Juan Martin Del Potro – Argentinian; 28 years old; 38th ATP
Having been kept out of tennis courts due to repetitive wrist injuries, Juan Martin Del Potro came back in 2016 as the 1042nd tennis player in the ATP rankings. A silver medal in an Olympic tournament where he eliminated Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal and a Davis Cup title against Croatia (3-2) have confirmed that “Delpo” is one of the best – and most loveable player – on the circuit.
Where and when to watch him: July – September on American hard courts.
Strengths: His powerful forehand and serve as well as his awe-inspiring combative nature.
Weaknesses: His fitness may prevent him from competing consistently at a high level – he withdrew from the Australian Open for example. His current ranking does not make him a seeded player which means that for the moment, he can meet Djokovic or Murray in the first rounds of the main tournaments.
Kei Nishikori – Japanese; 27 years old; 5th ATP
Kei Nishikori is probably the most likely outsider to win a Grand Slam this year because of his consistency. He was in at least the fourth round in all of the 2016 Grand Slams, was semi-finalists in the ATP 1000 of Madrid and Rome and runner-up of Miami and Toronto. He also won the bronze medal in the 2016 Olympics.
Where and when to watch him: Anywhere but grass which is clearly the surface he is less comfortable on.
Strengths: Defensive abilities, stamina, no actual weakness in his shots.
Weaknesses: Problems going far in second weeks of Grand Slams and his terrible records against the top 2 who he realistically will have to beat if he wants a major title (two wins out of ten games against Murray and two out of thirteen against Djokovic).
Milos Raonic – Canadian; 26 years old; 4th ATP
Milos Raonic’s main feat in 2016 was the final of Wimbledon he lost in straight sets against the current best player in the world Andy Murray. Just like Nishikori, he has won in consistency, reaching the final of Indian Wells and the semi-finals of the Australian Open, Cincinnati and Paris Bercy. If Raonic improves his net play, he could well be a very serious contender for a Grand Slam title this season.
Where and when to watch him: Hard court as well, especially indoor courts.
Strengths: Raonic especially relies on a huge serve and a big forehand as well as a feel for the ball quite rare for players this powerful.
Weaknesses: The Canadian’s occasional loss of concentration during games as well as his speed constitute weaknesses in Raonic’s seek for titles.
Dominic Thiem – Austrian; 23 years old; 8th ATP
Dominic Thiem is one of the most exciting prospects in tennis nowadays; at only 23 years old, he is already 8th in the ATP rankings and has seven titles. Last year Thiem reached the semi-final of the French Open Roland-Garros and won four titles, including the ATP 500 of Acapulco, making him the joint third player with the most titles in 2016 behind Murray and Djokovic and equal with Wawrinka. Some players might be better suited to win a Grand Slam title this year but Thiem’s raw talent is to be accounted for.
Where and when to watch him: The clay part of the season (April and May) seems to be the most adapted to Thiem’s baseline offensive style of play. Indeed, Thiem has won five of his seven titles on clay.
Strenths: All-round player with no real weakness – apart, arguably, for his one-handed backhand, but isn’t it so much better to watch?
Weaknesses: Thiem lacks experience at a higher level as can be seen with his record against players from the top 10: Thiem has won five matches against top 10 players in 2016 and has a record of 6 wins and 18 losses in his career against top 10 players.
Keep an eye open for:
- David Goffin – Belgian; 26 years old; 11th ATP
- Gael Monfils – French; 30 years old; 6th ATP
- Grigor Dimitrov – Bulgarian; 25 years old; 15th ATP
- Lucas Pouille – French; 22 years old; 16th ATP
- Jack Sock – American; 24 years old; 20th ATP