The ATP Men’s Circuit will be buzzing with anticipation already after a short off-season, with the world’s top players already involved in the season’s first tournaments as we speak. Brisbane, Chennai and Qatar are hosting ATP500 tournaments – traditionally the warm-up ones before the first Grand Slam in Melbourne later this month, The Australian Open. As it often happens, the top-ranked players choose different tournaments – with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal playing at Qatar, Stan Wawrinka playing in Chennai as defending champion, and Roger Federer starting in Brisbane. Andy Murray, fresh from his Davis Cup victory last month, will be playing in the Hopman Cup. He is ready to even leave the Australian Open midway to be with his wife during the birth of his first child.
Let us take a look at the possibilities for the champions and contenders this year, with a bit of looking-into-the-crystal-ball.
Rank: 1 (by a mile)
Many argue it will be virtually impossible for No. 1 Djokovic to emulate his near-perfect 2015, where he won 11 titles including 3 Slams. But all signs point toward the inevitability of the Serb possibly eclipsing his hot streak by even winning the French Open in May. Last year, he was denied by Wawrinka in the final, but this year, he will have to also battle a fit-again and in-form Rafael Nadal. Nadal showed signs of being back to his best towards the end of 2015, when he reached the semis of the World Tour Finals, and defeated Federer in a friendly exhibition match in New Delhi. He looked strong and confident, and this could mean better things for men’s tennis – because with Federer pushing 35 and Murray in and out of form, the tour is in need of a rivalry that makes it less of a dominant steamrolling season. Djokovic is also neck-to-neck with Federer as far as the all-time prize-money list goes – a mere 3 million behind Federer’s 96, after scoring a record-shattering 21 million dollars in 2015.
Prediction: Winner (Australian Open), Winner (French Open), Winner (Rio Olympics Singles)
Contrary to popular opinion, I expect Djokovic to trail off towards the second half of the season after he wins the only missing trophy in his cabinet (French Open) and the gold at Rio, before he perhaps peaks once again to win the only Masters tournament he hasn’t won at Cincinnati. Once he wins these two – which will be his main priorities this season – he will be mentioned in the same bracket as Nadal and Federer on the all-time list.
For the first time since his first Slam in 2005, Nadal failed to add to his tally in 2015. He won the US Open in 2013, and has been stuck on 13 majors ever since – suffering his worst season as a pro on tour last year, losing at Roland Garros for only the second time in 10 years, losing in the second round at Wimbledon before recovering briefly to climb up from 9 to 5 by the end of 2015. But more importantly, he looks fit again, and is sounding quite upbeat about 2016. He turns 30 in June, and this could be his last year at his physical peak. Federer’s 17 Slams look far away now, but he will be happy to retain that dominance on clay, and perhaps win the French Open for one last time again.
Prediction: No Majors, Bronze (Rio)
Rank: 2 (by a mile)
Murray has to step up and win more than the two Majors. He is defending Olympic Champion, but will have to play the likes of Djokovic and Nadal at their peak on hard courts at Rio. His victory in London in 2011 against Federer will always be remembered, but Murray hasn’t quite been able to transition to the next level. For a player of his calibre, he doesn’t have enough Slams to his name, and hasn’t nearly been able to come even close to the no. 1 ranking. New contenders could step up this year, and Murray’s hopes of winning another Major could be numbered.
Prediction: Winner (Wimbledon)
2015 was an inspirational year for Federer, and he won 6 titles, and reached two Grand Slam finals, falling to Djokovic in both. He came agonizingly close in the last two years, but hasn’t added to his tally of 17 Slams since 2012. He has only won a silver medal at the Olympics too in London, and will want to make that right this year. This will possibly be the last season Federer will be able to consistently compete with the best in the game, as he turns 35 in August. But, this time, he could just about emulate his idol Pete Sampras and finish on a high…
Prediction: Winner (US Open)
The Swiss no. 2 will be 31 this year, and depends far too much on his backhand to fire on a particular day against a particular opponent. He denied Djokovic his shot at immortality last year, but didn’t end very well, and lacks the consistency to win more Majors. But he could continue to pull off a few more upsets. On his day, he has that Safin-isque ability to defeat anyone on this planet.
Prediction: Silver (Rio)