Our thoughts on the Australian Open/2017 Season.
What part of the season are you most excited for?
Jonathan D’Rozario, Head Tennis Writer: I’m going to have to go with the Australian Open! Traditionally, I lean towards the French Open/Wimbledon swing when the tennis doesn’t stop, but with the return of Federer and Nadal, and the battle between Djokovic and Murray, I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to see the first Grand Slam of the year.
Justin Kelly, Tennis Writer: I’m most excited for the second half of the 2017 Tour. These months will feature an epic battle between the two players likely to be at the top of the heap: Murray and Djokovic. Whether Djokovic bounces back in the first half or Murray maintains his momentum, the second half of the season will require one of these players to dig deep to defend or reclaim his top spot. This competitive storyline yields increasing intrigue as the season continues.
Alex House, Tennis Writer: Wimbledon presents so many possibilities and juicy storylines, especially given how many players in the field have a style conducive to winning on grass as opposed to clay. It could be the site where the sport officially enters a new era, but also one that allows a past star to relive his glory days. And I am not necessarily referring to Roger Federer.
Juan Martin Del Potro stepped out of the time machine and got his groove back when he overcame a tennis death sentence, a perennially bad wrist, and climbed his way back into relevance. He is sitting out of Australia and will likely not factor in the French, but if he can stay healthy for an extended period of time then the All-England Club could be where he completes his comeback saga.
It is also the best chance at a genuine breakout for Nick Kyrgios and Federer’s best hope at another day in the sun. Everything is always heightened at Wimbledon, and with a bigger crop of viable contenders than ever before, I cannot think of a more must-watch two-week period of tennis than a tournament that has the ability of altering our current perception of the game.
Evan Selzer, Tennis Writer: The months of May and June are going to be the most exciting parts of the 2017 season. This year’s French Open and Wimbledon will be the tournaments where the younger generation of players will finally have a chance to break through. I’m very interested to see if they’ll be able to pull it off.
Gaurav Shastri, Tennis Writer: The Men’s French Open. In my opinion, the tournament seems to be wide open this year. No player in particular has really been *outstanding* on clay the last couple seasons. Obviously you have your regular contenders in Djokovic and Murray, but Djokovic might not have the relentless hunger he’s had for the French title in the past, now that he’s finally won it. Watch for younger stars like Lucas Pouille or Dominic Thiem, who showed out this past year, or tennis mainstays like Jo Tsonga or Richard Gasquet. And of course never rule out my man Monfils! He’s finally going to do it, guys. Now that I’ve said all this… the French Final will probably still be Djokovic-Murray. But one can hope for parity.
Who is the player to watch this Australian Open? This season?
JD: For the Australian Open, I think it’s got to be Grigor Dimitrov. We went ahead and voted him the Worst Player of 2016, and he immediately rebutted strongly with his first title in two years. Go figure. Either way, if he can build some confidence and make a run, he can seriously ruffle some feathers. Keep an eye on him.
For the season, I think it has to be Federer. The latter half of 2016 felt hollow without him, and I think we all owe it to ourselves (if one is a real fan of tennis) to watch as much of his play (win or loss) as we can before he actually retires.
JK: Stan Wawrinka. After enjoying a solid 2016 with his US Open title, Wawrinka is poised to make a great leap forward in 2017. Though clearly the top players on Tour, neither Murray nor Djokovic seems unstoppable, and Stan has demonstrated that he has the talent to beat both. At the Aussie, the main obstacle in Wawrinka’s quarter is Cilic. If Wawrinka can handle the big server, look for him to make a splash in the semis and/or finals against the tour’s top brass.
AH: The player to watch has been Nick Kyrgios for the last couple of years. He leaped into the top 15 last year, but made headlines for all of the wrong reasons. He disappointed in what should have been a high-profile match against Andy Murray, and broke down, both mentally and physically, on several occasions. His work ethic and character were questioned, as he was heralded by many as a stain on a game that exudes class and sportsmanship. He became a villain, but not the one tennis needs. The personality and flavor he brought onto the court soon became displaced by arrogance and utter disrespect for the integrity of the game.
