The 2017 tennis season is almost over. It was a special season for a few reasons besides the elephant in the room: the return of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. 2017 held a couple firsts for some players. Jack Sock won his first Masters title and is competing in his first year-end finals. The same is true for Alexander Zverev who won his first and second Masters titles, and is ranked in the top 10 (or 4) for the first time in his career. Marin Cilic also followed up with his first Wimbledon final appearance. It is the first year in many that both Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are out of the top 10.
There are many new faces here at the year-end finals this year- all of them very much deserving, but given how different this year was to ones in the past, how much of a role did injuries to notable stars such as Stan Wawrinka, Djokovic, or Murray play?
Do Federer and Rafa win two Slams apiece with a healthy Djokovic and Murray?
Many have taken delight in the fact that tennis’ two biggest rivals are back to their winning ways. Federer and Nadal split the Slam titles between them this year thanks to dominant returns to the forefront and managing to reinvent themselves. Maybe as important as this was the sheer amount of rest the two had in preparation for this season; both missed the latter half of 2016.
The year started off with a bang when Federer won the Australian Open at the expense of his arch nemesis in the final. Little did fans know it, but Roger and Rafa would be fighting each other for the year-end no. 1 for the rest of 2017. After Melbourne, Rafa and Roger would alternate victories at the remaining Slams. Out of the picture after Wimbledon, were their two biggest threats: Murray and Djokovic, the incumbent no.’s 1 and 2 at season’s commencement. But surely they would have put up a fight? No, not really. Djokovic had been having injury troubles all year, while Murray had been struggling with poor form all year before going down with an injury. Had these two been healthy, would this have changed much?
It is tough to say how exactly much a healthy Djokovic and Murray would have changed the landscape this year, but it is safe to say that at least one of them would most likely have taken home a Slam title. Though many spoke very highly of Federer’s and Nadal’s rebounds, saying that they were playing better tennis than ever, the two biggest obstacles to their success were non-existent. Case in point, when is the last time Federer beat Djokovic at a Grand Slam? 2012 at Wimbledon. Since then he is 0-4 against him at Slams, and two of those losses have come at Wimbledon too. In fact, Djokovic is the only player to beat Federer twice or more times at Wimbledon. Murray and Federer have not played since 2015, but it is safe to say that Murray, after his 2016 run, would have given the Swiss much more trouble than in the straight sets loss at Wimbledon 2015.
The same can be said for Nadal. How would he have faired against a healthy Djokovic who had won 7 in a row against him coming into 2017? Murray had also improved his clay court game and proved that he could take Nadal down on the red dirt too.
All this is not to discredit Nadal and Federer, but it is fair to speculate just how successful they would have been had their biggest threats been present and healthy for the entire year. How many less Slams would say of them won?
How different would the Nitto TAP Finals lineup be without key injuries?
This question is absolutely a valid one in this case. For starters, one competitor, Stan Wawrinka, would have entered the tournament as the 7th seed, but withdrew with an injury. This opened the door for Jack Sock, who needed a victory in Paris to make it in as world no. 9, to fill in for Stan. This does not end with Jack Sock though- who else would not be there?
With all four of Stan, Djokovic, Murray, and Milos Raonic missing, the lineup could have been entirely different indeed. David Goffin would most likely be gone, Grigor Dmitrov would be doubtful, and Cilic would be fighting to get in. This is not to say that all four players would have made it, but would Zverev be ranked 3rd in the world with Murray and Djokovic there, and would someone like Kevin Anderson have reached the U.S. Open final with these players present? I doubt it. What happened happened, however, and players cannot be faulted if their opponent is not fit to play a match.
All the players in the ATP Finals have had great seasons- otherwise they would not be there. It is tough to dismiss, however, that injuries to other key players may have played a minor-to-moderate role in their success. Until 2018, we can only speculate about how much the field was weakened, but if Murray, Stan, Djokovic, and Raonic come storming back with shining campaigns, it will become tougher and tougher to ignore this sentiment. In all, the purpose here is not to discredit some tremendous 2017 campaigns, but rather, to ponder whether these players’ success should be taken with a grain of salt.