With Rafael Nadal’s victory at the US Open, he and Roger Federer have scooped the season’s four major titles.
Incredible. So, it’s only logical we’d begin stoking the Rafa v Roger fire by debating which player has had the better year in 2017. Out Tennismash team of Paul Moore, Matt Trollope, Leigh Rogers and Bede Briscombe discuss this plus the state of the women’s game, the big men of tennis and what we learned from finals weekend in New York.
Moore: No question that it’s Roger. Think about it: on the one hand you’ve got a player who has won most of the tournaments that he’s played in, on the other a player who’s only won tournaments that Federer hasn’t played in (apart from Flushing Meadows). Yes Rafa won the US Open, but Roger has owned him all year – and was clearly not 100% going into the tournament.
Trollope: Nadal. Yes, he and Federer split the majors, but Nadal’s played more, won more, and had more of a consistent impact on the game in 2017. If there was any doubt about his claim to the No.1 ranking because he’d only won titles on clay, then that talk has been well and truly banished after his victory on cement in New York.
Rogers: Tough question. In terms of consistency, it is hard to argue it is not Nadal. He has returned as a dominant force and maintained it throughout the season, whereas Federer’s season has been more carefully managed to peak at key times.
Briscomb: Federer’s the romantic choice, but it’s Nadal. The Spaniard has won 11 more matches than Roger has played all year combined. He’s also matched him for titles and Grand Slams, including one on a surface nobody said he could win on. It doesn’t matter how many RF caps I see in the stands, Nadal is the unequivocal best player in tennis right now and it’s not close.
Moore: I’m quite often prone to fits of vitriol about this subject, but I actually think it’s been a good year for the WTA. Yes, there have been four different winners, but all of them have carried significant dollops of goodwill. What’s more, three of them represent the future of the game (no offence, Serena), and play exciting tennis. Things are definitely on the up in women’s tennis.
Trollope: I think it was a great year. Sure, it might point to a lack of consistency, but I think the best women in the game have been far more reliable week-to-week and slam-to-slam this year compared to previous seasons. All four champions were compelling stories, and all of them have the capability of being truly great. Obviously Serena’s proved that many times over. Garbine is now starting to do the same. Sloane finally fulfilled her long-held promise. And Ostapenko’s Roland Garros run was mesmerising, and something she backed up at Wimbledon. There’s just so much talent on the women’s tour at the moment and I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings – especially when we have Serena and Azarenka back in the fold.
Rogers: It has been an interesting and unexpected year that is for sure! Two unseeded champions in Ostapenko and Stephens, and for the first time since 2005, three of the four Grand Slam champions for the season are 24 or younger. A new generation is rising, which is definitely great for women’s tennis.
Briscomb: Bad. With Queen Serena vacating her throne, it was a great opportunity for a Garbi or a Karolina or a Simona to take it with multiple majors. Well, no one had the killer instinct so instead the entire tour practically took turns sharing trophies. Unpredictability is fun in the moment, but it’s counterproductive to developing stars and their marketability. Save us, Maria.
Moore: The only and only Ivo Karlovic. Doctor Ivo is the original giant, and has the stats to back it up. Nobody in the history of the ATP has served more aces, won more service games, or just generally clubbed people with a single shot. You might say he hasn’t won any big titles but who cares? The man is the BFG of tennis.
Trollope: Juan Martin del Potro. All of the big men are great shot-makers, mobile movers and powerful athletes. But none compete on the biggest stages against the top players better than the Argentine. He’s the player who truly strikes fear into the Big Four and when he’s firing on all cylinders, his game is the most breathtaking to watch.
Rogers: Juan Martin del Potro is still the most dangerous tall player in the game. The power he can generate from his forehand is phenomenal and he has proven at his best, he can beat anyone in the game. I even rate his semifinal run in New York with victories over top 10 opponents Dominic Thiem and Roger Federer as more impressive than Anderson’s final appearance.
Briscomb: Alexander Zverev. The German doesn’t play like a giant, but he technically is. Currently ranked world No.6, Sascha arguably has the best backhand on tour and is 46-14 on the year with five titles to boot (including two Masters 1000s). (Including wins over Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic) (And Kevin Anderson). (And he’s only 20).
Moore: That Sloane Stephens has got some serious weaponry. Watching that women’s final, I saw a woman combine the hustle of Wozniacki, the monster shots of Ostapenko, and the composure of Pliskova. I always had my doubts about Sloane Stephens, but she seems to have figured it out and she plays one heck of a game. If she can stay focused, this could be the start of something special.
Trollope: That the hype surrounding Stephens is justified. It began when she upset Serena as a teenager to reach the Australian Open semifinals and she seemed to have all the athletic and technical gifts to be a superstar. Now that she’s matching those weapons with a more mature outlook and improved mental fortitude, she’s quite formidable.
Rogers: That Sloane Stephens has the composure and game to win multiple Grand Slam titles. The way she handled the occasion was exemplary, as her low unforced error count showed.
Briscomb: That Sloane Stephens will be world No.1 someday. The knock against Sloane was that she was mentally weak. She’s now playing with a coolness and a calmness that maybe one other player in the women’s game (Muguruza?) has right now. Stephens has all the tools to be an elite defensive tennis player with a killer net game that can swing games in her favour. This won’t be her last Grand Slam title.
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