2018 awaits the return of Champions

After an eventful 2017, where we saw arguably the best two to have ever played tennis, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer re-emerge and dominate the tour by winning  two grand slams each and occupy the top two positions in the yearend rankings, the 2018 season is expected to be more eventful as we see the return of numerous ATP players who abruptly ended their 2017 season with injuries.

Novak Djokovic, the winner of twelve grand slam titles, is expected to make his return, after a lengthy six months off, at the Qatar Open in Doha. Djokovic is eying a three-peat in Doha, after lifting the title in both 2016 and 2017. Tomas Berdych, the 2015 Qatar Open runner-up and the last player to defeat Djokovic, is also set to make a comeback in Doha.

 

While the Qatar Open is underway, Andy Murray, who hasn’t played since Wimbledon, will be making his return to the Tour in Brisbane, a tournament which he has won on two previous occasions in 2012 and 2013. Brisbane will also see the return of the 2016 Champion, Milos Raonic. Both Murray and Raonic will have to up their game if they want to lift the trophy once more, as Brisbane will see the return of the 2017 Champion Grigor Dimitrov. Dimitrov ended a career best season with a tournament win at the ATP Nitto Finals.

After an injury prone season, Djokovic, Berdych, Murray and Raonic, will all be looking to commence the year with a win and re-affirm themselves amongst the elite top 10, after having seen their ranking dwindle from the top 10 to inside the top 25.

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Roland Garros 2015 – Analysis of the defending champions

Defending champions seek to continue their mastery of the red clay.
Defending champions, Sharapova & Nadal seek to continue their mastery of the red clay.

We are currently approaching the end of the first week of the second grand slam of the year “Roland Garros”, and the defending champions Sharapova & Nadal are still drop shotting it to live another day!

There were a lot of doubts around them prior to the start of  the tournament. Nadal “The King of Clay” didn’t have the best preparation on his favourite surface, having lost to Djokovic, Fognini, Murray & Wawrinka at all the warm up tournaments. In fact 2015 was his first year not winning a Master’s Clay tournament. Regardless of the results thus far, one can never rule Rafael out of the French Open, having won it 9 times out of the last 10 years. He had a relatively easy first round win against the french wild card Quentin Halys, with his serve only being broken once. His next opponent is his fellow Davis Cup compatriot Nicolas Almagro, whom he has beaten twice already this year, both in straight sets. Nadal leads the over all head to head 12 – 1, with Almagro’s sole win coming in Barcelona on clay in 2014.

Nadal is projected to meet Novak Djokovic in the Quarter Finals.  With Novak currently the bookies favourite having had a formidable start to the year winning the first grand slam of the year in Melbourne the “Australian Open” for a record breaking 5th time, the most in the Open Era as well as 4 Master titles thus far, one can see why this match is being labeled the match of the tournament and possibly the decider of the 2015 Champion.

Similarly to Nadal, Maria Sharapova who once described herself as a cow on ice whilst playing on clay , who later went on to reinvent her game on the red surface by reaching the final at the French Open 3 consecutive times and lifting the trophy twice has had a tough time in recent months on the dirt.

Sharapova who was aiming to lift the trophy at the indoor clay arena in Stuttgart for a fourth consecutive time was upset in the second round by the German Angelique Kerber. Sharapova’s disappointing form continued in Madrid where she was the defending champion, as she was defeated rather comfortably by her fellow Fed Cup teammate  Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2009 French Open Champion.

Maria subsequently traveled to Rome to participate in the Italian Open, having wanted to reignite her form on the surface. Sharapova regrouped and went on to lift the trophy for a 3rd time. With this result Sharapova guaranteed herself the second seed for the French Open, meaning she could not face her nemesis Serena until the final.

Sharapova who is currently battling a cold in the french capital of Paris has won her first two rounds with no hiccups. Sharapova’s third round match is scheduled for Friday the 29th May where she will face off against Sam Stosur for the 17th time. Maria leads the head to head with 14 wins, with the two losses coming on hard courts. Stosur is currently on a 7 match winning streak having won the international tournament in Strasbourg. Although Stosur’s sole grand slam win came at Flushing Meadows, one could argue that Clay is Stosur’s best surface having reached the Semi Finals at Roland Garros three times, with her best result been Runner Up to Schiavone in 2010. Thus this will be deemed to be Sharapova’s first real test of the tournament. If Sharapova manages to win this match, it is inevitable that Sharapova will play the final for the fourth time.

Both Nadal & Sharapova prove to be a force to be reckoned with on the dirt, and one can never disregard these champions regardless of what form they may have exhibited prior to Roland Garros.