New Year. New Me.
Lose weight. Travel more. Complain less. Stop getting my hopes up for Nick Kyrgios. Some new year’s resolutions are easier to follow through than others, but it never stops us from making them. After all, we’re only human.
Naturally that extends to tennis players too. They may be more skilled than us at our favourite sport, not to mention more famous, athletic, wealthy and have better hair, but even they can benefit from some goal-setting, so to ring in the new year, why not set some for some of the biggest names in tennis?
Novak Djokovic – Re-enter the GOAT Conversation
Suffice to say, 2018 was a year of two halves for old Novak Djokovic. Through Roland Garros the Serb was a shell of his former self, to the point that he openly admitted he might not play Wimbledon. Six months later he finds himself a back-to-back slam champion, the number one player in the world, and more air between him and the rest of the field than we’ve seen in quite some time.
With that in mind, now is the time to really stick it to the rest of the ATP tour. At 31, it would be unrealistic (although as we’ve seen, entirely possible) for him to endure another swoon and bounce back to dominance, and that means right now, while every tournament (barring the French) goes through him, he has to really rack up the slams. Two majors should be his goal at a minimum in 2019.
Naomi Osaka – Avoid the Sophomore Slump
A player as talented at tennis as she is bad at giving speeches, 2018 proved to be the breakout we all believed was coming for Naomi Osaka. Obscured by all the controversy surrounding her maiden grand slam victory over Serena Williams was the fact that the 23-time champion simply didn’t have an answer for what Osaka was throwing at her, and that should bode well for her fortunes in 2019. That said, it was a bit concerning to see her listless finish to the year with an 0-3 round-robin record in the tour finals, and as we’ve seen with contemporary Jelena Ostapenko, maintaining an upward trajectory with a target suddenly on your back is a very hard thing to do. For her sake, and tennis’ sake, here’s hoping the SS Osaka is still full-steam ahead this year.
On a side note, if she could find some way to get me one of her special-edition Nissan GTRs, well… I wouldn’t say no.
Grigor Dimitrov – Prove 2018 was a Fluke
Things looked so bright for Grigor Dimitrov at the start of 2018. In 2017, he’d reached a first major semifinal in Melbourne, claimed a Masters 1000 crown in Cincinnati, won the World Tour Finals in London, and most importantly of all, really start to consistently find the right amount of stubble. Unfortunately everything but the facial hair fell by the wayside this year, and instead of cementing himself as a legitimate major contender, he’s continued to vacillate somewhere between tantalisingly inconsistent and downright mediocre. Now at 27 with the back-end of his physical prime upon him, it’s fair to wonder if “Baby Fed” has simply missed his chance – this year might be his last opportunity to prove otherwise, and that means more titles than first-round exits.
Serena Williams – Less Controversy, More Tennis
However you split it, 2018 was a weird year for Serena. Strictly on tennis terms, coming back at age 37 from pregnancy and an associated pulmonary embolism scare to make two major finals would seem like a fairly successful year, but in both those finals she was comprehensively outclassed, and when you add in the fact that it was all overshadowed by her temper tantrum in New York, 2018 was a less-than-ideal year. Here’s hoping 2019 is a year that sees her make headlines only for the right reasons, whether through all the good she does off court, or in the dominant displays we know she’s capable of on it.
Elina Svitolina – Make Serious Noise at a Major
I don’t know if her coach has told her to emulate a young Andy Murray, but Svitolina’s proclivity to win tour events and flounder at the majors is has definite similarities to the Scot’s old playbook, and just like he did, it’s time the Ukrainian made a change. Recording only a solitary quarterfinal appearance last year (Aus Open, l. to Elise Mertens), her major performances were totally unbecoming of a player with her ability, and as if to reinforce that point, she only went on to win the WTA finals. There is absolutely no doubting she has the game to challenge any of the top women, but to do it at the slams, she needs to get her head on straight and start relishing the big stage instead of fearing it.
Simona Halep – Cement Her Spot at the Top
Perhaps more than any other player on tour, Simona Halep needed to deliver the goods in 2018, and she did exactly that, banishing any idea she was a “placeholder” or “unworthy” number one with her first major title at the French Open. That said, the thing about pro tennis is that once you’ve reached one mountaintop, there’s often another, higher one waiting in the distance, and that’s certainly the case for the Romanian. Having endured an ignominious end to the season, the pressure is on to reassert herself as one of the WTA’s elite players, and that would ideally include another slam, lest the “one-hit wonder” tag starts to become a thing.
Men’s Next-Gen – Make a Slam Final
Having already hinted at retirement in recent days, it’s time the ATP started reckoning with a life after Roger Federer, and the same should go for the rest of the big four, who are all past their 30th birthday. The time is now for Sascha Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Denis Shapovalov, Frances Tiafoe and the rest of the under-22 crowd (22 being the oldest age where every male multi-slam winner in the open era except Johan Kriek, Pat Rafter and Stan Wawrinka made their first final) to step up. Tennis is a sport built on star power, and that means we need some star-making performances – now is the time fellas.
Craig Tiley – Make Better Decisions
Yes, I know he’s not a player, but how else was I supposed to shoehorn in my rant about the introduction of super-tiebreaks in the final set of the Australian Open? And yes, I get it. No one wants to see a repeat of the John Isner-Kevin Anderson Wimbledon semi – two guys just serving for hours on end is not exactly high-quality tennis – but the Australian Open/Tiley’s to eliminate the final advantage set is not only super-lame, it’s downright un-Australian.
Even if we set aside the dubious value of introducing a final set tiebreak (14/30 players who won an overtime final set in 2018 went on to win their next match – I looked it up), the thing you need to know about Aussie sport is we love the “hard yakka”, i.e. when players are forced to lay it all out there for the win. It’s why the “other” sport of the Australian summer is test cricket – it’s a five-day “test” of a player’s mental and physical abilities you simply can’t get in the shorter versions, and in matches like the Simona Halep-Angie Kerber semifinal here last year, our tennis did the exact same thing. Of course, there’s still room for adjustment – introducing a breaker at 12-12 like Wimbledon did would’ve been much more palatable – but to eliminate overtime matches entirely is a massive overreaction on Tiley and co’s part, and I hope it doesn’t persist past 2019.