Tennis predictions for 2012
Roger Federer and Serena Williams, after Slam-less years, will win big titles in '12
Novak Djokovic will slip (but not by much), while Petra Kvitova will lead the WTA
Played at Wimbledon, tennis will be one of the must-see events at the Olympics
1. Roger Federer will win either a Grand Slam title or Olympic gold medal. Empirically, he is not the same player he was a few years ago. But he remains Roger Federer and -- as he vividly demonstrated in October and November -- he can still play at a dizzyingly high level. At this point in the game, the 30-year-old is playing almost solely for five reasons (four majors and the Olympics) and tailoring his game accordingly. He'll win at least one of the big prizes in 2012. He's still that good. And, besides, tennis has a way of generating these scripts.
2. Serena Williams will win a major in 2012. She's 30? She's often injured? Her commitment and interest levels are more volatile than the S&P 500? Doesn't matter. When everything is aligned, she is the best in the business. Even in a miserable 2011 that saw her miss nine months, she finished 12th in the rankings and came within one match (and meltdown) of bagging Slam No. 14. Mixed with the usual ration of withdrawals and drama, look for her to get it in 2012.
3. Novak Djokovic will not replicate his 2011 record, but he will still finish 2012 at No. 1. This is not a knock on the No. 1 player. It's just playing the percentages. Whether it's the emergence of a challenger, the ability of Rafael Nadal to make necessary adjustments after going 0-6 against the Serb this year, the resurgence of Federer or (let's hope not) an injury, it's hard to see Djokovic winning three majors and 92 percent of his matches again. That said, there's little indication this year was a fluke for the 24-year-old. He plays well on all surfaces. His stamina is vastly improved. He is the youngest of the Big Three and he is riding a wave of confidence. Contingent on health, it's hard to picture him giving up the top spot.
4. Petra Kvitova will establish herself as a world-beater. And in so doing we will end the tired chatter about the WTA's power vacuum and the criticism that the top-ranked player has never won a major. Kvitova, 21, has a big-time game and hits hard enough to mask any issues with her mobility. Though still prone to some pratfalls, she appears ready to become the Queen Bee, and all that goes with it. The Wimbledon champion ran the table at the year-end championships, her sixth title in a season in which she began at No. 34 and ended at No. 2. If she can at least approximate this level of play in Australia, she ought to be riding high.
5. We get one high-profile WTA unretirement. Again, just playing the odds here. Given the combination of the available applicant pool, the current landscape and success of, yes, Kim Clijsters, but also 41-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm, look for another name player to grace us again with her presence. Nicole Vaidisova? Dinara Safina? Jennifer Capriati? Helena Sukova? Lottie Dodd? Someone has to realize she could still compete.
6. Tennis will shine at the Olympics. Traditionally, the sport has gone overlooked at the Summer Olympics. As well it should be. Djokovic made $12.6 million this year; Serena Williams has a gazillion Twitter followers. Let some of the amateurs soak up the glory and airtime. But next year in London, tennis will be held on the grass at Wimbledon and the mixed doubles competition is an easy storyline. Sorry, rhythmic gymnasts and kayakers; when Serena and Andy Roddick are on the same side of the net, it will siphon attention.
7. We'll be saying goodbye to some decorated champions. The Olympics hold tremendous allure for players. But when they are over, a good many 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 not long after the closing ceremony. There's something a little unseemly about predicting retirements -- it's a bit like a death pool. But if, say, David Nalbandian or Lleyton Hewitt or Kim Clijsters is still active at this point next year, it will be a surprise.
8. The U.S. Open will announce creative plans for a covered court. What's the expression? Oh, right. "Alibis are the nails in the house of failure." We've heard why a covered court in Queens is impractical at best, impossible at worst. But the fact remains that the reputation (and the finances) of the U.S. Open come in for a hit every time it rains. The USTA needs to come up with a creative solution here, especially when the other three majors have covered courts. Simply put, too much good gets squandered as soon as the clouds roll in.
9. Maria Kirilenko will be a top player. This is the hope anyway. After years of existing as a fine-but-ultimately-unthreatening player, Kirilenko, 24, made a conscious decision: To move forward with her career, she needed to move forward. That is, she needed to attack the net, a tactic many espouse but few deploy. With any luck, the 28th-ranked Kirilenko -- who won 13 of her final 18 matches in 2011 -- thrives next year and gets some attention. (That is, when she's not making news for her romantic life.) Other players will see this effective strategy and will emulate her.
10. The Williams sisters, as ever, will be compelling. Here's what we wrote last year and, really (while wishing Venus to make a full and speedy recovery), why not go back to the well again? "The Williams sisters saga will take some new twists. This is a bit like predicting the sun will rise in the east. But the most compelling reality TV programming in sports seldom disappoints. Serena will play her first-round match at Wimbledon on crutches -- and then win the tournament. Venus will author a best-seller during changeovers, while designing a neighbor's kitchen during bathroom breaks. They will sell their share of the Miami Dolphins and join the board of a hedge fund -- which, alas, holds its meetings during the weeks of Fed Cup competition. Something...."