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How 2016 Will Finish (part I)

It is quickly becoming a tradition for my friends and I to predict what men’s tennis will look like in 12 months time, in terms of the top 10 and slam winners. This year we are extending it to include the women’s and olympics winner. This first one is a look at the men’s side, with the burning question – do we think Djokovic’s Dominance will continue?

Doing the men with me are Charlie Marriot, Emma Still, James Doan and Josh Still. Charlie, Emma and Josh have all done this before, James is new to it and is only doing the men’s side. Good luck to all my fellow bloggers. All the graphics were designed by Emma, and I am forever grateful for her photoshop skills in the development of this.

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We’ll start with the top five, and explanations.

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Charlie: 

Pretty much status quo at the top – Federer‘s natural decline will continue but I would imagine he will have at least 1 semi-final appearance at a Slam.

Emma:

Djokovic’s dominance will continue into 2016, highlighted with my picks for the big tournament. Federer seems to be getting better despite his age, with my theory being that it’s purely so he can win the Rio Olympics in 2016. I think he will. Murray is consistently amongst the top four, and three seems to be a perfect position for him. Nishikori has vast potential, and while last year wasn’t great, the next very well might be. His game is still good enough to challenge the best. Wawrinka is on a slight decline, but he’s still good enough for top 5.

Gareth:

I believe the top 4 pick themselves; the only issue for debate is the order. Djokovic will be world number 1 without hell freezing over, and it is likely with his late season form, plus lack of points to defend, that Nadal will be second. Federer and Murray could both quite easily finish third, I’ve plumped for Murray on the basis that I imagine he’ll be more consistent over the course of a year, even if Federer has more individual success. Wawrinka is now a permanent fixture amongst the top 10, and even if he doesn’t win a slam in 2016 (which I don’t think he will), he is still better than the vast majority of tennis players.

James:

Novak Djokovic amassed a record breaking 16,585 ranking points last year after reaching all four grand slam finals, winning a record 11 masters series events before winning the World Tour Finals event in November at the o2 in London. The only major title that eluded him was the French Open where he was defeated by Stan Wawrinka in four sets at Roland Garros. The only certainty about predicting the top 10 in male tennis is that Novak will be number 1. Roger Federer played some of the best tennis of his career in beating Andy Murray in straight sets in the semi-final of Wimbledon before losing to Djokovic in the final. He also reached the final of the US Open before losing to Djokovic once again. 2015 was a landmark year for Murray who won the Davis Cup on his own. He also enjoyed his most accomplished year on clay winning two titles and beating Rafael Nadal on the surface for the first time in the final of the Madrid Masters. It is a big year for Murray who is expecting the birth of his first child in February as well as committing to play in Davis Cup competition once again. I expect that Muzza may struggle to replicate the consistency of last season and relinquish his number spot in the rankings. Nadal looked ready to compete with the world’s best once again at the World Tour Finals in London in November. He looked to be back to somewhere near his best form in his demolition of Murray in the round robin stage. A good clay court season could see him retain his place amongst tennis ‘big four.’ Out of all the players in the current top 10, Stan the Man seems the only one capable of trading blows with Novak Djokovic in a best of five sets match. Stan hit Djokovic off the court to win the French Open and if the Swiss could add more consistency to his game he could move even higher up the rankings.

Josh:

There’s no debate about the no. 1 position – Djokovic has become a ‘Big 1’ within the ‘Big 4’, and it’s hard to imagine what, barring a serious injury, could stop him finishing top of the rankings for the 5th time in 6 years. Indeed, I think he has a serious chance of completing the Grand Slam for the first time since Rod Laver in 1969; his physicality is such that I just don’t see who will beat him over 5 sets, and as a patriot, I fully expect him to win Olympic gold in Rio too. Behind Djokovic, I predict that Nadal will bounce back from a lacklustre year ’15 just as Federer did from ‘13 and Murray from ’14. Murray’s consistency will see him at no. 3. Federer, who will be 35 next summer, will drop down to 4 as I’m not sure he’ll be able to produce his best every week – but he should still have a couple of Slam runs left in him.