However, he has certainly become one of the most recognizable faces of the sport. Whether that is a good thing or not is a different matter, but he still has championship talent, and the ability to transcend the game. He has star power for sure, and will see his role in the sport that he seems to hold in contempt expand as he continues to advance up the rankings. It is only a matter of time that he realizes how good he can be if he actually puts in the work and becomes a serious threat and not just a player to watch. It is a make-or-break year for Kyrgios. He will at the very least be interesting, either enjoying a deep run or two in a major, or suffering an even more cataclysmic meltdown that may even result in his fiery exit from tennis. That is where we stand, a player walking a thin line between contention and combustion.
ES: Grigor Dimitrov is definitely the player to watch for this Aussie Open. After a disappointing 2016, Dimitrov started 2017 beating three top-10 players on his way to winning Brisbane in the first week. He has always been talked about as a future top player, but this could be the year he realizes his potential. His performance in the next two weeks will be a strong indicator of the rest of the year.
GS: Men’s AO: Nick Kyrgios. He went to the QF in 2015’s tournament, but fizzled out last year. This season, barring an epic upset, it all comes down to his fourth round match against Wawrinka — a match that will surely be under the lights, and in front of Kyrgios’ home crowd. If he can win (their last matchup, he took out Wawrinka in Madrid), I think he’ll be a semi-finalist and could make some noise and get to the final. Will he win? Maybe not. But either way, it’s sure to be very entertaining to watch.
Women’s AO: Angelique Kerber. Easy pick. She’s the number 1 ranked player in the world right now. She’s incredibly talented and fun to watch. And she’s coming off an outstanding 2016 season where she claimed the titles in both the Australian Open and the US Open, and also took silver in the Olympics. And despite all of this… she still has the feel of an underdog that makes you want to root for her.
Murray vs Djokovic — Who’s going to have a better season? Who’s going to do better at the Australian Open?
JD: I’m going to say Djokovic. Andy’s run last season was unprecedented and unbelievable, and I like that he’s finally making this ‘rivalry’ interesting, but I’m going to need to see this new, improved Murray bring his No. 1 game to a Slam before he can cement his spot. Where better to do that than the Australian Open, where he is a five time finalist (four of which were losses to Djokovic). I say Djokovic wins in the final against him if they play — Djokovic has always been the best player in Melbourne, and I can’t bet against him here until I see some evidence against him.
JK: Per my answer to the first question, Murray and Djokovic will probably be duking it out all year. My call is that Murray will open the season strong, building on his excellent run at the end of 2016. Murray is my pick to win the Aussie outright. However, Djokovic and his team will not take these losses lying down. They will make adjustments, and Djokovic will surge in the latter half of 2017, ultimately finishing with a better season than Murray.
AH: I am fairly certain Djokovic will be world No. 1 by the time 2017 ends, but I also do not think he is going to win more than two major titles. He seemed poised to become the first man in over 40 years to attain the Calendar Slam, but now he is somewhat vulnerable. There is more parity in the sport than ever, and now that he has split with Boris Becker there is no telling how the once unbreakable Djokovic will handle the mental aspects of the game going forward.
He is still the most complete player in the field and could once again lap the competition, but only if he regains his discipline. Murray is at the top of his game, and should find a way to win one, maybe two majors, but he still has the feel of an unproven star. Dare I say it, but his ascension to the apex of tennis still feels undeserved, and will likely feel that way unless he defeats Djokovic in a Slam this year. He is still in his shadow despite his ranking and a career year in 2016. He will need to avoid meltdowns like the one he exhibited in Flushing against Kei Nishikori in order to truly cement himself as a generational player.
