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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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The Comeback Kings

As Wimbledon enters its second week, there are a few names in the fourth round of the men’s singles that haven’t been there for a while (if at all). In particular, there are a few who have been through hell to get back to where they were once before. They may not go any further but by simply reaching this stage, they will have returned some much needed confidence and can hopefully now kick on again.

  1. Ivo Karlovic

Karlovic is a name known to most tennis fans, even the casual ones. Known for his huge height and even bigger serve, Karlovic has been a tricky opponent for top seeds for a number of years. In 2008, he found himself knocking on the door of the world’s top 10 but inconsistency has meant he’s never been able to break it down. His best performance at a slam was when he reached the quarterfinal of Wimbledon in 2009, beating Tsonga and Verdasco before losing to Federer. He reached the fourth round in Australia, 2010 but hasn’t been back to that stage since. Since then, he’s suffered with a foot injury and meningitis, pushing his career backwards.

A consistent fixture in the seeds before then, he dropped out of the world’s top 100 for a time. A long battle back led to an arrival in the top 50 in May 2014 and it’s been a slow progress back to the high reaches of the 20’s since. Now ranked 25, Karlovic beat Tsonga on Saturday to arrive in the fourth round for this first time since that Melbourne run. Indeed, this is even more impressive when you consider he has only made 3 3R appearances in that time. This year he won his first title since 2013 (and only his second since 2008) so it appears the injuries and illnesses are certainly behind the 6’11’’ Croat.

Ivo Karlovic of Croatia celebrates defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France in their singles match at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon, London, Saturday July 4, 2015. Karlovic won the match 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

  1. Viktor Troicki

The Serbian number 2 has experienced it all in his career to date. Troicki, 29, has a career high ranking of 12, which he gained in June 2011. His ranking now is 24, which suggests a steady decline over 4 years. Looking at the ranking goes nowhere near to explaining what a whirlwind 24 months these have been for Viktor. At the 2013 Monte Carlo Masters, Troicki (who had fallen outside of the top 30 and his best days seemed behind him) lost 1 and 2 to experienced Finn Jarkko Nieminen. There was nothing too unusual there until it was announced that Troicki had failed to provide a blood sample and later got banned for 18 months, reduced to 12 on appeal.

It’s impossible to feel sorry for the Serb, he knew the rules and on drugs or not, he should have obeyed them. It’s fairly unlikely he was on performance enhancing drugs given the ease with which Nieminen beat him so it was most likely simply a lapse in judgement. Either way, it’s pretty stupid and he deserved the ban. Falling to 847 in the world, Troicki’s comeback was spectacular and rose to 102nd in just 4 months. In 2015, he continued this good form – reaching the 3rd and 2nd round of the 2 slams so far, winning his second title in Sydney and reached the final in Stuttgart. In France he was seeded at a slam for the first time since the 2012 US Open and now finds himself back in the second week. He’s never made it to the quarter-finals of a slam, but with his current form and seeming desire to crash into the world’s top 10, he will be a tricky opponent for everyone he meets in the second week. With more and more men peaking in their 30’s, there is every chance Troicki’s next few years will be spent in and around the top 10 of the world.

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  1. David Goffin

At SW19 last year, Goffin was ranked in the 80’s and faced British number 1 Andy Murray in the first round. He lost 1, 4 and 5. Fast forward a year and the Belgian is seeded 16th and featuring in the fourth round of a slam for the first time since his debut appearance in the main draw of one. It’s been one hell of a year for the 24 year old. He initially burst onto the scene as a result of Gael Monfils pulling out of the French Open in 2012. As a lucky loser, Goffin beat Stepanek, Clement and Kubot to become the first lucky loser to reach the last 16 of a slam since 1995. In taking the first set of Federer in the fourth, many thought a star was being born. He lost in 4 but it was enough to see him given a wildcard by Wimbledon, one he completely justified by reaching the 3rd round, beating Tomic along the way. His second round win over Jesse Levine would be his last slam victory for more than 2 years.

