The season-ending ATP World Tour Finals was decided with Novak Djokovic beating Roger Federer even when the erstwhile World No. 1 had the upperhand in a vintage match, 7-6, 7-5 at London’s O2 Arena. As the year draws to a close we can paint a scenario of tennis and come to the conclusion that the year was no less than superb and outstanding.
Novak Djokovic, of course, regained his No. 1 ranking having made it earlier in the Paris Masters due to Roger Federer’s absence, but the ATP World Tour was a fitting finale to his reigning supremacy in tennis. The Australian Open champion held on to the year’s number one spot until Roger Federer reclaimed it at Wimbledon installing his 17th grand slam title and seventh Wimbledon crown plus a record 302 weeks as world number one until the Djokovic takeover. One can take it from here bearing in mind, however, Rafael Nadal’s ascendancy that ended Federer’s dominance of the sport making it a 1-2 Nadal-Federer franchise until both men relinquished the top ranking to Djokovic in 2011. The three-pronged rivalry could have run for more complications had Nadal not been sidelined for injuries after winning his seventh French Open title, his 11th slam. This year though saw four different men winning the grand slams, with Britain’s Andy Murray winning the US Open – a breakthrough expected but long in coming after being runner-up to four grand slam tournaments since 2008. Murray’s gold medal victory at the 2012 Olympics avenging the loss to Roger Federer at the All England Club in Wimbledon was a milestone and a preview of a further spectacle that was the US Open. For the UK, finally, it’s one of their own after 76 years.
On the women’s side the year started with a firm note with Belarusian Victoria Azarenka winning the Australian Open and capturing the world No. 1 ranking. She was on the verge of victory against Serena Williams in the US Open final but missed the winning line and lost. Four months after Melbourne it was Maria Sharapova who was all but a picture of euphoria as she won the French Open at Roland Garros, to add to her Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open titles, in the process accomplishing a career slam which she now shares with only five other women in the Open Era. One of those women is Serena Williams, current world number three behind Azarenka and Sharapova, holder of 15 grand slam singles titles, 46 career titles, and winner of the 2012 Wimbledon and US Open championships. Williams had a golden summer winning the gold in singles and doubles in the London Olympics and the Wimbledon title defeating Pole Agnieszka Radwanska in three sets to cap a career Golden Grand Slam. While the win at Wimbledon did not solve riddles, Serena was brought to the brink of defeat at the US Open, trailing Victoria Azarenka 3-5 in the third set. But then Azarenka failed to capitalize on her advantage and Williams came back to win the set and the match. At 31 Williams is now the oldest US Open champion in history. She is undoubtedly the best woman player of her generation and her golden slam and back to back wins at Wimbledon and the US Open only showcases her raw talent, excellence, and dominance in the sport.
2012 saw two tennis luminaries say goodbye to the tennis world – four-time grand slam champion Kim Clijsters and 2003 US Open champion Andy Roddick.
Kim Clijsters won the 2005, 2009 and 2010 US Open and the 2011 Australian Open. She became World No. 1 in 2003 and held on to the top ranking four times, the last in February 2011 overtaking Caroline Wozniacki. She retired in 2007 to marry American Brian Lynch and came out of retirement in 2009 to win the US Open for the second time, the first mother to take the US Open crown since Margaret Court in 1973. Her amiable demeanor on court endeared her to her fans and she was greeted with a standing ovation at the Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open when she bid goodbye after losing in the second round to Britain’s Laura Robson.
Andy Roddick captured the No. 1 world ranking after winning the US Open in 2003. Best known for his lightning-fast serve and powerful forehand, Roddick once featured in a serving duel with fellow American and winner of 14 grand slam championships Pete Sampras. He was runner-up to Roger Federer in four grand slams, three Wimbledons and one US Open. Roddick is best remembered for his epic 5-set thriller with Roger Federer in 2009 at Wimbledon, a grand slam final that lasted 77 games and the longest fifth set. He announced his retirement at the 2012 US Open after losing to Juan Martin Del Potro in the fourth round, saying goodbye after 13 years and 32 singles titles amid a rousing sendoff by the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The tennis limelight also dimmed for former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, the Spaniard whom Andy Roddick battled for the US Open crown in 2003 retiring after the Valencia Open 500 last month. Ferrero won the 2003 French Open and was runner-up in the 2002 French Open. He reached the semifinals of the 2004 Australian Open. He has 16 ATP career titles.
