There is no doubt who the ATP player of the year will be: Novak Djokovic. He won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open, and for that alone he will win that accolade.
However at the end of the year the names on the lips of tennisheads were Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Federer set the bar high for himself winning his home tournament in Basel and the Paris Masters at Bercy, and came into the 2011 ATP WTF on a roll. Playing on a surface that appears custom made for him, Federer was the last man standing at the end achieving an emotional win over France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Nadal, who never plays well at the WTF put in a decent showing but went home early. All of the tentativeness and seeming distraction that he showed in London disappeared on the red clay court of Sevilla. Even when it looked as if he were going to falter - falling behind and losing the first set of the fourth rubber, he climbed back into the match and for the first time in his career played the match that won the Davis Cup championship for Spain.
With the top two draws in men's tennis closing their respective years with impressive displays on favored surfaces fans are wondering if this momentum will carry them into 2012 on a high.
Nadal has already said he will not be playing DC for Spain in 2012 due to the Olympics. Federer on the other hand has confirmed that he will play the tie between Switzerland and the United States in February. I haven't read if he will play if Switzerland wins and moves on in the Davis Cup.
Djokovic on the other hand has played lackluster tennis since the US Open. Andy Murray, who had a tremendous Asian swing also petered out during the end of the year.
Let's be real here. A lot of what happens after the US Open depends on what is best for the top players. They've come through a long and grueling season where they have to balance personal goals against national goals, physical and mental needs against the demands of the tour. With the institution of mandatory tournaments the players have lost control over their years. The US inspired downgrade of Monte Carlo during the spring European clay court swing and back to back hard court Masters events on US hardcourts in the spring and summer take their toll. Let's not forget the French Open/Wimbledon swing. It's not back to back but takes a toll mentally on players who wish to excel at both events. And just for shits and giggles let's add the Olympics to the pot. Something had to give and it will probably be Davis Cup for the men.
Many of the Europeans are still pissed about what happened to both Monte Carlo and Hamburg. Just as with Davis Cup the ATP seems to want to cow tow to the needs of the United States tennis establishment and forces players to play tournaments they can only opt out of due to injury. Could this be the reason Richard Krajicek is a favorite to take the reins of the ATP? Could this also be why no announcement has been made as to whether he, or someone else, has gotten the job? What does it mean that Roger Federer is one of the players (I'm assuming there are others) against Krajicek? As a fan I could speculate about personal ties and friendships that may be affecting the selection but I'd be doing nothing more than gossiping, something I don't do here.
For the ATP 2012 is going to be a barn burner. The fight between the top four men is going to be as vicious as a knife fight in a back alley.
I'll be the person in a dark corner watching with a feral grin on my face.
Last evening Serena Williams posted a video on YouTube showing her trying to recreate serving the ball off of a person's head. Her hitting partner Sascha was the victim and needless to say hilarity ensued. I can't tell you where exactly Serena hit Sascha. I can tell you that Serena is lean and mean. I always measure Serena's fitness by her waist. It's almost non existent. Two weeks ago Serena and her sister Venus Williams played an exhibition match in Colombia that Venus won. Venus, who is struggling with an auto immune disease, has vowed to be relevant in 2012. Serena has said that she'll play Fed Cup for the United States. Does this mean that the Williams women will take the WTA by storm, depose wannabe greats and resume their reign over women's tennis? I think we should all take a deep breath and look at what is going on in women's tennis.
Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, won Wimbledon and the YEC and deserves whatever accolades she receives. Is she going to take over the top ranking from Caroline Wozniacki? Statistically she can.
There were four different Slam winners for the WTA in 2011: Kim Clijsters won the Australian Open and then pretty much took the rest of the year off. Li Na won the French Open. As mentioned Petra Kvitova won Wimbledon and Samantha Stosur won the US Open. None of the Slam winners showed much ability to win anywhere else though and only Kvitova had enough functioning brain cells left to put her game back together and win the YEC in Istanbul.
Of the four Slam winners the most consistent, based on how she ended the year, was Kvitova yet her performance between Wimbledon and Istanbul was abysmal. There is a legitimate argument to be made that for the new Slam winners the increased demands from their Federations coupled with those made by the tour and sponsors probably blind sided and distracted them. I hate to compare the men and the women but it only makes you appreciate more what Federer and Nadal have done with their careers. The only active women players accustomed to dealing with success on and off the court are the sisters Williams, Maria Sharapova, and to a lesser extent Kim Clijsters.
