2017 has been a year of surprises. We saw the return of the old guards Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and with it the revival of the Fedal rivalry. And, we saw only one final featuring Djokovic and Murray at Doha. Wasn’t that the match we had expected to witness on every Sunday of the year?
But, we rather got to experience nostalgia with Federer and Nadal playing each other time and again throughout the first quarter of the year. The first hardcourt season was a lot about the Fedal matches predominantly. Roger Federer faced Rafael Nadal and beat him in three big tournaments, i.e., Australian Open (Final), Indian Wells (4th round) and Miami (Final). He left the court in Miami indicating that he won’t play any of the clay masters before Roland Garros . However, he has confirmed his return to Roland Garros in 2017. He is atop the singles race rankings with a lead of 1810 points over Rafael Nadal who holds the second position at the moment. But, Rafa and others will want to catch up with Roger in the race points given that he won’t enter any of the three clay masters.
The clay season looks intriguing after having seen the first quarter of the year. Many prominent players and dormant youngsters will look to emerge on top in a field featuring cut-throat competition. Rafael Nadal needs his first title now, Djokovic and Murray need to come back to playing decent tennis and certain others like Dominic Thiem will want to prove a point.
This season can make or break Rafa
Rafa has returned to playing decent tennis. He has reached three finals in 2017 and has been bettered only by Roger who has miraculously deciphered a way to beat him after a decade of struggle. Rafa has played better than everyone else. The only thing probably holding him back is his current inability to play an aggressive game. He plays best when his game is more balanced and has a touch of aggression. He knows it and probably also knows that his subdued confidence might be the issue here. And it is this state of mind that is making him hit a lot more passively in the rallies in the big matches. The good news for him and the Rafans is that the clay season is here and it always brings out the best out of Rafa. He has a lot of placebo around the clay season and it can be expected that he finds his A-game finally through the season. Shall he win a title, he will be back in a big way. And when this particular Mallorcan great is brimming with great confidence levels, he cannot be stopped. This clay season should determine a lot about his future. Shall he win at least a masters here, his hopes will be alive. If he goes without winning a title, it can cause a dent in his confidence. On the other hand, if he win Roland Garros, he is back in contention of the GOAT title.
Murray must pull his socks up
Murray has only won one title so far, the Dubai title. But, the year has only featured three major tournaments so far and the world no. 1 Andy Murray has a lot of scope to win his share of big titles. But he must do it. He is at the moment, no. 12 in the race rankings. And it will require some doing from him to improve it drastically in the upcoming clay season. In order to be in contention for the year-end no. 1, he needs to start playing great again. Given that Murray has a great deal of points of defend in the second half of the year, he will find it difficult to hold on to his no. 1 ranking.
Sir Murray has another 3160 points to defend in the clay season. To what extent he is able to defend or better his points from last clay season will determine the amount of pressure that will be on him in the second half. That will obviously affect his performance at Wimbledon and US Open.
Murray has to return to his best form in the clay season to remain in contention for year-end world no. 1 title.
A chance for Djokovic to come out of slump
Djokovic is in a slump. He is no. 22 in the race rankings. It is clear he was faced with discomforts concerning his shoulder and elbow. He has not defended his Melbourne title or his titles at Indian Wells and Miami. At the moment, Stan Wawrinka is 2130 points behind Djokovic in the singles rankings and the gap is becoming smaller and smaller every week.
Djokovic has 3600 points to defend in the clay season. He is defending his Roland Garros title. He needs to defend his points lest he should eventually be overtaken by Stan Wawrinka in the rankings at some point of time in the year.
Nonetheless, the clay courts will give Djokovic placebo. He won the Djokovic slam last year at Roland Garros and the slow courts should give him time to line up his shots. And eventually, he will take that momentum onto Wimbledon.
Djokovic should make use of the clay season not only to get into contention for year-end no. 1 title but also to get back to slam winning form.
It’s high time for Dominic to arrive
Dominic Thiem has earned the reputation of a solid clay-courter. And many think of him as a potential future Roland Garros champion. He had collected 1400 points in the clay season last year but playing a heavily schedule did help him achieve that. Dominic, at 23, should have honed his skills well enough to play a very good clay season. Although he has not had a stellar season so far by any standards, he should be thought of as a dark horse for the clay season.
He will look to improve upon his semi-final appearance of last year at Roland Garros. The season will be instrumental for his future. A good season at this point of time will give him the belief that he could become the next legend at Roland Garros. A poor season will only give him doubts.
It’s a great season of clay court tennis that we are looking forward to. It is pretty unclear now as to how it will all pan out. Surely, things will get more clear after Monte Carlo. And it remains to be seen who will shine at the first of the clay masters.
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