The 2012 tennis season…something for everyone

Well, Novak Djokovic capped off yet another great season by winning the year-ending ATP Tour Finals in London, beating Roger Federer 7-6, 7-5 and reaffirming the World No.1 ranking which he took back from Federer last week.

But it wasn’t a Novak show all the way this year…quite the opposite in fact. For the first time since 2003, the 4 Grand Slams were won by 4 different players with Djokovic taking the Australian Open, Nadal winning his 7th French Open, Federer picking up his 7th Wimbledon and good old Andy Murray winning his first Slam at the US Open.

Ultimately, Djokovic deservedly ended the year as No.1 for his consistency, having reached the finals of 3 Grand Slams and also winning 3 ‘Masters 1000’ titles at Miami, Toronto and Shanghai. Djokovic will have to keep his eyes open in 2013, as challenges to his reign will come from all quarters – Federer continues to be dangerous even at the age of 31, Murray will be looking to win more Slams, Nadal will want to reassert himself and del Potro is close to re-discovering his 2009 form.

For Federer, it was a year to remember. He ended his Grand Slam title drought with the Wimbledon title, reached the finals of the Olympics singles tournament for the first time in his career, won 3 ‘Masters 1000’ titles (Indian Wells, Madrid and Cincinnati) and took back the World No.1 ranking to edge past Pete Sampras’ record of 286 cumulative weeks at No.1. In fact, Federer’s final tally of 302 weeks will be very tough to beat. Frankly, it will be tough for Federer to keep his motivation up in 2013, because he now owns or co-owns practically every record in the book.

Nadal incredibly finished 2012 in the Top 5 despite not playing for half the year, a testament to his performance in the first half, having won the French Open and 2 ‘Masters 1000’ titles. He now co-owns the record for most titles with Federer, both having 21. All eyes will be on Nadal when he returns to action at the Australian Open…in the past, when he has taken an injury break, he has always returned as strong and as motivated as before.

Andy Murray finally broke the Grand Slam jinx and won the Olympic Gold to boot, but his performance in the past couple of months has been worrying as he has lost a few matches after holding match points. When under pressure, he tends to stay back and go into defensive mode, rather than taking charge of the point. Interestingly, he failed to win any Masters 1000 titles this year. I am really curious to see if he can capitalize on his 2012 breakthrough next year.

David Ferrer had the best season of his career, winning 7 tournaments including his first ever ‘Masters 1000’ title in Paris last week. To achieve this at the age of 30 is incredible, but also adds weight to the argument that tennis is becoming an older man’s game. We no longer see teenagers winning Slams and major titles as we did with Becker, Agassi and Michael Chang in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Ferrer’s season has yet to finish, as he will play in the Davis Cup finals next week.

I feel that Juan Martin del Potro will get back to his 2009 playing level by next week. His results of the last few months have been very impressive, particularly with 2 wins over Federer and 1 win over Djokovic at the Olympics. I feel that he has a good shot at winning either the hard court Slams or even the French Open, where he has twice been 2 sets up against Federer, only to lose in 5.

Among the next lot, I don’t really see any names ready to break through and win a Slam or a Masters title. Both Tsonga and Berdych have reached Grand Slam finals and have the ability to beat the big names once in a while, but they can only win the Slams by fluke, rather than be consistent contenders.

The players of the future who can make the breakthrough are the four 21 year olds ranked inside the Top 50 – Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov, David Goffin and Jerzy Janowicz (okay Janowicz turns 22 today!). There are other talented young players like Kei Nishikori (aged 22, ranked 19), Bernard Tomic (aged 20, ranked 51) and Ryan Harrison (aged 20, ranked 68), but their games are not powerful enough to win at the highest level. Two other names in the Top 100 worth keeping track off are 21 year old Russian Andrey Kuznetsov who won the Wimbledon junior title in 2009 and 22 year old Guillaume Rufin of France.

But the Top 4 + del Potro are so strong, that I would be very surprised if there was to be a first-time Grand Slam winner in 2013.

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