Friday, 30 December 2011

That was 2011 so how about 2012?

Clearly we have witnessed the year of Novak Djokovic - 3 Grand Slam titles, a memorable finish in the French Open semis, plus Masters wins left right and centre.  Pleasing towards the end of the year though was the rise of Roger Federer from a predicted career demise into a once more serious threat.  Better still for the future of men's tennis was the continual improvement and greater consistency of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the rise of another Serbian player Janko Tipsarevic into the top ten, and the finish to 2011 by David Ferrer to match his start.  Youngsters such as Tomic and Raonic have the opportunity to make further inroads into the upper echelon of the game in the upcoming season.
The signs of wear and tear on Rafa near the end of 2011 are of concern, but he has had this before yet managed to put in sensational periods of the most exhilarating tennis, so beware him in 2012, and not just on the clay (but especially the clay)  The Davis Cup was won by Spain, and one of the losing team will be a player to watch in 2012 - Juan Martin Del Potro could have been anything following his 2009 US Open victory but injury thwarted his progress.  Now he is well poised to leap into the top bracket again, and his best is an exciting brand of the game we love.

For the women, 2011 was fascinating not only due to the terrific standard of tennis but also the unpredictability - at the highest level we saw 4 different Grand Slam title winners, 3 of them debut champions.  In Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova, we quite possibly have the next world number one, and a player with the craft to hang on to that mantle for some time.  I believe that with a major break through not far away Vika Azarenka has the game to be one of the most serious challengers to Petra.  Samantha Stosur worked hard in the second half of the year to finally realise the potential she had shown for a number of years with her US Open crown, and Li Na was simply wonderful in the the first part of the year, making the first 2 Grand Slam finals, capturing Roland Garros after pushing Kim Clijsters all the way in Melbourne.  Refreshing to see Sharapova fit for most of the year and able to finish where she deserves to be - amongst the top five in the end of year rankings.  I doubted we would see Serena back again, possibly at all, and certainly not to the level she displayed so quickly.  The game is that much greater for her presence.  Players who finished the year strongly included Agnieszka Radwanska and Ana Ivanovic, both with legitimate claims on regular top ten positions throughout the coming year.

Lead up events to the 2012 Australian Open are upon us and it is time for my dreaded early tips for the first Grand Slam tournament of the year.  Mens Singles favourite should be the world number one and defending champion Novak Djokovic, but Roger Federer shapes as a significant threat.  The 2 may meet again in the semis, and if that happens my prediction is the semi winner wins the tournament, and it would be Novak in my humble opinion.  If however the 2 were to meet in the final then I feel that Djokovic may find it harder to overcome the Federer experience of 5 finals for 4 wins.  Ultimately I feel that he would overcome the difficulty, and therefore claim his 3rd Australian Open, and 3rd straight Grand Slam victory.

With the women it is harder to choose - Serena Williams will be seeded, but only high enough to guarantee a meeting in the fourth round with a top ten player - could be Stosur, Li Na, Zvonareva or even Sharapova - the draw will be horrid for someone.  Irrespective, if fit I back Serena to make it through that fourth round, and because of her record in Melbourne she is my selection to win the next 3 matches after that, and the title.  The dangers are Petra Kvitova and a fit Maria Sharapova, although I believe that Vika Azarenka has a serious chance this time, as too may Samantha Stosur should she handle the home town pressure and lower ranked early round opponents better than in previous years.

Can't wait for 16 January and the thrills in my home city, but all the attention for the moment is on the preliminaries - Brisbane, Auckland, Sydney and Hobart for the women, Brisbane, Sydney, Doha, Chennai and Auckland for the men.