Hardman's Thoughts

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How 2017 Will Finish (Part II)

This is a little later than I planned it to be, however, it’s nice to be writing about our predictions for the year to come while watching some live tennis! The Australian Open has started, Andy Murray is safely through to the second round, as are Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori, albeit after five set battles.

And it’s because of the beginning of the Australian Open that I’m going to change the usual order of this post. Rather than start with our top 10, I’m going to give you who we think will win the slams first.

Last time, we looked at the women – this time it’s the turn of the men. Will Andy keep his World Number 1 ranking? Do we think he will break his Australia hoodoo? How will Roger Federer fare after his long injury? These are just a few of the many questions following the ATP tour this year.

Grand Slams:

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The usual suspects feature heavily here – with most of us thinking Murray and Djokovic will win the most slams. Josh has gone for a very plausible four winners from four slams, and he and his sister have gone for Milos Raonic to win his first slam.

Australia is split between Djokovic and Murray. The logical answer is still Djokovic, however, three of us think now is the time for Andy to find a way past the Serb down under. Both have challenging but winnable draws through to the final.

At the French, none of us think Murray can win. Instead, Charlie, Emma and Josh have gone for Novak to defend his title, with James saying Wawrinka can win there again and me going for the romantic Rafa victory. It’s more in hope than expectation, but if Rafa is going to win another slam, it has to be this year and it has to be the French

Moving onto Wimbledon, and three out of five think Sir Andy can defend his title. James reckons Djokovic will get much further than he did last year, with Josh picking Milos Raonic to go that little bit further than he did last year.

The final slam of the year is once again split between Murray, Djokovic and Raonic, with defending champion Wawrinka getting one selection (Josh). Charlie’s picked Andy to win the final two slams of the year – does this mean he reckons he’ll hold onto that number one slot?

Before we find out, let’s take a look at the bottom five of our top ten…

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Considering Emma and Josh reckon he will win a slam, it might surprise some people to see Raonic as low as 7th in Charlie’s top 10. Clearly the Canadian has to do more to impress Mr. Marriott! There are so many stories on this table that it’s hard to know where to start. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal only feature on two each, although that number may increase as we go to the top five.

Grigor Dimitrov, who last year looked set to miss out on his bags of talent, has snuck onto the bottom of the top ten for Charlie, Emma and I. That is, for me at least, a reflection of his great form at the end of last year, which, as it happens, he’s carried into this.

On the whole, we clearly see this year as a big shift in tennis. Added to Dimitrov are consistent appearances for Nick Kyrgios, Alex Zverev and Dom Thiem. The five of us think those four are here to stay, is that going to be the case?

Charlie and James have Berdych remaining in the top ten, most of us have Marin Cilic there and Emma has David Goffin rounding out the elite. That shows that we still think those names aren’t going anywhere fast.

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If the bottom five contained a lot of names, our top fives contain only a few. Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka are in all five of our top fives with Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori in four.

Replacing Kei in Josh’s is Alex Zverev. Josh has been a long time admirer of the young German and thinks that this is the year he makes his mark on the sport. A top five finish at the end of 2017 will surely spell the way for a number one in the not-so-distant future.

Rather than seeing Cilic’s end of year 6th as the culmination of a great year, Charlie reckons it was just the start for the Croat. He climbs to fourth for Charlie.

Unsurprisingly, the two people who have backed Raonic to win a slam have him finishing third and the three that didn’t have Wawrinka (or Nishikori in James’ case). None of us have Andy holding on to the top spot. The reason for that? I think, for most of us, it’s a case of believing that both will have stellar years but Djokovic will reel the Brit in towards the end of the year and claim the number one ranking back sometime after the US open.

And talking about the end of the year…

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Will Andy defend his London crown? Well, it’s a resounding no from us five! Charlie and James have returned to Djokovic, Emma reckons we saw enough from Raonic in the semi-final last year to suggest he can win the event and I think Wawrinka is owed a title at the year-end event. Josh is going for a debut victory for Alex Zverev. Probably the boldest prediction of the lot, it’s one definitely worth keeping an eye on.

