After an Awful 2016, The 2017 Tennis Season Can't Come Soon Enough

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett@@merlisaFeatured ColumnistOctober 21, 2016

Roger Federer falls flat during his final match at Wimbledon 2016.
Roger Federer falls flat during his final match at Wimbledon 2016.Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Happy new year! Yes, it's only October, and we still have trick-or-treating to do. However, after one of the most dismal tennis seasons in recent history, 2017 can't come soon enough.

There is no guarantee that next year will be better, but it's unlikely to be worse.

Thursday, Rafael Nadal announced he's ending his season early due to nagging injuries. His announcement came just a few days after Serena Williams withdrew from the WTA Tour Championships. This means the year-end championships will take place without four of the biggest names in tennis over the last decade—Williams, Nadal, Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova.

It's been that kind of year.

Before fans and players could get excited about the season's first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, a match-fixing scandal erupted.

An in-depth investigation by Buzzfeed and the BBC claimed to expose a secret list of top players involved, which had some raising questions and pointing fingers.

After Novak Djokovic told reporters he was once offered $200,000 to fix a match, he was forced to deny he had actually participated.

In early March, word spread of a major announcement coming from Sharapova. People guessed it was early retirement or a new Sugarpova candy flavor.

Instead, Sharapova dropped a bombshell that she had tested positive for a banned substance. Conversations about banned substances, the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Tennis Federation dominated the headlines.

Then there was the degradation in the desert, when Indian Wells former CEO Raymond Moore was forced to resign after belittling female tennis players.

May showers washed out an entire day of play at the 2016 French Open. The soggy saga at Roland Garros got some comic relief by way of Adidas zebra-print outfits and tweets from the Wimbledon roof.

In June, after a scathing tribunal report, the ITF lowered the boom on Sharapova with a two-year suspension. Her suspension was reduced to 15 months in October.

Federer's season ended in July, in the semifinals at Wimbledon. The image (seen above) of the maestro's face planted on grass served as a symbol of a year gone wrong.

Shortly after Wimbledon, Federer announced he had to bring his season to a close due to injury.

"I am as motivated as ever and plan to put all my energy towards coming back strong, healthy and in shape to play attacking tennis in 2017," he told ESPN.com.

This meant Federer would miss the Summer Olympics in Rio. But he wasn't alone. Rio was supposed to be like a fifth Grand Slam, another major in the season. Instead, it became a game of "guess who's not coming to Rio." Several top players skipped the Olympics because of fears surrounding the Zika virus.

Maria Sharapova during a press conference to announce she tested positive for a banned substance.
Maria Sharapova during a press conference to announce she tested positive for a banned substance.Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

Hostile fans in Rio added an unpleasant dimension to the Summer Games.

Just prior to Rio, the prestigious Rogers Cup, played in Montreal and Toronto, suffered a rash of big-name withdrawals, including Federer, Nadal, Serena Williams and Andy Murray, who had just won Wimbledon and went on to defend his Olympic gold medal.

After the U.S. Open came news of a hack attack on WADA that revealed the medical records of several players. The story was first released by state-run Russian television RT, which characterized reviewed and approved medical exemptions by Serena and Venus Williams as Americans allowed to use banned substances.

The WTA, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and even Venus Williams issued statements to counter the Russian propaganda. Still, in a social media climate in which rumors and accusation resonate beyond fact-checking, it was yet another source of negative news for tennis.

It also overshadowed tremendous U.S. Open runs by veterans Angelique Kerber and Stan Wawrinka.

With Kerber as the new No. 1, it looked like the WTA might have a fight for the top spot to add intrigue to the often-overlooked Asian swing. However, Williams soon announced she was withdrawing from the Wuhan Open and the China Open and hoped to play in the WTA Finals.

Nick Kyrgios during the 2016 Shanghai Masters.
Nick Kyrgios during the 2016 Shanghai Masters.Koji Sasahara/Associated Press

Last week, she withdrew from the finals. Then came Nadal's announcement.

But it's not like the game's most famous faces disappeared. In fact, Serena Williams, Sharapova and Federer popped up at charity events, fashion shows and grand openings. It's never good for tennis when the most popular players are photographed wearing everything but tennis gear.

Williams was on stage with Beyonce and backstage with the cast of Broadway's The Color Purple. She was everywhere, except for on a tennis court.

Meanwhile, Nick Kyrgios got himself banned from tennis. Kyrgios disgraced himself during a Shanghai meltdown, in which he walked off the court in the middle of the final point and essentially told fans thanks for nothing. The ATP suspended Kyrgios for eight weeks.

He wasn't the only player behaving badly at Shanghai. Djokovic went on an epic racket-smashing, shirt-ripping meltdown in a loss against Roberto Bautista Agut. Too bad that display of poor sportsmanship overshadowed Bautista Agut's brilliant performance.

Of course there's still tennis to be played in 2016. The ATP and WTA have year-end championships coming up, with first-timers like Dominika Cibulkova and Madison Keys.

Murray still has a shot at finishing ahead of Djokovic in the singles Race to London.

But the sour taste of 2016 is already baked into the cake. However, next year will be so much sweeter.

We get the return of Williams, Federer, Nadal and Sharapova. With Djokovic and Kerber having to defend Australian Open titles, the competition for No. 1 heats up right away.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal talk during a ceremony dedicated to Nadal's new tennis academy in Mallorca.
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal talk during a ceremony dedicated to Nadal's new tennis academy in Mallorca.JAIME REINA/Getty Images

They'll be no Olympics, so the summer schedule should be more cohesive with most of the top players participating at the same tournaments. And although match-fixing and banned drugs will still be an issue, it's unlikely those topics will be as explosive as they were in 2016.

The ATP adds another grass-court a week before Wimbledon, in Antalya in Turkey. The courts at this new venue are being installed under the watchful eye of the All England Club, which should make for an excellent pre-Wimbledon tuneup. 

We'll also likely see promising teens like Alexander Zverev and Ana Konjuh take another step toward superstardom.

We could see Serena Williams break Steffi Graf's record for most Grand Slams won in the open era. She could tie or even surpass Margaret Court for most Slam won in the history of professional tennis.

A new year offers hope—another chance to get it right. After a year in which so many things went wrong, 2017 can't come soon enough.

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