As the new season is set to get underway in Brisbane, Doha, Pune, Shenzhen, Auckland and Perth, we have some new changes and a lot of questions that need answering in the coming year.
Can Serena make it number 24? Or even number 25…? I hope so and she has obviously said this is a “significant” goal for the season. She is under no illusions that she will have to beat many good players to reach this but she also knows it is more than achievable. She looked in good nick against her sister in an exhibition in UAE this week, narrowly losing a Champions tiebreak in a high-quality contest. She will play against Federer in the mixed doubles in the Hopman Cup this week, something the tennis world is getting very excited about. Elina Svitolina is another player who goes in with high hopes, there have been false dawns before though and she is yet to prove herself in a Slam. She has trained at altitude in Switzerland to be physically prepared for Australia. I have always felt winning the first is the biggest of her worries, more should follow should she conquer that. Naomi Osaka will be looking to make even bigger inroads after claiming her First Slam last year. She will now be a marked target in the draw, how will she deal with that? Can Halep up her game outside of clay in the majors? I think she will need some luck even as the World Number One as it stands. Can Angie Kerber complete a career Grand Slam by winning the French? She has some way to go on clay still, no two ways about that.
What about Sloane Stephens? A big game player who has the right mentality when she knuckles down. When she gets on a roll, she is dangerous. Can she maintain that level? Some doubt it, I don’t so much. Daria Kasatkina and Aryna Sabalenka are two of the young guns who will be looking to take their game to the next level. Both look more than capable, it is all about dealing with that pressure when push comes to shove. Lets us see how Vika Azarenka can get on with 2019. She has had a full off season so the signs are good there. Sadly for her, the legal battle is still unresolved, something she will surely benefit from when it is done and dusted.
In the men’s, how will Rafa fair after the ankle op? The knee was obviously still a problem and he also had an abdominal issue last season. Apparently, he looks as though he has adopted a new service action and is more aggressive on his groundstrokes. We would be fools to write him off, do it at your peril. Novak Djokovic will look to kick on having been the outstanding player in the second half of last season, he did look beatable though as Khachanov and Sascha Zverev proved. Can Andy Murray move on from the hip injury? We hope so but like I always say, it looks a big ask. Can Federer add to his tally? Personally, I’m not too sure but he has certainly proved me wrong in the past.
Out of the young guns who can really make that big step forward or is it still too early for them? Sascha Zverev will look to add to his win at the O2 Finals and prove he has what it takes over five sets. Behind him, players like Karen Khachanov will be waiting in the wings with his explosive power. Don’t forget Borna Coric, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Denis Shapovalov and Hyeon Chung (who will look to have an injury free season). Alex De Minaur and Frances Tiafoe also deserve a lot of respect in this part of the equation.
There have been changes to the Grand Slams. None of the four big ones have the same format anymore. The Australian Open now has a final set tiebreak at six games all, first to ten points. The French have dug their claws in and stuck with the traditional long fifth set. Wimbledon will play a tiebreak at twelve-all in the decider (first to seven points and by two clear) and the US has still got the final set breaker at six games all (also first to seven points and by two clear). The Aussie Open claimed they had consulted the players ‘extensively’ but now Rafa says he was unaware it was first to ten points and Sascha says he wasn’t consulted at all. Strange.
On top of this, we know we have a new venue for Miami. This event will no longer be at Crandon Park and will now be played at the Hard Rock Stadium (Home of the Miami Dolphins). The Davis Cup will now be played as a one-week event in Madrid, in November. There are also some very strange rules when it comes to acceptance lists in ITF tennis, which seems to have confused everyone, including the players themselves. This had lead to several players even tweeting about the fact it looks as though rankings seem irrelevant when a player with a lower ranking gets into an event before them. Confused.com? I certainly am too, so I will try and clarify this when I get the chance.
Anyway, let’s sit back and enjoy the ride. I hope you had a fantastic Christmas and I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year.
Andy Del Potro