As for the wildcards, there are some interesting selections. Two Americans, a Croat, a Russian and yes, that is a British flag you see. As a reminder, our wildcards are real outside picks to end the year in the top ten but people who, should everything fall into place, have the potential to.

Jack Sock is now ranked 20th, however when we chose these he wasn’t so is a legal choice. The 24-year-old American has been talked about for a number of years, but has had more success in the doubles in the past. At the end of last season, he decided to focus more on singles, a decision that was widely considered a wise one. If there is a year for him to break the top ten, it’s conceivable it’s this one.

The British number two, Kyle Edmund (46), looks the world to be a future top tenner. With so many weapons and composure beyond his 22 years, Edmund can challenge the best on his day. Impressive wins towards the end of last season convinced me to punt for the next British star.

Karen Khachanov (52). I’ll forgive you for not having heard of the Russian. He’s 20, and hasn’t gone past the second round of a Grand Slam before. But, no matter, Josh saw enough of him last year to pick him as his wildcard. I’ve heard Josh rave about him multiple times, and I’m excited to see how high he can go.

Ever since Borna Coric (59) defeated Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, big things have been expected of him. In 2016 he won his first two ATP titles, and has reached the third round of the French open twice. He is another top tenner in the making, and this might well be his year, or maybe a year too soon.

Don’t let Taylor Fritz’s world ranking of 93 fool you into thinking it’s an awful choice by Charlie. The 19-year-old American is the youngest player in the top 100 and has already reached an ATP final. While many assume 2017 is a year too soon for him, who’s to say he can’t have a run in one of the slams and truly surprise the elite?


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Four Years Old

Hardman’s Thoughts is four years old (technically it was on Monday, but I missed that!). Four isn’t seen as a significant birthday and won’t warrant mention on most sites, however, it feels like a major thing for me.

Four years ago I was lost at Uni, unsure what I was doing there and seeing my life fade into obscurity in front of my eyes. I knew I liked watching sport, I knew I had an insane amount of knowledge on sporting events and I had a feeling I’d be pretty good at writing about it.

Back then, Hardman’s Thoughts started as a side project for me – with most of my attention focussed on We Only Sing When We’re Winning. That blog meant a lot to me. It gave me experience at writing, showed me I shouldn’t be nervous about putting my opinions on the internet and led me down a path I’m only just beginning to explore.

WOSWWW got thousands of views because of an article Josh wrote, and through that we created a podcast. That podcast wouldn’t set the world alight, but it was fun to record and always something to look forward to on otherwise dreary Sunday nights.

When the whole blog started fading, others were created – but none have been as successful as Hardman’s Thoughts. HT is a drop in the ocean compared to what WOSWWW did with Josh’s article, but with very little publicity and even less know-how on WordPress or Social Media, I feel I’ve done fairly well.

In these four years, I’ve had 3,527 views, with 1,461 coming in the last year alone. I’m proud of that. It shows that my writing is interesting enough for people to click on, and even sometimes controversial enough to debate.

I was going to highlight my favourite articles, but since I’ve started this I’ve realised I actually can’t think of my favourite! I’m proud of a lot of them, but most lose relevance over time.

Furthermore, it’s insane to think that in those four years I’ve completed my masters. Firstly, that’s not something I would have considered when I set this up and secondly, definitely not one in Sports Journalism. It feels appropriate that ten days following the fourth birthday of my blog, I graduate.

So Happy Birthday Hardman’s Thoughts, and a massive thank you to everyone who has ever viewed, read or commented on this site. It stopped the boredom of a Physics degree, and then gave me confidence that I was as good as other people on my Sports Journalism course.

This is not the end. I see this as merely the beginning. I have huge plans for this space, not just carrying on what I do – but explore other journalistic areas and expand my influence.

So, here’s the crux of this post.

I’m going to set up a spot (once a month to start with) for guest blogs. Ideally, I’m looking for a 300-word article on something relatively controversial, preferably to do with sport. If that sounds like something you are interested in, please drop me a message on facebook or twitter. I’m dead excited to explore thoughts and opinions which are not just my own, but friends and family too. Who knows? Maybe we’ll even get a debate going!


