The 2017 tennis season won’t wait for 2016 to end before it kicks off, with qualifying matches taking place at several tournaments before the calendar turns.
A new season brings with it excitement and anticipation for what is about to unfold. As 2016 dawned, few would have predicted that Novak Djokovic would dominate the first half of the season only to be overtaken by Andy Murray before the end of the year.
With Murray as the top-ranked player, and Djokovic hot on his heels, the 2017 season kicks off with many storylines tennis fans are eager to see play out.
“The first thing that jumps out at me is, how, at 35, coming off missing seven months, will Federer be?” said ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert.
Federer underwent knee surgery in early February, and while he did get back in action, did not feel completely fit. He ended his season after reaching the Wimbledon semifinals. The 17-time Major champion, and 2000 River Oaks International finalist, enters 2017 at No. 16, his lowest ranking since the 2001 French Open.
Rafael Nadal is also coming back from injury. The 30-year-old withdrew from the French Open and missed the grass season as a result, though reports from his offseason training are that he will be in top form for the new year.
Can these two legends of the game challenge the incumbent top two of Murray and Djokovic? Will Stan Wawrinka play spoiler again, adding to his haul of Majors after collecting the US Open title in 2016? Plus the resurgence of Juan Martin del Potro in 2016 makes him a serious contender for the coming season.
Milos Raonic, 25, and former U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship finalist Kei Nishikori, 26, are among a handful of players in their mid-20s who have established themselves as solid players but have yet to breakthrough to win a Major title. Will 2017 be their year?
There is also growing anticipation about several youngsters who are quickly rising through the rankings.
“I am hopeful for 2017 that we might finally start to see some youth make a bit of breakthrough,” Gilbert said. He specifically cited 19-year-old Alexander Zverev, who has twice played qualifying at River Oaks.
Other young players to keep an eye on include 23-year-old Dominic Thiem, 21-year-old Nick Kyrgios and 19-year-old American Taylor Fritz.
By the time the tour comes to River Oaks in April, these storylines will have begun to play out. We’ll have the opportunity to see firsthand who is getting their clay season off to a fast start.