Missing tennis yet? I am. I didn’t make any posts about the Davis Cup since I wasn’t able to view it and besides, it wasn’t exactly a huge deal. Roger won his singles and doubles against Portugal. He lost the first set against Machado on an indoor court which shows you the playing mode he was in. Anyway I am glad Switzerland won and as far as I know they are back in the world group now. But since there isn’t much going on in tennis right now I would like to look ahead to the hard court season in North America. There are basically four players who I think can make a big impact. They are Roger, Djokovic, Nadal, Del Potro, and Murray. I don’t see anyone who can really threaten these five guys, so let me take a closer look at each player:
- Roger – I have always thought hard court is Roger’s best surface. Last year he came off disappointing clay and grass court seasons but when the hard courts came around he basically locked back into his highest gear, making the final of Toronto, winning Cincinnati, and making semis at the US Open. The semis loss at the US Open was a disappointment, especially after having match points, but at least his form was showing an upwards trend. The summer of 2011 was more successful for him than the summer of 2010, but the quarters loss at Wimbledon was once again a disappointment. I think he will want to put that behind him with a good showing on the hard courts. It will be hard for him to top his results of last year at Toronto and Cincy, but he will once again believe that he can make it all the way to the finals at the US Open. It won’t get any easier that’s for sure. I’m actually hoping he gets drawn in Nadal’s half this time. I think the US Open is still the one place where he has a good shot at beating Nadal. And besides it is getting ridiculous that Roger is always in Djokovic’s side of the draw. It just appears more and more like they fix the draws. Djokovic will be hard to beat anyway and I’d prefer to see Roger meet him in the final. Roger should be able to make at least semis again, unless he gets Del Potro in his quarter. He could have trouble beating Del Potro as he did in the 2009 final. But then again Roger could go ahead and win the whole thing. I certainly won’t count him out to win a 6th title in New York. He knows how to win there and it will be his last chance to break the record of most consecutive years winning at least one slam title. It would really be a beautiful way to finish the year.
- Djokovic – No doubt Djokovic 2.0 is a different animal going into the hard court season in 2011. He comes off one of the most impressive winning streaks in history as well as two slam titles. If it wasn’t for Roger at the French Open he would probably have been gunning for the calender slam at the US Open. Hard courts is probably Djokovic’s best surface as well and he will look to do some serious damage in Montreal, Cincy, and New York. Djokovic is probably the favorite to win the US Open. But I like Roger’s chances against him better in New York where the conditions are faster than in Melbourne. The fact that Djokovic 1.0 beat Roger last year in New York isn’t exactly a great sign though, although I did think a lot of that had to do with the fact that Nadal was waiting in the final. If Djokovic is to meet Nadal again in a hard court final I think Djokovic will be the overwhelming favorite. So in the end I think Djokovic will be very hard to stop. The only guys that could possibly upset him I think is Roger and Del Potro, but both would have to play out of their skin.
- Nadal – For me there is a pretty big question mark over Nadal for the upcoming hard court season. After the losses to Djokovic in Madrid and Rome there were clear signs that it was starting to affect his confidence. He did bounce back well however. But the Wimbledon loss was really the decisive loss to Djokovic. I think if there were tournaments directly after Wimbledon we may have seen him struggle with his confidence again, but now he has some time off to lick his wounds. Nonetheless, it is going to be very interesting to see how he copes with the hard courts, given that it’s his worst surface. He already knows that Djokovic owns him on hard courts. It can’t exactly be a confidence booster knowing that Djokovic is always looming in the draw. But at least he can only meet him in the finals so he won’t have to focus on that for a while. The question is whether other players will take advantage of the fact that he is losing his air of invincibility. Even players outside of the guys I’m mentioning here may be able to do it. You can never count Nadal out, but I don’t see him doing as well in the US Open as last year. I’d be quite surprised if he makes the final again. I think Murray or Roger will take care of him in the semis this year if he doesn’t lose earlier.
- Del Potro – If Del Potro stays healthy I think he will be as big a threat as anyone for the hard court season. He actually made a good showing at Wimbledon and I think he is getting close to peak form again. Hard courts is also probably his favorite surface. One thing is for sure, none of the top four guys wants to see him in their quarter of the draw. When he is on form he is capable of beating any of the top four guys. By the time the US Open rolls around he would probably have played himself nicely into form and will be one of the favorites to win it. With his big serve and destructive ground strokes, as well as all court game, he is certainly capable of winning it. Of course I hope he gets drawn in Nadal’s quarter as often as possible. He has already beaten Nadal three straight times on hard court and I’m sure Nadal wants to avoid him at all costs.
- Murray – I was quite hard on Murray the last time I talked about him, calling him a relentless choke artist, so I will try to be a little nicer this time. I think Murray can do well in the lead up events to the US Open. We already know he is capable of winning the Masters Series events. But he would of course like to prove himself on a bigger stage. I think Murray can take a big scalp like Nadal for instance, but it remains to be seen whether he can make the next step and win a slam. He will now be coached by Roger Rasheed, but in the end Murray must overcome his fear in the big moments. That is something that I don’t think a coach can help him with. Rasheed couldn’t help Monfils to take the next big step and I don’t see how he can do it for Murray. In the past Murray has relentlessly fallen over the final hurdle, and it will take some effort to avoid doing so again. So in the end I don’t see him winning the US Open, although he could possibly make the final. But lets not forget that Murray is the most inconsistent of the top four, and an early round exit is once again not out of the question for him.
So those are my thought about the five best hard court players. I really do think these five guys will fight it out for the big trophies. And that goes for all the surfaces. I just hope Roger can still hang around for some time to come, or else it may be hard to stay interested…