The New Year is only a week old, but some of the key actions for 2019 are already frayed, which makes the question of what 2019 really holds up so great. Here are some of the trends that were recognized after the first week of play.
Big four reunion could be a bust
In December, fans felt the return of the Big Four. Just a week after this season, we wonder if Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal can even attend the Australian Open (no matter, beyond).
The entire quartet was scheduled to play in the first week of January, but Roger Federer was the only one who could win. His appearance at the Hopman Cup, where he competed against Serena Williams in a mixed-doubles match in the sky, was a great spectacle. The Swiss team (Federer and Belinda Bencic) won everything but at the end of the day it was just an exhibition.
Top seed Novak Djokovic was upset by Roberto Bautista Agut in a high-quality semi-final in Doha, Qatar. In an echo of the bad old days of 2017, Djokovic frustrated a bat and then became frosty with the media: “What happened?” he repeated. “I lost the match, that’s it.”
Nadal (# 2) and Murray (# 240), who missed out on losing time with his stubborn hip, were both reported in Brisbane, Australia. Murray, whose movement is still in danger, was knocked off in the second round by late-blooming next-gen Bombardier Daniil Medvedev.
Nadal hoped to be fully fit for the Australian Open, undressed and used what he called “a small load on the left thigh”. Do you want a sobering figure? Nadal has just completed one of the last 19 highly competitive events in which he has participated.
New Stars Entry
The young stars Naomi Osaka, Elina Svitolina, Elena Ostapenko and other well-known champions (including Sloane Stephens, Petra Kvitova and Caroline Wozniacki) did not manage to break the jackpot in the first week. Veteran Karolina Pliskova, 26, won a title in Brisbane while 30-year-old Julia Goerges triumphed in Auckland.
The hottest WTA player since last fall was Aryna Sabalenka, and the way she mowed in Shenzhen last week suggests that the 20-year-old from Belarus has been the dominant force in the WTA since Serena Williams has gone on maternity leave.
Sure, we’ve been on this road before with other strong young women who had courageous, powerful games and early success (Garbine Muguruza, Ostapenko and Kvitova). None of them had stamina at the top. But someday somebody will turn up to rule the sleeping place. Sabalenka seems ready to make her offer.
No one likes a buzzkill, but it’s time for a reality check. Are the young professionals that made up the original Next-Gen group destined to become Grand Slam masters? Top 10 contenders? Top 30? journeyman
Alexander Zverev, 21 and 4, heads over his next-gen colleague (only Karen Khachanov is the winner of a Masters 1000 or higher). Three others in the group are classified in the next 10 (No. 11 Khachanov, No. 12 Borna Coric and No. 15 Kyle Edmund). The other original members are Hyeon Chung (# 25), Nick Kyrgios (# 35), Yoshihito Nishioka (# 75), Elias Ymer (# 115), Thanasi Kokkinakis (# 146), Quentin Halys (No. 128), Taylor Fritz (# 49) and Frances Tiafoe (# 39).
These are mostly good, solid players. Some of them have come to a standstill for injuries. Others are dwarfed by younger players (including No. 15 Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 27 Denis Shapovalov) or late bloomers (No. 16 Medvedev).
If the original Next Gen group is a generation, it needs to do so soon. Zverev seems to be the favorite, but an injury sustained in training forced him to end the World Tennis Challenge in Adelaide on Monday.
Zverev, Nadal and Murray are not the only sick stars. The sight of Williams clinging to his right shoulder several times during the duel of the US mixed doubles against the Swiss shoulder made alarm bells ring even if she downplayed the meaning: “It was such a fast turn,” Williams told reporters , “I did not have enough time to reload the cannon, which is completely normal.”
Even more disturbing, however, is the injury sustained by Maria Sharapova, who gave up her quarter-final in Shenzhen last week, while leaving Aryna Sabalenka behind due to a hamstring injury. It was the first tournament of Sharapova since the US Open.
Number 1 Simona Halep will play for the first time since September this week, when she was marginalized with a herniated disc, while US finalist Madison Keys struggled with wrists and knees.
Juan Martin del Potro will miss the Australian Open while continuing to recover from a broken patella. Former Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic does not seem to get well. The good news: The often injured No. 9 Kei Nishikori was healthy enough to win Brisbane on Sunday. The year started with a finale with the highest total finalists ever in an ATP event, as 6-foot 8 No. 6. Was it a harbinger?
Historically, the Big Four (largest member: 6-foot-3-Murray) has held back the crush of tall men who have interfered in the game. But if they falter, all bets are off. Djokovic, Nadal and Federer are each on the numbers 1, 2, 3, but then (in order) Zverev, del Potro, Anderson and Cilic. Each of them is 6 feet 6 or larger. By the way, also Khachanov, and then there is No. 10, 6 foot 10 John Isner. That should bother 5-foot-7-Diego Schwartzman and all the smaller players.