The signs were there early that this was not going to be a year when it was business as usual on the men’s tour. In the second round of the Australian Open in January, two-time defending champion and world No. 2 Novak Djokovic was upset 7-6(8), 5-7, 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 by No. 117 Denis Istomin. Then world No. 1 Andy Murray went out 7-5, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 in the round-of-16 to No. 50 Mischa Zverev.
In the final 2016 rankings, Murray had 12,410 points and Djokovic 11,780 – both more than twice the 5,450 total for No. 3 Milos Raonic.
No one could have imagined that both Murray (although not officially) and Djokovic would end their 2017 seasons after Wimbledon. And, as it turned out, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal being the Australian Open finalists was a clear sign of things to come. The two superstars in the sport, Federer (six months) and Nadal (two-and-a-half months) have had terrific rebounds after taking year-end breaks – dividing 2017’s four Grand Slams between them and currently sitting atop the rankings. Nadal has 9,875 points and Federer 7,505. Murray is not far behind with 6,290 but he has a whopping 4,000 to ‘defend’ between now and the end of 2017.
While the two guys at the top in 2016 – Murray and Djokovic – have disappeared in the second half of the year, things aren’t much better for the players who finished last year at No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5.
Milos Raonic, No. 3, had a left wrist issue that cropped up after his fourth-round match at Wimbledon against Sascha Zverev and got worse during Rogers Cup in Montreal before requiring surgery on August 23rd that he described as “simply a cleaning.”
He then injured his right calf in his second match back in Tokyo last week and his status is uncertain with just three more weeks remaining in the season. “I felt a sharp pain at the back of my leg,” Raonic said in Tokyo last week. “It’s been a difficult and frustrating year. I obviously wish I could have focused on tennis more rather than chasing help all the time.”
Stan Wawrinka, No. 4, had left knee surgery in mid-August and is out of action until 2018. He had right knee surgery a decade ago in 2007.
Kei Nishikori, No. 5, withdrew from Cincinnati in August before the event began with a ruptured tendon in his right wrist and had it immobilized in hopes of not requiring surgery. He’s out until next year and may not be back until February.
The three joined Murray (hip) and Djokovic (elbow) as notable absentees at the 2017 US Open and are definitely, except for Raonic and possibly Murray, off the tour for the rest of the year.
Even Federer, with a back issue during the final of Rogers Cup in August in Montreal, has struggled through injury – missing Cincinnati and not appearing to be quite 100 per cent at the US Open when he lost to Juan Martin del Potro in the quarter-finals.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to know how and why there has been such a rash of top-player injuries – although, except for Raonic and Nishikori, 26 and 27 respectively, all the other players are 30 or older.
In the 2001-2002 period, there were a number of hip problems – usually the right hip – and speculation then was that the open-stance forehand could be the cause. Gustavo Kuerten (2002), Magnus Norman (2001), Sargis Sargsian (2002) and Harel Levy (2001) all had hip surgeries.
Recently, the hip has not been as much of a problem and Raonic’s hip injury in 2011 did not come as a result of late-career wear-and-tear but simply after a freakish slip on damp grass at the back of Wimbledon’s Court 3.
Perhaps all the injured players will be revitalized in 2018 – just as Nadal and Federer have been this year.
In the meantime, going off his performances recently, including his 6-2, 6-1 victory over Nick Kyrgios in Sunday’s final of the China Open in Beijing, Nadal is playing great tennis. His backhand was so good against Kyrgios that it almost seems better than his vaunted forehand. It certainly finds superior angles.
The 31-year-old Spaniard’s comeback in 2017 has been exceptional. He has gotten stronger with each passing month.
It goes without saying that he, and Federer, are the examples the Murrays, Djokovics, Raonics etc. would hope to emulate in 2018.
HOORAY FOR HALEP
Simona Halep has one of the sunniest dispositions on the WTA tour so it’s not hard to be happy for her after she reached No. 1 in the rankings by making it to the final of the China Open in Beijing on Sunday.
She lost the match 6-4, 7-6(3) to red-hot Caroline Garcia, who’s on a remarkable 11-match winning streak that has included back-to-back titles in Wuhan and Beijing, and reaching the No. 9 ranking and the eighth and final position for the WTA Finals in Singapore.
In June, Halep, leading Jelena Ostapenko by a set and 3-0 in the second set of the French Open final, was three games away from her first Grand Slam title and attaining the No. 1 ranking.
