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Men's Tennis Grade Report

Jeffrey Sakakibara |
November 25, 2012 | 1:15 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

Rafael Nadal needs to take care of himself before he ends his career himself. (PJF Photography/Creative Commons)
Rafael Nadal needs to take care of himself before he ends his career himself. (PJF Photography/Creative Commons)
Novak Djokovic (A): After arguably one of the best seasons of all time in 2011, Novak Djokovic began his 2012 campaign with a five-set win over Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open. With pressure to constantly improve from last season, Djokovic answered critics and doubters beautifully with a hard-fought Grand Slam title and ended the season with three Masters Titles and a win over Roger Federer at the Year-End Championships. So why doesn’t Djokovic deserve the A+? Well, quite frankly, Men’s tennis this year was the most balanced in recent years. Each of the Big 4 grabbed a Grand Slam Title and asserted where each player excels. It’s tough to surpass three Grand Slams in one calendar year, but there is a different reason why Djokovic still gets the A mark. Djokovic could’ve easily breezed through the year-end championships and still end the season ranked No. 1. However, being down a break in each set, Djokovic pulled out a victory from one of the best closers in the game. The maturity and commitment Djokovic showed to the game of tennis is especially significant only because Djokovic used to tank matches and withdraw for the most bizarre reasons. This year, Djokovic has really cemented himself as a stable elite of the game. 

Roger Federer (A-): Retirement rumors were starting, and Federer’s performance seemed to drop a bit at the end of 2011. The most alarming factor was that Federer began to become vulnerable during the crucial matches, something he would never do a couple years ago. Tough four- and five-set matches during the latter stages of a Grand Slam became more of a struggle for Federer, and it seemed that age had finally become a factor in his game; however, he dispelled critics by beating Andy Murray in convincing fashion at the Wimbledon final. Federer’s fluid and precise style allows him to be a timeless figure in the sport. Often times players overschedule and end up getting injured midway through a tournament because of exhaustion, but Federer carefully prioritizes various tournaments to insure that he performs at his best when most needed. At age 31, Federer went through this season with no major injuries, and we can look forward to yet another impressive season in 2013.

Andy Murray (B+): Murray finally carved his name into a Grand Slam trophy and really started to channel his emotion into positive play instead of negative body language. A five-set win over Djokovic at Wimbledon and a Gold Medal at the Olympics over Federer solidified the fact that Murray is indeed a worthy and legitimate member of the Big 4. However, that three-month stretch seems so long ago now. It is certainly too early to tell if Murray’s run at the Open was a fluke, but he’s still forced to come back from behind against the rest of the Big 4. Murray lost a nail-biter to Djokovic at the Shanghai Masters and another tough loss at the World Tour Finals. He still can’t get over the Djokovic. Next year will be Murray’s most important season as he will look to fill his trophy case with more Grand Slam hardware. His main goal will be focused on making his matchups with Djokovic more a rivalry than a struggle. 

Rafael Nadal (B-): Nadal missed four months of tennis, including the US Open and the Olympics. But Nadal got to several finals in the early stages of the season and won the French Open for the seventh time. So why the B-? Nadal has constantly barked at the tennis league for squeezing too many tournaments in a short span and also criticized the overwhelming amount of hard court tournaments compared to clay or grass. But this year was alarming because Nadal missed the whole hard-court season. Nadal’s knees were banged up so much that the grass season alone ruined his knees beyond its limit. With 11 Grand Slam titles already, Nadal will be regarded as a legend of the game if he retired right now. But if he is to have a timeless career like Federer’s, he needs a major change in his schedule. Nadal must reduce the amount of masters tournaments he plays, and may need a style change in his game. Though Nadal has gradually changed his tear-and-grind style of tennis throughout his career, a more aggressive style of play has become a necessity now. Shorter points and less sliding on the hard courts will lead to a longer life for his knees and ultimately a healthier season. Nadal performed impressively for the first four months of the season. But in a year-long sport like tennis, he needs to gauge his stamina better. 

David Ferrer (B+): It’s impossible to give Ferrer an A rating without a Slam title, but his will and passion keeps him a consistent darkhorse in any tournament he plays.  Without question, Ferrer is the epitome of a grinder -- not only in terms of Ferrer’s style of play, but also in terms of his career. Throughout the year, Ferrer reached eight finals and won seven titles. Finishing the year 76-15 should land any player in the top-3 at least. But in this day and age, it’s simply not enough. Ferrer deserves so much respect because he keeps trying at the big tournaments; this may sound universal for any athlete, but let me justify. Ferrer has reached semi-finals and finals in Masters Series and Grand Slam tournaments but constantly falls short behind the big 4. But he never loses belief in his game. This stubborn mentality is vulnerable to criticism, but he never wavers. I don’t expect him to be any different next year, in that Ferrer will be stable enough to stay in the top-5, but unable to break the seemingly impenetrable top 4 wall. 

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