Roundtable: Predicting the major storylines for the 2015 season
Keeping with tradition, SI.com asked tennis writers from around the globe one simple question: What are you most looking forward to in the 2015 tennis season?
Mary Carillo, broadcaster
In a year when so much attention was put on Coach of the Year, I hope that in 2015 we will be discussing Student of the Year. A lot of players improved their games this season- Stefan Edberg got Roger Federer to come in more, Caroline Wozniacki's fitness allowed her to believe that she could be more aggressive for the length of a tough match, and so much of the resurgence of the comebackers -- Ana Ivanovic, Kei Nishikori, Marin Cilic -- came because improved fitness in this very physical sport helped to make them relevant again…and then their years of experience paid off.
But I'm hoping that next year we'll see a player who is truly willing to become a student again -- add to his or her game not just physically, tactically or strategically -- but a player who has the will and the guts to add something, or break down a part of the game and then rebuild it to take the next level. Ivan Lendl, determined to win Wimbledon, was willing to learn to slice his backhand and to volley, and though he couldn't win the title, it was something to see him try so hard? Mats Wilander added a one handed backhand to his game and got to number one with it. Justine Henin beefed up her serve, her drop shot, added slice to her backhand, got to the net more and won majors because after she learned it and practiced it, she used it in the big points of big matches. What's better than that?
It's one thing to change a player's strategy, physicality or mindset. It's another to change technique. After a student learns (or relearns) a stroke, he's got to spend a lot of time thinking about it; it's got to be conscious before it becomes unconscious. There must be a true willingness on the part of the student to trust that all the hard work will be worth it -- to know that breaking lifelong habits is difficult, but that the reward could be great. What if Justin Gimelstob can get John Isner to change his return game, and what if Isner does all the work, then uses his new technique to win the tough matches he's been losing?
There are only two teenagers in the ATP's top 100, and three men over 35. Thirty players are more than 30 years old, and the women's game is aging too. Careers are getting longer. Tennis is so much more stylistically narrow than it used to be. Wouldn't it be something if we saw in 2015 that world class players are still adding variety, touch and imagination to their games? A new stroke. A new wrinkle- the kind that you genuinely want, and that fans want as well.
Tom Tebbutt, Tennis Canada
As he ages, there’s limitless fascination with a player as scrumptious as Federer. He has been such a treat to watch all these years so it’s only natural to hope for a few more as good as his remarkably injury-free comeback 2014. On that theme, can Rafael Nadal overcome yet another fitness obstacle (obstacles?) and win Slams again in 2015?
And there’s always the eternal question of who’s next. I think Stan Wawrinka and Cilic were one-offs, so can a Nishikori, Raonic, Dimitrov, Thiem, Kyrgios, Tomic, Coric, Zverev really break through and be top-3 and maybe win a Slam? On the women’s side, when will longstanding predictions of Serena’s demise finally materialize and who has a “year” from among the Halep, Bouchard, Stephens, Bencic, Keys, Muguruza, Garcia group?
Joel Drucker, Tennis Channel
I'm looking forward to seeing how the rising set of young players continues to advance. On the men's side, will the likes of Wawrinka, Cilic, Nishikori, Raonic and Dimitrov contend significantly week in and week out and earn frequent wins over Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and Murray? With the women, can Halep and Bouchard capture bigger titles?
Also curious to see how the coaching world continues to evolve. The senior guru, the day to day operational dude, the role of a father or mother -- each delicately reshaping the experience and our understanding about what coaching really means in an individual sport where the player is also the team owner.
Tom Perrotta, The Wall Street Journal
First, a question: Did the 2014 tennis season really end? When? Not sure I believe you. It was one of the most exhausting years in tennis, from Australia to Davis Cup to ITPL. I'm curious to see if players will be in worse shape in 2015 because of it -- or maybe in better shape? Maybe a season that never ends, but has a bunch of small breaks throughout, is better than a condensed/intense season with a lot of time off in the fall and early winter.
Women's tennis won 2014: Better stories, great matches, lots of new talent. I'm excited to see if the emerging stars -- Simona Halep, Eugenie Bouchard, Garbine Muguruza -- continue to improve and win majors, or if Petra Kvitova finally decides she's never going to lose again and beats everyone. And of course the biggest question of all: How long can Serena Williams keep being Serena Williams? Bonus: Lindsay Davenport and Madison Keys seem like a great match. Looking forward to her year.
