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A Very Merry TTI New Year: Our Resolutions for 2016

A new year, a fresh start. Much of the world is at least 48 hours into 2016 and many will resolve to do better in the coming year, from losing three pounds (on the SouthBeach Fat Flush™, of course) to mending broken relationships or limiting their binge-watching to less than six consecutive episodes on Netflix. To hash out what could be #goodfortennis in 2016, some of the TTI crew, joined by Sam Davis (@Around_ThePost) — our newest full-time contributor for 2015 — got together to make some resolutions of our own for some players, and the sport as a whole for the New Year.

JEFF

Bernard Tomic: Re-assert his status as the original “Aussie bad boy.”

With the exception of maybe the clay court season, Tomic competed with more purpose in 2015 than I think anyone expected him to — and his ranking improved because of it.

Finishing the year at a career high of World No. 18 with another title to his name, Tomic and his game of slices and flat forehands produced enough consistency to place him resoundingly ahead of his other younger Aussie kin – Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis – in the rankings.

Off the court, however, the story was different.

We will never forget such sagas like the multiple driving fines, the resisting arrest, the naked rooftop wrestling, and — even last year — the dragging of Tennis Australia through the mud in an impressive post-loss tirade at Wimbledon. Yet, Tomic was never in headlines or think-pieces for very long in 2015, because countryman Kyrgios stole limelight with his own on-and-off-court antics.

“Resisting arrest? I raise you one on-court ‘sledging’ of opponent’s girlfriend.”

Tomic’s tennis discipline might have matured this past season but he’s still far from perfect. He surpassed Kyrgios in rankings but can he make up the ground in the race to be Australia’s most viral? Here’s hoping.

Ernests Gulbis: Have his inevitable rebound season complete with a Grand Slam —

— or something.

Every time Gulbis has an off-year, he follows it up with an on-year (followed by another off-year, but who’s counting?). With the exception of having match points against Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals in Montreal (but still losing), 2015 was a massive disappointment for the Latvian, as he ended the season outside the Top 75 with a paltry 11-24 win-loss record.

Given the law of averages — and the tennis everyone knows he is capable of — Gulbis is due for (another) uptick in 2016. Watch him win a Masters 1000 this year, just for the heck of it. Or a Grand Slam.

Or, you know, nothing. #gulbis

Flavia Pennetta: Frequently show up in Fabio Fognini’s player box looking flawless — 

— all while radiating an air of ‘My career accomplishments make YOU the arm candy, Fabio.’

I think it goes without saying that Pennetta’s 2015 US Open triumph inspired the tennis world to truly appreciate the Italian’s game, personality and overall panache as a player. I personally never thought she’d surpass her Indian Wells triumph from a season before, and had she not mic-dropped her career in epic fashion at the end of last season, I would have resolved for Pennetta to back up her magnum opus with a respectable set of 2016 results — but, alas.

Fortunately, boyfriend Fabio will still be active on the ATP Tour in 2016 (and I doubt he’ll let us forget it). While Pennetta deserves a spectacular year of extravagance and relaxation, if she’s in attendance at various 2016 tournaments, I hope the cameramen are kind and produce a few cameos of the Italian star.

Flavia, that is.

SAM

Victoria Azarenka: Schedule smarter, at least in the short term

Stop me if you heard this in 2015:

“If only Serena and Vika were meeting later in tournaments! This should be a final!”

While the quality and competitiveness of matches between the World No. 1 and the two-time Australian Open champion in 2015 were usually fantastic, there was a reason these meetings took place in comparatively early rounds: Azarenka has continued to schedule like a Top 5 player throughout her comeback and it’s cost her.

There’s no shame in adding a few WTA International events to her schedule in 2016, picking up some points, and heading to the majors with a ranking that helps her avoid the top women in the early rounds. As she’s now proclaimed herself ready, Azarenka should dig in, swallow her pride and commit in a way she didn’t last year. It could pay off.

Grigor Dimitrov: “Fix yourself.”

It seemed like Baby Fed’s stellar 2014 was just the beginning, but he hit a major roadblock in 2015, falling all the way down to No. 28 in the rankings and failing to reach a final at any level. While he’s “only” 24 years old, he’s been an ATP mainstay for the better part of the past five seasons. If Dimitrov doesn’t rediscover that 2014 magic soon, his generational stablemates and the quickly-approaching next generation could leave him in the dust.

We know the talent is there; the only question is if Dimitrov can fix his game (and emotional state, based on his Spotify activity, which is glorious) and put a season together that puts him back where his raw shotmaking ability suggests he should be: near the top-10 and in the hunt for a spot in London.

Photo: Christopher Levy.

Photo: Christopher Levy.

EVERYONE: Join Snapchat

In untrained hands, it doesn’t have the classiest reputation — but Snapchat is a legitimately good medium to get an unfiltered look into parts of a famous person’s life that would normally be inaccessible (aka not quite Instagram-worthy). The players who have chosen to give fans access to their accounts have done nothing but make themselves more relatable to followers and fans, showing a side that doesn’t always come through in interviews and other social media.

