by: Nima Naderi
In a year that saw a monumental effort by Andy Murray to overtake Novak Djokovic as the top ranked player in the ATP World Tour rankings, the same could not be said for likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Once known as the Big 2 in the sport, the tandem of Fedal never met on the opposite sides on the net in 2016, both playing reduced schedules because of injury or illness.
With the dawn of a new calendar season upon us in 2017, how will the landscape of the top 10 unfold when the year is all said and done? Will Murray hold onto the top spot? Does Djokovic have the fight to regain his momentum? Will Nadal find his potent forehand of yesteryear? Will Federer’s significant time off and lack of match play send him out of the top 20, or spearhead him back into the top five? There are of course many other talented young up-and-comers as well as season veterans that will cover the terrain of the Tour throughout twenty seventeen. Most notably, the foursome of Nick Kyrgios, Lucas Pouille, Jack Sock and Alexander Zverev all have realistic chances of reaching the top 10 based on either raw power or fitness.
This upcoming year could very well be one of the toughest top 10 finishes to predict in recent memory because of the aging stars and the vigor that many of the youngsters possess.
It doesn’t appear that a player will burst onto the scene from nowhere and crack the top 10, but if Murray’s heroics towards the second half of the 2016 showed us anything, it was that we should never be surprised by any outcome.
That said, here’s a projected look at how the top 10 ATP rankings could end after the 2017 season.
To checkout how we fared in our 2016 top 10 prospects, click here.
Projected Top 10 for 2017:
- Andy Murray: Never thinking of Murray as dominate world No. 1 could be a grave mistake for anyone who has doubted him in the past. He has worked tremendously hard to reach the pinnacle of the sport, and his consistency and fitness took him to five titles in a row to end 2016. If he plays well to start the year—particularly in Indian Wells and Miami—then No. 1 should be a lock for him in 2017.
- Novak Djokovic: There have been many questions surrounding Nole’s relative decline in 2016, but there’s no question that he still has many good years left at the top. If he can win his seventh title in Australia, that will set him on the right path for the rest of the year. If he doesn’t, then a free fall outside of the top five could take place. It’s just really hard to see that happening.
- Kei Nishikori: Kei really is that “if” type of player. If he had a better serve, he could be No. 1. If he were fitter, he would win majors. But with all of the ifs aside, Nishikori is an exquisite shot-maker that hits the ball earlier than both Murray and Djokovic. If he stays healthy for the duration of the season, then another good year is in store for him.
- Stan Wawrinka: The man with firepower to spare is always a delight to watch when he’s on full tilt. His performance at the US Open was memorable and it’s conceivable for him to be on fire during one of the four majors in 2017. Could he complete his grand slam collection at Wimbledon? His least favorite surface would suggest otherwise, but he does have the serve and slice backhand for a deep run at SW19.
- Roger Federer: With no points to defend at Indian Wells, Miami or post Wimbledon, Federer can only improve on his current rank of No. 16. Now, he does turn 36 in August and one has to think that even the Mastero is bound to slow down at sometime, but when you look at how much Roger enjoys the sport, his talent will keep him in the top five for at least one more year.
- Milos Raonic: Has the Canadian plateaued? His serve is off the charts and he has improved the other facets of his game but it’s hard to see him ever moving like Murray or defending like Djokovic. Tennis has had many players in the past hold a monster serve and be successful, but winning majors these days is based on liquid-like movement and great defense. Saying that, improving the speed on his second serve will give Raonic a shot at more slam finals.
- Dominic Thiem: Showing his talented and immaturity all in one year got Thiem into a top 10 finish. He played a lot and dazzled us all with his potent backhand, but his efforts saw him hit the burn out button far too early in the season. Better scheduling and improved play on faster surfaces will only help his cause going forward.
- Marin Cilic: Playing with calm and precision will have Cilic in and around the top 10 for the foreseeable future. Goran Ivanisevic really helped fix his serve and now that he has won a slam, Masters 1000 and numerous other tournaments, the pressure really does seem to be off for the Croat. Don’t be surprised to see Marin in the final four of a major in 2017.
- Nick Kyrgios: For all of the flack that Kyrgios received in 2016, he did finish as the thirteenth best player on the planet and won three titles (most notably in Japan, a 500 level event). Yes, his actions in Shanghai were uncalled for and his loss to Denis Shapovalov in Toronto was a head-scratcher at best. But what no one can argue with is when Kyrgios is engaged and slamming his serve and ripping his forehand in the corners, he’s about as effective as any player on the circuit.
- Rafa Nadal: Adding good friend and former world No. 1 Carlos Moya to his coaching staff for 2017 may not be enough for Nadal. The sizzle in his forehand has been absent for a while and he has so much mileage on his legs that he can’t run around the ball like he once did. However, this is Nadal that we’re talking about and he’ll continue to find a way to stay competitive.
Agree or disagree with the projected top 10 for 2017? There were some key names missing that we’ve seen present in the top 10 for many years. Times are changing and tennis is no exception to that evolution.
Players to watch for that will create some noise in 2017:
Alexander Zverev: The 19-year-old is currently ranked No. 24 and moving up quickly. With all the shots at his disposal, Zverev is probably another 18 months out of a top 10 spot. Look for him to finish 2017 between 12-15.
Lucas Pouille: Finishing as a quarterfinalist at both Wimbledon and the US Open proved that this fit Frenchman is the real deal. The word on the street is that he’s shopping around for a new racket contract and we all know how those turn out at the beginning. There is a break-in period that could cause Lucas a few early round losses. Look for Pouille to finish 2017 between 15-20.
Juan Martin del Potro: Far from being an up-and-comer, Delpo raised his ranking from 1048 to No. 38 in 2016. Now, even though that feat was ultra impressive, moving into the top 20 and beyond may be a lot to ask for the injury-prone Argentine. However, del Potro has proven time and time again that he can mix it up with anyone on Tour. Look for much of the same in 2017.
Taylor Fritz: Ranked No. 76, Fritz will need time to develop. His movement is not where it needs to be and his fitness can also improve. A top 50 finish would be positive for the Cali native.
Frances Tiafoe: While he surely can improve on his technique, Tiafoe’s lightening movement and sneaky fast serve are more than enough for him to get an abundance of wins in the Challenger circuit. Sitting at the 108th spot to finish 2016, Tiafoe still has many ways to improve on his impressive skill set. Look for him to finish between 50-60 in 2017.
Reilly Opelka: You can’t teach height. That is a certainly. When looking at the prospects of 6’10” Opelka, we know he can serve and cover the net for days. But what you might not know is that his movement in relation to his height is impressive. Taking care of his body will be the ultimate key to his success. A place between 80-100 to end 2016 would be satisfying.
Denis Shapovalov: Still only 17, this left-hander from Canada is ready to make his move on the pro Tour. His elaborate backhand and willingness to come to the net are encouraging signs for his future. Finishing around 150 in 2017 would be a good achievement.
Felix Auger-Aliassime: Another Canadian, but this time a year younger at 16. Touted as one of the game’s next superstars, Felix already has many of the gifts that are needed to battle on Tour. Time is on his side and there’s no question that he’s moving in the right direction. Being ranked 250 in the world to end off 2017 sounds about right.