Maria Sharapova is, in my opinion, the woman to watch. Fans know what Serena is capable of. She's won in Australia where Venus has always struggled. Those struggles may be related to her health issues as we now know but Venus puts enough pressure on herself without me piling on. Unless the Kvitova who showed up at Istanbul shows up in Australia, and can sustain a level of play high enough to take her to the seventh match of the Australian Open the war will be between Serena and Pova. I don't think Kvitova moves well enough to hang tough for two weeks and that lack of movement will cause her thought processes to break down as balls whiz past her.
I will stick by my opinion that Victoria Azarenka doesn't have the temperament of a Grand Slam champion. There will be so much pressure on Li Na to do well in Melbourne that she may crash and burn at the start of the second week.
And new coach or not Caroline Wozniacki will continue to do what she's been doing - beat up on lower ranked players and get out played by her betters at majors. If Ricardo Sanchez somehow succeeds in changing her game and making her more of an offensive player more power to him. I can only see him bringing a new level of clowning to her matches. Just as what Djokovic did to Gael Monfils at the US Open a few years back defined him for me Sanchez bullshit with that stop watch he borrowed from Flavor Flav against Venus was his defining moment. If he thought it was a good idea for Wozniacki to mock Serena during a recent exo then I rest my case. Wozniacki is poised to lose the top WTA ranking and only her hardcore fans will shed a tear. When the men's tour has multiple Grand Slam winners at the top of it's ranking system it kinda looks bad for the WTA to have a woman who can only beat lower ranked players at lower tier events sitting on top of theirs.
Looking Forward - The Olympics
Everything in tennis is going to be affected by the Olympic Games. It's a rare mix of personal achievement and pride of country for tennis players, a chance to be all for yourself and throw in a little patriotism on the way. I also expect that outside of the Slams. Masters 1000 tournaments and Premier tournaments for the women there are going to be some wacky results. No one wants to show up in London on one leg and dragging an arm behind them. Every country wants it's tennis federation to send its best and brightest except France when it comes to it's female players.
Marion Bartoli is appealing the French rule that forbids her to have her father along as coach for the Olympics. It's the same beef she's had with them seemingly forever and that has kept her from playing Fed Cup for her country. It's obvious Marion wants to play. It's obvious she's their best player. I get that the French want to ensure a team spirit for it's Fed Cup and national teams but it boggles the mind that there is no way a compromise can be reached so that their top female player will compete for them in the Olympics. I seem to remember seeing the men having their personal coaches along with them during Davis Cup competition and no one was pitching a bitch about it. What is it then with the women?
It should be said that Marion's coach Dr. Walter Bartoli reached out to the powers that be back in July to try and work something out but was rejected.
As for the United States I don't know where to begin. Our Fed Cup team was relegated for the first time ever and with Federer playing Davis Cup in February will our Davis Cup team follow them? I've said it before and I'll say it again. Andy Roddick, hate him or love him, has done what was asked of him. Until 2011 he was a mainstay in the top ten. He played the big dogs as well as he could. He tried to make some changes in his game. It's time for some of the young guns to step up and make some noise. Will it be John Isner? Sam Querrey? Donald Young? Ryan Harrison? A lot of money has been invested in these players and I'm sure the USTA is looking for some return on its investment.
But hey at least there are names on the men's side. Who does the US look to as far as women players are concerned? Melanie Oudin imploded due to the pressure put on her. Irina Falconi had a good run at the end of the year but I haven't heard from her since. Lauren Davis? Tiny. On a good day the big babes - Kvitova, Azarenka, Vera Zvonareva, even Wozniacki, will eat our current crop of young women alive.
Again being clear Venus is a big maybe. It's clear what she wants to do but she needs her body to go along with the program. Serena is fit but will she be crucified for putting what is best for her career and longevity ahead of what the so called tennis media feels is her duty to her tennis association? After them there is no one folks. No one.
I've gone on long enough so I'll end with Sam Querrey's comment to the effect that it's possible for six or seven American men to be in the top twenty by the end of 2012. I guess he's looking at the possibility of some really flukey results on the tour. But like I said at least I can name some American men who are legitimately part of the conversation even if they are asides at this point.
2012 looks to be a year that will bring achievement and change. I can't wait.