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How 2017 Will Finish (Part I)

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?

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Every Williams is Serena, none of us have said Venus for anything

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?

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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?

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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.

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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.


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Ramble #14

Why Koeman was wrong

Rather surprisingly, I wasn’t that upset by Monday’s predictable loss to Liverpool. From the moment the second half started, we looked devoid of energy, dropped back and welcomed pressure on. Holding out until the 95th minute was impressive.

Honestly, I thought Mane had a great game and thoroughly deserved to score the winner. Does that make it any easier? Of course not! 

I don’t buy into the blame culture. A loss is a loss at the end of the day, and a loss in the Premier League only means you don’t gain any points but have opportunities to do so pretty soon after. We build football up to the point where every moment seems to somehow matter when, in reality, very little of it counts. A 95th-minute winner in a World Cup Final matters, in a league Merseyside derby? Not so much! 

However, I think the finger of blame has to point squarely at Ronald Koeman for Monday’s defeat. 

When we beat Arsenal last Tuesday, Gareth Barry required a rest and Koeman placed Gueye and McCarthy together. It worked a treat. McCarthy’s energy allowed Gueye to clean up at the back while the Irishman bombed up and down the middle. Gueye is a holding midfielder (and a very good one at that), McCarthy is box-to-box, which allows him to link up with Barkley, Lukaku and our wingers. It’s no surprise that, against Arsenal, Barkley and Valencia had their best games this season.

And for the first half against Liverpool, it was working again. Barkley wasn’t as good as he was before, but McCarthy was better. And then he got injured. Barry replaced him at half-time, and as Barry is also a holding player, it was why we dropped back. It’s a shame because Gareth Barry has been a wonderful player for us, but he can no longer play with Gueye – the space between the midfield and the front four becomes too large. 

Quite reasonably, you’re probably thinking: “it’s not Koeman’s fault that McCarthy got injured”. Yes, you’re right. It’s not. But it is his fault for putting Barry on the bench and not Tom Davies, or not having both there. Tom Davies isn’t as energetic as McCarthy, but is more so than Barry. Davies, for those who don’t know him, is a young centre-midfielder who has made a handful of appearances over the past six months and has excelled in all of them. He’s composed on the ball, he doesn’t look lost on the field or with the pace of play and can pick a pass better than most. Before he made his Everton debut, Roy Hodgson invited him to train with the England senior side. It baffled me at the time, but I completely understand now. I’d be very surprised if Davies doesn’t become a regular England international in the next five years. 

Koeman seems reluctant to use our young players. We have a particularly good crop of them at the moment. Davies is alongside Keiran Dowell, Mason Holgate, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Brendon Galloway (on loan at WBA), Callum Connoly, Matthew Pennington and Jonjoe Kenny as academy players who have made their Premier League debuts in 2016. We finished third in the U21 league last season, but are leading the U23 one this. This crop of youngsters should all have Premier League careers.

And the fans have been restless about their lack of game time. So Koeman responds by bringing DCL on against Arsenal. The tall striker did well on the wing and had a decent opportunity to score. It worked once, so Koeman tried it again against Liverpool. Except, it was clearly the wrong tactic.

DCL did ok. His heading ability is clear, he batted away a corner with more authority than either of Williams or Funes Mori had all night. But apart from that, he can’t defend, and yet was utilised on the wing. Which seemed odd given that Kevin Mirallas was on the bench. 

Koeman got it badly wrong. When he could have had fresh legs and someone who ran at the opposition, he instead prioritised a long ball strategy which only invited pressure. And, this is very cynical of me, but it smacks of a manager trying to prove to his fans that the youngsters aren’t ready yet. 

Given what I’ve seen of our current crop, I really hope I’m wrong. His use of Davies, DCL, and the rest over the next few months is going to be very interesting.


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How 2016 Finished (Part II)

Emma’s predictions were good for the men, but wasn’t enough to beat Charlie. Can Charlie continue his streak with a good showing in the women?

