January 2, 2013

New Year's Resolutions

We're just about two days into the new year and I've already fallen a little short of the goals I've set for 2013. It's not that I've broken any of my resolutions, exactly -- I skipped the gym this morning and slumping in my couch while typing is doing little by way of improving my posture -- but I might just have to step up my efforts in the coming months.

Not everyone in the tennis world got off to a good start for the season either -- world #1 Novak Djokovic lost his Hopman Cup round robin today to slumping Aussie Bernard Tomic -- but a couple seem to be sticking quite ardently to some resolutions I think are truly appropriate for their years.

Hopefully they'll keep it up.

Resolution #1: Show 'em Age is Just a Number

Serena Williams has proven time and again that she should never be counted out. The most dominant player in the back half of last year, she won two Slams, Olympic Gold and the year-end championship -- and she's thirty-one years old! Easily the eldest stateswoman among the sport's elite, Serena may have battled injuries over the past few years, but these days she's showing no signs of slowing down and has dropped just a handful of games in her first two matches in Brisbane this week. At #3 in the world now, she's a stone's throw from reclaiming the top spot this year, and if she holds on to it through the end of the season, she'll surpass Chris Evert as the oldest woman to be ranked #1. It might take some doing, but there's no reason a player with Williams' talent, strength and focus shouldn't be able to do it.

Lleyton Hewitt hasn't had the same success in recent years, and the one-time #1 is far away from climbing back to the top. Still the often-injured Aussie claims he has no intention of leaving the game in 2013. Hewitt, just a few weeks shy of thirty-two, struggled during his opener match in Brisbane, but eventually overcame lucky loser Igor Kunitsyn to book his spot in the second round. He'll be tested further as the week progresses, of course, but the two-time Major winner can never be counted out -- just last year he notched wins over Marin Cilic at the Olympics and newly anointed top-tenner Juan Monaco in Valencia. It'll be tough for him to win many titles, but Hewitt -- who's one about two-thirds of every deciding set he's played throughout his decorated career -- has proven he's not one to go down easily. And whenever he's on the court this season, you can bet he'll be out there to fight.

Resolution #2: Launch A(nother) Comeback

Marcos Baghdatis hasn't hide quite the slump Hewitt had during his decade-long career, but it has been a while since he's played the kind of tennis that got him to the Australian Open final back in 2006. Still, with a couple semifinal showings at smaller events last year, the likable Cypriot quietly crept back into the top forty. So far in Brisbane, he took out homegrown wildcard Benjamin Mitchell and upset sixth-seeded Florian Mayer to make the quarters. Like Hewitt in the other half, the task at hand gets only harder from here, but if he keeps his momentum against Gilles Simon in the next round, he might have a shot at making the final -- and with that kind of start to the year, we might even see him make a break for the top twenty before the season is over.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova hasn't been on Tour quite as long as these guys, but the winner of three Grand Slam Juniors titles nevertheless pulled quite a disappearing act in 2012. She won three titles before turning twenty and as high as #13 in the world, but she one-sidedly lost the only final she played last year and is not currently in seeding territory for Melbourne. But though she was challenged early this week in Australia by doubles star Lucie Hradecka, earlier today she rebounded nicely to oust one-time Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova, who at this time last year was spitting distance from taking over the #1 spot. Pavs may have a tough time against 2012 standout Angelique Kerber in the next round, but the hard-hitting German has already gone through two three-setters. If the Russian pounces early, she might but her back on the trajectory that got her so noticed not so long ago.

Resolution #3: Prove 2012 Wasn't a Fluke

Fellow Juniors champion Agnieszka Radwanska has been a staple in the top ten for years, but only really made a breakthrough in 2012. The first half of her year included three big titles, an unlikely run to the Wimbledon final and a burgeoning rivalry with top-ranked Victoria Azarenka. She briefly climbed to #2 in the world and, during the U.S. Open, actually stood an outside chance of moving one spot up from that. She begins this season at #4, losing a little steam in the back half of last year due to injury, but after making the the semis at the WTA championships, she showed she wasn't just going to fizzle out. So far in Auckland, she's looked rested and relentless, winning her first two matches easily and setting herself up for what should be an easy road to at least the title match. Ultimately taking home the trophy, of course, could put her on track to do even more damage in the weeks to come and prove she's no one-hit wonder.

David Ferrer's made a couple runs to the top of the sport during his twelve-plus year career, but something made us all sit up and take notice of the Spaniard in 2012. Though he's been as high as #1 in the world -- nearly five years ago -- the tireless champion had never really shone on the big stages. He'd made the semis at a Major only twice before last season and though he'd made three Masters finals, all on clay, he'd never captured a title. But with his more-famous countryman mostly out of the picture last year, Ferru took his chance to shine. He made the quarters of all four Slams, the semis at Roland Garros and New York, and went 14-1 to cap off the season, winning both his Davis Cup rubbers and -- finally -- that elusive Masters title in Paris, ironically the only championship match at that level he's contested off clay. Ferrer took the top seed in Doha and, after losing a tight first set in his opener, has looked on point through the rest of his matches. While there's only one seed left in the draw, there could still be some hidden threats -- both Nikolay Davydenko and Gael Monfils have fallen a bit down the rankings -- but things look good for David. And if he parlays strength this week into some solid performances down the road, we might see just him in a couple more winner's circles this year.

Resolution #4: Make 2013 the Best Year Ever

While players like Ferrer and Aga may have grabbed some unexpected headlines in 2012, others may be biding their time before really making a splash.

Tomas Berdych put up some big upsets last season, but despite shocking Roger Federer at the U.S. Open, it's been over two years since he was the center of attention. Back in 2010, the tall Czech had ridden a win over King Fed to runner-up trophies both in Miami and at Wimbledon. He's been a fixture in the top-ten since but hasn't had the results at a high-profile event since. He's got the talent -- seven wins over elite players last season -- and smarts, and as he kicks off his campaign in Chennai, he'll want to put them to use quick. If everything clicks this season, I wouldn't be surprised to see him make a run for the top five.

Like Berdych, Marion Bartoli knows what it's like to taste victory on the lawns of the All England Club, but the Frenchwoman has only made the semis of a Major one time since. She can be spotty at times -- she lost in or before the third round at three Slams last year -- but she can also intimidate. Back in 2011 she shocked defending champion Serena Williams at Wimbledon during the star's comeback and, though she finished 2012 just out of the top ten, she did hand Victoria Azarenka her first loss of the season. The second seed in Shenzhen, Bartoli rolled through her opener and held strong against qualifier Stefanie Voegele to make the quarters. She could get a fight from fellow veteran Klara Zakopalova in the next round, but if she keeps her game up she could make a real play for this title. And with that kind of start to the year, why not go for the glory at the Slams as well?

A couple players may have faltered in the early goings, but that doesn't at all mean their prospects for the season are shot -- like with own my resolutions, I am optimistic that they'll be able to pick up the slack in coming months. But for those that have seen success at the outset, hopefully they can keep it up.

After all at the start of a new year, anything really can happen. And with the efforts all these guys and gals have made throughout their careers, there's no reason to believe they won't far exceed even the loftiest goals.

No comments: