2016 witnessed a complete changing of the guard in the world of tennis, with both the men’s and women’s top-ranked players Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams being dethroned by Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber.
If we look back, there were many defining moments in tennis over the last 12 months. Let’s take you through some of the key talking points:
Murray’s rise to the top
Andy Murray enjoyed by far the most successful season in his career, winning a second Wimbledon title and another Olympic gold medal to add the one he claimed at London 2012.
9 titles in total for 2016 and a couple of Grand Slam final appearances at the French and Australian Opens helped him ending the year on top of the world for the first time.
The birth of his baby daughter and the return of Ivan Lendl to the Brit’s coaching team was a sensible step to take and proved to be massively beneficial too.
The 29-year-old from Dunblane finished the season on a 24-match winning streak after grabbing 5 back-to-back titles in Bejing, Shanghai, Vienna, Paris and London.
Djokovic completes career Grand Slam
Djokovic claimed a career grand slam when he finally broke the jinx to win the 2016 French Open, after having lost the final on three previous occasions to Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka.
In doing so, the Serb became the first man since 1969 to hold all four majors at the same time, having followed up his 2015 Wimbledon and US Open triumphs with a sixth Australian Open title in January.
What followed next was a series of setbacks for the Serb, losing early at Wimbledon and in Rio had him blaming private issues for his fall.
Kerber dethrones mighty Serena
For the first time in four years, Serena did not end the season as the top ranked player.
Three grand slam finals appearances were not enough to shove off the strong resistance of the talented German Angelique Kerber.
Their rivalry offers a hope to the women’s game that there could be scintillating contests in the offing after so many years of Serena show, especially after Kerber so majestically defeated Serena at the Australian Open.
Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis started 2016 on the best note possible, winning titles in Brisbane, Sydney and then lifting the Australian Open trophy for their third slam as a duo. They followed the major win with another title at St Petersburgh but things started to fall apart thereafter. After two shock exits at the French Open and Wimbledon, they called it quits in August.
Together, the pair had won 13 titles over a span of 16 months, which also involved a 41-match winning run. The decision became one of the major talking points of the season.
Injury finally conjures Swiss maestro
Before Roger Federer’s fateful slip in the Wimbledon semifinal against Milos Raonic in what would be the last match he played last year, it was the slip after the Australian Open that changed the course of his 2016 season.
Federer said he was preparing a bath for his twin daughters when he turned and heard a tweak in his left knee, leading to the first surgery of his career. He decided to skip the French Open – the first Grand Slam that he missed in 16 years after appearing 65 consecutive times.
He returned once again, on grass, his favourite surface, but couldn’t reach the final, even at Halle. At Wimbledon, he showed glimpses of his vintage self – at the quarterfinal against Marin Cilic, winning from two sets down – giving many hope. And then came the loss to Raonic, another five-setter, which ended in the enduring image of him lying face down on the grass. Federer ended up bowing out for the rest of the 2016 season and can potentially impact 2017 as well, as he returns to the Australian Open ranked outside top 15.
Tandil Tower returns
Juan Martin Del Potro’s resurgence was the story on the men’s tour in 2016.
A delight to watch when he’s plummeting laser-like forehands around the court, his return to the tour in February was a welcome one, and, unlike with a number of his previous comebacks, he didn’t suffer any setbacks, as he defeated big shots like Stan Wawrinka, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray in the process.
He’s clearly reluctant to hit through his double-handed backhand in the fear of damaging his left wrist, which he has already had three separate operations on, but he has compensated for that lack of power by developing a beautifully sliced backhand which is now a key weapon in itself.
Del Potro’s return to Big Apple also marked one of most iconic moments in tennis history. Towards the end of the three hours and 13 minutes long US Open quarterfinal match, when the result was all but apparent, the crowd pulled an astounding, resounding cheer for him. Such vociferous was the cheering at 1 AM, it moved the 2009 champion to tears. The Argentine cried, as Stan Wawrinka waited to serve out the match, applauded with his racket, and eventually lost the gruelling clash to the eventual champion.
A first career title since January 2014 followed as he won the Stockholm Open in October, but his most memorable performance of the season came in the Davis Cup final, as he came from two sets down to defeat Croatia’s Marin Cilic and spur Argentina on to their first ever triumph in the team competition.
Sharapova’s shocking suspension
Maria Sharapova dropped a bombshell in March that she had tested positive for meldonium, a drug that was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
A year marked by one of the largest state-sponsored doping programmes coming to light, Sharapova became one of the first Russian athletes to be caught in the dope net. The two-year ban was ultimately cut short to 15 months, but even with the curtailed sentence, it indicated a tough, no-nonsense stand on doping that will set down a marker for years to come.
