‘Tis the season to make predictions so herewith my thoughts on 2013. With Rafael Nadal’s continued absence dampening the start of the new tennis season, we still have quite a race at the top with Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray this January. And maybe, just maybe, some new faces. Like I say every year, let’s hope (I’m talking to you Delpo!).
Now to handicapping the 2013 Top 10:
1. Novak Djokovic
Now fueled by donkey cheese, at 25 he’s in the absolute prime of his career and there’s little indication he’ll be slowing down anytime soon. Plus, with Nadal on the mend it’s very possible he takes the French to complete the career Slam. If he can resist the gluten and maintain his health, he should collect two more Slams at a minimum and have the top ranking locked up after winning another US Open in September.
2. Andy Murray
Riding the wave of his Olympics/US Open double, I think the Scot puts forth a strong follow-up campaign perhaps pocketing another Major to finish just behind Djokovic. Andy enters on a 7-match Grand Slam win streak and he finished winning 13 of his last 14 matches in Majors only losing to Federer in a match he held the lead in. Who would have thought that last June?
3. Juan Martin Del Potro
After finally getting over that wrist injury, we saw Delpo start to make his move last season. Other than losses to Baghdatis in Sydney and Llodra at Paris, no one outside the Top 10 beat the big fella, and he twice beat Federer indoors to wrap up the year. He’s still just 23 and if he stays healthy (the big “if”) I think he’s in the No. 1 conversation come the US Open.
4. Roger Federer
He got Wimbledon but the loss to Berdych at the US Open and zero indoor titles in three fall events signal decline. Nadal’s injury issues should make things slightly easier draw-wise for the the Swiss who’ll be turning 32 in August, but with Djokovic, Murray and Delpo still lurking he’ll need help to reach #18. A reduced schedule should keep Father Time at bay, but could impede his ability to accumulate those cheap ranking points.
5. Rafael Nadal
Put me in the group of those not buying this stomach virus. The knee likely isn’t right and even if it was I seriously have to wonder about his future durability on hard courts. Unlike a stomach virus, chronic knee issues like he’s had often never ever totally go away (that’s why they are chronic!) so when he does return it’s conceivable it won’t be for very long before another interruption. What pity. But all that said, he’ll be even more determined on the dirt.
6. David Ferrer
He won’t do better than his career season of a year ago, but even into his 30s he remains such a tough test on any surface. Work ethic matters, folks. And who knows, might he finish as the Spanish No. 1?
7. JW Tsonga
Guided by new coach Roger Rasheed, the Frenchman should get back in the fold of being a factor late in Slams. He’s too good of a talent not to be. And he’s too good of a player to stay a patsy for the elite another season. The first two months will tell me a lot.
8. Tomas Berdych
Now 27, the Czech helped lead his country to Davis Cup glory. With that checked off the bucket list does he have the fire, the passion to take his game to the next level and contend for the top spot and Slam trophies? I’m not sure. But he’ll play enough to remain a Top 10er and reprise his favorite role as a darkhorse at the Majors.
9. Marin Cilic
A knee injury stole 8 weeks at the start of 2012, but he came back and put together a solid season. Only 24 (he seems like he should be in the 30s!), he’s entering that 24-26 sweet spot I like. Maybe he’ll have a sweet year, too.
10. Milos Raonic
Will 2013 be the Next Big Thing’s coming out party on the big stage? Hard to say for the Canadian who started the year so well yet faded toward the end. The game, the head are intact but I have to question if he has the will to match.
The toughest part of picking the Top 10 is avoiding choosing the same players over and over again from previous years. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that guys like Djokovic, Murray, Federer, Nadal, Ferrer, Berdych and even Tsonga won’t be back in the Top 10 at the end of the next season. It’s been the pattern for many years now and outside of Raonic and perhaps Jerzy Janowicz there’s no superstar on the horizon that I can see who’ll break into that upper crust. Yup, Bernie, Ryan, Grigor. Sorry guys.
That, however, doesn’t mean we’ll return to the Federer-Nadal finals. Unfortunately, I fear we may never see the two greats battle in a Major final again. Yet with Djokovic and Murray marking the new rivalry, the future won’t be so bad, will it?
Other guys to keep an eye on for 2013 are Kei Nishikori, Gilles Simon, John Isner, Martin Klizan and Sam Querrey who really came on strong the back half of this past season. All five could pop in and out of the Top 10 at some point.
The big wildcard of any season is health, just ask Rafa. Fortunately for Djokovic and Murray, the top two guys as I see them, the duo have been relatively free from bodily defect of late. Federer is aging and with each passing year more susceptible to injury. And while Ferrer and Berdych appear to be sturdy in their build, Del Potro and Tsonga, however, are always at risk.
Hopefully, though, injuries won’t play much of a role once Rafa returns in February. And we’ll get another season filled with fun and intrigue. And maybe I’ll even get a pick or two correct!
Australia begins in just two weeks. Happy Holidays everyone.
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