The dawn of a new ATP World Tour season is rapidly approaching.
In light of a new year filled with another 11 months of week-to-week tennis, I decided that now is as good a time as any to look into the future and attempt to predict which players will end up in each ranking position by the end of 2010.
It's clearly not an easy task, but it's an enticing one, to say the least.
Well tennis fans, without further adieu, let's get right down to the potential year-end ranking forecast for the '10 season.
1) Rafael Nadal
Picking Nadal to finish No. 1 took some optimistic thinking.
I do believe that the Spaniard will find it difficult to defend his Aussie Open title in January, but his clay- and grass-court prowess should improve last season.
Considering that the Mallorcan had his worst Slam performance of the year at the French Open—leading to his withdrawal from Wimbledon, and the loss of the No. 1 ranking—Nadal should gain a ton of points from the end of May to beginning of July.
His quest to regain the top spot is certainly plausible.
If Nadal can maintain a solid first half of the season (he's done so for the past five years), his summer hardcourt form should add enough points to steer clear of the rest of the field.
2) Novak Djokovic
The talented Serb seems to have a full plate in the upcoming season.
News of a TV show in the works have many pundits criticizing the commitment level of the 23 year old.
However, if the end of '09 was any indication, Djokovic's ability to deal with the emotional output required through successive weeks of competition was exemplified.
With early Slam losses throughout '09, Djokovic's trimmed-down schedule should allow for a better opportunity to peak when it counts.
I could see Djokovic capturing the No. 1 ranking at some point throughout the season, but it won't be enough to finish the year numero uno.
A new year brings with it a new set of goals. For Federer, that set of goals begins with the diligent desire to continue his dominance of the past decade.
I do have a few concerns for Federer's upcoming year: A) Will R-Fed play with the same conviction he did prior to breaking Pete Sampras' record at Wimbledon?
If anything, his losses to Juan Martin del Potro at the US Open and Tour Finale proved that his bulletproof aura was on the decline.
The Swiss star has found serenity in his off-court life (and in his castle of endless trophies), casting some doubt on his willingness to grind against the younger generation.
B) It really comes down to one perennial question: Will Federer be able to defend his 10,000 plus points?
Remember here, folks: Federer made all four Slam finals in '09, meaning that he will be left with little to gain, and a landslide of points to lose.
I have a hard time believing that Federer will reclaim his French title, taking into account Nadal's dominance on the surface when healthy.
Federer will always be a favorite at Wimbledon, but his ability to roll through a hardcourt major will be difficult moving forward.
Federer will have a good year, no question, but it won't be good enough to finish atop the rankings.
4) Juan Martin del Potro
The reigning US Open champ will embrace a new life in 2010.
Winning one of the sport's crowning jewels propelled del Potro to a lifetime of contender status. Will the Argentine experience a sophomore slump, or will his sound-shattering forehand carry him to further glory?
del Potro's game warrants a great deal of respect, but it seems that his win in New York left him with a new level of pressure: He's now the hunted, instead of being the hunter.
The Tandil native could very well go through a few seasons of digesting his big win before realizing that he does hold the cards to continued success.
A repeat in New York will be a monumental task, and although del Potro has committed to improving his grass-court game, he is by no means a favorite on the lawns of England.
Delpo's best chance at shaking the kettle in '10 will be in Australia. His mojo from New York will still have some fire, and hard-courts remain his best surface.
A future No. 1 in the making, but not until his volleys and belief catch up to his groundstrokes.
5) Andy Murray
The Ferrari-driving, Miami-training Scot will pounce on the '10 season with the desire to shut up the pesky English press.
Expectations run high in England, and Murray's lack of Grand Slam success is beginning to wear thin back home.
Showing excellent results in the best-of-three format, Murray's lack of a killer punch remains his Achilles heel when put in front of a power-surged opponent (see 2009 Grand Slam losses).