And of course, the biggest story of 2015: Federer. If he doesn't win another major title this year, it becomes a lot harder to see him win another one. Not impossible, but a lot more difficult.
I'm also excited to see some of the world's most deliberate players take no more than 20 seconds between points since they all proved they could do it while playing IPTL.
Ben Rothenberg, contributing writer, The New York Times
Boring as it may be, I'm looking forward most to the No. 1s on each tour, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, trying to move themselves into an even higher stratosphere of the tennis pantheon. How will Serena handle the pressure after her three Slam flameouts last year? And can Novak put together another year anything like 2011, or at least play a decent French Open final?
On the opposite spectrum, I think the kids (Kyrgios, Coric, Keys, Bencic, Konjuh, etc) can make big moves this year, and I would love to see them be the ones who become roadblocks to the all-time greats trying to get greater.
Kevin Mitchell, The Guardian (U.K.)
I will make one more vain plea for towels to be banned between points, for screaming and screeching to be enthusiastically booed by any spectator who feels so disposed, for players to say something interesting in press conferences, for boring questions to be enthusiastically booed by any player so disposed at press conferences, and -- in a forlorn hope -- for Federer to finally admit he is, indeed, @PseudoFed.
Carl Bialik, FiveThirtyEight.com
Here’s what I’m hoping for: A successful Nadal return, including clay matches against Djokovic. A successful del Potro comeback. More, and better, grass-court tennis with the extra week between Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Federer, Serena Williams, Cara Black,Peschke and the Bryan Brothers continuing to compete for No. 1 in singles or doubles past age 33.
Fellow veterans Venus Williams,Schiavone, Date-Krumm, Lopez, Karlovic, Hewitt, Stepanek and Haas each making at least one second-week run at a Slam. Consistent improvement from teenagers Coric, Zverev, Kyrgios, Bencic, Konjuh and Townsend. A Grand Slam final for Raonic or Dimitrov, and a Grand Slam title for Bouchard, Halep, Radwanska or Wozniacki. The Big Four -- welcome back, Andy! -- all at their best all the way through a Grand Slam. At least one Grand Slam final that goes to 6-6 in the deciding set.
Colette Lewis, ZooTennis.com
I'm most looking forward to seeing who replaces Patrick McEnroe as General Manager of USTA Player Development and how his (or her? unlikely) philosophy aligns with those currently employed there, including, particularly, Director of Coaching Jose Higueras, Head of Men's Tennis Jay Berger and Head of Women's Tennis Ola Malmqvist. Will there be a wholesale house cleaning? Or gradual attrition? Or neither? Will the job itself be recast? Is a brand name player or coach necessary? Does anyone qualified for the job actually want it? Those answers will determine if USTA is interested in change or would rather maintain the status quo as the Player Development move to Lake Nona looms.
Simon Cambers, The Tennis Space (U.K.)
I am most looking forward to seeing if -- somehow -- Gael Monfils can finally fulfill his talent by winning a grand slam. That's what I'd like to see. But it's more likely the big guns reassert their dominance on the men's side while Serena keeps her head above water on the women's side.
Matt Cronin, TennisReporters.net
2015 is all about the younger players. They made their move this year, but they need to close the gap next year. It's one thing to be great for a couple of months. Are there guys who are good enough in 2015 who can push for all the Slams and play great for 10 months? That's the big question for me. Eventually, you have to think, the younger players are ready to take out the top players, like Serena and Sharapova on the women's side. On the ATP, how long can Roger, Rafa, Novak and Andy stay there? Is it really forever?
Federer may or many not win another Slam. Rafa could get hurt all the time or he could win two Slams. Djokovic could win three. The one we don't know about anymore is Murray. He nearly got double-bageled by Federer at the ATP Finals. When he won his two Slams I thought he could get six or seven Slams. Now we don't know. He's lost his confidence. His forehand isn't good anymore, his second serve return is lousy and he's losing his concentration in matches. So in 2015 I'm really looking at him. Is he going to win another Slam or is that it for him?
Bouchard is a big one to watch next year. She started this season outside the top 30 and you thought, "Ok, she's better than I thought she was." But who thought she would make two Slam semifinals and a Slam final? That was a surprise. But she needs to step up and get that major breakthrough. So whether it's her or Madison Keys or Belinda Bencic, they're all really good. Now they need to show they can beat the best.
