Big four to rule again in 2013

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Sebia's Novak Djokovic, on track for another US Open crown. (AAP Image/Barbara Walton)

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With world number one Novak Djokovic’s recent victory over Roger Federer in the ATP Tour Finals in London, a tremendous year for men’s tennis has come to an end, a year that saw the top four players snaffle a Grand Slam apiece.

And if form and fitness of the players hold true, we could be in for yet another electrifying 2013 season, which gets underway in a month’s time or so.

The men’s game is fascinatingly dominated by the top four superstars – Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal – followed by the chasing pack of David Ferrer, Juan Martin del Potro, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga et al.

Let’s look at the top four players, who in all likelihood are expected to stay at the top of the perch, leaving a yawning gap between them and the rest.

Novak might not have been able to replicate the phenomenal form displayed in 2011 but still managed to have a fabulous 2012, winning the Australian Open in a pulsating final with Rafael Nadal, along with three Masters Titles, one in Beijing and the most recent triumph in London. Additionally, he made the finals of the US and French Opens and the semis at Wimbledon.

A true warrior to the core, the dynamic Serb wears his heart on his sleeve. Having been side-tracked by the heroics of Federer and Rafa for so long, his rise and mental dexterity in the last two years has been extraordinary.

Ask Rafa, who was within a bull’s roar of the 2012 Australian Open title going 4-2 up in the fifth set, only to be defeated thanks to the sheer doggedness of the world number one in testing circumstances.

It’s only a matter of time before he wins a French Open title and completes the ‘Career Slam’.

It’s hard to spot a weakness in his game as he’s such a brilliant all-round player, who somehow finds a way to win. If there’s anything that could hold him back in 2013, it’s his fitness.

Some players lose the desire to excel once they turn 30 but not Roger Federer who, at 31, refuses to fade away. Andy Roddick retired this year (age 30) and Lleyton Hewitt’s (age 31) game is on the wane, but Federer continues to reign supreme.

Despite a few stumbles in the last few seasons, this graceful master had a great 2012, winning Wimbledon, three Masters Titles and one each in Rotterdam and Dubai. He also made the semis of the Australian and French Opens and lost in the quarters at the US Open.

He might not be as dominant as he was in the mid-noughties but finishing this year as world number two is a clear sign that he’s still capable of giving his rivals a run for their money. If there are any flaws in his game, it would be his athleticism against his peers. There’s no questioning the great man’s appetite for success.

When tears rolled down Andy Murray’s face as he watched Federer win his seventh Wimbledon title, questions began to once again swirl around as to whether the Scot is capable of beating a top player to win a Slam.

With the influence of coach Ivan Lendl finally paying off, Murray has answered his critics having had one of the best seasons of his career so far, winning the US Open and Olympic Gold.

Moreover, his progress has been so good that people are now talking about the dawn of a tantalizing Murray versus Djokovic rivalry in the sport; two players who contested fiercely, facing off on seven occasions this year with the Serb marginally taking the honours at 4-3.

There’s a lot to look forward to from the Scot and, on current form, he is expected to battle for top spot.

Having lost to Djokovic in seven straight matches in 2011, Rafa Nadal looked set to overcome the mental block he had developed against the Serb with a few modifications to his game.

He beat Djokovic in three consecutive finals this year, the Monte Carlo and Rome masters, plus the French Open and pushed the world number one to the limit in that absorbing six-hour Australian Open final.

But disaster struck at Wimbledon, when he lost to unknown Czech Lukas Rosol in the second round and since then he’s been sidelined with serious knee issues.

Tennis has missed the imperious presence of Rafa for most of 2012 and one can only hope that the indefatigable Spaniard would be able to maintain form and fitness in 2013. However, he might take some time to find his rhythm having been out of action for an extended period.

But Rafa is a great competitor and cannot be ruled out at any cost.

Who knows, maybe Tomas Berdych or del Potro could upset the applecart and add a new dimension to the game. But understandably, all eyes will be on the big four superstars, which is why 2013 is yet another season to look forward to with great anticipation.

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