First of all, happy new year to all my readers (12 days into it…). Hope you all had a lovely festive break, and going back to work isn’t too taxing!
As is now tradition among my friends, we’ve been predicting the tennis season to come. Last year went … well … decent, I suppose. If you want a more detailed look, take a glance at these articles. A couple of us are hoping for much better years this time around!
Joining me in casting our eye across the year in tennis is once again James Doan, Josh Hockley-Still, Charlie Marriott and Emma Still. I’m delighted to announce that all of us will be providing predictions for both men and women, and this blog will introduce you to our tips for the WTA tour.
As usual, we’ve simply given our year-end top 10, the winners of the Grand Slams and Tour Finals (Istanbul for the ladies). As a little extra this year, we’ve also named a player who isn’t likely to break into the top 10 this year, but who we think has the potential to should they find form.
More on that later. Firstly … which women grace our top 5 come the end of the calendar year?
Last year, the unthinkable happened. Serena Williams didn’t finish the year as number one (the first time since 2012), as Angelique Kerber stormed to two Grand Slam titles and deserved to finish top of the pile. The biggest question going into the 2017 season is whether the German can hold onto that position, or will Williams (or indeed someone else) nab it off her?
The vast majority of our predictors don’t view Kerber as a one-season wonder. Only James hasn’t got her holding onto that ranking, and even then he has her in second. Even if most of us don’t have Serena climbing back to number one, three keep her in second – therefore implying she isn’t going anywhere fast. Josh, henceforth known as the bold one, has her lying down in fifth. Does he see 2017 as the start of a decline for the great champion or merely a blip? No matter, time will soon tell if he is right or not.
Charlie, James and Josh believe Simona Halep will climb to third. Radwanska, Keys and Pliskova also feature heavily. Josh has the latter finishing second, and maybe we should trust his judgement on this – after all, he has seen the Czech star play live. Defending French Open champion Garbine Muguruza and current World Number Five Dominika Cibulkova only get one pick each.
A couple of years ago, names such as Azarenka, Kvitova and Sharapova would have been dead-certs in the top half. Now, due to differing circumstances, none appear. Will they in the bottom half?
What I like most about that table is the bravery of our predictors. All of us have at least one shout which could either be great, or awful. Suarez Navarro, Svitolina, Wozniacki, an injured Kvitova and still on maternity leave Azarenka. They are all bold, and definitely names to follow over the course of the season.
The rest of the bottom five looks fairly similar to the end of 2016. Cibulkova and Muguruza are more common in this grid, with British number one Jo Konta in four of the five top tens (James being the most patriotic, Charlie the least).
Madison Keys, who will miss the Australian Open with an injury, features in all of our top tens, but in very different places. Charlie and James have her staying in 8th, Josh has her in 6th, Emma in 4th and I’ve placed her 3rd. I may be wrong, but that for me is a sign that she has the potential to do very well, we just disagree on whether this is the right year. Arguably, the same could be said for Muguruza.
Will our top ten predictions be reflected in our Grand Slam winners?
Straight off the bat, you can see why James thinks Serena will be reclaiming her number one ranking! The calendar Grand Slam beckons for the American … or does it?
The Australian, starting next week, reflects our top ten quite nicely actually. Everyone who has Kerber retaining her number one ranking have her taking some momentum to defend her title.
At the French, most of us see a return to the Serena-Slams, except me. I’ve gone for Halep, but placed her in my bottom half. The reason? That’s exactly what happened to Muguruza last year! 2017 feels like the year Halep will win her first Slam. If she doesn’t, you have to question whether she ever will.
Wimbledon is again split between Serena and someone who has never won a Slam. Radwanska gets backed once again by Charlie, with Josh rooting for the Pole as well. The rest of us see Serena’s dominance at SW19 continuing for yet another year.
Emma and I have gone for Pliskova to win in America. Last year, the Czech beat Serena Williams in straight sets in the last four, before losing to Kerber in the final. Her victory over Serena showed that America suits her style, and she’s ready to make the jump. Josh has gone for Halep to break her Slam hoodoo, with Charlie and James sticking with Serena.
Interestingly, four of us have Kerber to finish as the World Number One, yet none of us predict her defending her US title.
The same names feature in Istanbul – no-one has Cibulkova defending her title, nor does anyone think Serena will triumph (possibly due to her poor attendance record in recent years).
Now to introduce the wildcards. There were two rules when picking them: 1. they couldn’t have featured in anyone’s top ten, 2. they can’t currently be inside the top 20. The reason for a wildcard was to name someone you aren’t brave enough to place inside the top 10, but wouldn’t be surprised to see them at the end of the year.
I’ll start with world number 22 Kiki Bertens, Josh’s choice. The 25-year-old reached the semi-finals of the French last year, played a key role in Netherlands’ run to the semis of the Fed Cup and rose to the brink of the top 20.
Emma has plumped for Croat Ana Konjuh. The world number 35 reached the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time in her career at the last one in New York, and at 19 years of age has plenty of time to go deeper. She’s long been tipped for success in the sport, and was runner-up in the opening tournament of the year last week.
American Coco Vandewegh is who James has gone for. She’s 25, currently sits at 38 in the rankings and has only reached the quarters of a Slam once (2015 Wimbledon), however, she has the potential to climb the rankings quick.
My pick, the Latvian 39-ranked Jelena Ostapenko is next. I first heard of her when she was given a wildcard entry to Wimbledon in 2015, aged just 17. I watched her first match when she blew away Suarez Navarro to claim her first top ten win. I thought there was real potential there, and although there’s nothing to show for it just yet, this year might be hers.
This time last year, Belinda Bencic featured in almost all of our top tens. The young Swiss star looked certain to start taking the sport by storm, but was plagued by injuries and has fallen to 48th in the world. Nevertheless, Charlie thinks she might get it back together this year and climb to the top ten. Can the 19-year-old do it, or is the gap too big and is it a year too soon?
At the end of the year, we will return to these rankings, using a similar scoring system to the one successfully trialled last month. At the start of next week, keep an eye out for the male predictions.