The 2011 tennis season is under way, and already the tennis world has zeroed in on the biggest game in town—potential showdowns between the No. 1 and No. 2-ranked players in the world, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer respectively.
They are both facing some stiff competition in Doha at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open as the final eight head into quarterfinal action.
With the return to action of Juan Martin del Potro and the constant presence of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, the rampant speculation about 2011 continues for the men.
For the ladies, the strange absence of the Williams sisters on tour leaves many questions about who will rise up and seize this season by the throat early on.
New No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki has yet to win a major. Will she this year? If she falters and fails, who might secure the No. 1 ranking?
The women’s game remains wide open until or if the Williams sisters return.
This brings us to 2011 and our top 10 predictions for the upcoming season.
Someone other than Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer will win a major this year.
It is time for one of the top 10 to break the stranglehold and take away a major trophy.
Marat Safin won one in 2005 at the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic also won at the Australian Open in 2008 and Juan Martin del Potro denied Federer his sixth consecutive US Open title by taking it for himself in 2009.
But either Federer or Nadal has won the Wimbledon championship since 2003. Similarly, either Nadal or Federer has won the French Open since 2005.
No. 3 Novak Djokovic
The Serb won the Australian Open in 2008, defeating Federer in the semifinals and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the finals. Since then, Djokovic has appeared in the semifinals of the French in 2007 and 2008, the semifinals of Wimbledon in 2007 and 2010 and the finals of the US Open in 2007 and 2010. Hard courts seem to be his best surface. A repeat down under?
No. 4 Andy Murray
The Scot made the finals of the Australian Open in 2010, losing to Roger Federer, and he made the finals of the US Open in 2008, losing, again, to Federer. His furthest advance on the clay took place at the French Open quarterfinals in 2009. At his home tournament at Wimbledon, Murray advanced to the semifinals in 2009 and 2010. Finally a bow on Centre Court that matters?
No. 5 Robin Soderling
The Swede has never done well at the Australian Open, losing in the second round in both 2004 and 2009. Soderling made the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 2010, as well as the quarterfinals of the US Open in 2009 and 2010. The Swede’s best results have come at the French Open, where Soderling appeared in the finals in 2009 and 2010, losing to the eventual champions Federer and Nadal respectively. Joie de vivre—in Paris? Third time the charm?
No. 6 Tomas Berdych
Berdych saw his Slam results improve significantly in 2010 when he made the semifinals at the French, losing to eventual finalist Soderling. The Czech also lost in the finals at Wimbledon to champion in the making Rafael Nadal. Berdych has lost consistently at the Australian Open in the fourth round in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The Czech also lost in the fourth round of the US Open in 2004, 2006 and 2007. Which surface suits him best? Not the hard courts, surely?
Juan Martin del Potro
The Argentine has the weapons but is coming back after a long injury layoff, so it is hard to predict that he can win without seeing how he plays in the first few months. Certainly del Potro has the talent and the game to capture a major. After all, he has done it before. He must remain in the mix in this discussion.
Dane Caroline Wozniacki will not go the way of Dinara Safina and Jelena Jankovic, who were ranked No. 1 briefly but never won a major championship––at least not to date.
More than likely Wozniacki will go the way of Kim Clijsters and Amelie Mauresmo, who were ranked No. 1 first and then went on to win a major.
Wozniacki turned pro in 2005 and since that time has climbed steadily in the WTA rankings. The Dane reached the No. 1 spot on October 11, 2010 with the withdrawal of Serena Williams from the tennis landscape after the American’s triumph at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships.
Williams suffered a severe foot injury, requiring surgery and a very long layoff.
Already tennis fans are whining and complaining because Wozniacki did everything and more they expected except bring home a Slam trophy.
Wozniacki began 2010 ranked No. 4. Her first big breakthrough came at Indian Wells, where she made the finals, losing to Jelena Jankovic. Despite the loss, Wozniacki’s ranking rose to world No. 2.
Her first win in 2010 came at Ponte Vedra Beach. Wozniacki made the finals in Charleston as the No. 1 seed. There she faced Vera Zvonareva, but Wozniacki had to retire in that match after the No. 1 seed rolled her ankle trying to chase down a ball.
The injury hung on and slowed down the Dane’s progress, especially on clay. Wozniacki saw little success until the French Open, where she entered seeded and ranked No. 3. She made it all the way to the quarterfinals, where Wozniacki was abruptly dismissed by Francesca Schiavone, 6-2, 6-3.
The Dane found herself ranked No. 4 going into Wimbledon, where she was excused in the round of 16 by Petra Kvitova, 6-2, 6-0.
After winning her second title in Copenhagen, her third title in Montreal over Zvonareva and her fourth title in New Haven, defeating Nadia Petrova in three sets, Wozniacki entered the US Open ranked No. 2 but seeded No. 1 with the absence of defending champion Serena Williams.
