2017 was a dramatic year on the tennis circuit, and for many reasons. Almost the entire top crop of players had a dramatic changeover from the end of 2016 to what it is today. 2016’s top 2 are both out of top 10 right now and the two people who occupy those positions today were ranked 9 and 17 a year ago.
Sadly for the upcoming herd of players, the guys dominating the majors were not from their generation but the two veteran warhorses synonymous with Men’s Tennis for more than a decade, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. These two occupied 5 of the 8 finalists spots in the Grand Slams and it is fair to say that nobody else managed to make a mark like them in these Majors.
However, the sequence of events unfolding in the final few weeks of 2017 has made a lot of people believe that 2018 is not going to be an easy run for the elite faction. With Jack Sock winning the Paris Masters Title, Grigor Dimitrov clinching the World Tour Finals and Goffin making a deep run throughout the season, one can feel the impending heat of the upcoming months.
So who are the players supposed to be challenging the top guard and what can be the prospects of that challenge and where will they be met with obstacles?
Let’s find out.
Dimitrov started the year 2014 with a Grand Slam semifinal and two quarterfinals. Already considered one of the best new talents, it seemed the time was ripe for the 23-year-old Bulgarian to blossom.
Instead, what we witnessed was the unfolding of the story of a guy getting crushed under the weight of his talent and expectations. Following 2014, Dimitrov had to undergo two tough and tedious seasons in 2015 and 2016 where he failed to make the quarter-final of a Grand Slam even once.
But his talents and regular persistence enabled him to turn things around quickly in 2017. In his second ever grand slam Semifinal, Dimitrov’s intense display of shot-making and mental endurance against the Great Rafael Nadal produced the match of the year.
After Australia though, his performances were paradoxically poor. Throughout the clay and grass seasons, he seemed nothing like the player he was in Melbourne. People started wondering if the events in Australia were just another fluke from the talented, yet, mentally fragile Bulgarian.
During the end of Summer, things started to take a turn for the better. Dimitrov collected his first Masters title at Cincinnati. His post-USO season was superlative, even though it included recurring checkpoints from Nadal. The most impressive of all his achievements in 2017 was the victory in World Tour Finals 2017, which he won without losing a single match. His mental tenacity in the Final against Goffin gave him the crowning achievement of his career.
To expect him to go deep in the majors or even capture his first one in 2018 does not look outlandish anymore.
Very few players can boast of having beaten Federer, Nada, and Djokovic in the same year. Very few people would expect David Goffin to be the guy to achieve such a feat. His slight stature has always been received as the limiting factor of his game. But after seeing him play in 2017, one has to say that his focus and determination have more than made up for the lack of power in his shots.
Keeping his shortcomings in mind, Goffin needed is tactical skills and alertness on call. Those were abundant on display in his game almost throughout the season but especially in the final week of World Tour Finals, where he beat both Federer and Nadal.
Goffin will hit 27 in a few weeks. This means he is not as young as some upcoming players. But 27-28 is also the age when many players hit top form. And that gives one more reason for the established giants of the game to consider him a threat.
One thing that might worry the Belgian is injuries. The terrible ankle-turn he suffered at the French Open stalled his season for months and he didn’t show good results until after the US Open. If he manages to take care of that, he will be a difficult guy the top crop will need to take care of in 2018.
This young man is touted as the next best thing in tennis by a lot of people and for a long time. In 2017, he proved he is indeed worthy of such adulations by winning two Masters titles. The value of these titles looks further inflated when one glances at the two names Zverev had to overcome in the finals: Djokovic and Federer. Thus, the young German became the first player apart from the Big Four to win two Masters in a single season since David Nalbandian in 2007.
Zverev started the year with a fantastic 5 set thriller at the Australian Open against former Champion and eventual Finalist Rafael Nadal. Taking Nadal to more than 4 hours under the sun at Melbourne is no eat feat, and even though he lost the last two sets with an easy scoreline, it looked like the young man had truly announced himself on the Big Stage.
However, it can also be said that other than those two weeks and his coming-of-age performance in Melbourne, Zverev had a subdued 2017. The thing worth noticing is despite finishing at World No. 4, he did not manage a single Grand Slam quarterfinal. It looks likely that with the return of the top stars of the game in 2018, the German will have a tough time keeping that position.
A lot of players have found themselves in difficult, sometimes terrible situations trying to follow-up on their breakthrough season. However, considering Zverev’s youthful character on and off the court, his commitment to the sport and determination to succeed, it is very unlikely that the rising star of 2017 will fail to make any noise in 2018.
Since beating Rafa on clay in early 2016, Dominic Thiem has had an on-off career for almost two years now. It is pretty reflective in his results that the on-switch gets stimulated during the clay season more than any other part of the year. His performance in the clay season in 2017, one has to say, shifted up a few gears from the previous years.
One Masters final and a Grand Slam semi-final makes for a merry clay season for someone unheard of before 2016. His intensity on the court and his weapons in the armory from both wings make the 24-year-old Austrian an intimidating figure on the surface.
But as with every up and coming player, Thiem has his issues. His extreme physical style of play can be considered to be one of them, but since he is only 24, it will take time for it to become a glaring problem. More than that, what the Austrian has to look at very carefully is the nature of his losses.
In both Rome Masters and Roland Garros, he followed two brilliant victories against premier players like Nadal and Djokovic with two lopsided and humiliating losses. Coincidentally, those losses came against the very same players, just alternately.
If Thiem figures a way to deal with such adversities, he will aggravate the intimidation that he creates on his opponents on clay.
When Jack Sock took a set off Nadal in the French Open 2015, the World started gaping at the possibility of a future American World No. 1, the first since Andy Roddick in 2003. But Sock’s journey ever since that high point of his career has been full of ebbs and flows.
This period also included his memorable straight-set victory in the US Open against former champion, Marin Cilic in 2016. But, it has also consisted terrible inconsistencies and major momentum breakdowns. Two and a half years have passed and Sock is yet to make single Grand Slam quarterfinal.
The penultimate week of 2017 in Paris Masters was everything to celebrate for both Sock and his American Tennis Brethren. After winning the Masters Title in Paris and following up with a semifinal appearance in his debut World Tour Finals, it is not an exaggeration to say that the tall American might’ve even surprised himself.
Sock won’t find it easy going in 2018 but if he finds a way to cut down on some of his more terrible losses while keeping the momentum flowing deep into the tournaments, the elite players won’t relish his presence at the other side of the net.