2017 – The Echo Year?
2018 – The Realigning Year?
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal neatly divided most of the biggest prizes in tennis in 2017. It looked a lot like 2005-2010 in which the two won all but 3 majors. I called 2017 “the Echo Year” to my friends.
Yet, something odd happened at the close of 2017. Jack Sock won the Bercy. Sock is a solid player, but this result seemed really out of character for a Masters 1000 event. Then David Goffin won the World Tour Finals. Goffin is a more elite player than Sock, but Goffin was the least likely World Tour Finals champion since Nikolay Davydenko’s 2009 championship.
2018 has continued an interesting trend. JMDP is a former major champion who holds two Olympic singles medals. In some sense, his lack of a Masters 1000 shield was more a result of his injury issues than being a shock winner. Still, JMDP followed Sock as two consecutive players winning their maiden Masters 1000 shield. John Isner just won his first Masters 1000 event.
Three consecutive first time Masters 1000 event winners has not happened since 2003.
How did 2003 begin?
A Decorated Veteran Won the Australian Open
2003 was the end of the Sampras-Agassi Era. Agassi won his final major to open the year after finishing 2002 with a US Open runner-up finish. Agassi grabbed the #1 ranking early in 2003. Juan Carlos Ferrero won Monte Carlo, Roland Garros, and Madrid (then a hard court title). Roger Federer won Wimbledon and the World Tour Finals (then called the Masters Cup). Andy Roddick won the US Open beating Juan Carlos Ferrero along with Masters 1000 (then called Masters Series) events in Cincinnati and Canada. Roddick, Ferrero, and Federer combined to win 3 majors, 4 Masters 1000 shields, and the World Tour Finals to end a year that looked to be dominated by veterans at its outset.
2003 did Realign the Tennis World but 2018 May Be More Chaotic
Juan Carlos Ferrero’s health issues undermined his strong career. Andy Roddick spent a decade in the top 10. Roger Federer is currently ranked #2 in tennis in 2018. The realignment of 2003 was spearheaded by 3 outstanding players and buttressed in 2004 and 2005 by the continued excellence of Lleyton Hewitt and by a resurgent Marat Safin. If one adds in, David Nalbandian and Fernando Gonzalez, a coherent generation of players supplanted an aging generation of players. By 2005, Rafael Nadal jumped into the mix despite being 4-6 years younger than most of the New Balls Generation.*
three consecutive first-time Masters 1000 champions:
Paris – Sock
Indian Wells – Del Potro
Miami – Isner
first time this has happened since 2003:
Hamburg – Coria
Rome – Mantilla
Canada – Roddick
— Ricky Dimon (@Dimonator) April 1, 2018
2018 may realign tennis, but as good as Dominic Thiem, Sascha Zverev, Hyeon Chung, Denis Shapolav, and company seem to be, it does not look like they are ready for a wholesale takeover of tennis. Juan Carlos Ferrero had already reached a Roland Garros final in 2002, Roger Federer had beaten Pete Sampras in a 5 set thriller on Centre Court at Wimbledon in 2001, and Andy Roddick had taken eventual US Open Champion Lleyton Hewitt to 5 sets in 2001. Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin had already won majors and held the #1 ranking when these next 3 broke through in 2003.
No generational forerunners have taken those type of trophies or honors home as of yet for today’s most talented younger players. If 2018 is a realigning year, my expectation is that it will be more jumbled. John Isner is 32 and turned pro in 2007. Winning a Masters 1000 event in 2018 was a breakthrough for Isner, but it was also a breakthrough that came after over a decade on the ATP Tour.
With Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Stan Wawrinka injured, with Rafael Nadal being a question mark heading into the clay court season, and with Roger Federer playing a limited schedule, the opportunities for everyone on the tour to grab big trophies are bigger than they have been since __________________ (1990, 1998, 2001, 2003 … take your pick)?
Of course, we could get a double echo. Rafael Nadal is the odds-on pick to win Roland Garros for an 11th time unless his injuries are truly severe. Roger Federer may shake his recent form off by the time Halle comes around. By the summer, many decorated players may be getting back to their full form. The door of opportunity may be a mirage. Still, since Bercy 2017 began a lot of unexpected winners have taken home big prizes. That may be worth monitoring.
* Is Federer the oldest New Ball ever?