At the US Open Wozniacki lost in the semifinals to a determined Zvonareva, ending her chance to succeed Williams as the No. 1-ranked player in the world.
Wozniacki ended her year winning titles No. 5 and No. 6. She won in Tokyo after defeating Elena Dementieva and took the championship in Beijing after dismissing Zvonareva, her most-often challenger at the end of the year.
The only thing Wozniacki lost was the year-end championships in Doha––that went to Kim Clijsters of Belgium.
Wozniacki will probably break through at either the French Open or the US Open, more than likely earlier rather than later, when Serena Williams may be playing again.
Wozniacki will win one major title this year because she is determined, dedicated and constantly improving her game.
Most assuredly, Rafael Nadal will reach double-digit totals in Grand Slam titles.
Two more championships would put him on equal footing with Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver, who each hold a total of 11 titles. Right now the Majorcan owns nine.
Six men sit ahead of Nadal in slam totals––Bill Tilden with 10, Borg and Laver with 11, Roy Emerson with 12, Pete Sampras with 14 and Roger Federer with 16.
So how high will Nadal go in 2011?
The chances for further major championships seem more likely on the natural surfaces like the clay of Stade Roland Garros or the grass of Wimbledon. But no one should discount the Majorcan on any surface.
Nadal currently owns five French Open titles won in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010. It would not stretch the bounds of credulity to imagine Nadal adding a sixth in 2011.
The world No. 1 also has two Wimbledon titles, won in 2008 and 2010. His major obstacle for securing this title must be the Swiss maestro, Roger Federer, whose grass court play is normally second to none.
Although hard court titles are tougher to win for Nadal, he did manage to capture the Australian Open in 2009 over arch rival Federer and the US Open in 2010, defeating the Serb Novak Djokovic. Nothing is impossible in the Nadal book.
He will reach double-digit Slam totals. Will it be 10 or 11?
Where will Nadal capture Slam titles? Those are the questions we ponder heading into the Australian Open in 2011.
It is time for an Australian to win the Grand Slam down under in Melbourne.
For 20 years, tennis’ upper ranks were populated with Australians. For the men, Jack Crawford (four Australian Open titles) was the precursor in the 1930s.
But players like Frank Sedgman (2), Roy Emerson (6), Ken Rosewall (4), Rod Laver (3), James Anderson (3), Adrian Quist (3) and John Newcombe (2), to name a few, dominated tennis and the Australian Open in the mid to late 1950s through the early to mid 1970s.
Aussie Lleyton Hewiit did not come along to claim his place at the top until 2001. So far in 2011, heading into the Australian Open, these are Australia’s top-ranked men: (54) Lleyton Hewitt, (137) Peter Luczak, (138) Marinko Matosevic, (153) Cartsen Bell and (196) Matthew Ebden.
For the women, the greatest player ever, Australian Margaret Court, played from 1960-1977. She was first ranked No. 1 in 1962 and last ranked No. 1 in 1973.
During her illustrious career she won 11 Australian Open titles, 24 Grand Slam titles in total.
Another famous Aussie, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, won four Australian Open titles, seven Slam titles altogether. Currently, Australia’s top-ranked women are (6) Samantha Stosur, (42) Jarmila Groth, (64) Anastasia Rodionova, (122) Sophie Ferguson and (130) Alica Molik.
With Serena Williams sidelined, the Aussie who will win in Melbourne must be Samantha Stosur, who has built her singles game into a real weapon. Enjoying some success in 2009, Stosur decided to concentrate her efforts on singles in 2010.
Seeded No. 13 at last year’s Australian Open, Stosur made it all the way to the fourth round, where she encountered the No. 1 seed, Serena Williams. Stosur lost that match 6-4, 6-2 but moved up to the No. 11 WTA ranking.
Stosur, however, made her mark at the French Open, where she made the finals and was expected to win the title but could not overcome Italian Francesca Schiavone. After the French Open, Stosur rose to the No. 5 WTA ranking.
Stosur has one of the best serves in the women’s game, and she is one of the most athletic women playing the game. As an accomplished doubles player, Stosur handles net play well, moving quickly to the ball and punching it across the net with depth and accuracy.
It makes perfect sense for her to capture the Australian Open in 2011 because she has all the tools and the crowd support, and the defending champion, Serena Williams, will not be present.
Stosur just needs to calm her nerves and set her sights on winning this for Australia. The last woman to win the title was Margaret Court in 1973.
It seems right in 2011 for Stosur to bring the Aussie championship back home.
Roger Federer will win Slam No. 17 in 2011.
The question is, which one will it be? Will the mighty Swiss win in Melbourne, Paris, Wimbledon or Flushing Meadows? Most would excuse Federer from the French Open championship at Stade Roland Garros.
