What year is it?
When the current tennis calendar got under way in January, it started with predictable results. Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray met in the finals in Qatar, Roger Federer looked a bit rusty in his return in Perth, Serena Williams dominated everyone she played, and Bernard Tomic was a lackadaisical brat.
Just par for the course.
And then it all changed. On back-to-back nights, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer got the full attention of the tennis world again. It started with Federer shaking off the cob webs and then spinning a masterpiece of his own in the form of a straight-set beatdown of World Number 10 Tomas Berdych. The next night, the muscle man from Mallorca roared to life with a scintillating 5-set triumph over rising star Alexander Zverev.
We didn’t quite realize it yet at the time, but just like that, the script was flipped, flopped, and flung across the table to be rewritten. We were off in the DeLorean flying back to 2008.
World Number 2 Novak Djokovic had continued his slump earlier that week with a loss to Denis Istomin and World Number 1 Andy Murray was to be dismissed soon after.
The dream of a Federer-Nadal meeting in the final started to take shape and with every passing round, tennis fans held their collective breath.
Have you ever been at a bar, or a party, or even just in class as a kid and tried to look at a woman who you’re attracted to without actually looking at her? It’s kind of hard to do and you’re more likely to fail than succeed. If you actually turn your whole head and look, you’re either going to get caught and possibly blow it, or she’s not going to be looking back and you’ll be disappointed anyway.
That’s how tennis fans were watching the second week of the Australian Open. We wanted to look, we wanted to hope, we wanted to predict, but we didn’t want to jinx it. As Nadal plowed through Gael Monfils and Milos Raonic; as Federer survived Kei Nishikori and then put on another masterclass against Mischa Zverev, there was the tennis world, trying to peek out of its peripheral vision.
Of course, we know the rest of the story. The girl ended up walking over to us, we hit it off almost immediately, dated for a couple of months, and it was pretty great.
Federer and Nadal met more times within two months at the beginning of this season than they had in the three years prior combined. Then tennis shifted to the clay court season and the Swiss decided that the relationship needed a break.
Well now we’re talking about getting back together, folks, because while Nadal may be out courtesy of the Luxembourgian Legend Gilles Muller, there’s an even more exciting affair brewing for tennis fans in the months to come.
With the somewhat stunning results on the men’s singles side of Wimbledon thus far this week, there are a few things to take away. Soon after Federer finished off Milos Raonic, there was finally time to process the fact that both Murray and Djokovic had lost that day.
Coming into the tournament there was a lot of buzz about the potential for Murray to lose his World Number 1 ranking. Nadal, Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka all had a chance to take it had they performed well enough at this tournament and Murray fallen short. Well the latter occurred, but the former did not.
Murray is guaranteed to retain his World Number 1 ranking after Wimbledon, but with both he and Djokovic going out early, it seems almost guaranteed that the race for the year-end Number 1 ranking has two familiar front-runners: Federer and Nadal.
Federer has zero ranking points to defend for the rest of the season and Nadal is not much different. Between the Western & Southern Open, the U.S. Open, the China Open, and the Shanghai Masters, Rafa has a total of only 325 points to defend through the end of 2017.
So let’s take a gander at the rankings as they stand right now:
1. Andy Murray – 9,390
2. Rafael Nadal – 7,285
3. Stan Wawrinka – 6,175
4. Novak Djokovic – 6,055
5. Roger Federer – 5,265
One of these things is not like the others.
Indeed, Federer, while being at the bottom of that group, is the last man standing at the All-England Club. As such, he’s the only one who could add significant points to his total. Federer has equaled his performance from last year’s edition of The Championships with a semifinal berth.
Now, we’re about to get speculative here, folks. And by about to, I mean we have been speculative for awhile. This is all about the next few months so there’s really no other way to go about it. Also, I already dreamed up a scenario in which a beautiful woman actually approaches me and not the other way around, so we’re clearly just acting on the edge of reality here, but bear with me.
Let’s say that Roger Federer wins Wimbledon. It’s not at all an outlandish scenario to pitch. In front of him is Berdych in the semifinals and then either Sam Querrey or Marin Cilic in the Final. It’s certainly plausible that he could lose at either stage. Berdych has beaten him in the past in Grand Slams, including at the All-England Club in 2010 and then again when Federer was looking in imperious form at the U.S. Open in 2012. Similarly, Cilic has shown the ability to handle – or even manhandle – Federer in the past. Those things being said, Federer will be a strong favorite in any potential match-up he may face the rest of the tournament.
So, let’s say he wins the tournament. Here’s how the rankings would look next Monday:
1. Andy Murray – 7,750
2. Rafael Nadal – 7,465
3. Roger Federer – 6,545
4. Novak Djokovic – 6,325
5. Stan Wawrinka – 6,140
When you look at just those numbers, it looks like quite a wide open race doesn’t it? Five guys – all of them multi-major champions – within 1,610 points of each other for the top spot?
But it’s not wide open. It’s most likely a two-horse race unless one of the other three has a truly incredible final gear to kick in as we head towards the home stretch.
