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Depending on how you view tennis, 2012 was either a disaster: slow courts, everyone hogging the baseline, mass choking, Nadal being injured. Or 2012 was fantastic: different surfaces and speeds (blue clay!), tactical variety, determined performances (Rosol) and new faces on the tour. It is down to interpretation.

We begin by looking at some of the best matches of last year, in order from the start of the year to the end. (leaving out obvious choices such as Australian Open final)

Expectation 1: Court Speeds Stay Slow

The main technical aspect of 2012 was the slowing down of courts and the style which these slow courts promote. The Australian Open final provided a good example.

Nadal was one of the first top class (consistently ranked top 10) players to develop on the modern, slower courts. Nadal blossomed around 2004-2006, when the courts were beginning to slow down. As a result of his style and slower courts, he has frequent absences from playing tennis. His career has been ruined by slower courts and the style needed to win on them.

Tennis has become more advertised than ever, with popular players playing exhibitions in countries not privy to tennis. Slower courts mean longer rallies and require more than “just” a big serve and forehand to win points. That’s the idea, what really happens is lengthy matches with players camped behind the baseline, going to the net only to shake hands.

Fans love long rallies, a stunning winner to end a long rally will always receive more attention, be it on TV or with the audience in the court, than serve festivals.

Hence, we should expect court speeds to stay the same (medium slow generally) as they make tennis more enjoyable to watch for the public, giving better revenue.

What to look out for: How will the quickest courts last year be this year ?

Madrid (clay), Dubai (outdoor hard), Cincinnati (outdoor hard), Paris (indoor hard) were the fastest courts last year on the ATP tour (not counting Wimbledon or the US Open, which will stay the same).

Expectation 2: The Rise of Younger, Exotic Players

Grigor Dimitrov (42), Milos Raonic (15), Jerzy Janowicz (26), Martin Klizan (30), Thomaz Bellucci (32), Benoit Paire (46), David Goffin (50), Marinko Matosevic (49) and of course Bernard Tomic (63).

Get used to these names. They are young, exotic players, all with different styles. They will be moving up in 2013. The brackets indicate their current ranking.

Benoit Paire will be hoping to make an impact this year.

Benoit Paire will be hoping to make an impact this year.

What defines these players is how exotic they are. They are very confident. Some examples: Dimitrov’s audacious volleying skills. Paire’s personality is entertaining. Tomic invents shot of his own:

Why is being exotic so essential to their success? It means they have found unique solutions to winning matches. These players have not grown up fixated on hitting backhands cross-court and moving around to smack forehand winners. They think differently. Raonic is very tall yet his coach was a clay-courter. Dimitrov’s favourite shot is the backhand down the line. Paire’s backhand is clearly better than his forehand.

These players will increase their rankings also as slow courts won’t affect their performances that much in 2013. Older players have to utilise riskier strategies.

These same players have (sometimes) been embarrassed in the past and have learned from their experiences. For many of them, this is the year to put it all together.

What to look out for: Raonic’s surprisingly good baseline game. Tomic’s work ethic. Bellucci’s mental implosions.

Expectation 3: Del Potro to move up (& other talented players to follow)

When Roger Federer says you can be number one it is a good indication of your potential ability.

Del Potro has expectations to live up to.

Del Potro’s resurgence after a couple of horrible injuries is complete. He has a big serve, big ground strokes and a decent slice with mediocre volleys. Del Potro will move up the rankings in 2013 if he can develop a good transition game to move into the net and be more aware of his court positioning.

What Del Potro has that Ferrer, Berdych, Tsonga and others just behind him (Gasquet, Almagro, Monaco, etc) do not have is a lack of a weakness. At a younger age he could not handle the slice very well and was dragged around the court too often. So he improved his movement, serve, return and footwork which mean he cannot be moved around so much anymore and has better technical ability.

His forehand has improved considerably. Del Potro plays to win, not others such as John McEnroe who hated to lose. He accepts losing and has huge confidence. He should move forward in 2013.

What to look out for: Richard Gasquet is moving forward too. I predicted his progress two years ago after a cocaine incident. Recently, Gasquet won Doha in an impressive manner – he had a very difficult opening match, almost losing. He then destroyed Lacko and beat Brands in a solid performance before beating Davydenko in a superb final. Gasquet’s next step, breaking into the Top 8, will depend on the same contingency that Del Potro’ faces. He must position himself higher up the court.

Something that hasn’t been noticed: A player who has done this transition in an excellent manner is Novak Djokovic, who would always stay at the baseline at key moments until early 2012. He has started approaching the net more.

