The 2017 Tennis season is just weeks away as players on tour will prepare for the 2017 Australian Open with the smaller early-season events. 2016 was a year of change in many ways as the Big Four era came to an end. While Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic remain major players on tour, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer played in few big matches. I don't expect much out of either Nadal or Federer in 2017 while Murray and Djokovic may tumble a bit too.

When offering predictions for the next season, I will provide two related predictions for each player or tournament that I look at. One prediction is what I will call a "Slam dunk prediction." With that phrase, I mean to say that I'm not going out on a limb in my view, but perhaps still offering something that counters some people's opinions.

I also want to offer a more "Out-on-a-limb prediction," one that I feel will counter the viewpoints of a lot of people.

Slam dunk No. 1: No Slams for Federer

I really don't think I'm predicting much when I say that Roger Federer won't win any majors in 2017. You might point to the Wimbledon 2016 semifinal run as evidence for Federer's chances, however he had a fluffy draw in the event. Furthermore, losing in the semifinals isn't actually close to winning a tournament, because the last two matches are more difficult in a Grand Slam event than the first five combined.

If I went out on a limb, I don't think Federer will win any Masters Series events either. Federer will turn 36-years-old later this season and I think round-of-32 matches against players ranked outside of the top 25 are going to get interesting for him in the sense that he may lose them frequently.

Slam dunk No. 2: Nishikori makes major final

Kei Nishikori has never won a Grand Slam final, however he has flirted with deep runs at Flushing Meadows. This past season he made the semifinals in New York while he made the final there in 2014. He has also made the Australian Open quarterfinals on three occasions.

Nishikori is strongest on the hard-court surface and I think he has a lot of promise for Melbourne Park or Flushing Meadows in 2017. He's yet to do much at Wimbledon or the French, so if I was to narrow down his likelihood for success we'd be looking at the two hard-court Slams. However, looking at the big picture I think he's a dunk to make a Grand Slam final this season.

For an out-on-a-limb prediction, I think Nishikori finishes 2017 ranked either first or second. He has had some injury problems in his career, but he turns 27 this month. That's a physical peak for male athlete so perhaps the injuries will rescind. Furthermore, the current era of tennis is seeing late bloomers more often so perhaps Nishikori peaking is to be expected.

Slam dunk No. 3: Djokovic not No. 1

Djokovic might hold the top ranking at some point during the season. However, I don't see him winning the wars of attrition as often as he used to following an injury-plagued 2016. Accordingly, I don't think he wins the year-end No. 1 ranking or player of the year. If I'm going out on a limb a little bit, then Djokovic might finish the season 4th in the world or worse.

Nishikori, Murray, and Milos Raonic promise to antagonize Djokovic more so than in previous seasons. If the Serb suffers an injury at the wrong time, then he may finish outside of the top five.

Slam dunk No. 4: Zverev debuts in top 15

Alexander Zverev did one thing in 2016: he proved that he's the front runner of the next generation of stars. Before 2016, I leaned toward Borna Coric but Zverev's learning curve for the game of tennis seems to be sharper. Zverev, who is 19-years-old, finished 2016 as the World No. 24. Making the top 15 sometime during the calendar year won't likely be a difficult task for him given his proven ability to go on deep runs in ATP events. If I'm going out on a limb with this guy, I think he plays in a match at the ATP's World Tour Finals next season whether as a direct qualifier or alternate.

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