by James A. Crabtree
With the Australian open only a jiffy away now seems the opportune moment to make some foolhardy predictions as to who shall claim the spoils first in 2013.
At a glance it doesn’t look like a new grand slam champion will emerge just yet.
With the big 4 being cut down to the big 3 for a second straight major with a certain Spaniard sick one would assume that a new contender could join the party dominated for so long by the remaining Scot, Serb and Swiss.
In truth none look like they are either knocking on the door or even hold an invite to the elusive ‘S club 4’. Berdych and Tsonga have proved they can take down a big gun, but have never followed it up in the following round. This leaves only Del Porto who has at least proved he can hold his nerve in 5 set thrillers. The big Argie’s draw isn’t easy with a possible matchup against Granollers in round three, the inform un-seeded Dennis Istomin by round four and Andy Murray in the quarters. Tsonga’s draw is better with the only major problem being countrymen Gasquet in the fourth round.
With Nadal away so often Federer shall play, as with his Roland Garros victory in 2009 and Wimbledon 2009 and 2012. This time more question marks surround Federer’s destiny. The seeding format in Australia is an upside down 1 v 4 and 2 v 3 rather than 1v 3 and 2 v 4. This means 2nd seed Federer is slated to meet 3rd seed Murray, a player he would have otherwise avoided, in the semi-finals. That is supposing he makes it. Problems persist for ol’ Roger well before then with possible opponents including Davydenko, an inform Tomic, a dangerous Raonic and a nemesis of sorts with Tsonga in the quarters. The all-time leading grand slam champion has big questions regarding form having not played a competitive match since the ATP Tour Finals in early November 2012.
And what of Murray? Many tennis enthusiasts have predicted he could go on a tear having got the U.S. crown and shown impressive performances in Australia the past three years, with two finals appearances and one semi-final. His performance in Australia thus far has been the most notable of the big 3, inclusive of reclaiming his second straight Brisbane title. His first round matchup is against Robin Haase, a fellow curly haired baseliner and someone he has split their last two meetings with, although they have not played each other since 2011. Other hurdles for him include Dolgopolov or Simon in the fourth round then an intimidating Del Potro in the quarters.
As well as Murray has performed Djokovic has performed better as he looks for a hat trick in Melbourne and his fourth title in six years. A second round struggle could be with Ryan Harrison who looks to be itching for a big name scalp. This might not happen this year but Harrison can be dangerous and did take a set off Murray in Australia in 2012. The ‘other Swiss’ Wawrinka is expected in the fourth round then possibly an out of sorts Tomas Berdych in the quarters although his name could be replaced by new kid on the block David Goffin.
And what of the semi-finals?
It’s time to go out a limb and say Jo-Wilfred Tsonga will beat Roger Federer and make his first semi-final since 2010, but ultimately lose to Andy Murray who will continue to play for sick friend Ross Hutchins.
On the other side of the draw expect Mr Consistent David Ferrer to meet up with Novak for a repeat of their 2012 quarterfinal match with a similar score line and result.
That leaves Novak Djokovic to do battle again with Andy Murray in their second straight grand slam final with Novak gaining revenge on the Scot.
Federer Secures Sixth ATP World Tour Finals:
For the third successive Sunday Roger Federer took to the courts to face Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and for the third straight match he tasted success as he edged ahead as the record holder for the most ATP Finals triumphs. He described his sixth title as “one of [my] greatest accomplishments” in the form of a 6-3, 6-7(6), 6-3 win over Tsonga. It was also an incredible 70th tournament win from 100 finals. He is unbeaten since the US Open and will take a 17-match unbeaten run in to 2012. “Right now I’m happy the season is over,” said the Swiss. “It has been long and it has been gruelling, but I’m happy I’m still strong and healthy. I’m really excited for next year – I’m upbeat about what’s to come. The relief was amazing,” he added of winning the title. “Jo played well. Could I have won it easier? I guess; I had it in my hands. I had to go through the third set but eventually I made it, which probably felt even better. The joy was great.” He even talked about possibly making the final a five-set encounter, saying: “I remember sitting in a room in Shanghai where the players were asked, ‘Would you like the year-end final to be five sets or three. Everyone said best-of-three sets. I was the only guy that said five. I do care actually. I think it makes for a great year-end. Sure, you can see why maybe it’s healthier to play best-of-three but I believe the final could be a best-of-five set match.” He also whet the fans’ appetites with his summation of 2011 and brief preview of what next year might have in stall for us. “Novak was the player of the year, which goes without saying,” reflected Federer. “A guy who can win 40 matches in a row from the start of the season completely deserves it till the very end of it. I thought Andy Murray played a very good season this year. I think he’s going to be very tough to beat next year. And Rafa with his class, he’s always going to be a threat for the throne, to win all the big tournaments. I think the prospects are good,” he added. “We also saw Nos. 5 to 8 are extremely close as well. Behind that, anything is possible, too. I think right now we have great quality within the Top 10, even within the Top 20, 25 actually. I’m looking forward to a tough season next year.”