It may seem a little harsh not to include Stan Wawrinka in the Big 4 – after all, he has won a Slam and finished in the top 4 in each of the last 2 years. But while he’s a threat to any of them on his day, he will never have their unrelenting consistency and, thanks to Djokovic’s dominance, I don’t think he’ll win a Slam this year. Assuming he doesn’t, no. 5 is actually generous – he wouldn’t have been ranked that loftily for the past 2 years without a Slam win.

 

And now the bottom half

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Charlie:

Goffin is showing more promise so a good run at some 500 rank tournaments could see him slip by Tsonga, Dmitrov et al into that 10th place.

Emma:

Tomas Berdych lives at number 6. I don’t see Nadal’s body holding up for a year. He looked good at the end of last year but I don’t think that’ll last. Ferrer is getting older but still seems to always be in and around the top 10 so you’d be stupid to bet against him being there again. Raonic and Cilic, with age and experience, are too good not to return to the top 10.

Gareth:

The second half of my top 10 highlights the severe lack of depth in men’s tennis. It essentially hasn’t changed in the last two years. I think Berdych and Nishikori will stay, Raonic and Cilic will return with Goffin being the sole debutant. Why Goffin? His match against Murray in the Davis Cup proved he can play, and genuinely threaten, the best. Goffin’s place could quite easily still go to Ferrer, even at 34.

James:

2015 was not a great year for Japanese star, Kei Nishikori. Losing in the first round of the US open and withdrawing from his second round match at Wimbledon through injury. However at 26 Nishikori should be entering his peak years as a professional tennis player and playing injury free I expect him to cement his place in the world’s top 10. Berdych has been a consistent performer on the male tennis circuit for nearly a decade. A regular beyond the fourth round of grand slam tournaments I expect the Czech to remain between 6-10 in the rankings throughout the year. For Kevin Anderson, 2015 was something of a breakthrough year. The big South African reached the fourth round of the Australian Open and Wimbledon for the first time in 2015 as well as reaching his first quarter final in a grand slam at the US Open culminating in reaching a career high world number 10 in October 2015. The indomitable Ferrer will almost certainly finish the year inside the games top 10. He does every year. If Nick Kyrgios can keep his head together, the talented Aussie can be a top 10 player for many years to come. However, that is like saying that if Daniel Sturridge can stay fit England can win the Euros. Nonetheless, Kyrgios is a huge talent and a good run at his home Slam in Melbourne could set the tone for a big year for the big mouth.

 

Josh:

I could easily have put Nishikori ahead of Wawrinka, as he has the potential to develop into a genuinely world-class player, who has also shown that he can trouble all of the Big 4 – but will his injury-prone body ever be able to get through a full season?! I could have put him in the top 5, or judged that his injury record merited leaving him out of the top 10 altogether, but in the end I compromised by putting him at no. 6.

There was fierce competition for the remaining 4 places. Berdych at no. 7 – does any more need to be said? My wildcard is Kyrgios at no. 8! He’s into his twenties now, and assuming he’s maturing both on and off the court, there’s no reason not to consider him a future Grand Slam champion. He has a temperament perfectly suited to the big stage, so I’m expecting at least one run to the semi-finals or even the final of a Slam in 2016; probably Wimbledon, or his home slam in Australia. My list finishes with Ferrer and Cilic – I keep predicting Ferrer’s demise, but even though I think the days of him going deep into the second week of Slams are over, he should win enough 250 and 500 tournaments to stay in the top 10.   Cilic actually could contend for Slams, and now that he seems to be over his injuries, is too good not to be there or thereabouts after a full season on tour.

Ending with a look at the grand slam, and other major tournament, prospects, and it’s fair to say one man from Serbia dominates … 

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Charlie has given a little note on the pattern amongst our slam winners: Normal service to be resumed at the main tournaments after a couple of unexpected years, the newer names seem to be settled in now so while they’re all likely to challenge, I think this year will (sadly) be a return to the more conventional list of champions.