Last year, Federer won the Australian Open and then faded from the top spot the rest of the season as Nadal took over the No. 1 ranking.
In 2004, Federer won the Australian Open for the first time over Marat Safin. In 2005, Federer lost to Safin in the semifinals. The Swiss won the Aussie Open in 2006 and 2007 over Marcos Baghdatis and Fernando Gonzalez respectively.
In 2008, Federer lost to eventual champion Novak Djokovic in the semifinals, and in 2009 Federer lost in the finals to Rafael Nadal, who captured his first hard court Slam title. The Swiss came back in 2010 and overcame Andy Murray in dramatic fashion in a straight-set win. Will this be the year Federer takes No. 5 down under?
After Federer won five consecutive finals at Wimbledon from 2003-2007, Nadal upset him on his way to six consecutive wins at the All-England Club in 2008. It was Nadal’s first major not on clay, and no one could accuse the Majorcan of being only a clay court specialist from that point forward.
In 2009 Federer came back to win the Wimbledon crown for a sixth time. In 2010, Federer failed to make the finals for the first time since 2003, losing in the quarterfinals to Tomas Berdych. Will Federer finally win seven and tie with Pete Sampras for the most championships on Centre Court in the Open Era?
Federer also won the US Open five consecutive years from 2004-2008. He was the runner-up in 2009 to Juan Martin del Potro. In 2010 the Swiss failed to make the finals in Flushing Meadows for the first time since 2004, losing in the semifinals to Novak Djokovic.
Currently Federer is tied with Pete Sampras and Jimmy Connors with five US Open trophies stacked on his mantle. Federer, however, is the only one who has won five consecutive titles at the US Open in the Open Era. Winning No. 6 in 2011 would put Federer one ahead of Connors and Sampras and further cement his Flushing Meadows legend.
Which title will be his? Australia—No. 5? French Open—No. 2? Wimbledon—No. 7? US Open—No. 6?
Serena and Venus Williams have been playing tennis and winning majors since before the newest century began.
Serena began her professional life in tennis in 1995, while Venus took the courts first in 1994.
Between the two of them, they have won 20 Grand Slam championships in singles, or about half of them in the last 11 years, 12 Grand Slam double titles and four mixed doubles titles.
The Williams sisters have dominated women’s tennis since the year 2000.
Throughout these years, the sisters have had their fair share of injuries, but the latest injuries seem to be very crippling.
Venus Williams, who will turn 31 in June, is battling a knee injury that has kept her off the courts since her semifinal battle with Kim Clijsters at the US Open.
Meanwhile, Serena Williams has been absent from the tour since July, when the younger Williams sister stepped on some broken glass and injured her foot. Two surgeries later, Serena Williams reported recently that it will be April or later before she can resume practice again.
This means the younger Williams will not only miss the Australian Open but will also miss the French Open.
Serena's earliest grand slam back would be Wimbledon, her last tournament appearance in 2010.
So far, it appears both plan to return to action. But it seems likely that one of them will retire by the end of the year with Venus turning 31 and Serena turning 30––should their rehabilitation efforts fall short.
They have both played a long time, and the tour would miss their presence, but it feels like one of them will say goodbye to professional tennis in 2011.
Juan Martin del Potro was well on his way to establishing his place at the top of the game when a wrist injury sidelined him for an extended period of time.
In January of 2010, del Potro reached the world ranking of No. 4. But repeatedly, the wrist injury slowed him down until he decided to have surgery and withdrew from competition in May of 2010.
The Argentine returned in September to compete in the Thailand Open, where he lost his opening round match to Oliver Rochus. Del Potro then traveled to compete in the Japan Open, where he once again lost his opening round match—this time to Feliciano Lopez.
2010 was a non-factor for the Argentine since the injury limited his play at the beginning and the end of the year.
He will begin 2011 ranked No. 258 with only 180 points to defend. Yet the Argentine enters 2011 with his mantle as the giant killer still intact. He owns a five-match winning streak against the top two—Nadal and Federer.
In 2009 the Argentine took out Nadal in Miami during the quarterfinals 6-4, 3-6, 7-6—this after Nadal had dismissed del Potro in the quarterfinals at Indian Wells. After Miami, del Potro defeated Nadal in the quarterfinals of the Rogers Cup in Montreal. Then the Argentine met and defeated Nadal in the semifinals at the US Open 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 before meeting Roger Federer in the final, defeating the Swiss in five sets 3-6, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2.
Del Potro defeated Federer again at the year-end championships during their round-robin match.
Only the Argentine has shown he has the game to take out both Federer and Nadal in order to win a major championship.
The rise back to the top, however, will take some time––coming all the way from No. 258.
But if the surgery proves successful and del Potro can regain his fitness and his timing, it will not be long—and surely before the end of 2011—until del Potro makes it back into the top five in men’s tennis.
