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The theme for tennis in 2013: Unpredictability, please

Jan 29, 2012, Melbourne: Novak Djokovic poses with the Australian Open trophy after winning the men’s final match against Rafael Nadal.

The year 2011 was all about one man, a ‘(D)joker’ at the peak of his powers, tousing his opponents with a vengeance and a sadistic yet sheepish smirk, reminiscent of his fictional namesake.

Novak Djokovic shook the world of tennis with his dogged determination to take the world No. 1 ranking by the scruff of the neck. The Serbian won three Majors – Wimbledon, the Australian Open and the US Open – on the way, only narrowly missing out on a Calendar Grand Slam (courtesy his semi-final exit from the French Open).

To expect him to reach those heights on a yearly basis would be imprudent. 2012 was to be the year Rafael Nadal wrestled the coveted top spot back, and Roger Federer rediscovering the magic of old, for a title or two, as his career neared its fag end. And who knows, maybe, just maybe, Andy Murray could finally knock that monkey off his back.

That’s what we all expected; them to challenge Djokovic. We got most of that alright. But how we did, nobody could’ve envisaged. This year in tennis has been a roller-coaster ride. Topsy-turvy and bumpy for the players, it has left tennis aficionados both puzzled and perplexed.

The year started with a sense of déjà vu. It was as though 2011 was being played back in an old VCR. The Serb began where he left off, crushing opponents in his wake, except there were also signs of exhaustion. A burnt-out Djokovic would struggle to take the first Grand Slam of the year in the Australian Open in a mammoth five-setter against Rafael Nadal. Nonetheless, we were expecting more of the same.

But that was not to be. The French Open – the only title to elude Djokovic for a Career Grand Slam – fell to the ‘King of Clay’, Nadal. The Spaniard, who at that point was ranked No. 2 in the world, was looking to regain the top spot.

Jun 11, 2012, France: Rafael Nadal celebrates victory with the Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy in the men’s singles final against Novak Djokovic in French Open at Roland Garros

High on confidence on the back of another Roland Garros championship, Nadal fell to a relative unknown Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon. Blaming the shock second round loss to the deteriorating condition of the tendons in his knees, Nadal would take the rest of the year off, in the process becoming incapable of defending his Beijing 2008 Olympic Gold, thereby being denied the chance to dethrone Djokovic.

One man’s loss is another man’s gain. Roger Federer snatched the Wimbledon crown from the clutches of Andy Murray to take his overall tally to 17 titles, an unprecedented number. But the Scotsman would avenge his defeat by beating ‘FedEx’ at the same court for Gold at the London Olympics.

Even so, Federer pulled off one of the biggest comeback stories in the history of the game when he regained the top spot. The adversity of his adversaries – Nadal’s injury and Djokovic’s fatigue – played right into his hands. Come the final Grand Slam of the year, the suave living legend from Switzerland was tipped as the favourite.

Jul 08, 2012, London: Roger Federer holds the winner’s trophy after winning his men’s Singles final match of Wimbledon against Andy Murray.

In spite of all this, 2012 has had a worrisome recurring theme to it. Each champion fell after his title victory.

Federer lost in the quarter-final (a first since 2003, as he had always made it to the semis) at the US Open. Djokovic however, had regained his form after a mid-season stumble. He came up against one of the best defensive-baseliners on tour, Andy Murray, in the final. An epic five-setter saw Murray give Great Britain its first male Grand Slam champion in 76 years.

The load was finally off of the British No. 1’s shoulder. People were beginning to wonder if he was the next Tim Henman. But what a year he’s had, from Wimbledon runner-up, to Olympic champion, to a first Grand Slam title!

With the top eight ranked players (including Nadal’s replacement) set to compete for the ATP World Tour Finals in London, this one is up for grabs. One can’t really put a finger on who’s going to take it home – it is that wide open.

When the 2012 season commenced back in January, the rankings looked like this:

1. Novak Djokovic

2. Rafael Nadal

3. Roger Federer

4. Andy Murray

If you pay careful attention, they each went on to win the Grand Slam whose occurrence in the year corresponded to their rankings. Not since 2003 have we had four different Grand Slam winners in the same calendar year. But that hasn’t meant that they have held on to their positions. There has been constant rigmarole up and down the standings ladder.

Djokovic managed to recover and become the year-end numero uno player as Federer, who had briefly moved to the top, swiftly fell down to second place. Murray is currently in third place, while Nadal’s injury-laden year means he’s the biggest loser, dropping down to fourth.

Sept 10, 2012, New York: Andy Murray kisses the US Open championship trophy after defeating Novak Djokovic in the men’s singles final match.

The biggest winner as the year concludes has got to be Murray. With Federer arguably past his prime and Nadal’s wobbly knees giving way, he must believe his time is now. Both him and Djokovic are 25, relatively young, and if they remain fit and agile, could possibly embark on yet another great rivalry.

Having said that, and having witnessed a year of tennis dominance succeeded by one of unpredictability, it would be fickle to ask for anything else. Because as random tennis was this year, it was anything but boring.

More of the same, thank you.

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