Saturday, December 31, 2016

My hot 10 for 2017

original photo by Daniel Ward
Tennis season predictions, even the vague kind (which is the only kind I ever attempt) are always tricky, but for 2017, they appear especially so. Change is in the air, only it isn't always obvious change. There are a number of players with the potential to perform quite well in this new season, and I've selected ten who I believe have an edge. But before I list them, here are some "very warm" candidates who didn't make my cut, but who could also easily do great things in 2017. In no particular order:

Madison Keys
Why, you may ask, is she not in the top ten? And all I can tell you is that it's just my instinct. Keys is loaded with potential, but between her injuries and what appears to be lulls in playing momentum, she hasn't met it. She could meet it at any time, but to me, she just isn't "warm enough" at this time.

Caroline Wozniacki
I had no idea that the Dane would wind up on this list, but her performances at the end of the 2016 season placed her back in contention as a top player. Will she continue this streak? Who knows?

Kiki Mladenovic
Mladenovic has a lot going for her. She has a wicked serve, a love of big stages, a strategic mindset, and a nice variety of shots. But that serve can go off. And the Frenchwoman can also falter mentally. Her great successes in doubles, and in Fed Cup, have given her confidence, I think. I always feel that Mladenovic is "on the edge" in singles, and 2017 could see her step over it.

Daria Gavrilova
Gavrilova has a lot of strengths and a lot of skills. She appears to put her whole heart into playing, and she has worked hard. She appears to be fearless, which could serve her well in the future.

Daria Kasatkina
It has to happen some time. Look for the Russian to get noticed even more in the coming year.

Kiki Bertens
She finally got her big clay breakthrough in 2016. Will this Fed Cup beast do even better in 2017--and maybe not just on clay? Bertens "should" have made the breakthrough sooner. She has a big game and a steady attitude. Wait and see.

Caroline Garcia
Garcia has gotten in trouble in the past because of mental wavering. If all of her Fed Cup success has steadied her, she might surprise us in the new season.

Aan Konjuh
Something big may not happen for a while, but you never know.

Genie Bouchard
Right now, Bouchard is probably the least predictable player on the tour. I like her chances.

Belinda Bencic
She has almost everything going for her, but the young Swiss star is already so hampered by injury that she can't keep any momentum going. If she solves the health problem, she'll make her second breakout.

And now--again, in no particular order--my "hot 10" for 2017, based on their records, their progress, and my instinct (note: Vika Azarenka and Petra Kvitova would have been on this list, but circumstances, of course, intervened):

Angelique Kerber
The world number 1 had an amazing 2016 season, winning two majors and an Olympic silver medal, and rising to the top of the rankings. Kerber now displays the walk, talk and demeanor of a champion. It isn't easy being a champion, and yes, she's going to feel the pressure, but I like the way she has handled herself,  and I expect very good results from her in 2017.

Serena Williams
Serena seems to always "come back" when she has never really gone away. The "half full" description of her 2016 singles year is that she played in three major finals, while the "half empty" one is that she lost two of them, lost her number 1 ranking, and failed to win a medal at the Olympics. Logic dictates that Williams will be on a natural decline from this point on, given her age and her history of extreme physical and mental effort. But this is Serena we're talking about, so even a natural decline could contain very big things.

Simona Halep
I just don't feel that Halep has peaked. I hope I'm right, too. The Romanian star sometimes seems to make things more difficult for herself with her perfectionist mindset and her tendency to be overly philosophical (well, is that ever a nod to idol Justine Henin). I remember when Marion Bartoli had the good sense to bring Amelie Mauresmo along as her coach at the 2013 Wimbledon event, and every time Bartoli began ruminating, Mauresmo would make her dance. I think maybe somebody needs to get Simona to bust a move. At any rate, I believe she's going to have a good 2017 season.

Karolina Pliskova
Well, if anyone is on fire, it's Pliskova. She won Cincinnati, then she went to New York and obliterated her dismal record at majors (she'd never gotten past a third round) by reaching the final. And she did it all with her characteristic, long, tall, too-cool approach. The big-serving Czech, also a Fed Cup star, has nowhere to go but up, and I see her making a steady and delightful trip up the tennis elevator next year.

Dominika Cibulkova
I believe in Cibulkova, and I wasn't surprised that she pulled off of the Combeback of the Year in 2016, after undergoing surgery for her achilles. At the end of the season, after reaching the Wuhan final and winning Linz, Cibulkova sneaked into the WTA Finals and took home the trophy. Gone are the days of the chronic hip injury. A healthy Cibulkova is dangerous, and I like her chances in 2017.

Maria Sharapova
She won't be back until mid-season, but when she returns, look for her to shake things up. Will she be wildly successful? Probably not. But she'll make a statement, and--based on her history--she'll be more than ready.

Johanna Konta
Konta, in my view, has "it." We cannot ever define exactly what "it" is, but we know it when we see it. Currently number 10 in the world, the Brit appears ready to take on anybody, and I think 2017 will be her best season ever.

Aga Radwanska
The Ninja is permanently hot. It's just how she rolls. She may falter and she may slump, but she always pulls herself back together and does something spectacular. And she's always the Ninja. And until the day she puts her racket down, she'll be the greatest shot-maker in WTA history. (And I still give her a shot at winning Wimbledon.)

Garbine Muguruza
Muguruza brilliantly won the 2016 French Open and then faded away, relatively speaking. Who can figure out the mystery that is Muguruza? It doesn't matter, because I believe Muguruza will figure it out. Why do I believe this? Instinct again. She is a real talent, and she knows she is, and my gut feeling is that in 2017, she will get serious. (I could be wrong--I've also said this about Petra Kvitova, who has yet to get it together in a way that matches her extreme talent.)

Elina Svitolina
As someone who has had an eye on the expertly-moving Ukrainian player for some time, the 2016 season was gratifying for me. Many had written her off, but Svitolina sneaked up on the tour, quite obviously aided by Justine Henin. Among her 2016 feats was to upset Serena Williams in the third round of the Olympic Games. She was also a semifinalist in a number of big events.


Todd.Spiker said...

And Svitolina defeated Kerber when she was #1, too. Which would make their possible QF match-up in Brisbane all the more interesting. They're 3-3 in their last six meetings, and two of Kerber's wins came in three sets. If Svitolina could get yet another #1 win, it would have to open the door to all sorts of possibilities for her in 2017. The first week of the season is always so trendsetting and confidence-building... well, at least it CAN be. ;)

Diane said...

And it would be even nicer if I could watch it. My provider doesn't have a contract with BeIn :(

Unknown said...

Respectfully, I disagree about the inclusion of Maria Sharapova on this list. With the drug scandal, she'll have a hard time with her public image. I do love the racquet she plays with though: the Head Instinct MP tennis racquet. It fits her style of play perfectly. I even wrote a review on it here because I liked it so much.

Unknown said...

Caroline Wozniacki has just become number one in the world again, without any grand slam. But I love her style of playing tennis. It is strong and beautiful. Who cares? WTA ranking changes a lot some year recently