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Josh provides us with a tip of the player to watch:

JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO

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I know I said this last year and ended up with egg on my face, but if the giant Argentine attempts another injury comeback, he will remain the most exciting player in tennis, and if he retains only a fraction of his awesome abilities, one of the very best. I’ll be following his progress closely. On the domestic front, Kyle Edmund’s burgeoning career is worth watching after an encouraging Davis Cup debut. Borna Coric, Alex Zverev, Hyeon Chung and Thanasi Kokkinakis are all hugely talented youngsters now firmly enmeshed in the world’s top 100, so hopefully they can continue their development this year.

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Wimbledon 2015: The Male Favourites

The main section of Wimbledon begins in just under a week. It’s strange how a competition that happens every year can remain so special year upon year. Wimbledon has a little bit of magic to it, something different from the plethora of tennis tournaments that happen every week. There are many different competitions taking place, men’s and ladies’ singles and doubles, mixed doubles, wheelchair doubles, junior singles and doubles as well as legends doubles. Between mid morning and late evening every day for two weeks, the BBC will be full of tennis. It really is heaven for British tennis fans.

Although, with the increased exposure of tennis on terrestrial TV comes the casual tennis fans. The ones who seem to think tennis only exists for two weeks a year, those who probably only watch football and thus get bored when there’s no football and so turn to tennis. They probably have only heard of Federer and Nadal, they probably think that Fred Perry is just a clothing brand and are almost certainly the ones calling Andy Murray “boring” and “lacking in personality”, except with stronger language. These people are the bane of my life, for example they don’t understand the difference between a game and a match, and led me to quit twitter during Wimbledon 2 years ago. Casual fans are fine, I don’t expect everyone to follow every sport religiously – it just annoys me that with tennis they seem to pipe up with their uneducated opinion without anyone asking for it, or even needing it. They aren’t what this blog is about; I just wanted to get it off my chest!

It’s time for me to focus on the men’s draw, and take a look at who I think the favourites will be. Below are the players who I think have the best shot at winning the title, in order of their chances. It’s likely the winner will come from the top 2, however below that there are a lot of players who will give it a good shot. It’s unlikely, but tennis does throw up a shock or two every now and then. Djokovic could meet an Ancic in the first round; Murray could meet a Soderling in the third. Wimbledon is the only slam played on grass that brings with a greater importance to hold serve. Big servers and good returners do well here, increasing the likelihood of a new champion. Also, with Wawrinka and Cilic winning slams recently, the era of the big 4 seems well and truly over. Will that reflect in the winner at Wimbledon? The next two weeks will tell!

Why am I doing this for the men and not for the women? Well the women’s draw is much harder to predict, essentially because best of 3 sets means that shocks are more likely. I feel more comfortable doing this for the men’s, although that isn’t to say I won’t write something for the women at some point if I have time!

  1. Novak Djokovic (world ranking: 1, best Wimbledon: W in 2011, 2014):

I can spout all I like about it being the most open Wimbledon for years; the simple truth is that it’s hard to look beyond the reigning champion. The World Number 1 always cruises through the first 4 rounds; usually without dropping a set and thus when it comes to longer matches he has the physical advantage. Furthermore, Djokovic usually gets blessed with kind draws (or maybe he makes every draw kind) and there only seems to be 2 or 3 people who can actually beat him. Those people have usually been pushed earlier in the tournament and therefore unless they start well won’t challenge the Serbian. I’d be handing him the title if he hadn’t lost at Roland Garros.

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  1. Andy Murray (world ranking: 3, best Wimbledon: W in 2013):

Another reason for Djokovic being the clear favourite is his one sided recent record over clear second favourite Andy Murray. Murray hasn’t beaten Djokovic since his Wimbledon victory in 2013, meaning he’s lost the last 8 matches the two have played. Given that it’s almost certain he’ll be seeded 3rd, a meeting with Djokovic could happen as early as the semi-final. Recent history will need to be re-written. Even then there is hope. When Murray was ill at the French Open, he still managed to push Djokovic to 5 sets over 2 days. Add that to his grass record over the Serb (2-0 in Murray’s favour) and you can see why there’s a good chance Andy will be adding to his 2 Grand Slams. Andy needs to be at his best, Novak needs to be slightly off but if anyone can beat Djokovic on grass then it surely has to be the Briton?

