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.