Sunday, January 10, 2016

What We Learned From Week 1 on the ATP Tour in 2016

There may be hope for a "youth" movement in 2016:  The one thing that's been missing from men's tennis in recent years is a young superstar who is good enough to challenge the Big Four.  While that's still a long ways away from happening, there were signs in the first week of the season that younger players (or at least guys younger than 27) are ready to make some moves.  19 year old Borna Coric reached the finals of Chennai where he fell to Stan Wawrinka, and in the process showed he may be poised for a true breakout season in 2016.  Milos Raonic topped Federer to win the Brisbane title, which is impressive even if Federer wasn't feeling 100%.  Also in Brisbane were the talented Grigor Dimitrov, Dominic Thiem and Bernard Tomic, who all had solid tournaments and look to be improved in the new season.  Moreover, 18 year old American Taylor Fritz continued his strong play in Challengers by rolling to the title in Happy Valley.  Given our lowered expectations at what constitutes a youth movement based on the recent past, tennis fans may be in for a pleasant surprise in 2016. 

Djokovic did not forget how to play tennis during the off-season:  If the rest of the tour was hoping that Djokovic lost a step during the off-season, they must be sorely disappointed after seeing what he did to Rafael Nadal in Doha.  The 14-time grand slam champion managed a grand total of 3 games against the World Number 1 in the Doha finals, and in doing so Djokovic sent a clear message to the rest of the tour that he plans on being just as dominant as ever in 2016.  It may be nearly impossible for Djokovic to top his epic 2015 season, but he's already off to a better start given that he lost to Karlovic in Doha to start off the previous season.  Djokovic has now won the last 6 tournaments he's played, and looks poised to have another dominant season in 2016.

The over 30 crowd may begin slowing down:  It wasn't a great week for the over 30 crowd on the ATP tour, and this could be a sign some of the tour's veterans may be in for a rough 2016.  33 and 34 year old Spaniards David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez both suffered surprising first round losses in Doha.  32 year old Gilles Muller got knocked out by a qualifier in Chennai, and 31 year old Gilles Simon fell to Dimitrov for the first time in his career in Brisbane.  And then there was that loss by Federer to Raonic, though Federer did look to be in good form during his run to the finals.  Maybe the over 30 contingent just came out a bit flat to start the season and will get it together soon, but their early struggles could be a sign of more problems to come in 2016.

Don't sleep on Wawrinka in 2016:  Wawrinka didn't drop a set in capturing the Chennai title, and looks to be a threat heading into Australia.  He's won a slam in each of the last 2 seasons, and could do so again in 2016 if a draw falls right.  He didn't get much attention heading into the season, which is justifiable given most people were focusing on Djokovic's dominance, Murray's momentum following his Davis Cup title and Federer's continued great form.  But if Stan stays focused and motivated (which he looked to be to start off the season), we shouldn't be surprised if the Swiss number 2 steals another big title or two in the new season. 

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