London: The 2018 ATP World Tour began with a bang as the opening events saw record-breaking performances from Roger Federer and a remarkable demonstration of the great depth in men’s tennis as no fewer than 16 different players claimed victory in the first 18 tournaments.
Federer joined Roberto Bautista Agut as the only players to claim two early season victories, with the Spanish star victorious at the ASB Classic in Auckland, and at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and Federer successfully defending his Australian Open crown in Melbourne and then following up with a masterful performance to win the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam.
Federer’s exploits so far this year have already been widely heralded, but they are so outstanding they certainly deserve highlighting again.
With his fighting five-set win over Marin Cilic in the final in Melbourne, Federer secured his 20th Grand Slam title. The 36-year-old became the second oldest winner of a Grand Slam event (behind 37-year-old Ken Rosewall) and by securing his sixth Australian title he joined Novak Djokovic and Roy Emerson as the most successful players in the rich history of the men’s championship.
The dust had hardly settled on that historic victory when Federer hit the headlines again. When he beat Robin Haase in the quarter-finals in Rotterdam in February, he returned to the top of the ATP Rankings.
That achievement wrote the Federer legend further into the history books and for a number of different reasons. He returned to the top ranking for the first time since November 4 2012, marking the longest period of time between stints at the top. At 36, he became the oldest player to hold that ranking and he also posted a record 14-year gap between first achieving the milestone and reclaiming it.
He was just 22 when he first ascended to No. 1 in the ATP rankings and that was way back on February 2 2004. He has spent more time at the top of the table than any other player, already surpassing 300 weeks and still counting.
For good measure Federer went on to win in Rotterdam, with his straight-set victory over Grigor Dimitrov securing his 97th career title.
But while Federer was approaching 100 tournament wins, others enjoyed memorable moments of their own, tasting success for the first time on the ATP World Tour. Congratulations go to Mirza Basic for his breakthrough win at the Diema Xtra Sofia Open, to Roberto Carballes Baena who won in Ecuador, to Karen Khachanov for becoming champion at the Open 13 in Marseille, to NextGen Frances Tiafoe, who was victorious in Delray Beach and to Daniil Medvedev, who celebrated at the Sydney International.
The other title winners so far this season were more established names, and congratulations therefore go to Juan Martin del Potro, who won the 25th edition of the Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC, Nick Kyrgios, Gilles Simon, Lucas Pouille, Kevin Anderson, Dominic Thiem, Diego Schwartzman, Gael Monfils and Fabio Fognini.
The mix of nationalities, the age range from young to not so young and the diversity of game styles already claiming success this season, demonstrates the depth of talent on tour and promises plenty of excitement for the rest of the year.
Attention now turns to North America and two very important, back-to-back ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events. The cream of the tennis world first descends on the beautiful Indian Wells Tennis Garden complex in the Californian desert for the first of the two highly prestigious tournaments, the BNP Paribas Open.
With big points and prize money on the table, tennis fans can expect some breathtaking tennis as the top players and the fast-rising stars duel it out. Federer heads in as the defending champion in Indian Wells, and buoyed by his return to the top of the rankings, will no doubt be ready to continue his amazing season.
From the desert of California, the Tour then heads to the more tropical climes of Miami where once again the world’s top players will perform at the Miami Open presented by Itau. The familiar name of Federer is again the defending champion, but he’ll expect plenty of challenges.
After an amazing run of 32 years, it will the last time the tournament is played at the familiar soundings of Crandon Park on Key Biscayne, because next year the event moves to a stunning new specially designed facility at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. The brand new venue will provide an unparalleled fan experience, ample parking and of course improved player amenities.
The North American hard court swing always provides plenty of excitement before the Tour heads to the clay court season. This year, after such a stunning beginning, will no doubt be one to savour.
— Chris Kermode is Executive Chairman and President of ATP and writes a special column for Gulf News