Monday, February 8, 2016

What the first month and change has shown us

So, over the years for various websites—including this one—I've written a post after the first week of the season called "What the First Week Has Shown Us." I like to think you can gauge a lot on how the approaching tennis season will go based on what goes down in Brisbane and the like.

I'm a little behind on doing that, but figured I'd try to get something in before we get too deep in the year and my predictions/thoughts become meaningless! So here's what I think you can be on the lookout for during the rest of 2016.

The Novak Show Will Go On: Yeah, this might seem like a no-brainer, I know. Djokovic started off the year perfectly, and he handled the two guys behind him in the rankings—Andy Murray and Roger Federer—pretty easily in Australia. Personally, I keep thinking someone's going to solve the Djokovic riddle someday, but it doesn't look like it will happen on a consistent basis. I don't know if he'll win the French, but I'd be very surprised if someone beats him at Wimbledon or the U.S. Open.

The Serena Show, I Guess, Should Go On: Serena had a year for the ages last year: completing another "Serena Slam" and coming oh-so-close to the Grand Slam. However, there were a lot of close calls during the course of her run, but because she's such a fighter and elite champion, she was able to pull through and lift the big hardware at the end. It didn't happen in New York, though, and what I find pretty surprising, didn't happen in Australia. Williams should still end the year on top—I assume it would take Aussie champ Angelique Kerber winning the Grand Slam herself to dethrone her—but I can't see her winning multiple Slams. Then again, Serena's the boss at proving folks wrong!

If Azarenka's Not in the Top 3 by the End of the Year...: I don't want to finish with "I'll Eat My Hat" because you never know how things go with injuries and all, but I really think that she'll be there. Winning her first tournament in a while, then making a run to the Aussie quarters are pretty good signs she's back, and with her fight and experience, it'll be hard to bet against her. OK, I've convinced myself: I won't eat my hat, but for every spot she's away from the top 3—if it happens—I'll do 10 pushups. (I hate pushups Vika: Please hit the top 3!)

You Can't Count Rafa Out—But Should You?: The year started off well enough with a runner-up finish his first time out, but that loss to Fernando Verdasco at the Aussie has to be disturbing for Nadal. He should still pick up a few minor titles over the year, and as far as I'm concerned, he'll always be the favorite at Roland Garros, but as far as proving to be a consistent threat to Djoko's reign, I just can't see it.

• The Andy Murray Hurdle: I think that little subhead can be looked at two ways for 2016. One, instead of dethroning Djokovic, it looks like guys are going to have to work to get past Murray first. And two, Murray faces a big hurdle between him and any more Majors, namely Djokovic. It just seems to be getting worse in his head-to-heads with Djoko, but he is playing at a high-enough level to hold on to the 2 spot.

I'm not going to go into as much detail as the above observations, but here are a few more things I think we can see going forward:

• Roberto Bautista Agut will be the year's surprise top-10 debutant on the men's side.

• Despite her early Australian Open exit, Sloane Stephens can exceed her career-high ranking.

• Injury might be the only thing that slows down the Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza team: Grand Slam, anyone?

• Speaking of doubles, Bob and Mike Bryan will be OK and are more than capable of grinding their way back to the top. But—and not to put any thoughts in their heads—how cool would it be if they won Olympic Gold or the U.S. Open and then walked away on top?

• These American kids like Frances Tiafoe, Tommy Paul, etc., are something else and will rise even further up the rankings.

• Maria Sharapova has a Slam or Gold Medal in her. But someone's going to have to knock Serena out of the draw for her to win either.

At any rate, the year ahead promises to be a good one!