by Lisa-Marie Burrows
As one door has closed to say goodbye to the 2011 tennis season, another door will shortly be opening to embrace another exciting year of tennis in 2012, in which all fans of the sport and the players alike, will look forward to the impending Olympic Games in London.
It has barely been a month since the Spanish Davis Cup team danced and cheered triumphantly in victory over Argentina in the final in Sevilla, but whether the year 2011 has finished or not, preparation for 2012 is underway.
Players have been sharing their training plans for Australia on various social networks, as the first tournament of 2012 commences on New Year’s Day in Brisbane. Alternatively, many of the elite players on the tour (Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer) have elected to play once more in Abu Dhabi in the Middle East where five of the top six men will compete against each other at the end of December.
It was Novak Djokovic who became the king of the headlines in 2011 with his dominating, record-breaking year which saw him finish his season with an impressive 70-6 win/loss record. This year, the hunter became the hunted man, and there is no doubt the “Serbinator” will continue to fight for his victories throughout the impending year. But, in addition to his determination to repeat the feat of his triumphant year of 2011, the remaining players on Tour will vie to become headline contenders, title winners and seek to improve their own ranking. This year may throw up surprises in the form of new players stealing the limelight for outstanding victories, competitors who may rise up the rankings, and of course, the exciting possibility of there being a new Grand Slam winner in 2012.
Grand Slam Defenders and Contenders
First and foremost, world number one, Novak Djokovic, is the man who will have the weight of the tournaments firmly on his shoulders after a successful 2011, winning three Grand Slams (Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open) and five ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Series titles. Without doubt, Djokovic has continued to train hard in his off-season in order to maintain his fabulous form, good health and specific dietary requirements to complete yet another successful year and repeat his spectacular achievements of a flourishing year. As the Serb continues to work on his performance, many of his rivals will search for the required method to beat the current world number one. The only other man who was able to swipe a Grand Slam in 2011 was Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros on the Parisian clay, after Roger Federer defeated Novak Djokovic in the semi finals.
World number two, Rafael Nadal, will search for further Grand Slam triumph and establish his confidence and belief in his game, which on occasion appeared absent on duty. The Spaniard has admitted via his Twitter feeds that he has been training hard in Majorca during the off-season to obtain peak physical condition for an action packed 2012, firmly eyeing the London 2012 Olympic Games in his sight.
Despite turning 30 years old, Roger Federer has played down all talk of an imminent retirement plan and proved his tenacious attitude and thirst for glory is still very much at the forefront of his game, as he discovered his vintage form of old to win the World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London in November. The Swiss Maestro should not be discounted for further Grand Slam victories to add to his record breaking 16 titles, as he is a player who is comfortable on all surfaces and he has demonstrated his superiority from grass courts, to hard courts and most recently on clay courts time and again. Federer will hope for a solid start to the year to improve on his 17 match winning streak he obtained at the end of 2011 and make a strong impact at the Australian Open to silence his critics by stamping his authority yet again in the men’s game.
For the last few years, British number one, Andy Murray, has had the expectation of winning a Grand Slam burden him at the start of very season. Each year, critics are heard saying ‘this is his year’ and ‘it is now or never’ which inevitably is difficult for a player to ignore and even harder to live up to the expectation. Murray has shown great resilience despite the pressure and has proven he is capable of surpassing his disappointment at losing the final of the Australian Open for two successive years.
Murray has one trait which is vital for his success: confidence, and against the top guns of the game, more often than not, he has it in abundance. Murray is not afraid of a battle and has the ability to change the momentum of a game from defence to offense rapidly. Despite facing a groin injury towards the end of the season, (which saw him withdraw from the ATP World Tour Finals), he has worked hard with his ever-supportive team in Miami during the off-season to develop his physicality and remain injury-free. The 24-year-old strives to improve his game to start the year off with all guns blazing – and with a Grand Slam trophy in his hands.
Spanish world number two, David Ferrer, is a player who has remained consistent with his game, his level and his battling attitude on court. Rarely is there a day when Ferrer is not seen fighting for each and every point in a match and that is what makes his opponents so wary of him during matches. The 29-year-old has become the personification of a wall on court, as his defensive skills are incredulous and he is always able to make his opponent play that one extra ball, thanks to his great movement and physical strength on the court.
The world number five will hope that his participation in Abu Dhabi at the start of the new season will enable him to build on his great finish at the World Tour Finals where he reached the semifinal stages which saw him dispatch of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in the round robin stages before losing to eventual champion, Roger Federer in the semifinals.
