Saturday, January 16, 2010

Tennis Tidings

5 Reasons I’m looking forward to the new Tennis Season 2010

1.       New Targets for Federer:

For many, the last words on the GOAT (greatest of all time) debate were said when Federer claimed his 15th Grand Slam title and decimated the record everyone thought would stick. This especially was momentous because Federer only just buried his demons in the red clay at Roland Garros. And yet, there are some records, perhaps not as significant, but substantial enough to motivate the champion to enter this year with the requisite hunger and desire.

The two records that’d place Federer in a league of his own: a) 7 Singles titles at Wimbledon, currently held singularly by Sampras, and b) the highest number of weeks at the top of the World Rankings, also held by Sampras.
The two time periods to look for these records to (hopefully) fall:
14th June, 2010 (Highest number of weeks at the top). Possibly just after the Garry Webber Open at Halle.
4th July, 2010 (Tie for highest number of Wimbledon titles).

Will these targets be enough to bring out the best in Federer? Check back on the aforementioned dates.

2.       A Ladies Singles Field to Look Out For:
Serena Williams is at the top of the rankings. Kim Clijsters the defending US Open titlist. Maria Sharapova is back to tennis full time. Dinara Safina is on the comeback trail. And the biggest news of all: Justine Henin is back in the game. What happens to Ivanovic, Who’s going to win what? Who’s going to disappoint? Will we finally find a real number 1? Big questions, and a very big year, as after two years of scrambling for a real dominator, women’s tennis is back in the big league.

3.       Del Potro the successor or Djokovic the victor? Is Murray even in the conversation?:
After shocking Federer in the US Open final and making it to the final of the ATP World Tour Final, Juan Martin Del Potro, at 22 years of age, is at the right stage to distinguish himself from the rest of the field. Definitely in contention to make himself available for the podium at at least two Grand Slams this year (French and US Open), Del Potro could be poised to take over the reign (if that will happen ever again in the VERY competitive men’s field) if and when Federer and Nadal do move on from tennis. Will he? That’s another question.

Djokovic had an awful start to the year, an incredibly heartbreaking clay court season (coming so close so many times), became irrelevant through the third quarter of the year, and making a strong statement towards the end. He deprived Federer of his home title at Basel, and destroyed Nadal en route to winning the Paris Masters. Even though he couldn’t qualify for the semi-finals at the ATP World Tour Finals, he made light work of Nadal yet again, and was the only man to beat eventual victor Nikolay Davydenko. He could not defend his Australian Open title or his ATP World Tour Final Title last year, and he has the hunger to go the extra step. After a patchy 2009, could this be the year Nole rises above the number 3 ranking he’s steadfastly held three year ends in a row? Only time will tell.

Andy Murray. Perhaps over-estimated, or maybe under-achieving, Andy Murray is on the brink and depending on where the scales tilt, could either be headed for greatness or be marooned in Henman land for evermore. They said he would win Wimbledon. He didn’t. He said he has made a habit of beating Federer, and yet lost on the two most significant meetings they’ve had this year, at the Cincinati Masters semi-final and the ATP World Tour round-robin. With amongst the greatest natural games in current tennis, Federer still believes that Murray has never beaten him on his terms. And when Federer says something, I for one, believe it.

4.       Nadal and the question. Is a fat lady singing?:
I like Rafael Nadal. I didn’t before, for reasons more than one, but when he hugged the crying Federer on the podium after the Australian Open, and when he fought and fought through the craziest semi-final against Verdasco, and when he had another mind-numbing clay court season, owning everything all over Europe, I couldn’t help it, I was firmly in his corner. A great guy, a superlative tennis talent, an awesomely hard working player evolving his game and dominating for a while the best that there could be, Nadal was winning the world over. Agassi said there could finally be a player who could win the calendar year Grand Slam, and it wasn’t Federer as we all had wished. And then there was Madrid. Nadal lost to Federer, and whilst we all exhaled for Federer’s lone victory, we couldn’t estimate what would happen next. Losing to a resurgent Soderling in the French Open, Nadal seemed wounded, but no one really worried. Until the break, the tendinitis and his inability to defend his Wimbledon crown. What followed was a painful recovery and some heartbreaking losses in the last part of the year. He lost his number one ranking, but did he lose his confidence? Will Nadal hold firm, or is he going to end up like the man whose records he chased (Bjorn Borg). It will be interesting to see how the year pans out for him, starting with his defense of the Australian Open. And tennis lovers everywhere will be hoping for him to find his way back on the road to the highest echelons of sport greatness.

5.       Four Grand Slams. Eight Titlists?:
2010 may be the year when the men’s field suddenly widens. For years now, Federer has had a stranglehold on the Grand Slam circuit, making it to 20 out of the last 24 finals, winning 14. In 2009, he faced four different opponents at four different events, winning and losing equal number of times, with three out of four matches going to the fifth set. And yet, as 2010 opens, Federer is entering his 29th year, and the odds are stacked against him. Can he hold on to his omnipotence on the big stage, or will it be a year when anyone can win anything? Almost everyone has a strong chance this year, with Djokovic making a strong case for the hard courts at the Australian Open and US Open, Del Potro with a chance at the French and a possible defense of the US Open, and Murray and Roddick always lurking at Wimbledon. Nadal of course will, depending on the extent of his recovery, remain a threat throughout the year.

The women’s field ofcourse is even wider open. With the return of two stalwarts in Clijsters and Henin, and the injury recoveries of Safina and Sharapova, the tour may see a bit of a shuffle before finally settling into a definite world champion. Serena will be looking to start the year on a strong note, and as world number one, will be seeded to defend her Australian Open crown. Henin may take some adjusting, but she WILL be the player to beat at Roland Garros. Venus Williams has made a habit of pocketing the Wimbledon titles, and will have a bigger shot at winning than the defending champion Serena, but you can’t discount Henin here as well. Twice a runner up, she has already stated her motivation to return is to finally win her long desired career slam completing Wimbledon title. And for the year ending US Open Championships, there’s the defending champion Clijsters, Sharapova, Safina, Williams and maybe even a newbie like Oudin looking to walk away victor. No matter how the year pans out, it’s definitely going to be more entertaining, and perhaps, after two lackluster years, ladies tennis will justify its now historic equal prize money.

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