Hardman's Thoughts

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Three sports, three players, three hundred words

Romelu Lukaku has now scored more league goals than any other Everton player in the history of the Premier League. People are, ridiculously, making a big deal about it. Let’s put this into some perspective. He’s scored 61 goals, one more than Dixie Dean scored in the 1927-28 season (yes, football existed before 1992). Everton have been in the top flight since the PL was created, along with Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham. Their top goal scorers have 175, 180, 128, 147 and 97 goals respectively. Yes, Lukaku breaking Ferguson’s record is a little bit of history but that doesn’t mean we should be celebrating it.

Eoin Morgan scored another one-day century this week. Only seven players (four from South Africa) have scored more runs than him in the format this year, and only one from the same amount of innings. Our captain is fourth on the all-time list for English players, while the century in the first match against West Indies pulled him level with Kevin Pietersen. It means only Marcus Trescothick has hit more tons. Trescothick’s 12 centuries is well within reach, as is Ian Bell’s record of 5400 runs (Morgan is about 900 behind). England’s greatest? Possibly, at least until Joe Root catches up!

Andy Murray has remained at number one for the 18th week in a row. That makes it sound defensive, the truth is he’s comfortable there – at least until the French Open! Djokovic has points galore to defend at the next two tournaments – Indian Wells and Miami, where Andy lost in the third round at both last year. Andy won in Dubai last week as Djokovic lost to Kyrgios in Mexico. Djokovic will almost certainly still finish the year top of the pile, but March is a great chance for Murray to continue cementing his place in tennis history.

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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 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.

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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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Who’s going to win in London?

The ATP World Tour Finals are always worth watching. Any tournament which features only the top eight in the world is bound to be full of excitement and, while the drawing of the group stages has slightly dampened expectations this year (at least on one half), it should be no different in 2016.

In Group McEnroe, or the group of death, new World Number One Andy Murray (boy, it feels good to write that!) faces Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic. All have reached Grand Slam finals, all have a genuine shot at getting out of the group, and winning the title.

Over in Group Lendl, Novak Djokovic has three players he’s never lost against: Milos Raonic, Gael Monfils and Dominic Thiem. If you weren’t expecting to see those last two there, don’t worry – none of the tennis correspondents on this blog predicted either.

At the start of the year, a group of friends and I made predictions for how this year would pan out. It’s fair to say, very little of it has happened! I’ll do a blog after the tour finals looking at who did best, but before then – I thought it best to ask them who they now feel will win next week, and see what has changed.

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Charlie Marriott: 

Who he said at the start of the year: Novak Djokovic

Who he thinks now: Novak Djokovic

Why? It’ll obviously be Djokovic because Murray will bottle it now he’s #1.

Emma Still:

Who she said at the start of the year: Novak Djokovic

Who she thinks now: Marin Cilic

Why? He beat Djokovic in Paris, why can’t he do it in London?

Gareth Hardman:

Who I said at the start of the year: Roger Federer

Who I think now: Gael Monfils

Why? Well the Federer prediction has fallen away to 16th in the ranking, so I needed to find a new horse to back. And I’ve been convinced for a long time that, if he qualified, Gael Monfils would reach the semi-finals. Having seen the groups, I am strongly backing that, and the Frenchman would face either a fatigued Murray, an inconsistent Wawrinka, a Cilic with other tournaments on the horizon or Nishikori. I think he can win all of those matches. And then, why not? Why couldn’t he win? I feel tennis is due a shake-up, and Gael is just the man to provide it.

James Doan:

Who he said at the start of the year: Novak Djokovic

Who he thinks now: Andy Murray

Why? You would have to fancy Murray with his relentless form.. but it’s not a happy hunting ground for the lad- I don’t know why? Only tiredness and fatigue can stop him. Also, watch out for Stan, he’s a big game player and he should be well rested.

