With the ebbs and flows of the tennis season, the upsurge of new talents, and the resurgence of veteran players, it is always difficult to predict the coming season in the tennis world. However this year, we believe the season will be slightly more predictable as a result of Rafael Nadal's dominant season last year. By this we mean, due to Nadal's point accumulation last year, it will be very hard for him to defend all his points, therefore opening the field for his fellow players. So far in 2011 the tennis world has seen a season relatively unconcerned with the likes of Nadal and Federer.
Here are our predictions for the 2011 season:
1. Roger Federer ends the year as No. 1.
After losing to Djokovic in the semi-finals of the US Open last year, Roger Federer compiled a 16-2 record for the rest of the season, while capturing the title in Doha at the start of this year. Federer relinquished a 27 match win streak with his semi-final loss to Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open. Although Federer showed some vulnerability last year with his streaks of unfocused play and distracted mis-hits, Federer displayed his mental fortitude with his strong finish last year, and his strong start this year. What has impressed us most about Federer is his tenacity in sticking with his attacking game-plan devised by Coach Paul Annacone. Even though Federer will have his streaky periods within matches again this year, Federer will continue to be one of the most consistent of the top 5 players. Federer also does not have too many points to defend from March to August, allowing him a long period to regain the number one ranking.
2. Rafael Nadal ends the year as No. 5.
Our main rationale behind this prediction is the mere fact that Rafael Nadal has three Grand Slam titles to defend. The only person to defend three Grand Slam titles back to back in the last ten years in Roger Federer (06 and 07 seasons), and his three Grand Slams landed throughout the calender year. Nadal won the last three Grand Slams of the year plus the clay court slam. Nadal also performed with high results for the other masters series tournaments throughout the year. As Nadal has been prone to injury in the past, we believe the succession of the major tournaments during the clay court swing and Wimbledon will affect him physically. And as a result, Nadal may not be able to defend all his points throughout this season, culminating in his biggest drop in the rankings since 2005.
3. Milos Raonic finishes in the top 10.
Milos Raonic has demonstrated some incredible prowess in all areas of his game this year. He has been the surprise story of the ATP tour. Sporting one of the biggest serves on the planet, Raonic has proved his worth to the tennis world with a round of 16 showing at the Australian Open, a win in San Jose, and a final showing in Memphis. For more information on Milos Raonic, see our feature on Raonic: Young Guns: Milos Raonic. We believe his champion qualities will take him straight to the top tier of the game this year. Do not be surprised if you see his name in the number 8 or 9 slot come December.
4. Juan Martin del Potro ends the year in the top 25.
After succumbing to a season ending wrist injury last year, Juan Martin del Potro was unsure if and when he was going to return to tennis. The Tandil, Argentina native started the year slowly, winning only 2 matches in Sydney and the Australian Open together. However, after the Australian Open, Del Potro has been steadily returning to the form that won him the U.S. Open in 2009. Del Potro has reached the semi-finals in both San Jose and Memphis and collected the title at Delray Beach consecutively. Del Potro believes he is ahead of schedule in his return to the top of the game. We believe Del Potro will have success in the smaller level tournaments and have a consistent year in the masters this year reaching quarter-finals at best. The 6'6" giant still does not seem to possess the same crisp movement and trust-worthy serving abilities that held him steady in the top 10 two years ago. After a year away from the game, it will take Del Potro some time before he is able to constitute his practice into his match play thoroughly, therefore earning him a spot in the top 25 by the end of this year.
5. Roger Federer wins at least one grand slam this year.
For the past eight years, Roger Federer has won at least one Grand Slam title during the season. Usually this would not be a topic of controversy; however, in the last couple years, people have scrutinized Federer for his streaky game, and at times unfocused game. Many people think that the decline of Federer has arrived (maybe as early as 2008). Nevertheless, it always seems that Federer is able to pull the rabbit out of the hat, and proves us all wrong by winning yet another slam (especially when the pressure is on e.g 09 French Open, 09 Wimbledon). Since he has won at least one slam in the last eight years, and had a relatively good start to the season, we believe Federer will win another slam this year. As to what slam, it is possible for Federer to win any or all of the upcoming three. Nadal has many points to defend in the forthcoming clay season, and as a result not only will pressure be a factor, but injury and fitness. It seems as though Roland Garros and/or Wimbledon will be the perfect time for Federer to make his move.
