January 15, 2018 by squish
Written by Aaron King
It’s that time of year again. Everyone’s back from holiday vacations, the kids are back in school, and ESPN is airing tennis at 3:00 in the morning. Not everyone knows, but there are actually tournaments besides Wimbledon during the year. This is the first tournament after the offseason for tennis players, and it should be a really exciting start to the new year.
Federer and Nadal are continuing their unprecedented comebacks in their old ages, but a few of the young guns are quickly making names for themselves. On the women’s side, the stage is still wide open as it has been for the past year with Serena’s absence. We’ll take a look at some of these stories and who you can (maybe) look out for to still be in the running come next week.
Bit of a confession to make here, but I’m a huge Federer and Nadal fan. Everyone’s heard of them, and for good reason. The two winningest players to ever play the game. They’ve met in Grand Slam finals nine different times (Nadal leading 6-3). They had probably the greatest final ever at Wimbledon in 2008. Together they accounted for 31 of the 56 Majors titles won from 2003-2016. You honestly can’t write a better script for a more dominant duo in a sport (alright, well maybe not counting a noteworthy quarterback-head coach duo…I’ll keep in mind this is a Boston blog).
But all that was so long ago.
Fast forward to last year’s tournament, one where both were coming off injuries and seriously declining careers. Since around 2014, Rafa had persistent back and wrist problems, both of which sidelined him for a lot of the 2014 and 2015 seasons. For a while it seemed like every tournament he lost in early blockbuster upsets to unranked players. Federer was seeing a decline too, and 2013 was the first time in 14 years that the GOAT didn’t win a final (let alone appear in one). Both players begin to fall down in the rankings, and by the time the 2017 Aussie Open rolled around, Nadal was ranked 9th and Federer 17th.
The tournament starts progressing and things already get crazy early on when Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray take early exits, blowing things wide open for our aging heroes to advance in their draws. After each playing grueling 5-set matches in their semifinals, Fed and Rafa made it to their most improbable meeting at a final yet. Both now past the age of 30, and still doing things that no other humans could.
The final itself was crazy too, and you’d better believe I woke up at 3:30 AM to watch Federer do it again. It was two sets all after four, but Nadal broke Federer in his first service game to take a 3-1 lead in the deciding fifth set. But as he always does, Fed found that extra gear to kick into and started really taking control. At 4-3 Federer, the guys exchanged a 26-shot rally (really long) at deuce (already an intense moment) to give the fans their money’s worth. After coming back from 15-40 in his last service game, Federer hits a cross-court winner right on the line to seal the de- nope, Nadal challenges. They go to Hawk-Eye, and the replay shows that Federer’s shot was good for his 19th Grand Slam title (you can tell that when I use italics, it means something’s pretty crazy). You could see how relieved and happy Fed was to be back on top again, and I’m not gonna lie…when I saw him holding up the trophy for the first time in five years I got a little emotional myself. But it’s you that’s crying I’m not crying.
This tournament kickstarted these guys’ 2017 seasons off very nicely too, and they each decided they would split up the Grand Slams titles like they used to: Fed took the Australian Open and Wimbledon, Nadal wanted the French and the US Open. Fair and square. For both of them it was their best seasons in what felt like a long, long time.
So yea. Lot to live up to after last year.
Aside from those guys, there definitely are still some names that I’m looking out for who can make a splash this year. Although Andy Murray has withdrawn from the tournament, Novak Djokovic is back and is looking to regain some footing in the rankings, and if there’s anyone who can stop those two guys I was fanboying over just now, it’s this guy. Definitely look for Djok to make it at least to the quarterfinals.
Alexander Zverev has come onto the scene loudly (or quietly, if you don’t pay attention to this stuff I guess) in the past year. Dude’s 20 years old and finished last year as the world No. 4. What am I doing with my life? He was in a lot of the finals last year for some of the lesser-known tournaments, and it seemed like his name was everywhere. People are already saying he’ll be the next Federer, and honestly I could see it happening with the success he’s already had. He’s got a little ways to go in terms of fine-tuning his game, but for sure look out for this guy to get some big wins and advance far into the tournament.
Nick Kyrgios is a name you might have already heard, and probably will hear again in the next couple weeks since this tournament is his home court. The young Aussie has given himself a reputation as a really “talkative” guy, as you might have heard with his “banged your girlfriend” comments a little while back. Honestly I think this guy’s just a dickhead personally, but there’s something to be said for having confidence…I guess? I mean like I’m all for bringing in the new guys and sometimes with that comes cockiness and changing the way the game is played (similar to what’s going on with baseball), but this guy just takes it to another level that doesn’t really have a place in any sport. But he’s good at tennis. So there’s that. He’ll probably make it through a few rounds, and even if he doesn’t, I’m sure you’ll hear about him throwing a match or something anyways.
The US hasn’t really had a real contender to win a tournament since Andy Roddick a good few years ago, and while I think they still don’t, there are a couple younger guys that are still doing pretty well. John Isner’s been around for a while now (lost that marathon 3-day match at Wimbledon in 2010), and is usually pretty good for a quarterfinals trip or two throughout the year before getting bounced. Jack Sock is another guy who hasn’t really been able to make it with the big boys, but is definitely solid and honestly is probably the best chance the US has of actually winning one of these things. He just played Federer very well in a tournament last week, so he’s a name to watch out for the Americans.
So yea, as you can tell there’s a lot of exciting stuff going on, and it’s only the first tournament of the year. I think most people don’t really think of tennis as a sport with very crazy storylines (again…3 day tennis match) or intense moments (again…this final), but I always try to tell people some of this stuff cause it really is a crazy sport. So set your alarms, slip some shrimp on the barbie, and let’s get ready to watch some tennis…at 4 in the morning.