What the Australian Open Told Us About the Upcoming 2013 Men's Season
After two weeks of stunning play in Melbourne, The 2013 Australian Open is finally in the books, and the season looks to be in full swing.
As he has done three times in the past, World Number One Novak Djokovic took home this year's trophy with a four-set statement win over Scot Andy Murray. This was just the latest contest in a series of battles in a rivalry that is rapidly pushing itself to the forefront of the men's game.
With Roger Federer still very much holding his own at 31 years of age and with Rafael Nadal lurking in the wings and slated to return to the field next week, this year promises to be one of as much, if not more, excitement and parity as the last.
The first major of the season is an important barometer for the tennis season, and here's what the Australian Open told us about what's to come going forward in the 2013 ATP season.
Rafael Nadal's Return Will Be Significant
Since he has been out with injuries, Rafael Nadal had about as much impact as a player possibly could without competing on tour.
The loss of the fourth of the "Big Four" in the men's game again created a glaring hole on one side of the draw.
Djokovic benefited greatly from the absence of a fourth great player in the draw, as his 6-2 6-2 6-1 drubbing of David Ferrer in the semifinals demonstrated that Ferrer just isn't up to snuff.
Murray on the other hand, just barely pulled himself into the final after a five-set dogfight with Roger Federer.
The difference in energy showed in the final. After two tough fought sets ended with the men splitting tiebreakers, Murray looked like he would run out of gas by the end of the match.
If Rafa can come back and still be competitive with the top three men on tour, his presence in the rest of the Major draws will be a game-changer.
Roger Federer Isn't Going Anywhere
At 31 years of age, people are starting to wonder how much longer the great Roger Federer will be able to keep up with the grueling ATP season. After watching his play at the Australian Open, it's pretty clear that for this year at least, the answer is yes.
Federer's mentality is a huge factor in his success at majors. He did not drop a set in the first four rounds of the tournament and efficiently put opponents away early in the tournament.
His ability to conserve energy in five-set matches will be huge, especially as age continues to creeps into play, but Roger proved that his stamina hasn't left him yet either.
While it did look like he lost a step in the final set of his semifinal bout with Andy Murray, he was able to go five two matches in a row at the level his opponents were playing, which was extremely impressive.
Federer's game is still in top form, and he proved in Melbourne that he will continue to be one of the favorites at every Major tournament this season.
Djokovic vs. Murray Is the New Big Rivalry in Tennis
The last several seasons in the men's game have each been characterized by a major rivalry at the top.
The span from 2006 to 2010 was the era of Federer vs. Nadal, as they met in countless major finals and won all but two of the majors played over that stretch.
The year 2011 saw the rise of Djokovic, who supplanted Federer as the main challenger to Nadal for two years.
With Nadal out of commission at the end of last season, Andy Murray rose up and put himself in the conversation with his final berth at Wimbledon and his first major championship, over Djokovic, in Flushing Meadows.
This year's Australian Open marks their second straight meeting in a major final, and with the way these guys are playing, there's no indication that we won't see many more to come.
Federer will certainly be around, and Nadal looks to return to action soon, but the battles between Djokovic and Murray have risen to the forefront of the tour.
Novak Djokovic Is the Best Player in the World
This likely isn't a shocking revelation, as conventional wisdom has had Nole as the best player in the world since his spectacular 2011 campaign.
After last year, however, the title of best player in the men's game was in flux, with both Djokovic and Federer holding the No. 1 ranking at some point during the season and Andy Murray making a late charge with wins at the Olympics and the US Open.
There was a growing sentiment that had Murray taken the title in Melbourne, he would take hold of the symbolic title of best in the world regardless of rankings, and Djokovic barely scraped by Federer at the end of the 2012 season to regain his number one ATP ranking.
After a topsy-turvy 2012 season, there was no real clear-cut best player in the world, but the Australian Open resoundingly decided that.
Djokovic proved he is the fittest player on tour this tournament, coming back from a 12-10 in the fifth win against Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round and not batting an eyelid as he charged through his next three matches for the title.
He also proved again in the final why he is the best big-point player in the game. He consistently came up with big points when it counted.
While Djokovic was the number one player in the world coming into Melbourne, a few players were hot on his heels for the best player in tennis, and with his win he put some distance between himself and the rest of the pack going forward into the 2013 season.