Tennis 2017: The changing of the guard?

Here we go again then. After an off-season that feels shorter than the Football League, and with no shortage of intrigue within the sport while there’s been no competitive play, the tennis season has begun. This week, tournaments around the world including two in Brisbane and the annual Hopman Cup kick-start the 2017 ATP and WTA World Tours. Stars including Sir Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber are taking to the court hoping to get their years off to the best possible starts ahead of the first Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open, in two weeks’ time.

And it’s all change at the top. After years of dominance from Djokovic and Williams, their crowns have slipped over the past twelve months. They now find themselves both at number two in their respective rankings, with Murray and Kerber succeeding them at the top late on last season. This surely signalled the end of the ‘Big Four’ in the men’s game, while in the WTA with Venus Williams currently low in the top ten the dominance of the games’ most famous sisters would seem to be at an end.  Instead, we live in an era of rising stars. Milos Raonic jumped up the rankings to number three and reached his first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon, while the controversial Nick Kyrgios and Frenchman Lucas Pouille both broke into the top 15 for the first time in the careers. Britain’s Johanna Konta reached her first two tournament finals, winning one of them and making the top ten at year’s end, while Garbiñe Muguruza won her first Grand Slam title at the Roland Garros in June.

All of these players will look to be continuing their way up the world rankings this year, and there’s certainly a feeling of a newer generation coming through with some aging top ten players on both circuits, in particular the men’s game, where Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are undoubtedly nearer the end of their careers than the beginning. In fact, whisper it quietly, but Sir Andy is already the history’s oldest new number one, and is only a year younger than the faltering Rafa. That’s not to say the writing is already on the wall for the world number one – far from it, his best days are probably ahead of him – but he will certainly be keeping a sharp eye on the youngsters creeping up behind him.

Who else could be in for a big 2017 then? Dominika Cibulková was one of the best comeback stories of the last year, winning the WTA Finals in a year which saw her return from consistent injury problems in stunning style, winning three more titles and being the beaten finalist in three more. Though she has only one Slam final under her belt, in the 2014 Australian Open, don’t be surprised to see her add to her tally in the coming months. In the ATP another comeback kid is taken to have a big year – Juan Martin Del Potro. The Argentinian returned after scarcely making an appearance in two years to win a silver medal at the Rio Olympics, followed by a win in a 250 series event in Stockholm. Already ranked 38 despite being absent for half of 2016, he looks one to continue his return to winning ways this year.

With all eyes on Melbourne in a couple of weeks, it’ll be intriguing until then to keep an eye on the lower grade tournaments for clues on how all our favourites can be expected to fare this season. There’s a real shake-up on the horizon in tennis, and this could be the year the changing of the guard finally takes place.

John Gibby

For more on the end of the ‘Big Four’, check out the article John wrote in September here.

Photo Credit: Associated Press


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