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  1. Stan Wawrinka (world ranking: 4, best Wimbledon: QF 2014):

I think Stan will be very disappointed with his Wimbledon record. Only one quarterfinal spot, he’s lost in the first round 5 times and hence it looks unlikely he’ll win this year! However, he has the game to survive, nay flourish, on grass and is now a multiple-Slam winner. The French champ may have lost early at Queen’s but that tournament won’t matter to him, he’s after Wimbledon. On his day, he can destroy anyone. It was only a few weeks ago that he beat Federer without being broken once. We all know that Wawrinka has the power to end any rally abruptly, his Achilles heel had been his unreliable serve. If his serve is working at Wimbledon then it wouldn’t surprise me to see him beating both Djokovic and Murray. If Wawrinka can find some consistency, then he won’t retire with only 2 Grand Slam titles.

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  1. Roger Federer (world ranking: 2, best Wimbledon: W in 2003,04,05,06,07,09 and 2012):

While I don’t consider Federer a serious threat for 3 out of 4 Slams these days, you can’t ignore his talent on grass. Federer is a real danger this year. He’s desperate for one last Slam and is probably the only player as comfortable, if not more, than Murray on grass. Furthermore, the second seeding means he could avoid both Djokovic and Murray before the final, allowing them to wear themselves out hence leaving the door open for the Swiss number 1. That being said, Federer is unbelievably inconsistent these days and could he beat Dimitrov, Nishikori and then Wawrinka/Murray in 3 consecutive rounds as he might have to? I’d say it’s unlikely. With a favourable draw and in the right spirit, Federer could sneak his way into the final and possibly more. Without it, it may be another early exit. Since 09, he’s only reached 2 Wimbledon finals – he’s no longer a huge threat.

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  1. Kei Nishikori (world ranking: 5, best Wimbledon: 4R 2014):

Nishikori has been something of a late bloomer, hanging around the top 50 until a surge in 2014 rocketed him up to 5th and then 4th. He also knows how to get on rolls. In 2014 he nearly beat Nadal on clay, before reaching the US Open final – beating Raonic, Wawrinka and Djokovic in a row. Once he gets going, the Japanese man is tough to beat. And no wonder, his style allows for no let up in intensity from his opponents and has enough power to hit through most players. He’s got a defensive game as good as Murray and Djokovic’s, a serve as consistent as Federer’s and his strength lies in returning – you can see why such a player will be dangerous, especially on grass. His record at Wimbledon is shocking however I expect him to change that this year and could well go all the way – he has to win a Slam soon if he is ever going to.

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  1. Milos Raonic (world ranking: 7, best Wimbledon: SF 2014):

It would take a lot for Raonic to win Wimbledon. Probably an illness to both Djokovic and Murray, avoiding Federer (or letting someone else take him out), Wawrinka losing early on and playing better than Nishikori at some point. However, we can’t rule the Canadian out. He reached the semi-final last year and it would be wrong to ignore that as a fluke. Big servers do well on grass, with easy points a must as players feel they can break every game. Therefore it’s highly likely that if Raonic is to win a slam, it will be Wimbledon. Unlike Nishikori or Dimitrov who can realistically win any of the slams, this is Roanic’s best shot. A seventh seeding places him just inside the top 8, which could be a massive advantage.

Day Nine: The Championships - Wimbledon 2014

Tomas Berdych (wr: 6), Marin Cilic (wr: 9) and Grigor Dimitrov (wr: 11):

The quality in depth of men’s tennis at the moment is absurd. I’ve listed 6 players, all of whom have a genuine shot at Wimbledon and yet haven’t mentioned one of last year’s semi-finalists, the reigning US Open champion and a former Wimbledon finalist. I’m grouping them together mainly so I don’t ramble on for too long but also because they are the best of the rest! Cilic and Dimitrov would be higher if not for the likelihood that they will be seeded outside the top 8 and therefore have to play a member of the top 8 (possibly Djokovic or Murray) in the fourth round. It’s unrealistic to tip them for the title, even though they clearly have the game to win, when they could have to beat Federer, Nishikori and Murray just to reach the final! Berdych is arguably playing the best tennis of his life this year however you could say the same about Wawrinka and Murray and they are both better than the Czech. If the draw gets turned upside down, one of these 3 could capitalise however that’s their best chance.

