29 December, 2011

Bloggers' Bar Volume I: 2012 Tennis Predictions

Even though the pro tours flit from Melbourne to London and virtually every spot in between over the course of a year; the tennis world remains a relatively small community.  When I started (officially) working on Blacklabel Tennis last summer, I also started reading a lot more tennis writing and interacting with some of the talented people behind it.  We might be spread out across the world, but when Sharapova's yips rear their unpretty head deep in the third set or Nadal hits a shot that seems a repudiation of the laws of physics, these are people with whom I'm virtually sharing that WTF moment.  While we tweet and e-mail, we never get the opportunity to really spend much time shooting the shit about tennis.

Thus, the Bloggers' Bar.

This is the first in a series of posts where some of my favorite tennis writers/bloggers and I will share our thoughts, ideas and delusions on what we deem to be the important tennis topics of the day.

At the (virtual) bar today are:

More than just friends of the blog, these guys are some of my favorite sources for insightful and interesting commentary on this game that we all love.  If you haven't read their blogs, followed on twitter, built (non-creepy) shrines to their work yet; get that done, it will be worth your time.

In any event, looking ahead to 2012, I thought it would be fun to come together and get everyone's take on the players, the tours and the season ahead of us.   Even though we managed to curb our verbosity (somewhat); there were still a lot of pixels used in the full, final piece.  So we're splitting this post in two, with the second launching here on Saturday.

By the way, this isn't a private conversation, feel free to get involved in the comments, we would love to hear what you have to say.

Who is your player to watch in 2012?

The Fan Child (TFC): I am most looking forward to seeing what Milos Raonic can do after a long off-season. Yes, the tools are obvious -- big serve, crushing forehand -- but the things that excite me the most about Raonic are his work ethic, his Nadal-like humility and his maturity. Of course, the questions will always be there about his ability to stay healthy. Can he? Will he? I think he will. As he adjusts to the rigors of life on the ATP tour he will be smarter about what he can and can't do on the court. Raonic doesn't need to run down every ball like a Gilles Simon or a David Ferrer. He should take a page from John Isner's book and avoid overdoing it on the court.

Milos Raonic
Blacklabel Tennis (BLT):  Climbing from 159th at the start of the 2011 to cracking the top 30, Milos Raonic is my "man to watch" in 2012 too.  I'm curious just how far the baby-faced big man can go.  He had an annus interruptus in 2011 due to that scary hip injury, but before that, his rise stalled once he left the hardcourts. That said, he's a smart player with a huge serve and a ground game to back it up.  If he can get healthy, I'd expect BIG things from the Maple Leaf Missile.  For the women, Petra Kvitova.  Already No. 2 in the world, she's shown no signs of backing down thus far, but there's a world of difference between being the hunter and the hunted.  Let's see how she does with a target on her back.

Adjusting The Net (ATN):  I'll be keeping an eye on Christina McHale on the women's side only to see how she handles the expectation of being the next great U.S. hope. She certainly has the game to get into the top 20, but is she ready for all the added media pressure? For the guys, I'll say Ryan Harrison, only because I think he needs to make a big improvement in both his game and his on-court demeanor this year to be considered a long-term prospect. 

Tennis Abides isn't the only one with his eye on Juan Martin del Potro 
Tennis Abides (TA): I think Juan Martin del Potro has to be the player to watch in 2012.  If he returns to his 2009 form, tennis has another top tier contender.  If he is just another top 20 player who can be dangerous, tennis has lost a consistent contender to injury issues.  He showed signs in 2011 of being both guys.  His hard court play after Wimbledon was pretty poor.  His matches against Djokovic at the French and Nadal at Wimbledon and Davis Cup made him look like a potential top guy.  Time to find out, my hope is he is back.

How will the top men fare in 2012? 

TA: I think Novak Djokovic will have some drop off even if he is healthy as I expect he will be.  Rafael Nadal is really a tough one to read.  If Novak pulls back a little, Nadal should be the player to benefit as he dominated the tour in 2010 and was Mr. Near Miss in 2011.  Still, is he the same guy mentally or physically?  Roger Federer will pick his spots in my opinion.  Murray has to have a career changing win to exorcise some demons.  I am not sure when that will happen.   

BLTNext year is all about Nadal's head...again.  Djokovic played great ball in 2011, no doubt and he deserves every plaudit he's received; but Nadal simultaneously lost his nerve and his edge when Robo-Nole started beating him on clay...and he never recovered.  I've always felt Nadal isn't as concerned with his legacy as some of the other all-time greats (Sampras, Federer, etc.).  He's met virtually every challenge in the game, what's he got left to prove?  In other words, motivation issues + confidence issues = a bit of a struggle for Rafa which leaves the door open for the others.  Djokovic won't be able to match 2011, but if he's at say, his 2010 level, versus an inconsistent Federer and a confused Nadal, how much would you bet against him?  Not much here.  Oh, and Murray...

