Czech Republic’s win over Spain in the Davis Cup final has put the finishing touches on an exhilarating year of tennis, which means we now have nothing much to do except twiddle our thumbs and wait for the 2013 season to start. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we should all go into hibernation for the next month and a half. There’s always time for some pompous awards-presenting while being in the middle of twiddling our thumbs, right? So without further ado, we’ll cut our teeth into our first awards category of 2012 – the male breakthrough player of the year.
As we saw in the nominations list a couple of days ago, there are as many as five players who have a legitimate shot of winning this accolade. John Isner announced his intentions of joining the big league of men’s tennis with a slew of results that nobody thought him capable of. His first attention-grabbing moment came with his defeat of Roger Federer in the Switzerland vs USA Davis Cup tie. What made that win even more impressive was the fact that it came on slow clay – Isner’s worst surface by far. A trip to his first Masters final followed at Indian Wells, with his victory over Novak Djokovic in the semifinal making the whole world sit up and take notice. Isner couldn’t quite replicate his strong early season form over the rest of the year, but this was clearly a year of reckoning for the towering American.
Juan Monaco didn’t put together too many flashy results through the year, but he did something that is perhaps even more valuable: establishing himself as a potent, reliable force in the second-tier of men’s tennis. Monaco more than doubled his trophy count in 2012 (winning 4 out of his 7 titles this year alone), and made his top 10 debut mid-way through the season. Importantly, he won his first hardcourt title at Kuala Lumpur, thus rebutting the idea that he was just another claycourt specialist.
Jerzy Janowicz made a loud splash at the Paris Masters by slashing his way through a tough draw (defeating Andy Murray, Janko Tipsarevic and Gilles Simon along the way), and suddenly all anyone could talk about was how the young Pole was going to rule over tennis with his huge serve and huger forehand. Admittedly, the 6’8″ 22-year-old would probably fit better in the ‘Newcomer of the Year’ category, but since we’ve done away with that award altogether (for no good reason other than the fact there just haven’t been enough noteworthy newcomers this year), Janowicz’s Paris run merits mention here. The kid can smack a tennis ball alright, and with a Masters runner-up performance to his name now, he has already made more noise than many other established names have in their entire careers.
David Ferrer has had a career year – there’s no doubting that. He won a tour-leading seven titles in 2012, almost led Spain single-handedly to Davis Cup glory, and most importantly, wrapped his fingers around that elusive stamp of relevance – a Masters trophy. Before this year, the general consensus was that while Ferrer had perseverance and pluck in abundance, there was a definite ceiling to how much he could achieve. Now, for the first time, that ceiling is showing cracks; Ferrer has established with his performances this year that he’s just as much a part of tennis’s elite as any other hotshot player.
When all is said and done, however, 2012 will likely be remembered for one reason more than any other: as the year in which Andy Murray finally made the leap. In the span of two breathless months starting from July, Murray put together a string of odds-defying results to take the tennis world by storm. This wasn’t any ordinary tennis summer; this was Murray’s Golden Summer. And with two out of the year’s five biggest prizes in his bag, Murray is in contention not just for the Breakthrough Player award, but also for the Player of the Year award.
It’s funny how each of Murray’s big moments in 2012 could’ve been the defining moment of the year for him, if not for the bigger moment that was to follow almost immediately thereafter. When he went down fighting in the Wimbledon final against Roger Federer, it was clear that he was closer than ever to joining the Grand Slam club. His emphatic win over Federer in the Olympics final showed everyone that he had what it takes to triumph on the biggest stages of the sport. And when he outlasted Novak Djokovic in the US Open final, the metamorphosis was complete: in one fell swoop, Murray had silenced all his doubters, and the ghosts of his heartbreaks past had been truly exorcised.
How do you define a breakthrough? It is the moment when you make good on the promise that countless others have seen and vouched for. It is the performance that helps you slay your inner demons and live to tell the tale. It is the stroke that turns you from an also-ran into a certified champion, in every sense of the word.
Murray’s 2012 was all that, and more. He is, without a doubt, the male Breakthrough Player of 2012.
Catch the rest of the awards here: 2012 Tennis Awards