2011 Tennis Preview: Will Nadal, Federer Remain on Top?
by Sean Randall | January 3rd, 2011, 7:22 pm

It was just a few years ago when Andy Roddick use to offer a lighthearted bellyache here or there about being born in the wrong tennis era; the Era of Roger Federer. Fast forward to today and imagine the cruel hands that Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have been dealt. Not only do they have Roddick’s Federer, but they also have Mr. Rafael Nadal. ADHEREL

With Nadal at his very best and Federer still in his magical fiefdom, is there a tougher thing to do in tennis than to win a men’s Grand Slam or even get close to a No. 1 finish on the ATP. If your name isn’t Nadal or Federer that’s been the case and will likely continue to be the norm in 2011. And for 98% of the Top 100 there’s a certain unfairness in having to compete against not one but two of the greats of the game.

But hey, for us fans it’s great times.

Despite the Nadal-Federer double-gauntlet, for players like Murray and to a much lesser degree Djokovic, the expectations and pressures remain on them either winning a Slam (Murray) or getting No. 2 (Djokovic).

And then there’s the true X-Factor, Juan Martin Del Potro, who makes his comeback from a serious wrist injury that truncated his 2010 season. With the JMDP now near or at (hopefully, fingers crossed) 100%, can the Argentine giant can back into the 2011 conversation, or is he another year away?

Before I get into what I think may happen with DelPo and the other contenders, I have to give credit to both Nadal and Federer, particularly Federer. A few years ago I would not have thought Roger would be at the high level he was last year.

Maybe it was new coach Paul Annacone’s influence or just the continued reverence shown from his foes, but Federer’s post-Wimbledon season was as good as anyone’s.

And after a gloomy to start to 2010, Nadal got his ailing knee right and then somehow set the tennis world ablaze. Incredibly, just a year removed from what looked like a serious knee issue that would haunt his year, maybe career, Nadal returns to Melbourne next week as a legitimate favorite to complete his “Rafa Slam” and win a fourth straight Major.

So the storylines are again familiar: Can anyone break the Nadal-Federer Top Two stranglehold? Can Murray finally breakthrough? Is Djokovic, who gets so close and plays so well at times, ever going to pocket another Slam? And of course between Nadal and Federer, who’ll get the top prize and finish No. 1?

It really boils down to a two player race among four players. Here’s my breakdown here’s my prediction for 2011 Top 10:

1. Rafael Nadal
Under Annacone Federer has clearly found some added life in his tennis game, and while it’s not necessarily evolving, it has taken a more aggressive turn. Still, if Nadal stays healthy – we know he’ll be motivated – I don’t think Federer can beat him consistently enough to regain the top ranking in 2011 (and with it break the Pete Sampras record).

Nadal will likely dominate again on the clay and while he might not repeat at the US Open I think Wimbledon and the Australian Open are still in his sweetspot.

Speaking of sweetspots, Nadal who turns 25 this June, is really in the heart of the age range (24-26) when tennis players hit their full stride. Scary, I know, that he may now ne entering his peak zone. So I’ll expect two Slams, a bundle of other Masters titles to give Rafa another No. 1 finish.

2. Roger Federer
No real surprise that Federer will finish second to Nadal, again. After all it was Nadal who spent all those years in waiting at No. 2, now it’s Roger’s turn to play bridesmaid.

That said, back in July even a second placed finish seemed far-fetched. But as I said, credit to Federer for signing Annacone and reigniting his game.

Arguably no one had a better second half of the season than Federer who lost just three times – in two of those he held multiple match points – and capped the year with a convincing London Finals win.

So Federer’s confidence has to be soaring to start 2011 and I think he’ll be quick out of the gates once again in Melbourne and continue as a threat at the remaining three Majors, likely capturing at least one, maybe two in his title haul.

3. Novak Djokovic
The Joker also had a very strong finish to 2010. After a feeble summer showing, Novak was virtually reborn at the US Open against Troicki, and then the Serb carried that momentum to a Davis Cup title for Serbia to end the season.

Djokovic says that he’s growing as a person and that he’s learned to better deal with the pressures of playing against Nadal and Federer which is a positive. But I need to see that belief translated on court before I can put him any higher.

