After what seemed like an eternity of an off season (oh wait, that was only three weeks?), the Australian summer swing is finally upon us and that means players have to start thinking about defending all those points from last year. Conversely, players who started 2011 with a bust have the chance to skyrocket up the rankings ladder. The biggest chance to score some points will come at the Australian Open in two weeks. Let’s take a look at which players have the most to gain and which players have the most to lose.
The Upside: Players with Room to Improve
Rafael Nadal – For most players, a Grand Slam quarterfinal is a great result. For Rafa, it’s a serious off day. Australia 2011 was the last Slam where Rafa failed to make it to the final. An injured Nadal lost in the quarterfinals to compatriot David Ferrer, which means that Australia 2012 is Nadal’s best chance to add the most points at a Slam in 2012. While there are plenty of rumors regarding a sore shoulder and a change in racket head weight, I think Nadal will show up in Australia ready to play. Australia hasn’t always been Rafa’s best Slam, but I would be surprised if he loses before the semifinals.
Jo Wilfried Tsonga – By the end of 2011, Tsonga had tied his career high ranking, and at number 6, it will be tough to climb much higher. However, Tsonga’s best performance at a Grand Slam was when he made the finals in Australia, so if ever there was a time to make a splash, it would be now. Tsonga had some great wins last year, over the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Juan Martin del Potro. Riding that kind of confidence, Jo may be able to pull off a big upset in Melbourne, assuming he can keep his head. Although, that’s a big assumption.
Mardy Fish – Mardy Fish had a career season in 2011 and it’s tough to imagine the 30 year old doing much better this year. The majority of Fish’s points to defend are in the second half of the season, which means that the best way to hedge his position or even jump up a spot or two in the rankings is to go deep at the Australian Open. Last year, Fish lost in the second round, which leaves heaps of room for improvement this year. Mardy will have the added bonus of being a Top 8 seed, which theoretically gives him a better draw.
Juan Martin del Potro – Juan Martin del Potro ended the 2010 season ranked 257 in the world. He is currently ranked 11. That’s quite a jump. There’s not quite as much room to improve this year, but it’s nearly inevitable that Delpo will crack the Top 10 after the Australian Open, if not before. Last year, Juan Martin fell to Marcos Baghdatis in the second round. Juan Martin played some amazing tennis last season and I expect to see great things from him in the coming year. I would not be surprised to see Delpo in the Top 5 by the end of 2012.
The Downside: Players Due for a Fall
Novak Djokovic – Could Novak Djokovic possibly match the year he had last year? No. Novak Djokovic tore through the draw in Melbourne last year, and then proceeded to win pretty much everything until the US Open. He was undefeated until the French Open, where he lost in the semifinals to Roger Federer. Djokovic has won the Australian Open twice, and he’s definitely a favorite going in to 2012. However, considering his success last year, there’s really nowhere to go but down.
David Ferrer – The diminutive Spaniard managed a big upset, taking out Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Australian Open. At number 5 in the world, it’s very unlikely that Ferrer will be able to crack into the Top 4, considering their dominance. Again, that means little room for improvement, and lots of room for fallout.
Robin Soderling – Unfortunately, Soderling has been plagued by injury for most of 2011 and it seems like these woes will be continuing in 2012. He is planning to skip out on the Australian Open, where he would have been defending fourth round points. He will also be losing out on championship points from Brisbane and if he’s not fit by February, his points from Rotterdam and Marseille will disappear as well.