2016 Predictions

Thanks for all of the thoughtful input on 2016!

Yes, there will be a lot of sarcasm on this blog in 2016, in the event that you get confused or mistakenly offended (or offended).  Be that as it may, Thanks, Mat4 for your thoughtful exchanges.  To all, those are the kinds of exchanges we’ll have here this year and beyond. Utsav, blackspy, Wilifried, Nambi, et al., wake up! Tennis is kicking-off and we have work to do! We have to make sense of the history playing-out before our eyes; why wait ten years to look back and say, oh yeah!  No time like the present.

I’ll try to keep things concise and to the point (something at which I’m terrible).

We have to start with Novak. He’s the best in the game. Barring injury he is going to win many titles in 2016. There is an Olympic Games this summer to add to the championship landscape. How do all of the players coordinate their schedules for these different tournaments? Is it safe to say that Novak will just win everything, the rare Golden Slam, something that Steffi Graff did in 1988? Probably not.

A few points about Novak at this stage in his career: he is the favorite at all the majors. Any attempt to single one out, like the AO, and say he’s especially the favorite there, having won five already, gets squashed because he’s pretty much just as dominant at the others compared to the rest of the field. However, the elusive FO has to be a focus that Nole and his camp have targeted. He has to win the FO, probably this year. Such a tough surface, really, an odd style of tennis that only this more recent golden age has proven able to dominate along with the other surfaces.

In other words, I see Novak being particularly sharp early in the season, peaking for the FO. You and I know he has to win RG. The greatness discourse includes absolutely the career grand slam. He knows it, we know it; this is a must for 2016, especially given his terrible luck (we’ll call it) at that tourney.  Think of the upset at the hands of Fed in 2011 (remember that? was that not a choke?), or his inability to beat Nadal in such closely fought matches more recently, and then the Wawrinka stunner last year.  Nole has to hoist the trophy at RG.  Must.

The Australian Open will be a matter of early form. I imagine Stan, Andy and Fed, to a lesser extent, will come hard here, perhaps even a player like Kyrgios. They could swipe the AO from Nole. But if the Serb is at all close to his 2015 form, he probably succeeds at his most successful venue. This will be an early sign of 2016. I suspect Nole will not be in peak form, so this is a matter of whether or not the field is good enough to step-up and beat him. He can literally win this thing in less than peak form. The AO is the ATP litmus test. Is the tour a single protagonist story or are there other characters to add to the plot?

Then the FO. A loss at the FO would be tough for Novak.

From there, I am not so sure what Novak does. A win at the FO might put WB a bit out of reach, yet he is now the king of that surface, more or less. We are waiting for a lull from the Serb and I’m calling for some success early, through the FO and then a lull. He may want to play well at the OG and then the hard courts where he needs to win Cincy for his career Masters quiver, then the Open, and a finish where he can equal Roger’s 6 WTFs.

So, I’m calling for a lull on the grass from Nole. At the same time, he could win the first three majors (perhaps we see him charge the Calendar GS, the Golden GS, etc. Who knows). Maybe he loses the AO and attempts the FO/WB double ala Borg, Nadal, Fed.

Federer. The new coach is interesting at the very least because the change shows he is still trying. Having said that, we could see a significant drop this year as he nears his 35th birthday. Given my approach to Nole above, I see Fed with smaller chances at AO and FO and perhaps his best chances at WB and USO. Obviously, those latter surfaces best suit Roger. If he can get faster conditions, not the moist, slower conditions he had at these last two majors in 2015, who knows. Roger remaining relevant is what I see as a best case scenario, with some good outside shots at a couple of majors (WB/USO). You can see him lining-up his OG play with Hingis and maybe Stan in some doubles action. A duplication of 2015 would be ideal for Federer with perhaps him picking-up #18 due to a certain Serbian lull.

Andy. He’s a factor, for sure. If he can keep his wits about him, keep developing his game, he’ll continue to threaten at these big tournaments. Of course. But the coaching situation seems less than ideal (Mauresmo back, Bjorkman out). And he just doesn’t seem to have the make-up to deal with the top 2-3 in the sport. He’s an outside chance at AO and maybe the hard courts? I just don’t see his level good enough to beat even a peaking 34 year-old Fed. Stan is coming, Nadal is probably hanging around and then there’s Nole. Even if Murray survives those early rounds, he’ll have to beat his old nemeses, which he’s been unable to do.

