To quickly answer the question posed in the title: Yes. In my mind Roger Federer will finish 2010 as the No. 1 ranked player. It wasn’t an easy selection, but given the landscape he’s my default pick.
At the highest of levels, Federer’s proven time and again that he’s the best by a wide margin. All told now, Roger has reached seven straight Grand Slam finals and 17 of the last 18 championship matches. That’s nothing short of incredible.
Even though Federer ended last season with just four titles in seven finals – his fewest number of finals since 2002 – Roger played his best tennis when it mattered the most, at the Slams.
In fact, Federer was just a hair from sweeping all four majors in 2009, though one could argue he was lucky to have won Wimbledon and he very nearly could have had his remarkable Slam semifinal streak snapped at the French Open by Tommy Haas.
But in both events Federer did what champions do best, he won. His French Open gave him the career Slam and Wimbledon pushed him past Pete Sampras for 15 and atop the career Slam leaderboard. Federer of course came up just short in the US Open final to Juan Martin Del Potro and suffered a crushing defeat at the start of the year to friend and rival Rafael Nadal at the Australian.
But with Nadal on the mend from a bad knee and family issues, the year was Federer’s.
That said, clearly we have seen some cracks in Federer’s game of late. And for me, at age 28 those cracks are only going get wider and deeper going forward. It’s just a question of how long he can keep together and hold off those in chase. I think he’s got 12-18 more months before he gets engulfed by the younger generation. Until then, though, he’s still the man to beat.
So why do I pick Federer for No. 1? Simple. It’s really based on the lack of anyone else stepping up on a consistent basis to take it from him.
Nadal is Fed’s chief rival, but can you really trust his knees and his health? I wish I could but I can’t.
Novak Djokovic is always hanging around and in the conversation, but the Joker hasn’t shown up to a major final since his 2008 Australian Open triumph.
Andy Murray seems to be hot-money pick to be the next new No. 1, but the Scot, like Djokovic, excels in ATP events only to fall flat in the Slams. For his career, Murray has just two Grand Slam semifinal appearances. Two! Sorry, I’ll believe it when he actually wins one.
Del Potro is the new slugger on the block, and his US Open title and his play at the London Masters definitely gives credence to his ability. But as a newly-crowned Slam winner, the expectations and pressures will be even greater. I’m not sure he’s ready to handle that load and lead the tour just yet.
Behind his rocket serve and improved consistency, Andy Roddick will be in the mix, but with the foes ahead of him it’s hard to see him making a real run at No. 1.
Nikolay Dayvdenko came on strong at the end of the year, but will the Russian’s big London Masters riches lift him toward Grand Slam greatness or will the off season spoil any momentum he had? I’ll venture to the latter.
Other players who figure to make some noise include Fernando Verdasco, who I think will back up his excellent 2009 campaign with another solid year. Robin Soderling is the only man to beat Rafael Nadal on the Paris clay, but I can’t see a repeat Top 10 performance from the Swede in 2010.
With their quartet of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, my man Gael Monfils, Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon, the French will again have to be accounted for. Add in Jeremy Chardy and France has arguably the most tennis talent of any country, but injuries, motivation and even off court issues always seem to emerge for the Frenchmen at the wrong time (Tsonga is already battling a bum wrist!).
Marin Cilic I think is one player poised for a big breakthrough in 2010. The lanky Croat is just 21 and he’s seems to really rise up for the Slams. Big serve, solid off the ground, big wingspan, doesn’t have bad losses in the majors and he’s already notched some big wins.
In the end though, I just don’t think anyone is going to be able to put together a complete campaign to knock Federer off his perch. There is of course injuries, and let’s face it, Federer’s been lucky in that regard. Every top player I can remember has battled something significant, but so far Federer’s been fairly immune to the injury bug. Maybe that finally catches up to him this year, maybe it doesn’t. On the court though, with the major records now in the rearview, he should play more freely – however he’s raised just one trophy since reaching 15.
That said, I think Federer’s Slam semifinal streak finally gets snapped this year, but the Swiss should still pocket another Wimbledon title and I think the Australian Open gives him a better chance to add to the trophy case than either the US Open or the French.
Nadal will return to his winning ways on the clay, but with number of guys possessing the skillset required to beat Rafa seemingly increasing with each year and his battles with his knees, I think he’ll have his struggles off his favored dirt. If he can stay 100% for the year, then Federer could be in trouble. But that’s a big if.
The pressure is on Murray, and while I think he could breakthrough in Australia or New York for a first Slam win, I don’t think he’ll have enough to challenge Federer for a No. 1 finish. And I think the same is true for Novak.
For me, the big obstacle (literally) for Federer may very turn out to be Del Potro. DelPo’s reached the QF or better at four of his last five Slams and it’s hard to argue that his US Open win was a fluke. It wasn’t. The big lug is here to stay. And at just 21 he already has the power, he can play well on all surfaces, he has improved his fitness and he showed his mental toughness in that fifth set in Flushing. If his body holds up and he handles the new weight of being a Slam winner, I believe he’s going to be the next new No. 1. Maybe even by mid-2010.
Regardless of what happens, times have really changed from a few years ago when the conversation in men’s tennis was just Federer and Nadal. We’ve since added Djokovic, then Murray and now add Del Potro to the mix for a very strong, very solid Fab Five. Could a player like Cilic, Tsonga or Verdasco make a surge and crack that Top 5? Possibly. But it should be a great, entertaining year of tennis, and a great way to start a new decade. Happy New Year everyone.
Here’s my projected Top 10 for ‘10:
1. Roger Federer
2. Juan Martin Del Potro
3. Rafael Nadal
4. Andy Murray
5. Novak Djokovic
6. Andy Roddick
7. Nikolay Davydenko
8. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
9. Gael Monfils
10. Marin Cilic
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Novak Djokovic Moves Ahead Of Roger Federer In 2012 ATP Rankings
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