31 December, 2011

Bloggers Bar Volume II: 2012 Tennis Predictions

A few rounds deep, we're back at the Bloggers' Bar.  This is the second in a series of posts where some of my favorite tennis writers/bloggers and I will talk through some of the important tennis topics of the day.

At the (virtual) bar today are:
In Volume I we focused primarily on the top players and our outlooks for them going into 2012.  In this installment, we're looking at the tour and making our biggest, boldest predictions for 2012.

Once again, this isn't a private conversation, feel free to get involved in the comments, we would love to hear what you have to say; unless, we wouldn't, in which case, we'll politely ignore you.

If you were in charge of reorganizing the ATP season, what would you change?
Qi Zhong Stadium, Shanghai

ATN: I've long advocated moving the Asian swing before or after Melbourne since it makes more sense logistically. Other than that, changing or shortening the schedule may help the very top players but what about those middle, lower tier players who want to play more simply to make more cash? It may be simply easier for the very top players to just skip big events or play them every other year like Federer does with Shanghai and leave the smaller events alone, since let's face it, the elite never play them anymore.

BLT: The Asian swing should follow the Aussie Open, for nothing if not proximity. I also couldn't tell you why Key Biscayne and Indian Wells need two weeks each on the calendar.  Sorry, I know Larry Ellison just beefed up the winner's check significantly out in the desert, but why do we have these two Super-Masters and seven garden variety Masters tourneys?  I'd also add a week between Roland Garros and Wimbledon while ending the season shortly after the US Open.  I'm a recent convert on Davis Cup.  I was strongly in the "two weeks, neutral site" camp; I'm changing my mind.  I'm beginning to appreciate the home-and-away scenario and the amount of nations that can participate given this structure.

2011 Davis Cup Champions, Spain
TA: Davis Cup was such a positive spectacle in 2011, but I think it needs to be reworked.  Beyond that I would try to get one month between the end of the French Open and the start of Wimbledon.  I can’t see that ever happening, but I think it would be good.  The Australian Open moving into February might give top guys the option of resting after a year ands and allow the rank and file a chance to make points and money.  It is a problem with no obvious solutions.  The alphabet soup of leadership and entrenched positions on the schedule are a tough nut to crack.

TFC: I would work my ass off to get all the big events done by the end of October. Yes, there would be some toes that would inevitably get stepped on, and yes, it would leave some money on the table and some cities/ tournament directors disappointed, but the sport is killing its top players by pushing them all the way into Late November. Look at the walking wounded in London at the World Tour Finals. Federer was pretty much the only healthy guy there. It's just a ridiculous grind. And the thing that people never seem to want to discuss is this: isn't having a never-ending schedule that rewards players who can stay healthy and recover quicker creating a huge temptation to use performance enhancing drugs? Do we really want that in today's game?

How important are the Olympics to tennis and the 2012 season?

2008 Women's Olympic Singles Podium (l to r): Dinara Safina, Elena Dementieva, Vera Zvonareva 
TFC: The Olympics are huge. Some players would rather win an Olympic medal than a Grand Slam. Add to that the fact that the 2012 games will be played in tennis's most pristine cathedral, with the whole world watching (not just tennis freaks like us) and you have a recipe for an amazing tournament. And if you are a doubles or mixed doubles fan, you will get to see some unique pairings and some pretty high-stakes doubles matches. I myself will place it a tad below the Slams in terms of importance, but it doesn't mean that I won't be totally hooked.

TAI think the site of the All England Club will make them more important than usual.  I do not think mixed doubles should have a medal ascribed to it, but this change has a lot of interesting dream pairings emerging.  Also, the grass court season will be longer and this to me is a plus.  Roger Federer has also always used the London Olympics as an answer of how long he will play (at least until the end of the London Olympics).  I think Federer will play far beyond these games, but it has gotten tennis press for many years due to Fed’s standard answer.

2008 Men's Olympic Singles Podium (l to r): Fernando Gonzalez, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic

BLT: If you're Novak Djokovic, this (and Roland Garros) are about all that matter next year.  Nole's just those two titles from joining Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal as the only men to have won the Golden Slam (all four majors plus the Olympic gold).  I doubt he can go full speed all year, but this will be circled on his calendar; this one's for Serbia.  It will obviously be a huge moment for Andy Murray as well.  For the rest, it's a bit of a speed bump; more grass after Wimbledon?  That said, it's going to hamstring the US Open Series, but don't be surprised if some of the Yanks prioritize the Series, its money and ranking points over Olympic gold.  If they're not top contenders (and they're probably not, outside of Serena) it's in their best self-interest.

ATN: The Olympics are important to the sport and to the players, if nothing else for than for national pride, but I don't think they outweigh the Majors even though it's once every four years thing. The one thing about the Olympics though is that because of the format, it often allows players who rarely do anything at the Slams to really shine and that makes it unique just for that. 

6) What's your BOLDEST prediction for 2012?

Ana Ivanovic
ATN: One of these players - Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova or Daniela Hantuchova will retire from the sport, not due to injury, but because they are ready to do something else with their life.  Or b) if Roger Federer wins Olympic Gold, Wimbledon and finishes the year No.1, he will retire from the sport on a high note, leaving his reputation as the "greatest ever" intact.

TA: I think someone other than Federer, Nadal or Djokovic will win a major in 2012.  They have combined for 30 major titles since 2003.  My pick is Juan Martin Del Potro winning either the Australian or US Open.  I think Delpo, if he returns to form, can hit enough aces and big ground strokes to neutralize Nadal’s grinding style and Novak’s return game.  I also think either Lleyton Hewitt or Andy Roddick will retire at the end of 2012.  I hope they both stick around, but maybe one gets an Olympic medal in one of the three events and calls it a day.

BLT: Is it bold to say Lleyton Hewitt is playing his last Aussie Open?  No?  How about this, Del Potro doesn't make big strides this year.  I love watching him blast that big forehand around the court as much as anyone, but he didn't come through in the US Open Series like we all expected him to.  After a fast start to the year, he made just one more final (the Vienna 250) and the last time we saw him, he dropped two heartbreakers as Argentina lost the Davis Cup final.  Much of 2011, I was saying Del Potro was the 4th best player in the world.  I'm not so sure today.

Roger Federer
TFC: I'll make a few, just for the fun of it.

1. Federer will win a 17th Slam.
2. John Isner will become the top-ranked American male.
3. Madison Keys will emerge as the most promising American woman.
4. Milos Raonic will hit the top ten.
5. Nadal will beat Djokovic more than once.
6. Federer will beat Nadal at Roland Garros.
7. Sabine Lisicki will win Wimbledon, beating Venus Williams in the final.

You tell me which one is the boldest. I say No. 6. 


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