Stan will be tough at the AO and FO and elsewhere, but we’re just not quite sure. He may be my favorite, if his game is on form, at the OG. But certainly the slower AO/FO surfaces will play into his wheelhouse. Stan could be coming. We can only hope?

Nadal. I know a lot of people see him coming. I don’t. Will he be better than he was early in 2015? Probably. His form and results at the WTF were laudable, but I still think he’s a shell of who he was. I may be proven wrong. If we wins the AO or the FO, I call for an investigation. Seriously. He’s done. Having said that, he will come hard for his 10th FO. This would be a nice way to wrap-up a great career. Nole probably prevents any of those theatrics.

The only thing I’ll say about the rest of the field is something that Mat4 and I talked a little about in recent comments. Looking for the tour’s youth to rise-up and make a name for themselves may be misguided. Kyrgios and a guy like Gulbis if they can manage are youngsters with games big enough to contend. Del Potro may get healthy enough to create some tennis drama, perhaps Cilic will continue to progress.

But the point we made is that the top of the sport is so strong right now, physically, that these younger blokes just don’t seem to have that kind of strength to trade with these big guns. I read an interview with one of the young Americans, Taylor Fritz, 18 years-old, one of the best juniors in the world, who basically acknowledged that the best of the ATP is so much more developed than these juniors. Even a Zverev or Coric have very little to offer in a terms of a challenge to a top-10 player in a big match, winning multiple sets, etc.

Therefore, the challenges to the top are coming from the top 30, veterans who have the experience and the physical and even mental strength to belong. This was the case for Benoit Paire last year. He is a good example of what to expect in terms of players “rising-up” and disrupting any draws, any status-quo.

Not sure why I said “top 30” but that is the number. Look at the rankings here. Plus the 30’s are no longer the age indicating “over-the-hill” or “past prime.” There is just too much evidence that players are remaining effective on tour into their 30s. From the top 30, I think a Stan, Cilic, Tsonga, Tomic, Kyrgios are the most you can hope for. The rise of Thiem, Coric, Sock, etc., seems too far-fetched as these types of players are too underdeveloped.

Happy New Year!

12 comments

  1. Hi MAtt,
    What I expect for the 2016 ATP season:
    1° Djokovic, barring injury, will win at least 1 or 2 more slams in 2016 and will continue to occupy the “top position inf the ATP-rankings” for another entire season, and by doing so improve his overall records;
    2° Murray will go deep in the slams in a consistent way and will finish the year in second place (like Poulidor used to do in the Tour de France).
    3° Nadal will I think have a better season and will enter the top 4 again ( where he still belongs imo) ;
    4° Further more I expect only minor changes to occur this season in the composition of the 2016 top 10 as a whole , because a) top 8 players get easier first rounds in all the tourneys in which they enter than the lower ranked players and are therefore more bound to go far in the draws b) with the serious points-gap between the current ATP nr 8 (David Ferrer) and the ATP nr’s 9 and 10 (Tsonga and Gasquet), the current top 8 will remain top 8 for a while even if some of them don’t perform well at the start of the season c) it apears to be a trend for at least 5 years now, if not longer, 7 or 8 of the year-end top 10 of a season being still top 10 at the end of the next season, a trend which I don’t see being reversed during this season.
    5° I exepct Nick Kyrgios will show some more of his huge potential and will approach the ATP top 10 ranking this season, if not enter in it;
    6° David Goffin and Dominic Thiem, who playted doubles together last season, will remain consistent and furthe improve their ATP results and remain solid top 20 players.
    7° Korean Chung will surprise us in a positive way next season and « sort du lot ».
    So far my cristal ball as a modest tennisplayer, fan and spectator.
    Happy new year to you, Matt, and to all you readers of this blog.

    1. Wilifried, greetings, thanks and happy new year.

      I think most of us in the tennis community would agree with your outlook. Kyrgios, Goffin, Thiem and even Chung are all on the radar, or should be (“radar” being metaphoric).

      True what you say about that top 8-10. Not a lot will change there, though we should have a handful battle it out for those final top ten spots.

      Hopefully, Goffin and Thiem play well at Brisbane.

