Djokovic Wins 2012 Tennis YEC

19:37 Sun 18 Nov 2012
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Last Monday Novak Djokovic won his second ATP World Tour Finals title, defeating Federer in straight sets, 7–6 (6), 7–5. Although it had spectacular moments, the match wasn’t spectacular throughout, and the performance of both players was uneven. It was Federer’s second loss in the YEC final match, but this one didn’t have the drama of his classic five-set loss to Nalbandian in 2005[1].

The three points that ended the first set were emblematic of the dynamic of the match. Serving at 5–6, Federer came in behind a forehand approach but didn’t do quite enough with it, and Djokovic hit a very hard attempted pass that Federer barely reached with what turned into a kind of forehand drop volley. Djokovic reached it and flicked the ball behind and to the right of Federer, who turned, scrambled back for it, and hit a no-look cross-court forehand passing shot winner to save set point. After that phenomenal display of brilliance, Federer completely misplayed a return of serve to his backhand, missing by quite some distance to present Djokovic with another set point. Djokovic took it with a strong serve followed by a strong forehand.

Djokovic had passages of weak play, but not as many errors as Federer—which will almost always be the case when they play, but here Federer had too many to overcome, while also struggling to overcome Djokovic’s good runs of play. Djokovic displayed his strength of will in this match, refusing to let Federer take the first set after Djokovic fell behind 0–3, and not being dismayed by the patches of brilliance that Federer produced.

This was the 29th meeting between the two. Federer leads 16–13, and this match was their fifth in 2012, with Djokovic’s victory giving him a 3–2 lead for the year.

Djokovic finishes the year ranked number one for the second year in a row; this year, the race was much tighter, with Federer reclaiming the number one spot, breaking records along the way, before Djokovic took it again near the end of the season. 2012 was the most egalitarian year in men’s tennis in terms of Grand Slam titles since 2003, as different men won all four (Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, Murray), although the other prestigious titles of the Olympics and the YEC went to two of the same men (Murray and Djokovic). The Masters 1000s were distributed three for Djokovic (Miami, Toronto, Shanghai), three for Federer (Indian Wells, Madrid, Cincinnati), two for Nadal (Monte Carlo, Rome), and one for David Ferrer (Paris—the first time since Paris 2010 that a player outside the “Big Four” took a Masters title). Djokovic’s Grand Slam/YEC results were W/F/S/F/W, an excellent year by anyone’s standards, and he also reached the bronze-medal match in the Olympics, losing to Juan Martin Del Potro.

Nadal’s ongoing absence due to injury played a big part during the year, and combined with Andy Murray’s continued rise made for unbalanced semifinals at most of the big tournaments—with Nadal out there are only three truly elite men’s players, meaning that if the seedings hold (which they did for most of the year) only one of the two finalists will have had to face an elite player before that point. Nadal is scheduled to return at the Australian Open; prior to his departure from the tour, he had reached the final in Australia, won at Roland Garros, added more titles at Monte Carlo and Rome—and fell in one of the biggest upsets in Grand Slam history, to Lukáš Rosol in the second round at Wimbledon.

Federer has now finished in the top three for 10 consecutive years—5 of those at number one, four at number two, and one (2011) at number three. He regained the number one ranking, breaking Pete Sampras’ record for weeks ranked number one and eventually extending that record to 302 weeks. He also won Wimbledon, extending his record number of Grand Slam titles to 17. His Grand Slam/YEC results were SF/SF/W/QF/F, plus an Olympic silver medal, a reasonable year for him; his three Masters 1000 titles are the most he’s won in a year since winning four in 2006. It looks as if he’s aiming for a lighter schedule next year, as he’s not scheduled to play in either Miami or Monte Carlo (the only Masters 1000 tournament he’s never won), giving him a long break after Indian Wells[2]. His Grand Slam quarterfinals-or-better streak is ongoing, and he still has to be considered in the running for any of the Slams—even the French Open, since Nadal’s injury problems make that tournament less predictable than in most years.

Andy Murray lost to Federer in the YEC semifinals, but finally had his breakout Slam win, winning the US Open after breaking his “big event” losing streak by defeating Federer for Olympic gold. Murray finished the year ranked number three, and was never really in the hunt with Federer and Djokovic, but will obviously be trying to make it two Grand Slams in a row at the Australian Open. Given his results from last year, Murray has to be considered a contender for the number one ranking at some point in 2013.

As for the rest of the pack, only Juan Martin Del Potro looks truly threatening to the current order. His road back from injury has been a long one, but he beat Djokovic at the Olympics and looked like he was returning to form. When at the top of his game he can simply outpower the world’s top players, and is the only player outside the top four I’d truly consider a candidate for a Slam victory.

David Ferrer finally won a major title, the Paris Masters 1000, and is a fantastic player who just does not have the tools to challenge the top four. He is 5–9 against Djokovic, 0–14 against Federer, and 4–16 against Nadal, although he does have a better 5–6 record against Murray.

The other two perennial “what if” players in the top 10 are Tomáš Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, both of whom can have hot streaks when they’re almost unbeatable, but neither of whom can seem to sustain those for more than one or two upsets at a time.

Outside the top 10, if you’re looking for real long shots, follow Jerzy Janowicz and Thomaz Bellucci, who might just be able to get past “early potential” to real results in 2013. Most likely, though, the top of the game will be dominated by the same four, with the big questions being Nadal’s ability to come back from his injury, whether or not Djokovic can sustain his level, Federer’s ability to continue fending off age-related decline, and Murray’s attempts to improve on his successes from 2012.

[1] Nalbandian came back to beat Federer 6–7 (4), 6–7 (11), 6–2, 6–1, 7–6 (3), denying Federer’s comeback from 0–4 in the fifth set and breaking Federer after he served for the match at 6–5; the loss also meant that Federer was unable to match McEnroe’s 1984 record of 82–3 match wins.

[2] Which I’m strongly considering going to in 2013.

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