Roundtable: 2011 ATP year in review (cont.)
Wertheim: Prior to the French Open, Adam Helfant announced that he would not be re-upping as the ATP's CEO. There were multiple reports that this was a dispute about money. Helfant adamantly denied this; it was simply time for another challenge. So be it. What's followed, though, has been disconcerting. Six months have passed and no successor has been named. Richard Krajieck, the former Wimbledon champ, has been touted as a successor; but factions wonder whether he's fit to be a CEO. There are strong internal candidates, but they haven't satisfied other factions. Ian Ritchie, the well-regarded Wimbledon chief, was ready to sign on but, he, too inexplicably lacked the necessary support. The flacks will say "Why the rush?" But if no other reason than the optics, it sure doesn't look good when the board is so ruptured that it takes more than half a year to fill what should be one of the plum jobs in sports.
Jenkins: Alexander Bolgomolov gaining approval to play Davis Cup for his native Russia. On the surface, this doesn't seem so unusual. Bogomolov's father was a famous tennis coach who moved the family to Florida when Alex was 11, then moved back to Russia in 2003 while his son continued his development here. After several years of estrangement, Alex has re-established contact with his father and feels a renewed connection with Russia. But Bogomolov's decision has rankled American tennis officials and a number of insiders. Noted journalist Peter Bodo called him an "ingrate" for dismissing the years of coaching and financial assistance he received from the USTA. Adding to the intrigue, Bogomolov -- who has dual citizenship -- would have to represent the U.S. in the Olympics, should he qualify for the team, since his lack of previous Davis Cup experience makes him ineligible in Russia. As a 28-year-old player who only recently reached his peak, rising as high as No. 33 in the ATP rankings, Bolgomolov isn't necessarily a difference-maker on the international scene -- but which side is he on?
Deitsch: I'll cheat and use this category to honor the deft Gaston Gaudio, who won the French Open in 2004 over Guillermo Coria in all-Argentinean final. Nicknamed "El Gato (The Cat), Gaudio retired quietly in August after a 15-year career that included eight titles. When he was at his best, he was one of the fastest men on Tour and reached a high of No. 5 in the world in 2005. I always liked watching the guy.
Graham: The rise of 19-year-old Bernard Tomic, who became the youngest man in a quarter-century to make the Wimbledon quarterfinals after winning just four Tour matches all year. Tomic climbed from No. 208 in the rankings to a career-high No. 41 at year's end. The mania surrounding the Gold Coast native at the Australian Open will be significant. With a good showing at his home major, a spot in the top 20 is a realistic goal for 2012.
Nguyen: It's hard to say than anything involving Novak Djokovic this year was "under the radar". Everything about his life both on and off the court has been dissected, from forehands to gluten to magic eggs. But I never felt like he got enough credit for how he comported himself this year. Long portrayed as a charismatic guy who never seemed to be able to get out of his own way (from a PR perspective), Djokovic not only pulled all the pieces together on-court, but he finally seemed to figure out how make himself one of the most likable guys without stepping on people's toes or putting them off. When you're in a sport alongside the likes of Federer and Nadal, both of whom have set a spectacularly high bar in terms of sportsmanship and class, you seem destined to fall short. But Djokovic's humility in the face of what he achieved this year, his need to emphasize the team that got him there, and his acceptance of the role of tennis ambassador, all the while staying true to himself (he still did impressions, danced on court, and tweeted videos of him singing with Big Mouth Billy Bass) never got as much play as his gluten-free diet. Commendable stuff from a guy who was once booed off Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Wertheim: 1) Someone other Djokovic, Federer and Nadal wins a Major. True, statistically, it's not exactly "bold" to take the field against three guys. But consider this: one of the Big Three has won every Major (save one) since January of 2005. That was almost seven years ago. In one four events, can't Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Andy Murray or David Ferrer steal a big prize?
2) Tennis will shine at the Olympics. It tends to be an overlooked sport at the Summer Games. As well it should be. Let some of the amateurs soak up the glory and air-time. But next year at the London Games, tennis will held on the grass at Wimbledon and the mixed doubles competition is an easy storyline. Sorry, rhythmic gymnasts and kayakers; when Serena Williams and Andy Roddick are on the same side of the net, it will siphon attention.
3) The Olympics hold tremendous allure for players. When they are over, a good many players will be left to wonder, "What's left for me to achieve?" While Federer will not be among them, a rash of mature players will likely call it a career around the time of closing ceremonies.
4) The U.S. Open will announce creative plans for a covered court. We can dream, can't we?
Jenkins: Two of the most watchable young players in the game -- Raonic and Alexandr Dolgopolov -- contest a major semifinal. I believe I hear derisive laughter from the gallery, but even the skeptics have to admit: Few sights in tennis are as compelling as Raonic's booming, multifaceted serves or Dolgopolov's groundstroke genius. Maybe I'm predicting this merely because I'd love to see it happen, conveniently ignoring Raonic's unfinished product or Dolgopolov's wandering mind. But what a spectacle it would be. There's a shade of Pete Sampras in Raonic -- fitting, since the man is his idol. I see the impressionist painter in Dolgopolov, a master of creativity behind that poker face. Wherever this matchup may unfold, it's a study in contrast.
Deitsch: Mark it down: Tsonga will win a major next year.
Graham: Nadal, who is 45-1 lifetime at the French Open, will not win at Roland Garros. Instead, Djokovic will become the fifth man in the Open Era to complete the career Grand Slam.
Nguyen: Murray will win his first Slam in 2012 and Federer will win two. It's a gut feeling.
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