Josh Hockley-Still:

Who he said at the start of the year: Stan Wawrinka

Who he thinks now: Stan Wawrinka

Why? Andy rarely plays his best at the O2, he’s had a whirlwind few weeks, and in a nightmare group. Novak has a simple group, which I think he’ll get through, but after that I’m not convinced he’s ready to beat the very best yet. So I don’t think it’ll be one of those two, Stan usually plays well at the O2, and when he gets on a roll, he’s very difficult to stop.

Now you’ve seen what we think – who do you think is going to win? Let us know in the comments below!


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Ramble #10

Murray’s Night

Andy Murray has won singles gold for the second Olympics in a row. 

While the 2012 run was relatively comfortable – even the 7-5,7-5 semi against Novak felt reassured compared to matches we’ve watched since – the 2016 was anything but. An easy couple of rounds were followed by massive scares when playing Fabio Fognini and Steve Johnson. Still, he pulled through – and an easy semi against Kei Nishikori was followed by a nervy final four-set victory over Juan Martin Del Potro.

Del Potro is an amazing story – he beat Djokovic in the first round, then Rafael Nadal in the semi-final, and surpassing his bronze from London in the process. He was knackered going into the final, but didn’t let that stop him from giving Andy a huge test. I believed he would win, but he fell (just) short.

(And boy, what a final it was. I didn’t watch it – instead I followed it on live scores unable to sleep. The fourth set was just hell. They exchanged breaks, with Del Potro the first to consolidate one. That led to a painful game at 5-4, especially with the many long rallies that were happening. Somehow Andy won, and I’m still not sure how.)

But, last night was history for Andy Murray.

On a day when Great Britain continued to exceed expectations at this wonderful Olympics, Murray secured second place in the medals table, at least overnight. 

For Andy personally, he’s just become the first tennis player to win two singles titles at the Olympics.

(And yes, John Inverdale made it sound like he was the first player ever to win two gold medals at the Olympics and yes, Andy Murray’s response was fantastic. Inverdale made a mistake, that’s all. He has flaws, but stop hounding him for a slip of the tongue.) 

In an era when Andy has reached landmarks second, third, fourth, that is such a huge achievement. It’s a record which is his own and no-one can ever take that from him. 

In an era when Andy has had to settle for second best in so many events, he’s found a field which he loves, and he can dominate. 

Andy has always said the Olympics defines his career. His first round loss to Lu in Beijing inspired him to improve his fitness and dedication. His 2012 gold led to four years in which he has secured 3 Grand Slams and is starting to knock on the door for the World Number 1. 

His 2016 effort? Well, it’s too early to say.

However, I’m starting to believe that as good as Andy’s individual career is, he’s going to be remembered for his efforts when competing for Great Britain.

He’s wonderful when for himself, he’s inspired when for country. 


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How 2016 Will Finish (part II)

Following on from our male predictions, it’s time to look at the women. The women’s tour feels like it’s entering a new age, full of youth and entertainment whilst still retaining the old hands such as Sharapova and Serena.

Serena experienced massive success in 2015, and she will be hoping to go one better in 2016 and win all the slams. Do we think she’ll do it? Once again, great thanks to Emma for her hours of work getting the graphics perfect.

Unfortunately, James couldn’t join us for the women – so it’s just me, Charlie, Emma and Josh. As usual, we will see the top 10, our reasonings and then look at who we think will win the major tournaments. We will end with Josh’s tip of player to watch in 2016.

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Charlie:

The normal names remain at the top – it’s too early for a massive game changer but the next few years could see some shuffling.

Emma:

Serena, Muguruza and Halep are a settled top three, and the only difference will be the order of the latter two. If possible, I think Serena will get better this year, and win all the slams. Either that, or the others won’t quite reach her level. For a few years now, Kvitova has been the best of the rest, and she’ll continue that tag into 2016, along with Radwanska who will be rejuvenated following her tour finals win.

Gareth:

How can you not pick Serena to finish the year at number one? She dominates women tennis and the next generation won’t challenge her yet. Beyond Serena, I’ve gone for quite a young top 10. The average age across the ten is 25, which drops to 23 when considering the final 9. The aforementioned generation, led by Halep and Muguruza, are ready to start winning slams and I don’t think Serena will get close to winning all four next year (more on Radwanska and Keys later).