Noticeably in the Shanghai 2012 final he was insistent on going to the net on important points. It didn’t always work – he smashed his racquet in frustration as a result.Check out the highlights and see his utter determination to win a point at the net. The transition has been so smooth it has not really been talked about.

Expectation 4: Injuries, injuries and Injuries

Thanks to the court speeds and the playing styles employed, this season promises to have many injuries. Nadal has not played for a long time. Haas, Tsonga and Isner withdrew from tournaments in Australia. Expected long term injuries for baseline heavy players are kicking in – Nadal and Monfils the main examples.

The WTA faces similar problems, Andrea Petkovic has injured herself again, Azarenka pulled out of a highly anticipated match against Serena Williams because her big toe hurt.

Expectation 5: Less Nike, Less Adidas….but more sponsors

Goffin and Berdych, both associated with Nike, will be shortly changing shirt sponsorship labels to respective smaller firms. Add in players with their own sponsors (Roger Federer’s famous (for sponsorship reasons) US Open 2010 shirt has his name being the priority sponsor) and some having no sponsors on their racquets (Baghdatis, Davydenko), the sponsorship and hence advertising market for tennis is clearly changing. Bigger firms no longer “just” sponsor players.

After every Major the victor will thank the sponsors. These sponsors are diverse, some produce watches (Rolex) where as others produce chocolates (Lindt). Tennis did not always have such a large variety of sponsors.

The same can be said about shirt sponsorship. Nike and Adidas may be the big two but other, smaller companies are poaching players.

Expectation 6: Match (and Tournament) Predictions are WORTHLESS

If you were to predict the latter rounds of the Chennai, it may have been reasonable to expect Wawrinka, Cilic, Tisparevic and Berdych to compete in the semi finals. Wawrinka, Cilic and Berdych were all beaten in the quarter-finals.

Certainly no one expected for Benoit Paire to beat Dudi Sela so comfortably. The match finished in less than 50 minutes.

Lower ranked players have coaches and ideas. Executing them against higher ranked players may not be enough to win as the highly ranked player is higher for a good reason: they execute better ideas and have better coaches. The likes of Benoit Paire, Roberto Bautista-Agut Aljaž Bedene performed admirably in Chennai.

Outright predictions are usually worthless as performance in a match and in the future is usually independent of the past. (This is what it means for something to have the Markov property). You may have a better head to head record, perform better on the surface and be fitter. None can take into account events that seem improbable: you missing (usually routinely put away) easy shots, the other player having a surge of motivation. Injuries can occur and such.

Predicting who will win the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open at this point is pointless. For the Australian we know who the favourites are, with a revealed draw we get more information. However, until a match is played and finished, predictions are just that: predictions.

More than ever that is the case for 2013, where players are now consistently told about forgetting the so called stereotype in tennis, sport and life, that if you cannot perform well against one person (Federer vs Roddick), they have an advantage over you in the future. Each match is unique and can be felt and experienced only on that occasion.

Expectation 7: New Rules Are Good… and Bad

New ATP rules designed to make matches shorter will be tested by notoriously slow players such as Nadal and Djokovic at crucial events. The rules are inherently good, matches should move at a quicker rate meaning less annoying 1 minute pauses in between points. However they require umpires to step in and hand warnings. Umpires will be perceived to be more ruthless; Baghdatis being handed a time violation after a lengthy point in the final set tie-breaker in Brisbane will happen through out the season unless players adjust. Baghdatis recovered from losing the next point, subsequently lost match on “neutral” terms.

However, not all players will behave as well as Baghdatis did in such a moment. We can expect players to argue with umpires over these matters, Monfils’ excuse for waiting too long is (apparently) due to him being black.

Expectation 8: Quality of play on WTA to improve

With high quality champions in all Majors last year and Serena destroying everyone around her, it is expected for the likes of Azarenka, Stosur, Sharapova, Na, Kvitova (all Major champions) to up their game and show a higher quality of play.

A few years ago on the WTA tour, nobody could serve well. Top players would routinely choke. No such weaknesses exist. Better coaching and weaker players being found out (Caroline Wozniacki) have led to rankings accurately reflecting who the best players are. 2013 should be an exciting year for women’s tennis. Can Azarenka repeat her magical 20+ match win streak? Will Serena Williams dominate the Majors?

Eight expectations to ponder for the new year. There are many other questions to ask as the season develops. For the time being, we can focus on getting ready for Australia.

Hopefully the final won’t be as long this time…


One Comment

  1. Unreal article/report mate – loved every bit of it

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. By 2014: The Year Of Risk | Tennis Analysis on 28 Dec 2013 at 5:21 pm

    […] twelve months ago I made a series of predictions for 2013 – the post can be found here. Let us discuss some of the […]

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