2012 was an absolutely brilliant advertisement for Tennis. For the first time in quite a while, the sport saw no single conqueror, no run-away champion. Four different players triumphed at the four majors. The season was rich in drama and excitement.
There were some glorious victories, some heroic efforts and some inspiring comebacks. Amidst all the magnificent tennis, some players went on to post some great personal achievements. These were accomplishments that made the world sit up and take notice.
Perhaps the most talked about achievement this year was that of Andy Murray. Like a phoenix, and I believe this has to do with the support provided by Ivan Lendl, Murray rose from the ashes of his loss to Federer in Wimbledon to cap the season with a gold medal at the Olympics and something that was long due to him – a grand slam title. In doing so, he legitimised the top 4 and ended his nation’s long wait for a champion.
In Monte Carlo, Rafael Nadal lifted an unprecedented eight successive title. Since 2005, the trophy has had only his name etched on to it. This year, en route to the title, he defeated Novak Djokovic in the final. This marked a critical moment in the season as we would see a few weeks later in Paris. For the first time ever, all four back to back major finals were contested by the same pair. Three of them swung in the way of Djokovic. That win in Monte Carlo would ensure that in Paris, it would be Rafael Nadal who would clinch victory. It was his seventh title at Roland Garros, surpassing Bjorn Borg’s six.
Despite not getting a career slam and with it the honour of holding all four titles, Novak Djokovic had plenty to celebrate. For the first time since 2008, Tennis had the same year end No. 1 for successive years. Djokovic’s achievement is perhaps appreciated better when we acknowledge that the lofty heights he scaled in 2011 were sure to haunt him in 2012. He showed great survival skills and by the end of the year, managed to hold his place as the No. 1 Tennis player in the world.
But the greatest achievement of 2012 was something that was set into motion towards the sunset of the previous season. Roger Federer is no stranger to setting records. He sets so many by simply turning up match after match. But if there was one record which Federer fell agonizingly short of, then it had to be that of Sampras’ tally of weeks spent at the top.
In 2012, Federer surpassed that record and went on to post 302 weeks as the World No. 1 Tennis player. How he achieved it is testimony to the greatness of this achievement.
Sampras had 286 weeks as the World No. 1 of Tennis. Entering the French Open in 2010, Federer had 283 weeks on his racquet. His loss in Paris, and Nadal’s subsequent win meant Federer’s meter stopped at 285. From that moment onwards, he always faced a steep climb to the top. First, it was Nadal who pulled ahead. Then last year, Djokovic leapt past him and Nadal left Federer at a lowly third place. At 30 years old, it looked like that one record will remain forever unconquered.
Then, towards the tail end of the 2011 season, Federer went on a three tournament winning streak. At a time when the two above him were suffering from exhaustion of the season gone by, Roger sneaked past to reduce the arrears by a significant margin. In 2012, we saw Federer’s strategy come in to play. He planned his schedule smartly. He enrolled for the Rotterdam indoor event in the time between the Australian Open and the North American masters, allowing him to claim more points. He only played in the two masters events before the French Open allowing him to retain his energy. He also grabbed any opportunity that was presented to him. In Madrid, amidst all the controversy about the playing surface, when the top two crashed out complaining, he snapped up the title. But it wasn’t all luck. In Indian Wells, he had to overcome Nadal in the semi-finals to claim the title. In Dubai, he had to defeat Andy Murray. With these wins, Federer put himself in a position to claim the top rank. To do that, however, he needed a big win.
In July, Federer won his 17th Grand Slam title in Wimbledon. He defeated Djokovic in the semi-finals and Andy Murray in the finals. With it, he ended a two year major trophy drought and reclaimed the World No. 1 spot. Two weeks later, he would go past Sampras.
Victory at Cincinnati and the silver medal at the Olympics would ensure that Federer would remain at the top and in contention for the year end No. 1. He would eventually lose it back to Djokovic, but not before amassing 302 weeks as the world’s best tennis player.
To put Federer’s achievement into perspective, it’s worth noting that three great players, Bjorn Borg, Boris Becker and John McEnroe together have lesser weeks at the top than Federer alone has. And that some like Murray, Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and Arthur Ashe never ever got to the No. 1 spot.
Tennis has changed a lot over the last few years. The players have changed, the equipment has evolved and the dimensions of the sport have been redefined. Top level Tennis is so intensely competitive that in this era, longevity is an important yardstick for the measurement of greatness.
Since 2003, Roger Federer has been in the top 3 each year. And in the 9 years that have been completed since then, he has spent nearly 6 years at the very top. In what is widely regarded as the most competitive era, his regaining of the top spot is undoubtedly the achievement of the year on the men’s side.
Catch the rest of the awards here: 2012 Tennis Awards