It was my original intention to write an article about who else but Roger Federer. But after some browsing, the realization hit me that he is probably the most written-about player in tennis history (though I don't have the stats to back it up). What I have instead settled on writing about is the plethora of talent that is right behind (and ahead of) Roger.
The remainder of this article is going to focus on predictions for 2009, and a prediction of how many Grand Slam titles each of these young stars might win. Hard to not talk about Roger when we talk about tennis, so there will be a few lines about him as well. So without much ado, here we go.
2009: There are three things that I am fairly confident about this year. Roger Federer will reclaim Wimbledon (his one challenge will come not from Nadal, but from Richard Gasquet), Rafael Nadal will continue his dominance in Paris and Andy Murray will win his first Grand Slam title.
Given that Murray himself has proclaimed his love for the hard courts of Flushing Meadows and backed that up with a fine showing at the 2008 edition, the U.S. Open seems to be the most obvious Grand Slam for him. That leaves the Australian Open, well, open. This one is easier said than done.
It is going to be very hard for Djokovic to repeat, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the talented Frenchman, seems to be much too inconsistent to yet win his first Grand Slam. While this may not be much of a prediction, I believe the Australian Open will be won by either of the other three - Nadal, Federer or Murray, or simply be someone that isn't really on the radar. Here are some other predictions by player:
Rafael Nadal: Surely, there isn't anyone close to the Spaniard on the red dirt, and he should win at least three more French Open titles, much to the frustration of one Mr. Federer. Besides that, Rafa will get maybe another couple of Grand Slam titles purely because of his grit and determination. An Australian Open title is probable and another Wimbledon is possible while a U.S. Open seems quite unlikely.
You have to wonder how long his body will withstand the immense physical stress his style of play demands, but if there is one thing we should know about Rafa by now, it is that this kid just does not quit. All said and done, Rafa should finish a great career with about ten Grand Slam titles, highlighted by seven Roland Garros titles and no U.S. Opens.
Roger Federer: Will he beat Pete Sampras' record 14 Grand Slam titles? Absolutely! Roger definitely has two more Wimbledons in him, and a couple of other Slams.
Unfortunately for him, barring a miraculous early round loss by Rafael Nadal in the 2009 French Open, Roger's trophy cabinet will not include one from Paris, the same title that has eluded former greats such as John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, and most recently, Pete Sampras.
His fluid style of play will keep him healthy and competitive for three to four more years. All said and done, arguably the most illustrious career in modern tennis history will end with 17 Grand Slam titles—seven from Wimbledon, four from Melbourne, and six from the Big Apple.
Novak Djokovic: The talent is there. Unfortunately, so is the arrogance. More than half of the tennis world proclaimed Djokovic as the heir apparent to Roger Federer after Novak's title run in Australia earlier this year. Djokovic's mom is said to have announced, ".... the King is Dead! Long Live the King!"
Yes, there is a new king in the world of tennis after almost five years of Swiss dominance. However, the man atop the rankings isn't the cocky Serb, but rather the unassuming and ridiculously down-to-earth Rafael Nadal. Since winning his maiden Grand Slam title down under, Djokovic has losing records against not only Federer and Nadal, but also Murray and Tsonga.
At the end of the year, you are left wondering whether the Serb is really even top three material. While he is too talented to end up as a one-slam wonder, he will not win more than three (at the most) more Grand Slam titles.
Prediction: One or two more Australians and maybe a French if he does not have to face Nadal. Given that there aren't enough clay court "specialists" any longer, Novak certainly has a chance at winning one in Paris.
Andy Murray: The Scot has just been great during the second half of the year. As an ardent tennis fan, I love to watch beautiful shot-making and smart decision-making. It is absolutely delightful to watch the wide array of shots and intelligent play this young star brings to court, especially in an era when even grass court tennis is played from the baseline.
Not that Murray is a serve-and-volleyer, but just the simple fact that he knows how to volley is refreshing in itself. If Murray manages to keep his head together and stay injury-free, I for one would not be surprised to see the Scot at No. 1 or No. 2 by the end of next year. His talent tells me he has six to eight Grand Slam titles, with the French eluding him as well.
If he can remain fit and let his head stay on his broadening shoulders, there is no reason he shouldn't have his fair share in the coming years. A mouth-watering rivalry between Nadal and Murray, with a sprinkling of Federer and possibly Tsonga, would just be wonderful for Tennis.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Potential—tons of it! Probably the most complete young player on tour currently. Power, finesse, athleticism—you name it, the kid has it all. Question is, will he remain healthy enough?
This is the one guy where making a prediction is just so hard. If he lives up to half of his potential, he could end up winning about five slams. On the other end, he may end up to be someone like Richard Krajicek—a ton of injuries to offset some serious talent. As much as I like this flamboyant Frenchman, I believe he is going to disappoint.
He will win a Slam or two, but that will be it. I'll go on a limb here and say he wins one each at Flushing Meadows and in Australia.
Juan Martin Del Potro: I have seen very little of this lanky Argentine, so I may be completely off-base here, but his height may just end up being too much of a problem to overcome and will restrict his movement though I have to admit he is the quickest 6'6 player I have ever seen.
However, as of now, it's hard to imagine him go through a fortnight of best-of-five set matches against the best in the world. Prediction: A good career with a couple of dozen circuit titles but no Grand Slam titles.
Richard Gasquet: This one has to drive a tennis fan crazy! Absolutely the best backhand in tennis today, probably the best talent in the world, but yet nothing better than just a couple of semifinal appearances in the last couple of years. One hopes it's just a crisis of confidence that will disappear with that first victory, which could very well come at Wimbledon next year.
With a little bit of work, mostly in the head, Gasquet could end up having the best career of all of the young people listed above, with probably the exception of Nadal (only because Nadal already has five Slams to his credit). However, as it stands right now, it's hard to foresee anything more than one or two titles, probably both at Wimbledon, for this talented but not hungry-enough Frenchman.
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