2012 Tennis Awards: ATP Player of the Year
Back in 1972, the renowned director Francis Ford Coppola said that while auditioning for The Godfather, his trouble was more of who to pick among Al Pacino, de Niro and James Caal than who to leave out for the role of Michael Corleone. If a loose parallel could be drawn between an audition for ‘The ATP Player of the year 2012‘, the role of Mike and the performances of some top players as the gauge to decide who gets it, I can safely say tennis lovers can empathise with the trouble Coppola had 50 years back! Such was the season!
Between 2004 and 2007, anyone could have arrived at an answer to the question in a blink of an eye, the answer being ‘Roger Federer‘. The case in 2008 would have been similar except for a change in the answer: ‘Rafael Nadal‘. In 2009 and 2010, the eyes may have probably needed one more blink but no new answers: Roger and Rafa respectively. Thanks to a whirlwind of sequences involving a certain man’s 43 match winning streak and 3 slam wins, 2011 needed much less than an eye’s blink for the answer ‘Novak Djokovic‘. What was the case in 2003? What in 2012? Why did a count of blinks of the eye not suffice to decide the player of the year. To put it simply, these years had four different champions winning the four different slams! For our question dealing with 2012, A simple logical ‘if else’ step would be to see who had won more matches in the year. What if that branch takes us to a fifth name, David Ferrer? (He had 76 wins in the season to Djokovic’s 75!) That was just the gist of how difficult a season it was to choose the Best Player. Not that tennis fans are complaining; this is a trouble they would love to take up every season! With no easy way out, we go for the tried and tested method - Selection by elimination.
Rafael Nadal put up a splendid fight in his loss to Djokovic in our match of the year, but came back strongly to reprise his earlier losses by winning 3 straight titles against his nemesis in Monte Carlo, Rome and Roland Garros. But his season more or less ended there as he followed his French Open triumph with just 4 more matches (2 wins, 2 losses) and someone who had played just half a season would never be our player of the year.
David Ferrer showed he was that Spaniard who had so far been lurking in the shadows of Rafael Nadal. When Rafa’s injury marred season was on its wane, Ferrer was slowly but surely establishing his presence, winning tournaments on all surfaces (Only Roger and Ferrer did that in 2012) and his efforts in reaching the semifinals in two slams were no less valiant than a gladiator’s in a fierce battle. But when it came to defeating the top crop of players, he always fell short and that makes us discount him as well, leaving us to choose our player of the year from an awesome threesome.
Andy Murray joined hands with Ivan Lendl and the signs were there to see in the season’s first slam when he valorously gave his all in a semi-final clash that he lost to Djokovic. A quiet mid-season on the European clay took him off the radar but when Wimbledon arrived, the ghost of Fred Perry got kicked up by the press and Andy Murray had to shoulder the burden like he is used to in the past 3-4 years. This year in his final against Roger, he came closer than ever when he pulled off his first set-win in a slam final against Roger but the silken touch and fiery determination of the Swiss conjurer tamed him as he was made to join Lendl’s company in a bittersweet record: ‘Men who have lost their first 4 slam finals’. The second half of the season gave Murray and Lendl reasons to smile (even though the latter never did!) as Murray romped home to a Gold Silver double in the Olympics, avenging his Wimbledon loss to Federer in the act. His will, shown when he decided not to part ways with Lendl either in his partnership or the record I had previously mentioned, won over that of the fiercest competitor the tennis world affectionately calls ‘Nole’ when Murray triumphantly closed out events at Flushing Meadows for the year with a five set win. He didn’t add much to the mid-season solidity towards the end, losing to Raonic, Janowicz et al and a semi-final loss at Federer’s hands weakens his case further.
After the epic final at Melbourne, if tennis fans had been polled on the most unrealistic goal for the top players this season and if Roger Federer breaking Sampras’s 286 weeks at No.1 record was an option, it would have won by a sound margin. But poll results don’t always depict the true result, do they? That too, if the goal is set by someone as talented and determined as Roger Federer! Coming into 2012, he consolidated a wonderful end-of-season streak in 2011 by winning titles at Dubai, Indian Wells, Madrid and when he had a look at his chance at achieving the goal in Wimbledon, he wavered against Julien Benneteau in a third round clash but only slightly before he recouped and delivered a master-class against Djokovic in the semis, following that up with a svelte show in the last 3 sets in the final against Murray which would have given the best of ballet dancers a bruised ego. He reclaimed his reign atop the rankings by winning a record-equalling 7th Wimbledon title and ending a two-and-a-half year slam drought in the process. At the Olympics, an emotionally draining encounter against delPotro in a medal match affected him as much as Murray’s strategy in the Gold Medal match which he lost without breaking a sweat! A win over Djokovic in Cincinnati powered his contention up for the award but a quarter-final loss at Berdych’s hands does him no good in our selection by elimination process. Nor does his Shanghai performance and Bercy no show. A final flourish at the World Tour Finals puts him over Murray in our list but the man who broke his will in the final of 2012 overpowers him in ‘The Best Player’ category as well.
Novak ‘Nole’ Djokovic. If the timid culmination to his surreal 2011 was any precursor of things to happen in 2012, it was probably the most erroneous of precursors, for Nole literally started off the year the way he did in 2011 with wins at Melbourne and Miami. He was unable to do an encore on clay as Rafa claimed back his territory but had rain not interrupted play when Novak was a break-up in the 4th set in the Roland Garros final, who knows? A pic of Djokovic with all 4 slam titles would have been the most downloaded sports pic of the year! But that was not to be. At Wimbledon, it was the turn of Roger to seek revenge for his loss at Djokovic’s hands at the French Open and delPotro furthered the dent when he made Novak to go medal-less at the Olympics. A win at Toronto was a nice little solace but before he could resurge fully, he was bageled by Federer in the Cincy final and was beleaguered by Murray in the US Open finals. That set up party time for the sports sceptics who have a special liking to the statement ‘That’s it; He’s a spent force; All good things must come to an end’. But they forgot they were dealing with Djokovic – the man who has saved about as many match points in the last 2 years as Meryl Streep has won academy award nominations! He came back like a possessed man in the Asian Swing to win in Beijing and to save 5 match points in the Shanghai final against Murray, sending out tweeners and passes in the process and Gangnam-styled his way to glory in Asia! A rare blip in the form of a loss to Sam Querrey in round 2 at Paris was followed by a sublime performance at the World Tour Finals where he defeated Berdych, Murray, Tsonga, delPotro and Federer to win the title! Enough reasons for his selection, aren’t they?! If one needs more, let us go by numbers. He has won more masters titles than others this year, more prize money than others this year and going by H2Hs in matches played among the top 4, he presents the strongest case with an 8-8 win/loss pipping the numbers of Federer (6-6) and Murray (5-7); Rafa’s (4-2) is insignificant as he had played far less matches than the other 3 this year.
Was the race to this award a close one? A picturesque answer would be this: It was as close as the last point of the World Tour Finals. Federer (who eliminated Murray) approached stealthily to strengthen his case for the award and from a position of no return, Djokovic passed Federer and well, in a blink of an eye, the award became his! Take a bow, Nole! You deserved it! And that rounds up Tennis 2012 at Sportskeeda. Happy New Year!
Catch the rest of the awards here: 2012 Tennis Awards