2017 and 2018


Dear Tennis:
what the fuck.  I’ve been watching you tick since the late 70s. Yeah.

Fast-forward to January 2018 and, well, this is some pretty wild shit. What am I talking about? Have you looked in the mirror lately? Don’t you read my blog?

Ah, the blog. . .

We have had a ball, this blog and I (and the few readers that have enough sense to sense real, non-profit, meaningful analysis of a sport adrift in parochial, historical and athletic nuance). Most don’t understand the sport. They’re just fans of certain players. Yeah, it’s pretty embarrassing, actually. Affects me too; I’m trying to write about the sport, the competitive balance, provide some historical perspective, taking this more seriously than your average fanball, a bit more objectively, the grind, the rise and fall (and rise again) of athletes of one of the greatest contests on earth.

2017 was very interesting and pretty bizarre. We had Fedal 2017. There were several amazing parts to this subplot, which practically eclipsed the entire season, became THE plot.

In the end, when the boys met in London to put a definitive stamp on the year, Nadal was injured, after devouring his fair share of the ATP championship booty, and Federer failed to consolidate his greatness. Frankly, that’s both of these blokes’ Achilles’ heel, a bit of their legacies in microcosm. Nadal red lines his manic game to great heights and injury and Federer sandbags the field (while simultaneously lapping the field, almost twice their age). That’s how it ended, in London, anti-climatically.

The good story there, in London, was David Goffin (and Jack Sock to a certain extent). I said back in 2017 that David would continue to slide under the radar, underachieve, until he beat Fedal. My Belgian correspondent disagreed only because his expectations for his countryman were lower than mine, apparently. Goffin overcame Federer. Support for my theory: the Belgian’s Davis Cup competition a week later remarked how this is a different Goffin, now. I couldn’t agree more.

2017 saw massive injury, as well. I commented on this at length, promising to comment more. I blame the style and drugs the players use. Oh, did I say “drugs”? I meant “nutrition,” “training regiment,” “player box and locker room prowess.” The game is bigger, fluffier and dumber than ever. No, I won’t say let’s go back to wooden rackets, but then again I just said that. Some idiots (actual for-profit writers/ “analysts”) want to shorten the matches. We will continue to tackle injury as it continues to tackle the sport. 2018 will certainly be similar to 2017 in this respect: player injuries will hurt the competitive nature and integrity of the draws. Some players hurt during 2017 are still hurt, just weeks from the first major, a hot hard-court affair. Looking good. Of course, there will be more injuries in 2018, as well, new ones. Just be prepared.

A lot of other interesting stuff happened in 2017 and I wrote about many of these issues and stories, but the rise of Fedal and the Injury Curse certainly continue to resonate.

What about 2018?

Here we are, a week from Melbourne. Let me make two points to try and encapsulate the biggest intrigue we have in the sport.

Are you still listening, Tennis?

  • The injuries to Djokovic, Nadal, Murray, Wawrinka, Raonic, Nishikori and anyone else I missed are very troubling since they are, allegedly, still struggling with injury sustained last season. Federer has to be the model here, for obvious reasons: he was injured in 2016 with his leg and his back, ending his campaign in Wimbledon, 2016. He took the rest of the year off and came back in 2017 fully recovered. What in the world is going-on with Djokovic and Murray, for instance? Djokovic is still complaining about elbow pain? Murray is NOW contemplating hip surgery? Guys, this should have been taken care of. Tough to say how 2018 will play-out as far as these guys are concerned because they are, according to reports we’re all reading, still injured. Even as passionate and critical spectators, we can fathom the gruel this sport’s calendar season imposes on its athletes. The injury situation (with new ones sure to disrupt play) puts much of 2018 in question, as far as who will make impacts, have success, etc.
  • The season appears to be open again to father time, I mean Roger Federer, who along with battling his much younger tour-counterparts, is waging quite the five-setter with the aforementioned Chronos. Roger, Nick, Sascha, Grigor, David, Juan, Dominic, Marin and Jack (just sticking with some obvious top-10 talent that don’t appear to be injured yet — though Nick, even in securing his first tournament win – Brisbane – on his home soil, looks to be troubled still by that knee ailment) are the clear ATP championship candidates. Doing the math, one has to assume the top of the sport will come finally to guys like Nick and Sascha, or a developed Dominic, but last season doesn’t seem to bode too well on that front, nor does the outlook shine very bright either: especially given Nick’s volatile emotional state and knee, Sascha’s lack of success at majors thus far, and Dominic’s one-dimensional game. Indeed, Roger seems, at least for now, to be in a pretty good position to carry-on with his fantasy farewell tour that continues to bestow the Swiss great with absurd levels of honor and legend.

