2013 ATP Parenting: Expectations For 20 Young Men
What do men’s tennis fans want in 2013? Naturally, they want their favorite players to win big. It would be nice if Roger Federer can bag one more major. Novak Djokovic fans hope their man can win two majors. Rafael Nadal fans want a year full of health and a French-Wimbledon double. Andy Murray fans want a first Wimbledon title. David Ferrer fans want a first major final and championship in any location on any surface.
Wants are obvious. What should we expect of our favorite players? This is a topic that, in my mind, doesn’t get discussed enough at the end or beginning of each tennis season, on either the WTA or ATP tours. With “young gun” or “next generation” players such as Bernard Tomic, Milos Raonic, Ryan Harrison, and others, the trajectory of a tennis discussion seems to leave no room for modest or in-between assessments. Yet, that’s precisely what can enable fans to remain within a realistic world, a sober environment not dominated by wild, runaway demands.
Taking off a Federer fan’s hat, here’s one man’s attempt to set proper standards – challenging but attainable – for 20 ATP players of note in 2013:
PHILIPP KOHLSCHREIBER: There’s no reason why a player with Kohlschreiber’s shotmaking ability shouldn’t find his way into one major quarterfinal and one major fourth round. The German finally attained these reasonable goals this past year. He should expect no less of himself next year.
RICHARD GASQUET: Four fourth-round showings at majors in 2012 represented Gasquet’s best full body of work at tennis’s most important events. Yet, Gasquet has advanced past the fourth round at only one major (Wimbledon in 2007). In 2013, Gasquet – as long as he gets a manageable draw or two – should be able to translate four fourth-round appearances into one quarterfinal. That’s a reasonable expectation. We’ll even allow Gasquet to lose before the fourth round in one major if he can make the quarters in another.
NICOLAS ALMAGRO: His backhand and his overall toolbox of skills should have made him a much more accomplished player, but in 2012, Almagro didn’t waste as much of his gifts as he normally does. Two fourth-round appearances and a quarterfinal at the majors constitute a respectable portfolio for the Spaniard. In 2013, a pair of quarterfinals – adding one at a hardcourt major, be it in Melbourne or New York – would create a resume worthy of Almagro’s talents.
STANISLAS WAWRINKA: So much like Almagro in two fundamental respects – the quality of his backhand and the paucity of his competitive resolve – Wawrinka has also knocked on the door of the second week at majors in recent years. He made two fourth rounds in 2012, reaching the first weekend, but he couldn’t punch a quarterfinal ticket on either occasion. Wawrinka has made only two major quarterfinals in his career. If he doesn’t leave 2013 without quarter number three, he will have toiled in vain.
BERNARD TOMIC: This is a more complicated case. Tomic made the fourth round in Australia this past season and created a stir in the tennis world as a result. However, he never backed up that result in Paris, suburban London, or New York. What’s more is that he did not dig very deep in any non-Australian major. His work ethic and drive must be rebuilt, his hunger revived in a substantial way. Draws might not favor him in early rounds, but Tomic needs to find his way to one fourth round and one third round while not bowing out meekly in the other two majors he enters. That’s a fair challenge to extend to the Australian.
RYAN HARRISON: The American has too many shots in the bag to not make a modest push at the majors. Harrison gets some nasty early-round draws, and he also loses patience a lot – tactically and emotionally. However, if he gets two kind draws at the majors this year, he should be able to find his way to two third rounds. If he gets another favorable bracket in a third major, he needs to reach the third round as well. If Harrison is losing in the first rounds of majors to players outside the top 20, he’s doing it wrong. A few half-decent results need to make their way onto Harrison’s ledger sheet.
GRIGOR DIMITROV: Some hard yards of offseason training, some psychological development, and a pinch of draw luck need to translate into a modest goal for a talented but frail player: one third-round appearance at a major in 2013, a building block for a 2014 season that will need to deliver the goods.
DAVID GOFFIN: His fourth-round result at the French Open captured the attention of many fans… and a certain Swiss legend. Now, the 21-year-old with the 13-year-old visage needs to work his way through draws as something of a target. Two third-round results at majors would be a perfectly solid response to Goffin’s 2012 breakthrough at Roland Garros.
JOHN ISNER: The American’s talent and big-stage ability are formidable. Sure, the groundstrokes are loopy and the return of serve is deficient. The backhand can break down and overplaying the calendar has been an issue in recent years. Isner, though, should be able to make a run on grass and hardcourt surfaces at the majors. One fourth round and one quarterfinal are very reachable goals for Isner at the majors in 2013. Second- and third-round losses are disappointing results for the man who so impressively beat Djokovic in the semifinals of Indian Wells. That player is definitely a major quarterfinalist.
SAM QUERREY: The American who re-emerged in August and then upset Djokovic in the Paris (Bercy) Masters should be a major quarterfinalist, just like Isner. One doesn’t have to demand a year full of major quarterfinals for Querrey; one round-of-eight result in Melbourne or New York will do.
MILOS RAONIC: At times, Raonic displays the poise of a believing bomb-thrower, a tower-of-power server who trusts his abilities in tight situations. At other times, Raonic’s composure crumbles, and his return of serve – which is ghastly – lets him down in meaningful moments. Raonic knocked on the door many times in 2012, coming close to big wins on several occasions only to fall short. Raonic shouldn’t be expected to “figure it all out” in 2013, but he should make forward strides. He made the fourth round of the U.S. Open and got a chance to experience life in a graduate-school tennis classroom against an elite player, Andy Murray. As long as Raonic can make three fourth rounds in 2013 and earn more dates with the big dogs, he can build a body of knowledge (plus additional rankings points) that will set the stage for 2014, the year that needs to be his genuine coming-out party in the sport.