He has the game but with Djokovic what’s between the ears is often the determining factor. Add to that his wishy-washy serve which we’ll be under the microscope in Melbourne.

4. Andy Murray
The clock is ticking and the pressure mounting on Andy Murray’s quest for that maiden Grand Slam. Unfortunately for Murray, we may look back at the 2010 Australian Open final as the best chance he’ll have at that win.

And that’s because in Melbourne this year Nadal is better than he was year ago at this time. So, too, is Federer and I’ll add Djokovic to that list as well. And that’s not good for Murray who quietly had some good results the second half of 2010 (he beat Federer to win Montreal and Shanghai). But until he gets over the hump in a big-stage final I’ll remain suspect.

And being semi-coachless I don’t think is good thing for the talented Scot. Had he stuck with Brad Gilbert I think he’d be a Grand Slam champion by now.

That was the easy part (1-4), now the tough part (5-10).

5. JW Tsonga
I’m going to take a leap of faith flyer on Tsonga. The Frenchman has had his share of knee issues and injuries but if he can return to 100% health – he says he is – and stay healthy(!) I think with his firepower and energy he can play (and beat) anybody when he’s “on” song (pun).

There’s no reason he can’t get that last spot in the Top 5 if he just play a full year without injury.

Despite playing among the fewest events in the Top 20 (20), Tsonga still managed a No. 13 ranking which should set him up for some good draws early on. And that’s important from a streaky guy like this one.

6. Andy Roddick
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the American just keeps going and going. And I think he’ll do well enough this year to finish Top 10 for a 10th (and final) time. Roddick spent part of 2010 on the mend from shoulder and mono ailments, but he comes into 2011 saying he’s renewed, ready and full of life.

Sure, his game has become more of a pusher style, but the serve is still a force and outside of Federer and Nadal, Andy’s got the best attitude on the circuit.

If he can improve upon his 2010 Slam results (shouldn’t be that hard), he’ll move up in the rankings.

7. Fernando Verdasco
Can anyone tell me what Fernando Verdasco did in 2010 to warrant a No. 10 finish? I recall Verdasco, or “Hot Sauce” as he is better known by (nickname first coined on this site), suffering a crushing loss at the US Open to Ferrer, getting destroyed by Nadal in Monte Carlo and flaming out to Davydenko at Australia, but somehow he managed to stay in the Top 10.

He’s must have been doing something right!

Of concern with Verdasco is overplaying, but last year he played just seven matches after the US Open (mostly b/c he lost early) so I think this season he comes in much fresher than last year and with a lot less pressure of having to defend all those points.

8. Robin Soderling
I think it’s safe to say that we’ve seen Robin Soderling’s best. This year there won’t be another stunning upset at the French Open (unless it’s his own!), nor a third trip to the French Open final. With Magnus Norman watching from home, I think Soderling is officially on the decline.

But his rugged build and power will keep him as a serious factor at most of the events.

9. Marcos Baghdatis
If I can take a flyer of JW Tsonga, then why not one on Marcos Baghdatis? Reports are for 2011 that Bags has dropped some and is fit and eager for a strong season. And that’s a good sign for Marcos who despite wins over both Federer and Nadal in 2010, battled a shoulder and other injuries during the season.

The Australian Open final may be his lone appearance in a Major but, but the Cypriot still has the raw talent and charisma to return to the Top 10.

10. Gael Monfils
It’s been a lengthy waiting with Monfils, but My Man Monfils might be on the verge of a breakout year. Gael finally came through with huge wins over Vedasco, Murray and then Federer at Paris in November. And even though he lost the final I think that trio of victories combined with a solid performance overall the last three months bodes well for the Frenchman in the future.

Now if he can just focus more on his game and fitness rather than on entertaining and showboating, he may eventually get to a Slam winner’s circle.

And that’s my Top 10.

Here’s my Players on the rise:
Robin Haase – Played Nadal tough at Wimbledon, I expect more in 2011 if he he can put together a full season.
Kei Nishikori – Under Brad Gilbert’s wing a possible Top 30 finish?
Richard Berankis – 20-year-old Lithuanian will play his first full season on the big boy circuit.
Grigor Dmitrov – Strong, if not controversial finish to 2010, could make for an interesting season for the talented kid once labeled as the next Federer.
Ryan Harrison – Is the youngster ready to become the next American superstar? Look for at least at Top 70 finish as the climb continues.
Juan Martin Del Potro – He’s just 22 but he sure seems a lot older. If healthy the No. 258th ranked DelPo should roar back into the Top 20, maybe even return to the Top 10 by year-end. Let’s hope!

