December 09, 2012 00:00 By Lerpong Amsa-ngiam
Novak Djokovic started and ended 2012 on a high note, while Serena Williams took full charge from the second half of the season and if both are fit and healthy, should carry the momentum in the next 53 weeks.
“Nole” outlasted his two biggest obstacles, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal, en route to the year’s opening major in Melbourne and despite not winning at Roland Garros, the only elusive Grand Slam for the Serb, and failing to defend the Wimbledon and US Open titles, he got a grip on his rivals by winning the year-ending ATP World Tour Finals.
He has collected six titles including three Masters 1000 in Miami, Canada and Shanghai, which kept him on the throne of the men’s tennis for the second successive season, albeit encountering some threat from Roger Federer at the later stage of the year.
The man from Belgrade is the toughest player mentally and physically on the ATP Tour this season. There is no doubt about it. In my view, his gutsy comeback wins in the Australian Open semi-final against Murray and the final against Nadal were the best matches of his during the entire year. The defending champion seemed run out of gas but crawled his way back from 2-4 in the deciding set to win the longest major final that lasted five hours and 53 minutes.
That was not the only occasion that Djokovic displayed his solid mentality. In the Shanghai Masters final, he fought off five match points to beat Murray, avenging his losses to the Briton in the London Olympics and the US Open final.
With Federer being selective and restricting himself to fewer events due to age and family concern, Murray being a bit off form since peaking at the Olympics and the US Open, and Nadal off with knee injury for several months, Djokovic, among the elite players, is expected to start strongly in 2013.
But keep your eyes closely on young guns like Milos Raonic and the Polish giant-killer Jerzy Janowicz who could be ready to cause some damage if any of the above let their guard down. Raonic, the big-serving Canadian, is capable of whacking explosive shots and taking charge at the net while Janowicz’s killing serves and fierce groundstrokes make him dangerous on the tour.
Serena went through the first half of the year without showing any flashes of brilliance, but a hat-trick wins at Wimbledon, Stanford and the Olympics followed by victories in the US Open and the WTA Championships in Istanbul clearly showed that she is peerless, even though the current world No 1 in ranking is Victoria Azarenka.
Either it was because of her renewed determination or some inspiring romance with coach Patrick Mouratoglou, that Serena played the level of tennis she has never done before.
Speedy footwork, rocket serves, lighting strokes and above all mental toughness makes her too much to handle for anyone. Serena made Maria Sharapova look like a lollypop girl in the London Olympics final, conceding just one game, then came back from 4-5 down in the decider to beat Azarenka in the US Open final and lastly handed the Russian pin-up girl a two set defeat again in Turkey. In fact since Wimbledon, she has not lost to anyone but to German Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals in Cincinnati. Furthermore, in the span between Wimbledon and WTA Championships, apart from the two sets lost to the German, Serena conceded only a set each to Agnieszka Radwanska in Wimbledon final and to Azarenka in the US Open final.
Should she maintain the level from the start of 2013, I wonder who could put Serena to the test. And for tennis fans in Thailand, there is some good news. The 15-time Grand Slam champion is going to play an exhibition match with Azarenka in Hua Hin on December 29. It couldn’t have come at a better time. It is a treat to watch the hottest WTA player setting up a duel with the world No 1 before their real rivalry starts next year.