ANDREAS SEPPI: So close to taking out Novak Djokovic in Paris last spring, Seppi then stumbled at the next two majors, crashing out of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the first round. Seppi’s skill level is worthy of a third-round player. Yet, he’s reached the third round or better at only four majors. In 2013, Seppi needs to reach the third round twice to justify his talent and reward his commitment to the sport.
JERZY JANOWICZ: Is he ready to win, or was Bercy just an aberrational tournament? Yes, there was nothing normal about the Paris indoor Masters, since the event was staged one week before the World Tour Finals, but Janowicz’s talent and movement are both eye-catching. Moreover, Janowicz made the third round of Wimbledon even before his Bercy run. Expectations will be high for the Polish product among many tennis fans, but he doesn’t deserve to be held to such a high standard… not yet. The 2013 season will be a learning experience, a time when Janowicz learns to carry himself through the ups and downs of life on the tour. It’s 2014 which needs to be a big year for him. In 2013, merely making two third rounds and one fourth round would be a decent showing for him, given the circumstances. More should be expected of players (such as Raonic and Querrey) who have lived on the tour circuit for longer periods of time and should make good on their talent sooner rather than later. Janowicz is not quite in that position.
DAVID FERRER: A beloved player on the ATP Tour basked in the bright glow of his best year as a professional at age 30. Ferrer made his first French Open semifinal and his first Wimbledon quarterfinal. He advanced to yet another U.S. Open semifinal and won the first Masters 1000 title of his career in Paris. A 2013 just like 2012 would be something Ferrer could definitely live with. Expecting a first major final is a bit too much, but if Ferrer can merely make more major semifinals, he will give himself chances. Speaking of the notion of giving yourself chances to win majors…
ROGER FEDERER: The thing that critics and “he’ll never win another major” doubters forgot to realize about Federer is that he continued to make major semifinals on a regular basis. He remained fully in the mix, playing his way deep into majors and allowing for the possibility that an opponent would have an off day. This is what happened for Federer – and TO Novak Djokovic – in the Wimbledon semifinals. Federer took advantage of a subpar performance from his foe and won his 17th major title. In 2013, Federer needs to stick to the same script. He shouldn’t be expected to win 18, but he should be expected to give himself more chances. If he can make three semifinals (as he did in 2012), he will probably make one final. Australia – since he’ll be seeded second while Nadal will be rusty – should offer the Swiss his best chance at contesting a 25th major final. Dispassionately and analytically, three semis and one final constitute a fair target for Fed in 2013.
JO-WILFRIED TSONGA: Tsonga had seemingly ripened into a mature major player after a strong 2011, but he served up a very disappointing fourth-round loss to Kei Nishikori in the Australian Open. However, just when it seemed that the old and exasperating Tsonga had returned, the Frenchman played big-boy tennis and forced Novak Djokovic to hit baselines on multiple match points in the French Open quarterfinals. Tsonga regretted (or at least, should have regretted) only one point from that loss, a match point in which an open-court down-the-line groundstroke to Djokovic’s backhand side was hit into the middle third of the net. His performance in that match was still mightily impressive; it showcased the full arsenal of one of tennis’s most overwhelmingly athletic shotmakers. Tsonga pushed Andy Murray in the Wimbledon semifinals to add to the quality of his year, but – in typical fashion – he regressed at the U.S. Open and got knocked out by Martin Klizan in week one. In 2013, Tsonga needs to become a consistent major-tournament player. Three quarterfinals and one semifinal do not represent excessively high standards for a man with Tsonga’s gifts.
TOMAS BERDYCH: You can see how well the Czech hits the ball from the baseline, guided by strokes that are as smooth as anyone’s. Berdych generates such easy, natural power from the ground. Combined with his first serve and his long strides, he can play baseline tennis with the best in the sport. Berdych’s achievements in 2012 – specifically, reaching his third career major semifinal – can give him the confidence needed to turn a wasteful career into a more productive one. If he doesn’t make three quarterfinals and two semifinals (he’s better than Tsonga, a reality affirmed on multiple occasions this past autumn), he’s not measuring up… and that’s being generous.
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: You can see how this man won the 2009 U.S. Open. His battle with Federer at the Olympics was a classic. His second set war with Djokovic in the U.S. Open was nothing less than the best set of men’s tennis all year. Del Potro defeated Federer, his nemesis, in Basel (Switzerland). He was dominating Federer in the French Open quarterfinals before his health issues got the better of him. If indeed Delpo is healthy at the start of 2013, he should be expected to make a major semifinal for the first time in three years. He doesn’t have to win a major, but he should find himself in at least one final four.
RAFAEL NADAL: Rafa needs to make it through the 2013 season intact – that should be his first priority. Assuming that his body holds up, one should not expect too much from him in Australia, given the effects of accumulated rust. Winning the French Open and making the semifinals of Wimbledon (with a chance to do more at SW19) should be Nadal’s foremost goals in 2013. Hardcourt tournaments should definitely take a back seat on the Mallorcan’s priority list.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: This is an easy one: The French, and at least one other major to go along with it. A year-end No. 1 ranking for the third year in a row will follow if Nole bags two majors.
ANDY MURRAY: Wimbledon would be the preferred spot to win another major, but as long as Ivan Lendl’s pupil wins any major title in 2013, he’ll have produced a superb year, one his fans can and should cherish.