Players on the slide:
Nikolay Dayvdenko – Seems like age and injury are finally catching up with “pong”.
Ivan Ljubicic – Expiration date coming up?
Tomas Berdych – Nice Acapulco cliff dive imitation the second half of last year.
Marin Cilic – What happened?

Other players to watch:
Americans – I love the American boys John Isner, Sam Querrey and Mardy Fish, but I think they’ll hover in that 11-25 range.
Ernests Gulbis – We saw flashes in 2010, will see more this year or just flame? I leaning to the latter.
David Nalbandian – Always a wildcard, the Argentine is capable of so much more but often falls flat. This might be his last real year.
Richard Gasquet – Arguably the most talented of the Frenchmen, Gasquet has a Top 10 game but a Top 50 head. Too bad the head usually prevails in that battle.

Some 2011 Grand Slam Predictions:
Australian Open: Federer d. Djokovic
French Open: Nadal d. Federer
Wimbledon: Nadal d. Federer
US Open: Federer d. Djokovic

Women’s final top 5:
1. Kim Clijsters – Should win at least two Slams.
2. Caroline Wozniacki – Maybe wins a slam, but will clean up all the smaller WTA titles.
3. Justine Henin – If fully healthy could leap to No. 1, but elbow remains a concern. Still the favorite right now for French.
4. Serena Williams – Foot/health/interest. Too many question marks but Wimbledon still belongs to her.
5. Vera Zvonareva – Has found form but unlikely to win that big Slam title.

And with that, enjoy 2011 people and Happy New Year!

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58 Comments for 2011 Tennis Preview: Will Nadal, Federer Remain on Top?

El Flaco Says:

My only prediction is that no player will win a slam this year by beating both Nadal and Federer.

Tsonga finishing 5? No way Jose! He’s too injury prone.

No mention of Melzer? He’s almost in the top 10 right now and lost in the 1st round of the AO last year. Good results at the other 3 slams. He is the 2nd oldest player in the top 20 behind Ljubicic, but he has less than 500 ATP matches in his career. There’s plenty of tread left on the tires.

Daniel Says:

How can Federer be in 4 Slams final in your predictions and not be Year End N. 1, while Nadal has 2 Slams, and most semis in the other 2?

jane Says:

You have Fed in every single slam final? Given that he made only one last year, that would be quite a good jump for him. I would never say that’s not possible with Fed, but I think he will be absent for at least one slam final. Also, if Nole makes it to two, as you predict above, he’ll win one of them; I guarantee it! :) You sound a little too bleak on your take on Murray. I can see him breaking through, if not at the AO then at Wimbledon. I’d be surprised about Tsonga getting that high. Also, I think another couple of players to watch climb will be Golubev and Milos Raonic.

Also a shout out to Daniel Nestor, who was named to the Order of Canada for his achievements in tennis; it is great exposure for the sport here, in hockey town. ;)

Tennis Vagabond Says:

El Flaco- good call on Melzer. The win against Nadal in Shanghai was incredible, he may very well be this year’s Berdych. I also think Sean has his Frenchmen mixed up, but really, between Monfils and Tsonga it could go either way. I expect Gasquet to make it back into the conversation this year, at least top twenty.

JMDP is definitely the player to watch, I am prepared for disappointment, but what a difference it would make to the game if he makes his old level back. When he won the USO I thought he would leapfrog Novak and Murray as the next #1, now I just hope he can make the top 15!

contador Says:

i’ll be surprised if verdasco is top ten again.

John Benson Says:

Don’t think the Joker will win one. His play is too inconsistent over the rigors of a GS and fitness questionable. Murray has the best chance if he can get his head on straight. Murray’s problem is this: He needs to shorten points and get more aggressive to beat Fed or Rafa but he gives up on this strategy as soon as he misses a few and goes back to passive play. He needs to practice aggressive play even if it means losing tournaments until he gets it right. His ego is too big or he is too stubborn. Murray is the only guy who has a chance. Fed and Rafa are really way ahead of the field and it is unlikely that at least one of them will not make it to a GS final. Delpo is the only real threat but who knows if he will ever be the same.

