With the 2017 season soon to be underway, it’s time to make predictions for the eight World Tour Finals qualifiers—in order. Will either Andy Murray or Novak Djokovic be able to separate himself from the rest of the pack before the No. 1 ranking all comes down to the O2 Arena festivities again? Will Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer turn back the clock to their glory days? Will any newcomers crash the London party?
1) Novak Djokovic – There is no question that Djokovic will be one of eight World Tour Finals qualifiers in 2017. It really isn’t even up for debate if he will be one of the top two. Less than six months ago, though, it looked like the Serb would dominate the tour for the rest of the year and for years to come. Instead, Djokovic collapsed–at least by his lofty standards–after winning the French Open for the first time and Murray eventually seized the year-end No. 1 ranking. A refocused Djokovic should be able to avoid the same fate this season.
2) Andy Murray – Due mostly to injuries sustained by Nadal, Federer, and even Juan Martin Del Potro, there is a “big two” in the upper echelons of tennis right now as opposed to something less exclusive. Getting to No. 1, which Murray did for the first time ever at this fall’s Paris Masters, was difficult. Staying there may be even tougher. Just ask Murray, himself. The Scot managed to maintain the top spot and finish the year with that distinction by surviving a brutal World Tour Finals in which he won three-plus-hour thrillers over Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic. It will be interesting to see how Murray handles a full season with a bullseye on his back.
3) Milos Raonic – Injuries are really the only thing that can slow Raonic down on a consistent basis. He had his fair share of them once again this past season and still finished at a career-high ranking of No. 3. Like it or not, the Canadian’s all-court game has improved dramatically. Label him him a “serve-bot” at your own peril; that is certainly not what was on display when he reached the World Tour Finals semis and came within one point of booking a spot in the championship match. The 2016 Wimbledon runner-up should be a force at the top of the game from start to finish in 2017…if he stays healthy.
4) Rafael Nadal – Speaking of health, or a lack thereof, Nadal has spent far too long on the sideline throughout his career for his fans’ liking. This past year was no different, as the 14-time major champion was felled by a wrist injury in the middle of his favorite event–the French Open. That forced him out of Wimbledon, too, and prevented him from playing at any point in the fall. Nadal returned briefly to capture Olympic doubles gold with Marc Lopez, but he suffered rough final-set singles losses to Kei Nishikori in the bronze-medal match and to Lucas Pouille in the U.S. Open fourth round. Still, we saw enough in 2016 to know that a Nadal who is even close to 100 percent remains one of the best players in the world.
5) Roger Federer – The “Fedal” era, of course, is over. Those two all-time greats no longer dominate the sport and they never will again. But they also aren’t about to pull the rip cord on their careers, Ana Ivanovic style. Nor should they. Now into their 30s (Federer, in fact, is already into the second half of his 30s), they remain arguably two of the four best players in the world when healthy. The 17-time Grand Slam winner missed much of 2016 with knee problems, but he made a run to the Wimbledon semis and came within one set of making another final appearance. And having been forced to rest for so many months this past season, a rejuvenated Federer could be on display in 2017.
6) Kei Nishikori – Nishikori has become the guy who just hangs around the top 10–really the top five, even–without making much noise. In other words, he is now what Tomas Berdych was when the Czech was at the zenith of his career. Nishikori has not seriously contended at slams since finishing runner-up to Marin Cilic at the 2014 U.S. Open (although he did upset Murray at this past summer’s New York City festivities), but he rarely gets bounced out early from the big tournaments by lesser-ranked players. Nishikori should have no trouble making a return trip to London as long as he avoids any serious physical issues, but he will probably do so without much fanfare or headlines.
7) Stan Wawrinka – Similar to Djokovic’s plight in 2016, Wawrinka fizzled in the aftermath of his greatest triumph. The Swiss won the U.S. Open for the first time and for the third major title of his career, but he slumped through the fall swing. At 31 years old (turns 32 in March), Wawrinka is the oldest man in the top 10 and even the oldest player until Federer comes in at 16th in the rankings. Although the current world No. 4 will exit his prime sooner rather than later, his slam-winning days may not be over. And his days of qualifying for the year-end championship should be here to stay for at least one more season.
8) Dominic Thiem – Throughout the first half of 2016, Thiem was a trendy pick to be the next player to win a Grand Slam for the first time. After all, he was lifting winners’ trophies left and right and also accounting himself well on the big stage (French Open semis). During the second half, however, the 23-year-old was dubbed just another young gun in a league well below the likes of Djokovic, Murray, and Wawrinka while being criticized–and rightly so–for too rigorous of a schedule. If the Austrian returns 100 percent from a much-needed offseason and makes smarter scheduling decisions, his talent is such that he should be back in London.
Alternate 1 – Marin Cilic
Alternate 2 – Grigor Dimitrov
Top challengers – Nick Kyrgios, David Goffin, Alexander Zverev
Comments and your own predictions are encouraged!