03 June 2013

Tennis in 2018 - will L’Equipe be proven right?

by Ewan McQueen | Contributor

Men’s tennis is currently blessed with a set of four world-class players whose names just roll off the tongue; Djokovic, Murray, Federer and Nadal in which ever order you like.

For the last five years, the four of them have been the main contenders in each of the four Grand Slams on an annual basis, with only Juan Martin Del Potro breaking the foursome’s vice-like grip on tennis’s main prizes since Djokovic won the Australian Open in 2008.

However, as with every sport, new talent emerges and the old guard have to give way and this will be the case over the next few years in tennis. With that thought in mind, L’Equipe, the respected daily French sports newspaper published on Saturday a list of who they believe will be ruling the tennis world in 2018.

It was as follows. 1. Grigor Dimtirov. 2. Benoit Paire. 3. Andy Murray. 4 Milos Raonic. 5. Novak Djokovic. 6. Kei Nishikori. 7. Bernard Tomic. 8. Ernests Gulbis. 9. Jerzy Janowicz. 10. Jack Sock. Now, of course L’Equipe have put a lot of thought into this and aren’t just throwing around some outlandish predictions, but I have to admit I was surprised by some of the top ten.

Right now I suspect even fairly regular viewers of tennis would struggle to know about half of the names on the list. However, if a week is a long time in politics, then five years is a lifetime in tennis. What stood out first for me, was the inclusion of the current top two in the world, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. By the time 2018 comes around, both men will be 31 and with tennis becoming a more athletic sport all the time, it will take some doing from both men to remain in the top five for another five years. Murray in particular has had a fair share of injury problems at the age of 26, and whilst it would be fantastic if he could remain one of the finest players in the world into his 30s, I think L’Equipe are being slightly ambitious putting the Scot at number three.

On the other hand, Djokovic has been pretty lucky with injuries and he could well follow in the footsteps of Roger Federer, who at the age of 31 is still ranked number three in the world and has just reached his 36th consecutive Grand Slam quarter final at the French Open. I can’t see the Serb being dominate at the age of 31, like he was a couple of years ago, but since he is comfortable on all surfaces, he will still be a name to be feared.

But what about the top two in L’Equipe’s list? Out of the youngsters trying to reach the top at the moment, Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov is the one with the most hype around him. He was a very successful junior player, winning the Wimbledon and US Open titles in 2008 at the age of 17, but he has flattered to deceive somewhat since then. Only this year have we started to see signs of his true talent, particularly when he knocked out Djokovic last month in Madrid, only for him to fall meekly to the Serb at the French Open in the third round, which remains his best Grand Slam performance. Question marks remain over Dimitrov’s commitment to improving his game and he is now in a high-profile relationship with women’s number two Maria Sharapova. However, if he can hone his game (which he largely bases around Federer’s style) in the next few years, Dimitrov can reach the very top.

As for L’Equipe’s number two pick, I cannot help but think that some French bias has come into their pick of Benoit Paire. He might be ranked 26th in the world, which is two places higher than Dimitrov but at the age of 24 he is yet to win an ATP Tour title. He did beat Del Potro at the Rome Masters this year before pushing Federer hard in the semi-finals, but I am not sure this is enough to say he will be world number two in five years time. Like Dimitrov, questions remain about his mental toughness to compete with the very best and he showed signs of big frustration when he lost to fellow rising star Kei Nishikori in the French Open third round last week.

For me, the two that could be the world’s top two in five years time are Milos Raonic (who was placed at 4) and Nishikori (who was ranked sixth on the list). Raonic is still only 22 but has already won four ATP Tour titles including three successive San Jose Opens. His big serve will surely get him deep into a Grand Slam tournament soon and I’m surprised he hasn’t done better than the second round at Wimbledon so far. For me, Raonic seems more level-headed than the two aforementioned names and since he will be 27 in 2018, he seems to be primed to be the world’s best by then.

As for Nishikori, he has risen to number 13 in the world and has already reached a grand slam quarter final when he reached the last eight of the 2012 Australian Open. The key thing about Nishikori is that he seems comfortable on all surfaces and has the game to trouble the very best as he proved when he defeated Federer in Madrid in May this year.

As for the rest of the list, all of them have the potential to reach the top, but I think L’Equipe have been guilty of leaving out too many of the current players on tour. If Del Potro stays clear of injury, he will only be 29 in 2018 and you’d have to fancy him to be right up there. And with Nadal enjoying a magnificent comeback, who’s to say he can’t remain at the top until 2018, although with the Spaniard’s knees extremely dodgy, that would be some achievement.

L’Equipe published a similar list in 2008, saying who would be at the top in 2013 and have been remarkably successful with their predictions. They had Federer, Nadal and Djokovic in the top 3 as well as David Ferrer in the top five. Only their predictions of David Nalbandian and James Blake remaining in the top 10 have been proven badly wrong, though both have suffered with injuries.

For what it’s worth, here’s my own personal top ten for 2018:

1. Milos Raonic

2. Kei Nishikori

3. Novak Djokovic

4. Grigor Dimitrov

5. Jerzy Janowicz

6. Ernests Gulbis

7. Juan Martin Del Potro

8. Benoit Paire

9. David Goffin (currently ranked 58 and only 22)

10. Andy Murray.

Don’t hold anything against me though if those predictions don’t come true though. Just enjoy watching the new tennis talent try to break through to the top over the next few years.

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