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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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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.

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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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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.