February 27, 2017
Are 2017‘s fast starters destined to slow down? (AP)
“Who are you?” is the question of the moment in tennis.
This weekend, Elina Svitolina beat world No. 1 Angelique Kerber on her way to winning the biggest title of her career, in Dubai; in the process, she ran her 2017 record to 17-2. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who hadn’t won a title since 2015, won his second straight, in Marseille. And Jack Sock, the new American No. 1, won his second event of 2017, in Delray Beach.
Those aren’t the only players suddenly surging. So far this year we’ve seen Grigor Dimitrov win two events and reach the semifinals at the Australian Open; Karolina Pliskova win two of her own and rise to No. 3 in the world; and Caroline Wozniacki, who, like Tsonga, seemed to be on a slow but irreversible career slide, reach the finals in Doha and Dubai.
Most of these surprises have been pleasant ones. The players involved are either crowd favorites or young talents who have yet to fulfill their considerable potential. It’s been a thrill to see Dimitrov, at 25, remind us why he’s such an exciting player to watch, and to see Pliskova, at 24, begin to take herself seriously as a major-title contender. And tennis is always better when Jo is jumping for joy.
Now that February is about to turn to March, the next question needs to be asked: How much will any of this matter when we get to the business end of the season this spring? In 2016, the title-winning players in February were Roberto Bautista Agut, Roberta Vinci, Nick Kyrgios, Venus Williams, Dominic Thiem, Sara Errani, Kei Nishikori, Carla Suarez Navarro, Martin Klizan, Sloane Stephens, Sam Querrey, Heather Watson, Stan Wawrinka, Pablo Cuevas and Svitolina. Of those, only Wawrinka went on to reach a Slam final. For the most part, February’s heroes peaked early.
Are 2017‘s fast starters destined to slow down, too? Here’s my assessment of the long-term viability of the year’s early winners, in ascending order of promise.