ATP Tour 8 Questions for the Last Stretch of the 2016 Season

del Potro ATP

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Men’s tennis has hit its final stretch of the 2016 season and there are plenty of questions to keep fans interested in the run up to the World Tour Finals. The Tennis Review gives you eight of them.

Can Juan Martin del Potro keep the momentum going?

Expectations about del Potro’s return to the ATP tour at Delray Beach were low which made the Argentine’s achievements such as defeating Novak Djokovic on the way to the Rio final and reaching the US Open quarters even more of a high for his devoted following.

del Potro’s popular comeback and the way he connects with fans via social media has been a much needed injection of passion and genuine charm to the tour, and considering the ever improving state of the now ranked 64th player’s backhand and health (after just 11 tournaments played), and his past success in the tour’s final stretch, with titles in Basel (2012, 13), Tokyo (2013) and Vienna (2012), and a runner up finish at the 2009 WTF (2009), that comeback may reach even greater peaks.

Since coming back to the tour, del Potro has beaten the likes of Thiem, Wawrinka, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray. On the upcoming hard courts and indoor hard where the conditions allow the big serving and huge forehand-striking Argentine to hit through the court, del Potro, with no points to defend, could repeat those high caliber wins and possibly work his way back into the top 32 in time to be seeded for the Australian Open, a prospect the other seeds would meet with as much enthusiasm as his fans.

See the Argentine’s tweet below for del Potro’s October commitments:

Will Novak Djokovic dominate the final stretch once again?

Djokovic’s withdrawal from Beijing is another low results-wise in a series of dips since the peak of his Roland Garros win. The world No.1’s self-confessed gradual falling out of love with tennis has been there for all to see with losses in the Wimbledon third round, his Rio opener, and the US Open final.

Such a let-down is not shocking after Djokovic winning four slams in a row and his all-time great dominant lead in the ATP rankings, but if the letdown descends into career meltdown, that would be somewhat jaw-dropping.

With Djokovic’s favorite stretch of the season coming up, now would be the time, if he is physically able, to reassert himself and continue adding to his all time great resume.

The issue, however, is not all in his shoulder and wrist, but in his mind, where it seems, as far as Djokovic is concerned, there are no issues at all. Djokovic has been very open with his current philosophical approach to his tennis career and no longer wants to talk or focus on chasing slams or holding onto the No.1 ranking. Instead, he wants to go back to enjoying the sport. 

Read what Djokovic had to say about his feelings on tennis right now below:

That kind of mindset might be just what is needed after the last couple of pressure filled seasons, and with Djokovic having proven his career decision making skills already with his 2014 hiring of Boris Becker, his days at the top winning slams are, most likely, far from numbered.

The world No.1 also says he is not that far off his best physical condition:

A relaxed, fit Djokovic enjoying his tennis without pressure in the final stretch of one of his best parts of the season? His rivals won’t be happy, but his fans certainly will.

Can Stan Wawrinka add consistency to his strengths?

Wawrinka has very little to prove to the tennis world with three Grand Slam titles, including his recent US Open win, an ATP 1000 and 11 other titles. The Swiss could never win another title and still go down in the Hall of Fame.

Yet, if he could add some consistency to his career, it would, if such things matter to one of the tennis’ most easy-going champions, make that Hall of Fame Induction speech even more impressive.

The Swiss looked like he was about to show that consistency when, just a couple of weeks after winning the US Open, he reached the ATP 250 St Petersburg final and led Zverev 3-0 in the final set. Wawrinka, who had won 11 finals in a row going into the match, lost his lead and his seemingly assured grip on the title, but reaching the final so soon after an overwhelmingly emotional run in New York was an encouraging sign.

While Wawrinka will not be defending his Tokyo title, the final stretch of the season could be one in which he shows us he has what it takes not to just turn up and turn the tennis world upside down but to be the one keeping the whole thing spinning. He would do it to a very receptive audience, too. Tennis fans do not just want him to be more consistent to prove anything, he doe not need to, but purely because his aggressive, risky, and beautiful tennis is the kind to remind us why we all became fans in the first place.

Will Andy Murray keep his charge for Number One going?

Andy Murray has a lot in common with his Big Four comrades- Slam titles, finals at each Slam, multiple ATP 1000 trophies- bar one important thing: the world No.1  ranking.

That milestone is now closer than it ever has been- Murray is only 2, 055 points behind the world No.1 in the race to London, and with Djokovic currently injury-hit, Murray is a career best season ending run away from world No.1.

