The tennis season is nearly a year-round affair these days, which means there really isn’t much time to digest one year of action before the next one begins. The transition from 2017 to 2018 will be particularly abrupt. As of mid-November, we’re still in the midst of the ATP World Tour Finals – the last real event on the men’s calendar – and the Australian Open begins in Melbourne on January 14th. That means we’ll only have about two months without tennis.
It also means it’s already time to look ahead to 2018 and ask ourselves which players appear to be in the best position to succeed once the new year rolls around. These are the names I’ve come up with.
Serena Williams – It’s almost absurd to start this list with a woman who recently gave birth to her first child (during the U.S. Open, in fact). But Williams and her team have stated that she intends to be back to defend her Australian Open title. Even being in physical shape to play a Grand Slam will be a remarkable achievement. But we know Serena Williams by now. If she sets her mind to competing, she’s really going to. She certainly seems determined to regain her hold on the women’s tour early in 2018.
Madison Keys – Madison Keys was viewed as the best of a group of young American women before she was defeated (and soundly) by Sloane Stephens in the U.S. Open final. Stephens has since struggled however, and while her achievement in New York was breathtaking, Keys appears to be the most consistent player – not to mention the younger one, with more room to improve. 2018 could well be the year that Keys truly launches herself into the top-five and becomes a regular contender.
Caroline Wozniacki – Wozniacki has been a curious case for years now. In terms of the rankings, she’s a model of consistency. But when it comes to big matches, she has often fallen short. That wasn’t the case at the end of the 2017 season, when she won the WTA Finals, beating Venus Williams for the biggest win of her career. It could be just the shot she needs to move toward the top of the game and keep herself there.
Roger Federer – Rafael Nadal may have finished the year as number one, but he also just withdrew from the ATP Finals with a knee injury – which has never been a good sign for him. Hopefully he can get healthy, but even if he is, Federer is the more imposing player these days (he went undefeated against Nadal in 2017). At the time of this writing, Federer is the favorite at the ATP Finals thanks to his superior record in the competition, and he could well add it to his list of impressive titles on the year. He should be the player to beat in Melbourne and beyond.
Alexander Zverev – The young German sensation didn’t have much luck deep in Slams in 2017, but he is without a doubt ready to become a contender. He’s playing good matches against the best players on tour, and doing so with more consistency than any other recent up-and-comers. Zverev seems a very good bet to win his first Slam at some point in 2018, though it’s important to remember this is still a very tall order for a young man who won’t turn 21 until April.
Stan Wawrinka – Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are good bets to do well, but neither is healthy just yet, and frankly neither looked right before taking time off for injury anyway. Wawrinka, too, has been nursing wounds, but when he played in 2017, he looked more mentally strong than either Djokovic or Murray. Should those two continue to struggle, Wawrinka has the stuff to assert himself as a top-three or –four player throughout 2018.