Dominic Thiem expects a Roger Federer-like comeback from Novak Djokovic but not necessarily from the other injured top players who were sidelined during the 2017 season.
Djokovic will make his long-awaited return from an elbow injury in Abu Dhabi this weekend, at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, appearing for the first time since Wimbledon last July.
Federer, who was out of action for the second half of 2016, enjoyed a stunning comeback this year, winning the Australian Open in his first official tournament back, and adding a 19th major to his tally at Wimbledon a few months later.
Rafael Nadal also had injury problems during the 2016 season but stormed to the No. 1 ranking this year, winning two Slams himself.
Djokovic, and other players who have missed time on tour due to injury in 2017, like Andy Murray, Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori, will all be looking to make successful returns in 2018, but Thiem believes it won’t be a walk in the park for all of them.
“I think we can expect the same (from Djokovic) because he is I think in the same league like Roger and Rafa, also one of the greatest players of all-time,” the fifth-ranked Thiem said of the Serbian star.
“I think he’s even probably more dangerous and better, if his injury is fine and if he had some time to recharge everything. I think everybody wants to know how he’s playing again and we’ll see his first matches here.”
But Thiem doesn’t expect the same from the rest of the sidelined crew. The 24-year-old Austrian ended the season inside the top-10 for a second year in a row, making his top-four debut last month.
He is aware it could be tricky to hold onto his position in the rankings with the imminent return of top guys like Djokovic, Murray, Raonic, and Nishikori, who have all dropped out of the top-10 due to their six-month absence.
“For sure it’s going to be tough to stay in the top-10 or to get there like last year because of all the injured players but still I think we all had a good year and also for them it’s not going to be easy,” explained Thiem.
“Some of them were out for a long time. Maybe Novak, but I think nobody else will make a comeback like Roger and Rafa, it’s too tough I guess. So I think everybody can look forward to a great and tense start of the season.”
The Frenchwoman was forced to pull out of an exhibition event at Wimbledon last year because of the virus, which medical experts said was so rare they had no name for it.
But on Tuesday Bartoli announced that she would return to the WTA Tour in 2018, aiming to be ready for the Miami Open in March, after recovering from the illness despite losing 20kg of weight in a matter of months.
“If what happened to me in 2016 hadn’t happened, I don’t think I would have had that strong feeling of wanting to come back to the court,” the 33-year-old said.
“The start of this all came on the most difficult day of my life, when Wimbledon decided not to allow me to play the legends’ matches because they thought I could have a heart attack and die on the court.
“From then on, I swore that if one day I was healthy again, I wanted to try to relive what I had been lucky enough to live three years before when I won the tournament.
“What saved me at that time was tennis, by hanging onto the great moments that I lived on court — that’s what kept me alive.”
— WTA (@WTA) December 20, 2017
Bartoli’s finest moment came when she beat German Sabine Lisicki to win the 2013 Wimbledon title, but she hasn’t played since after retiring due to a shoulder injury.
The former world number seven, who was also beaten by Venus Williams in the 2007 Wimbledon final, is confident that setting a return date for March isn’t too optimistic.
“Mid-March seems realistic with the amount of training to be done,” she said. “The day I play my first match will be a huge victory after what I’ve been through, and what I do on the court is just a bonus.
“In terms of tennis, I’m at about 80-90 per cent of my level from Wimbledon 2013 and physically I’m missing about 40 per cent of that level, which at the same time is and isn’t a lot of work.”
Dominika Cibulkova plans on playing a fewer number of tournaments in 2018 to protect her body, the Slovakian ex-world No. 4 has revealed.
The 28-year-old Cibulkova has made adjustments to her training and has tweaked her schedule for next year, to avoid overplaying and injuries.
“It’s something we’re going to do this year. Even I’m skipping Brisbane and I’m just going to play Sydney and Melbourne in Australia,” Cibulkova told Sport360 during her preseason training in Dubai.
“I’m planning to play just a maximum of 18 tournaments. Last year I played 23 or 24 so it’s going to be a big difference for me and if I will do well then I’ll just play like 15 tournaments. So let’s see what 2018 is going to bring.”
Cibulkova had ended 2016 on a high note, winning her biggest title to date at the WTA Finals in Singapore but she had a tricky 2017 that saw her slip to No. 26 in the rankings.
After winning four titles from seven finals reached last year, she made just one final in 2017 – in New Haven – and struggled with some physical problems including thigh, shoulder and wrist injuries.
Cibulkova is hardly the oldest player on tour but she has already been on tour for 14 years. The 2014 Australian Open runner-up says she has adapted her preseason training as she got older.
“Yes of course it changed. It’s not the same as I was 20 when I could practice like a horse, as we say in Slovakia, and it was all good. Now I have to pay attention really more to my body, and more to be ready and be fit for the next practice and to be physically and mentally in the mood. Like ‘okay, let’s go practice, I want to practice more and more’. Because when I feel like there’s no energy it’s no energy for training,” she explains.
“We train a bit different. We take care of my body and the practices, we check my heart rate and everything, so it’s really kind of a good work.”