Tennis Christmas 2016 What ATP Top Players Want
Christmas is here and it’s time for men’s tennis’ top players to receive some much deserved presents from the Tennis Santa. None of those presents will be entirely gift wrapped, of course, the likes of Federer, Murray and Zverev having worked hard over the years to get into the position where whatever Santa brings them has been much deserved. The Tennis Review tries to guess just what 12 of the ATP’s top players would like to find under their Christmas tree in 2016.
Andy Murray: An Australian Open title
If Santa brings presents to tennis players who have been good, then no player is more deserving than world No.1 Andy Murray, and there would be no more fitting prize for the Scot than an Australian Open trophy.
Five times Murray has contested the Australian Open final (’11, ’12, ’14, ’15, ’16), and five times he has held up the runner up plate. That’s an unenviable record- the most times a player has lost a Grand Slam final.
As if that was not bad enough, the Scot has also managed to only win two sets in those five attempts, unable to make a contest of one of the sport’s biggest matches.
Such potentially career damaging stats and performances make Murray’s current status even more impressive. In 2017, Murray will go into the event as the favourite- the world No.1, unbeaten since the US Open- and is unlikely to ever, if he gets there, contest the final with such momentum and confidence.
If Murray is ever going to get his hands on the trophy he has watched his rivals raise again and again, with a little help from Santa, and you need all the help you can get to defeat Djokovic down under, 2017 is the year.
Novak Djokovic: Cincinnati
Only one of the ATP’s big trophies has eluded Djokovic, and that’s Cincinnati. Djokovic is more than competent in fast conditions, but if he is vulnerable then it’s on a hot day on a medium paced hard court with lighter balls and, as he has experienced in his most recent trips to the Cincinnati finals, a fast court expert like Federer across the net.
After achieving historic feats such as winning all four slams in a row and completing the Career Grand Slam, Djokovic has suffered something of a letdown, and no longer wants the pressure of being No.1 and winning slams. Instead, what he wants, he says, is the simple pleasure of just playing tennis.
Perhaps that move away from his all conquering history making focus opens the door for Djokovic to focus on “smaller” goals such as winning Cincinnati and becoming the first man to win all 9 ATP 1000 titles.
Djokovic looks like he has found the joy he has been looking for- see the facebook post below– and with the weight of the tennis world off his shoulders, come August, he may be able to really loosen them where he is least comfortable yet still more able than most and enrich his legacy even further.
Rafa Nadal: A healthy season
Back in the European Spring, Nadal looked like he was back to his clay court best, winning Monte Carlo and Barcelona back to back. A wrist injury put an end to that run, though, and by the time it came to Roland Garros and for fans to learn just how back he was, the Spaniard had to withdraw during Roland Garros.
Nadal did come back at the Olympics, but, once again, his return to the tour was short-lived and he took more time out after losing his Shanghai opener in a third set tiebreak to Viktor Troicki.
The stops and starts which have inflicted Nadal’s ATP tour runs since Wimbledon 2014 have not helped his rhythm and in turn his confidence, and another comeback to the tour before he is ready might only serve to aggravate his injuries and damage his confidence even further.
What Nadal would most want for Christmas is something he no doubt shares with nearly all tennis professionals on this list- good health.
For Nadal, with age and years of baseline play taking their toll on his kness and wrists, his health is more or less out of his control now, and having it back really would be a gift he and his fans would not take for granted.
Roger Federer: One more big performance
At 35, having undergone his first ever career surgery aged 34, and ranked 16, Federer’s chances of winning an 18th slam and leaving the game on a high like Pete Sampras did look less and less likely.
When Sampras won the US Open 2002, he had recently turned 31, (close to the age Federer was when he won his 17th slam), conditions were faster, he was only two years off his last slam win at Wimbledon 2000, and his serve those two weeks was world class.
Federer’s current ranking is the greatest similarity – Sampras won the US Open 2002 ranked 17. The American drew a favourable draw, though, and faced 6th ranked and an old rival against whom he had a dominant head to head, Andre Agassi, in the final.
Federer does have some positives for Santa to work with. With Federer still making slam semis last season, and with his big four rivals either injured or declining or relatively untested in their No.1 status, Federer could be presented with a slam draw opening up and a rival in the final who he matches up well with.
After all, just how would Murray feel facing a motivated, hungry and in form Federer in a Wimbledon or US Open final? We can guess how Federer would feel – few players have been so keenly self aware of their position in tennis history, and it is hard to believe the Swiss would let a such a gift wrapped chance from the tennis Gods slip from his grasp.
Juan Martin del Potro: A slam final
After nearly 11 months off the ATP tour, del Potro has returned to the top flight of tennis quicker than he can hit a forehand winner past his rivals. The 2009 US Open champ contested major ITF finals such as the Olympics and Davis Cup finals, reached slam quarters, and won a title in Stockholm.
But all along, his success has never been about winning, but about the taking part. If del Potro did make a slam final, and his wins over Djokovic, Murray, Wawrinka, Nadal and others in 2016 mean it is not improbable, whether or not he wins it would come second to the very fact that he was there, competing, after everything he has been through.
Marin Cilic: Wimbledon
Cilic has had to clear big hurdles in his career such as being suspended for banned substances, and an inclination to choke big matches. Two hurdles which carry great stigma in pro sports, and which still haunt him somewhat.
This season Cilic let big leads slip to Federer at Wimbledon and to del Potro in the Davis Cup final.