Raonic breaks into Top-3
After showing immense promise in the formative years at the tour, Milos Raonic finally proved he belongs to the big league in men’s tennis.
The tall Canadian is now not just a big server with a huge forehand – his game is far more refined. Raonic has developed into an accomplished volleyer and improved his backhand as well as his defence.
His improvement was evident right from the start of the year when he reached the semi-final of the Australian Open, losing to Andy Murray in five sets. In the summer, the 26-year-old reached his first major final, again going down to Murray, this time in straight sets, after eliminating Roger Federer in the semis. Raonic ended the season as the world No 3 after reaching the last four of the ATP World Tour finals in London, where he was again beaten by Murray in one of the best matches of the year.
The other Iberian face in Paris
The Parisian clay is accustomed to see a familiar Spaniard dominate at Roland Garros, but it was a different face which beamed with French Open glory.
Not many people gave the then 22-year-old Garbine Muguruza much of a chance when she met Serena Williams in the French capital, but she showed maturity beyond her years to topple the American in straight sets thus becoming Spain’s first female Grand Slam singles champion since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario won the 1998 French Open.
Wawrinka reigns supreme at Flushing Meadows
When Stanislas Wawrinka is in form, very few can match him, and he took his A game to Flushing Meadows in August.
After a five-set epic with Brit Dan Evans in the third round, in which he saved a match point, Wawrinka stepped his level up to march to the final defeating fan-favourite Del Potro and Japanese Kei Nishikori en route.
Novak Djokovic awaited in the final but he was no match for Wawrinka, who fired stunning winners to cruise to a four-set win.
With Australian, French and US Open trophies all in his locker from the past three years, Wawrinka now only needs Wimbledon glory to complete the career Grand Slam.
The Puig saga
The 22-year-old from San Juan is the first person, male or female, to win an Olympic gold medal representing Puerto Rico. She steered down Kerber, the reigning Australian Open champion, in a powerful finals performance, in three sets. In fact, Puig took down three Grand Slam champions en route (also Garbine Muguruza and Petra Kvitova) which resonate greater than the gold itself.
Nadal on the wane
Rafael Nadal endured a season punctuated by injury, poor form and a lack of confidence. A failure to deal with pressure in big moments has become a regular feature of Nadal’s game over the last two years, which is bizarre when his vast achievements in the game are taken into consideration. A wrist injury forced him to retire from the French Open and subsequently ruled him out of Wimbledon, and his other Grand Slam appearances ended in first and fourth-round exits at the Australian and US Open respectively.
But the resurgence came soon after when the Spaniard won the Olympics Doubles Gold with Marc Lopez and finished fourth in singles.
Preview: 2017 for Tennis
Year 2017 raises many questions on ATP tour. Will Andy Murray retain the top spot? Will Novak Djoković strike back and reclaim it? Will Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer fully recover from all the injuries? Will any of the young guns finally surprise us and beat the big 5 on the biggest tournaments – especially in Grand Slams? Sportwalk takes a look at the season ahead in detail.
Andy Murray, The Scotsman, current number one and winner of three Grand Slams and two Olympic gold medals is going to be one of 3 (along Djokovic and Nadal) contenders for number 1 in 2017.
Novak Djokovic, despite having poor record post Roland Garros, had made improvements during the latter part of the season which was a very positive sign for next season and the rivalry between him and Murray could be very interesting.
Rafael Nadal had a lot of problems with injuries in past couple of seasons, but some interesting news came from Nadal’s team when Carlos Moya roped in. This could be a great addition to his team and he could improve Nadal’s game a lot in my opinion. If he is going to fully recover from the wrist injury and collaborate well with Moya, he could well be in the vicinity of invincibility again.
Roger Federer almost never had any problems with injuries throughout his career, but at the age of 35, it is a big question on which level Federer is going to be able to return after the shock injury. He is not getting any younger, but he is one of the best tennis players of all time, so if anyone can do it, be sure it’s Federer.
Juan Martin Del Potro, second time comeback player of the year and certainly well deserved. It is a big question how many Grand Slams would this man have if he wasn’t so unlucky with injuries. Not only that, he also won the Davis Cup with Argentina, where he won against Croatia in final. He could be a big competition for everyone and could win another Grand Slam title.
Milos Raonic showed in 2016 that he is far from just a big server. Even though 2016 was succesful for Raonic, expect him to make even bigger strides in 2017 with his improved return game and a more solid net game and backhand.