Sean Randall Says:

El Falco, Melzer? Meh. Maybe he finishes Top 15.

Daniel, Rafa will win far more ATP Masters events than Fed.

Jane, with Nadal/Fed/Djokovic all better than they were a year ago it’s hard to find space for Murray, who may have hit a plateau. We’ll see.

blank Says:

“…Nadal will likely dominate again on the clay and while he might not repeat at the US Open I think Wimbledon and the Australian Open are still in his sweetspot…”

Sean, Did you mean ‘Wimbledon and the FRENCH open’ because in your slam predictions for 2011 you have Federer winning AO?

Gannu Says:

How boring Sean..whats new in ur order… it wud be fun if u had said federer will snatch No1… nadal will slip, murray will win one gslam.. but u just stuck to a boring safe bet…

van orten Says:

i don´t think it will be necessary for either both nadal or federer to win a lot against each other to be number one at the end of the year or win multiple slams…
we saw it in 2009 and 2010 ! only one grandslam final fed vs nadal in the last 8 slams. nothing is written in stone. fed and nadal both are threatened to lose in quarters or semis in every slam.
fed by his inconsistency or as seen last year incapacity to convert muliple break or match points and
nadal if some hard hitter comes along the way to blow him off court ,taking every possible chance he gets to beat him
so the ingredients for a thrilling 2011 are all set nicely. fed and nadal are the huge favorites to take the 4 slams but as i wrote before: nothing is written in stone !

Catherine Says:

I can’t help but think that you may be completely mistaken about Söderling. I know the guy barely gets any love anywhere, but he might well grab spot #4 next week again – putting himself in a great position to pick up even more points at the AO, where he failed miserably last year. A guy who’s been in a GS final twice already is no fluke, and I wonder why everyone “expects” Murray to win a slam, whereas if Sod might do it, it wouldn’t surprise me to see it being called yet another ‘fluke’…

Also, surprised to see no mentioning whatsover of Alex Dolgopolov.

Verdasco? Hmmmm. Too busy fixing his hair to take him seriously any longer.

Catherine Says:

Oh and just to add: I’d be very, very pleased with the upcoming year if your GS predictions turn out to come true! :-)

tennisstar Says:

Murray goes down too regularly to lower ranked players to be a serious contender, if he does make it to the SF in a slam, and meets an all singing and all dancing Rafa or Roger, he does not stand a chance of going through to the final.

Murray can play well, but not often enough, and when he is on the back foot to anyone but Rafa, Roger or Djoko, his pride takes over along with his antics, so ends up losing.

jane Says:

I agree about Soderlng; he doesn’t let his emotions affect his play too much and he finished last year by winning his first masters title. TSonga, on the other hand, is ruled by his emotions on the court. If he is winning or confident, he can be a dynamo, but if he is losing he can lose without much fight. He seems like he can get too pouty. The one drawback for Soderling is that he doesn’t have Magnus anymore, so that may affect him negatively. They clearly had a good connection.

Johnny Mac has announced that he thinks Fed and Nadal will still dominate all the slams. To me, this is depressing. I really want to see someone else win a slam this year – Anyone else! It doesn’t have to be Djoko or Murray, although that is who I’d hope for. But seriously, anyone else!! Please tennis gods, help! : )

contador Says:

yes…as much as i love federer tennis, i want some new slam winners.

go ernie

jane Says:

I suppose Mr. Delpo, if he’s firing, could upset the slam cart; he will be a dark horse, maybe even a favorite, in the events he enters. Since his ranking is so low at the moment, he could square off with the top guys in the early goings of a slam, and we know he has beaten both Fed and Nadal in a slam, so it’s possible, especially at the French or the USO, that he could shake things up.

Contador, Ernie may surprise us, but um I am not holding my breath. ; )

contador Says:

he (ernie) might win a match this morning…all i can ask ….lol…

still time to blow it or choke. he’ll now try to serve for match :O !!

contador Says:

gulbis choked :( terrible

contador Says:

we need delpo back healthy!