When it came to predicting the women, I think we all, sadly, admit that we weren’t as confident compared to the men. Through no fault of theirs, none of us watch the women play as much as we watch men. There are many reasons for this – TV coverage is a huge one, BT sport have the WTA tour whereas Sky have the ATP. Not many of our predictors sit and watch every Grand Slam match, and I would guess that the men get more screen time (probably due to their longer matches). The ATP tour finals are accessible in London, the WTA less so in Singapore.

All of which is wrong. Women’s tennis is incredibly healthy, competitive and exciting – this year has highlighted all three. If we can make a resolution for 2017, it will definitely be to take more of an interest in the WTA tour.

With that in mind, it’s time to look at how our predicting went. James couldn’t join us for this, leaving Charlie, Emma, Josh and I. As a note to the scoring system, Sharapova’s ban shocked us all and so if any of us had her in our top 10s, they wouldn’t get any points for that.

And this is how the top five looks, compared to how we thought it would:

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Angelique Kerber.

Yeah, none of us saw that coming. Huge congratulations to the Australian and US Open champion, and Wimbledon, Tour Finals and Olympics finalist. What a year it was for the German, it was going to take something special to knock Serena off her perch, and I don’t think anyone could claim Kerber’s year was anything but remarkable.

The other new name in the top five is Cibulkova, who none of us had anywhere in our top tens. Josh watched her triumph in Eastbourne, and stated that he hopes she inspires “girls watching to realise that you don’t need to be 6’ foot plus to be very, very good at tennis.” Is her place in the top five the start of a further rise, or is this as good as it gets? She’s one to watch over the first few months of next year.

Three of our four predictors had Petra Kvitova in the top five. This certainly wasn’t a surprise, and hence the Czech’s final position of 11th shows the quality in depth on the WTA tour. Most of our top fives were solid picks, four of Emma’s finished in the top 10, with all of mine securing year-end top ten finishes.

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The first thing that I notice about that bottom five is the inclusion of a British flag. What a year it’s been for Jo Konta, and that top ten finish is far from being a fluke. She quietly got on with her business while the tennis media hyped Heather Watson and Laura Robson, only to break through and miss out on the tour finals by the skin of her teeth.

Pliskova, the other Eastbourne finalist, fulfilled Emma and my shouts by breaking into the top 10, however, Belinda Bencic didn’t. Ending the year in 43rd place, Belinda had a disappointing twelve months. Madison Keys managed to get in the top 10, not as high as fifth as I said, but exactly where Emma predicted she would finish.

As for our other predictions, the less said, the better. Safarova finished the year 62nd, Ivanovic 63rd and Lisicki 92nd. Charlie’s top 10 was decent, if not outstanding, (and good on the basis that he actually had Kerber in it!) until his final three. In my new scoring system, only one of us didn’t pick up 50(+) points for a player from our bottom five.

Our lack of confidence and higher unpredictability on the WTA tour is shown in the rankings. With the men, only James ended in triple figures, yet with the women 75% of us are already over 100 points.

4. Charlie (187)

3. Josh (115)

2. Emma (107)

1. Gareth (62)

And for those who questioned my rankings last week, I believe those results are fair. Charlie and Josh got five correct top 10 picks, Emma and I six. Emma picked two players outside of the world’s top 20, I only picked one.

Now for the Grand Slams:

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This is just shocking for all of us really. Emma hedged her bets by going for a Serena clean sweep, and came away with one success (which, tbh, is the least you should expect from that). Of those 16 predictions, only three actually came true. Josh and Charlie didn’t get a single pick right, with Charlie losing Wimbledon because he strayed from Serena.

The French Open final was between Muguruza and Serena, i.e. a match between our picks. Mine came out on top and was easily the best selection from that grid. Emma scored fewer points than me in this round, however, did get one less correct pick. Not a great round for Josh, but Charlie’s top ten keeps him in third place:

4. Charlie (195)

3. Josh (127)

2. Emma (111)

1. Gareth (67)

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The tour finals and Olympics were unexpected. Monica Puig winning Puerto Rico’s first ever Olympic Gold was one of the stories of the whole games, and so not anything any of us, or indeed most people, saw coming. Once again, my Olympic pick was awful – and Halep, like Federer, didn’t even compete. Serena lost in the third round.