In fairness to Goffin, the first round draws he received were atrocious. At the 2012 US Open he drew Berdych, which was followed by Verdasco, Djokovic, Tsonga, Dolgopolov, Melzer and Murray. In the 7 slams he played (he withdrew from 2014 Australian Open qualifying with an injury), he had to face 6 guys who were in / had been in the top 10 along with Dolgopolov, a consistent force in the world’s top 50. When he finally got a decent draw, at the 2014 US Open, he responded by winning his way through to the third round and taking a set off Dimitrov. Since then he’s kicked on, reaching 4 ATP finals and soaring up the rankings to a comfortable place inside the world’s top 20. He was named comeback player of the year by the ATP last year and in reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon, shows no sign of stopping. With a very consistent game, expect him to be a force at this level for years to come.

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  1. Gilles Simon

It might seem odd to include Simon on this list, given that he is a fairly regular fixture in the 3rd/4th round of slams however I feel that this year has been a year in which he has returned to playing his best tennis. I first heard of Simon during the 2008 year end finals, where he beat Roger Federer on his way to reaching the semi-finals. He reached the quarter finals in Melbourne a few months later and thus looked set to be a fixture in the top 10 for years to come. He dropped out of it in October 2009, and hasn’t been back since.

The Simon story has been one of good runs of form pushing him back towards that level, before dropping off and disappearing outside of the world’s top 30. Following an injury in 2010, he found himself outside of the top 50 before fighting back, finding form and reaching 11 in October 2011. He dropped off again, and in 2014 was back down in the 40’s, despite being relatively consistent in slams. His form elsewhere was patchy. Since then, something seems to have clicked and the Frenchman is back at 13, and in his second fourth round at a Grand Slam in a row. Towards the end of 2014, he showed the world what he could do by beating Ferrer at Flushing Meadows and then reaching the final of the Shanghai masters, beating Wawrinka, Berdych and Lopez along the way. He pushed Federer to two tie-breaks in the final but lost both. Maybe not quite a dramatic comeback as the previous three on this list, but a consistent 10 months have shown that Gilles Simon is close to being back to where he was when he gate crashed the world’s top 10 6 years ago. In a few months he will be defending a lot of big points, whether he makes the world’s top 10 again or falls back to his usual cycle will depend on how well he performs then.

Gilles Simon hugs his fellow Frenchman Gaël Monfils after their five-set match finally came to a clo

  1. Vasek Pospisil

If Simon was a dubious pick for this article, then Pospisil definitely is however it’s a story worth telling. Vasek, the Canadian number 2, is only 25 and already has a Wimbledon doubles title to his name however this is his first appearance in the fourth round of any slam (hence why it can’t really be called a “comeback”). He has the potential to be seeded at every singles Grand Slam, and indeed was at the 2014 Australian Open. After reaching the third round there, he was seemingly ready to make a serious assault on the top 20, 15, even 10 of the world. What followed was a run of months where he couldn’t buy a win and by the end of the year he had dropped out of the world’s top 50.

If he hadn’t have made the 3rd round in Australia again, he would have been closing to losing his place in the top 100 of the rankings. Another first round loss in Paris as well as not even qualifying for the Madrid Masters meant he stayed in the late 50’s in the world. Even at this stage of his career, it looked as if his best bet would be to focus on doubles. However, the draw has opened up for him here at Wimbledon and he has taken full advantage, beating Millot, Fognini and recently James Ward to power into the fourth round, where he will face Viktor Troicki. This is a come-back of sorts, as this run should propel him close to being seeded for the US Open next month and hopefully this time he can remain there.

Canada's Vasek Pospisil celebrates beating Britain's James Ward during their men's singles third round match on day six of the 2015 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on July 4, 2015. Pospisil won 6-4, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 8-6.   RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE  --  AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRKGLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images

One of Pospisil or Troicki will reach the quarter final of a grand slam for the first time. Karlovic, Simon and Goffin all play world top tenners (Murray, Berdych and Wawrinka respectively) however all are playing well and all will give their higher ranked opposition a stern test. Indeed, Simon has a winning record over his Czech opponent and Goffin v Wawrinka has the potential to be tie of the round. All five have had lows and all five are currently experiencing highs. Players like Karlovic and Troicki will inspire those struggling with injuries and loss of form that comebacks and resurgences are possible while Pospisil and Goffin are perfect examples of why you should never write young players off, even after a few bad months. For me, it’s great to see all 5 in the fourth round of a slam once again, and hopefully all which achieve their goals for the rest of the year.