2017 top players: men’s 1-5

TennisReporters.net will review 2017’s top 30 women and men, our annual feature.

No 1: Rafa Nadal
At the start of this year, when he began to play again, after three years when his body was breaking down, all of a sudden, he was fast in his legs and he began to be more aggressive, — finally. His backhand fell deeper, rather than landing too short, and was slightly harder and longer. On occasion, he decided that it was OK to crack it down the line. We all knew that Rafa has one of the best forehands ever, but it took him 15 years to change his backhand and make it stronger. So he won Roland Garros again — 10 times now — essentially dominated on clay. He won the US Open on hardcourts, serving huge, chipping here and there, coming to the net and putting it away, and rarely missing. When he starts to play very well, he goes into the zone, and now he doesn’t fall out of it. That’s why he’s the No. 1. However while Rafa had a great year, there are two negatives: Roger Federer beat him all four times, which is very unusual. In 2018, Rafa has to improve his backhand even more, because the Swiss is hitting his BH even harder now. Secondly, once again, towards the end in the fall, his body began to break down again. Many times. In 2018, he has to stop playing so many events or … another injury will take its toll? I hope not.

No 2: Roger Federer
It is pretty obvious that the Swiss is the best player ever, with 19 Grand Slams. But that is right now, because in another seven years, will his record be better than Nadal, or even Novak Djokovic, in 2025, when they are all retired? We just have to wait, because things can change extremely quickly. Remember Pete Sampras, who retired in 2002, with 14 majors. “No one can overtake him,” people thought. Ten years later, Federer and Nadal have passed him. Who would have thought it? Now we know. Federer played an amazing year. When he returned in January, he was healthy, and at the Australian Open, we watched his backhand tear through the court. Finally, he stepped in and got on top of the ball. Before, he would go back and against Nadal, Federer couldn’t go toe-to-toe with his one-handed backhand against Nadal’s lefty forehand. He could not, for many years. But Roger knew what he had to do and in the fifth set against Nadal in the Aussie Open, he rose up and he out-hit the Spaniard. Many people were pretty shocked. So was Nadal. Three more times, Federer beat Nadal again and again and again. In 2017, Roger was better head-to-head versus Nadal. However, Roger didn’t play on clay at all this season. Had he played against Nadal on clay, Rafa would have beaten Federer on the dirt so many times. I would imagine that Nadal would have beaten him repeatedly. Let’s not forget that Federer won Wimbledon again. Great as always. But at the US Open, he lost to Juan Martin del Potro. He was so-so at the ATP Finals, losing to David Goffin. Next year, he will turn 37 years old. He is a brilliant player, and he hasn’t slowed down. In 2018, he will another Grand Slam. When and where? Who knows, be he will be super exciting once again. 

No 3: Grigor Dimitrov
The Bulgarian had a terrific year. Even a couple years ago, he had no idea what he was doing. Very stylish, but he was so erratic. He has always mixing it up, but he didn’t know which way to go. So at times, he was very upset, and he would almost give up. But this year, he knew that he had to calm down, decide where to go, and when he had an opportunity, he would jump on it. He began to return substantially better. His one-handed backhand was struck down the line, pretty flat and hard, and he moved forward, quickly. He won Cincy and at the end, he won the ATP Finals — at last. Now can he won a major in 2018? Yes he will, if he remains super confident.  

No 4: Alexander Zverev
The young German is extremely impressive. He is very tall, he can smash his forehand, backhand and first serve and, once and a while, his return. He won Rome and Canada, and he shot up the rankings this year, even though in the fall, he became to be tired, mentally and physically. That happens with the young players: they start strong, and after 6-8 months, it is time to rest more often. It happens with everyone, but as you get older, then your legs, your arms and your brain gets more comfortable. So in 2018, without a doubt, Zverev will get better and be slightly smarter. Can he win a Grand Slam in 2018? Possible, but it will very tough to upset the Big 4 or 5, in the 3 out of 5, not in 2 out of 3 sets. He has to be super patient and add more variety.  

No 5: Dominic Thiem
The 24-year-old from Belguim had a good, but not a spectacular year. Yes, he has won a number of solid matches. Overall, he is up and down. Of course he is still pretty young, and he has to think about which way he is going. He can move quickly side to side, he can smoke his forehand and, to a certain degree, his one-hand backhand. He is OK at the net, and he rarely gets hurt. But can he win major in 2018? Possibly, it he continues to improve, which I think he will. However, can he upset Nada/Federer/Djokovic/Murray/Wawrinka at a Grand Slam in the finals? For me, not yet.  


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