On the eve of the clay court season, starting in Monte Carlo, I thought I would review all that has happened so far in the 2012 ATP tennis season. I meant to do this a lot earlier but my interest for tennis and writing waned a little bit after Miami. It has been a heavy season up to now in terms of writing for me, and I needed a break. No worries, however; now I am back and better than ever!
The first quarter of the 2012 tennis season has been full of excitement at all tournament levels. Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have gained the most success thus far, with the Serb winning the Australian Open and Miami, and the Swiss Master picking up three titles in Rotterdam, Dubai, and Indian Wells. The list of title winners up to Miami are as follows:
Brisbane: Andy Murray (1)
Chennai: Milos Raonic (1)
Doha: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (1)
Sydney: Jarkko Nieminen (1)
Auckland: David Ferrer (1)
Australian Open: Novak Djokovic (1)
Montpellier: Tomas Berdych (1)
Zagreb: Dr. Mikhail Youzhny (1)
Vina del Mar: Juan Monaco (1)
Rotterdam: Roger Federer (1)
Sao Paulo: Nicolas Almagro (1)
San Jose: Milos Raonic (2)
Marseille: Juan Martin del Potro (1)
Memphis: Jurgen Melzer (1)
Buenos Aires: David Ferrer (2)
Dubai: Roger Federer (2)
Delray Beach: Kevin Anderson (1)
Acapulco: David Ferrer (3)
Indian Wells: Roger Federer (3)
Miami: Novak Djokovic (2)
For Roger specifically, it was a fantastic stretch of tennis after the Australian Open and it will be a great building block as he plays the rest of the year. He had not played in Rotterdam since 2005, which he won; his last title in Dubai was 2007, so it was great to see him lift that trophy again (especially after 2011's disappointment). Indian Wells was the masterclass though, as he had not won the title there since 2006 and had had trouble on those courts for many years since then. Not only that, but he put together incredible performances against del Potro, Nadal, and surprising finalist John Isner after battling through two tough three-setters against Milos Raonic and Thomaz Bellucci.
The only blip on Federer's radar since the Australian Open was his defeat to Andy Roddick in the 3rd round in Miami. It was not a troubling loss nor was it any reason to suggest that Federer had a lapse in form. Andy was simply the better player. Plus, the added rest that Roger gained from not having to play further may help him in the clay court season. He was ill in Indian Wells, and so he could not practice properly throughout the week. He also had many grueling matches, which did not help the cause.
The biggest disappointment, you could say, was the Australian Open. He was in fantastic form the entire tournament, notching impressive wins over Karlovic, Tomic, del Potro, before falling to his biggest rival, Nadal, in four sets. It was disappointing not only because Roger had played sublime tennis up to that point, but also because he did the right things against Nadal in the first set and then abandoned his gameplan, which cost him the match in the end. The disappointment of the loss has been lessened thanks to his great run after it, but it still reigns in the back of memories what it would have been like had Roger made the final.
Coming off his spectacular 2011 season, the expectations were very high for Novak Djokovic in 2012. He did not lose until the French Open one year ago, and this year he would have to be as sharp as ever to not drop many points. He only had two losses up to the US Open in his '11 season.
The season started on a very high note, as the Serb captured his 5th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open. The final two matches were career defining moments. He fought in a near five-hour marathon against Andy Murray in the semis, and then played the longest Grand Slam final ever against Rafael Nadal, beating him in a grueling near six-hour match that left both men unable to stand during the trophy presentation. In the 5th set of the final, Novak was down a break and looked completely out of it, but remarkably he found another wind and came back to take 5 of the last 6 games to capture the title.
The next few tournaments would prove to be more difficult for the #1 ranked player. He was unable to defend his Dubai title, losing in the semifinals to a much better Andy Murray. Then in Indian Wells he cruised to the semis where he faced the big-serving John Isner, where he lost in a gripping three-set match. Just like that, he had lost points in consecutive tournaments and would need to win Miami to salvage his spring hardcourt season. Thankfully (for him) he did, and he picked up his 2nd title of the season in Miami, where one year earlier he had won an engaging match against Rafael Nadal, his second straight victory over the Spaniard at the time.
Speaking of Nadal, he has had an underwhelming start to the 2012 season. After falling to Gael Monfils in the Doha semis, he lost to Novak in the previously mentioned Australian Open final. That was a hard defeat for Rafa because he was 6 points from victory at 4-2 in the 5th set and he missed one of the easiest backhands he would ever hit at 30-15. Nole ended up breaking and the rest was history. Following that Slam, he took a long rest and did not play again until Indian Wells, where he lost to Roger in a windy day where he clearly had no answers to the incredible play of Federer. The next week in Miami, he made the semis but withdrew before his semifinal against Andy Murray with knee injuries. Now, the Spaniard gets to play on his beloved clay for the next few months, where he will look to win his first title since last year's French Open.
Andy Murray, as usual, has been hard to figure out this year. In his opening tournament of the year, he captured the title, in Brisbane. Then at the AO he played outstanding tennis against Nole and just fell short in the end. Then in Dubai he continued his great form and made the final, defeating Novak along the way, to avenge his previous defeat. Then at Indian Wells, he reverted back to last year's form and lost to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in straight sets. In Miami, he made the final, but was rewarded two walkovers in the process. It cost him, because he played a poor match and lost to Nole. The entire match was pretty poor, though, Novak included.
Other than the top four, the most impressive players on the year have been John Isner, David Ferrer, Milos Raonic, and Juan Martin del Potro. Isner, although he has not won any titles, played the best tennis of his life in Indian Wells, making the final and defeating the World #1 along the way. But his success can be measured in Davis Cup. He defeated Federer in February to help his country move on to the quarterfinals, where they would play France. Just this past week, Isner helped the USA again in claiming two singles matches against Gilles Simon and Tsonga, pushing the nation to the semifinals. There, they will play Spain in what is surely a highly-anticipated matchup.
David Ferrer won 3 titles in the first quarter of the season, two of them on clay, and has continued to show why he is one of the most consistent players on the ATP Tour. Young Canadian Milos Raonic defended his title from San Jose, and also picked up the title in Chennai. He also finished as a runner-up for the second straight year in Memphis, falling to Melzer. Del Potro, the 2009 US Open Champion, has had a good season, mainly foiled by one man. He has lost to Federer on 4 occasions: the Australian Open (QF), Rotterdam (F), Dubai (SF), and Indian Wells (QF). Still however, he has won one title in Marseille, and has done well in Davis Cup. His Argentine team is in the semifinals against the Czech Republic.
Overall, it has been a tremendous first quarter to the season. The clay court swing, the second quarter, is up next. Rafael Nadal should be able to pick at least one title in that stretch, as well as Djokovic. It will be a crucial time for Federer, as he looks to capture the #2 ranking over Rafa before the French Open. He is not playing in Monte Carlo, where Rafa is the defending champion. The extra rest will hopefully do him good and he can try to replicate the swing he had early in the year when he won 16 straight matches and 3 titles.
I am looking forward to the rest of the year, and as a Federer fan, these are exciting times. I am nervous, but at the same time I anticipate great things for Roger. He is in a great frame of mind and his game has been great this year. Add to that his extra motivation to do well at the Olympics and the Grand Slams, and he should be a major threat everywhere he goes for the rest of the year.