05 December, 2011

2011 Year End Power Rankings

Sometimes the hot cool down, sometimes the cool heat up.  Check out who makes Blacklabel Tennis' 2011 Year End Power Rankings.

1. Petra Kvitova (CZE) Last Month: (3)

Novak Djokovic certainly had the best year in 2011, but the hottest player going into 2012 has to be Petra Kvitova.  She began her march to the top of the WTA with an upset win over Kim Clijsters in the Paris final back in February (Clijsters was World No. 1; Kvitova, No. 18 at the time).  Then she simply outslugged Maria Sharapova, to become the unanimous pick as the most likely to succeed of this year's first time major winners.  She may have started the year ranked 34th, but after winning a major, the WTA Tour Championships and five other tour titles, the 20 year old Czech finished within a hair of the year end No. 1 ranking.  Then for good measure, she led the Czech Republic to the Fed Cup title.  There is simply no one we're more interested in watching start their 2012 campaign than Kvitova.

2. Novak Djokovic (SRB) Last Month: (1)

It all went a bit pear shaped at the end, didn't it?  The way Novak Djokovic ended his 2011 made you think that maybe Roger Federer jacked his hyperbaric chamber.  6-5 after the US Open isn't exactly the stuff of legends; but then again, is there really a season after the US Open?  I guess not if you won everything leading up to it.

3. Rafael Nadal (ESP) Last Month: (4)

Some would have you believe that the sky is falling.  I would state that the last couple months are Rafa being Rafa.  Listlessly playing his way through the fall swing, check.  Dispiriting loss to Federer on the fast indoor hardcourts of the World Tour Finals, check.  Kicking ass and taking names as soon he gets back on the clay, check.  While the World Tour Finals certainly did not boost the Rafaelites, Rafa found his way on the clay drubbing Juan Monaco and withstanding Juan Martin del Potro's best shot (aka his parabolic whip of a forehand) to lead Spain to a fifth Davis Cup crown all while washing the taste of his 2011 season out of his mouth with some homemade sangria. In the bigger picture, a Major (in 3 finals), a Masters (in 5 finals), a Davis Cup and finishing Year End No. 2...Not Rafa's best, but I've seen plenty worse.

4. Roger Federer (SUI) Last Month: (6)

What a run for Roger Federer on the fast indoor courts this fall.  Titles in Basel, Paris and the World Tour Final have certainly boosted Federer from an unfathomable also-ran in 2011 back into a force despite spending nearly nine months without having had his name inscribed on championship hardware...anywhere.  Where does this leave the 16-time major champion?  After a similarly fruitful run in the autumn of 2010, Federer will head to Australia looking to prove that his results in the fall were not a fluke, like they were in 2010.  If his plan going into next year is to make an assault on the number one ranking, there's no better place to start than right now.

5. David Ferrer (ESP) Last Month: (10)

While the lion's share of the accolades rained down on his compatriot, Rafa Nadal, for capturing two of the three matches Spain won in the Davis Cup final, the Man from Mallorca's less heralded teammate is the reason Spain recaptured the title.  Ferrer started his match against 11th ranked Juan Martin Del Potro outsteady-ing his opponent, then he withstood the Tower of Tandil's often untouchable serve and booming groundies over the next few sets.  Del Potro may have extended the Spaniard to four plus hours and five sets, but Ferrer would not only emerge the victor on that day, he also presumably softened Del Potro up for Nadal in the fourth and ultimately final match of tie.  What does this mean in the big picture?  Well, as a lot of the top players ended the year with more questions than answers, could Ferrer take advantage of a rare window and make a career run in Australia?  I wouldn't bet (too heavily) against it.

6. Andy Murray (GBR) Last Month: (2)

Murray made a charge in October, winning his way through Asia before his body gave in at the last couple of hurdles (Paris and the ATP WTF).  The injuries put a negative aura around the end of another consistent year for the (almost) Great Scot, but that's always been Murray's way: a little bit up, a little bit down.  Going into 2012, the question for Murray is the same as it was going into 2011, 2010, 2009, etc.  Can he finally put the right tools of his crafty game on display at the right time to win a big title?  It's certainly not an easy ask, facing down two all time greats in Federer and Nadal plus a man coming off a season like Djokovic has had; it's also far from impossible. The interesting thing is that it looks as if Murray may have maximized the physical aspects of his game already; going one step further will be the province of his head, not his legs.

7. Victoria Azarenka (BLR) Last Month: (5)

Azarenka's run to the 2011 WTA Year End Championships was a nice step forward from the bella Belarussian.  Right now, with the old guard seemingly in retreat, Azarenka has the game to certainly confirm her status at the very top of the women's game.  She inched forward yet again in 2011, but she's been close for a while now and hasn't been able to deliver at the majors.  The question is can she stay healthy through 2012, which is always a question mark for her.  Is Azarenka able to put it together for a full season both mentally and physically?  We'll find out yet again in 2012.  If she doesn't, we might begin to see younger talents surpass her.

