It feels as thought the 2011 season has just ended. Well in truth, it just did. The Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London, the final tournament of the 2011 season, was just in December, causing many people such as myself to ask, “Is the Australian Open really about to start?”
In a very predictable move Nadal apologized for his comments and Federer simply shrugged them off. Nadal and Federer have played in their share of epic matches (usually resulting in a Nadal victory. He is 7-2 all time against Federer in Grand Slams) but they have always been so cordial, Federer almost revered by an awe struck Nadal after every win. The game always needs a bit of a shake up and we got it when Nadal decided to call out Federer. With the two men on the same side of the draw the likelihood of them meeting is high. Is this exactly what the Australian Open needed to get people interested?
The Federer and Nadal spat is a nice subplot to the years first Grand Slam, but a better question may be, can Novak Djokovic repeat, propelling him to another epic season? What has felt like an eternity, the big four, Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, and Andy Murray have been atop the ATP rankings and in the final of almost every Grand Slam. Depending on how you look at it, this is either good or awful for the game. The lack of disparity may be disconcerting to the tennis purest but the fact is people want to see rivalries. Rivalries get ratings and keep casual fans interested. If Djokovic however, continues where he left off last year there will be no other winners even out of the big four.
The popular choice to win the title would of course be Djokovic, his 2011 season speaking for itself. Though Djokovic is the safe pick, I have been intrigued by what’s been brewing in the Andy Murray camp. Murray has been to two straight Australian Open titles, losing both, but he has clearly felt most comfortable playing in the Aussie heat (if thats possible). He is coming off a victory only a week ago at the Brisbane International final over the crafty Alexander Dolgopolov (say that ten times fast. Do it) and seems primed for a run at the years first major.
Maybe the most interesting development however, has been Andy Murray’s coaching change. He has brought on the legendary Ivan Lendl to lead him to the promise land. Murray has the game to be a top player, if not the top, but bringing Lendl into his corner may bring a renewed focus as well. Murray has always been a fiery player but often seemed angry or annoyed on the court. Lendl will undoubtedly bring to Murray’s camp the steely reserve he was known. If Murray’s first few matches are any indication of how he will play the rest of the tournament the others within the big 4 may be in trouble. I like Murray to finally get the monkey off his back and win his first Grand Slam title. Who knows, maybe it’s Murray’s turn to go on a historic run. Maybe Federer and Nadal will become mortal enemies rather than courteous rivals. Maybe Djokovic will fail to win a title this year. Whether Nadal likes it or not, tennis is back for 2012, and the intriguing storylines are boundless.