Wozniacki is another one I'm watching. She better win a Slam this year. She played excellent against Serena at the WTA Finals and she still lost. I'm curious to see whether she slips back or finally breaks through.
Zheng Bendou, TiTan Sports (China)
I will be very curious to see whether Djokovic can win it for the first time at Roland Garros, and Federer can win another Grand Slam tournament (the latter is even tougher?) I will also follow if Kei Nishikori can break into top four and if any Chinese guy can break into top 140 (again, the latter is even tougher?) I am also looking forward my first easy and relaxing year for the past many years, just because the main resource of working pressure (Li Na), has retired.
Ricky Dimon, The Grandstand
Juan Martin Del Potro. No elaboration is necessary, but I will expound nonetheless.
Unfortunately, our sample size of Life Without Delpo is sizable enough to know that said life is not a fun one. When he was out for almost all of 2010, Nadal and Federer sleepwalked to all four Grand Slam titles. This past season did not lack competitiveness as guys like Wawrinka, Cilic and Nishikori filled the void, but a World Tour Finals without Del Potro and Nadal proved to be an unmitigated disaster.
There was a relative dearth of epic matches in 2014, too -- a problem potentially solved by Del Potro (see: 2012 Olympics vs. Federer and 2013 matches vs. Djokovic at Wimbledon and in Shanghai, just to name a few). We need the gentle giant to stay healthy, have the draw gods be kind to him (he will be unseeded for at least the Australian Open and probably for the first half of 2015's Masters 1000s), and power his way back to London.
I'm also looking forward -- but terrified of saying goodbye -- to a grand finale on the Grandstand at the U.S. Open. For hardcore tennis fans who appreciate the sport far beyond just the Federers, Nadals, Serenas and Sharapovas of the world, it has been and always will be the greatest court around. Where else can you get a standing-room-only crowd already doing the wave 30 minutes before a match even starts? Where else do you see this: a player grab the chair umpire's microphone, tell the crowd they're "unbelievable," and then take a high-fiving victory lap?
Lastly, which player-coach relationship will be most successful in 2015? Isner-Gimelstob? Berdych-Vallverdu? Radwanska-Navratilova? Keys-Davenport?
Luminita Paul, Gazeta Sporturilor (Romania)
I expect from 2015, in a totally random order to see:
- How the "new wave" -- Wawrinka, Nishikori, Cilic, Dimitrov, Raonic -- will keep up after the good results they had in 2014
- The Big Four reunited -- no injuries involved -- and fighting for the big titles, with all their rivalries sparkling
- Serena winning the 19th, maybe the 20th Grand Slam
- Simona Halep winning her first
- If Sharapova can again dominate the clay court season
- Venus playing at 35
- Delpo back
- Murray's wedding and Rafa asking Xisca to marry him
Liu Renjie, Sina.com (China)
Players I'm most looking forward to watching in 2015 are Kvitova, Halep and Murray. If there is someone who can definitely challenge Serena for the No.1 ranking next year, I will put my bet on Kvitova, and her alone. It's also very interesting that she is now working with Alex Stober as her new physio. Will the German work his magic again just like his excellent job with Li Na? We just have to wait and see.Regarding to Halep, I was very shocked to hear she split with Wim Fissette as her coach. But whatever she has been building around her new team since then, I'm still rooting her to be a major contender, because her all-around game play in Singapore at the WTA Finals was so beautiful and impressive to watch. As for Murray, I only have one question: Will he call it quits working with a female coach after the Australian Open?
Bold predictions: Serena and Sharapova will walk away with empty hands at the Slams, Nadal and Djokovic each with two.
Steve Tignor, Tennis.com
On the men's side, I'm looking forward to a Late Golden Era season: Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, Murray, Wawrinka, and a fairly new face, Kei Nishikori, all seem like they're coming in at full strength. Could be a blockbuster 11 months.
On the women's side, I'm looking forward to seeing how the next putative challenger to Serena, Simona Halep, does in her first post-breakout season. And I'm very curious about the latest super-coach/top-player combination, Aga Radwanska and Martina Navratilova.
Louisa Thomas, Grantland
I'm looking forward to a year of transitions. Can Martina Navratilova help transform Radwanska, one of the most fun, fantastic, and frustrating players to watch, into one of the most rewarding? Can Kei Nishikori keep pushing the best until he becomes one of them? And what about Stan Wawrinka? Come to think of it, I'm just looking forward to watching Stan Wawrinka hit his forehands and backhands. What more could I want than that?
