As we enter the 2009 Tennis season, the stage is set for one of the most competitive years on the tour, especially on the men’s side. As 2008 ends, it is not clear who has the momentum heading into the new year.
Roger Federer won the last major, which salvaged his year, but it was clear that Rafael Nadal was the clear No. 1, and not because Federer stumbled. Nadal took it from him with his stellar play.
Nadal has managed to do what Federer and Djokovic have not been able to do in the past year and a half: consistently get better on the hard courts and grass courts. That is a tribute to his coach, Toni Nadal (known as uncle Toni).
Instead of just dominating on clay only, he dominated on the other surfaces as well. The question is: Just how good can Nadal be?
If he is still getting better, then the rest of the field has something to worry about. I for one, didn’t think that Nadal could take Federer down on grass, and it remains to be seen if Nadal can raise his game to a level where he can win majors on the hard courts.
If he can, there is no telling how many majors he can win. We have to keep in mind that the brand of tennis Nadal plays is not easy on his body.
His strength is his speed and range, and that causes him to retrieve and hit a lot of balls that the other men on tour would not get to. The constant stopping and sliding on all the surfaces, including the hard courts, takes a heavy toll on your joints and hips.
Lleyton Hewitt played that way for most of his career, and as a result he is battling a hip injury that could hamper him the rest of his career.
It is obvious that Federer wants his No. 1 ranking back, and he wants to begin the season healthy, unlike his 2008 season. I believe this year will tell us whether he is on the decline, or if he has found a way to regroup, reinvent his game and take it to a higher level.
Truly exceptional athletes do that, ala Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan. Nadal has upped his, now Federer needs to up his.
There are two other men at the top that will push Nadal and Federer. Novak Djokovic won the year-end championships and served notice that he will not stand by and watch Nadal and Federer dominate the tour.
His season got off to a good start in 2008 as he won the Australian Open, beating Federer in the process. He seemed poised to do great things, but was never able to build on it and get the results he was looking for until the season-ending championships.
He is ranked No. 3, and if Federer is not careful Djokovic will pass him and be No. 2. He is only 10 points behind, which is nothing. Andy Murray rounds out the top four and is the third of the trio that is trying to unseat Federer and bring in a new era of tennis.
Murray has matured and came into his own in 2008. He got good results at Wimbledon, and followed that up with a finals appearance at the U.S. Open. He is getting better and has proven he has the game to duke it out with Nadal, Federer, and Djokovic.
At times Murray seems to be his own worst enemy, but he has matured and is frustrating his opponents with his match strategy and deceptive speed and athleticism.
These four men, barring injury, will be at the top of the tennis world in 2009, we just don’t know in which order. Wimbledon will decide how the season goes for Roger Federer.
If he can come back and win it, and win the U.S. Open again, he will serve notice that he is not going anywhere. He also has to start the season healthy and not get knocked out so many tournaments early, which happened a lot in 2008.
If Nadal wins Wimbledon, it will solidify his claim to the No. 1 ranking and serve notice to the other young guns that the road to the top goes through him now. No one beats him on clay, and if he wins two majors no one will catch him.
Djokovic needs to successfully defend his Australian Open title to make a statement. If he does that he will jump Federer in the standings. He also needs to be injury-free, and show evidence that his game is getting better.
Murray needs to keep improving and know that he can beat anyone on the tour. As long as he doesn’t lose confidence he will be fine.
I predict that Nadal will finish No. 1, Federer will be No. 2, with Djokovic and Murray at Nos. 3 and 4 respectively.