This one is hardly a surprise to much of anyone, but it has a caveat. While one Queen B (Belgian) will leave the tennis hive, another one will seek to find her way back in.
When Kim Clijsters returned to play tennis, few anticipated the degree of her success. After announcing her return, Clijsters played both Cincinnati and Toronto, where she lost to Dinara Safina and Jelena Jankovic respectively.
The big surprise was her third tournament back, the US Open in Flushing Meadows, where Clijsters met and defeated Caroline Wozniacki in the finals. The Belgian won the US Open after shocking the tennis world by upsetting No. 1 seed Serena Williams in a controversial semifinal match.
Clijsters ended 2009 ranked No. 18, winning her first tournament in Brisbane by defeating countrywoman Justine Henin in the final. This allowed Clijsters to enter Melbourne as the 15th seed, where Clijsters lost in the round of 32 to Russian Nadia Petrova.
Clijsters won in Miami over Venus Williams after once again upending her fellow Belgian Henin in the semifinals 6-2, 6-7, 7-6. After missing the French Open because of injury and going out in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, Clijsters' next win came on hard courts in Cincinnati, where the Belgian defeated Maria Sharapova in the finals.
Remarkably, Clijsters repeated her win at Flushing Meadows, capturing another US Open championship, this time by defeating Russian Vera Zvonareva.
After being injured for the fall indoor season, Clijsters came back to win the year-end championship in Doha over the No. 1 seed Wozniacki. Clijsters ended the year ranked No. 3 in just a year and a half back from retirement.
However, the indications are that the mom from Belgium will retire once again—at least in the sense that she will not compete fully, playing the entire schedule demanded of all pros.
But while Belgian Clijsters lets go again, Belgian Henin will continue her comeback quest to win at Wimbledon.
2011 is the year of the seasoned professional––returning to tennis.
Former world No. 8 Mark Philippoussis, at age 34, reportedly will be returning to the green lawns of Wimbledon in 2011. The former Aussie Wimbledon and US Open finalist is not ranked, of course. Repeated knee injuries forced him to retire in 2002, although he staged a comeback in 2003.
32-year-old Tommy Haas will be coming back again after right arm surgery. His reemergence will come later in 2011, not in time for the Australian Open. The former German Haas has not played since last year’s tournament at Delray Beach. His current ranking is 372.
31-year-old James Blake says he will be making a comeback in 2011. His current ranking is 138, so trying to recapture his former form will be difficult. A lingering knee injury kept Blake in pain and at times altogether sidelined throughout 2010. Blake’s rankings plummeted as he continued to try to play through the pain.
Ten men in the top 30 are 28 years of age or older. This is old in tennis years—enough so that the dew is definitely off the rose.
In the top 10, No. 2 Roger Federer is 29, No. 8 Andy Roddick is 28 and No. 10 Mikhail Youzhny is 28. Following them, No. 11 Jurgen Melzer is 29, No. 16 Mardy Fish is 29 while No. 17 Ivan Ljubicic is 31. Finally, No. 22 Nikolay Davydenko is 29, No. 23 Michael Llodra is 30, No. 27 David Nalbandian is 29 and No. 29 Juan Carlos Ferrero is 30.
While Philippoussis will not make it into the top 10, nor will Haas or Blake, some older pro will make it back into the upper echelons of the men’s ranking.
It is difficult to imagine Youzhny hanging onto his top 10 ranking.
It is not hard to visualize either Nalbandian or Davydenko reentering the top 10 based on their games or their innate abilities on the court. It will remain to be seen if they can recapture their desire, determination and their form to win back a top spot.
So who will bring the Russian women back into the fold, stealing away the No. 1 ranking?
Maria Sharapova? Svetlana Kuznetsova? Vera Zvonareva? Nadia Petrova? Or one of the younger players working her way up the rankings?
At the 2009 US Open five of the top 10 seeds were Russians, including No. 1 seed Dinara Safina.
There are five Russian women in the top 20, headed by No. 2 Vera Zvonareva. Elena Dementieva is ranked No. 9, but since she announced her retirement, she will not remain in the top 20.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Maria Kirilenko and Alisa Kleybanova are Russian women making their way up the ladder. The names may have changed, but Russian women are still finding their way to the top.
While some Russian women have slipped in the rankings, others have risen. Although a little weaker, the Russian presence is still very well represented in women’s tennis.
It would make sense that the Russian Zvonareva, who trails world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki by 1,250 points, could possibly rise to the top spot by winning the 2010 Australian Open. There is no doubt that the 26-year old Russian is playing superlative tennis since she has at last learned to control her emotions and stay in the match.
Having made the finals at both Wimbledon and the US Open in 2010, Zvonareva is ready to take that next step. While Sharapova may catch fire again, she has a long way to go to reclaim the No. 1 ranking.
If any Russian takes that spot, it will be Zvonareva.