Why 2018 may be the best year in men's tennis yet

December 19, 2017

Now may not be a time when many people are thinking much about lawn tennis, with most lawns in Britain currently covered in snow and the players spending the off-season relaxing or training somewhere rather warmer. 

Nonetheless, the new season will soon be upon us. The Middle East and the Antipodes will host the first tournaments of the new season as players seek to get themselves up to speed before the Australian Open comes around. 

Once it does, fans will no doubt start thinking about The Championships, Wimbledon and the kind of tournament it might be. 2017 provided a grand moment of history as Roger Federer became the first man to win the men's singles eight times, but many would have felt deep disappointment at the injury that saw Andy Murray lose playing almost on one leg, as well as the injury struggles that undermined other top players and curtailed their seasons, such as Stan Wawrinka's knee and Novak Djokovic with his elbow. 

This year, fans will be hoping everyone is in great shape and the same will be true for the other Grand Slams. If 2017 was the year when Federer and Rafael Nadal enjoyed an unexpected renaissance, there could be nothing more exciting than for all their challengers to step up to the plate.

Indeed, when it is considered that 2016 had been the year of Djokovic and then Murray with Nadal and Federer on the sidelines and thought by many to be on their way out, tennis is overdue what may be one last vintage year.

With Federer now 36, even his extraordinary powers of tennis mastery may be on the wane. Perhaps 2018 will be his last year as a realistic challenger for the big prizes. Nadal, Murray, Djokovic and Wawrinka are also past 30 and while Federer's example will persuade them that there is plenty left in the tank, they may all find it hard to maintain consistent high levels of performance. Nonetheless, like Nadal and Federer this year, Murray and Djokovic may find that the long rest and recuperation has set them up for a big year.

Could all the big four hit top form this year? Such a thing is, in one sense, rare. Only one year - 2012 - has seen the quartet share the Grand Slams equally between them, and that sequence concluded with Murray's first Grand Slam triumph at the US Open. At the same time, the race to number one may be a compelling one.

Seeing established stars at their best will be a great spectacle if it happens, but the rest of the field can also contribute to a great year. If the injuries suffered by many of the sport's leading lights gave players like Kevin Anderson the chance to reach a Grand Slam final, 2018 could be the year the next generation truly makes an impact.

With all the multiple Grand Slam winners now aged over 30, it has to happen sooner or later, but 2018 may be the year when Alex Zverev joins the elite. The world number three won six tour titles in 2017, but has yet to make an impact on the Grand Slams. His next step is obvious. If he can make it despite the deep competition the veteran superstars could bring and Grigor Dimitrov can back up his ATP Tour Finals win, then 2018 could be a truly vintage year.

Image: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty, from Keith Prowse subscription

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