At the tour finals, Serena didn’t compete, Azarenka didn’t qualify and neither Muguruza nor Halep made it out of the round robins! Congratulations to Cibulkova, who rounded off a fantastic end to the year with a memorable victory over the World Number One.

The last section didn’t change the overall standings, it just saw Charlie break the 200 points barrier:

4. Charlie (203)

3. Josh (135)

2. Emma (118)

1. Gareth (77) 

So, Charlie followed up his male victory with a resounding loss in the women, and I don’t believe you can question the final order. Emma and I were the most consistent throughout, with my picks being marginally better.

Join us again next year, when we will all try to fare just a little bit better.

I would like to thank Emma for all her hard work, slaving away while making all the tables.

 


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How 2016 Finished (Part I)

Way back in January, a group of us tried to predict how 2016 would shape up in the world of tennis, for both the men and the women.

With the season coming to an end, it’s time to look back at those predictions, to see which ones worked and which ones came unstuck. And, while we made some good calls, there were some awful shouts as well. One of us had Kevin Anderson finishing in the top ten, another predicted a Federer Olympics-Tour Finals double. None of us saw Dominic Thiem or Gael Monfils making their debuts at the year-end showdown.

In order to spice things up, I’m trialling a scoring system to keep track of which of us are the best predictors, and who is lagging behind. Believe me, the final result came as a bit of a surprise.

As a quick reminder, here were our five predictors:

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This year saw a massive change at the top. For the first time in history, a Brit finished top of the pile (and his brother formed part of the best doubles team too), with Andy Murray finally toppling Novak Djokovic. With the final ranking points now in, Murray has 12,000 points, Djokovic a few hundred behind, with third place Milos Raonic acquiring less than half of those numbers. Murray and Djokovic’s dominance is unquestioned.

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None of us saw the Brit securing the most coveted of spots this November. Only one of us had him finishing second, we were all vaguely pessimistic about his chances this year. Only Emma predicted Kei Nishikori breaking into the top five, but none of us predicted Milos Raonic’s rise. Perhaps that isn’t a surprise, this time last year, the big-serving Canadian sat outside the top ten.

Yet, as Emma, Josh, their Dad and I saw on Saturday, there is no question that he deserves it. On more than one occasion this year, Raonic has pushed Andy Murray to within an inch of beating him. He hasn’t managed to find a way to turn himself into a champion and, at the moment at least, lacks the mentality to deal with being ahead in matches he shouldn’t. But he is definitely a future Grand Slam champion, and possibly the next new world number one.

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There was all change at the bottom of the top ten too. David Ferrer has gone, with Tomas Berdych and Rafael Nadal clinging on. Gael Monfils had a storming year, thoroughly deserving his top ten finish. Dominic Thiem, 23, is the youngest member of the elite ten, but that doesn’t make his place a fluke. None of us saw it coming, but few of us are surprised by the Austrian’s rise.

Our predictors were a little thrown by the bottom half of the top ten. Granted, it becomes harder to guess without any consistent names (especially when Berdych dropped from his seventh perch), however, it’s fair to say we could have done better.

On the whole, we overhyped known stars such as Roger Federer (who finished sixteenth) and Rafael Nadal, while undervaluing Thiem, Raonic, Marin Cilic and, less-so, Kei Nishikori. Only one of us got a spot-on prediction – Charlie with Stan Wawrinka.

It’s time to introduce the scoring system. We all predicted Djokovic to finish top, yet he finished second. So that meant we all got one point. Points are essentially the error in our placing. Federer finishing in sixteenth meant placing him in second scored fourteen points, third thirteen and so on and so forth. Thus, the winner of our predictions will be the person who scores the fewest points.

Our top tens left the table like this:

5. James (101)

3. Josh (48)

3. Emma (48)

2. Charlie (41)

1. Gareth (38)

Kevin Anderson scored 59 points, essentially ending James’ hopes of becoming the best predictor.

