Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Men: A 2008 Preview (Top Ten)

I just finished reading an incredible article by James Martin about tennis players becoming less and less political. As Martin suggests, tennis is a political sport, a game that stretches around the globe and includes dozens (if not hundreds) of nations. Yet, without pioneers like Arthur Ashe to push the envelope, tennis players today are more likely to take cash for play.

Martin points out Amelie Mauresmo, the two-time slam winner. Mauresmo has been vocal about her support for tournaments in the Middle East, where the society is openly homophobic. It disappoints me that Mauresmo, as a strong-hearted lesbian, doesn't speak up more about issues like this. And where are the other gay tennis players? We all know that they're out there, both men and women. Why aren't these contemporary athletes speaking their minds and being true to who they are?

The point is, has cash continued its dominance over conscience in the world of tennis?

In any case, 2008 will prove to be a delicious year of tennis. Now that my predictions are in for the women, let's talk about the men:

Roger Federer
World rank: 1 '07 record: 68-9 Highlight: Capturing his fifth-straight Wimbledon in a hard-fought match over Rafael Nadal.

It's hard not to say a lot of good things about Roger Federer. The man is arguably the Greatest Of All Time and has his way with every opponent on the ATP when he's on his game. So after another banner year in 2007, I'm expecting more of the same from the man from Switzerland.

Prediction: Another three-peat for Roger. He'll take the cake at the Aussie, Wimbledon and the US Open, but still won't be able to break the clay-court spell of Rafael Nadal.

Rafael Nadal
World rank: 2 '07 record: 70-15 Highlight: Continuing his clay-court supremacy.

I can't help but love the speedster from Spain. Nadal has all the charisma you could want from a young tennis champion, and his style of play is something I tried (emphasis on tried) to emulate when I was playing competitive tennis. Nadal, however, has continued to struggle in proving himself as a versatile tennis player. Yes, he had a triumphant run at Wimbledon, where he battled rain, opponents and everything in between to make a run at Roger Federer and the All England title. But his record on hardcourts was 31-12 compared to 31-1 on clay, keeping his confidence at bay while continue to be the prince to King Federer.

Prediction: Another title in Paris, but won't repeat his All England magic.

Novak Djokovic
World rank: 3 '07 record: 68-19 Highlight: Establishing his place with the game's elite.

What a year 2007 was for Novak Djokovic. Like Jankovic, Djokovic has garnered my "Favorite" player title on the men's side. Like his personality, Djokovic's game grew in '07, and it will only continue to blossom in 2008.

Prediction: Djokovic will continue to win titles, just not slams...yet.

Nicolay Davydenko
World rank: 4 '07 record: 53-31 Lowlight: Will he ever give us the straight story on this scandal?

Cheater. Cheater. Cheater.

Prediction: I'm so fed up with Davydenko that I'm not even going to grant him the right to a prediction.

David Ferrer
World rank: 5 '07 record: 61-23 Highlight: Making the USO semifinals and compiling a 9-7 record against top 10 players.

Ferrer was simply fun to watch this season, especially during his run at the US Open. He lacks the weapons we all love to watch: the big gun that ends point with a bang. But Ferrer's grind, his speed and his tenacity certainly make him an enjoyable player to watch and a threat to any man opposite the net from him.

Prediction: I'm not quite sure if Ferrer can continue such a hot streak in 2008. The 25 year old has been a late bloomer, however, and has only improved each year on the tour since turning pro in 2001. Another top 10 finish certainly isn't out of the picture.

Andy Roddick
World rank: 6 '07 record: 54-16 Highlight: Leading the U.S. Davis Cup team to its first title since '95.

I'm not sure if there's a harder player to pinpoint than Andy Roddick right now. After achieving what he's worked so hard for this past month in winning the Davis Cup, it will be interesting to see whether Roddick can come out of the winter with the same work ethic he usually does.

Prediction: I can't help but think that 2008 will be much the same as '07. Roddick will linger with the likes of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, but won't be a threat at the majors like he once was.

Fernando Gonzalez
World rank: 7 '07 record: 37-24 Highlight: His awe-inspiring run to the Aussie final.

After the Aussie, Gonzalez went 31-23 on the year, and without Beijing and Rome, he would've been 23-21.

Prediction: Will slip out of the top 10, most likely back to the 20s or 30s.

Richard Gasquet
World rank: 8 '07 rank: 49-24 Highlight: His 8-6 in-the-fifth win over Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon
Gasquet had an up and down year, culminating at Wimbledon. After Wimbledon and through the USO, Gasquet went 3-4 before salvaging his year with a strong fall (including qualifying for Shanghai). Gasquet battled an injury, and still seems to be growing into his game - both mentally and physically.

Prediction: It's always hard to tell with Gasquet. But like Djokovic, I think this will be another year of maturation for the Frenchman. Perhaps he will go far for the first time at his home slam (perhaps the quarters or semis) and make a final at Wimbledon or the US Open.

David Nalbandian
World rank: 9 '07 record: 31-18 Highlight: A triumphant return to the upper echelon of tennis with two wins over Federer this fall (and two TMS titles to go along).

Is back. And seems poised to stay.

Prediction: If he's healthy, Nalbandian can play with the best. But if that gut re-appears, he'll once again slip into the oblivian of the 30s to 80s.

Tommy Robredo
World rank: 10 '07 record: 49-26 Highlight: Being consistent.

I have to admit that I didn't pay much attention to Tommy Robredo this last season. He's a seasoned player and has continued to be consistent, landing him inside the top ten for the second straight season.

Prediction: If he continues to do what he did this last year, including capturing two titles, I think Robredo might be a top 20 staple for a few years to come.

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