ANDREW BURTON — @burtonad
Tennis is always written about as an individual sport, but when you pull back to 40,000 feet you see structures and undercurrents: racquet and string technology, surface adjustments, and the penetration of sports science have all had as much impact or more over the last 40 years as any individual players.
For the last few years I’ve been analyzing the ATP and WTA from a generational/cohort perspective. There are lots of people who can describe what Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Serena Williams did in a given match: I’ve been more interested in thinking about how a generation of players, born within a five-year span, has made its early mark on the sport, risen to prominence, then raged against the dying of the light over 15-20 years.
So, I’m putting a twist on this roundtable conversation by making my three predictions non-individual ones. Here goes:
A) No #GenerationGrigor player (born between 1989 and 1993) will win a major in 2019, continuing the longest streak of futility in ATP history.
Only 3 #GenerationGrigor players have even reached a major final (Nishikori, Raonic and Thiem): none of them even won a set. In 2018 #GenerationGrigor players won zero M1000 tournaments and were runners up in two finals (Nishikori in Monte Carlo, Thiem in Madrid). In contrast, #GenerationNick players (born 1994-1998) won two M1000s and were runners up four times.
The likeliest single outcome that would prove me wrong is a Thiem win in Paris, but I’ll happily take odds against that happening.
B) No WTA player becomes a dominant No. 1
I’ll define dominant No. 1 as reaching a level of 10,000 points, or winning 2+ majors and 3+ big tournaments (Premier Mandatory, Premier 5) in 2019. Unlike the ATP, WTA players in their early and mid-20s have won big titles in the last few years, but no one apart from the timeless Serena Williams has threatened to become a dominant number one player since Viktoria Azarenka’s opening 26-win blitz in 2012.
Steve Tignor recently made the argument that fans of WTA tennis were becoming comfortable with depth rather than dominance being the characteristic feature of the women’s singles game in the late 2010s. Color me unconvinced.
The WTA of the early 2000s, which featured a murderer’s row of Hall of Fame players (the Williams sisters, Hingis, Capriati, Davenport, Clijsters, and Henin, to name but seven) was incomparably stronger in my view than the recent edition, with the honorable exception of Serena Williams. But even if a dominant player doesn’t emerge in 2019, the signs are hopeful for 2020 and beyond, as Naomi Osaka and Aryna Sabalenka continue to gain experience.
C) #GenerationFed and #GenerationRafa age out
This is a pretty obvious call for the older group (born between 1979 and 1983), whose average age will be 38 in mid-2019. David Ferrer has already laid out his schedule for his last year, but the Rafa generation, players born between 1984 and 1988, will have an average age of 33 next year. Many have battled chronic injury in the last two years – players such as Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Tomas Berdych, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
An insoluble question – “which came first, chicken or egg?” – is whether #GenerationRafa’s longevity owes more to its own excellence or to #GenerationGrigor’s mediocrity. Either way, my bold prediction is that 2019 will see a passel of retirements of household-name ATP players.
There are just 7 active ATP players who have won a major. In order of age, they’re Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Juan Marin Del Potro and Marin Cilic. All are over 30. Will this number be larger or smaller at the end of 2019?
MERT ERTUNGA — @MertovsTDesk
(1) At least two players ranked outside the top 100 in the ATP or WTA when 2018 began will win majors in 2019.
(2) Milos Raonic will remain injury-free for at least six months straight, and finish the year ranked in the top five.
(3) Romania will upset No. 1 seed Czech Republic in the first round and go on to win Fed Cup.
MATT ZEMEK — @mzemek
A) Sascha Zverev will make his first major final.
I don’t think Zverev will win a major, but he will go the distance in one tournament. Ivan Lendl seems to be getting through to him. I don’t think Australia will be his breakthrough, but Zverev will eventually put the pieces of the puzzle together. He has played too much good tennis to not improve in 2019. He has to know that he has answered questions about his stamina. His 2018 season checked that box. Now comes the challenge of being able to win more efficiently and authoritatively. He will grow — not to the point that he becomes a complete player, but to the extent that he will make deeper runs at best-of-five-set tournaments.
B) There will be four new WTA major champions.
Caroline Wozniacki’s health; Simona Halep’s coaching situation; Angelique Kerber’s coaching situation; and Naomi Osaka’s youth all point to a fresh set of WTA major champions. Osaka is probably the best bet of the four 2018 champions to repeat, but the field will be gunning for her this year. Serena Williams, Sloane Stephens, Kiki Bertens, and Madison Keys? Why not?
C) Victoria Azarenka will make a major quarterfinal or better.
The best coach on the WTA Tour not named Richard Williams could reasonably be Wim Fissette. He guided Angelique Kerber to the Wimbledon title. He brought out the best in Jo Konta. He now works with Azarenka, who never got past the third round of any major in 2018. The Fissette factor will enable Azarenka to make her first major quarterfinal in 2019 since the 2016 Australian Open.