Geez, Sean, it’s hasn’t even been a month and you are already speculating who’ll be next to replace Novak Djokovic at No. 1! Well, yeah. Despite an early misstep, I’m sure Novak will comport himself accordingly as the best player in tennis. And my guess is he’ll have a long, prosperous reign on top of the ranking charts right through the Australian Open next year.
But that’s when I think he’ll give it back to Rafael Nadal. Let’s not forget about Rafa. Sure, he’s 25, he’s banged up a bit in the knees but the guy is still one heck of a tennis player. And if not for Djokovic he’d be the clear No. 1 right now. All credit to the Serb for beating Nadal five straight times and for putting up some incredible numbers, but Rafa just isn’t going to go away that easily.
At some point Djokovic’s level will drop off and I think Rafa will be next in line. I’m guessing that happens when Novak’s points from his early season run this year start rolling off next season (Australian Open, Indian Well, Miami).
At No. 3 Roger Federer is still in the mix and clearly hungry and motivated to get back to the top (he oh so close needing just one week to tie Pete Sampras) but I just don’t think the Swiss is capable anymore of clearing two hurdles in Nadal and Djokovic. One, perhaps, but not both guys. He may still pocket a few more Slams ahead but barring injuries it’s hard to see the soon-to-be-30-year-old Federer returning to No. 1 with Nadal and Djokovic playing so well. Sorry, Roger.
Of course if Nadal does get back to No. 1, he won’t be a new No. 1. Nor Federer should he conjure up some magic. So when the triumvirate of Djokovic/Nadal/Federer fade who’ll be next in line to the throne?
At the moment only a few guys come to mind.
Andy Murray has the game, he has the tools but mentally that belief of winning Slams and reaching No. 1 looks to be fading. And now with Djokovic’s sudden surge, it makes Murray’s road that much tougher especially since they are both the same age.
Maybe in a few years Murray will become better than Novak, but there’s not a lot of evidence to suggest that will happen. Yet I can’t rule it out. Maybe one day, like Djokovic, he too will “click”.
After Murray, there are the Frenchmen like JW Tsonga and my man Gael Monfils. I think Tsonga can become a consistent Top 5 player if he can just stay healthy which is real big ask. And Monfils, who has a world of talent and ability at his feet, just doesn’t seem to have that fire or fight. Like his countryman Richard Gasquet, I fear he will be labeled a career underachiever when all is said and done. I’m a longtime Monfils fan so I hope I’m wrong but among his peer group (Djokovic, Murray, Tomas Berdych, Marcos Baghdatis) he’s the only one yet to reach a Grand Slam final, and with the depth in the game right now it may never happen for him.
I’m also ruling out Berdych, who appears to have hit his peak last year. And I no longer believe Gasquet can get to the top. Though similar to Murray, if things “click” for Richard he could really be a threat.
So who’s left? After all it’s a 100% certainty that someone WILL replace Djokovic/Nadal/Federer at the top. My pick for the guy to do it is an easy one, it’s Juan Martin Del Potro.
He seems much older but Delpo is still only 22 (turns 23 in September) and I always say tennis players hit their peak in that 23.5-26 range. So after Djokovic and Nadal play hot potato with the rankings for the better part of next year, I think maybe after the 2013 Australian Open we’ll officially begin the Delpo era.
At that time Del Potro will be 24 and in the sweet spot of that peak window. And with Federer fading at 31, a weary Nadal closing in on 27 and a Djokovic/Murray nearing off-peak at 26, I think we’ll him at No. 1.
Of course with Juan Martin there are a heap of concerns, starting with his body. But he’s maturing and learning (hopefully) how to better take care of health, daily routine and tournament schedule. The Argentine already has a massive game and mentally – unlike Murray, Monfils or Gasquet – he’s proven that he can beat the big names on a big stage (read: Slams!). And that’s so important.
Obviously grass might not be his surface but I think on hard, clay and indoors he’ll be even tougher to beat in two years than he is now. Just imagine.
That said, Djokovic, Nadal and Murray will still be around battling and winning titles, and they’ll likely be a few more names I haven’t even considered (Milos Raonic comes to mind) or some kid on a couch somewhere just ready to burst on the tennis scene, so there will be plenty of competition for Del Potro. It won’t be easy but really the key will be his health. Somehow he has to stay healthy!
And speaking of Del Potro, not coincidentally he’ll begin his summer swing this evening in Los Angeles against James Blake. After virtually running the table in 2009, Delpo missed the summer hardcourts last year due to that right wrist. But after a strong return in 2011 – he’s No. 19 after ranking near 500 in February, I expect big things from the big man these next 45 days or so.
So to recap, Djokovic hangs on to No. 1 for another six months. Nadal gets it back. He and Djokovic wrestle for the top spot for the rest of 2012 and into 2013 before Del Potro ascends stealing it from the both of them.
If you don’t buy it, have your say below.
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