The ATP's Big Four (L-R): Murray, Djokovic, Federer, Nadal
ATN: I expect the big 3 and Andy Murray (yes I include that caveat) to continue dominating most of the big events. The No. 1 ranking will still be decided between Djokovic and Nadal while Federer will likely reach another Major final. As for Murray, I expect another stellar season, maybe another Major final, but actually winning one still feels out of reach for him. Tsonga could be the wildcard within the top 10 to reach a Major final as well.

TFC: No matter what happens in 2012, I will be surprised. Can Djokovic possibly continue his torrid pace in the Slams? Can Nadal regain his confidence and take the power back from Djokovic after going 0-6 in finals against him? Was Federer's performance in the fall a harbinger of things to come in 2012? As far as Andy Murray goes, he did put up some awesome Slam results in 2011, but as far as I see, he will not turn the corner until he starts serving better. Check the stats: Murray was the Big 4 player that did the least with his serve in 2011, and it makes a huge difference when you are talking about the business end of sets late in Grand Slams.

Who are your year-end top three on both tours?

Andy Murray


1. Novak Djokovic: Nole's the player best equipped to win on every surface right now.  I think he'll have a spectacular first half again and assert himself as the No. 1 even though he'll prove more mortal than in 2011. 

2. Rafael Nadal: My gut is that the guy's gonna struggle early.  I think he surprises me either winning Australia or loses real early, but I think he will find his game (or really his guts and gumption) in an up-and-down year sometime around the Wimbledon/Olympics stretch.
3. Andy Murray: Federer's fall was a red herring (just like it was in 2010) and no one behind these guys has proven he can beat them on anything approaching a regular basis.


1. Petra Kvitova: The real deal, mark it down.

2. Caroline Wozniacki: Give her this, the kid stays in the picture, especially on hardcourts.  You finish No. 1 in the world once, the other women didn't show up.  You do it twice, you're a better competitor
than people give you credit for...especially outside of majors.

3. Victoria Azarenka: My first instinct was Sharapova here, but I have a hard time trusting her these days.  As long as the WTA is doling out slams one-a-piece to consistently good players, how about 
Azarenka winning her first? 

Novak Djokovic

1. Novak Djokovic: He proved that he's the best in the game in 2011, so what will be different about 2012? Well, everybody will be gunning for him like never before, and Rafa will for sure make it his mission to solve him. That said, I think he's going to be the guy again.

2. Rafael Nadal: I think Nadal will take some of the power back from Djokovic, but I don't know if he'll be able to take the No. 1 ranking back.

3. Roger Federer: To tell you the truth I think that 2012 will be a three-headed monster with each of the top 3 players scoring big wins and titles. I think it will be a wild ride, and I expect Federer to be right in the thick of things, possibly winning Slam 17.


1. Petra Kvitova: Why not? She's one big tournament away from taking the No. 1 from Caroline Wozniacki, and, judging from the way she finished the year (winning the WTA Championships in fine fashion) I think she's ready to become the most dominant player on tour.

2. Serena Williams: Maybe it's wishful thinking, but I am dying to see not just one, but more than one Grand Slam final between Serena and Kvitova.

3. Caroline Wozniacki: I think the Great Dane will have a good year in 2012, albeit another Slamless one. That said, she's a solid player, she's young, and if she can push the boundaries of her game by adding some power and beefing up the serve, both the Slam and the No. 1 ranking are not out of reach. 

Petra Kvitova



On the WTA I think Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki and Serena Williams will finish in the top 3 in some order.  Kvitova seems poised for big things.  Wozniacki is so consistent that I can’t keep her out of the top three.  I think Serena will be quite focused on a good Olympic games as well as winning a few more big trophies.  Predicting the WTA is like predicting the weather though, so I am not confident in any of these picks. 


On the men’s side, I think Novak Djokovic will be #1 again IF he stays healthy.  Nadal will be in the top 3 as well.  Beyond that, I think it is up in the air, but I will throw out a wild notion that Del Potro wins a major and wins a number of other events to finish the year #3.  

Rafael Nadal


1. Rafael Nadal 
2. Novak Djokovic 
3. Roger Federer 

These three will battle for the Majors but I just can't see Novak replicating 2011 again especially with his body breaking down at the end of this year.


1. Petra Kvitova 
2. Victoria Azarenka
3. Serena Williams 

Even if Serena plays a full schedule in 2012 and wins a Major, I think Petra will continue being the dominant player on tour. I put Victoria in the top three as I think she's matured a lot and I expect her to
have another consistent year. 

Stay tuned for more; we'll be posting Volume II of Bloggers' Bar looking at the tours and sharing our boldest predictions for 2012 on Sunday.

If you like Blacklabel Tennis, come follow us on Twitter: @VBlacklabel or follow us on Facebook


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    In the event of player listed in a trio withdrawing before the event has started all bets on that specific trio are void. If for any reason a player either withdraws or is disqualified, during the tournament, all bets will stand on that trio.Thanks

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