The 2016 tennis season proved to be a season of two halves in terms of the ATP tour’s top two players, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. After defending his Australian Open title, winning three of the first five Masters Series events (Indian Wells, Miami and Madrid) and winning that elusive French Open for the first time, it looked like Djokovic would go on to continue to dominate the men’s tour and reduce the gap on Roger Federer’s record of 17 Grand Slam titles.
However, after winning the French Open, Djokovic’s season took a nose dive, only winning one more title although it was the Canadian Masters, which extended his Masters Series title record to 26. Andy Murray was still some way behind Djokovic in the rankings race but he kept tabs on his biggest rival by reaching the Australian Open final, Madrid Masters final, won the Rome Masters and made his first French Open final.
After, by his own standards, a disappointing first half of the season, Murray was still playing his way in to form and what followed proved to be arguably the best spell of his career. He defended his Queens title, cruised to a second Wimbledon and Olympic title, won two more Masters Series titles (Shanghai and Paris, taking his overall tally to 12 ahead of Roger Federer) and won two ATP 500 titles at Beijing and Vienna.
Heading in to the season ending finale, the ATP World Tour finals in London, Murray was leading the singles rankings race and, if he won this title, he was also set to end the season as the official World number one, a feat he had never achieved in his career. For the ATP Tour the ideal scenario was Djokovic and Murray to meet in the final in a straight shoot-out for the number one ranking and both players duly obliged. Djokovic reached the final in a canter while Murray had to really dig deep, especially in his semi-final against Raonic, coming from a set down to win 5-7, 7-6, 7-6 in over three and a half hours.
After this marathon match, the omens did not look good for Murray going in to the final but there were no apparent signs of fatigue or stress and, as all real champions do, Murray raised his game in the final. Roared on by a partisan home crowd, he brushed aside the former world number one in straight sets to land his first World Tour Finals title and, more importantly, confirm his status as the World’s number one player for the first time.
Milos Raonic’s 2016 season was the best of his career, ending it ranked three in the world and, while he only won one tournament (Brisbane), his results and consistency at the bigger events improved considerably. This improvement came not from his trademark serving but a significant increase in the quality of his return game. This progress was demonstrated in terms of his achievements, which included reaching the Australian Open semi-finals (losing in an agonising five-setter against Murray due to injury), the final of the Indian Wells Masters and his first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon.
World number four Stan Wawrinka continues to prove that age is no barrier to big success as he added a third Grand Slam title to his resume in 2016, as well as three ATP Tour titles at Chennai, Dubai and Geneva. The 31 year old had shown no real sign that he was a serious contender in the US Open as his form leading up to the event was distinctly average. However, just like when he won the French Open, he reached the latter stages flying under the radar but once he had a sniff of the reaching the final and a chance at winning the title he stepped up his game and once again in a Grand Slam final out-powered and outplayed Djokovic.
Other top 10 stars like Nishikori (ranked five), Cilic (six) and Thiem (eight) all still have age on their side and will no doubt be challenging Murray and Djokovic for the major tournaments again in 2017 along with Raonic and Wawrinka. I personally don’t think it will be long before Raonic and Nishikori win their first Grand Slam titles as long as they can stay 100% fit and Dominic Thiem will, no doubt, win the French Open at some time in the future.
Two of the game’s biggest ever stars, multiple Slam winners and former world number ones Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer were out of the picture in terms of the Grand Slams during the 2016 season. Nadal just managed to hold on to his top 10 status while Federer has slipped to 16th in the rankings. It’s safe to say Federer, at the age of 35, will no doubt retire this season after one final attempt to end his career on a major high note while Nadal should be competitive during the European clay court swing at least but is unlikely to be challenging for Grand Slam titles again.
The most improved player in 2016 was young French star Lucas Pouille aged 22, who won a first ATP title at Metz and ended the season ranked 15 after starting the season ranked 91. He was closely followed by Germany’s Alexander Zverev who ended the season ranked 24 after starting it ranked outside the top 80 and he won a first ATP title at St Petersburg. 2016 was also a breakthrough season for Britain’s Kyle Edmund aged 21 and Dan Evans aged 26. Edmunds broke in to the top 50 for the first time in his career ending it ranked 45 while Evans reached a career high ranking of 66.
Other young players to breakthrough in 2016 and who have the potential to be future stars of the ATP Tour were American Taylor Fritz (aged just 19), who reached his first ATP final at Memphis and ended the season ranked 76. Russia’s Karen Kachanov aged 20 started the 2016 season ranked outside the top 100. He was the youngest player to win an ATP title in 2016 at Chengdu and ended the season ranked 53. After a strong end to the 2016 season compatriot Dannil Medvedev aged 20 also broke in to the top 100 for the first time.
While there were plenty of highlights for the up and coming players on the ATP Tour in 2016 it was the seasoned pros and veterans who dominated overall and players aged 28 or over won 46 of the 69 total ATP titles. Ivo Karlovic aged 37 was the oldest player winning two ATP titles at Newport and Los Cabos and he ended the season ranked in the top 20, followed closely by Victor Estrella Burgos who won the Ecuador Open and ended the season ranked 102.