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!