With the 2016 ATP World Tour campaign three weeks away, the Grandstand’s Ricky Dimon and Steen Kirby of Tennis Atlantic answer 10 intriguing questions in advance of the upcoming season.
1) Will Novak Djokovic dominate the ATP Tour again in 2016?
Ricky: Yes. To the extent that he did in 2015? Probably not, but he will still finish the year No. 1 by a wide margin. How wide will be determined by the clay-court swing–more specifically, by whether or not Rafael Nadal returns to his clay-court form of old. I will predict that Djokovic wins two majors, but I think he has a better chance of winning three than of winning one.
Steen: While I expect Roger Federer, Andy Murray, and a renewed Nadal (plus potentially Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka) to test him in slams and Masters, Djokovic is still in his prime and remains the most well-rounded, fittest player on tour. He’ll hold onto world No. 1 and win at least two majors, with a Grand Slam possible but not probable.
2) Will Djokovic win the elusive Roland Garros title?
Ricky: No–unless Nadal is less than 100 percent physically when the French Open rolls around. The Spaniard is already playing much better than he was throughout most of 2015 and he should be in peak form time for next spring. Nadal will win his 10th title there. And even if he doesn’t, it’s not like Djokovic would be lock. He got taken to five by Andy Murray this year and then lost to Stan Wawrinka.
Steen: Going to say no on this one. Nadal should be better if he can stay healthy and continue his end-of-season form from this year. Additionally, clay presents the best chance for Djokovic to get knocked out by another challenger. In all likelihood 2015 was his best shot at this title, and he came up short.
3) Will Djokovic win the calendar-year Grand Slam?
Ricky: No. Even if he wins the French (and the Australian), he will still have a long way to go. Throwing the Olympics into the mix–even though it doesn’t count toward the CYGS–doesn’t help. It will be hard for anyone to stay in absolute top mental and physical condition through so many huge tournaments in such a short time frame to win every single major title.
Steen: Referring to my answer on questions 1 and 2, no. Murray will have a shot at Wimbledon, along with Federer. Nadal and Wawrinka will have their chances on clay, and the hard-court majors could see an outsider such as Nishikori step up and win a slam, as well. Djokovic has a shot at three slams, but it would take luck to get all four.
4) Among Federer, Nadal and Murray, who will finish above the others?
Ricky: Nadal. I saw enough positive things from him at the World Tour Finals to feel confident in a return to No. 2 in the world next season. The combination of a healthy Nadal and a boatload of clay-court tournaments on the schedule will be too much for anyone other than Djokovic to stop. Obviously this is contingent on his health–just as it would be for anyone else.
Steen: Nadal should return to the top 4, but Murray’s improvement on clay and Federer’s consistency should allow them to remain in some order of the 2 and 3 spots with Djokovic at No. 1. Scheduling will also have some impact, but I’ll go with Murray’s well-rounded game to get him to No. 2.
5) Juan Martin Del Potro?
Ricky: I’m done making predictions on Del Potro. I’ll just be happy if he returns sometime in the first few months of 2016, stays relatively injury-free, and plays occasional tournaments–the last three slams, maybe a couple of Masters 1000s, and few other random events–throughout the year. Okay, whatever–I’ll at least make a not-so-bold prediction: Del Potro will finish in the top 100…but just barely.
Steen: He’s been out of the game for so long the rust factor along will mean it will take him half a season to acclimate to ATP-style tennis–and that’s if he can stay healthy and have some kind of a backhand. Del Potro surely is still a good power hitter, but a more limited version should result in a ranking outside the top 50. He could be an occasional factor in 250s and 500s, but not much else.
6) Who will have the better year: Nick Kyrgios or Jack Sock?
Ricky: “Better” in terms of being ranked higher? Kyrgios. Sock will be more consistent, but Kyrgios’ ceiling–at least right now–is higher. It would not be that shocking to see the Aussie reach another Grand Slam quarterfinal (or two) or even a semifinal. A Masters 1000 final also would not be too much of a surprise. Those kinds of big results will inflate his ranking. Sock also won’t helped by the fact that he will once again play a ton of doubles with Vasek Pospisil and try to make another run at the World Tour Finals.
Steen: Sock should have the better year due to his consistency and mental stability. Kyrgios has the talent and he’s clutch, but you never know when the wheels will come off and staying healthy could also be a concern. Sock has a more difficult schedule, but I see his steady improvement enough to give him a chance to challenge for the American No. 1 spot.
7) Will someone outside the Big 4 win a Grand Slam title? Or even reach a slam final?
Ricky: No. Definitely not a title and probably not even a final. Wawrinka proved he is no one-hit wonder, but a third slam victory is asking too much. I don’t see another run being made by Marin Cilic or Kei Nishikori. Potential finals could be made by Milos Raonic at Wimbledon and John Isner at the U.S. Open if they serve out of this world for a whole fortnight, but even those are long-shots at best.
Steen: I don’t see someone outside the big 4 winning a slam title, but I think we’ll see at least one non-Big four finalist in a slam this year. Federer, Murray, and Nadal off of clay are all vulnerable to an upset before the final in a way Djokovic isn’t. Wawrinka, Nishikori, and even players like Tsonga, Raonic, or Kyrgios have the ability to make runs on multiple surfaces.
8) Who is you best bet to qualify for the World Tour Finals that didn’t in 2015? And whom will he replace?
Ricky: I wouldn’t be overly surprised if it’s the exact same field of eight. David Ferrer is the obvious choice to exit, but I’m done forecasting the Spaniard’s relative demise. The guy is an absolute machine–and will continue to be regardless of his age. If I had to pick any change, I’d go with John Isner replacing Nishikori. Whichever one stays healthier throughout the entire season could punch his ticket to London.
Steen: Fabio Fognini has the talent, but most likely a Frenchman will find his way into the top 8. It could be either Gasquet or Tsonga, with an outside chance of a healthy Monfils. Ferrer or Tomas Berdych could potentially slip up, and a player like Nishikori is brittle enough to get hurt and miss the top 8 because of missed time on tour.
9) How many Americans will finish the season in the Top 50?
Ricky: I’ll go with five, which is two more than the current number. Isner and Sock are obviously locks. Steve Johnson is on the rise and is already up to 32nd. Sam Querrey is boring but should be able to get back into the mix. Donald Young is the risky pick here, but he should do enough damage at home in the United States to finish in the top 50. None of the young guns will be ready by 2016 and Ryan Harrison won’t get into enough main draws with his current ranking of No. 113.
Steen: Four Americans is my call, Isner, Sock, and Johnson should be able to hold serve in the top 50, and Young, Querrey, and Denis Kudla have the ability to do the same–with dark-horse shots for Jared Donaldson or Francis Tiafoe should they catch fire and take advantage of their wild-card opportunities.
10) Best year: Goffin, Paire, Tomic, or Thiem?
Ricky: This one will likely come down to Goffin or Thiem. Paire and Tomic are wildly inconsistent both on the court in the head. The Frenchman also has an extensive history of injuries. Thiem may eventually have a better career than Goffin and the Austrian has the firepower with which to win slams. But the Belgian is 25 years old to Thiem’s 22. In this era, 25 is much closer to prime-time. Both guys are all-court players who can rack up points whenever, wherever. They are headed for the top 10 at some point, but Goffin will get closer in 2015.
Steen: Paire could make some deep runs and notch upset wins, but Goffin should finish ranked the highest and have the best season overall. He’s a consistent ball-striker with a clear head–unlike Paire and Tomic–and his peak outside clay is better than Thiem’s. Thiem should have a good clay-court season, but points and performance-wise Goffin should maintain the edge this year and continue his top-20 form.