The second half of last year’s tennis season is somewhat of a smudge in a lot of fans’ memories. There was no Federer, there was very little Nadal, and with them, a lot of the regular excitement about the sport seemed to be absent. And so some might not remember that Murray’s rise to the top spot in the rankings really all came in the second half of the season. It started with his win at Wimbledon, but there were a lot of other triumphs such that it will be hard for him to add to his point total before the end of the season.
Here’s a look at the points that Murray must defend for the rest of 2017:
– Cincinnati: 600
– U.S. Open: 360
– China Open: 500
– Shanghai Masters: 1,000
– Vienna Open: 500
– Paris Masters: 1,000
– ATP World Tour Finals: 1,500
That’s a total of 5,460 points to defend the rest of the way. That’s a lot of points. Now, of course he could pick up some points at the Canadian Open in Canada, which he didn’t play last season, as well as by an improved performance at the U.S. Open, but it is going to be very difficult for him to get anywhere near replicating his performance during the final few months of the season.
My prediction is that Murray will end the season with a similar point total to what he has now. He will take a few weeks off to rest his hip and then have solid performances in Canada and Cincinnati before improving his U.S. Open result as well. He will lose some points though in the autumn and not make it out of the group stage in London.
Next let’s jump over to Wawrinka. The defending U.S. Open champion will have plenty of chances to improve his point total, but it really hinges on one big thing. Here’s what the Stanimal has to live up to:
– Canadian Open: 360
– Cincinnati: 90
– U.S. Open: 2,000
– St. Petersburg Open: 150
– Shanghai Masters: 90
– Swiss Indoors: 90
– Paris Masters: 10
– ATP World Tour Finals: 200
So for Wawrinka, it really all comes down to minimizing how many points he loses from the U.S. Open. If he can defend his title he is in great shape to pick up a lot more points both beforehand in the U.S. Open Series and afterward. His results were lackluster in the latter half of last season outside of the big win in New York.
It’s certainly conceivable to think that Wawrinka could end the season about 1,000 points higher than he currently is. He’ll probably lose somewhere between 1,280 and 1,640 points from the U.S. Open, but he can create a cushion for that with better performances in Canada and Cincinnati. He can then add to his total quite a bit down the stretch thanks to his poor showings in Shanghai, Paris and London last season.
Finally for our forecasting fun, we have Djokovic. Here’s what he has to defend the rest of the year:
– U.S. Open: 1,200
– Shanghai Masters: 360
– Paris Masters: 180
– ATP World Tour Finals: 1,000
It’s not nearly as daunting of a task for the Djoker to defend the points that he has remaining in 2017, but it’s also worth noting that the Serb is well over 1,000 points back from Murray to begin with. The fact that he did not play at either the Canadian Open nor Cincinnati gives him room to improve, but it will be a difficult to task to live up to his appearances in the Finals of both the U.S. Open and the ATP World Tour Finals.
For Novak, the forecast is looking slightly up, but he still has so much less room to grow his point total than Federer and Nadal. Once again, with this race for Number 1, we’re back in 2008. It’s a two-horse race with Djokovic an undeniable threat, but still a solid third. I expect Djokovic to gain at least 1,000 points between the combination of Canada and Cincinnati. The safe bet is then to say that he’ll lose maybe 480 in New York or perhaps break even. In the autumn, he’ll have chances to pad his points thanks to his mediocre performances in Paris and Shanghai. I’d expect the Serb to finish the season solid, but not nearly as strong as he has in the past.
And that brings us to the two men once again at the head of the sport. They’ve won the first two majors of the season and one is the odds-on favorite to take the third.
Based on our speculative rankings listed earlier, Nadal has about a 900 point lead on Federer with about 300 more points to defend the rest of the season.
For Nadal, the path to Number 1 will require him to have a solid hardcourt summer season and a good showing in New York, he’ll likely need to make at least the semifinals. The issue for the Spaniard is that his body tends to break down near the end of the season. It has been some time since he has had anything close to a successful autumn. Even when healthy, he has not fared well in the Asian tournaments and then the final few tournaments of the year are on indoor hard courts which have undeniably been Rafa’s worst surface throughout his career.
With those factors in mind, should he win Wimbledon, I would have to tip my cap to Federer as the favorite to finish 2017 as World Number 1. The Swiss will have to match or best Nadal’s hardcourt showing in North America. If he is able to stay close in the race, Federer has a much better record on indoor hard courts than his great rival.
So there we have it. About 2,000 words of a lot of speculation. Federer and Nadal are in the driving seat for the year-end Number 1 ranking. Djokovic still has somewhat of a chance at it, and Wawrinka and Murray are on the outside looking in.
This has been a fun year guys, and it’s about to get even better. Nadal and Federer fans will surely be trash-talking each other quite a bit in the months to come (Welcome back to 2008 yet again), and Djokovic fans will likely be upset with me for this entire prediction as well, but along the way of stressing over second serves on break points, celebrating scintillating forehands, and scrutinizing every draw and matchup, don’t forget to just appreciate and enjoy what we’re seeing.
That beautiful girl from across the bar? It’s cool to be back together and it’s a really fun fling, but you both realize that you’re not soulmates. Enjoy the relationship now, it won’t last forever.