By Josh Kramer
Though you may find it hard to believe, the year’s first Grand Slam is set to begin tomorrow. Doesn’t it feel like we just got done in Flushing? But I digress. Both the ATP and WTA Tours are as exciting and unpredictable as ever. Sure the Women’s tour has turned into a Nancy Drew novel, but who doesn’t like a little unpredictability. I remember last year at about this time, I was discussing how the “Tourney Down Under” had seriously lost some of its thunder. You won’t hear me saying that this year.
Here are some questions to ponder as we head into the first Grand Slam of the 2012 season.
-Can Djokovic repeat his memorable run of 2011, or at least remain on top of the tennis world (70 and 6 record, 3 Grand Slams)?
-Will an American on the Men’s side bring the US its first Grand Slam title since 2003?
-Does Federer have a 17th Grand Slam Championship left in him?
-Can a player such as Tsonga, del Potro, or dare I say Mardy Fish break up the “Fantastic Four” party atop Men’s tennis?
-Will Caroline Wozniacki finally break though at a Grand Slam or will a dominant force of some sort emerge in the Women’s game?
-What do the Williams’ sisters have left in the tank?
–Novak Djokovic emerged as the guy to beat in Men’s tennis in 2011. The number two ranked player in the world Rafael Nadal, overtook Roger Federer once upon a time. Can he jump the outstanding Serbian counterpuncher? And just as we have been saying for years, there are no real American stars. Though Mardy Fish is bordering on stardom and deserving of some props, as he at least gives America a presence in the top ten. And finally, Andy Murray is praying that a third time will be a charm in Melbourne. The star from Scotland has been to the finals each of the past two years in Australia, failing to bring home the title on both occasions.
Champion: Roger Federer
-I am going to go out on a limb and assume that many of you do not agree with this pick. And that is fine. The man commonly referred to as the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) demonstrated at the end of 2011 that he still has a little something left in the thank. After losing a heartbreaker in the semi-finals at Flushing last year, Fed cruised to three straight tournament victories (15 straight wins), including an undefeated showing at the World Tour Finals in London. The man has a career record of 810 and 186, which includes 70 singles titles, and a record 16 Grand Slams. Plus he has won in Melbourne four times, most recently in 2010. Expect to see Grand Slam title number 17 two Sundays from now.
Contenders: Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray
-The “Fantastic Four” have taken over tennis the past couple of years. 8 of the past 9 Grand Slams have been one of the members of the esteemed foursome (del Potro won in Flushing in 2009). Also wrap your mind around this statistic. 29 of the past 32 Grand Slams (8 years worth), have been won by one of these four great players. So though I would love to include some of the other great players on the contenders list, it is hard to overlook this terrific top four.
Dark Horses: Mardy Fish, Juan Martin del Potro
-Both of these players have demonstrated great potential at one point or another over the past couple of years. Let’s be serious though, Men’s tennis has been dominated by four guys for some time now. But these are the guys that have the game on the hard court to possibly knock off one of the top four. Fish is the American hope and del Potro when healthy is one of the most electric players in the world. Plus both Fish and del Potro made it to the quarterfinals in Australia back in 2009. Keep an eye on both of these top-flight players in Melbourne.
-As I mentioned above, the WTA Tour has turned into a Nancy Drew novel. Nobody has a clue what is going to happen next, myself included. And now that Serena Williams has professed her “lack of love” for tennis, everyone is even more confused than they were before. Monday will mark the 66th straight week that Caroline Wozniacki has been ranked number one in the world (she has 0 Grand Slams to show for it). But it should be noted that Serena Williams is currently riding a 14 match win streak in Melbourne, despite not playing here last year.
Champion: Petra Kvitova
-I am a huge fan of the rising 21-year-old Czech and defending Wimbledon Champion Kvitova. She has finally developed some consistency and appears on her way to overtaking Wozniacki at the top of Women’s tennis. The tall lefty has a great serve and really an outstanding all-around game which helps her hide her lack of speed at times. After making the quarterfinals here last year, Kvitova seems poised to go all the way this time.
Contenders: Kim Clijsters, Serena Williams
-Yes these are the usual suspects (granted they are the 12th and 13th ranked players in the world). And please also take note that I did not list Caroline Wozniacki as a contender. With a bum wrist and an uncanny ability to choke in Grand Slams, she is not a contender in my eyes. Clijsters is the defending champ, while Williams took home the title here in both 2009 and 2010 (plus she won here in 2003, 2005, and 2007). The real question is does Williams have the desire to win a 14th Grand Slam title?
Dark Horses: Samantha Stosur, Maria Sharapova
-I think everyone is still shocked at what Samantha Stosur did to a seemingly “unbeatable” Serena Williams in Flushing. Simply stated, the 27-year-old Australian has some serious game. And there is Miss Sharapova. When this girl is on, she is capable of beating anyone, despite her serving restraints due to past shoulder injuries. In addition, Maria took home the title here back in 2008. Do not sleep on either of these outstanding players.
-The Australian Open is always a great way to really kick off the tennis season. In addition, at a time in American sports where tennis is way off the casual fans radar, it re-emerges for a two-week period. I thought the tour had lost some of its thunder at this point last year. That by no means is the case this year in what should be a great Australian Open.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.