1. Novak Djokovic – Djokovic was downright terrifying in 2011, but how’s this for scary? Despite not being at his absolute best in 2012, he still finished a whopping 2655 points ahead of everyone else. Moreover, the world No. 1 is riding a tidal wave of momentum into 2013. He lost to Andy Murray in a five-set U.S. Open final, won both Beijing and Shanghai, then—after a meaningless loss at the depleted Paris Masters—he punctuated his year with a triumph at the World Tour Finals. Djokovic is on top of his game (and the rankings) right now and there’s no reason to think he will slow down anytime soon because he is the two-time defending Australian Open champion.
2. Andy Murray – Murray went above and beyond accomplishing his main objective in 2012. Not only did he win his first Grand Slam (at the U.S. Open), but he also captured gold at the London Olympics. Things should only get better and better for Murray in 2013, and not just because Rafael Nadal is hurt and Roger Federer is playing a limited schedule. The third-ranked Scot cooled off a bit after his Flushing Meadows triumph, but the offseason will help him recharge to reach new heights this year. A two-time runner-up in Melbourne, Murray should stay on track and in form as the season begins.
Expect more accessories for Maggie and Rusty in 2013.
3. Roger Federer – While Nadal’s body is folding like a cheap tent, Federer just continues to Energizer Bunny his way through grueling season after grueling season. Part of that is great luck, part of that is great fitness, and part of that is great scheduling. The genius of his schedule management almost rivals the genius of his tennis artistry. Bypassing Miami and Monte-Carlo won’t help Federer catch Djokovic or stay ahead of Murray in 2013, but it could pay off in the long run as he looks all the way toward Rio. At the same time, one more slam should be expected and would allow the 31-year-old Swiss to stay competitive for year-end No. 1.
Highlights from a December exhibition match between Federer and Juan Martin Del Potro.
4. Juan Martin Del Potro – More than three full years after his U.S. Open title, it’s time for Del Potro to reestablish himself a slam-winning contender. He still hasn’t played a completely injury-free season since then, and if he manages to do it in 2013, watch out. Consider what he did in 2012 despite being not quite 100 percent almost from start to finish: a 65-17 record, quarterfinals at the Australian Open, French Open, and U.S. Open, a bronze medal at the Olympics, a title in Basel, and a semifinal finish at the World Tour Finals. Remaining healthy is a big “if,” but the possibilities are endless if he manages to do so.
5. David Ferrer – If you think this is the year Ferrer finally starts slowing down, think again. Like a fine wine, the Spaniard is only getting better with age. So when he turns 31 in April, what should we expect? Probably even better results, such as—perhaps—a title in Barcelona and maybe a few clay-court Masters finals (depending in part on Nadal’s status). Ferrer chalked up points everywhere in 2012; indoors (Paris Masters title), outdoors (Australian Open quarters, U.S. Open semis), clay (too many to name), and grass (Wimbledon quarters, ‘s-Hertogenbosch title). There’s nothing this guy can’t do.
6. Tomas Berdych – Berdych should be able to pass Nadal in the rankings after the Australian Open and remain ahead of him until the end of 2013. He’s simply too good for that not to happen. The Czech has reached the final of Wimbledon, the semis of the French Open, the semis of the U.S. Open, and he is a two-time Australian Open quarterfinalist. Heck, Berdych even reached a 2012 final on some kind of blue surface that was made of stuff which forensic scientists have yet to decipher. The guy can churn out points anywhere and everywhere faster than a riverboat gambler at a slot machine. One question is how will he remember the end of 2012: getting blown out my Ferrer or helping the Czechs win the Davis Cup?
7. Rafael Nadal – Already out of one Grand Slam and sure to be rusty whenever he finally returns, Nadal is probably out of the running for a Top 3 finish in 2013. No. 4 is not out of the question, but neither is–say–a spot outside the Top 100. There is simply no telling when the Spaniard is coming back or how he will fare when he does make said comeback. As long as Nadal plays a full clay-court swing, it won’t matter if he misses every event on the planet prior to Monte-Carlo. He should have enough time to snag a spot in the World Tour Finals, but it’s far from a sure thing given the current circumstances.
Meanwhile, Nadal’s Twitter feed has been silent since December 28. That cannot be good news in regards to his mental health.
8. Janko Tipsarevic – Will anyone left out of the London picture in 2012 make a breakthrough in 2013. Don’t count on it. A lot of that has to do with the rest of the ATP field, but some of it also has to do with Tipsarevic. The Serb recorded a season-high 57 wins last season and several stellar performances in the fall should have his confidence throttled in high gear. Like Ferrer, Tipsarevic is durable, accomplished on all surfaces, and is only improving as his career progresses. Plus, if mathematically and humanly possible, he would play tournaments 53 weeks a year.