In many ways, 2012 has transpired as one of the key years in Grand Slam tennis history. Critics may say that such a categorical statement reeks of sensationalism—that every tennis season stands on its own in its own way.
But the facts are undeniable—2012 is the first time in nearly a decade that four different men won the four Grand Slams. If anything, it should herald the beginning of real change at the highest level, as much as Grand Slams reflect the realities of tennis trends.
One man stood out the most at the Grand Slams—Novak Djokovic, who won the Australian Open but fell a loser in the finals of the French Open and U.S. Open while making the semifinals at Wimbledon. On all occasions he lost to the eventual champion.
If indeed there was any throwback to 2011, Djokovic provided the logical connection between the two seasons—his dominance, if not quite as absolute as last year, was still evident.
The French Open was mastered by, in fact made something of a cakewalk for, Rafael Nadal, who crushed everybody en route to a record seventh title at Roland Garros. Again, one notes that the one aberration in an almost flawless fortnight—an eight-game losing streak in the final—was due to Djokovic.
In 2012, we were also witnesses to a career seventh Wimbledon title by Roger Federer, who thereby equalled Pete Sampras and suddenly elevated himself to the pinnacle of men's tennis after nearly two years being sidelined by the Nadal-Djokovic rivalry.
It was the classic tale of a champion redux; a case of the old man finding some of his youthful powers again. But Federer isn't by any stretch an old man, and certainly isn't looking anything like it even in tennis terms.
The moment had been made in the months before, and at Wimbledon, when Murray had reached the final; since then the Olympic gold once again converted nationalistic fervour into career-best tennis, and it showed at critical moments at the U.S. Open.
It is clear that this year has seen the full blossoming of the top four tennis personalities in the world—in a year of Djokovic, we saw the landmark seventh championships for the kings of clay and grass, Nadal and Federer, and also the struggles and finally grand success of Murray in his seemingly endless search for a major.
While 2012 has been Djokovic's, in a sense, the decade belongs to the man who still sits pretty atop the rankings—Roger Federer. It was Federer who was part of this four-man Grand Slam club the last time it happened, in 2003, when Andre Agassi, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Andy Roddick and he were the four major champions.
It has been Federer who essentially has shaped the face of tennis for the last 10 years—a story that has, at last, reached full circle in 2012, and is set for several more competitive chapters in the coming years.