Catherine Says:

Ehm… Ernie? Nah. Too much of a choker. Just proved it a couple of minutes ago again!

DelPotro? Sorry, he’s been lacking much too much match rhythm lately, and his first attempt of coming back ended up a true disaster. I expect barely anything from him until the USO at least…

But then again – I don’t have a crystal ball either!

contador Says:

ernie …was serving for match now awful in tie break :/

if delpo’s wrist is okay…he’ll get on a roll. but that’s still a big “if”

Catherine Says:

Hanescu’s turn to choke now…

jane Says:

Aww too bad for Ernie. So much potential. Not sure what to expect of Delpo. Probably not too much at the AO. But he was well at the end of last year, which means he has had all this time for training. So once he gets a few tournaments under him, there is no reason, to my mind, why he might not be in good form by mid season / clay. But I agree that his best slam result will likely (?) be the USO.

Just read aa article on Fed’s coach:


contador Says:

another choke….on matchpoint…*crying* !!lol…

contador Says:

another matchpt ernie…..eeegads

contador Says:

yay!!!!!!!!!!! he made it!

jane Says:

Gulbis redemption. : )

contador Says:

imo he came back too soon (delpo).

we’ll see how he does this time.

contador Says:

well jane? good article on annacone and federer. makes one think the duopoly at the top will likely continue. i do consider federer the best ever already ( subjective, i know ) also really feel it’s time for some others to win some GS events and beat nadal and federer.

read up on schoorel last night. nice website. he’s tall…almost 6’8″ and he says his role model is federer. :) streaming them now.

contador Says:

nice smooth lefty serve, schoorel.

RZ Says:

Didn’t Verdasco win that match US Open match against Ferrer?

I think the big factor that determines who ends up #1 or #2 is Rafa’s health. Injury free, he’ll stay #1 (but barely since he has so many points to defend between March and July). If he gets injured, Fed will probably go back up to the top spot.

I think Soderling will do quite well and will stay at #5 mostly on consistent play but nothing spectacular outside of a grand slam semi or two.

the_mind_reels Says:


Yes, it was Verdasco who won the epic battle against Ferrer in New York last year. He had that great passing shot on match point in the tie-breaker:


Good stuff.

Agree that Soderling will probably do better than Sean suggests. He seems confident and optimistic going into 2011, so no reason to think he can’t keep playing well despite not having Norman onboard.

Sometimes a player needs one coach to get him to have a breakthrough but then needs a different voice once he’s reached that top level to really cash in on some good results. We shall see.

Catherine Says:

Well Feds just got the job done!
I missed that first set, seems I’ve missed either an excellent Schoorel or a subpar Feds. Can someone inform me on what happened?

Skeezerweezer Says:


Nice read, can’t agree with it all, but close enough and articulated well. Thanks for the write, enjoyed it :)

Skeezerweezer Says:


Tx for posting that link, been looking all over for a read about the inner workings of there relationship, great stuff…

dari Says:

Catherine, it was a mix of both. Fed didnt seem to be givong his all, but schoorel was serving well, moving well, and winning the longer points against fed.
He just couldn’t keep it up in the second.but this is the second tour-level match for schoorel and taking the greatest player ever to a tie break is a fine start!
Anyway, fed got a W not playing his best and threw in a hot dog shot for good measure. Will do for now, of course expect better at AO. go fed!

Catherine Says:

Dari, thank you! Yeah, I read up on Schoorel’s performance in the mean time, seems like he was doing very well indeed. Not bad indeed for a player’s second ever match at ATP-level, pushing Feds to a TB! Well Fed himself was very complimentory about his opponent after the match too.
Hope Roger will notch it up soon though. I saw the last bit of the 2nd set and he seemed in total controll there, but it remains to be seen how much of that was due to his own improving his level, or Schoorel’s going down the drain…

margot Says:

Happy New Tennis Year, everyone!
Sean, like jane I really hope your predictions are wrong. The same two can’t win everything for ever, can they? Can they?
Meanwhile, Andy says he’s gonna play more aggressively. Hooray! Thought he sounded very positive in that interview. Conditions sound horribly humid and hot though :(

thark Says:

“I think it’s safe to say that we’ve seen Robin Soderling’s best.”

wot??? crazy talk…

i’m with you on tsonga ramping it up though :)

margot Says:

All I can say is, hope Sod’s been practising his volleying during the off…;)

Twocents Says:

Happy New Year, Everyone!

