10 Fearless 2012 Tennis Predictions: Djokovic Soars as Nadal Swoons
Nadal's fall was spectacular as the man of steel found himself dominated on tennis courts by the man from Serbia, Novak Djokovic.
The women crowned four separate grand slam winners while Caroline Wozniacki—who did not win one of the majors—maintained her status as the WTA World No. 1.
But that was then; this is now.
Time for our annual predictions on the upcoming year in tennis. In last year’s article, I managed to guess right about half of the time.
In baseball, hitting .500 is pretty darn good but in the prognosticating game it is fairly lackluster.
2012, however, promises to be a slam dunk.
Hold on to your rackets because the season opens in just a couple of weeks. Believe me, players and media hounds will hit the ground running.
This is what will happen in 2012—mark my words.
A New Player Will Occupy a Coveted Spot in the Top Four
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Here is what we know. Novak Djokovic amassed 13,360 points, giving the Serb a boatload of points to defend in 2012.
Last year at this time, the world No. 1 had 6,240 points and held down the No. 3 ranking. Djokovic more than doubled his total, adding 7,120 points to his resume.
World No. 2 Rafael Nadal has 9,595, having surrendered first place and 2,855 points. The question remains—with the first part of the 2012 season on hard courts, will Nadal be able to stop his free fall out of the winners circle?
World No. 3 Roger Federer has 8,170 owing to a surge at the finish line in 2011. This is still 975 points less than a year ago. Plus, Federer failed to capture a major title in 2011—something that has not happened since 2002.
Will Federer's superlative win at the World Tour Finals in London mark a return to form or just an aberrant blip on his gradual descent?
Andy Murray has 7,380, falling back hard into the fourth spot on the ranking ladder after occupying the No. 3 ranking for a brief period of time post 2011 US Open. Still, this is 1,620 points ahead of where Murray stood at the end of 2010.
Murray failed to close the gap again in 2011, but he made progress. The Scot is only member of the top four not to win a major.
Competition from No. 5 David Ferrer and No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga with 4,925 and 4,335, respectively, looms on the horizon. Plus, one can never discount the escalation—almost into the top 10—by Juan Martin del Potro.
One of the top four men will fall to be replaced by Tsonga or del Potro in 2012.
Caroline Wozniacki Will Fall Back to Ground Level
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Last year I predicted that Caroline Wozniacki would win her first major. Wrong! Not only did she not win a major, she did not play in a final for a slam championship.
Wozniacki did make the semifinals at the Australian Open and the US Open, but fell in the third round at the French Open and the fourth round at Wimbledon.
Still, the Dane managed to hold onto the World No. 1 ranking the entire year, which says something for her consistency.
At age 21, Wozniacki has time on her side to win majors. Unlike Dinara Safina and Ana Ivanovic, this World No. 1 does not shy away from winning. Her game simply is not strong enough yet to sustain winning over a two-week period.
Wozniacki continues to hone her skills, trying to evolve her primarily defensive game into offense. But all agree that the Dane needs a major weapon on offense before she can begin capturing major titles.
Only 115 points ahead of World No. 2 Petra Kvitova, expect the Czech to overtake Wozniacki early in 2012 and grab that World No. 1 ranking.
Rafael Nadal Will Win One Additional Slam Title in 2012
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After Rafael Nadal defeated Roger Federer in their closest French Open final in years, the Majorcan did not win another tournament in 2011.
In fact, Nadal's only titles were on clay in 2011—one year after his greatest year ever in 2010.
I was reminded of Mats Wilander’s campaign in 1988 when the Swede won three majors and finally captured the World No. 1 title. Wilander snatched it away briefly from Ivan Lendl, who had grasped the No. 1 ranking for so long in his iron fist.
Then, in 1989, Wilander fell off the face of the Earth.
Now while Nadal’s descent was nothing like Wilander’s, it felt the same on the surface. Yes, Nadal won a major—his sixth French Open title, tying the World No. 2 with the great Bjorn Borg.
But the recently deposed World No. 1 lost six significant finals in 2011 against Novak Djokovic, who seemed to be siphoning off the great Nadal’s nerves of steel.
Nadal’s greatest asset throughout his career has been his indomitable spirit, which Djokovic consumed in huge gulps.
Nadal withered under an unaccustomed assault from within—much as Federer did when Nadal’s pursuit of the Swiss finally proved deadly.
But Nadal will come back and, like Federer, regain some of his balance, enough so to stay near the top.
