These are challenging times for the high-profile names who’ve so far failed to deliver on expectations in 2017…
When Novak Djokovic saved five match points to defeat world No.1 Andy Murray in a stunning final in Doha, the Serb at last seemed back on course – but he hasn’t beaten a top 10 opponent since. More worryingly, Djokovic hasn’t faced a top 10 opponent, opportunities becoming scarce for a man who was until recently most renowned for his fight. He was all grace after a five-set loss to the 116th-ranked Denis Istomin at the Australian Open, but a 12-word press conference delivered after Djokovic’s latest shock – to world No.17 Nick Kyrgios in the Acapulco quarterfinals – hinted that the record-breaking champion is increasingly a player in crisis.
Just as the German appeared to have settled in to her world No.1 position, puzzling form challenges became a feature. A semifinal run at Dubai is the best result of a season that’s also delivered two opening round losses to Daria Kasatkina (in Sydney and Doha), along with a fourth round exit at the Australian Open, where Kerber was of course defending champion. The world No.2 still sits almost 3000 points ahead of world No.3 Karolina Pliskova in the rankings; even so, big American hard court events approach with an urgent requirement for Kerber to reassert authority.
Given that a hamstring injury has just forced him out of Indian Wells, our timing is admittingly off in labeling Milos Raonic as a man who has failed to deliver. But where exactly are the big wins that seemed imminent after he defeated Roger Federer to win Brisbane in 2016 and later finished runner-up at Wimbledon? A top-five ranking doesn’t counter the sense that the injury-prone Canadian isn’t quite living up to potential.
A growing fan base couldn’t wait to see what Garbine Muguruza did next after becoming a breakthrough Grand Slam champion at the 2016 French Open. Almost a year on, we’re still waiting. A first quarterfinal at the Australian Open (the No.7 seed lost to CoCo Vandeweghe) doesn’t quite balance losses to world No.31 Shuai Zhang in Doha or her injury-enforced retirements against Alize Cornet in Brisbane and to Kateryna Bondarenko in Dubai. Adding to the frustrations of those physical challenges is the pressure Muguruza faces in defending big wins on clay.
The season is admittedly young and the Frenchman has contested only three events. Even so, the promise that Gael Monfils showed when he progressed to a first US Open semifinal and made his ATP World Tour final debut at age 30 late in 2016 appears to have vanished. After a fourth round loss to Rafael Nadal in Melbourne, Monfils gave Richard Gasquet no trouble in the Marseille semis and exited to Fernando Verdasco in Dubai without a fuss. Most players would be happy to hold Monfils’ No.11 ranking but with all that skill and entertainment ability, he simply leaves us wanting more.
Starting the season at world No.3 and with a finals run in Sydney, there was the legitimate hope that the talented Agnieszka Radwanska could at last deliver on Grand Slam potential. But with a second round loss to world No.79 Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in Melbourne, major success seems as elusive as ever – especially as early-round losses followed to Caroline Wozniacki in Doha and to the vastly inexperienced Cici Bellis in Dubai.
There was no shame, as it transpired, in exiting to an inspired Roger Federer at the Australian Open. Still, with that third-round Melbourne loss followed by a semifinal exit to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Rotterdam and a loss to world No.66 Robin Haase in the second round of Dubai, you have to wonder whether the 31-year-old Berdych, who has dropped to world No.14, will ever sit inside the top 10 again?
Expectations soared when Dominika Cibulkova stunned Angelique Kerber to win the 2016 WTA Finals on her debut at the prestigious event. Declaring that even bigger titles would soon be ahead, the 26-year-old subsequently exited to Ekaterina Makarova in the Australian Open’s third round, losing to the Russian again in the second round of Dubai. Other alarming 2017 losses have been to Alize Cornet, Eugenie Bouchard and Yulia Putintseva. Cibulkova is renowned for her fighting spirit; she’ll need plenty of it to keep a hold on her coveted top-five ranking.
In five 2017 events, Bernard Tomic has progressed beyond a first round only once, his third round run at the Australian Open (where he lost to world No.51 Dan Evans) overshadowed by early losses in Brisbane, Memphis, Delray Beach and Acapulco. Every exit has been to a lower-ranked opponent, the most troubling result being his heat-related retirement against Donald Young in Mexico. It’s not just that Tomic has dropped outside the top 40 that’s worrying – but the fact that the talented 24-year-old seems so untroubled by his demotion.
After a semifinal run in Sydney, the highly touted Eugenie Bouchard has failed to deliver elsewhere, the Canadian falling outside the top 50 after her first round loss to Ajla Tomljanovic – who hadn’t played in more than a year after shoulder surgery – in Acapulco.While the popular competitor delivered on her Twitter promise of a date with a fan and stunned in her Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition debut, we’re starting to worry about her actual tennis.
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