- Chris Sobey
2016 Tennis review
The 2016 tennis season proved to be a season of two halves in terms of the ATP tours top two players Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. After defending his Australian Open title, winning three of the first five Masters Series events (Indian Wells, Miami and Madrid) and winning that elusive French Open for the first time, it looked like Djokovic would go on to further dominate the men’s tour and further close the gap on Roger Federer’s record of 17 Grand Slam titles.
However, after winning the French Open Djokovic season took a nose dive, only winning one more title, albeit the Canadian Masters, which extended his Masters Series title record to 26. Andy Murray was still some way behind Djokovic in the rankings race, but he kept tags on his biggest rival by reaching the Australian Open final, Madrid Masters final, won the Rome Masters and made his first French Open final.
After a disappointing first half of the season by his standards Murray was still playing his way in to form and what followed proved to be arguably the best spell of his career. He defended his Queens title, cruised to a second Wimbledon and Olympic title, won two more Masters Series titles at Shanghai and Paris, taking his overall tally to 12 ahead of Roger Federer, and won two ATP 500 titles at Beijing and Vienna.
Heading in to the season ending finale the ATP World Tour finals in London, Murray was leading the singles rankings race, and if he won this title he was also set to end the season as the official World number one, a feat he had never achieved in his career. For the ATP Tour the ideal scenario was Djokovic and Murray to meet in the final in a straight shoot out for the number one ranking and both players duly complied. Djokovic reached the final at a canter while Murray had to really dig deep, especially in his semi-final against Raonic, coming from a set down to win 5-7 7-6 7-6 in over three and a half hours.
After this marathon match the omens did not look good for Murray going in to the final, but there were no signs of fatigue or stress and as all real champions do Murray raised his game in the final. Roared on by a partisan home crowd he brushed aside the former world number one in straight sets to land his first World Tour Finals title and more importantly confirm his status as the World’s number one player for the first time.
Milos Raonic 2016 season was the best of his career, ending the season ranked three in the world, and while he only won one tournament at Brisbane, his results and consistency at the bigger events improved considerably. His improvement in terms of consistency and results came not from his trademark serving, but a vast improvement in his return game. This improvement bore out in terms of some of his achievements, which included reaching the Australian Open semi-finals, where he lost an agonising five setter due to injury against Murray, the final of the Indian Wells Masters and his first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon.
World number four Stan Wawrinka continues to prove that age is no barrier to big success as he added a third Grand Slam title to his resume in 2016, as well as three ATP Tour titles at Chennai, Dubai and Geneva. The 31 year old had shown no real sign that he was a serious contender at the US Open as his form leading up to the event was distinctly average. However, just like when he won the French Open, he reached the latter stages flying under the radar, but once he had a sniff of the reaching the final and a chance at winning the title he stepped up his game and once again in a Grand Slam final out powered and played Djokovic.
Other top-10 stars like Nishikori ranked five, Cilic six and Thiem eight all have age on their side still, and will no doubt be challenging Murray and Djokovic for the major tournaments again in 2017, along with Raonic and Wawrinka. I personally don’t think it will be long before Raonic and Nishikori win their first Grand Slam titles, as long as they can stay 100% fit, and Dominic Thiem will no doubt win the French Open in the future.
Two of the games biggest ever stars, multiple Slam winners and former world number ones Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer were out of the picture in terms of the Grand Slams during the 2016 season. Nadal just managed to hold on to his top-10 status while Federer has slipped to 16 in the rankings. It’s safe to say Federer at the age of 35 will no doubt retire this season after one final attempt to end his career on a major high note while Nadal should be competitive during the European clay court swing at least, but is unlikely to be challenging for Grand Slam titles again.
The most improved player in 2016 was young French star Lucas Pouille aged 22, who won a first ATP title at Metz and ended the season ranked 15 after starting the season ranked 91. He was closely followed by Germany’s Alexander Zverev who ended the season ranked 24 after starting it ranked outside the top-80 and he won a first ATP title at St Petersburg. 2016 was also a breakthrough season for Britain’s Kyle Edmund aged 21 and Dan Evans aged 26. Edmunds broke in to the top-50 for the first time in his career ending it ranked 45, while Evans reached a career high ranking of 66.
Other young players to breakthrough in 2016 and who have the potential to be future stars of the ATP Tour were American 19 year old Taylor Fritz who reached his first ATP final at Memphis and ended the season ranked 76. Russia’s Karen Kachanov aged 20 started the 2016 season ranked outside the top-100. He was the youngest player to win an ATP title in 2016 at Chengdu and ended the season ranked 53. After a strong end to the 2016 season compatriot Dannil Medvedev aged 20 also broke in to the top-100 for the first time, after starting the season ranked outside the top-100.
While there was plenty of highlights for the up and coming players on the ATP Tour in 2016 it was the seasoned pros and veterans who dominated overall, and players aged 28 or over won 46 of the 69 total ATP titles. Ivo Karlovic aged 37 was the oldest player winning two ATP titles at Newport and Los Cabos, and he ended the season ranked in the top-20, followed closely by Victor Estrella Burgos who won the Ecuador Open and ended the season ranked 102.