2013 ATP Tour Preview: New Rivalries and Budding Stars

It seems like just yesterday I was writing the 2012 end of year review, in which I touted Andy Murray as the overall “winner” of the year, even if Novak Djokovic did end the year as the #1 player in the world. Murray is already off to a hot start this year winning the Brisbane Open just as he did last year. I’m guessing this is where the similarity of these two seasons end. With the first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, only a week away, there is no better time than now to look into our crystal ball to see what 2013 has in store for us.

Going into the 2012 season the tennis rankings were far more settled. Djokovic was coming off a historic season, Nadal was snuggly in second, Federer was gallantly sitting in third, and Murray was sadly in fourth. Fast forward a year and there are currently four different holders of four different Grand Slam titles. Things are wide open.

Djokovic is still the odds on favorite to take the Australian Open for the 3rd successive year, especially with Rafa Nadal not featuring. This is probably a good place to discuss the ever worrying condition of Mr. Nadal. He pulled out of the Australian citing a stomach bug that didn’t allow him to properly train for the start of the season. Riiiiiiigggght. Come on Rafa, your knee issues are the worst kept secret in tennis. There’s no need to blame your deteriorating career on a tummy ache. He and his camp claim his famous knees are fine but I’ll remain skeptical until I see him complete an entire season without any setbacks.

If there is anything that is as predictable as Nadal’s Aussie withdrawal, it’s Federer’s persistent presence. As each year passes I, and pretty much everyone else, keep expecting Federer to finally take a backseat to these young guns, but he just keeps on winning. Though he finished 2012 with a loss to Djokovic in the ATP Finals and hasn’t won anything since Wimbledon (which is kind of a big deal), you can’t count him out. When the semi-finals of a Grand Slam roll around expect that stoic look and perfectly placed headband to be present. If I were Roger I’d go hard for that US Open title this year and call it quits while on top. Nothing more badass than a man going out on the top of his game (see Steffi Graf, Bjorn Borg, John Elway).

There are two stories in particular that get me jacked up for the 2013 season. I’m probably not the only one who is predicting a budding rivalry between Djokovic and Murray. For a while now I’ve been waiting for Murray to really announce his arrival and he officially did with his capture of Olympic Gold and win at the US Open. These two players came up at the same time, are buddies off the court, and are in the absolute prime of their careers. They have always played tight matches, while Djokovic has the slight advantage 10-7 in the head-to-head match-ups. They have however, split their last 4 matches against each other. There’s no reason this match-up can’t turn into a Open Era rivalry similar to Bjorg vs McEnroe, Agassi vs Sampras, or Nadal vs. Federer. Their time is now, and I expect (no, I demand!) some epic finals in 2013.

Secondly, could we please see someone from the ever growing “rest of the pack” step their game up? The last time I watched someone outside the big 4 compete in a Grand Slam final was 2008 when Tsonga lost to Djokovic. Sure, sports are built on star players but the lack of parity in tennis is shocking. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching the ridiculous level of play on display when the the big four go at it but where is the next big thing? With other sports I’m always excited about who the young up and comers are, who the next prodigy is. The anticipation of that superstar is often the best part, but it seems as though there hasn’t been anyone as of late that has really caught my eye.

There are some unbelievably talented players in the top 10, notably Tomas Berdych, Martin Del Potro, and the aforementioned Tsonga. The 8 players directly under the 4th ranked Nadal however, have an average age of 27. For a tennis player that is usually the tail end, or completely out of your prime. I don’t see any of these guys in top 15 making the so called leap as Murray and Djokovic did back in their early 20’s. Are players like Ryan Harrison or Milos Raonic ready to take the next step into becoming established players on tour? I will definitely be keeping an eye on 20 yr old Austin, TX native to see if he can improve on his current #68 ranking and some promising 2012 results. Though I’m hoping to see Harrison in the top 25 sometime in the near future, fully expect Raonic to continue to ascend up the rankings. Already #15 in the world the hard hitting Canadian is someone to watch going forward. Hopefully we’ll not only see some new faces in 2013 make some noise but continue to have the old ones play at such a monumental level.

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