Federer’s year appears to be getting-off to a good start, like 2017. Hopman cup, etc. Not sure how much the wins there can be valued, but he beat Sascha (down a set, delivering an 0 and 2 for the win), among others. Health, of course, is a big issue and Federer appears to be on the right track, for now.

The Kyrgios Brisbane win is an impressive start to the year and I can’t but become somewhat tempted, as I have in the past, to say he will rise as the heir of this insecure ATP kingdom. His tennis, in its top form, is utterly frightening (I still think that if the dark horse Harrison doesn’t go to net, that the Brisbane final could have been a closer affair; Harrison and Kyrgios have bad blood which explains the rise of Harrison’s game in that first set. But despite Harrison’s doubles success in 2017 ((he and Aussie Michael Venus won the French)), he stood no chance playing net against Kyrgios). Nick’s potential took another step in 2017 with massive displays of unplayable tennis, so this start to 2018 with Melbourne on the horizon has to be a promising sight for Kyrgios.

Recall: his SF match with Federer in Miami 2017 was probably the match of the year. Aside from other players’ fans complaints that the stadium was too pro-Federer, the tennis was electric: 76 (9) 67 (9) 76 (5). This war certainly upstaged the final, where Federer dismissed Nadal 3 and 4.

Nick’s power is documented and revered, but his touch at the net, or his ability to spontaneously drop shot his opponent is very very impressive. No, he isn’t a serve bot, Mr. Fan Bot. If his maturity and knee can both progress to a championship-level consistency, he’s the heir.

But that is asking a lot. A major, two weeks of tough five-set potential up-and-down, emotionally and physically abusive pilgrimages can be brutal with an esteemed title accessible only to the fit, mature and wise.

Dimitrov losing to Nick is predictable as the Aussie is just more talented.

We’ll have more to say about specific players (and perhaps their coaches) in the next few days.

So, sure we’ve done a more specific “predictions” post in the past as you begin another year, Tennis; but this version of the sport is unruly, pretty unpredictable (from injury to age to maturity).

At this point, we need players to get their camps in order, their health in shape.

We will continue to follow some of this pre-Melbourne tennis, from conventional warm-up to exhibition.

This you can always count-on, Tennis, my good friend.

6 thoughts on “2017 and 2018

    1. I like Dimitrov, but he’s soft. Nick can be even softer, granted. But I see a lot more upside with the Aussie.

      I suppose based on the comment/question you think that Dimitrov is more talented than Kyrgios?

      No doubt the Aussie has to grow-up.

      Let’s just say the eye test is pretty compelling here with Nick’s game much more capable of beating anyone. He’s 22, so we can wait a couple of years to see if he indeed surpasses the accomplishments of Grigor.

      Nick’s serve, FH and BH are huge weapons and he has tremendous touch. He’s beaten the legends and, again, his Miami SF v Federer was pretty much top-top-tier, playing a near unplayable Federer. Maybe the better term is more “dangerous” than Grigor. But I’m pretty confident that Nick’s game is just more advanced, bigger, better.

      But if someone needs to explain this, than you probably won’t agree/concede either way.


  1. Duarte

    Well, I just don’t think it is that straightforward that Nick is more talented. (In my opinion out of big 4 they are the 2 most talented).

    I feel that both have (different) mental struggles, while Nick is fearless, a wild horse capable of beating anyone I feel he gets more motivated against the very top guys to make a stand, Dimitrov just breaks down mentally in the top matches against top opponents or when he needs to rise to the occasion.

    That being said, overall I consider Dimitrov the better player, even though Kyrgios serve could give him an edge. I know we have discussed this before but my bet is that Grigor takes a slam this year.