  2. Hello everyone and have a great 2016. Interesting series of articles, during the off-season, Matt.

    I kept an eye on the blog during the off-season, but although tempted to comment by some intriguing topics (and by Matt too), I was too busy to do so. To cover the lost ground, I’ll combine off-season commentary with my 2016 predictions.
    ATP (2015 version) elite:
    1) Djokovic: why change a winning recipe? Novak should be considered the clear favorite in AO and FO and win most of the masters 1000 of the year&year No1. For me anything less than 2 grand slams should be surprising -barring injury- since his potential challengers can’t perform reliably in the required level to trouble him. The Golden Calendar Slam is a bit over fetched, I guess.
    2) Nadal: If the season ending was something to judge by, there may be hope in the Spaniard’s camp. Yet again, his game remains pretty one-dimensional and thus incomplete; with his speed reduced considerably, I can’t see how he’ll avoid some upsets or even regular losses from some other ATP members. His chances lie on the slow courts of the AO and, of course, the clay season and FO but Djokovic will be poised to keep these from him and their match-up at the moment produces a pretty repeatable result. In faster courts, his chances seem rather slim. He’ll clash with Wawrinka for No 4 position.
    3) Murray: The world’s No2 (a precarious position, in my view) and the guy who should be challenging Djokovic regularly, hasn’t started yet to do so. The Mauresmo return to his camp may help him, as he produced some of his best tennis with her, although the results were not there to show it off and quite a few people don’t appreciate her a lot. I can’t judge her coaching skills, but I know that Murray needs the strategic and mental tools to win these big matches. For the sake of an interesting season, let’s hope he finds them. Slower surfaces (AO, FO) should give him an opportunity to use his strength, at last.
    4) Federer: The Ljubicic hire is, of course, the big news of the off-season. I believe that his new coach can teach him a bit more efficient technical, strategic and tactic approaches to his tennis-if Federer wants to learn anything. More specifically, he can help him play a more reliable BHDTL (which could be a great help), play more to his strengths and reduce baseline movement to save stamina (critical for great baseliners, long matches and GS) as he managed to do so in own career. Knowing Novak’s game pretty well doesn’t hurt too, but I don’t consider it that important. After all, I expect Federer to continue playing attacking tennis, most of the time. The lightening of the clay schedule was a good idea, in that aspect (maybe should have ditched IPTL too) – nonetheless, I expect him to add a clay tourney for preparation purposes(MC/Madrid). Well, Wimby should be considered his No1 target, as usual, with the weight of his preparation to be put, wisely, in the second half of the season. Any GS or Olympics win should vindicate his presence and persistence, and I guess he has good chances if Novak slips, or he is in great form and arrives with enough stamina in the match. Playing for fun and legacy, getting a higher ranking isn’t a priority, normally.
    5) Wawrinka: no need to change the power-based style of play, just to be able to produce a consistent game on the slow surfaces that suit him. On a faster surface he can’t be considered a big threat. I expect a big run in AO or FO (most probably the second one).
    Big hitters: Anderson, Cilic, Isner, Raonic. Anderson is the one, in my view, who clearly developed his game recently, but the bunch of them should be considered dangerous only in faster surfaces.
    Younger competitors: Tomic, Coric, Thiem, Kyrgios, Goffin, Dimitrov. Kyrgios and Dimitrov have the talent but will they bother put down the work to become the players they should be? They have both shown some frivolous behavior in the past. Thiem and Goffin should consolidate/improve their ranking, technique and mental game and shows us that there is a future after the big 4.

    All things considered, I expect 2016 to be one more year where the “fabulous five” dominates the top events again (only a Djokovic slump can prevent that, to a point, but I can’t see it happening). The younger generation must progress a lot and probably wait more to gather the necessary experience and means to compete, I’m afraid. An excellent series of articles has been written on the subject of aging and conditioning here: https://cleaningthelines.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/43-the-concealed-effects-of-ageing-part-1/ (there are two more articles in the series) for anyone interested.

    Let the show begin…

    1. Interesting articles you referenced. The age issue seems to boil-down to a kind of inequality in the sport, obviously. Inequality seems the disease of the times, if you know what I mean. Seems almost inherent to human society.

      I agree with much of your comment. I am being hard on Nadal. He will probably do better than I am giving him credit for. That’s a shame on the tour, on guys who should beat him, given his range, his level of tennis. He’ll beat many players on effort and mental fortitude alone, probably. Guys like Cilic, Nishikori, Anderson, Wawrinka, Tsonga, should beat him. Obviously the surface is a factor, but competitively, he should not be able to exchange that well with these top players.

      Mauresmo might have Andy at #2 in the world, speaking to your compliment of her coaching, but he needs to play better in those big matches. He’s such a push-over. Watching him fall apart mentally/emotionally is just an embarrassment for the guy.

What say you?