8. Serena Williams (USA) Last Month: (7)

I'll be honest, all I know about Serena Williams whereabouts these days is what @BigSascha tweets.  For all I know, after leaving her exhibition match in Milan, Serena wandered into a karaoke bar and has never left.  Truth or not, she's coming into a tournament (the Australian Open) she's dominated over the last decade (5 titles in 9 years) and in better form than we've seen her when she's won it.  The sexy pre-tournament pick is certainly (and understandably) Kvitova; but I'll never count out the 13-time major champion...especially in Oz.  While the younger Williams sister has a knack for courting controversy, you have to believe she is both looking to solidify her legacy in the game and trying to snatch a couple more majors before the young gunnettes push her off center court for good.  I mean, like she mentioned at the US Open, she needs the cash.

9. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) Last Month: (N/A)

Out amongst the walking wounded that came to contest the ATP WTF was Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.  The big Frenchman (who is often among the wounded himself) played a stellar tournament and finished a career high year end No. 6.  Tsonga fell in the final (and earlier in the round robin) to Roger Federer, but he did beat Nadal, Tomas Berdych and Mardy Fish to get that second shot at the Swiss master.  Tsonga made his breakthrough with his 2008 run to the Aussie Open final; if he can score wins of the caliber he did in London he might just break the stranglehold the Big Three have had on the majors since 2004.  If he can stay healthy all year, he might even join them closer to the penthouse of the ATP rankings.

10. Maria Sharapova (RUS) Last Month: (9)

2010 could have been dubbed the year of lost chances for most of the top women.  Kim Clijsters, Serena and Venus Williams lost the year to injury and illness.  Caroline Wozniacki lost where it mattered to lower ranked rivals.  Sharapova lost to inconsistency.  In the year's final three majors, Sharapova became a prohibitive favorite.  As if on cue, each time, her serve packed up and headed back to Siberia.  She kept coming back from the dead in her matches, playing three sets where two would have sufficed, yet she kept winning.  In a year where Sharapova seemed felled ad nauseum by missteps, it was only apropos that an ankle injury ended her season prematurely.  Anyone who watches this woman compete can't help but believe one day the cards are going to fall right for Masha to capture major No. 4, but much like Serena, with every Kvitova serve and every Azarenka shriek, her window to win the big ones seems to be closing faster and faster.  

The Blacklabel Buzz List (not quite Power List, but worth keeping an eye on):

1. John Isner (USA) - The firebombing American ended 2011 with a flourish, falling to Tsonga (after beating Ferrer) in a third set tiebreak in the semis of the Paris Masters.  At 26, with five years of tour level play behind him, Isner should be ready to play his best tennis consistently.  His vastly improved ground game in Paris was, frankly, a revelation.  Expect his presumed doubles reunion with long-injured Sam Querrey before the Olympics to further sharpen Isner's game.

2. Sabine Lisicki (GER) - The big-serving German blonde started playing her best tennis in years this summer.  Ranked outside of the top 200 in the spring, she had to qualify her way into Roland Garros.  Then she won Birmingham, made the semis of Wimbledon and won the new US Open Series event in Dallas.  Now ranked a career high 15th in the world, if Lisicki is healthy (she retired from the Bali year-end runners-up event with an ankle injury) she should be primed for a big year.

3. Samantha Stosur (AUS) - The US Open champion went 7-5 after claiming her first taste of major glory, but she has the opportunity for a major victory lap as the Aussie Open nears.  Last year, Stosur went a mediocre 4-3 in three tournaments in her home nation.  Will the Brisbane-native feel even more pressure to succeed in front of the Aussie faithful now that she has Grand slam hardware of her own, or will she return to a lovefest?  Stosur surely deserves the latter and if she has the mettle to stare down Serena Williams in New York, what nerves can a few less-than-imposing journalists impart upon her?

4. Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR) - Somehow I missed Alexandr Dolgopolov cracking the top 15.  He left the US open ranked 20th and his results after the fact were far from inspiring, but the computer doesn't lie...at least the ATP computer doesn't.  In any event, the young Ukrainian broke through cracking the Top 40 with his run to the 2011 Aussie Open quarters.  If he can repeat or better that run, it could be a springboard to a huge season.

5. Robin Soderling (SWE) - Don't forget this guy.  It was a tough second half of 2011 for Soderling.  He started the year 4th in the world, he won four titles on the year, but he wound up having to shut it down after Wimbledon due to injuries and reportedly a bout of mono (what is going on in those ATP locker rooms?!).  Consider Soderling in the mix with Tsonga and Del Potro as the big, flat hitters who can disrupt the dominance of the current top few players.  He won't be match tough coming into Australia, but if he shows up healthy he should be able to make a nice run on the hardcourts in the first quarter of the year.

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