Nadal wants to be Perfect for Next Year:
Rafael Nadal has said that he wants to be in “perfect” condition for 2012 because he “probably had a bit less passion for the game” towards the end of 2011. The Spaniard, who will lead his country in to this weekend’s Davis Cup Final against Argentina, started the season well and captured his sixth French Open crown in June. But a barnstorming Novak Djokovic overtook him in the ATP World Rankings and the spotlight as the Serb mopped up the latter half of the year, including beating Nadal in the US Open Final. “We can find excuses, we can find problems, but it’s not the moment to say that – it’s the moment to keep fighting,” said the 25-year-old. “It’s the moment to analyse what I did good, what I did bad, and know what I have to work on for the next month. The end of the year wasn’t easy for me; that’s hard to accept,” he added of his loss to Djokovic as well as the Tokyo final to Andy Murray and a poor showing at the ATP Finals. “But it gives me more of a goal for the beginning of 2012. I dream about arriving in 2012 with very good conditions. The only way to change the situation is to work more, think more about tennis, do everything in the right shape, do everything good inside the court, everything good outside the court,” he added. “I have to work hard – working hard every day, morning, afternoon – if I’m going to have my chance to be competitive to win the big tournaments.
Li Na admits Life Has Changed:
Chinese ace Li Na has admitted that her life has changed a lot since she became the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam at the French Open this year. Life has changed a lot. I knew after the French Open when I went back to China the fans would be crazy,” she said. “I came back home and a lady (on the street) said, ‘Li Na, I know who you are, I need a photograph with you, an autograph’. She spoke so loud and everyone heard it. More people were coming so me and my friend were full-power running to the car.” She also paid tribute to her former coach, Thomas Hogstedt, who has since turned his attentions to helping Maria Sharapova return to the top. “Thomas, he was very different to Chinese coaches,” she added. “He always gave me confidence. First time he was saying ‘You can be in the top 20’. I said ‘Are you joking?’ because I didn’t believe it—I never had a coach say I can be top 20.”
Hewitt Hanging Around:
Despite recent hip and foot surgeries Aussie star Lleyton Hewitt has been speaking about life as a father, and how he isn’t ready to retire yet. “When you are 16 on the tour, and that’s the only thing you’ve ever dreamt of doing, your mind thinks one way,” he told The Telegraph. “Marriage and children has changed my perspective. Even now with travelling to play, jetlag goes out the window. You work around your kids. When you lose a tough five-setter at Wimbledon and your kid runs up to you, it hits home that is just a tennis match.”
Ferrer to Defend Auckland Title:
World No.5 David Ferrer will defend his Heineken Open title in Auckland when the ATP Tour resumes in 2012. He will be the top seed, with his countryman Nicolas Almagro the second-highest ranked player in attendance. Fernando Verdasco and Donald Young will be new faces at the event, while the field also contains strong competitors such as Fernando Gonzalez, Juan Monaco, Juan Ignacio Chela, Kevin Anderson and Thomaz Bellucci. “With two in the top 10 and some great depth we will again have a fantastic main draw. We are really looking forward to kicking off the new year with another high energy Heineken Open,” said tournament director Richard Palmer.
Isner Plans Trip to the Beach:
American star John Isner has joined Andy Roddick in signing up for the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships in February. The world No.18 is best known for his record-setting antics with Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon last year and he will hope to start the year well in order to form an assault on the Top 10. Michael Chang has also signed up for the ATP Champions Tour event at the same venue simultaneously. He joins Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, Pat Cash, Johan Kriek, Mikael Pernfors and Aaron Krickstein in the field. “The addition of fan-favourite John Isner and perennial top 10 Michael Chang gives us strong fields already,” said Mark Baron, tournament director of the ITC. “Our ATP Champions Tour field is set, and we are expecting our ATP World Tour event to be the best in our history by the time our final draw is announced.”
