Eighth, and last, in a series on players to watch in 2012,
For the last week or so, I’ve been looking at the game’s marquee names and assessing their chances in 2012. It’s been a leisurely ride, but now I must pick up the pace; I’m due in Melbourne in a couple of days, and this will be my last post before the trip. I leave you with some capsule previews of other dark horses, long shots, head cases, and who-knows-whats that we’re sure to see more of over the next 11 months.
The serve is still atomic and the forehand a bullet when he has time to set up. The backhand still goes haywire at times, he’s not a natural defender, and his instinct is to pull the trigger as soon as possible, sometimes too soon. But of the ATP’s Nexts—Dimitrov, Dolgopolov, Harrison, Tomic—he’s the farthest along, and the one with the least downside. Like Pete Sampras and John Isner, Raonic’s serve makes him a calmer, and thus better, competitor. Some experts have him winning Wimbledon sooner rather than later, and the Top 10 player he beat on Sunday, Janko Tipsarevic, says it’s just a matter of time before Raonic joins him at that elite plateau. Let’s see what he can do if he has a full season. I’m thinking both the experts, and Tipsarevic, could be right.
Who would have thought that the early performance of the year would come from this 26-year-old Estonian who began the season ranked No. 34? Not me, anyway. But what I saw of her Brisbane run was pretty awesome—she was battering the ball without letup. She has our attention.
The old bricklayer has trudged his way farther upward on sweat and grit than just about any tennis player I can remember. But there’s still room for Ferru to trudge higher—this Davis Cup hero has only been to two Slam semis and has never won a Masters event. Why not? Is he selfish enough? Everything seems set for him to have a career year, but try as I might, I can’t picture him hoisting a major-tournament trophy.
Watch and admire her game while you have the chance; don’t sweat the other stuff.
Now we get to see what he can do when he avoids injury for a year. It’s been impressive so far—the friendly, look-at-me showman isn’t just performing, he’s finding ways to win. The great thing about Tsonga is that he really can beat any of the top four on a given day. Now let’s see him do it to two of them back to back, because that's probably what it's going to take at a major. That was a performance too far at Wimbledon last year.
Someday, as with Tsonga, we’ll get to see what she can do if she avoids injury for a significant length of time. It doesn’t look like that’s going to be 2012, though—Lisicki had to retire from the year’s first tournament with a back injury.
Last season the American surge came from Mardy Fish. Isner’s serve and competitive calm gives him even more of a potential upside than his fellow late-blooming countryman. Dark horse Grand Slam semifinalists are to find on the men’s side these days, but the big man is one of them.
Juan Martin del Potro
After two long years of injury and recovery, we’ll finally get an idea of what the future looks like for del Potro. At the U.S. Open in 2009, he showed that, unlike so many others, he can push all the way to the end. But his close loss to Ferrer in the DC final this year showed that the opposite can also be the case. Which is the real Juan Martin? Or, at least, which is he more often? His respectable losses to Djokovic at the French and Nadal at Wimbledon seem like they could be the norm.
You have little idea what’s coming from one shot to the next, except that it could be very cool. Watch and enjoy, but keep your emotional distance. It’s just easier that way.
Your guess is as good as mine. One thing seems clear: Her U.S. Open title didn’t inject her with a massive new dose of confidence.
He lost 3 and 2 to Andy Murray in Brisbane, and while I wouldn’t say that the match was “closer than the scores indicated,” it was more interesting than the scores indicated. Tomic started well and forced Murray to come up with something extra, which he did by being more aggressive than he usually is. But that shouldn’t take away from Tomic’s performance. He showed off his usual idiosyncratic feel—how about a touch lob with no spin at all that lands right on the baseline?—and he seemed less diffident about using everything he had. It will be interesting to see how far his combination of average speed and amazing anticipation can take him.
Why watch? Because it was the second game of a Hopman Cup exo match against Petra Kvitova, and she was already in full, red-faced, hairs-loose French drama mode. That’s good value.
If you have any players to watch that I've neglected to mention, feel free to tell us why here. That's it for me from Stateside for now. I'll be back reporting from Melbourne by the weekend. Over the next two-and-a-half weeks, look for posts, tweets, notebooks, tabs, podcasts, picks, chats, Rallies, Racquet Reactions, and maybe even a little old-fashioned writing when I get the chance from Down Under.