10 Predictions for the 2012 ATP Season

Shane Lambert@uncoolnegatedAnalyst IIDecember 27, 2011

10 Predictions for the 2012 ATP Season

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    The 2012 ATP tennis season will be starting shortly as the South Pacific will host a series of tournaments that will start with ATP Brisbane and conclude with the 2012 Australian Open, a tournament that Novak Djokovic is the favorite to win.

    2011 was definitely his as the Serb claimed three Grand Slam titles and five Masters Series titles.

    What 2012 will bring is anyone's guess but here are 10 of my predictions for what the upcoming season has in store.

Novak Djokovic Loses a Step but Still Wins Two Slams

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    Novak Djokovic played the best tennis of his life in 2011 and he remained undefeated on tour until he bumped into Roger Federer at the French Open.

    The Serb did trail off a bit down the stretch of the season but I expect Djokovic to be at the top or near the top of his game once again when the 2012 Australian Open starts in a few weeks.

    Look for Djokovic to win two more Slams in 2012 with neither one of them being the French Open. Djokovic has turned in so many surprise losses in Paris—from Philipp Kohlschreiber in 2009, to Jurgen Melzer in 2010, to Federer in 2011—that you just can't expect Djokovic to win the title this upcoming year.

    While the current world No. 1 won't be completing a career Grand Slam in 2011, he will nonetheless add two more Grand Slam singles title to his career total.

Rafael Nadal Wins the French Open

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    The only thing that keeps Rafael Nadal's paws (and teeth) off of the French Open trophy is injury. Even though the current world No. 2 had a sub-par season in 2011, no one was able to stop him from claiming his sixth singles title at Roland Garros.

    In seven appearances at the clay-court Slam, Nadal has only known defeat one time as Robin Soderling eliminated the Spaniard in the fourth round of the 2009 French Open.

    Should Nadal win his seventh title at Roland Garros he will consolidate his title as "The King of Clay," as he will pass Bjorn Borg for most French Open titles. Presently both players have six titles apiece but, if Nadal is fit come spring, Borg should lose his stake in that record.

Roger Federer Fails To Make a Grand Slam Final

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    Roger Federer has steadily declined since 2009. That season he won two Grand Slam titles, perhaps partly due to Rafael Nadal's injury.

    In 2010 Federer won the Australian Open and in 2011 he only made one Grand Slam championship match, that being Roland Garros.

    You have to assume that aging is affecting Federer's on-court prowess, as he is now outside of his tennis prime. Since Federer is not going to get any younger in 2012, you have to assume that his results will continue to drift and that means Grand Slam final appearances are a thing of the past for the Swiss Maestro.

Andy Murray Wins a Slam

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    Andy Murray is the best player on the ATP Tour without a Grand Slam title as the Scot failed in all three of his career Grand Slam final appearances.

    Though an outstanding hard-courter in his own right, Murray is overshadowed by Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic on the cement—not to mention Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin Del Potro.

    Not only has Murray failed to win a Grand Slam title, but he has yet to take down an individual set in a championship match. Federer sent Murray off the court quickly in the 2008 US Open final, Murray almost made a match out of the 2010 Australian Open final against Federer and Djokovic took down the 2011 Aussie in straight sets.

    But if Murray keeps buzzing around the last few days of Grand Slam tournaments, you have to think that the draw will eventually align in his favor.

    Look for Murray to improve this year and win either the 2012 Australian Open, Wimbledon 2012 or the 2012 US Open.

David Ferrer Fails To Make 2012 ATP World Tour Finals

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    David Ferrer is a consistent, talented and likable player on the ATP Tour, however he is also an aging veteran.

    Ferrer will turn 30 years old this season and while he's likely to stay in the top 15 during 2012, the Spaniard is not such an immense talent as to turn back the clock when facing the younger and improving competition.

    Ferrer has been to three ATP World Tour Finals, including back-to-back appearances in 2010 and 2011. Don't expect the Spaniard to make it back in 2012, however, as Ferrer will probably finish the upcoming season ranked somewhere between 12th and 16th.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga Makes Two Grand Slam Semifinals...and Loses Both

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    Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, France's best hope for a Grand Slam singles title in 2012, hinted at genius in 2011. The Frenchman fell in the rankings to world No. 22 before charging to the championship match at November's ATP World Tour Finals.