The pressure and anxiety related to accomplishing those two goals seemed to get the better of her and a resurgent 20-year-old Ostapenko came back to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Now 26, Halep becomes the 25th woman to make it to No. 1 since the introduction of computer rankings in 1975. She also has been inside the top-10 for 195 weeks since January 27, 2014 – the longest such streak among current players.
While only winning one title in 2017 – the Premier mandatory event in Madrid in May – she has been in finals at Roland Garros, Rome and Cincinnati. She has also been involved in two of the best matches of the year – losing a superbly-played 6-7(2), 7-5(5), 6-4 quarter-final to Johanna Konta at Wimbledon and then competing valiantly during a blockbuster US Open first-round 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 loss to Maria Sharapova.
There has been a lot of musical chairs going on with the WTA top spot. The following five players have held it since the spring – Serena Williams (April 24), Angelique Kerber (May 15), Karolina Pliskova (July 17), Garbiñe Muguruza (September 11) and Halep (October 9).
At the year-end BNP Paribas WTA Finals beginning in two weeks in Singapore, any of the top-seven players – from Halep at No. 1 to Ostapenko at No. 7 – could wind up being the year-end No. 1.
Also at the WTA Finals will be Gabriela Dabrowski and her Chinese partner Xu Yifan. They are in the eighth and final spot in doubles but will likely move up because the No. 3 team – Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova – are not playing as Mattek-Sands mends following her gruesome knee injury at Wimbledon.
The 25-year-old Dabrowski, ranked No. 18, will be the first Canadian to play at the WTA Finals since Genie Bouchard in 2014.
SHAPOVALOV IS MOVING UP
In Monday’s ATP rankings, Denis Shapovalov, 18 years and five months, entered the top-50 at No. 50. He’s the youngest player to break into the top-50 since Rafael Nadal did so at 17 years and two months on August 4, 2003.
Shapovalov’s great friend, Félix Auger-Aliassime, last month became the youngest player, at 17 years and one month, in the top-200 since Nadal on December 12, 2002. Auger-Aliassime broke inside the top-200 at No. 168. He’s currently at a career-best No. 159.
Shapovalov becomes the sixth Canadian to reach the top-50 since computer rankings were introduced in August 1973. Here’s the list with each player’s highest ranking:
Milos Raonic: No. 3 (Nov. 2016)
Vasek Pospisil: No. 25 (Jan. 2014)
Andrew Sznajder: No. 46 (Sept. 1989)
Greg Rusedski: No. 47 (May, 1995)
Glenn Michibata: No. 48 (April, 1986)
Denis Shapovalov: No. 50 (Oct. 2017)
Raonic, making an appearance in the ESPN booth during the US Open, had kind words regarding Shapovalov. “It’s been fun to watch,” he said about Shapovalov’s rapid rise in the rankings. “Montreal, here (US Open), both of them, he stepped up when he had the opportunities and for myself it was especially fun to watch being Canadian.
“He plays with that fire, he uses the crowd well, he’s stepped up when he had the chance.”
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) October 10, 2017
Despite this impressive leaping backhand, Shapovalov lost his opening-round match at the Shanghai Rolex Masters on Tuesday – going out 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-0 to No. 54-ranked Viktor Troicki of Serbia. His next scheduled event is the ATP 250 tournament in Antwerp, Belgium, next week.
DURANT TOWERS OVER FEDERER
This picture of Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors was taken when he was in Shanghai for an exhibition basketball game while Roger Federer, 6-foot-1, was there for the ATP Masters 1000 event.
Durant is supposedly 6-foot-9 but the following from CBSsports.com is likely more accurate: Kevin Durant is not 6-9. He is not close to 6-9. He is not 6-9 without shoes, he is not 6-9 when he slouches, he is not 6-9 under any circumstances. Whenever Durant is standing next to 6-10 or 6-11 players, you always notice “Hey, 6-9 Kevin Durant is taller than that guy who is taller than 6-9.” This has been the worst kept secret but it’s been held up forever. Durant wanted to be seen at 6-9 for whatever reason, so his teams held to it.
Here’s Federer getting the royal treatment while visiting the Golden State Warriors’ locker room before a game in Shanghai.
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) October 8, 2017
Feature photo courtesy: TennisTV.com