He has an easier path than Djokovic in Australia, and might avoid playing his rival in the finalif Stan Wawrinka can prove that he is a bona fide star with another monumental win in the semifinals. Even if Djokovic loses his stronghold on the Aussie Open, he will still be the man to beat in Wimbledon and the US Open and is a much safer bet than Murray to win the French. Expect the rivalry to intensify, but also correct itself with Djokovic back on top.
ES: Though I believe Djokovic will do better at the Australian Open, I think Murray will have a better year overall. Djokovic has won the tournament five times in the last six years. It has been his most dominant slam, and despite a tough draw with Verdasco in the first round, Djokovic’s win in Doha is a good indication that he is ready to perform. However, as the new world number 1, I think Murray will regroup and have his best year to date.
GS: AO: Djokovic. There’s nobody better at this tournament than him. Djokovic is to Melbourne as Nadal is to Paris. It’s honestly at the point where I’ll be incredibly surprised if he DOESN’T win.
Season: Murray. He’s finally ranked number 1 in the world. He’s on a hot streak that’s coming on just as it appears Djokovic *might* be slowing down a little bit. This could be the year he takes over as the best men’s player in the world.
How are Federer and Nadal going to fare this Australian Open/Season? Do either of them have another Slam in them?
JD: I think both of them make it to the quarter-finals, where one of them crashes out, and the other makes the semis and falls there. If I had to be specific, I say Nadal makes it to the semis, and Federer makes the quarters. Nothing flashy, but enough to get them back in contention for the remainder of the years Slams. I have to believe that Federer has one more Slam in him (one draw falls into place, just as it did for Murray this last Wimbledon, where the best player he faced was Raonic), and I’m not ruling out Nadal at the French either. I guess my answer is watch ‘em, because they’re in it to win.
JK: Neither Federer nor Nadal will be able to get much going this year. Aside from Murray and Djokovic, the second tier of guys on Tour has grown too strong for these fading superstars. If either will ever win another slam, Fed will have to SABR and finesse his way to a surprise Wimbledon victory. I would love to see it, but cannot reasonably expect it.
AH: Rafael Nadal will win the French Open. Despite all of the heartbreak and struggles, it still feels strange to tout Nadal’s possibility of once again becoming King of Clay as a bold statement, but I also never thought I would be picking the Spaniard to win another major title. In fact, I all but wrote him off, saying that the window had closed with his last unsuccessful campaign at Roland Garros.
He has become an erratic player who will make fans smile after a superb two hours of play right before they slump over in despair after watching him suffer yet another agonizing reversal of fortunes.
He is now a sports tragedy, one whose visible love for the game always gave him the mold of a gladiator. The armor has been penetrated countless times over the past couple years, to the point where it has been gradually removed. When you send a warrior into battle without his armor, unpredictability will follow. But even with the deck stacked enormously against Nadal, the landscape of tennis entering a period of uncertainty. There is a crack for the fading star to slip though and enjoy one more deserved moment of ecstasy.
Novak Djokovic is struggling to regain his status as the unquestioned top dog, current world No. 1. Andy Murray has never won the tournament and Roger Federer seems like a long shot to win his weakest slam in his late thirties. Nadal, while the results may not show it, made strides last year toward once again becoming a legitimate contender.
He will have to beat a member of the Big Four, something he has not done in a major in a few years, but the only real concern will be his ability to sustain the unmatched intensity on which he built his legacy.
With all of the question marks surrounding the mountaintop, a few stalwarts will fall to give way to the re-ascension of a player who is just too talented and transcendent to leave without one more exhilarating resurrection. Federer, the more consistent of the two, will be hard pressed to find his opening, especially if his health problems linger. He was again sensational in Wimbledon, but the former stars of tomorrow like Milos Raonichave arrived and are likely not going away anytime soon.
Federer has defied the laws of tennis, remaining a top player in his twilight years, but eventually age gets us all, even the immortal Federer. He will have a better body of work than Nadal this season, but unlike his rival, the stars will not align this year for him to capture an eighteenth major title, and I fear never again for the all-time leader in slams. That being said, if he stays healthy throughout the year that narrative can change due to his ability to adapt with the times, but I have my suspicions his pact with the Devil is about to run out.
