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Late season change will setup intriguing 2012 tennis season

Posted: November 29, 2011 4:39 p.m.
Updated: November 30, 2011 5:00 a.m.

It was quite a turnaround for Roger Federer at Sunday’s season-ending tour championships in London. Despite missing out on winning any grand slam titles this year, the Swiss tennis star proved he still has something left in the tank by finishing up the year winning what most tennis fans consider the sport’s “fifth major.”

But as the tour’s year comes to an end, Federer’s success may or may not be a harbinger for his 2012 season.

Top ranked Novak Djokovic will likely still be very dangerous heading into next year as he took home three of the four major championships in 2011.

Federer’s longtime foe Rafael Nadal will be hungry and eyeing more than just his usual French Open crown.

And Andy Murray will be hoping to get the proverbial monkey off his back as he aims for his first-ever grand slam.

Two other big hitters, Tomas Berydch and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, will also be knocking harder on the door for a first championship.

So how will Federer fit into the mix?

Of the tour’s top 10 players, he is now the oldest at age 30. He is also the most accomplished. No other active player has taken home as many titles or has a grand slam championship on all four different surfaces.

However, at this time in his career, Pete Sampras, the player to whom Roger Federer is most often compared, was beginning his downward spiral. The legendary U.S. player went on a long dry spell before winning the 2002 U.S. Open, his last grand slam title.

And Sampras didn’t have near the competition Federer now faces. Other than the French Open, Sampras and his counterpart Andre Agassi dominated the grand slam tournaments during their pro careers.

It was very similar to what Federer and Nadal accomplished over the past six years.

A third wheel, however, has emerged in Djokovic. If he stays healthy both physically and mentally, it will be extraordinarily difficult for anyone to topple the top-ranked Serb in the near future, especially if he plays next season like he did in 2011.

The most glaring number might be the change in the top three’s grand slam records. At the beginning of the 2011 season, Federer had 16 grand slams, while Nadal had nine. Djokovic had only one. With the year coming to a close, Federer still has 16, Nadal now has 10, but Djokovic now has four.

Discounting Federer’s performance at the end of the year tournament, however, would provide a skewed outlook for his 2012 season outlook.

He thumped Nadal 6-3, 6-0 in only 61 minutes in London last week and beat 26-year-old Tsonga in the final Sunday in route to his record sixth ATP World Final Championship.

Can that success translate into another grand slam title next year for Federer? Perhaps, but it’s hard to get a clear determination of the consequences coming out of London.

Murray pulled out with an injury, while many point to a late season drain for Djokovic and Nadal as contributing to their early exits. Additionally, the court surface in London fits Federer’s game perfectly.

While nothing is a certainty for the top players heading into next season’s kickoff at the Australian Open in Melbourne, it definitely looks like it will be an intriguing year for tennis fans in 2012.  

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