Stan Wawrinka can beat anyone, but also lose against anyone. Even though he is not getting any younger, he is still one of those players, who can beat anyone when he’s having a good day. 2016 wasn’t his best season, at least not until US Open, where he saved the whole season again, with a win in a final against Djokovic. He could definitely win another Grand Slam in 2017 and it need not to be Wimbledon.
Alexander Zverev is already ranked on 24th place in ATP ranking. He is almost 2 metres tall, but his coordination and footwork are very good for his age and his height. He already won the ATP tournament St. Petersburg, where he won against Wawrinka in final. He could make even better progress in 2017 and one can expect him to end the season in the top 10.
Dominic Thiem, Nick Kyrgios, Nishikori Kei, Marin Čilić, David Goffin, these are the players expected to play a big role in latter stages of the most important tournaments, but neither of them are likely to win a Grand Slam in 2017. Of course there could always be a surprise like Čilić in 2014 US Open, but it looks unlikely. All of them could reach or stay in the top 10 and reach QF or SF of the biggest tournaments, but certainly not much ahead of that.
Like the men, women’s tennis also raises many questions in the next season, especially regarding former number one and by many considered best female player ever, Serena Williams. One of the biggest questions is, will she bounce back at the age of 35 after problems with shoulder injuries? Will former number ones – Victoria Azarenka, after becoming a mother and Maria Sharapova, after being banned because of meldonium going to return in 2017?
Angelique Kerber had fantastic 2016 season under the guidance of Torben Beltz, especially mentally and learned how to be cool in the most difficult situations. She became a really solid player, who doesn’t make many unforced errors, but she can also hit a very beautiful winner from the back of the court. It is certainly going to be very hard for her to retain the number one spot at the end of 2017.
Serena Williams, after having almost perfect 2015, 2016 wasn’t as good for former number one. At the age of 35, she is not getting any younger and it’s a big question if she can ever get on the level she was in 2015 or earlier. She played her last match in 2016 in September in semifinal of US Open, where she lost against Karolina Pliskova. If her knee injury rumors are to be believed, it will be very tough to recover completely from these injuries and become number one again at her age.
Agnieszka Radwanska, the Current number three is yet to win a Grand Slam tournament and her best result in Grand Slam so far is final (Wimbledon 2012). She wasn’t in top form at WTA Finals at the end of 2016 season, where she did reach semifinal, but was demolished by Angelique Kerber there. She might not possess the power like most of the other top players, but she compensates the lack of power with great tennis intelligence and great technique. Chances of her winning her first Grand Slam in 2017 are very thin, considering she has very big problems against big hitters like Williams, Muguruza, Azarenka.
Garbine Muguruza‘s 2016 season was good, but with her talent, she could make a step even further in 2017. She was too inconsistent in 2016, especially after her win in Roland Garros. But she has great power in her shots and if she would become more stable, she could become the next number one.
Dominika Cibulkova had many obstacles in her career. Most recently she lost whole clay-court and North American hard-court season due to an injury. She started 2016 at 38th place and climbed to 5th place on WTA ranking. Beside winning WTA Finals, Cibulkova also won in Linz and Eastbourne. If she plays in 2017 like she did at the end of last season, she could win a Grand Slam for the very first time.
Karolina Pliskova skipped Rio 2016, a slightly controversial decision that ultimately paid off handsomely for her. The Czech had a career-defining three weeks in the second half of the season that helped her rise to No 6 in the WTA rankings and reaching US Open final defeating the Williams sisters- Venus and Serena on the way. If her plaudits of 2016 are anything to go by, then it will not take long for her to get hold of that silverware, be it Australian Open or US Open.
Simona Halep is currently number 4 in the world, but I think she is not strong enough to win a Grand Slam. At least not yet. She just doesn’t possess enough power to hit winners and keeping the ball in play just doesn’t win you any Grand Slams, as we saw with Wozniacki. She will possibly be in top 5 or at least top 10 at the end of 2017, but it would be rather surprising if she wins a Grand Slam in the near future.
Ana Konjuh is currently ranked 48th on the WTA rankings. The young 18-year-old Croat is one of the most talented players in the world. She won two junior Grand Slams in 2013 – Australian Open and US Open. She played pretty well in 2016, especially in US Open, where she reached the quarter final, but Konjuh is yet to make the transition from juniors circuit to the pro tour. However, one can expect 2017 to be a very good season for Konjuh and she could get very high in the rankings.
Johanna Konta and Elina Svitolina also deserve special mention here. One can hope that they are going to improve even more in 2017, but winning any Grand Slams would seem out of the scenario at the moment. Petra Kvitova could have been dangerous, at least in Wimbledon, if she didn’t get injured by a robber.