Also retiring was Frenchman Arnaud Clement whose notable achievement was his runner-up finish at the 2001 Australian Open. Winning the Wimbledon doubles in 2007 with partner Michael Llodra, Clement has beaten top players throughout his career such as Andre Agassi, Patrick Rafter, Carlos Moya, and more recently Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. After a 16-year career, 4 singles titles, Clement retired in June 2012 at age 34 after the second round of the French Open.
On November 18, 2012 Gisela Dulko of Argentina also retired. Better known as a doubles specialist, Dulko became the world’s No. 1 ranked doubles player in 2010. She won the 2010 WTA Tour Championships and the 2011 Australian Open doubles title with Flavia Penneta. She reached a career-high world ranking of No. 26 and won 4 WTA singles titles. She reached the fourth round of the French Open twice and the US Open once.
2012 also showed the emergence of young and promising players in the circuit. Names like Milos Raonic, David Goffin, and Kei Nishikori have shaped up in the tour. Known for his booming serve, 21 year old Canadian Milos Raonic owns 3 career titles since turning pro in 1998 and is currently ranked no. 13 in the ATP. Belgian David Goffin, aged 21, beat Radek Stepanek, Arnaud Clement, and Lukasz Kubot (who stunned Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in June) at the 2012 French Open before losing to Roger Federer in the fourth round but not without taking the first set from the Swiss. Kei Nishikori, Japan’s 22 year old tennis star with 2 singles titles since turning pro in 2007 is currently ranked no. 16 in the ATP. Reaching the quarterfinals of the 2012 Australian Open and winning the Japan Open last October, the first Japanese man to do so in the tournament’s 41-year history, Nishikori is aiming to win a grand slam tournament in three years.
On the women’s side, 18 year old British Laura Robson, turning pro in 2008, is fast becoming a favorite of the crowd. Robson beat Kim Clijsters and Li Na in the second and third rounds before bowing to defending champion Samantha Stosur in the fourth round of the 2012 US Open. Robson is currently ranked no. 53 in the world. Germany’s 23 year old Sabine Lisicki owns 3 WTA titles since turning pro in 2006 and is currently ranked no. 18. She beat Venus Williams, Marion Bartoli, and Caroline Wozniacki in the Family Circle Cup in 2009 en route to the title. She reached the quarterfinals of the 2009 and 2012 Wimbledon championships, the fourth round of the 2011 US Open and the 4th round of the 2012 Australian Open. Side by side with Laura Robson is her compatriot, 20 year old Heather Watson whose win at the 2012 Japan Open made her the first British female to win a WTA singles title after 25 years. She also took over the British number one position from Laura Robson and is currently ranked in the top 50 of the world.
The rankings at yearend showed contrasts in the men’s and women’s divisions. In the men’s division the first five places were kept with the lead changing hands from the 2nd to the 4th positions and Spanish David Ferrer, who won 7 titles this year, kept number 5. American Mardy Fish and Spain’s Nicolas Almagro slipped out of the rankings and the resurgent Juan Martin Del Potro, the 2009 US Open champion with 3 titles in 2012 including one over Roger Federer in Basel, raced to No. 7 from 11th last year. Frenchman Richard Gasquet took over the 10th position from Almagro. Czech Tomas Berdych, Frenchman Jo Wilfried-Tsonga, and Serbian Janko Tipsarevic complete the men’s cast.
The women’s division, on the other hand, was marked by a drastic overhaul in the rankings. Former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki was eased out after the US Open but came back to take the 10th spot. Vera Zvonareva, Marion Bartoli, and Andrea Petkovic are out. Germany’s Angelique Kerber, reaching the semifinals of both the Australian Open and the US Open in 2011 coupled with a fine run in California in 2012, is ranked 5th. Sara Errani, the Italian No. 1 with six career titles, four in 2012, was runner-up to Maria Sharapova in the 2012 French Open, and is ranked 6th. But it was the American Serena Williams who provided the most drama in an awesome display of power that brought her to No. 3 at yearend from No. 12 in 2011. Agnieszka Radwanska, 2012 Wimbledon runner-up, 2011 champions Li Na (French Open), Petra Kvitova (Wimbledon), and Samantha Stosur (US Open) are in the magic 10 to complete the list.
With the Davis Cup title relinquished by Spain to the Czech Republic the 2012 tennis season ends. Upcoming ATP and WTA tournaments will be in preparation for the Australian Open in January. And from the Rod Laver Arena to Roland Garros, to the All England Club in London, on to the Arthur Ashe Stadium, tennis fans will be treated to another year of exciting tennis competition.