 

Josh:

Serena Williams has dominated the women’s game for much of the past 15 years, and it seems unthinkable to consider that she won’t stay on the pinnacle of the women’s game for many years to come. However, following her agonizing failure to complete the Grand Slam last year, probably her last real chance to do so at 33, she cancelled her schedule for the rest of the year, leading to the question of whether she has anything left to give. However, with Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles within reach, I think the break will re-charge Serena’s batteries, and she will remain on top for at least another year.

Apart from anything else, the challengers for a serious tilt at the no. 1 ranking aren’t there. Her closest rival across all surfaces is Maria Sharapova, and although I expect Sharapova to return to no. 2 next year, her record against Williams is lamentable. Petra Kvitova is a remarkable talent, and has a real chance of winning Grand Slams on faster surfaces, especially Wimbledon. She struggled this year with illness, and it’s hard to know how this will affect her game in the long-run. However, reaching the final of the WTA Tour Finals suggests that she’s back, and even though she lacks the consistency to be no. 1, on her day on a fast court there’s no-one better.

Victoria Azarenka has endured a lean couple of years, which have been blighted by injuries, and has dropped outside the world top 20. However, she is a genuinely world-class player, and if she is fully fit will surely reclaim her place in the top 5. Garbine Muguruza, who has just enjoyed the best year of her career at 22, looks to be the real deal and will surely keep her top 5 place.

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Charlie:

Bottom half of the womens’ table could have been made up of 10 or more names, but I’ve gone for the more experienced names and for Belinda Bencic to have an impressive year.

 

Emma:

The bottom five were much harder to pick, although Maria had to be in there somewhere. This is the year for Keys, Bencic and Pliskova to break into the top 10, where at least the first two will remain for many years. My final pick, in 9th, is Safarova – consistency is her key and that’ll help her stay where she is at the moment.

Gareth:

I think the top 3 are obvious, but the other 7 aren’t. I see Bencic and Pliskova as the real deal and expect them to reach the top 10 soon. Radwanska, Sharapova and Kvitova are permanent fixtures in there, always contend for major glories and could finish in any position. My gut says that Madison Keys will have a stellar year, culminating in a grand slam victory, and that Wozniacki will return to the top 10. There’s little reason behind the last call other than I think she’s too good to stay out for long. I had the pleasure of seeing Ms Keys play at Wimbledon, and that was enough to convince me of imminent slam glory.

Josh:

Simona Halep, who finished 2015 at no. 2, will just miss out of the top 5 as I don’t see her as a serious contender for the biggest prizes, but her consistency will see her remain there-or-thereabouts.

Agnieszka Radwanska, like Halep, perhaps lacks the height and the power to seriously contend for Grand Slams. But she is a remarkable player, and has just won the WTA Tour Finals to roar back into the top 10, and I expect her to stay there. Belinda Bencic has enjoyed a remarkable 2015 by any standards, including a stunning win over Serena Williams, but when you take into account that she is just 17 years of age, it looks as though tennis has a real prodigy again. I know young players don’t always progress in a linear fashion, but I do expect her to join the top 10, and the same goes for Madison Keys, who has steadily improved year-after-year for a while now. The final place is more difficult; based on guesswork, I’ll plump for Ana Ivanovic.

TableW3

 

Gareth talks us through the slam picks: It appears the group believes that most of slams will be won by Serena, which is unsurprising. I believe that this is the year for the likes of Muguruza and Keys to break through whereas the other guys don’t, sticking with the status quo. 

TableW4

Josh‘s tip has a British feel to it:

Laura Robson

Tennis - 2015 Wimbledon Championships - Preview Day One - The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club

Her career has been ruined by injury, but hopefully 2016 will see Laura Robson return to professional tennis. While I don’t think it’s fair to expect overnight miracles, it will be wonderful if she can win a few matches and get back towards the top 100. Also on the domestic front, a remarkable run of form has pushed Johanna Konta into the world top 50 and to be British no. 1. Was it a fluke or the emergence of a genuinely elite player? This year may well give us the answers.