Murray has been pushing himself hard enough already and his quarter-final loss to Kei Nishikori at the US Open saw him rattled and tired. However, one skill Murray has shown throughout his career is coming back from adversity- he lost his first four slam finals only to become a three time slam winner- and if a late season surge is needed to grab another big career achievement, Murray will be certain to, however much his legs may want to buckle, make a run for it.

What next for the #NextGen?

Zverev ATP

Alexander Zverev’s St Petersburg title run, which took him to a career high 24th in the rankings, was another big leap for the 198 cm tall 19 year old.

Things had gone a little quiet on the #NextGen front since Nick Kyrgios took the title in Atlanta this Summer, but Zverev breaking through trophy-wise, and 20 year old Karen Khachanov recently winning the title in Chengdu, might be just the inspiration needed to get the likes of Borna Coric, Hyeon Chung, and Taylor Fritz giving the tour’s established vets and struggling next-in-line stars a late season wake up call.

Can Dominic Thiem keep climbing the rankings?

Thiem started out 2016 ranked world No.20 and after reaching the Roland Garros semi-finals, his best slam finish, he hit a career high of Seven.

The 23 year old is now ranked ten, but is seventh in the Race to London.

That career high in June was earned the hard way, on the back of a  packed schedule which saw him play week in week out, one that seemed to leave him injured and spent by the US Summer hard-court swing.

Thiem has already signaled he is back to reaching finals, finishing runner up to Louis Pouille in Metz, but that loss was a rare one for the Austrian who had won four out of five previous finals this season.

Losing to Pouille, one of his own generation, is nothing to be ashamed of, though – the Frenchman is coming off a breakthrough last eight US Open run- and if the hip injury that impaired his North American Summer and the exhaustion of a very successful 2016 can be overcome, the Austrian, as professional and disciplined as 23 year olds get on the ATP tour, could soon be competing in his first ever World Tour Finals.

How Is the Tour coping without Roger Federer?

The tour’s final stretch has often been a happy hunting ground for Roger Federer, especially in his home town of Basel where he has won the title seven times.

The Swiss’ absence as he recuperates from a first ever career surgery, on his knee back in February, leaves quite the void in the game, and while his presence at the big tournaments doing promotional events and his popular online presence make up a little for his absence, nothing but the real Federer’s classic and guileful serving and attacking game will really do.

Federer’s departure from the ATP tour is one we will have to get used to one day, and this current absence will make his return one to savor even more. For now though, the tour has a little time to experiment with how it is going to deal with life after Federer, a life we may not be looking forward to, but which, on a tour with the talents of Zverev, Thiem, and Nishikori, is one that will still be well-worth living.

Will Rafa Nadal put together another confidence boosting late season run?

This time last season, Rafa Nadal began one of his best ever final stretch runs after an injury hit year.

Unfortunately, after going into the French Open this season looking like he was getting back into slam winning form, the Spaniard has suffered another ailment plagued season, and was forced to withdraw during Roland Garros with a left wrist injury.

Few players bounce back better than Nadal though and a couple of months later, he managed to reach the Rio bronze medal match.

While that may be admirable, however, his three set losses to del Potro and Nishikori plus an early loss in Cincinnati to Born Coric and a painful five set fourth round defeat in New York to Lucas Pouille did little to ease fan’s worries concerning Nadal’s health and form.

Nadal has had a month to rest since then and won his opening match versus veteran Paolo Lorenzi in Beijing for the loss of just two games.

But getting past his opening matches versus players he matches up well against gives us little insight into whether one of tennis’ fittest ever players, whose peak form has been one of the greatest the game has seen, has it in him to hit those slam winning top-ranked heights once again.

In the age of the uber-fit Djokovic and Murray and with emerging talents of the likes of Pouille, Thiem, and Zverev, it would require not just will, which Nadal’s Rio run shows he still has plenty of, to get back on top, but for Nadal to also strike his forehand with depth and bite and for those legs to still be able to turn defence into offense in the decisive stages of three hour long matches.

If Nadal can summon up the magic formula of form, wheels, inspiration, will, and the luck of the draw in the final stretch of the season, we should get some glimpses of what he is capable of, which should, at the very least, get his confidence going heading into 2017 and the Clay.

Nadal is certainly looking fit and inspired if the video in the tweet below is anything to go by.

Once there, Nadal won’t be able, now aged 30, to control how his body reacts to another eight month long run on one of sport’s toughest circuits. But, if his health holds up, he will be able to control what he does on the court, which when everything is clicking, is the kind of tennis that can leave his opponents helpless. Right now, the last stretch of the season might be just the launch-pad he needs to get firing once again and give himself another chance at a comeback worthy of one of the game’s most ruthless fighters.

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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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