Will Federer & Nadal rule again? How good will Murray & Djokovic be? Five ATP narratives to watch out for in 2018
The tennis world in 2017 saw a ginormous shift in power from those dominating the sport in 2016 to those sat atop of the rankings at the end of the season.
Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic fell from the top-two spots to outside the top-10 and haven’t competed since Wimbledon, while Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal both surged up the ATP leaderboard to end the year as top dogs – having shared the four Grand Slams between them.
An injury crisis at the top of the sport has left us in the strange position of a new look top-10 all looking over their shoulders as some of tennis’ biggest stars look to climb back up the rankings.
Aside from the usual hustle and bustle to win a tournament on its own merit, there are some interesting narratives running throughout the season.
Here we take a look at some of the biggest ones to keep an eye out for…
Is Andy Murray finished?
Jumping straight into one of the more concerning narratives from a British perspective: have we already seen the best of Andy Murray?
The Scot made a late surge to the top of the rankings in 2016 but has suffered an almighty fall from grace and, with an ailing hip, there are questions as to whether he’ll be able to get back up.
Murray decided not to undergo surgery after hobbling out of Wimbledon but there are serious fears that he will never overcome the hip problem that has plagued him for the past six months.
Already in his 30s, time is running out for Murray to get back to his best and 2018 will provide us with a more clear indication of whether the three-time major winner will ever truly compete at the Grand Slams again.
Will Novak Djokovic struggle mentally?
While it’s generally accepted that Murray’s problems are physical, there’s been an attack on Djokovic that his issues are purely in his head.
The basis of the charge is that his plight was so sudden – from holding all four Grand Slams at once to none at all – and some have suggested that it will be the 12-time major winner that struggles to return to the top far more than Murray.
After a six-month break away from the sport to iron out an elbow problem that had been plaguing him in what was a disappointing period by his lofty standards, the 30-year-old Serb is understood to be completely over his injury troubles and is raring to go for the new season.
So will he fail to get over this mental barrier that’s been assigned to his head by onlookers? Or does it not exist at all? We will find out…
The battle for the top-10…
Aside from Djokovic and Murray, the rest of 2016’s top-five will all return to the sport after difficult seasons.
Stan Wawrinka is still struggling with a knee injury that leaves his hopes of playing in Australia in doubt, while he surprisingly split from Magnus Norman who oversaw all three of his Grand Slam wins.
Milos Raonic insists he’s 100% despite pulling out of an exhibition in Abu Dhabi, while Kei Nishikori’s wrist troubles are not yet behind him.
Should the three of them join Murray and Djokovic in returning to top form, and assuming Federer and Nadal don’t suffer a sudden slide, top-10 competition could be at an all-time high this season.
Grigor Dimitrov, Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev all enjoyed their best seasons in the sport – and should only get better, while David Goffin and Marin Cilic are becoming established regulars at the top of the game.
There’s not enough room for all of them in the top-10 let alone at the eight-man ATP Finals in London – so who will be falling short this year?
Will Fedal rule once more?
Another year, another challenge for the aging duo.
Federer will turn 37 during 2018, while Nadal, 31, has already set the record for the oldest year-end world No. 1.
Knee problems put a slight dampener on the Spaniard’s final few weeks of the season and there will no doubt be questions over whether they will persist but with such a strong returning cast, the duo will surely not have it all their own way in 2018.
Will Federer still be able to find his best form adopting such a reduced schedule? Or will he consider a push for top spot by tackling the clay-court season?
Time will tell…
The young guns…
Amid all the excitement of the wandering returners, it’s easy to overlook the young contenders who are looking to break through.
Zverev already has two Masters 1000 titles under his belt, is 2018 the year where he makes a serious impression at one of the majors? Or will physicality over five sets remain a thorn in his side?
Will Nick Kyrgios finally tap into that enviable pool of talent at his disposal and overcome the mental hurdles of the less glamorous first-round ties?
Players 22 and under in the top-100
4 – Zverev (20)
21 – Kyrgios (22)
39 – Rublev (20)
45 – Khachanov (21)
48 – Coric (21)
50 – Edmund (22)
51 – Shapovalov (18)
54 – Donaldson (21)
58 – Chung (21)
65 – Medvedev (21)
79 – Tiafoe (19)
88 – Djere (22)
90 – Marterer (22)
91 – Tsitsipas (19)
Can Denis Shapovalov live up to the hype that surrounded his remarkable run at the US Open or will it be another Next Gen star that starts to really knock on the door against the best in the game?
And is 2018 the year that we finally get to see the much talked about 17-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime (currently ranked at world No. 162) break through and make his mark on the ATP Tour?
So many questions. So much fun to be had. The 2018 season really could be something quite special!