Ferrer may be considered as somewhat one of the veterans of the Tour, but his experience and recent success in the Davis Cup finals may have inspired his motivation further to complete his campaign of Grand Slam success. Could this finally be the breakthrough year for the fighting Ferrer?
Juan Martín del Potro
Having recently won the ATP Tour’s “2011 Comeback of the Year” award, the talented Argentinean has proven his passion for the sport, as he has soared up the rankings from world number 485 to an astonishing world number 11 by the end of the year. He has continued to stave off injuries since his wrist surgery, which saw him unable to compete on the circuit and as a result, his ranking and ability to play diminished.
This did not deter the giant Argentinean number one, as 2011 became the start of his resurgence. He displayed outstanding form in the Davis Cup finals in Sevilla, Spain, where he pushed both Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer to the limits in both of the singles rubbers. He is certainly a player who will be eyeing a top five position in the rankings and would love once more to taste the sweet success of yet another Grand Slam victory after he became the champion of the US Open in 2009.
The talented, charismatic Frenchman finished 2011 on a high – and even equalled his career best ranking of 2008 to finish the year as the world number six after an incredible indoor season. Tsonga had started to encompass many of the headlines during different periods of the year as he appeared in the finals at Queen’s and followed up an excellent grass court week with an infamous victory over Roger Federer at the semi-finals of Wimbledon. But most recently, his indoor season saw him crowned champion in Vienna, Metz and reach the finals of the Paris Masters 1000 Series and become the runner up at the World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London.
With the Australian Open just around the corner, this is one of the Slams that holds precious memories for Tsonga, having reached the peak of his career there for the first time in 2008 at the semifinals after his outstanding and unexpected victory over Rafael Nadal before losing to eventual champion, Novak Djokovic.
He is fast becoming more adaptable to all surfaces and playing with greater consistency in recent months. It would be no surprise to see the world number six break into the top five for the first time in his career and quite possibly threaten the elite players as a Grand Slam contender.
Other Players to Watch Out For
Tomic gained himself notoriety when he became the youngest junior Australian Open champion at the age of 15. Since making the transition into playing on the ATP Tour, the hard hitting 19 year old will aim to take advantage of playing in his home country and use his native crowd to help spur him to further career success as he will aim to continue to climbing up the rankings after entering the top 100 and finishing the year at an impressive world number 42.
The popular 23 year old player from the Ukraine started 2011 ranked number 48 in the world and despite a topsy-turvy year (particularly during the clay season), Dolly as he is so fondly referred to by his fans, was able to finish the year ranked number 15 after reaching his first ever quarter-finals at a Masters Series 1000 event in Shanghai, before losing to Kei Nishikori.
This year will inevitably become an important year for the Ukrainian, which will hopefully see him strive to make more impact in both the Masters Series events and at the Grand Slams to help him break into the top ten and challenge the dominating players.
The 2012 Olympic Games
The 2012 London Olympic Games will kick off from 27th July to 12th August 2012, which will commence 14 days after the Wimbledon finals. It will be interesting to see the necessary rapid court preparation and how well the courts recover in time for the greatest sporting event of the year.
Many of the top-seeded players in tennis have already started their preparation for next year, with the impending Olympics heavily at the forefront of their mind, particularly in regards to tournament scheduling. Some players have discussed how they have targeted the Olympic Gold Medal as one of the accolades they are aiming to clinch. Novak Djokovic has recently shared his ambitious plan for 2012:
“Next year is an Olympic year and the Olympics are the greatest sporting event in history. I was fortunate enough to get a (bronze) medal in Beijing in 2008 and it was a remarkable experience. It is something I’m really, really looking forward to, going there and doing my best.”
With this in mind, changes have had to be made to the tournament schedule this year, in order to make room for the Olympic Games. The penultimate Masters Series 1000 event in Paris-Bercy will have the possibility of a knock-on effect as a result of the alterations to the calendar. The tournament may be at risk of losing some of the top 8 competitors who may elect not to play in order to stave off injuries as the World Tour Finals, which begins the day after the final in Paris-Bercy. Problems could arise for the players if they were to reach the finals of the tournament and will then need to play at the 02 Arena the next day in London. Will the field be as strong in the Parisian capital this year?
With the new season underway in less than a week, there is so much to look forward to and having the Olympic Games this year, makes the tennis calendar all the more special. Every year in tennis, there seems to be new names striving to breakthrough, players aiming to put a halt to the dominance of the top five players, but will 2012 be the start of a new change? We shall have to wait and see…
Lisa-Marie Burrows is an aspiring sports journalist and has covered several European tennis tournaments, including Davis Cup and Valencia. She manages the blog Tennis News and Views and you can follow her on twitter for further updates, @TennisNewsViews.