What lies ahead: Tennis 2013 burning questions

January 1, 2013, 1:28 PM

Between the Olympics, Milos Raonic and Andy Murray’s first Grand Slam victory, 2012 was an exciting year for tennis fans.

What does 2013 hold in store? Here are a few burning questions for the year that lies ahead.

Will Rafael Nadal stay healthy?

I hope so.

Rafael Nadal has been sidelined since June with a knee injury. He was supposed to return to competition in December, but he had to pull out of the exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi due to a stomach virus and will now skip the Australian Open in January.

So when will he return? Any day now. But we don’t know which Nadal we’re going to get: the 11-time Grand Slam Champ, or a weaker shadow of his former self.

Nadal is an grizzled 26-year-old. No, 26 isn’t old, but Nadal’s body is. Think of it this way –Roger Federer is a young 31-year-old. He plays a low-impact game and he’s managed to stay healthy.

Federer was 27 when he won his 14th Grand Slam. Nadal turns 27 later this year. The only thing standing between Nadal and Federer’s 17 Grand Slam titles record is Nadal’s health.

Will Milos Raonic win a Major?

No.

Will anyone outside of the Top Four (Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray) win a Major? No. So Raonic doesn’t have to feel bad.

Raonic reached a couple of Masters quarterfinals last year — partially due to skill but also with a bit of luck because of some players withdrawing.

Raonic is a very talented player who will do well on Tour for many years to come. But in this age of men’s tennis, Grand Slam success doesn’t come quickly. Sure, Juan Martin del Potro snuck one in, but it took Andy Murray years to finally win his first.

Raonic might be the black horse to go deep into Majors this year, but he still won’t be hoisting the trophy on the final Sunday. Let’s hope he proves me wrong.

Will Andy Murray win another Major?

What a relief. Finally, after all that waiting, Murray became a Grand Slam champion at the 2012 U.S. Open.

With Murray, it was never a question of whether or not he had the skill to win a Major, but rather whether or not he believed he could win.

Unfortunately for Murray, he is competing at a time when Nadal, Federer and Djokovic are in the picture. And let’s face it — they don’t give their opponents many opportunities to win.

But now that Murray has won his first Slam, the floodgates might open.

With Nadal struggling with injuries and Federer aging, Slams will become a lot more realistic for Murray. Nadal will remain the favourite at the French Open and Federer the favourite at Wimbledon, but Murray and Djokovic will duke it out for the hard court titles.

And when, not if, Murray wins Wimbledon, Britain will go crazy.

Will Roger Federer stay in the Big Four?

How does Federer do it?

At 31, Federer won his 17th Grand Slam last year and he is already talking about competing in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero. He’s not going away.

Federer doesn’t want to turn out like Lleyton Hewitt or even Andy Roddick, who went from being the best to just hanging around on the Tour, being upset by players who are barely out of their teens.

Federer will stay at the top. He’s arguably the greatest player of all time and he’s managing his career wisely. This year, Federer has cut down his schedule in order to stay healthy. When Federer competes, he’ll be doing so to win, not to simply collect another pay cheque.

Will Serena Williams end the year as No. 1?

Believe it or not, despite winning Wimbledon, Olympic Gold, and the U.S. Open, Serena Williams didn’t end the 2012 season as the WTA No. 1. The WTA rankings system is silly — that’s the nicest way I can put it.

But instead of going on a rankings system rant (trust me, you don’t want to hear that), let’s just talk about Williams.

Williams is the greatest female tennis player in the world, even if her No. 3 ranking doesn’t reflect that.

Because of the light schedule that she plays, chances are that Williams won’t finish 2013 as the world No. 1.

Even so, if Williams can continue to play at the same level she was at in 2012, she’ll have another outstanding year.

Sportsnet.ca off-the-wall prediction

It’s hard to make an off-the-wall prediction. You don’t want it to be a completely ridiculous and impossible feat, but then again, I guess it should be pretty close. So here we go…

Milos Raonic will end the year in the ATP Top 5. I know what you’re thinking — fat chance, right?

In 2012 Raonic finished the year at a career-high ranking of No. 13 in the world. By the end of 2013, Raonic will be in the top 10 — I’m certain. But realistically, there is only one spot that’s open in the Top 5 because Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and Murray have the Top 4 basically locked up.

In order to reach the top 5, Raonic would have to play better than players like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro.

Yes, it’s possible. But don’t bet on it — I don’t want to be blamed for anything.

Who will be the surprise breakout star of 2013?

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