6. Robin Soderling finishes in the top 3 this year.
Robin Soderling has done nothing but improve through the last two years. Soderling has cemented his position in the top 5 with an incredibly consistent 2010. Although Soderling was sent home packing a bit earlier than expected at this year's Australian Open, we have high hopes for the Swede. The facts show Soderling's steady progression over the last two years. He has beaten the two best men in the world (Nadal, and Federer) on the biggest of stages, and has won at top tier level tournaments as well (Paris Masters). With the possible digression of Murray, it seems to be a prime year for Soderling to make his push into the top 3. Djokovic may not give up his position to Soderling, but we believe Soderling will usurp this position with very strong showings at the Grand Slams this year.
7. Rafael Nadal defends his Roland Garros title.
Nadal has proven his legendary status on the "terre battue" of Roland Garros over the last six years. Compiling an incredible 70-1 record at the French Open, no one can deny Nadal's supremacy on the clay courts. After dominating the clay season last year without losing a single match, Nadal will be the clear favorite going into this year's French Open.
8. James Blake retires.
Since the 2008 Olympics, after his semi-final loss to Fernando Gonzalez, James Blake has not been the same. With each season, there has come a deterioration of play in James Blake's game. James has played less and less due to injury, coaching switches, and personal problems. His pertinacity in playing an incredibly high risk game (almost bullheaded game), has become even more "high-risk" as he as aged and as he has slowed. The time has come for James Blake to relinquish either his speculative game, or maybe even his game altogether and put away the rackets for good.
9. Alexandr Dolgopolov Jr. ends the year in the top 20.
Alexandr Dolgopolov has rocked the tennis world thus far in his campaign during the 2011 tennis season. He upset Robin Soderling in a thrilling five set match at the Australian Open, and fought hard with Andy Murray before succumbing in four sets. Dolgopolov backed up this Australian Open result by reaching the semi-finals in Acapulco, and reaching the finals in Buenos Aires. Although Dolgopolov has been on fire as of late, he possesses an incredibly streaky game. This can lead to many unforced errors and possibly even thrown-away matches. This is why we believe Dolgopolov will max out in the top 20 unless he is able to instill some long-term focus into his game.
10. Andy Murray ends the year number 2 in the world without a slam.
People are beginning to question if Andy Murray will ever win a Grand Slam at this point. However, we believe it is not a question of if, but a question of when. After losing in his second Grand Slam final, Murray delved into deep slump. He lost in the first and second rounds of most tournaments and got to the quarter-finals of only three tournaments up until Wimbledon. Murray took half a year to regain his confidence and form, and once he did he was a force to be reckoned with. This form carried into the start of this year, carting Murray into his third Grand Slam final. However, Federer was not there to cease him. Many people thought this was the moment; surprisingly Murray crashed out in three quick sets. Murray played the follow up tournament in Rotterdam and was routed in his first match 6-4 6-1. This was not a good sign for the Scot. After three missed golden opportunities at Slam finals, the latest one will probably have the longest lingering affect. This one may take past Wimbledon to get over, but the bright side about this is that Murray does not have many points to defend up until Wimbledon. Therefore he can take his time regaining his confidence and really mull things over this time. We believe Murray will get to the U.S. Open final again for a second time, because once Murray gets his act together, he will not be stopped as Federer and Nadal slowly fade. This will probably be just another Grand Slam final for Murray, but we believe it will be the last one before he finally attains his maiden Grand Slam title. He will finish the year strongly, and regain the number two ranking.