With the curtain closing on the 2011 tennis season, it is time to start looking forward to next year.
This year, we saw a lot of change in the rankings. Novak Djokovic made the unexpected leap to No. 1 and there was a shuffling at the end of the top 10, with players such as Gilles Simon, Mardy Fish, Janko Tipsarevic, Nicolas Almagro and Jo-WIlly Tsonga all trying to remain among the tennis elite.
In the following slides, I break down my predictions for the top 10 finishers of 2012. These include mainstays, comeback players and on-the-rise youngsters.
Dolgopolov made his mark with a run to the Australian Open quarterfinals in January. His year has been solid since then, highlighted by his first career title at the ATP Studena Croatia Open in Umag.
Currently, the Ukrainian is ranked No. 17 in the world, but his game shows how much potential he really has. "The Dog" has one of the most effective slices on tour. Since he decided to attack his forehand more often instead of slicing, a top 10 finish shouldn't be too far off.
With many of the other players ranked above him either past their prime or unproven, 2012 is a great year for Dolgopolov to make a move.
The 29-year-old American had his breakthrough year in 2011. With a newly-found concentration on his fitness, Fish has climbed into the top 10 and has become the highest-ranked American player.
Fish will probably fade back down in 2012, but there are certain tournaments where he is sure to go far. Since he plays many tournaments on US soil, he is going to gain some points.
He might not play as well over the course of the year, but his rank should remain relatively unchanged.
David Ferrer has been a very consistent player over the past few seasons.
The Spaniard—currently ranked No. 5 in the world—is aging, however. Ferrer is known to be one of the hardest workers off the court and, although that can help him with fitness, it is hard to maintain such a regimen.
Since Ferrer doesn't have a huge serve of groundstrokes, he can't get many free points.
The 2012 season will be the beginning of his fall. Like Fish, Ferrer plays many tournaments. He should be able to remain in the top 10—if just barely.
Berdych is going to keep on being inconsistent during the year, then bouncing back in the indoor season to regain his ranking points.
He has big groundstrokes and a huge serve. Although struggles at the beginning of the year are bound to happen, he usually plays well at the end of the season.
Don't expect Berdych to change in 2012, but he will need to develop more consistency to jump higher in the ranks.
Del Potro has had a relatively successful comeback year in 2012.
His ranking skyrocketed up from No. 384 to his current position at No. 14. The former US Open Champion is still a great talent, and he will get back to the top level eventually.
His game orients his tender wrist a little too much, but his groundstrokes are huge.
I wouldn't count him out of any majors. As long as he doesn't get hurt, he will continue his climb into the top 10.
Tsonga has had a tremendous season in 2011. He made the Wimbledon semis and the US Open quarterfinals and has proved to be one of the top talents on tour.
The Frenchman's success will continue in 2012, as he is one of the best volleyers in the ATP, and his serve and forehand are some of the biggest.
With a jumble at the middle of the pack, a consistent Tsonga could easily go from top 10 to the top five.
Federer has had a tough year. To date, he has captured only one title, and has gone without a slam for the first time since 2002.
I see these problems continuing for Federer. If he didn't have such a comfortable lead in the rankings over the current No. 5, his drop could be worse.
Although a major title is surely not out of the question, Federer needs to start resting during the smaller tournaments. He may lose points otherwise. With the top three playing very well, he needs to pick it up to catch them.
Andy Murray has captured titles in his past three non-grand slam events, and overall has been on a tear.
He is arguably the best indoor player in the world, and his return is also among the best.
He has recently passed Roger Federer as the No. 3 player in the world. Murray needs to fix his head, and he could become the top player in the world.
I predict a first major title for Murray in 2012. He should be able to hold off Federer and put pressure on Rafa and Nole at the top.
By most measures, Nadal had a great year. He made three grand slam finals and won his sixth career title at Roland Garros.
However, due to the unbelievable year put together by Novak Djokovic, Nadal has been pushed down to No. 2 in the world.
Next year, Nadal will play the same level, and maybe win a couple of majors.
However, Djokovic has been too good. Although Nadal will maintain a nice distance between him and No. 3, he will finish playing second fiddle to Nole.
Djokovic will soon complete what is arguably the greatest season men's tennis has ever seen. He is currently the clear No. 1 tennis player on earth, and in 2012 it will be tough to catch him.
He has won three of the four majors this year, and numerous other titles.
Next year, everyone will be chasing Novak. It may be hard to defend all his points, but his run at the top will continue at least to the end of 2012.