After two of the more incredible Grand Slam runs in modern history, at the 2017 Australian Open, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal face a 2017 season that suddenly contains great hope for the two champions.
Currently ranked 6th (Nadal) and 9th (Federer) in the world respectively, both players rose sharply in the rankings post Australian Open. Current rankings and points gaps can be seen on the image below! Furthermore, the unique way in which rankings points work, has created a highly advantageous situation for both Federer and Nadal. To fully explain just how the rankings work, follow this link http://www.atpworldtour.com/en/rankings/rankings-faq
Roger Federer does not have a single title to defend in the 2017 season, and only the one final, which was in Brisbane in January, 2016. Essentially, Federer can only gain points as the season continues. An envious situation to be in.
Next up for the Fed is the hardcourt Dubai Tennis Championships, an event Federer has won an incredible 7 times, so logic would indicate the Swiss is every chance of winning it again. Straight on the back of Dubai are the two North American Masters events in Indian Wells and Miami, where Federer has won 4 and 2 times respectively. Aside from the Grass Court season, these next three tournaments are arguably Federer’s best chance to cash in whilst he’s in form and full of confidence.
From the American hardcourt spring, to the rigours of the European clay, the Swiss Maestro can no longer compete with the elite clay court players in the world. If Federer follows his usual trend of the last few years of playing Roland Garros and in either one or two of the clay court masters events, he should hold position with his ranking points.
Beyond the tough clay court season, Federer will be casting a long-term eye on his favourite surface, grass. Halle, and Wimbledon are two of his most dominant tournaments, 2016 was one of the rare years where he failed to either win or make the final in either. Defending a semi-final appearance at the All England Club is the only large points haul that Federer has to defend for the rest of the season.
The entire post-July scenario for Federer is when he can make up the most ground in the rankings battle. Andy Murray, has an enormous amount of points to defend from Wimbledon onwards, whilst Novak Djokovic is defending an impressive tally from here until the end of the clay court season. Stan Wawrinka has the 2000 US Open points to defend before the year is out. To reach that elusive number 1 spot, Federer will probably have to win at least one more slam this year, perhaps at Flushing Meadows where he can chase the maximum 2000 points. It’s unlikely, but if Roger Federer has taught us anything it’s, impossible is nothing.
For Nadal, it’s all about cashing in on the clay court season, in particular, the three Masters events in Madrid, Rome, and Monte Carlo. Plus regaining his beloved French Open crown, which he’s won, an unimaginable 9 times.
Coming from 2016, Nadal is only defending two titles, both on clay, in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. Even better for Rafa, after withdrawing from the 3rd round at Roland Garros last year, a deep run in this year’s tournament will likely push Nadal back towards the top 4 players in the world.
Nadal’s impressive showing at the Australian Open should give him the confidence to compete and win on hardcourts into the short-term future. A lack of confidence in the past two seasons had rendered him almost impotent on the most common professional surface. With the Indian Wells and Miami hardcourt Masters just around the corner, Nadal will have a golden opportunity to further his confidence and emphasise to the rest of the ATP Tour that he still must be feared.
In the past it hasn’t been uncommon for Rafa to go on a tear and win multiple tournaments back-to-back, before some issue on his body catches up with him. In the back half of 2013, during the US Open Summer Series, Nadal won both Masters events in Cincinnati and Montreal before trouncing all before him and snaring his 2nd US Open crown. Is that possible today? Probably not, but if Rafa is to make any serious attempt at regaining the number 1 ranking again he’ll need to compete and win far more regularly on the hardcourt circuit.