But, like Federer, Nadal will never dominate again as he did in 2010.
He will, however, win French Open title No. 7, establishing Nadal as the greatest man ever to play tennis on clay.
An Australian Will Win the Australian Open in 2012
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I predicted this feat last year—except Samantha Stosur did not do it, winning the 2011 US Open instead.
In fact, Stosur was dismissed in the third round of the Aussie Open by newcomer Petra Kvitova, which was, in itself, a harbinger of things to come.
But Aussie Stosur is busily preparing to bring the trophy in Melbourne home for millions of Australians who wish someone down under to win the Australian Open Championship.
Stosur has developed a winning game—a game designed to win in Melbourne. With a big kick serve and powerful groundstrokes, Stosur just needs to stir in a large helping of self-confidence and determination to capture another major crown.
The last Australian male to win the Aussie Open was Mark Edmondson, who upset the inimitable John Newcombe in 1976 to win the title. For the ladies, it was Chris O’Neil, who won the Championship in 1978, defeating American Betsy Nagelsen 6-3, 7-6.
At age 27, Stosur must take the next step to the top of the women’s game. The best and most meaningful posture would be in the winner’s circle in Melbourne.
Roger Federer Will Win Slam No. 17 in 2012
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This is another repeat from 2011—which obviously, did not happen.
Last year, many expected Federer to take his fifth Australian Open title—especially after an injured Nadal folded to David Ferrer.
Instead, the World No. 2 lost in the semifinals to Novak Djokovic, who went on to win the tournament, defeating Andy Murray in the final.
Will this be the year Federer finally takes Australian Open title No. 5?
Or, could the Swiss win another French Open title? After the way Federer played in Roland Garros in 2011, the possibility does exist of making it to another final. Never discount Federer on clay. He did defeat Djokovic there in 2011, handing the Serb his first upset of the season.
Most thought Wimbledon would be the surface where Federer would prevail in 2011. He seemed well on his way when the Swiss ran into Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals. After winning the first two sets, Federer fell in five to Tsonga, who played a perfect match for the final three sets.
Federer was very close to another US Open final in 2011 but was confounded again by Djokovic, who fired off the shot of the year just as the Swiss was ready to claim victory after capturing the first two sets.
In set No. 5, with a cross-court winner on a return of serve at 3-5 and later by clawing back from being down 15-40 at 4-5, Djokovic refused to lose, going on to win the match.
Djokovic secured his spot in the final while Federer packed his bags.
Of them all, in 2012, I predict a win for Federer in Melbourne.
The Williams Sisters Will Continue Their Descent
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You sensed that Serena Williams' domination was at its end in 2011 during the US Open finals when the younger of the sisters failed to answer the bell in a championship final.
Her fire seemed to dissipate once the umpire penalized Serena Williams for yelling out during a point. It was a legitimate slap in the face for the former World No. 1.
Serena went away quietly after that and Stosur held on to her nerve to win the match.
Both Serena and Venus battled injuries throughout 2011, finally making their way back onto the courts full-time in June, just as Wimbledon was set to begin.
Unfortunately for the pair, the grass was not that forgiving—they both lost in the third round.
At the US Open, Venus withdrew from play after being diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome.
Neither sister has played on tour since the 2011 US Open except for recent exhibitions.
Although both assure fans they are dedicated and ready to return full-time to the women’s tour, you have to suspect that turning 32 and 31 for Venus and Serena, respectively, in 2012 will slow them down a bit.
Look at how much tennis the two have actually played the past two years—not enough to keep their shoes warm.
Serena and Venus Williams have been playing professional tennis for over half of their lives.
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.
They will compete sporadically this year trying to make major finals—but their main focus will be on the 2012 Summer Olympics where they hope to repeat their doubles Gold while grabbing a singles title for Serena.
I look for Venus to retire from competitive tennis by the end of the year.
Juan Martin Del Potro Will Rise Back into the Top 5
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Here is another one I missed last year, predicting Juan Martin del Potro would return to the top five.
Instead he rose from No. 258 to No. 11—which is not all that bad. So I missed by six places. This year, expect the Argentine to make it the rest of the way and to impact the men’s tour in significant fashion.
Remember that in 2009, del Potro 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 to claim the title.
2011 marked del Potro’s return to form after sitting out most of 2010 with a wrist injury followed by surgery.
During the year, the Argentine won two titles, defeating Janko Tipsarevic in the finals of Delray Beach and Fernando Verdasco for the win on the clay in Estoril.