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Players who won’t win it, but could knock out one or two big names:

Kevin Anderson:

The big South African recently reached the Queens final, beating Wawrinka along the way. Clearly comfortable on grass, his serve means that breaking him will require you to work over time. He’s also consistent, only once since the start of 2013 has he not reached the 3rd round of a slam. The flip side to that is he has never gone beyond the 4th round, but then again he’s clearly in some form and so this could be the first time he reaches the quarterfinals.

Feliciano Lopez:

Possibly the only Spaniard in history to prefer grass courts to clay; Lopez (or Deliciano to Judy Murray) is always a danger at Wimbledon. His three grand slam quarters have all been at the all-England club and if he draws Berdych, Nadal or Ferrer at the 3rd, 4th round stage then you wouldn’t bet against him doing it again. Certainly one the top guys would like to avoid.

The French contingent:

Out of Tsonga, Monfils, Simon and Gasquet the first has the best chance of going the furthest at Wimbledon however none will be easy matches for anyone. To make it worse, Monfils and Gasquet are lingering outside of the top 16 seeds and therefore could face a top ten player as early as Friday/Saturday next week. Monfils in the third round is quite possibly the worst third round draw of all time.

Nick Kyrgios:

Kyrgios reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year and thus it’s difficult to know just how high he will be seeded. It’s unlikely he’ll make the top 16 and therefore could rival Monfils for worst third round draw. Only Murray seems to have a handle on him and at some point even that will fail. Kyrgios just loves the big stage, and will be desperate to defend his points. No one will be relishing facing the Aussie if he finds a similar level to last year.

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The unseeded ones:

Anyone outside of the top 32 is a threat at any point; you just need a quick glance over tennis history to prove that! However, there are some you fear more than others. Although it’s possible he will get a seed, Philip Kohlschreiber of Germany is now ranked 33rd in the world. The man who can beat anyone on his day could well face Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal in the first round! Or Novak Djokovic in the second! A player that dangerous and possibly unseeded is a clear threat. At 43 in the world, it’s certain that Gilles Muller won’t have a seed for Wimbledon. Does that make him any less of a threat? No, and at Queens recently he beat Dimitrov before very nearly beating Murray. Watch out for him, he’ll be lurking dangerously somewhere. Also keep an eye on Verdasco and Pospisil, both are nightmare first or second round ties.

And finally…

There are two players who reside in the top 10 which I haven’t talked about yet. One of them is a two-time Wimbledon champion but sadly is no longer a threat on the green grass of London. Rafael Nadal simply won’t make it as far as the quarterfinals; it’s possible he won’t even make the second week. His knees don’t play on grass, he just lost his French Open crown and he couldn’t even beat Dolgopolov at Queens. It’s a sad end to a wonderful career. David Ferrer isn’t a threat either; instead he’s a dream draw for those ranked outside the top 10. Never truly comfortable on grass, one can’t imagine him wasting too much energy at Wimbledon now or in the future. By not caring about SW19, it will almost certainly prolong his career.

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Realistically, I think there is only likely to be 4 contenders for the title at Wimbledon this year however it would be wrong to ignore the pedigree of Nishikori and Raonic. As the rest of the article showed, there are a number of names lurking in the draw, ready to pounce and dethrone the current kings of tennis and therefore it’s not going to be an easy Wimbledon to pass through. You feel like Djokovic is almost owed a draw where he faces Muller, Kohlschreiber, Monfils, Dimitrov, Nishikori, Wawrinka and Murray/Federer and such a draw is unlikely but possible.

Maybe I’m just trying to convince myself it will be exciting however I feel there is a good chance of a new winner of Wimbledon this year. At the very least, the French Open final would have shown the field that Djokovic is vulnerable in Slams and that Wawrinka is a serious threat. Djokovic prioritised the French over everything this year, with that now lost there is a question of motivation for Wimbledon. However, the man is more like a machine and it’s unlikely that any lack of desire will hinder his chances of winning this title. Unfortunately, like everything else with men’s tennis right now, it will come down to how well Djokovic is playing as to whether he wins or not. But you know that Federer, Murray and Wawrinka will all feel like they can beat him on the biggest stage.