    In surging through the ranks, Tsonga defeated Roger Federer in the quarters at Wimbledon despite trailing in the match two sets to love. It was the first time that Federer was unable to close out a best-of-five match after claiming the first two sets.

    Tsonga has been to a Grand Slam final before as the Frenchman made the 2008 Australian Open final (lost to Djokovic). Look for Tsonga to threaten for a spot in a Grand Slam final again in 2012, however it's my belief that he will not make it to a championship match in a major this season.

Mardy Fish Falls out of Top 25

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    Mardy Fish did well in 2011 as he made the ATP World Tour Finals for the first time in his career. The American, who recently turned 30, nearly waited too long before he decided to lose the little bit of extra body fat he had, body fat that prevented him from maximizing his potential through much of his career.

    Fish's current stay in the top 10 probably will not be that long especially since the American is hardly adept at winning matches in the second week of Grand Slams. After the US Open, Fish beat no one ranked higher than Florian Mayer, who was ranked 22nd when Fish beat the German at the Paris Masters.

    Whether Fish is a little overweight or not, the bottom line is he's only ever won a fourth-round match in a major three times despite contesting 35 Grand Slam singles events.

    Look for Fish to lose a lot of ground in 2012 and he's a potential high-seeded, early round casualty in the upcoming Australian Open.

Bernard Tomic Cracks the Top 25

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    Up until the 2011 Wimbledon championships, most of the talk regarding the up-and-coming talent on tour had to do with Milos Raonic, Ryan Harrison or Grigor Dimitrov.

    With Raonic we saw a glimpse of major talent, as he plowed through the Australian Open qualifiers and then the first three rounds of the main draw in early 2011. As an encore, he won ATP San Jose and then made the final at ATP Memphis.

    With Ryan Harrison, you have an energetic talented player who is inside the top 100 despite being just 19 years old.

    Dimitrov has been tipped for the top for a little while now by those in the know, as he enjoyed a distinguished juniors career.

    However, the bottom line is that Tomic is younger than Raonic, Harrison and Dimitrov and in the case of the latter two, the Aussie is ranked significantly higher. While Raonic is currently above Tomic in the rankings, that might not last too long as the Canadian has tons of points to defend in the upcoming months.

    Look for Tomic to crack the top 25 in 2012 if healthy, a prediction that I think is a little bit conservative. Australian tennis looks safe to have a mainstay in the second week of Slams even in the post-Hewitt era.

Juan Martin Del Potro Makes Few Headlines in 2012

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    Juan Martin Del Potro deserves better than the hand he has been dealt. The Argentine may be one of the deadliest players on tour when at 100 percent but if he goes years between physical peaks, then what real shot does he have to win another major?

    The last time we saw Delpo play his very best tennis he was watching a Roger Federer shot sail long on the final point of the 2009 US Open. The Argentine played fine at the 2009 ATP World Tour Finals as well, but since then he's spent a year on the sidelines and he's only picked up a couple of titles and those tournaments were not contested by the best players (Estoril 2011; Delray Beach 2011).

    Waiting for Del Potro to come back—to really come back—is like waiting for Mars, Jupiter and Venus to align in the solar system. For all I know, it could happen on any given day and, if I'm near a telescope, I'd even like to see it.

    However, I'm not wasting my life watching for it until it's about to happen and in the same way, you shouldn't get too excited about Del Potro until he's actually in a huge match again.

    Watching a genius like the former Grand Slam champion lose to the likes of Marcel Granollers and a washed-up James Blake is just too painful.

Retirement Predictions: Will 2012 Be Juan Carlos Ferrero's Last Stand?

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    Of the following 20 players, I predict that six will be retired before the start of the 2013 ATP season. 

    1. Juan Carlos Ferrero 
    2. Radek Stepanek  
    3. Ivan Ljubicic 
    4. Tommy Haas
    5. Fernando Gonzalez
    6. Jurgen Melzer
    7. Mikhail Youzhny
    8. Xavier Malisse
    9. Ivo Karlovic
    10. David Nalbandian
    11. Olivier Rochus
    12. Jarkko Nieminen
    13. Victor Hanescu
    14. Michael Russell
    15. Michael Berrer
    16. Rainer Schuettler
    17. Arnaud Clement
    18. Bjorn Phau
    19. Lleyton Hewiit
    20. Jean-Rene Lisard