Berdych Feeling the Draft:
Tomas Berdych went underneath the razor in his private locker room following his ATP Finals defeat to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to honour a bet made with his coach Tomas Krupa at Wimbledon. If Berdych won a title, obtained 50 wins over the year and took part at London’s O2 Arena then he would have to shave his head. He fulfilled all three stipulations and so carried out his promise after the Tsonga defeat. “Bet is a bet,” Berdych commented on his official Facebook page. “We have made one in Wimbledon that if I take part in the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, win at least one title and 50 matches in this season, my hair is going down.”
Americans Hoping for Aussie Chance:
USTA Player Development has announced the eight men and eight women who are to contest the 2012 Australian Open Wildcard Play-Off next month. The winners will receive main-draw singles wild cards into the men’s and women’s draws. Melanie Oudin headlines the women, while her Fed Cup team-mate Coco Vandeweghe is also involved. Youngsters Grace Min, Taylor Townsend, Madison Keys, Gail Brodsky, Jaime Hampton and Alison Riske are the others invited. Robby Ginepri is joined by Jack Sock, Steve Johnson, Bobby Reynolds, Denis Kudla, Daniel Kosakowski, Rhyne Williams and Jesse Levine.
Djokovic Aces GQ List:
World No.1 Novak Djokovic has been labelled GQ Magazine’s Ace of the Year. He is joined in the honours list by the likes of Jay-Z who received King of the Year, Michael Fassbender (Breakout of the Year), Gary Oldman (Icon of the Year) and South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius (Superhuman of the Year).
Final Rankings of the Year:
So with the ATP World Tour finals over the final rankings for 2011 for the men are complete. Roger Federer’s excellent end to the year sees him climb back above Andy Murray to No.3 in the world going in to 2012, while the only other movement in the Top 50 sees Nikolay Davydenko climb above Bernard Tomic to No.41. This leaves us with a Top 10 of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Federer, Murray, David Ferrer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomas Berdych, Mardy Fish, Janko Tipsarevic and Nicolas Almagro. There was a final push from Germany in to the Top 100 where Matthias Bachinger leapt 15 places to finish 2011 as the world No.94, and Michael Berrer climbed five to No.100.
Final 2011 GOAT Race Standings:
The 2011 ATP calendar has come to a close, so with it goes the Tennis People Greatest Of All Time Race. We have seen two monumental swings over the course of the past 11 months that do much to rubbish the talk of Roger Federer’s demise. With Rafael Nadal’s injury-ravaged and formless start to the year R-Fed sped out in to the lead, only to be pegged back and overhauled by the Spaniard after the French Open as both struggled to cope with the explosive form of Novak Djokovic. Yet Federer made a late surge, perhaps a little too late, to breathe life in to his challenge and eventually fell just short of his great rival’s total. It probably told us little we didn’t know already. The two can both play at the levels we have come to expect of them and there is still very little to split them when they are both fit and raring to go. But they are both susceptible to injury these days and neither seem to last a full calendar anymore. It will now be very interesting to see whether they can keep themselves going over a full season in 2012, and whether Djokovic can keep his form up. It will also be interesting to see whether Andy Murray really pushes on to challenge the big boys. With Nadal’s limp exit at the group stage in London, Federer was allowed a run at the title which he took with glee, giving him a sum of 200 points to make the final totals:
Roger: 1740, Rafa: 1950
A Fond Farewell:
It has been a little over two years since this column started in its original guise as ‘Commonwealth Tennis’ and over 25 months it has seen two major content changes and countless re-thinks, writers’ block breakouts and tantrums. It has also seen some great discoveries of tennis player trivia, a recital of stats that I can now produce in public at the blink of an eye and a strange loving of players somewhat unknown based on a bizarre interview quote I stumbled upon somewhere. I have thoroughly enjoyed contributing weekly to Tennis Grandstand, but due to changes in the outside world I can no longer dedicate the time to the column that a website such as this deserves. I thank everyone involved from readers to fellow writers for their guidance and time. I am not saying goodbye completely as I hope to work together with the website on future projects. But Tennis People in this format is coming to a close, one week prematurely in fact, as work commitments mean I cannot produce a Davis Cup-themed final entry next week. I hope you have enjoyed following, and I will hopefully see you all soon. If not here, then in this vast electronic world that helps us keep up to date with all things tennis.
Leigh Gruffydd Sanders