Del Potro is ready to prove the chief threat to top two
Bencic could climb back up the rankings with ease
For the first time ever Andy Murray will be the top seed at a Grand Slam in the Australian Open, which starts a fortnight on Monday, and there is every reason to expect the brilliant Scot to start 2017 the way he ended 2016.
The Aussie and French Opens are the two Slams that still elude Murray, but he will never have a better chance to triumph in Melbourne than next month after franking his top ranking against Novak Djokovic in the ATP World Tour Finals finale in London last month.
Murray is edging favouritism for Melbourne Park – Djokovic’s record there and the fact that the three-time BBC Sports Personality of the Year may need to take things easier in the weeks leading up to the first Slam mean there is little incentive to get involved just yet.
But while Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have something to prove this season and could again compete consistently at the highest level – Nadal’s promising start to 2016 tailed off while Federer was injured for six months after Wimbledon – the likelihood is that Murray and Djokovic will again lead the charge.
That could afford the hugely talented Juan Martin del Potro a fine chance to threaten Murray and Djokovic at the top of the pile.
It may be asking a bit much of the Argentinian, who led his country to Davis Cup glory late last month, to finish the year as world number one, especially as the 40-1 shot has already said he will miss the Aussie Open.
But Del Potro, providing he stays fit and his wrists hold up, looks a good bet to end 2017 ranked in the top eight.
Hopes are high for another fine season from the 28-year-old Tower of Tandil, who rose from a ranking just inside the top 600 to 38th in 2016. But another Argentina-born performer, the Uruguayan ace Pablo Cuevas, could struggle to preserve his lofty ranking in the coming campaign.
Cuevas has made the most of the opportunities that have come his way in recent seasons, especially on his preferred clay terrain.
But the world number 22, who turns 31 on New Year’s Day, will do well to repeat his heroics of winning two of the four Golden Swing tournaments this season and there will be plenty of points coming off if he fails to go close again in the 500 Series Rio Open tournament, which he won last February after edging out Nadal in the semi-finals.
Cuevas is no mug on hard courts, but backing him to be ranked 29th or worse at the end of the coming season could still be a wise move.
On the WTA Tour, the impetuousness of youth meant it took Belinda Bencic a long time to acknowledge injuries to her lower back, wrist and thigh in 2016.
The 19-year-old Swiss miss, a blinding talent who reached the quarter-finals of the US Open in 2014, dropped to 43rd in the chart after reaching a high of seventh in the world last February.
At her best she could climb back up the rankings with ease and supporting her to end 2017 in the top 18 looks the way to go.
Bencic, 50-1 with BoyleSports to end the coming season as world number one and 11-4 with Sky Bet for a top-eight finish, looks capable of ruling the roost one day but that’s not the case with Timea Babos.
The Hungarian doubles ace is an admirable battler in singles, but with plenty of exciting youngsters likely to climb higher she will do well to hold on to her lofty 28th spot in 2017.
J M del Potro to end 2017 ranked eighth or better
2pts 8-11 Sky Bet
P Cuevas to end 2017 ranked 29th or worse
1pt 10-11 Sky Bet
B Bencic to end 2017 ranked 18th or better
2pts 10-11 Sky Bet
T Babos to end 2017 ranked 33rd or worse
1pt 10-11 Sky Bet