With the necessary power quotient missing in the Scot's game, it will remain difficult for Murray to move ahead of his peers.
Murray's chances in a Masters 1000 event will always remain high, but his inability to cope or go for his shots when required, will continue to remain his career downfall.
Note to Murray: The "cat and mouse" play won't work in the lions den. Big tournaments are won with big shots.
6) Marin Cilic
It's time for a change in men's tennis, and Cilic is just the man to bring forth that change. The lanky 6'6" Croat proved that he can mix it up with the best players on Tour, coming away with nothing short of brilliant results.
Playing millennium-era tennis at its best, Cilic stands in the mold of Delpo: a towering menace with a sonic ground game and agility to spare.
I'm not quite sure if Cilic is ready to hoist a major title, but his results should cast enough of a dent to land him successfully in the top tier.
If not for a midseason slump on the hardcourts, Cilic would have already cracked the top 10. The 21 year old won't make that same mistake in the coming year, putting forth enough quality results to make his first Tour finale, and begin his ascent to Grand Slam success.
7) Nikolay Davydenko
With the points from the Tour finale remaining intact until mid-November (1,500 to be exact), Davydenko's place in the top 10 should remain secure.
Taking into account the current bandwagon following Davydenko (particularly after his performance in London), his prospects for a successful '10 appear more than certain.
However, in a similar sequence to Murray's career, Davydenko hasn't shown his mettle in the grandest stages of the sport. With that being said, it's hard to imagine the 28-year-old putting it all together (finally) and taking a Slam title.
Davyedenko will be around (he'll always be around), but winning majors is a completely different ballgame, something the Russian has never experienced.
8) Andy Roddick
Working hard is what Roddick's all about.
Never shying away from battle, the consummate American isn't getting any younger, but remains steadfast in his desire to capture another Slam title.
He's fitter, faster, and has one of the best coaches in his corner (Larry Stefanki), but will that inevitably be enough?
Roddick's volleys and return-of-serve have remained a step behind the rest of his game, resulting in heartbreaking, bridesmaid finishes.
I'll say this for Roddick: He'll never give in to criticism, and his optimistic and professional attitude will serve him well for the remainder of his career. But the talent pool in today's game runs far too deep, and Roddick's visible weaknesses appear here to stay.
9) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
The man from La Mans will look to fill the void of the recently retired Marat Safin and the soon-to-be retired James Blake.
Possessing an immense amount of power and charisma, Tsonga's go-for-broke style is reminiscent of Safin and Blake, with the added bonus of a well-versed net game.
Tsonga's inability to stay healthy throughout the years has hampered him severely. When he's healthy, his slingshot forehand and menacing serve have caused havoc for the likes of Federer and Nadal.
His linebacker frame will always be fragile, and if he can hold it together for a whole season (literally), he has top three potential—but I just don't see that happening.
Nevertheless, Tsonga will sprinkle successful results here and there; drop and unexpected loss when we least expect it; and, finally, excite us each and everytime he's on court.
10) Gael Monfils
French tennis will be significant in '10.
Monfils showed some delightful grit at the end of '09, displaying a skillset to rival almost anyone.
Monfils appears to have finally realized that tennis is much more than a few fancy shots and unnecessary expended energy. If he can stick with that mode, then he should finish the year in the top 10.
I was a little reluctant in choosing Monfils to finish No. 10, simply because his track record has historically led to a series of head-scratching mistakes. However, with talent to boot, and a newfound desire to actually succeed, Monfils could turn a few heads throughout the season.
Note to Monfils: a kid by the name of Gianni Mina (a young Frenchman, who recently won the Under 18 Orange Bowl, and looks freakishly similar), is on prowl to steal the French thunder, be warned.
Well, tennis fans, that's my take on a year that might be. There will certainly be many surprises along the way, taking into account injury, confidence, and streaks of good fortune.
Nevertheless, it's almost time for the season to begin, a season that never sleeps and keeps us wanting more.