2018 Men’s Tennis Review Fight it, Embrace it, it’s Happening all the same

Zverev

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Little it seems changes in men’s tennis these last few seasons, except of course when it does, and when it does, it means business. The Tennis Review reviews and gives its thoughts on the 2018 men’s tennis season. 

Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, and Novak Djokovic cleaning up at the Majors, we’ve seen that plenty of seasons (2006-2008, 2010, 2011, 2017) and 2018 saw all three win at the game’s biggest events (Federer, Australian Open; Nadal, Roland Garros; Djokovic, Wimbledon and the US Open).

None of the Big 3 were dominant throughout the whole of the 2018 season, though. Federer dropped off after his close loss to Juan Martin del Potro in the Indian Wells final, and the match play he lacked after skipping the clay season hurt him on Grass and the US Summer hard courts. Nadal petered out, as he has often done, in the latter part of his season, losing his No.1 ranking in the process. The man he lost it to, Novak Djokovic, was a shadow in the first third of the season until he appeared in technicolor vision to win 2 slams and end the season No.1, though his subdued performances in his last two finals, Paris-Bercy and ATP WTF, were poor imitations of his Greatest Hits.

Another reappearance for old time’s sake we got this season was Roger Federer reaching the No.1 spot and Juan Martin del Potro in a slam final, the US Open no less, though his performance bore no resemblance to that 2009 shake up as Djokovic shook him down after a tight first set and left him with nothing more to give. del Potro did give us something new, however, this season- his first ATP 1000 title, and what a title and match that was.

But if it was a case of remixes at the big events, tennis did get something fresh at the ATP 1000s. Borna Coric played a great Indian Wells, taking the match to Federer in the semis, winning a title in Halle, beating the Swiss, and then beat the Swiss again on his way to the Shanghai final. Stefanos Tsitsipas made the final in Barcelona and in Toronto. Karen Khachanov gave us the match of the US Open in his loss to Nadal in the third round and won the Paris-Bercy title. Sascha Zverev made the Miami final, won Madrid, and was the WTF champion. Khachanov’s and Zverev’s end of season runs injected some excitement into the season for those of us impatient for new faces biting trophies. They were, however, not so much the young and the fit disposing of the reigning yet still strong leaders, but more the young and the fit feasting on their superior’s burned out remains.

In the slams, the most notable youthful results were Hyeon Chung and Kyle Edmund reaching the Australian Open semis, Dominic Thiem reaching his first slam final and putting up a great fight in the first set and Zverev making his first slam quarters, at Roland Garros, and barely so. That those latter two achievements seem like shifts in the tennis status quo tells you how far 2018 was from any real breakthroughs at the top.

For those who like their vets as much as the Next Gens, or more than, John Isner won his first ATP 1000 title in Miami, Ernests Gulbis was back playing his best in slams, coming through qualifying and reaching the Wimbledon fourth round, and Kei Nishikori worked his way back into the top ten. Kevin Anderson made his 2nd Major final, at Wimbledon.

So while tennis did not undergo any seismic shifts in terms of champs and contenders, it did start to shake a little,at least, and nowhere more so than in the administration of the game whose effects will really come into play in 2019. 

After two grueling semi-finals between John Isner and Kevin Anderson and Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, lasting over 10 hours and two days, Wimbledon decided to introduce a tiebreaker at 12-12 in the fifth set. The Australian Open followed suit announcing a super tiebreak at 6-6, the winner the first to 10 and to hold a 2 point advantage. In a sport racked with debates as to how to cut down on court time and increase fan numbers and revenue, these moves may mean little in the short term, with very few matches reaching those late stages in the fifth in the first place, but such changes could end up being the first steps towards some of the scoring and ruling trialed in the Next Gen Finals and, for the purists, the end of the fifth set, the very heart of men’s tennis at Majors. Such predictions may seem alarmist to some, but if anyone is going to be alarmed at such potential changes in the game, it’s the fans who’ve sat through more epic late in the fifth slam matches than they can remember and who would not want a single second back.

The Davis Cup suffered the greatest shake up of all when a one time Great footballer swooped in to reduce the men’s game’s biggest team event to a once great competition, no longer to be played at different stops throughout the year but to be competed for in an end of year one week event.

Change is inevitable, and tennis, when it comes to changes at the top, likes to keep us waiting or, when it comes to admin, bamboozle.

New champions, new rules and formats are on the horizon, but there’s still a few seasons in the current Greats and institutions- here’s to some deep in the fifth classics at Roland Garros, and Wimbledon, too (12-10 is still pretty reasonable).

2018 gave us a little bit of the old, a little bit of the new, sometimes a mishmash of the two. We witnessed some new and old faces taking their chances with vigor and we saw the end of the historic epics at a couple of the slams and the abrupt demise of the year long journey of one of the sport’s most significant institutions.

Tennis is changing. Fight it; embrace it- it’s happening all the same.

Happy New Year!

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.
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