My tennis predictions for 2013
In anticipation of the new year, SI.com's writers are predicting the stories they think will define the sports landscape in 2013.
1. All eyes will be on Rafael Nadal. You inevitably come to regret speculating about an athlete's health, so let's just say this: Nadal's knees will play starring roles in the 2013 tennis narrative. He either will be beset by injury, causing more anxiety about his future and inevitably more second-guessing about his scheduling/practice habits/career management; or, rested and repaired, he will resume winning enriching the plot and perhaps even reviving talk that he could equal Roger Federer's record for Grand Slam titles. You laugh? He has 11 right now, six behind his rival. And he doesn't turn 27 until June.
2. Andy Murray will win another major. Having broken through the ATP's equivalent of the glass ceiling, there's no reason why he can't remain in tennis' E-suite. Yes, one Slam does not a Federer make. But we always knew that this was as much about self-belief as it was about ability. In the last three big-ticket events (Wimbledon, the London Olympics and the U.S. Open), Murray has gone 19-1. And now that he is unburdened -- tennis' equivalent of the Chicago Cubs' streak has been snapped -- he can swing away.
3. The top American female not named Williams will be ... Sloane Stephens. The 19-year-old turned in a solid 2012 that included a fourth-round appearance at the French Open. Already the youngest player in the top 40 (at No. 38), she can play on a variety of surfaces and from a variety if positions on the court. There are weaknesses in need of attention, but there's a lot to like here (including @sloanetweets). And if you're in the market for another prospect, 17-year-old Madison Keys ought to be a top-50 player by year's end.
4. Serena Williams will win the Grand Slam -- and will still finish the year No. 2 in the WTA rankings. Only half kidding on both counts. Over the past six months, there's little to suggest that Serena can be beaten at a Slam -- starting with the Australian Open, an event she's won five times. If she can win in Paris -- clearly the most difficult major for her -- this could get very interesting. And given the peculiarities of the ranking system and the premium it places on volume, it's always difficult for Williams to play her relatively light schedule and still ascend to the top spot. No matter how much winning occurs when she does play.
5. Roger Federer will remain in the top five. Is he the Federer of 2006, who won majors as a matter of ritual? No. Is he still among the best on the planet? Absolutely.
6. Bernard Tomic will reverse his slide. After a fine 2011, Tomic was a work in regress in 2012, faltering on the tennis court and in the court of public opinion. He was pulled over for driving his sports car at excessive speeds. He asked for his father to be removed from an event. He was involved in a brawl. He gave something other than his best effort at matches. (A nod to whomever came up with the nickname "Tomic the Tank Engine.") But, as a wise man once said: "The best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores." Tomic doesn't turn 21 until October. He'll grow up.
7. A lot could change in tennis in 2013. The U.S. Open final will get a new time—and, likely, a new television partner going forward. One (or both) Tours could get new chief executives. Expect to see a few more events change sites. But don't be surprised if Venus Williams is still around. Sure, Williams the elder turns 33 next year. But given her career management (which looks smarter each year) the usual metrics go out the window. They always do.
8. No one outside the Big Four will win a major. Nadal is the favorite in Paris, Federer is the favorite on grass. Djokovic and Murray acquit themselves awfully well on hard courts. That will make life tough for players such as Juan Martin del Potro, Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and David Ferrer in their bid to win a major.
9. Sam Querrey will be the top-ranked American by year's end. When Courtney Nguyen first mentioned it at the bottom of SI.com's year-end ATP roundtable, we nodded and said, "That sounds about right." Andy Roddick is, of course, retired. Mardy Fish's health status remains in doubt. John Isner had a mystifying year, beating Federer (on clay!) and Djokovic and then evaporating at the Slams. Ryan Harrison didn't progress much in 2012. Brian Baker was a terrific story, but lost momentum after his inspiring spring. Querrey? He is (gulp) 25 now, in the guts of his career. He is healthy, mature and coming off a fall in which he defeated Djokovic, Milos Raonic and Fernando Verdasco (twice) to finish No. 22, eight spots below Isner.
10. Tennis authorities will finally address the following with heft and true leadership:
a) the conflicts of interest that hinder the sport and stunt its growth.
b) runaway technology.
c) out-of-competition drug testing.
d) the "income gap" between the majors and the standard tour events.
e) the problematic television situation -- wait until the U.S Open men's final "double-bounces" among networks -- and diminishing ratings.
Actually, we'd settle for progress on any one these issues. But as we head into the new year, we can emulate the players and dream big, can't we?