Having fought tooth and nail to topple Novak Djokovic’s stubborn dominance, the new world number one now faces an altogether different challenge. Suddenly Murray is no longer chasing his peers — he is being chased. The hunter has become the hunted. All eyes will be on the 29-year-old as we enter 2017. What, or more appropriately, who, will be the primary threats to his crown?

 

A wounded Serbian

The former world number one has looked a shadow of himself since winning the French Open in May. But, having suffered the worst of consequences for his dip in form, Djokovic is sure to mount a counter-attack. The first major tournament of the tennis calendar is the Australian Open. Unfortunately for Murray it is one of the Serb’s favourite stomping grounds. The hard courts of Australia could serve as the perfect catalyst for Djokovic to rediscover his world-conquering level. The six-time winner and defending champion will look to press Murray immediately in the first grand slam of the year.

More worryingly for the Glaswegian, the next two major tournaments of the calendar, Indian Wells and Miami, respectively, have also become homes away from home for Djokovic in recent years. The Serb has claimed the ‘Indian Wells/Miami’ double three times in the last three seasons. The world number one should expect firm resistance – Djokovic will not give up these crowns lightly.

The flip side of this, however, is that the Belgrade native has a host of points to defend early in the season. Should he do anything other than win these three tournaments, his ranking will slide. Murray, on the other hand, fared poorly in the early part of 2016, save for an appearance in the final of the Australian Open, and therefore has ample opportunity to further the gap between himself and the world number two.

The old guard

2016, while a momentous year for British tennis, raised enormous question marks concerning two legends of the sport: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Both players cut their seasons short this year due to injury, and while the pair are expected to return next year, the question remains: how much of a force can they be? Only time will tell. The Swiss and Spaniard have both made careers out of defying expectation and perceived limitations. Neither should be written off provided they still believe they can compete.

Federer remains a serious contender for the Wimbledon crown. A semi-finalist in the 2016 edition and a finalist in the two years preceding, the 35-year-old is always dangerous with grass underfoot. It was as recent as 2015 that the former world number one outclassed Murray in straight sets at the All England Club. The Scot will have a cause for concern should he see his old rival throughout next year.

Similarly, Nadal will look to reclaim his familiar crown at the French Open. A champion on the Parisian clay as recently as 2014, the 30-year-old suffered a colossal loss of form the following year, tamely relinquishing his grasp on the Coupe des Mousquetaires to Djokovic in 2015. Earlier this year, however, the Spaniard looked to be recovering the kind of prowess which rightly earned him his moniker as the King of Clay. Yet it was not to be and a wrist injury prevented him from further participation in the tournament. However, the fact remains: Nadal can still play great tennis on the dirt. Murray has yet to take a set off Rafa at Roland Garros in two attempts. Should he have a third bite at the cherry in 2017 he must proceed with caution.

And the new …

This season saw the continued ‘rise of the youngsters’. Tennis may be witnessing the twilight years of many great players but it is also entering an unprecedented purple patch with regards to new talent. Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev — 23 and 19 respectively — had their best year on the tour to date and both men have enough game to defeat players even as formidable as Murray.

The so-called ‘lost generation’ comprised primarily of Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic also saw a return to prominence this year. Dimitrov, though struggling with form over the past three seasons, managed to enjoy a considerable resurgence towards the tail end of 2016. Raonic for his part experienced a remarkable season, reaching the Wimbledon final and holding match point against the world number one at the World Tour Finals. The field is more competitive than ever before. The Scot will have a harder time advancing through the earlier rounds of the tournaments he competes in compared with his predecessors. In 2017 there simply will not be any ‘easy draws’.

Not that this new level of competition will deter the world number one. Andy Murray’s ascent to the top spot in tennis was a long, uphill struggle but it proved his insatiable appetite for hard work. The unfortunate truth for the Scot is that this was only stage one on the path to becoming an ‘all-time great’.

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