Men’s tennis hasn’t looked so unpredictable in years. 2017 saw Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal unexpectedly seize the spotlight back from Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Several very young players have emerged as serious contenders. And the few men who have won Grand Slams outside the “Big Four” – guys like Stanislas Wawrinka, Juan Marin del Potro, and Marin Cilic – remain capable of breaking through in any given tournament. Throw in several top players looking to return from injury, and there’s no telling what to expect in 2018’s first Grand Slam – which really is only a few weeks away.
2017’s Trends Could Continue
The dominance of Federer and Nadal in 2017 was shocking, inspirational, and for most tennis fans, thrilling. It was also taxing, however. Federer voluntarily skipped the Paris Masters toward the end of the year to ensure good health, and was then upset at the World Tour Finals. Nadal entered the Finals with a nagging knee situation and withdrew after an opening match loss. It could be that we’ll never see another season like 2017 from these two. Then again, would anyone put it past them? One of the biggest stories of the ATP until he retires will be whether or not Federer can reach 20 Grand Slams. At least one tennis legend believes he can, and after 2017 it’s hard to disagree. Nadal, meanwhile, will be trying to catch Federer’s tally whether he reaches 20 or not. Perhaps with all of this motivation, the two greatest players alive will simply
2017’s Late Breakthroughs Could Stay Hot
As much as 2017 was dominated by legends, we also saw some very good players show flashes of greatness. Kevin Anderson made it all the way to the U.S. Open final, for instance. David Goffin defeated Nadal and later knocked out Federer at the World Tour Finals. Dimitrov, who was one of four debutants at the World Tour Finals alongside Goffin, won the event, finally reaching the sort of potential so many have seen in him for years. Players like these took advantage of opportunities with other top players out injured, and with the Australian Open already approaching so quickly, they may all have a chance to stay hot.
Order Could Be Restored
Back in October, the Australian Open’s website proclaimed that the biggest names in world tennis would be set to return for the January Grand Slam. The article was referring primarily to Djokovic, Murray and Wawrinka, though it also mentioned Kei Nishiokori and we may as well rope in Del Potro (who was hurt after the article was written) as well. These players’ injuries throughout 2017 and particularly late in the year shifted the ATP landscape fairly dramatically. There’s no telling how sharp any of them will be in their early returns, but it could be that regular order in the top-10 is established quite quickly. That is to say, it may be every bit as likely that we see Djokovic, Murray, or Wawrinka in a final as it is that we see Federer or Nadal.
Youth Could Reign
There’s also a chance that Federer and Nadal take a step back, that players returning from injury aren’t sharp yet, and that the players who succeeded late in 2017 don’t maintain their form. This combination of circumstances is perfectly possible, and it would likely lead to a surge of youth, which was already threatened at times in 2017. Players like Alexander Zverv, Dominic Thiem, Nick Kyrgios, and even young American Frances Tiafoe have all shown an ability to compete with the best players on tour. None appear ready for the biggest of moments just yet, but they could all be future Slam champions. And 2018 may bring some early opportunities for them, beginning in Melbourne.