Source: Rafa Nadal via Facebook.
A season ravaged by injuries has given the year-end ATP rankings of 2017 a very different look to those of 2016. Rafael Nadal has enjoyed an indomitable season that has given him a comfortable hold at the top spot in the rankings. Below him, there is relative chaos. Before the ATP World Tour Finals, seven of the top ten players were at a career-high ranking. The other three were just short, with Roger Federer one place below his best at the top of the rankings, Marin Cilic a spot below his best of fourth place and the injured Stan Wawrinka slipping down but clinging on to the seventh spot.
These drastic changes in the rankings are not artificial and meaningless but will have similarly drastic ramifications for the Australian Open early in 2018. Depending on how early tournaments preceding the Slam transpire, the 17th-24th seeds could be a bracket that includes Andy Murray, Nick Kyrgios, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori. Novak Djokovic should consolidate a spot in the top 16, but, nevertheless, that is a star-studded selection of players who could be parachuted into early encounters with the likes of Nadal and Federer. Nadal, as number one seed, could feasibly face Murray as early as the fourth round if the draw is unkind on the Spaniard.
Of course, there is no guarantee that these dangerous low-seeded floaters will be at their peak fitness but, if they are, then there is the possibility of some big names going home far earlier than we are accustomed to. The flipside of having one quarter or one half of the draw full to the brim with star names is that there could be a section that is blown wide open, in a similar fashion to how Andy Murray’s late withdrawal reshaped the 2017 US Open. Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem could be the highest seeds in their quarters, with the former unproven in majors and the latter relatively unfancied on hard courts.
If the likes of Murray and Djokovic are drawn in the quarter of the young prospects, they will fancy their chances to restore the traditional balance by operating as a pseudo top-four seed. However, the draw could feasibly open up for an unlikely run from players waiting for a lucky break, such as Kevin Anderson, who capably took advantage of a kind draw by reaching the US Open final. A resurgent Juan Martin del Potro could be one such beneficiary, the Argentine enjoying impressive late-season form to arrive on the cusp of the top ten. Although, on his day, he can take down anyone, a kinder draw would be a fillip for a player whose fitness must be managed extremely carefully.
Source: Juan Martin del Potro via Facebook.
Del Potro can be found at prices of 22/1 to take the Australian Open title, representative of his status as someone with Slam-winning pedigree who needs his fitness and form to align once more. With free bets across a range of bookmakers on the Oddschecker site, fans and punters alike can partake in a risk-free bet on a player with unquestionable ability but fluctuating fitness. Top ten players David Goffin and Jack Sock can be found at prices of 80/1 and 125/1 respectively, so ranking alone dictates that they are players worth consideration for bettors looking to take advantage of sign-up offers.
Few would have expected Federer and Nadal to be competing in the Australian Open final last season; indeed, many heralded it as their last grand encounter. Even fewer would have predicted that they would conclude the season as the world’s top two players, with Federer even deigning to skip the clay-court swing. The beauty of tennis is in its unpredictability. The recent tournament in Paris saw Filip Krajinovic deliver an extremely unlikely charge to the final, where he lost a hard-fought contest against Sock. The Serbian player dropped out of the top 200 last year but will end 2017 as the 33rd best player in the world (according to the rankings, anyway).
This leaves Krajinovic in a favourable position to be seeded at the Australian Open, a remarkable change of affairs for a staple of the Challenger tour. However, an impressive series of wins in Challengers clearly enabled him to play his way into form and, although the beneficiary of the withdrawal of an injured Nadal, his progress in Paris gives hope to all players that fortunes can change quickly in tennis. The injured cohort of top ten regulars will be hoping that their fortunes enjoy a similar reversal, and that with the regaining of fitness comes the return of their best form.