The Top 5 in 2010… What Can We Expect?
There is no doubt it is hard to make year long predictions about the top five in men’s tennis when we have barely seen them play this year, but I am going to give it a go anyway. The one big preditcion I am making is that the top five will stay the top five, although no doubt the order will change a bit.
Roger Federer: 2009 was in amazing year for Federer. Not only did he complete the Grand Slam and surpass Sampras’s record, Federer married his long time sweetheart and had twin girls. 2009 will be hard to top. If anyone can do it, it is Federer.
As great as Federer is, however, there is one main factor as to why 2010 may be less impressive for him. Age. It is hard to believe with Federer’s mentality that motivation will be a factor, but family commitments are bound to slow him down at some point if his years don’t. Federer has a number one ranking to defend and two Slams. Expect him to peak for the Slams and play his best Masters series events close to them. Don’t look for standout performances in tournaments like Indian Wells or the Asian hardcourt swing. He needs to conserve his energy and try and remain injury free.
Bank on Federer putting his best foot forward at Wimbledon, where it is hard to pick anyone else. The US Open should also be a positive tournament for him, but he has strong competition in del Potro once again. Don’t bet on Federer in the Australian Open, and certainly don’t count on him defending Roland Garros. I get the feeling he is happy with just the one French Open crown.
Rafael Nadal: 2009 started with a hiss and roar for Nadal. As number one in the world, he defeated Federer in the Australian Open final to claim his first hard court Slam. It all went pear shaped after that. An early loss at Roland Garros and a series of injuries saw him hanging in at two in the world. 2010 is a hard one to predict for Nadal. One thing hangs in the balance. His health.
If Nadal is fit and confident, and nowadays both things are questionable, he should put in strong performances at the start of the year. As seen in Doha, he is capable of playing great tennis and seems fit enough, but his confidence is lacking. However, the slower courts should do wonders for his mentality, and he will be a strong force at the Australian Open. So will many others players however, and Nadal will do well if he manages to defend his title. Federer, Murray, and Djokovic have always been beatable for Nadal, but del Potro represents a new type of obstacle all together. Expect to see Nadal in the last four in Melbourne, after that it gets tight.
It is hard not to predict a healthy Nadal to add another French Open trophy to his shelf once the clay court season gets underway. If he can remain healthy for the second half of the year, Nadal will be one of two men to beat come Wimbledon. Whether he can stay injury free and fresh after Wimbldeon is highly doubtful, expect the US Open to elude Nadal once again.
Novak Djokovic: Djokovic should seize 2010 and take the oppertunity to show the world that he belongs in the top three. 2009 was average for Djokovic, with the former AO champ making only one Slam semi. He put in some seriously impressive performances in between, however. Djokovic has the game to play much more consistantly than he has been and seriously contend the Slams. Much like Murray, Djokvic needs to put it all together with some solid mentality. With a few new members on his team, Djokovic looks to be heading in the right direction.
Expect Djokovic to make a serious run on clay as he was brilliant right up until the French Open last year. Despite his poor result in 2009, he could be Nadal’s biggest challenge on the slow stuff in 2010. The Australian Open, with its slow courts, could also be well within reach. Grass has never been Djokovic’s forte, although he can only improve. Expect him to make a better run at Wimbledon, though a final should still evade him. The US Open will depend very much on the earlier part of the season. If Djokovic is playing with confidence, he is more than capable of reaching the final or winning it.
Juan Martin del Potro: 2009 was an amazing year for del Potro. Starting the year known only to tennis fans, del Potro ended 2009 as a household name after wining the US Open. He overcame his fear of big names, and has now proven himself well within the top five. 2010 is full of promise for the 21 year old. His mentality is strong, he has an aggressive game, and most importantly, he has the desire and will to improve. The one thing that del Potro hasn’t really proven is whether he can deal with the hype and recognition that is surely to come once the Australian Open takes off on Jan the 18th. How the 6’6 Tandil native will handle the pressure will be interesting to say the least. However, with his solid team and calm demeanour, it isn’t hard to see del Potro simply shutting out the pressure.
Expect del Potro to be a major contendor in three of the four Slams. Wimbledon’s grass courts will probably still prove too bigger challenge for him for now. It is not hard to see del Potro as a stand out player this year, and a move into the top three seems more than likely.
Andy Murray: Britain’s pride and joy, the overhyped Andy Murray, has a lot to prove going into 2010. After brilliant performances in Masters events, Murray failed to impress in the Slams and disappointed a nation. In order to prevent fading away on the big stage in 2010, Murray needs to add more weapons to his arsenal. His retrieving and counter-attacking game clearly does not work in the Slams. In each one he came up against someone with an aggressive game that was firing on all four cylinders. Verdasco, Gonzalez, a renewed Roddick, and Cilic all hit their way past Murray. Each time he had no plan B. Unless Murray works on fighting fire with fire and begins to play more aggressively, he is going to continue to disappoint.
2010 could be a growing year for Murray as he experiments with different strategies. He should have solid but not brilliant results once again until he finds that winning formula. Surely he must have realised by now that standing eight metres behind the baseline and running isn’t always going to work.