With the Australian Open finally upon us, we can begin to get a picture of how the rest of the season on the tour will shape up on the men's side.
We all know what we want to see. The question is, will we get it. We want to see Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer meet in a Grand Slam final while both are at the top of their games. Nadal is at the top of his, but Federer is running out of time.
Ever since their epic match at Wimbledon, we have yearned to see them meet again on the biggest stage possible, but their trend lines seem to be heading in different directions, at least that is the way it looked at the end of last year.
Time is not on Federer's side, but there was something that I saw at the year end championships and the early part of 2011 that tells me that Roger may have another run left. His focus seemed to be back, and he was using his full repertoire to win matches.
He beat Novac Djokovic, and a tired looking Nadal at the year end championships. It was the second time Federer had beaten Djokovic since a loss to him at the U.S. Open in New York. He won his only tune up tournament in Qatar this year as well.
When Federer starts winning big points and starts using his whole arsenal, then look out. He has more of a bounce in his step and looks like he cares about being No. 1 again. All of that has to translate into wins at the Australian Open, but the signs of a resurgence are there.
Rafa is unquestionably the No. 1 player in the world, and his quick assault on Federer's records has been amazing. What impresses me the most about Nadal is that each year a part of his game gets noticeably better.
In 2010 it was his serve. Before that, he made strides in his net game. That is what is missing with some of the top players today. They don't take their games to the next level. Nadal and his team stop at nothing to make sure that his game and strategy are superior to his competition's.
You see it on the court. Take Gael Monfils and Andy Murray for example. They continue to play the same way, with the same strategy, and they continue to come up short in the slams. It is obvious that Murray needs be more aggressive can't rely solely on playing cat and mouse with his opponents if he wants to get over the hump, unless that is what he is content with.
His game needs to evolve to the point were he can play serve and volley tennis if needs be, or attack more off of his ground strokes. Murray is not going to wear down everyone he plays. It is time for him to take his game to the next level.
Monfils may be the best athlete on tour, but he doesn't get consistent results. As one of the young guns that has shown promise over the years, it is time for him to take the next step. He is a great showman, but hasn't come close to getting a slam.
The only thing right now that can slow down the Nadal express is injury, or Federer. Many think that his style of play will cause his career to be shortened, and that is a legitimate concern, but right now he could easily win three more slams this year.
That has become one of the main story lines in all of tennis this year. How many slams will Rafa win? Can Federer regain his old form and win a major this year?
The tennis community will not be satisfied unless those questions are answered in grand slam finals where they both go toe to toe, mano y mano. That is what we want to see. Nothing else will do, not even exhibition matches. There is no evidence of anyone stepping up and crashing the party.
Hopefully, we will see act one this great story in Australia this year. Stay tuned.
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