Those kind of losses don’t hurt Cilic as much as they used to – he bounced back strongly from the Federer SW19 loss, perhaps because he has already proven to himself he has it in him to win the game’s biggest prizes.
Despite that slam winning status, Cilic does not receive the credit he deserves and which he might have received had his past been less tainted. He is, after all, one of only seven active players with a slam title- and at 28, the youngest on tour, too.
This season, Cilic has shown off his gifts to more silverware winning effect, winning his first ATP 500 and 1000 titles, and finishing the season ranked 6th.
The next step for Cilic is top five and another slam title, and while his all round strengths and peak level play mean that could come anywhere, Wimbledon is the most likely venue to further reward his big serve and first strike tennis, and perhaps finally exorcise those demons – his own, and other’s. For while a one slam winner can be labelled a wonder, a multiple champ, and a Wimbledon one at that, is nothing less than a hall of farmer.
Alexander Zverev: A Net Game
A great serve, a potentially all time great double handed backhand, and all the focus you could ask of a teenaged millionaire, Zverev is really set for a great future. There is one glaring weakness, however- his net game.
These are still early days for Zverev, very much a work in progress, but the sooner Zverev can improve that part of his game, the sooner we will see him in the second weeks of slams and the business ends of ATP 1000s, and some new blood can start flowing in men’s tennis.
Nick Krygios: Balance
Whether or not Kyrgios deserves a gift from Santa will swing from one extreme to another when it comes to the answers of most tennis fans with the Australian being a player fans either love or love to hate.
Whichever side you sit on, one thing which cannot be debated is that Kyrgios made great leaps in 2016, winning two ATP 250s, Marseille and Atlanta, and the ATP 500 in Tokyo and ending 2016 ranked 13.
Yet Kyrgios’ on court antics such as tanking in Shanghai and his off court words such as his own love to hate relationship with tennis managed to overshadow those achievements in tennis’ headlines, achievements which are impressive for a 21 year old in today’s far less youth friendly tennis conditions.
Kyrgios’ “antics” and words may be entertaining and controversial in a game looking for personality over substance, but they are just that- the “antics” of a 20 year old, the head of the Next Generation, in a game desperate for young stars to come through.
Those antics are also nothing new- we have been there and worn the fluorescent colored T-Shirt with Andre Agassi, who was much less vilified for expressing his darker side, and who, having expressed it in as extreme a fashion as, we were later to find out, it can go, turned out to be one of tennis’ most beloved and decorated players.
Kyrgios’ star has the potential to soar Agassi style, but right now it is being dimmed by the Media zooming in on his darker side, and his skills and talent getting blurred in the background. There is certainly room in the tennis media for both to be in focus, and if both sides can be celebrated and balance restored, the game may just find it has what it is looking for right there under its nose.
Dominic Thiem: Batteries that never die
Thiem won’t need them, however, if he does the smart thing and cuts down on how many tournaments he plays.
The Austrian may be the youngest player ranked in the top ten and have wins over Federer and Nadal on his resume, and have competed in a slam semi-final, but his ranking is largely built on the back of wins at 250 events and not on wins at big events, the type that would build his confidence and set a solid foundation on which to build a career worthy of a player touted as a future Roland Garros Champion.
Tomas Berdych: A dream slam draw
Berdych, aged 30, may look past his best, but the 2010 Wimbledon runner up is still ranked in the top ten, still making slam semis and still winning titles. Unfortunately for Berdych, his runs come to an end once he meets one of the players who he matches up badly against, such as Djokovic or Murray, and his chances of winning a slam title before he retires are unlikely to happen unless those players are absent from the final stages of draws or have an off-day.
Players such as Johansson and Gaudio have taken advantage of a kind draw and a struggling favourite in the final to take a slam title, the kind of things Berdych needs to fall in place, alongside his clean hitting game hitting top form, for him to achieve a distinction a fine career and his all time great ball-striking certainly merit.
Lucas Pouille: To avoid the Sophomore slump
Pouille was touted from early on in the season as a player to watch, and the Frenchman with the fine groundstrokes and court craft not only lived up to expectations, but exceeded them. The Frenchman made the final in Bucharest, defeated Rafa Nadal in five in the US Open fourth round, and won the Metz title, beating Thiem in the final.
That’s a strong year for an ATP top 100 rookie, and it will be hard, with plenty of ranking points to defend, to back up, especially with his rivals now keenly aware of the strengths that have seen Pouille rise from a world ranking of 91 on the 15/02/2016 to a year end ranking of 15.
Gael Monfils: A Roland Garros final
2016 was the year Monfils started to look like he was fulfilling his potential with a run to the Monte Carlo final, a first ATP 500 trophy, in Washington, and a slam semi at the US Open.
Monfils’ potential, though, is greater than that, but he never quite shrugged his demons to reach it in 2016, injuries forcing him out of his best slam, Roland Garros, and some questionable tactics causing him to leave the stage of his greatest achievement in New York more infamous than famous, just when it seemed he was about to be recognised as a focused pro and not a distracted clown.
Conquering demons is what all players have to eventually do to reach their goals, and Monfils, whose athleticism and baseline skills are tailor-made for the modern game, has at least a couple of ATP 1000s titles and a couple of slam finals in him, perhaps even a slam title, if he can finally slay them.
Roland Garros, where Monfils has reached the semis once and the quarters three times, would be the perfect setting for Monfils to win such a battle, before a crowd eager to see one of their country’s many gifted talents morph into the first men’s champion since Yannick Noah in 1983, a present that, if Monfils delivered, would elevate him to a Tennis Santa, and God, himself.
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