I’m sure Djok/Murray/…anyone whose last name is not Fed or Nadal will win one major this year. Time does not and shall not stand still.

My fellow Fed fans, toast to a perfect start of a new season — a front tweener!

van orten Says:


perfect start for the maestro hahaha

jane Says:

Skeeze, no prob. I think it is great that Anacone is working on Fed’s chip return, as I do think that can hurt him against guys who are willing to step in on it, like Delpo was at the USO.

Welcome back Twocents & margot! :)

Kimberly Says:

wow! Missed all of the action today. Rafa obviously played well by the scoreline but I read on the atp website he had a fever last night? That’s not good.

Has Delpo played yet? I’m having a slow start this year on tennis tourneys. Need to study up for the AO draw challenge or it will be another crash and burn.

Twocents Says:

Thank you, Jane.

Skeezerweezer Says:


re: kin in Ipad

You are doing a much better job typing than I am on this thing :). My tennis grip size in 4 5/8 so I know that doesn’t help…..

Kimberly Says:

Skeezer-i am terrible. And ive had mine about 2 months. I was going to change from blackberry to Iphone but since I can’t type for the life of me on the Ipad I decided against it. And the auto-correct is not your friend on that thing.

Also I can’t get decent replays of tennis on youtube on the ipad. Mine freeezes up.

Skeezerweezer Says:

Kimberly haha that is right I forgot you did mention sometine ago you had one , eeks sorry.

I like mine a lot, it has its uses but yeah for tennis streams the iphones/ipads don’t like flash, which most all tennis streams are running.

Re; Youtube… mine actually works great, most of those freezes you are having must be your bandwith?

Anyways, sorry for the techy talk up here…back to the game :)

scineram Says:

“I don’t think Federer can beat him consistently enough to regain the top ranking in 2011”

He never beat him consistently.

“Arguably no one had a better second half of the season than Federer who lost just three times”

Four. Don’t even bother!

“we’ll be under the microscope in Melbourne.”

Why would we be under microscope? Even if I want to be in Melbourne.

dari Says:

Kimberly, anymore details on the fever? He looked quite good of what I saw of the match today.

mat4 Says:

Nole definitely changed his racquet. It seems he’s playing now with the Head youtek speed innegra mp PJ, which is very similar to his old Wilson.

mat4 Says:

Sorry. Seems it is just a paint job.

margot Says:

Thanx jane :)

Catherine Says:

No obvious ‘fever problems’ with Rafa today whatsoever, but sadly enough, the “Tired & Injured (& Sick, too”)-gospel gets its way all around, even when it’s an obvious minor problem as was shown by his performance today.

That said – perhaps the 2nd set bagel that Rafa dished out wasn’t a clear sign of what was truly going on out there, as Beck was truly pathetic. Can’t say anything else.

Schoorel = showing how to lose with Grace and Dignity!
Beck = showing how to lose not trying at all.

Well… let’s await tomorrow, to see what’s really going on in Doha!

Martini Says:

Soderling will reach at least the QF in AO (no points to lose there), take back #4 spot and aim for a third consecutive… loss in the FO. But hey, who else has beaten both Nadal and Fed in Roland Garros?!
As far as Tsonga goes, na. Maybe #10 at the end of the year, not higher.

Sean Randall Says:

blank, nope. As I wrote. Nadal will do well in Australia but I’d like to see his draw before crowning him champ.

Gannu, agreed. Having the same four is getting boring but hopefully this will be the last year. Had DelPo been healthy he’d be the guy the crack the Fab Four.

I did put Tsonga up there on a whim.

Re: Soderling. As I said I think Norman’s absence will bring change. Robin could go higher or could slide.

Martini Says:

Plus, outside of this site, Verdasco is never called anything else than just that – Verdasco.

Catherine Says:

@ Martini: are you sure about that?
I’ve called him ‘Fiasco’ for some reasons more than once, and I guess after yesterday, you know well why I did so!

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