ES: Unfortunately, I don’t see Federer or Nadal winning this tournament. Though Federer seems to be healthy, he hasn’t played a tour match since his Wimbledon semi-final loss last June. Additionally, both Federer and Nadal have had recent losses to younger players with Federer losing to Alexander Zverev at the Hopman Cup and Nadal to Milos Raonic in Brisbane. There are now too many younger, stronger players in their paths for either to go all the way.
GS: I really don’t think so. Federer might be able to swing the Wimbledon title just due to how insane he always plays on grass. But Nadal winning a slam would probably be one of the more surprising outcomes of this season. Their primes have passed, it seems.
What is Serena Williams’ outlook for 2017?
JD: I think with her time off (and her new engagement), she comes back with a vengeance and takes two of the four year’s Slams. Serena’s always been a powerhouse player, and one who puts her all into every match, and that can be exhausting. I don’t buy into the doubts or the hype, I just believe that she’s passionate, she’s rested, and she’s hungry for success in 2017.
JK: Serena has become less consistent in big matches with age. However, she is still the most dominant player on the women’s side and will have success in 2017. She’s undoubtedly frustrated with her recent losses and will smooth out the kinks in her game as a result. I think she’ll win another two slams this season.
AH: I expect it to be similar to last year’s. She has been dominant for so long, but I think mentally she is gradually exiting that impenetrable zone that wills her through even the most precarious of situations. Serena still has the ability to sweep the Slams, but I believe that feat is in the rear view mirror and will not be coming back around. She remains the standard of the modern women’s game, and has done plenty to make her case for greatest female tennis player and athlete of all time. She will win multi-majors because she is still at the point in her career where two of four will be a decline just as it was considered last year. The competition appears to be getting stronger, which will test Williams while laying out what the future of tennis will be without the icon.
ES: Each year, it gets harder and harder for Serena to maintain her dominance. She lost the number-one ranking last year and has already had a rocky start to 2017 with a second round loss to Madison Brengle in Auckland. With the growing number of strong players on the women’s side, I expect Serena to have a difficult season.
GS: I think her chance of a grand slam sweep is over, but that doesn’t mean she’s slowed down too much (or at all). She’s still the best women’s player in the world, despite not being ranked at number 1 in the world. The record Steffi Graf set of 22 grand slam titles is getting broken this year — I’m sure of it.
Give me a bold prediction for the Australian Open/2017 Season/both!
JD: AO - Either Murray or Djokovic fail to make the final (bonus: Federer or Nadal are the ones to take them out!)
Season - Either Federer or Nadal or del Potro win a Slam this year.
JK: My bold prediction: Kyrgios finishes the 2017 season ahead of Nadal in the ATP rankings.
AH: As for the Aussie Open, I predict that Stan Wawrinka will pick up where he left off after winning his third career Grand Slam at the US Open. He relishes a showdown with Djokovic at this point, and even though the Serb has owned this tournament, he is entering this year without that air of invincibility that has clung to his body whenever he stepped on court.
Wawrinka remains, in my opinion, the most equipped to upend the former No. 1 on a big stage, and if successful again, could also triumph over Murray in a potential final. The dynamics of such a matchup would be very interesting, especially given that a win for tennis’s second most lauded Swiss man would mean that he would have more slams than Murray, thereby forcing the pundits to modify the Big Four to accommodate the improbable star in the making.
ES: After the Australian Open, the “Big Four” will not win any of the other three Grand Slams. Though I think Murray and Djokovic will still be dominant at the Aussie, players like Milos Raonic, Dominic Thiem, and Kei Nishikori, who have been constantly knocking on the door, will finally take over when it comes to winning slams.
GS: AO: Murray loses before the semi-final. Katerina Siniakova makes it to semi-final. Season: Nick Kyrgios wins Wimbledon. An American woman not named Serena Williams wins the US Open.
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