The year of Novak Djokovic
January, 3, 2013
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com
On Wednesday, we unveiled five predictions about the women's game in 2013. Now it's time for the men.
Simply put, expect Novak Djokovic to be the clear MVP, with Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal (hopefully) and Juan Martin del Potro doing the chasing.
5. No Grand Slam quarterfinals for Raonic
Reasons exist to root for Milos Raonic in 2013.
Dani Pozo/AFP/GettyImagesMilos Raonic is not going in the right direction.
Canada needs something to cheer about after being deprived of hockey (let's not underestimate that one, eh?) and Raonic is a likable, well-spoken chap.
But compared to a year ago, the future holds less promise -- at least in this author's opinion. Back then, I thought Raonic would one day become a Grand Slam champion. Not so sure now.
Raonic looked a whole lot like John Isner in 2012: The serve makes him a threat against any player, but not being able to break opponents means he's vulnerable in any round.
Twelve of his 20 defeats came against lower-ranked foes, and he was 47th in percentage of return games won -- one spot ahead of Isner. Although he moved up from 52nd in the same category in 2011, the actual percentage of return games won slipped from 16 to 15. Going in the wrong direction.
In a defeat to Grigor Dimitrov this week in Brisbane, Raonic didn't win a point on the Bulgarian's first serve, and Dimitrov isn't known for having an overpowering delivery.
4. Top 30 for Ryan Harrison
A young pitcher comes in and has success in his rookie season. The next year, with batters knowing his stuff and patterns, he dips. What happens in the third year? If he's the real deal, he sticks with it, stabilizes and the quality shines through.
Elsa/Getty ImagesRyan Harrison is a player on the rise.
Though some aren't convinced, we're backing the 20-year-old Harrison to rebound from a disappointing 2012 and reach the top 30.
He still has the tools to be competitive against the best of them, and unlike, let's say, Ernests Gulbis, he'll put in the hard work. He's more settled now, too, after sorting out his coaching situation.
In assessing the American men overall, with little ranking points to defend in the first half of 2013, Sam Querrey will hope to make his top-10 debut. But for what would be only the second time since the rankings were introduced in 1973, an American man ending the year in the top 10 isn't likely.
Do you miss Andy Roddick? Take comfort in knowing he still has a ranking. It's 39th this week.
3. A Grand Slam final for del Potro
Had it not been for a wrist injury, del Potro would have landed in several Grand Slam finals by now and been the fourth member of the Big Four first, ahead of Murray. The worst, however, is behind del Potro, and he can add to the 2009 U.S. Open.
Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty ImagesA wrist stymied Juan Martin del Potro's climb in the rankings.
While the chunk of the calendar post-U.S. Open isn't the most vital, it turned out to be hugely significant, in a good way, for del Potro in 2012. He ended a seven-match losing streak against Federer -- the moment was similar in importance to his breakthrough victory against Nadal in Miami in 2009 -- and won back-to-back titles in Vienna and Basel.
He's on an upward curve that only another injury can send tumbling.
2. No Slam titles for Roger
We can stipulate that Federer is dangerous.
Julian Finney/Getty ImagesRoger Federer will rest before the French Open.
He may be 31, but the Swiss is a young 31, given his game style and effortless movement. He has been able to avoid serious injuries and his motivation remains high.
Deciding not to play Miami in 2013 shows how motivated he is to add to his 17 majors: Why mess around with a non-Slam tournament (albeit a substantial one) ahead of the clay-court season? He'll get a nice two-month break to recharge, train and prepare for the French Open and Wimbledon.
He wants to avoid a repeat of late last summer, when he was "exhausted" after chasing the No. 1 ranking and going deep at the two European Slams and the Olympics.
Count on Federer to achieve a clean sweep of Grand Slam semifinals -- the last time he did that was in 2009. But going on to win a major will prove to be difficult because of Murray's progress and, more relevant, Djokovic. If Nadal picks up where he left off on clay when he re-emerges on the tour, the Spaniard will have to be considered the favorite at Roland Garros.
If not, Djokovic is the man to beat.
Federer won't slide out of the top four. Not even close. But he'll remain stuck on 17.
1. Three majors for Nole
Djokovic coped well with increased expectations in 2012 while dealing with the death of his grandfather and illness of his father.
He matched his 2011 season by appearing in three Grand Slam finals and won the year-end championships.
With Nadal's future uncertain, and even if Murray has raised his level under Ivan Lendl, Djokovic has a fine opportunity to claim three more majors in a season.
Murray figures to be Djokovic's top challenger on hard courts, and the Serb has won two straight against the Scot.
Djokovic tends to get roped in by Murray and mirror his mostly defensive style instead of being aggressive (as he was in the third and fourth sets of the U.S. Open final), leading to extended slugfests. But when he does step on it, there's only one winner: Djokovic.
He's comfortably the better player.
Perhaps he should pretend he's down a match point against Murray on every point. Far from being overly risky, when Djokovic fended off five match points in Shanghai, it was controlled aggression that won him three of the points. (A good serve and backhand winner on the defensive accounted for the other two points.)
You'd also have to anticipate that Djokovic will perform better at Wimbledon than in 2012, when he underwhelmed in the semifinals against Federer.
This will indeed be Djokovic's year.