Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray, Roger Federer: Who Can Challenge Them?
All of the attention in the tennis world is on Novak Djokovic and how well he will play in 2012—justifiably so, after his amazing campaign in 2011.
With the bets on who could possibly threaten the Serbian concentrated on the other Top-Three players, there aren't many people willing put their money on an outsider to break into the Top Four in 2012.
Sometime ago, we would have started this analysis by looking into the upcoming youngsters currently breaking into the scene. However, the game has aged, due to the recent transformation that has made it brutally physical, and the current Top 20 players are 26.2 years old in average.
As a consequence, the more imminent threats to the top four are more mature players who have been around for quite a while.
An evaluation of the few youngsters floating around the top, combined with what other key players have done recently, lead us to only five names that can really be considered contenders to dethroning one of the “big four” in the near future.
Let’s take a sneak peak, shall we?
5. Bernad Tomic
The 18-year-old Australian currently holds his best ranking as No. 44 in the world.
The highlight of his career is reaching the quarterfinal on the grass of Wimbledon in 2011—his favorite surface.
Tomic’s style of play is unique, in the sense that it goes against the major trend in the modern game of hitting hard and finishing points with big forehands. Bernard would rather work the ball around, change speed and go for angles—much like Andy Murray’s cat-and-mouse type of game.
Regardless of a few controversies due to his cocky attitude, which could be either good or bad for him, Bernard is considered a promising young player and can make tennis more interesting if he really breaks through.
4. Milos Raonic
This promising 20-year-old Canadian, born in Montenegro, is currently ranked No. 29 in the world.
He had a tremendous run in 2011, reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open, winning in San Diego and reaching the final at Memphis.
Raonic is back competing in the fall after undergoing a hip surgery and should be ready for the 2012 season.
He is a modern player, with a powerful serve and a huge forehand. Providing that he stays healthy, Raonic should be a contender to one of the top four spots in the rankings.
3. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga’s versatility and entertaining style of play make him a crowd favorite.
The Frenchman has one Grand Slam final under his belt (2008 Australian Open) and beat Roger Federer two consecutive times in 2011 (Wimbledon quarterfinal and Montreal Round of 16).
Tsonga has a winning record against Djokovic (5-4) and a win over Rafael Nadal in 2011.
His physical attributes and flashy style can, and should, put him in the top four mix, which would be very beneficial to the game.
2. Robin Soderling
This big Swede stands 6’4” and is one of the most powerful ball strikers in the circuit.
Rodin Soderling reached two consecutive French Open finals (2009 and 2010), and is currently ranked sixth in the world.
His wins over both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on clay showed that he is capable of overpowering any player in the world.
Robin’s 140-mph serve and lethal forehand are intimidating and make him true a contender for one the top four spots, where he has already been as recently as November of 2010.
1. Juan Martin del Potro
Juan Martin del Potro has been ranked as high as fourth in the world, which he achieved after winning his U.S. Open title in 2009.
He remarkably destroyed Rafael Nadal in a triple 6-2 semifinal match, on the way to his first and only major so far.
Delpo is recovering from a wrist injury that kept him out of the game for nine months, as well as preventing him from defending his U.S. Open title in 2010. Considering these circumstances, he had a solid 2011 and is currently ranked 13th in the world.
He is an aggressive Argentinian player who loves the faster surfaces as much as clay and owns both a powerful serve and a flat forehand.
Del Potro is the main candidate for breaking into the Top Four in 2012.