Tennis: Predicting the ATP’s and WTA’s movers and shakers for 2018 – Part 8

There were a few warriors in the ATP and WTA who were not as much physically as they were mentally wounded, and thereby not able to perform at their best levels in 2017.

 

The US Open left Dominic Thiem mentally scarred.

Dominic Thiem may not have been physically injured in 2017, but his match against Juan Martin Del Potro in the 4th round of the US Open left him mentally scarred. Dominic lost from two sets up and has not been able to recover from that tough 6-1, 6-2, 1-6, 6-7 (1), 4-6 loss. If Dominic Thiem is to take his place in the upper echelon of the game, then he must regain form within the first half and definitely prior to the start of the clay court season, in 2018, where he performs his best. Dominic’s performance suffered considerably after the US Open, and his win-loss record was an abysmal 5-7 after his loss to Del Potro.

 

Dominic Thiem had a successful first half in 2017.

However, Dominic Thiem still finished the year ranked 6, won a title and had a 49-27 win-loss record. His clay court season was a breakthrough for him. He reached the finals of the Barcelona Open and Madrid Masters losing both to the Rafael Nadal, the king of clay. He, however, managed to beat Nadal on clay at the Rome Masters, and Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals of the French Open.

 

Thiem’s playing style.

Thiem is a good mover and a big hitter on the court. His single-handed backhand, though not as versatile as the Maestro’s, packs quite a punch and carries enough topspin to handle the rigors of the clay court. We, at 138 mph, feel that he lacks balance on his ground shots and relies too much on strength and athleticism like Djokovic, Nadal, Murray, and much of the current crop. His extended back-swing on the ground shots also makes his game a little less suited for the fast indoor courts as compared to the clay. However, he makes up for his shortcomings through his athleticism, speed, and the ability to muscle the ball back into play. Like most clay court stalwarts, Thiem too has the tendency to plant himself about 5 feet behind the baseline and avoid the net, like the plague, which invariably results in long drawn out rallies, and leaves him tired and worn out by the business end of the slams.

 

What can we expect of Dominic Thiem in 2018?

With the exception of Rafael Nadal and an in-form Stan Wawrinka, Dominic Thiem has as good a chance as Novak Djokovic or anyone else, for that matter, to win the French Open in 2018.

 

Nick Kyrgios is an enigma!

The tennis world holds its breath for the real Kyrgios to show himself.  Nick Krygios is an enigma which may unfold its true form and radiance in 2018.

 

Kyrgios’ 2017 was a series of one step forward and two backward.

Kyrgios’ 2017 was not as great as his fans were expecting of him, but he ended the year ranked 21 with a 31-17 win-loss record, and reached the finals of the Cincinnati Masters beating Nadal in the quarterfinals, and the China Open losing to Nadal in the finals. His Miami Masters’ semifinal against Roger Federer is an all-time classic, which Federer won 6-7 (9), 7-6 (9), 6-7 (5). Nick Kyrgios is a big match player and seems to bring out his best against the very best. In 2017, he beat Alexander Zverev thrice, Novak Djokovic twice in back-to-back hardcourt tournaments, and Rafael Nadal once. However, he lost to the 235th ranked John Millman, 157th ranked John Satral,  98th ranked Ruben Bemelmans, and 94th ranked Nicolas Kicker.

Nick Kyrgios has mastered the art of taking one step forward and two back.

 

Nick Kyrgios’ game and athleticism are second to none.

Nick Kyrgios is highly talented with powerful ground shots and serve. He is deceptively quick for a tall person, and his athleticism is second to none. His game is technically superior to Dominic Thiem’s and Alexander Zverev’s but lacks the discipline to execute the right tactics and shots on the court. Therefore, both Zverev and Thiem are ranked higher in the ATP race.

 

What can we expect of Nick Kyrgios in 2018?

If Kyrgios can pull himself mentally together, he can reach the second week in all slams except the French Open. Nick Kyrgios has the potential and talent to reach the final of the slams and, if he manages to keep his head glued straight, he could even win one in 2018.

 

Sharapova’s comeback was mired in controversies.

Maria Sharapova made her comeback after serving a 15-month doping ban.  She chose the easier route by seeking wild cards into various events and garnered much antipathy because of it. There were many in the tennis fraternity, consisting of the organizers, players, and fans, who believed that she still needed to pay her dues for a 10-year dope infested winning spree in which she won 36 titles including 5 slams and millions of dollars.

 

The shameless promotion of Sharapova by the WTA.

The WTA was shamelessly complicit in promoting Sharapova, its fallen star, despite resistance from other players. WTA’s actions sent the powerful message that it’s okay to dope and become a champion, and there won’t be much to lose even when caught, because the WTA will welcome, with open arms, its disgraced stars as long as they can fill stadiums and improve viewership ratings.

Carried by a slew of wild cards, Sharapova managed to finish the year as 59 with a 16-6 win-loss record and one title.

 

Maria Sharapova’s playing style.

Maria Sharapova lacks variety and quick movement. Her one-dimensional game is based on hitting the ball hard onto one corner and if it returns, even harder to the other, and repeat until someone wins the point. She is a fierce competitor and, her doping past proves unequivocally that she loves winning more than the sport itself. Which is why Maria can never be written off in a match, as she’ll resort to anything, including shrieking, to win.

Therefore, to many who love the sport, the best thing about Sharapova’s return was the courage and character shown by the French Open’s authorities in its refusal to gift her a wild card.

 

Sharapova’s autobiography.

In 2017, Sharapova released her autobiography to salvage her tarnished legacy or whatever was left of it. However, the autobiography could not override the Meldonium episode which will truly be the lasting legacy of Maria.

 

Meldonium as a performance-enhancing drug “PED.”

The facts of the matter as quoted from The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/mar/08/meldonium-maria-sharapova-failed-drugs-test) are detailed below and they seem to suggest that Meldonium may have been used as a PED by Sharapova:

Meldonium is also known as Mildronate and is manufactured in Latvia and only distributed in Baltic countries and Russia. It is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States and is not authorized in the rest of Europe. Sharapova, however, had been living in the US while taking this drug regularly since 2006! Meldonium increases blood flow, which improves exercise capacity in athletes. World Anti Doping Authority (Wada) found “evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance” by virtue of carrying more oxygen to muscle tissue. The decision to add Meldonium to the banned list was approved on 16 September 2015, and it came into effect on 1 January 2016. Wada had spent the previous year monitoring the drug before adding it to the banned list. The drug was name-checked in the latest investigative documentary on Russian doping reforms by the German Hajo Seppelt. The documentary referred to a 2015 study in which 17% of Russian athletes (724 of 4,316) tested were found to have Meldonium in their system. A global study found 2.2% of athletes had it in their system. L’Equipe reported that the scientific advisor to the French Agency Against Doping (AFLD), Professor Xavier Bigard, said in interviews with athletes at last year’s European Games in Baku that a wide proportion of athletes admitted taking Meldonium.”

 

What can we expect of Maria Sharapova in 2018?

Many in the WTA, who feared her competitiveness prior to the doping ban, hold only disgust and contempt for her and take special pride and pleasure in beating her. Therefore, based on Sharapova’s playing style and age, we do not expect her to be a contender at the slams in 2018. However, she still can shriek herself into winning a few smaller events.