1. Will Roger Federer win the calendar year Grand Slam?
No, but the dominant Swiss No. 1 will win the only Grand Slam title that still eludes him, the French Open. Federer — who's won five Grand Slam titles during the last two years — is finally showing some physical wear and tear, but mentally, he still has a tremendous amount of hunger and wants to prove that he's the best of all time.
The 24-year-old can't do that convincingly unless he wins the only major played on clay. With the right amount of patience and varied attack, he has the goods to reign in Paris. He'll also win the Australian Open again, but will have his winning streaks stopped at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
2. Will Rafael Nadal win a Grand Slam on a surface that isn't clay, and can he really challenge Federer week in and week out?
The 19-year-old Spaniard can but won't be a significant challenger in 2006 until he gets healthy again. The brawny lefty played a ton last year and needs to seriously reduce his schedule, but he's improving his serve — the weakest part of his game — and is adding stick to his backhand. This lightning-quick defender's time in the sunshine won't come until the U.S. Open, but he'll make waves all year long and get into Fed's head.
3. Will Andy Roddick regain his confidence and win another Slam title?
America's top player had a rough year in 2005, winning five mid-sized titles but no Master Series crowns or Grand Slams. Federer is dominating him; Lleyton Hewitt is still a better player, and Nadal has already passed him in the rankings. The good news is that Roddick has improved his backhand, his transition game and his volley. The bad news is that he's lost a fair amount of confidence. But the fast-talking Roddick is super-determined and will find a way to serve through the field at Wimbledon and win his second Slam crown.
4. Will Andre Agassi finally retire?
Unless he finds a miracle cure for the nerve injury that affects his back and hip, Agassi will wave goodbye at age 36 after the U.S. Open. He's still a legitimate top-five player when he's healthy (remember his sterling run to the 2005 U.S. Open final), but that's been very rare over the past two years. He'll only play a part-time schedule in 2006, and if he can't continually bag wins over the elite, he'll join his wife, Steffi Graf, at home with their two kids. His body is telling him to quit , and he'll finally answer its prayers.
5. Will the Argentines take over the Tour?
Unless you are talking about the Tour de France, where using stimulants is apparently par for the course, this South American nation will fall back in tennis in 2006. Collectively, this standout country has had five players test positive for doping in the past few years, and two of its stars, French Open finalist Mariano Puerta and semifinalist Guillermo Canas, were suspended in 2005.
One of its top players, Guillermo Coria, who was once suspended, said, "We Argentines are all suspected. Our effort isn't taken into account. We have to do even more to prove we are great players.?"
Among their better players, only Shanghai titlist David Nalbandian and 2004 French Open winner Gaston Gaudio have managed to stay clean. When much of the world believes your nation is cheating, it isn't easy to stay mentally sound, which is why, as a group, Argentina will cry for itself during '06.
6. What are the futures of Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt?
Hazy in both cases. Nearly a year ago, the Russian and the Aussie faced off in a well-played Australian Open final, and the future appeared rosy for both of them. But Safin went down with a knee injury that just won't heal, and Hewitt has mellowed due to his marriage to actress Bec Cartwright and the birth of their daughter, Mia.
A rickety Safin means poor movement, but if he does manage to find a way to get healthy for a small stretch, Safin will charge hard for his third Slam title at the U.S. Open. Hewitt may have lost a bit of his snarl but not his competitive fire, and with the right draw, he could win his third Slam crown. But neither veteran will finish the year in style, and they are both on downward curves.
7. Who will be the breakthrough players on the men's side?
It would be nice to find an American or Aussie teen who is ready to make a splash, but there are none on the horizon who will shake the foundations of the tour. Czech teen Tomas Berdych, French teens Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet and Scottish teen Andy Murray should all end the year in the top 20, but U.S. kids like Donald Young and Sam Querry and Aussie youngster Carston Ball are not yet ready for prime time. Is it too early to hope for Agassi and Hewitt's kids to enter the tours as toddlers?
8. Will any other American man become a significant player?
James Blake will. The 25-year-old showed at the U.S. Open and in winning Stockholm that he has improved immeasurably all over the court, and he has the confidence to back it up. Expect Blake to make a major impact in Australia, crack the top 10 for the first time and stay there. Robby Ginepri and Taylor Dent will end their years in the top 30, but they won't reach any major finals.