The 2016 Davis Cup ended on Sunday and with it so ended the last serious event of the 2016 tennis season. The Argentinians, after buzzing around the late rounds of the competition for so many years, finally won their first team title. With that event over, perhaps now is the time to look back at the season of highlights in men’s professional tennis. Juan Martin del Potro, the leader of Argentina’s Davis Cup team, certainly is a big part of the year in review as are both Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.
Del Potro recently won the ATP’s Comeback Player of the Year Award. He is the only player to tally a win over Murray post-US Open as the Argentine beat the Scot in Davis Cup play several weeks ago. Furthermore, del Potro reversed an 0-2 set deficit against Marin Cilic in the Davis Cup final, a stunning result given how strong of a season Cilic had. When you factor in JMD’s silver medal at the Rio Olympics, a result that really made it clear that he was back and competing well, del Potro looks more like a Top 5 player despite his year-end ranking of World No. 38.
But the two players who stole the show in 2016, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, are players that don’t need their rankings intuitively adjusted. Djokovic’s season started with a bang as he won the Australian Open, Indian Wells, and Miami. That naturally drew some comparisons to his 2011 season when he went undefeated all the way to the French Open semifinals to start the season. This season he suffered a defeat in Dubai early in the year, however, he also added the only missing Slam title to his resume. In June, Djokovic finally won the French Open, completing the career Grand Slam and becoming the first player to do so since Roger Federer completed it at the same event seven years earlier.
The win at Roland Garros may have taken everything that Djokovic had. For months afterward, he was nowhere near himself as Sam Querrey eliminated the Serb in the third round of Wimbledon. When Djokovic started to slip mid-season, it was Andy Murray that emerged as the best player on tour. Not only would the Scot win Wimbledon, but he would win the gold medal in Rio as well. Furthermore, Murray scythed his way through all that stood in his path in tour events after the US Open, claiming title after title in Shanghai, Beijing, Paris, Vienna, and London. By the time the smoke settled, Murray had claimed the top ranking on tour, and he now enters the 2017 season as the No. 1. With a record of 78-9 on the season, the only Slam final that Murray missed was the US Open, a tournament where he suffered an upset to Kei Nishikori.
The Japanese player himself finished the season ranked 5th in the world. However, perhaps like Canadian Milos Raonic, the highlights weren’t totally there for the Japanese star. The two players certainly won big matches on tour, but Raonic and Nishikori each won just one title in 2016 despite finishing 3rd and 5th in the world respectively. Stan Wawrinka finished similarly ranked as the World No. 4, but he proved to be much more of a tournament closer in 2016.
Wawrinka claimed early-season titles in Chennai, Dubai, and Geneva before making the French Open semifinals. He definitely had some bad losses in 2016, including a dropped match to Andrey Kuznetsov at the Miami Masters. However, the Swiss player rose to the occasion after he found himself in the quarterfinals of the US Open. Despite dodgy play in the middle rounds that almost saw him eliminated, Wawrinka beat del Potro, Nishikori, and Djokovic to claim the Flushing Meadows title.
Other memorable moments from 2016 include a Grand Slam match-win from one ‘Marcus Willis’ at Wimbledon. The World No. 772 upset Grand Slam regular Ricardas Berankis in the first round. That made Willis a trending name for a bit. For those that are wondering what he has done since, in October he tried to qualify for Vienna but lost a three-setter to Radu Albot. On the positive side, earlier in November Willis won a futures event in Kuwait.
2016’s ATP season did not really introduce a new star. However, Austrian Dominic Thiem sounded off some alarm bells in the early going of 2016. He made the French Open semifinals and won multiple smaller events on clay. Furthermore, Thiem claimed a grass-court title and a hard-court title in 2016, finishing the season with four titles to his credit. He may be guilty of playing too many tournaments for his own good, but a fresh and healthy Thiem in 2017 is a dark-horse candidate to finish next season ranked No. 1 in the world.
Among the very young guns, 19-year old German player Alexander Zverev has established himself as a bigger force on tour than 20-year old Borna Coric. That’s not really how things looked at the end of the 2015 season, but Zverev finished ranked 24th while Coric lags with a World No. 48 ranking. Karen Khachanov is on the radar as a #NextGen star as well, the 20-year-old currently ranked 53rd in the world. Meanwhile, Taylor Fritz, a 19-year old American, finished the season ranked No. 76th.
Looking ahead, both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal may just be over the hill now. That can’t be said about either Murray or Djokovic, however, these two players will turn 30 next season. The 2017 season could be one of change with Nishikori standing a good chance of getting to the World No. 1 ranking in my view.