Christopher Clarey, The New York Times
Three wishes: two grantable; one almost surely not. The grantable: a true Slam-to-Slam rivalry in women's tennis, which may require a return to top form from Victoria Azarenka.
I'd also like to see tennis steal a page from NFL coverage in the United States and create a Red Zone channel during Grand Slam events and big tour events. One channel: constantly changing courts and commentary to put you on the scene for the big service game, the big end to the big set and to show you the highlight-reel shots shortly after they happen. It's done to a lesser degree now by some networks that cover tennis but not to this degree And creating more compelling content is one of the keys to reaching the attention-challenged, younger crowd. The NFL does it brilliantly.
As for the more difficult: I always think back to 1997 at the French Open when Guga Kuerten came out of close to nowhere to win the title. Would love to see another bolt-from-the-blue run like that.
Steve Flink, Tennis Channel
I believe 2015 could be one of the great seasons of this modem era. Nadal is trying to add to his men's record by winning at least one major eleven years in a row and he will be looking for a tenth French Open title -- but both goals may be tough to attain after the disruption of these past six months. Federer had an amazing campaign in 2014 and has raised his hopes of garnering an 18th major, but best of five works against him. Djokovic will be Djokovic and seems almost certain to remain No. 1. I see Nishikori winning a big one and Dimitrov getting to a major final.
Serena will surpass her 2014 results and take two of the “Big Four” tournaments. Bouchard will fall out of the top ten but bounce back in 2016. Wozniacki will have the best year of her career but will still not get that elusive Grand Slam title. I can envision Halep winning the French and Sharapova securing one premier prize somewhere along the line. We are in store for a blockbuster year all around.
Brian Phillips, Grantland
Nick Kyrgios spent 2014 playing on a knife's edge. One minute he was driven, brilliant, terrifyingly focused and without mercy. The next he was a nervy, mistake-prone wreck, the frustrated little brother of tennis. I'm looking forward to the double drama of his matches in 2015 -- Kyrgios vs. his opponents, Kyrgios vs. himself -- and hoping his struggle toward self-realization is as thrilling as it was last year. Does that sound overly dramatic? Welcome to Planet Kyrgios.
Victoria Chiesa, The Tennis Island
Last season, we called for young players to step up and challenge the game's elite. We got what we wished for to a point, and in 2015, I'm eager to track the teenagers on both tours. Madison Keys and Nick Kyrgios both turn 20 next year, but pick out any other name -- Alexander Zverev, Borna Coric, Belinda Bencic, and Ana Konjuh, among others -- and you'll find they all have something in common. Each made their own splash last season, from Hamburg to Flushing Meadows, and I want to see what the next step is for them. We keep hearing that the teenage champion is a thing of the past, but these kids might have something to say about it should they put it all together.
Lindsay Gibbs, The Changeover
I am looking forward to two primary things: First, seeing how the legends Serena Williams and Roger Federer continue to deal with the aging process. Obviously, Serena is closer to her peak than Roger is, but both of them are still playing fantastic tennis and will be in the mix at all of the Slams. But also, both of them are 33 years old and have a lot of tennis mileage on their bodies.
So far, they've both responded to getting older by working harder and adding to their legacies, but I'm curious as to what this next year will bring. We're so lucky to have both of them still playing well and hungry for more, and I plan on enjoying it.
I'm also looking forward to seeing who will step up next. The stand-out breakout players on the men's side were Stan Wawrinka, Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori, while Simona Halep and Genie Bouchard stole the spotlight for the women. Besides perhaps Halep, I don't think many expected such great seasons from those players. So who will shine this year? Will Lindsay Davenport give Madison Keys the boost she needs to make a deep run into a Slam and break into the top 10? Will Martina Navratilova give Radwanska the boost she needs to win a major? Could Belinda Bencic follow in Bouchard and Sloane Stephens' footsteps and make it to the Australian Open semis? Can Raonic or Dimitrov make it to a Slam final? Could Tomas Berdych pull a Wawrinka? Or will the breakthrough players be a complete surprise?
It's a fun time in tennis, with GOATs still building their resumes and new players coming up, and I'm just excited to see how it all unfolds in 2015.