First, Happy New Year to all, including the players, who really don’t get the break they need and deserve between the seasons!
Onto Roger Federer and the pro tennis season ahead. 2008 is going to different year for the Swiss star than it was in 2007, 2006 and 2005 for the simple reason that it’s an Olympic year. And the Olympics is on the mind of the Fed. Since losing in ’04 games in Atlanta, Federer’s been focused on Beijing and his quest for the gold medal.
At the same time this season, Federer remains in chase of Pete Sampras’s 14 majors and the French Open. So where will his priorities lie? The Olympics? The French? No. 1?
With Beijing in August, Fed’s first half of the season schedule figures to be familiar and his results, well, I say also familiar. Obviously he’ll be the heavy favorite in Australia and Wimbledon, and the No. 2 pick at the French Open.
But after Wimbledon things get real interesting.
Winning both the Beijing Olympics and US Open is not out of the realm of possibility, especially for Fed, but it’s going to take a serious effort to do so. If he had to choose, I’m guessing Fed would take an Olympic title over another US Open this year, but what if going into Beijing he’s captured the first three Slams of the season, would he then shift his focus more on winning the calendar Grand Slam than the Olympics, which he can make another run at in 2012 London?
“I met Mirka here in 2000 at the Olympics in Sydney, so it always remains a special memory for me, and carrying the flag in Athens in 2004,” Federer told the AP. “So back in 2008, I’m really excited. I don’t know. French Open, Olympics, Wimbledon, I’ve got a lot of things coming my way this year.”
Tough call, but I really don’t think Fed’s going have that kind of year and be faced with such a situation.
After the way he finished ‘07 – winning his last four matches at the Masters Cup in destructive style – it’s hard to bet against Federer at the Australian Open. And Wimbledon has long been his. So I think tying Pete’s mark is a 2008 liklihood. But I’m still not sold on Roger beating Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. As long as Rafa’s around and healthy so too will there be a roadblock on Fed’s career Slam.
And unfortunately for Fed I think Nadal’s going to be around for a while longer. Sure his body is seemingly already on a downward slide, but to his credit the Spaniard usually gets everything wired, up-and-running and online in time for the clay season.
But things are not getting any easier for Fed in general. The competition is only getting better and there are more real challengers now than ever to the Federer throne.
Novak Djokovic is a legitimate Slam threat, though his 5-match losing skid to finish ’07 and his US Open final gag do worry me slightly. Andy Murray and Richard Gasquet are on the brink of breaking into the Top 5 and Marcos Baghdatis is capable of playing some pretty magical tennis but consistency and fitness still hinder the Cypriot.
Then there’s the curious case of David Nalbandian, who was arguably the hottest player at the end of 2007. Nalbandian gained quick acclaim and praise for his multiple beat-downs over Federer and Nadal during the final leg of the last season. The question I had then and still have now is can he sustain that high level after taking the last two months off? I think (and I hope) that we will see flashes of his talent and he’ll even get another win over Fed this season, but I’m not yet convinced that he’ll be back contending at every Slam like was a few years back.
Andy Roddick closed 2007 on a high note leading the U.S. to its first Davis Cup title since 1995. I have a (bad) history of picking guys to do well the year after they win the Davis Cup (Youzhny, Ljubicic) but it usually doesn’t work out. But screw it I’ll do it again. I think Roddick will have a much better year than the last when he won just two titles in three finals. And if Federer gets overly Beijing-obsessed Andy might be able to sneak out another Slam title at either Wimbledon or the US Open, or at the very least collect some TMS hardware over the summer.
Nikolay Davydenko will play enough to remain in the mix, and I think 2007 was no fluke for David Ferrer, and I see the Spaniard contending for the Australian, French and US Opens.
All said I’m not going out on much of a limb in predicting Federer to finish No. 1 and Nadal again just behind him at No. 2. It’s status quo at the top. But for No. 3 I’ll go with Roddick and then another Andy, this one Murray at No. 4. Novak Djokovic slips to the 5-hole. Sorry Novak, but you might need a reality check to deflate your head/ego.
And the rest…I’ll lean to David Ferrer at No. 6, No. 7 Nikolay Davydenko, No. 8 David Nalbandian, No. 9 Richard Gasquet and No. 10 Marcos Baghdatis.
As for ladies, Justine Henin is the still the women to beat. But if Serena Williams can keep the fat off (she actually looks, slim!), stay fit and play a full season, she will be a threat for No. 1.
“Of course I want to be No. 1 and to win grand slams,” Serena said last week. “I wouldn’t be out here if I didn’t have those goals.”
I’d also put Lindsay Davenport in the Top 5 along with Maria Sharapova and of the Serbs, I think Jelena Jankovic will again outrank Ana Ivanovic.
Among the youngsters, the WTA has a ton of emerging teens, but of bunch I gotta like 17-year-old Tamira Paszek, who I think will become a big factor this year.
Now for some holiday housekeeping…
* Martina Hingis was officially slapped with a two-year ban from tennis on Friday. Of course it doesn’t matter much to Martina since she immediately retired from the sport in November once word leaked that she tested positive for cocaine at Wimbledon. Martina maintains her innocence, but as I said before, if you really are innocent you don’t quickly retire. You fight and try to clear your name.
* Hingis-ex Radek Stepanek has to be one of the sport’s greatest overachievers. Maybe the greatest. Just months after ending an engagement to Martina Hingis, Stepanek wasted no time moving on to his next WTA hottie, this time landing and getting engaged to 18-year-old Nicola Vaidisova. It’s still hard to believe, but good for him.
* The ATP got busy on the gambling crackdown by suspending Italians Danielle Bracciali and Potito Starace for betting on tennis. Bracciali was fined $20k and suspended for three months. His countryman Starace got a 30k fine and a 6-week suspension. Both players and the Italian Tennis Federation argued the penalties were too harsh in light of their insignificant wagers, but frankly, I think the punishments were too light. If you’re a player and you bet on tennis you should be banned for at least a year minimum. Yes, those were likely scapegoats, but they should be thankful they got off easy.
* Could Lindsay Davenport’s impressive return after the arrival of her baby – the American has won 18 of 19 matches in her comeback – light a spark under another retired former No. 1 to get back on the courts? I think so. Kim Clijsters is expecting her first child at the end of February, which would give her a good nine months to nurse the newborn before she has to begin training for the 2009 Australian Open. Gotta lose that baby fat somehow, right? We’ll see in a year.
* The Australian Open has ended an era, ripping out the rubberized rebound ace courts in favor of a blue, plexicushion surface, which has been dubbed by some players as like playing on “sandpaper.” The allegedly slower courts probably won’t help Aussie hopefuls Lleyton Hewitt or Chris Guccione, then again what will? What’s in worse shape the future of Aussie tennis of the future of women’s tennis in the U.S.?
* And who says we stop growing when we reach our late 20s. The diminutive Olivier Rochus needs every inch he can get, and according to the ATP website the Belgian actually grew another inch during the 2007 season, spurting from 5-foot-5 to 5-foot-6. He might not be in the John Isner or Dr. Ivo category yet, but if he can maintain the momentum 6-feet and beyond may not be that far off.
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