    Talking about up and coming – very curious to see how the season plays out for Shapovalov, was really impressed, seems to have all the goods..


    1. That’s a pretty interesting comparison: Kyrgios gets up for the big guys, but Dimitrov breaks down against that level of competition. The former is probably the better recipe, no?

      I certainly prefer Dimitrov’s style, the one-hander, all-court, classic stuff. But he just seems to pale in the bright light, under the bigger competition pressure (The ATP Finals was an outlier for a few reasons). Coming-off his Cincy win (vs. Nick no less), heading into NYC seemed to be a perfect place for him to make a deep run, but he folded-up. I bought a bunch of Grigor stock early last year, pointing-out how he finished 2016 really strong, too. I would love to see him come through at a major.

      Let’s have this conversation at the end of this year. They are two probable contenders for 2018.

      Shapovalov’s game is brilliant. He plays Del Potro in Auckland tomorrow.


  2. Dani

    Regarding the injury epidemic, where do you see the drugs coming in? I’d suspect (il)legal drugs are used to prevent injury rather than causing it. Tendon injuries might be a notable exception to that rule with drugs growing muscles too big for the tendons. But generally in a sport like tennis injury prevention will probably be of higher importance in most cases compared to (excessive) muscle building.

    We also have to factor in that most of those players are on the wrong side of 30, an age where it shouldn’t come as a surprise when wear & tear finally catch up with the players. These guys have played professionally around 15 years, in other eras at least some of them would think about retirement by now. Yet here we are complaining about aging players getting injured and blaming the schedule, surfaces etc. I guess it’s just another case of hrfrt, he completely shifted expectations of how well a player post 30 can do. So instead of thinking retirement, these guys talk about playing until 35 at the very least. Amazing how that particular narrative has changed recently.

    So is this really a trend? Can it be a trend with injury issues looming large over aging players? Or is RF an outlier wrt longevity comparable to a Rosewall at the dawn of the Open Era? One thing is certain, in a sport like tennis older guys have advantages over their younger competitors that will outweigh their (slight) physical inferiority – up to a point. We’re about to explore that point – unchartered territory in the modern game – in the near future.


    1. Dani,
      See my little explanation of drugs in that paragraph and hopefully you can see I’m being facetious.

      I don’t mean PEDs necessarily though you and I know how shadowy big-time professional (and big-time amateur) sports is over the years. But I’m not accusing anyone of doing drugs. I re-defined “drugs” in that passage to basically mean how the top of the tour benefits massively from so much professional sports maintenance and athletic lifestyle, benefiting from the advances in all sorts of industries (food, sports medicine, equipment, recovery, training, coaching, etc.) that really reinforces an inequality among the ATP field.

      This has been discussed by players recently (Federer for instance) and commentators, talking about the pay scale, the pay-outs at tournaments, endorsements, etc. This is a pretty serious conversation that requires from my end more research, but we know the tour’s inequality is very problematic.

      Guys used to bust through and win a masters or major in their teens. Sure it was rare and usually signified the arrival of a great player, but can you even imagine a youngster like that winning such a big tournament today? Seems preposterous to even entertain such a possibility.

      Some will say this is because of the Big 4. And to that I say BULL SHIT.

      The inequality on the tour is horrible. And again we need more time and energy to go into that discussion more effectively.

      Your point about age and injury is reasonable — I agree with you. I have been arguing this for a while. For instance, after USO 2016 I wrote a series of articles addressing Djokovic’s health and sustainability. He was turning 30 at the 2017 French and we argued that he might not continue to maintain this level – given his style, his mileage, etc. As much as people want to say players are playing well longer, as they get older, history and father-time still remain almost undefeated.

      I say almost because of that freaky 2017 Fedal. Before 2017, Rosewall and Agassi (and Federer) remained outliers of this ATP ageism. But the stereotype works here.

      However, the rackets (technology) have to be considered as well. This sort of baseline style of play where you simply only need to get to the ball and the light-as-a-feather monster-of-a-sweet-spot racket does the rest is tennis dumbed-down. I don’t think there’s any question.

      And of course I agree that a big complication in all of this is HRFRT. 🙂


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