The year gone by has nothing been short of a miracle for the original poster boys of tennis' current generation, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The duo reinvented themselves and went on to divide all the four Grand Slams between them. Not only that, the mother of all battles — the Federer-Nadal clash gave tennis aficionados enough reasons to celebrate about.
It all started with then world no. 16 Federer clinching the Australian Open, when no one expected him to sail past the quarters. After taking a longish break from tennis, for a good part of 2016, Federer silenced his critics after defeating Nadal in the finals at Melbourne Park.
With the expectations raised, it was always going to be a difficult task for the 36-year-old to keep pace with young guns. But being the master he is, he surprised one and all with another Wimbledon triumph—his 7th overall—this time by beating Marin Cilic. Apart from the Grand Slams, Federer won a seven titles in the year-- including three Masters at Indian Wells, Miami and Shanghai -- despite having skipped the entire clay court season.
Talking about the clay courts, there is hardly a name as big as Nadal. The Spaniard delivered the goods in his most favoured tournament, and went on to win his 10th French Open title, and also took home the US Open.
That made sure that Nadal ended the year as world no 1, just above his old foe, Federer. There might be a few surprises in the offing—as far as results are concerned in the coming year, as Nadal parted ways with his childhood coach and uncle Toni.
Old Horses Take Time Off
Injuries are a part of the game, but 2017 was wee bit tough on the top-rankers. The first major casualty of the year was Novak Djokovic, who succumbed to a wrist injury during Wimbledon, and had to miss rest of the season, thereafter.
Britain's Andy Murray sailed in the same boat as Djokovic, owing to a hip injury. Joining the list was three-time Grand Slam winner Stanislas Wawrinka. All are expected to make a return to next year's Australian open, but there is no confirmation as yet.
The Open Women's Era
With the absence of USA's Serena Williams, finally other 'top' players got a shot at winning the Grand Slams. But it was not before she won her record-breaking 23rd Glam Slam title at Australia.
Lo and behold, the win came when Williams was a few weeks pregnant. It was only then, that Garbine Muguruza, Jelena Ostapenko and Sloane Stephens came to the fore.
It all started with outsider Ostapenko, who took the French Open, defeating champion-Simona Halep. In the process, she became Latvia's first ever Grand Slam champion at Roland Garros. With no consistent performer in the category, it was Muguruza who came out tops at the Wimbledon.
But the biggest surprise was reserved for the US Open, where the unlikely winner Sloane Stephens emerged. Just a few weeks before her triumph at the Flushing Meadows, her ranking had slipped to 957. She beat compatriot Madison Keys for the title.
Courtesy the see-saw battle between the women, we had five world no 1s in the year. They were—Serena Williams, Angelique Kerber, Karolina Pliskova and Garbine Muguruza.
Much of the attention was also diverted to 'tarnished' Maria Sharapova's return to the court. Having served a doping ban of 15-months, the Russian's comeback didn't go well with most of the players. Some called spade a spade, while others stayed away from the whole episode.
A bitter rivalry between Canada's Eugenie Bouchard and Sharapova emerged, as the former rebuked her in the open. Bouchard went on to the extent of calling Sharapova a cheater, and demanded a life ban for the five-time Grand Slam winner.
Indians Miss the Trick
When players from relatively small countries thrived, India, again suffered in the hands of controversies, incapable tennis association and injuries. Sania Mirza, who had an exceptional 2016 and started the year as world no 1 in doubles, broke a fancied partnership with Swiss Miss Martina Hingis. The results were as expected, and her ranking dropped to no. 12, while her ex-partner reveled at the top.
It was a near miss at the world group playoff in Davis Cup, as India lost to Canada in Edmonton, 2-3. This was the tie where veteran Leander Paes was excluded from the final four doubles player list. This move was always on the cards, after Mahesh Bhupathi was made the non-playing captain of the Davis Cup team. In fact, Paes and Rohan Bopanna, both were kept as reserves in the tie against Uzbekistan, that India won 4-1.
Talking about 44-year-old Paes' career, it was just restricted to changing partners every two tournaments, and winning the challengers. The year gone by saw Paes forming teams with eight different players in men's doubles, and two in mixed doubles. His biggest achievement perhaps, was reaching the semis of Dubai Open and Delray Beach Open.
Another top Indian player, Somdev Devvarman announced his retirement on the first day of the year, and was then made the national observer for tennis by the Sports Ministry.
Way to Go
Indian singles players showed some class in the category finally, but only in patches. Yuki Bhambri made an entry into the Citi Open, where he reached the quarter-finals. He brought down the big gun Gael Monfils of France in the same tournament.
It was a big year for Ramkumar Ramanathan, who scalped then world no. 8 Dominic Thiem at the 2017 Antalya Open. It was 6-3, 6-2, straight set victory, that showed, he belongs to the big stage. Also, the Indian reached the main draw of his first Masters 1000 tournament, at Cincinnati. Some crucial performances saw him rise up to world no. 156.
With the men's singles, a hope of improvement prevailed, but in the women's singles there was absolutely no player who shone on the world stage. One might argue the presence of Ankita Raina, but she has been around for a while now, and has been lingering in the 200-300 rankings for the past two years.
The hopes of getting an Indian singles champion might still be a far-fetched dream, as the gap between All India Tennis Association and the players keeps widening. This year a huge controversy erupted when Bopanna was overlooked for the Arjuna Award, and a Saketh Myneni was chosen over him.
Now the onus is on the association to get their act together, and on the players as well, to stay fit and graduate from the ITF tournaments, for common good of tennis.