Serena Williams (username: serenaunmatched), Daria Gavrilova (daria_gav), Nicole Gibbs (gibbsyyyy), and Nick Kyrgios (k1ngkyrg1os) have mastered the art form of the Snap(chat), entertaining followers with a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a tennis player.

(Wimbledon’s account was one of my favorite things a tournament did this season, and other ATP and WTA events would be smart to follow along.)

Here’s to 2016 being the year of #TennisTwitter meeting #TennisSnapchat.

VIKA

Simona Halep: Stick with Darren Cahill

Since becoming a force on the WTA Tour in 2013, the current World No. 2 has employed almost as many coaches as she has won titles.

(That might be a slight exaggeration — but not much.)

The Romanian’s name has often come up each offseason when discussing coaching hirings and firings, from Adrian Marcu (2013), Wim Fissette (2014) and Victor Ionita (2015), and Halep heads into 2016 with yet another “new” leader in her coaching camp — her fifth in the past three seasons.

This one, however, she’s quite familiar with. In November, the Romanian announced that’d she’d be partnering full-time with Darren Cahill, as the Adidas Player Development Program will not continue in 2016. The two worked together periodically in 2015 as a part of the Adidas program while Halep also employed her countryman Ionita, and have certainly already shown some great chemistry together.

A great tactician and calming presence whenever he’s seen on court, Cahill has all the tools to assist Halep in taking the steps towards cementing her status as one of the WTA’s elite. Here’s hoping she’s resolved to give him more than a 12-month chance.

Angelique Kerber: Win more of “those” matches —

— when it matters the most.

Angelique Kerber’s 2015 season was simultaneously mercurial and mundane.

She dropped out of the world’s Top 10 for the first time since 2012 in February, and looked as though years of grinding her way through the world’s elite were finally catching up with her. A title run in Charleston — her biggest crown in three years — kickstarted what was a strong season, one that saw her win four Premier titles and edge out some dramatic matches in the process.

And yet, there was more of the same. She didn’t advance past the third round of a Grand Slam, losing two dramatic matches at majors to Garbiñe Muguruza — one from a set up and another 7-6(12), 1-6, 6-2 — and a third to Azarenka, one that many considered to be one of the matches of the year.

Kerber’s record in three-set matches last season was 15-12, but we spent a lot more time talking about the ones she lost — again. For her sake, maybe that narrative will change in 2016.

Julie Kjendlie and Marijana Veljovic: (Continue to) slay

Photo: Christopher Levy

Photo: Christopher Levy

The sport’s umpiring chairs will likely be a lot more ponytailed in 2016, and not a moment too soon. Longtime silver badge umpire Julie Kjendlie (NOR) and resident #umplyfe wunderkind Marijana Veljovic (SRB) both see a change in their umpiring status, as Kjendlie earns her gold badge — the highest certification an umpire can hold — after eight years, and Veljovic joins the ITF officiating team in a full-time capacity.

If Veljovic’s promotion also means that she too has been elevated to gold badge status, the number of female umpires at the top of the sport increases to eight and sees at least one woman enter the elite for the first time in four years.

For 2016: keep doing #werk, ladies.

RENÉ

Several ATP players: More when it matters

Yes, men’s tennis has been ruled by just a few names in the past decade or so — but for quite a while, I’ve been getting the feeling that some of the gatekeepers who have been left just on the outside are starting to feel a little too comfortable in their position.

When Tomas Berdych loses to Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray, I want to see the World No. 6 fiery, angry, spitting bile, you name it — the vibe I’m getting is more resigned. Elsewhere, the “I’m just happy to be here” refrain has rarely felt more accurate than it does with David Ferrer.

Next year, I want to see more ruthless ambition and more big talk. Even if they struggle to walk the walk, I could get a lot more excited by some fighting words than another, ‘Well, it is/it is going to be so difficult ’cause he’s so good,” followed by a small shrug.

The WTA Tour: More between the big names

The WTA Finals in Singapore was thoroughly entertaining — and it probably helped that none of the match-ups felt stale since we saw fairly little of them throughout 2015.

I’d quite like to get more meaningful rivalries established between the big names in 2016, whether that is between compatriots, friends or frenemies. The fact that “Serena-Vika” was as good as the closest thing to a rivalry we has in 2015 should give a lot of the other ladies in the Top 10 something to think about.

To tennis: More love for the digital age

Photo: Christopher Levy.

Photo: Christopher Levy.

Yes — GIFs are gaining ground and Vines are creeping up, but there is still so much more untapped potential. Increase the highlights options and provide more “classic” matches for costumers (I’m looking at you, Tennis TV).  Counteract the upload of 30-minute highlights by uploading true highlights — i.e., longer than three minutes.

If you build it, they will come — and tennis fans are willing to the invest money. Particularly some of the Grand Slams need to get on board – Wimbledon, to name an example, did a marvelous job on the social media front last year. Stop pulling your own leg and get with the program, tennis: you might even see a few more fans trickle through as a result.

What do you want to see in tennis in 2016? Sound off in the comments!

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