But we didn’t just predict the top ten. We went further and cast our gaze over the Grand Slams too. This is what we came up with, compared to what actually happened:

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We fared a little better with the slightly easier task of predicting the Slam champions. At the start of the year, Novak winning the Australian Open was a dead cert. Him winning in France was, with hindsight, almost guaranteed as well. We all, quite rightly, saw his dominance continuing in London. Emma and Josh thought he would win all four, and at one point this year, it looked like they would be right. James’ US Open prediction was spot on.

I had to alter the scoring system for the Slams. Eventually, I settled on 0 for correct, 1 for losing finalist, 2 for losing in the semi-finals and so on. Nadal and Djokovic lost in the third round at the French and Wimbledon respectively, so for all of those predictions, we scored five points. If a player ended up not competing, they would score the points available for losing in the first round, plus one.

Which left the points total:

5. James (111)

2. Josh (54)

2. Emma (54)

2. Charlie (54)

1. Gareth (49)

Josh and Emma had an excellent round with the Grand Slams, completely closing the gap on Charlie.

We made one more set of predictions: the Olympics and the Tour Finals.

table4

A glorious table for British fans, but an awful one for me! Roger didn’t play in either the Olympics or the Tour Finals, meaning I scored the maximum points available for both. Charlie and James were suitably patriotic concerning Gold in Rio, but none of us saw a Murray double in the “minor slams”.

The scoring system was the same as above, but I’ve added in the second predictions we made once the Tour Finals draw happened. Charlie and Josh stuck with their predictions, Emma thought Cilic would win, James correctly called Murray and I plumped for the injured Monfils.

All of which, left the final table:

5. James (112)

4. Josh (65)

3. Emma (64)

2. Gareth (62)

1. Charlie (56)

Eventually, my unusual rooting for Roger backfired, and Charlie’s more consistent picks gave him the victory. Emma won the battle of the Stills, while James would have finished a lot higher had he not gone for Kevin Anderson. James was good money on the Olympics and Tour Finals – his three predictions only scored one point.

There is still a tournament ongoing on the WTA tour (with a player involved in our predictions), so the women’s equivalent to this article will be up once that is over. 


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Ramble #13

Later for London?

I’m sat here watching Gael Monfils struggling against Dominic Thiem in their second matches at the ATP World Tour Finals.

Dom won the first set against Novak Djokovic, but lost the next two comfortably. Gael was easily beaten by an efficient Milos Raonic. This is a must win match for both men and, as I write this (6-3, 0-1 (30-30)), it’s the Austrian who looks more likely. 

Gael just doesn’t look like he’s fully fit (although he has just broken Thiem …), like Andy Murray didn’t last night, and, although I didn’t see it, Stan Wawrinka in the earlier match. 

Raonic came into this tournament carrying a knock, and Marin Cilic wasn’t 100% either. And this isn’t a new thing. Every year players pull out or don’t play at their best due to fatigue and niggly injuries. Held with just a weeks break from the last masters of the year in Paris, maybe the organisers need to look at a rescheduling. 

Firstly, this is meant to be the year-ending tournament, however, the Davis Cup final is yet to be played. Last year, Andy didn’t really turn up at the O2, his thoughts very much on winning the Davis Cup. Are we seeing something similar from Marin Cilic this year? The big Croat looked unbelievably flat last night, there’s no question that in his usual guise he would have punished Murray for an incredibly weak set. 

The Davis Cup scenario also makes it very difficult to calculate who will end as year-end number one this year. Andy will lose points following this tournament. While it can’t happen this year, in theory the world number one could win the tour finals, beating the world number two in the final, and yet not finish the year atop of the rankings. 

But all of that is just a minor point used to back up my bigger one about fatigue.

We all want to see the top eight players playing at their best. We don’t want to see a load of tired professionals, struggling to move their legs for one final week.

Give them an extra week, play the Davis Cup final first. 

The players will be happier with the extra rest, the spectators will be more willing to pay money to see closer matches. We want to see long rallies, heart-stopping moments, breathtaking winners. We don’t want to see unforced error after unforced error.

Someone in the village I live in described Wawrinka as amateur yesterday. That may well be true. But if it is, it’s only because the scheduling surrounding this wonderful tournament is amateur.