Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon wonders if we might see more of the same in the 2018 season.
Welcome to the offseason, this very short period on the tennis calendar where no matches are played and we can just basically chill for once.
We chill, or you chill rather, and we continue writing once a week.
Whereas last week we examined if we had caught a glimpse of a new era in men’s and women’s tennis in 2017, today let’s look at the flip side of this. Could it be that we only caught this glimpse because of all the injuries and absences of the mainstays at the top of the sport? That the 2018 season should be just more of the same?
Maybe you could write something about all the players coming, my editor suggested over Facebook Messenger. You know, he said, Serena, Novak, Murray, Stan, Nishikori, Raonic, etc. Well in this case, etc. just happens to be two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, and sure let’s start with her.
Victoria Azarenka not on the Australian Open entry list but she intends to play. Has requested a wild card. Have to like her chances of getting one as 2-time champ but if not, has the ranking to enter qualifying. Still intends to start season in Auckland
— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) December 7, 2017
Well alright, maybe it’s not a given that the 28-year-old will indeed compete in Australia and, really, she has more important things on her mind than tennis right now, but hopefully she’ll be there. Good on her for sticking up for her and hers and her family, and really as long as she’s happy then we’re all fine if she never competes again.
One player who definitely will be there is Serena Williams, last year’s champion and sure we’ll say it: we, along with other sources, pick her as the odds-on favourite to win the event. The 23-time (what a staggering number of titles, she has) Grand Slam champion, you’ll recall, has been away from the sport since giving birth to her first child but she had always said she would come back eventually despite turning 36 years old in September. And we believe that time will come next month in Melbourne.
Things can change over the next month, sure, but we’ll take Williams’s word for it for now. Starting her comeback with an Australian Open win would be a tall order for anyone, let alone someone who hasn’t played in a year, so let’s put her odds at something like 9/1 for now and maybe reassess later on?
On the men’s side, the group of returning players is a little more crowded.
In 2018, we’ll get back to under appreciating the human quarterfinalist that is Tomas Berdych. We’ll keep waiting for Milos Raonic to again live up to his potential, apparently overlooking his constant excellence (and injuries :/ smh). We’ll do pretty much the same thing with Kei Nishikori, who’s about to turn 28 years old this month and really isn’t young at all anymore. We’ll also keep scrutinizing every main draw and hoping that the annoying Stanislas Wawrinka can spoil another favoured player’s design at any given tournament.
But of course, two names stand out from the pack as we look at players coming back to action. Djokovic and Andy Murray are two of the (likely) ten greatest players of all time, but both suffered through miserable parts of a season before calling it quits over the summer during this past season. And when this new season starts, the pair will be ranked—oh god, this can’t be right?! Djokovic will be twelfth and Murray, sixteenth. Really? Really.
The two should enter Melbourne, despite their long absence, among the prospective favourites to win it all. Murray, after all, has made the Melbourne final four times already while Djokovic has won the damn thing six times. Their biggest enemy might be their lower seeding, which will come with a tougher draw than they’ve been used to. What does a David Goffin versus Muray third round match feel like to you?
There’s also the matter of, you know, their old foes Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, seemingly still as omnipotent as ever. No big deal.
It’s the tennis offseason right now and we can’t wait for the sport to come back.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG