Sunday, January 24, 2016

2016 ATP Tour Season: Big Questions, Storylines, and Bold Predictions

Biggest Questions

The Big Four(?) – Is the “Big Four” really still an applicable term? Nadal seems to be the only one who could conceivably drop out of this elite group – something hard for any tennis fan to think. He has shown flashes of his old self, but his forehands can’t seem to land beyond the service line. Nadal got rocked by Djokovic in Doha, and now just lost first round in the Australian Open. Is he still included amongst Federer, Murray, and Djokovic – all of whom at the least finaled in one major last year?

 Wawrinka? – The question with Stan the Man is not “if” he can beat the best of the best, but for how many consecutive points/matches? (to all those who doubt his best level, see the video below:
On top of that, he’s also a two-time grand slam champion (equal to Andy Murray) and a doubles gold medalist. So, what can we expect from him in 2016? Another major (or multiple)? If Nadal is no longer a part of the “Big Four,” does Stan replace him?

Federer? – Regardless of his #3 ranking, Federer has proven to be the second best player. Late 2015 wins over Wawrinka, Murray, Nadal, and even Djokovic have cemented that fact. With the addition of Ivan Ljubicic a big hitting baseliner, to his coaching corner, can Federer improve his baseline consistency to snatch a major title, likely from Djokovic? Edberg’s aggressive, net oriented game style has worked wonders for the now 34-year-old Federer, but it simply is not enough to overcome Djokovic’s incredibly solid baseline and returning game.

Major Storylines

 Djokovic’s Calendar Year Slam – No one has accomplished this feat since Rod Laver but, with 10 major totals and counting, Djokovic could tie both Nadal and Sampras with a calendar year grand slam – AKA winning all 4 Majors. He proved capable of sustaining an incredibly high level throughout all of the Majors last year and would’ve won the French if not for the ridiculous level of Stan Wawrinka in the Final.
Federer’s Retirement – As a die-hard Federer fan, I struggle to even think about this. And, although he’s planning on playing all three events in the 2016 Río Olympics, it is not inconceivable that he would retire following a Major (most likely Wimbledon) victory.

The Second Tier – This group, comprised of Nishikori, Roanic, Dimitrov, Berdych, Ferrer, and Cilic for the most part, presents quite a few potential interesting storylines. Cilic is the only to have won a major –we could see one of their names in a headline as a Major Champion. Raonic avenged his 2015 Brisbane Final loss to Federer – we could see him or any member of this group present himself as a consistent. On the other side of the coin, we could also see Dimitrov or Ferrer continue to slide.

Bold Predictions

Nadal Doesn’t Reach a Grand Slam Quarterfinal – I’m already right for the first Major of the year (having written this article after the fact). But, with Quarterfinal losses at the French and Australian Opens in 2016 and losses before even the Round of 16 at both Wimbledon and the US Open, it really isn’t that bold to say he continues in the same vein and doesn’t even reach a Quarterfinal.

A U-20 American Wins an ATP Title – With Taylor Fritz, Jared Donaldson, and Frances Tiafoe all inside the Top 100, Tommy Paul surging up the ranks, and Noah Rubin with a Top 20 win already, why not? This would likely come from Taylor Fritz, who just lost in 5 against #22 Jack Sock and last year posted solid results on the ATP level.

 Changes in Nadal’s Coaching Corner – If Nadal can’t recover his form of old after what could be more than 2 years, Toni Nadal might be looking for work.

Federer Regains the Number One Ranking – This would require multiple different elements to go his way, but with a Grand Slam Title, the World Tour Finals, and a few more Masters 1000s, it could be doable.

 Djokovic Doesn’t Lose, EVER – Everyone, rightfully so, is lauding Djokovic for his unbelievable 2015. Seeing as he only lost 5 times last year what’s to say he loses this year?

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