam Querrey and from there it all went downhill. Djokovic then lost in the first round in Rio to comeback player of the year Del Potro. That lost took an emotional toll on Novak, as evidenced by him leaving the court with tears. Novak did recover a bit making the final of the US Open but there he lost to one of his new nemesis Swiss player Stan Wawrinka. After the Open Novak played mediocre (for his standards) and although he had a chance to still end the year as the number one player, he let it slip to Andy Murray, who had as good as a second half as Novak had in the first half.
Now the question for this season arises for Djokovic. The tennis community is wondering whether he can find his dominant game that had him king of the world for seasons. Djokovic gave an emphatical yes to that question by beating Andy Murray in the Doha Final, in a close three set match. This was an important match and it appears that Djokovic is ready to be declared the top player on the planet.
- Can Roger and Rafa bounce back?
For years, it was a given that if Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal were in a tournament, one of the two would walk away with the trophy. It was almost a given that the championship match would include both of these players. Federer and Nadal have a combined 31 grand slams. Roger and Rafa met in seven of those grand slam championships. This is all to say that these two men dominated the sport at one time.
Fast-forward to present day and now that is no longer the case. In the 2016 season Rafa was only able to make it to one grand slam quarterfinal in Australia. Rafa seem poised to do well at his favorite grand slam, the French Open, but he had to pull out in the early rounds due to a wrist injury. Due to that injury Rafa was in and out the game for the rest of year until he finally decided to shut it down after the US Open. Rafa did make some changes in the offseason finally adding another voice to his team, adding former number one and family friend Carlos Moya. Rafa also indicated that he feels healthy. Still as always there will still be questions.
As I alluded to, 2016 was a rough season for Rafa. Although he did win some big tournaments he struggled in the grand slams so the tennis community will be paying attention to how he performs in the majors this year. So far this year, Rafa has looked good in a warm up tournament, showing his willingness to be aggressive. As to whether he does the same in a grand slam remains to be seen.
It was almost a similar story for Roger Federer last year. However the one caveat is that Roger did pretty well in the grand slams last year Federer made it to the semifinals of the Aussie Open and Wimbledon. Roger’s main issue was his health. Early in the 2016, Roger had knee surgery ( this was due to him slipping in the bathtub, attempting to bathe his kids). This surgery caused Roger to miss the French Open and after playing in Wimbledon, Roger took the advice of this doctors and shut it down for the rest of the year to fully recover. Thus, Roger Federer’s ranking dropped outside the top ten for the first time since 2001.
Tennis fans got a glimpse of Federer this year when he participated in the Hopman Cup. The Hopman Cup, which includes singles matches, doubles matches and mixed double matches, for the most part is an exhibition so the atmosphere is light. However, Roger did play some serious matches winning two matches and losing one to rising star Alexander Zverev, a very tight three setter. Despite not learning exactly how Federer will match up against the best, Roger seems to be a in great mental space, evidence by his carefree nature during the Hopman. Federer is so talented that most tennis experts expect Roger to play well. Federer’s biggest obstacle will be his low ranking (currently it is 17), which means he might run into players like Murray and Djokovic in the earlier than the quarterfinals.
The ATP season has gotten off to a great start and if the first few weeks are an indication for how the season will go, tennis fans will be in for a real treat. The Australian Open begins Sunday so tennis fans will get many of these questions answered soon.