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Ricky And His “Crystal Ball Picks” For The 2018 Year-End Top 8 • Nitto ATP Tennis Finals in London

Switzerland’s Roger Federer in action during his round robin match against Croatia’s Marin Cilic at the ATP World tennis finals in London, Britain, 16 November 2017. EPA-EFE/ANDY RAIN

 

 

By Ricky Dimon

 

Tennis season is upon us, which means it is time to predict the field of eight men who will take the court inside London’s O2 Arena for the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals in less than 11 months. Due mostly to a plethora of injuries, nobody could have foreseen the field that competed for the year-end championship trophy in 2017. It was an unexpected field when the event began and an even more surprising field when it ended, as Rafael Nadal joined the expansive list of injured superstars just one match into the tournament.

 

Predicting this year’s elite eight may be even more taxing, because Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka, and Milos Raonic are all going into 2018 at less than 100 percent. And some may not be going into 2018 at all–or at least not for a while.

 

So here goes nothing…in order from No. 1 to No. 8 to qualify for the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals.

 

1. Roger Federer – The Swiss maestro endured some physical problems of his own in 2017, but compared to just about every other top player these days he is a bastion of good health. The 36-year-old captured two major titles last season and based on both his own level and what may be a relative lack of competition, he should be in line for at least one more in 2018. He is really the only man going into the season with no real question marks–not even his age.

 

2. Dominic Thiem – Thiem has been a borderline disaster off clay in recent years, at least relative to his results on clay. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are two different clay-court swings–one in February and another in April and May. Three Masters 1000s on the slow stuff plus Roland Garros should once again be more than enough for the 24-year-old Austrian to accrue a boatload of points. And he is bound to get better on other surfaces at some point…. Maybe? Hopefully?

 

3. Grigor Dimitrov – The only question with Dimitrov is if he can build on his big 2017 and take the next natural step in his career, which would be winning a slam. Although he has never reached a Grand Slam final, he is now a two-time major semifinalist (2014 Wimbledon, 2017 Aussie Open). The Bulgarian took advantage of a depleted field throughout the second half of last season to capture the Cincinnati title and lift the ATP Finals trophy. Will he once again be the one to capitalize on opponents’ injuries?

 

4. Rafael Nadal – Nadal is limping into 2018 with another dreaded knee injury, which forced him out of the Nitto ATP Finals following a loss to eventual runner-up David Goffin. The world No. 1 pulled out of both the six-man Abu Dhabi exhibition and the season-opening event in Brisbane, so he remains in doubt for Melbourne–and in general. If Nadal creates a smart schedule for himself and dominates clay to the extent that he does not have to chase points elsewhere, he should remain in the top four.

 

5. Andy Murray – So much of the year-end rankings will be predicated on injuries, or–cross your fingers–lack thereof. Whereas Nadal, Djokovic, Nishikori, and Wawrinka are beginning this year on the shelf, Murray has given himself the green light to play in Brisbane. That is at least some kind of a good sign for the Scot, who has been sidelined by a hip problem since Wimbledon. If he can play close to a full year in decent health, Murray will be back in the top five.

 

6. David Goffin – Goffin suffered an injury of his own this past season, but that was a freak fall at Roland Garros that forced him into a third-round retirement and kept him out of the grass-court swing. Despite that time off, he still managed to qualify for London (where he upset both Nadal and Federer before losing a three-set final to Dimitrov) and carry Belgium to within one match win of the Davis Cup title. Goffin may not have the firepower to win a major, but he is otherwise a stone-cold lock to remain in outstanding form.

 

7. Novak Djokovic – Nadal, Murray, and Djokovic all have No. 1 potential along with Federer if they get healthy and stay healthy. Of course, that is a big “if” at the moment. Djokovic has not played since Wimbledon and his lingering elbow issue forced him to pull out of the upcoming event in Doha. His Australian Open prospects seem questionable at best, which is especially bad news because the Aussie is his best event. Djokovic is the upcoming year’s biggest wild card.

 

8. Juan Martin Del Potro – It’s not often that Del Potro is one of the healthier players on tour, but that is the case right now. He scheduled smartly in 2017 and a semifinal showing at the U.S. Open followed by consistently impressive fall results put the Argentine one win away from qualifying for London. It didn’t quite happen, but it would have with ease had he not skipped the Aussie summer. This time, all systems are go for him right from the start.

 

Alternates

9. Alexander Zverev – In his first major with real expectations, Zverev suffered a disastrous round-two U.S. Open loss to Borna Coric. The German still went into his year-end championship debut at No. 3 in the world after winning the first two Masters 1000 titles of his career. But sustaining that kind of success will be difficult…if most or all of the presently injured stars come back with a vengeance.

 

10. Nick Kyrgios – Like Zverev, Kyrgios has never done anything in slams–aside from playing a few five-set thrillers at the Aussie. If he can get off to a strong start by treating the Melbourne faithful to some heroics, the 22-year-old could be off to the races. All signs point to Kyrgios have the best season of his career, but he may get bored during the fall swing to just barely miss out on a spot at the O2.

 

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at  @Dimonator.

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