The tennis world is still catching its breath after Andy Murray’s late season surge saw him wrestle the No.1 ranking from old foe Novak Djokovic to cap off a spectacular 2016 and yet we’re literally days away from a new season kicking off.
The 2017 season springs to action in Brisbane on Sunday 1st Jan and the following day in Doha and Chennai, with the Top 5 players all in action.
Will Djokovic claw back the No.1 ranking? Could the fit-again Federer add to his haul of 17 majors? Will anybody outside of the ‘Big 5’ make a breakthrough to win a Grand Slam? And will Rafa Nadal’s hair ever grow back?! Here are my predictions for 2017.
1) Andy Murray will continue to dominate the sport
It makes sense to start with arguably my least suprising prediction. After dominating the second half of 2016, winning Wimbledon, Olympic gold, six other titles, and losing just three matches, it’s hard to envisage anything other than yet more dominance from Murray in 2017.
2016 was an odd year for Murray’s closest rival Novak Djokovic, who endured a topsy-turvy campaign and struggled to find motivation after clinching the French Open title. Former nemeses Federer & Nadal make their return to the game in 2017 after a prolonged spell on the sidelines and without a slam in two years.
Murray doesn’t have many points to defend in the first quarter of the new year and so good performances at the two big Master Series events in Indian Wells and Miami will see him strengthen his grip on the No.1 spot.
I’m also expecting Murray to clinch his first Australian Open title in 2017. The first slam of the year is where he’s performed most consistently throughout his career, he’s in the form of his life, and Djokovic is in the most difficult period of his career since 2010. Advantage Murray.
2) Novak Djokovic will fail to win a Grand Slam
Novak Djokovic has collected at least one grand slam title every year since 2011, winning eleven of his twelve majors in that time-frame. So it seems ridiculous to suggest that he’s unlikely to add at least one more to his tally in 2017, right? Hear me out.
In the first half of 2016, Nole won both Grand Slams in Melbourne and Paris, and added Masters series titles in Indian Wells, Miami and Madrid. By winning the French Open, Djokovic also completed a Career Grand Slam. A Career Grand Slam that he’d chased incessantly for 4-years.
Since then, however, he’s struggled to reach the extreme heights of the last few years and the expectations reaped upon him at every tournament seemingly weigh more heavily on him. He’s also been incredibly open and honest in talking about his lack of motivation for the game.
Troubles on and off the court forced the 29-year-old to seek the help of a spiritual guru. His relentless will and obsession to win turned into talk of love and inner peace.
There are huge question marks hanging over Djokovic’s state of mind heading into 2017 and it’s for this reason that I expect Murray to have the edge in Australia, and at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows. The French will be as wide-open as it’s been in years and I’m predicting success there for the returning Rafa.
3) Rafa Nadal to win ‘La Decima’
After Rafael Nadal’s injury problems in recent years, many have been left wondering if the Spanish great is capable of adding to his 14 grand slam titles.
After a subdued and anxiety-ridden 2015 clay court campaign, Nadal returned to form in 2016 to claim back-to-back titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona to match Argentine Guillermo Vilas’ record clay-court haul of 49 titles. His record against other top-ranked players suggested he could go all the way at the French. He beat Kei Nishikori in Barcelona, and defeated Murray and Wawrinka in Monte Carlo. A narrow 7-5 7-6 (7-4) loss to Djokovic at the Italian Open was also the closest he came to ousting the dominant Serb in their last seven matches.
Everything pointed towards a tilt at the French Open title. And then disaster struck. A left wrist injury sustained shortly before Rafa’s arrival in Paris saw him withdraw from Roland Garros in the third round. He’d coasted through the first two rounds dropping just nine games.
If Rafa can stay fit and healthy by the time the 2017 clay-court swing gets underway in Monte Carlo, I expect a resurgence on his favoured surface, culminating in Nadal clinching his own version of La Decima – a 10th French Open crown – on the red dirt at Roland Garros. Doing so would see him enter the record books – no player has won the same grand slam 10 times.
4) A second-tier breakthrough
The men’s game is more open than it’s been in what feels like forever and one of Milos Raonic / Kei Nishikori / Juan Martin del Potro will win a major title in 2017.
Under the guidance of Carlos Moya and John McEnroe, Milos Raonic reached a career-high No.3 in the world rankings and made his first grand slam final at Wimbledon in 2016. His record against the Big 5 (Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, Murray & Wawrinka) isn’t particularly impressive, and he’s no longer working with Moya or McEnroe, but Raonic has youth on his side and a bit of luck at the big events could see Raonic nab a major in Australia, at Wimbledon or the U.S Open.
Juan Martin del Petro’s comeback from wrist surgery in 2016 was the stuff of fairy tales and included wins over Wawrinka, Djokovic, Nadal and Murray. His thumping groundstrokes will see him threaten at the big tournaments and continue to climb the rankings. He also knows what it takes to win a major after clinching the U.S Open in 2009.
Kei Nishikori is too good not to win a grand slam at least once in his career and has beaten Djokovic, Nadal and Murray on the biggest of stages. He strikes the ball early off both wings, is an exceptional mover on court and over the past couple of years has looked most likely to break the Big 5’s stranglehold at the biggest events.
5) Alexander Zverev to break top-10
“He is amazingly talented. He is a clear possible future no.1. He has all the shots.” ~ Rafa Nadal
At 19-years-old, Alexander Zverev is currently the youngest player in the ATP top 50 and in October 2016 became the youngest player to enter the top 20 since Djokovic in 2006. He’s already beaten three top 10 opponents, including Roger Federer, and recently won his first ATP title, defeating Stan Wawrinka 6-2 3-6 7-5 in St. Petersburg.
At 6’6, Zverev serves bombs, and despite his languid appearance, he moves remarkably well on court. His excellent two-handed backhanded is considered his primary weapon, but he’s also able to club forehand winners from way behind the baseline.
I’m expecting the floppy-haired German to kick-on again in 2017 to finish the year top 10.