His progress was slow but steady, even as del Potro suffered with a couple of new injuries. For his efforts the Argentine was voted the 2011 Comeback Player of the Year by his peers.
The Argentine was hopeful to make the year-end championships in London, but missed out there. He was the primary hope during the Davis Cup finals against Spain, but could not muster enough game after his injuries to defeat David Ferrer or Rafael Nadal in Spain on clay.
Del Potro will begin his year in Sydney at the Apia International. The 23-year-old will be hoping to begin his climb back to the No. 4 spot he held once briefly in November of 2010.
Expect del Potro to climb that high again in 2012 and stay there this time.
Kim Clijsters Will Be Hot in August
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After injuring her ankle in April, followed by subsequent injuries during the summer months, Kim Clijsters was pretty much a non-factor in 2011.
She did, of course, win the 2011 Australian Open, owning her “Aussie Kim” moniker.
Currently ranked No. 13 by the WTA, Clijsters will try to reestablish her game down under starting in Brisbane.
As she prepared for 2012, the Belgian emphasized she would pay closer attention to her scheduling, not allowing herself to get overtired and stretched too thin.
Her main focus is on the summer Olympics held this year in London starting on July 27 and running through August 12.
At age 28, turning 29 in June—this could well be Clijsters last chance to participate in the Summer Olympics.
Working diligently on her serve, Clijsters hopes to conserve her energy and strengthen her game. She is looking to make 2012 her best year and maybe her last as she turns her attention from tennis to other parts of her life.
Clijsters comeback from retirement has been nothing short of miraculous. She has added three slam titles to her resume and climbed back into the women’s top ten in 2010.
2011 brought an unfortunate reversal of fortunes; but Clijsters will make the most of 2012 with her eye firmly on those prizes she seeks before she ends her tennis career again.
Novak Djokovic Will Win Two Slams and Retain the No. 1 Ranking
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Novak Djokovic lived through an astonishing 2011, surpassing both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to assume the mantle of the No. 1 player in the world.
Sporting a 70-6 record in 2011, Djokovic remained unbeaten until Roger Federer defeated him in the semifinals of the 2011 French Open.
Djokovic won three of the the four majors—just as Nadal did in 2010 and just as Federer did in 2004, 2006 and 2007.
So much for history. What will 2012 bring?
History seems to indicate that unless you have the talent level of a young Roger Federer, chances are you will not repeat winning three majors in one calendar year.
While Djokovic is serenely talented, he may not have staying power to win three major titles in back-to-back years—especially a year that includes the Summer Olympics.
Almost 4,000 points ahead of World No. 2 Nadal, Djokovic will hold onto his No. 1 ranking unless he really derails in 2012—and none expect that.
With Federer winning the Australian and Nadal winning the French, summer will be the Serb’s forte in 2012 where Djokovic will win again at Wimbledon and in New York City.
The end of 2012 will see Djokovic holding six career grand slam singles titles.
Petra Kvitova Will Take over the No. 1 Ranking in 2012
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Without a doubt, Petra Kvitova was the biggest surprise on the women’s tour in 2011, starting her year in Brisbane, where she won the tournament, defeating German Andrea Petkovic in the final.
Then the 20-year-old Kvitova advanced to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, defeating Samantha Stosur and Flavia Pennetta before falling to the No. 2 seed Vera Zvonareva.
The Czech followed that by defeating Kim Clijsters in the finals at Paris.
After a slump on the American hardcourts, Kvitova won the clay court tournament in Madrid, taking out Victoria Azarenka in the final.
After losing in the fourth round of the French Open to Li Na of China, the eventual champion, Kvitova advanced to the finals at Eastbourne, losing to Maid Marion Bartoli of France.
But the piece de resistance came at Wimbledon where Kvitova advanced to the finals and defeated former World No. 1 and former Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova in the final.
The Czech had arrived and even though she slumped after her huge win at the All-England Club, Kvitova came back to win the WTA Championships in Turkey at the end of 2011.
Kvitova ended the year ranked No. 2, a mere 115 points behind World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki.
The Czech is scheduled to journey to Perth to play in the Hopman Cup competition after the first of the year.
It is expected that Kvitova will leave Perth with the No. 1 ranking firmly in her grasp.
But—as they say—you have to win the game on the playing field—not just on paper.
With high expectations, a new kind of pressure will be applied to Kvitova but, she seems perfectly able to wear the crown without worrying about winning a major because she has already been there and done that.