Nostalgia vs. new order: How the rest of the season will shape upMarch 22, 2017

It's like the fairy-tale climax in "The Natural" (1984), where sports fans want an ex-champion, if not a down-on-his-luck player, to stage a remarkable comeback. In Roger Federer's case, it happens sooner than he would plan. He won his record-tying fifth title in Indian Wells, the first Masters 1000 tournament of the year, and then revealed that the original plan was to go back to number eight in the ATP singles rankings after Wimbledon. The Swiss would head to Miami in a familiar position: He would be the leading player on the ATP Tour during the first quarter of the year. He's currently sixth in the singles ranking.

It was eleven years when Federer last achieved the Sunshine Double, a rare feat of winning the BNP Paribas Open and Miami Open on the same year. It could happen after Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, the top two players at the moment, withdrew due to an elbow injury. Sentimental tennis fans would want it, as Fed turns 36 this summer. No one, not even Federer himself, could predict how the rest of the season would shape up. And this should be an interesting, if not intriguing, scenario. Let's see:

Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka will end up as the top two players of 2017. This year's finals of the BNP Paribas Open marked the first time that two Swiss players battled it out for the men's singles titles. It was also the first for players aged 30 years and above. Wawrinka, the US Open champion, was in tears during the trophy presentation. It was his second ATP Masters 1000 finals appearance, and his record in the big events suggested that he was tipped to be the winner. Then again, Federer made some changes in his game. (Everyone must have noticed his backhand.) And there would be more finals appearance between the two.

Federer will likely skip the clay court season. The winner of 18 Grand Slam singles titles will fancy his chances in Monte Carlo and Rome, two ATP Masters 1000 events that he hasn't won yet. On the other hand, he wants to make sure that he'll be healthy during the rest of the season. He's also eyeing a record eighth Wimbledon trophy. His six-month break from the tour last year done wonders for him, so expect him to do a repeat of it. A shorter one, though.

There will be more contenders. Jack Sock's glory days in doubles may be long gone, but he might be the next best thing in US tennis. American fans have been waiting for almost two decades, and Sock might be the answer to their prayers. But watch out for Nick Kyrgios. Novak Djokovic may have lost the tenacity that made him the dominant player during the last few years, but any player must step up to beat him. And Kyrgios did it back to back (in Acapulco and Indian Wells). Many fans noticed how the Canberran native was able to manage his emotions during those crucial moments, as well as his maturity (after playing during the last few years). Kyrgios could go all the way this summer, but the Aussie would meet America's top-ranked player in the Davis Cup next month.

There will be more qualifiers who can make a deep run in the tournament. Lucky loser Yoshihito Nishioka upset Ivo Karlović and Tomáš Berdych before Wawrinka restored order in the seeding. Vasek Pospisil had to play the qualifying rounds before knocking out Murray in the second round, although he was once ranked in the Top 50. This would be one of the signs of the changing of the guards, not to mention the possibility of Djokovic dropping out of the Top 5 before the end of summer. It might prompt some players to raise the never-ending issue of equal prize money in major tournaments, but ATP and ITF have thought about reducing the number of playing sets from five to three. Lleyton Hewitt didn't like it, and he had good reasons. He was the consummate slugger.

Rafael Nadal won't win his tenth French Open title this year. He might do it next season, but watch out for a younger player to make his breakthrough in Roland Garros. Rain denied Dominic Thiem his chance last year, but don't expect a repeat this season. Pablo Cuevas, who has done well in the South American clay-court campaign, could be the dark horse. Roberto Bautista Agut, long in Nadal's shadow, may be a contender.

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