The new tennis season is fast approaching, just a few short weeks after the previous campaign ended, and players will be busily preparing and contemplating possibilities.
A perfect blend of youth and experience currently occupies the top of the game. The established elite are seeking further accolades, while the young upstarts will endeavour to make headway.
Here are five players expected to have a big 12 months ahead:
5) Felix Auger-Aliassime leads North American challenge
Auger-Aliassime continues to make serene progress in the professional ranks. The 21-year-old leads the Canadian charge in the men’s game - and he possesses the firepower to make further inroads.
The world No.11 made a last-eight appearance at Wimbledon and managed a semi-final berth at the US Open. He is becoming a live contender for the biggest prizes, but his temperament at critical junctures remains questionable.
Auger-Aliassime has reached eight ATP finals, yet he is still waiting to become a champion. His profligacy in Championship matches is perplexing, but the floodgates will surely open once the losing streak ends.
4) Emma Raducanu ready for the next step
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Raducanu encountered a noticeable dip after an extraordinary high. The teenager went from relative obscurity to headline-act status within weeks, and a period of adjustment as she adapted to her new status was always likely.
A lack of stability undoubtedly contributed to her subdued end to the campaign. The search for her new coach dominated the agenda, and it was an unnecessary distraction. Confirmation of the experienced Torben Beltz being added to her team ended speculation, and the newly formed partnership needs time to gel.
The Brit remains a relatively unknown proposition on the WTA circuit. The demands of an unforgiving schedule will test her resolve in the months ahead – and her response to the challenge will be fascinating.
3) Jannik Sinner is making his move
The Italians enthusiasm for tennis is evident every spring at the Rome Masters, and the locals have craved a talent that embodies their unrivalled passion for the game.
Matteo Berrettini, a Wimbledon finalist, has raised Italian expectations, however Sinner is the man most likely to end their agonising wait for a male slam winner.
The 20-year-old is the youngest player to finish a campaign inside the Top 10 since Juan Martin Del Potro in 2008, and the speed of his progression has been impressive.
Last sixteen appearances at Roland Garros and the US Open were his best results at majors in 2021 - and he appears set to become a meaningful presence in the latter stages more often.
2) Garbine Muguruza is pushing for more
Muguruza is a double major winner, but she should have achieved even greater success. The 28-year-old, who ended the campaign with victory at the prestigious WTA Finals, has lacked consistency throughout her career.
The Spaniard adopts an aggressive high-risk approach - and few players can cope with her ferocious power. The good days have been too infrequent though, and her results at slams have been underwhelming since defeat in the Australian Open final two years ago.
Her recent achievement in Guadalajara should be the springboard to a prosperous 2022. The women’s game is searching for a player to seize control and drive the narrative, and Muguruza has the credentials to become the face of her profession.
1) Further glory pending for Novak Djokovic
Djokovic was denied a calendar Grand Slam and a record-breaking 21st major by Daniil Medvedev at the US Open, but he’s unlikely to be prevented from further historic achievements in the months ahead.
The Serbian is locked alongside Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on twenty slam titles, and sole-ownership of the lead is within his grasp.
Djokovic’s involvement at his beloved Australian Open is unclear due to uncertainty surrounding his vaccination status. If he does make the trip Down Under, a 10th meeting with the Norman Brookes Trophy seems inevitable.
Djokovic ended the campaign as the oldest year-end No.1, and he shows no sign of slowing down in the twilight of his career. 2022 should see the Serbian strengthen his standing amongst the pantheon of greats.
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