By Tommy Keeler Jr.
With the college bowl season upon us, and the NFL winding down the regular season, college basketball and the NBA in full swing, it's a great time to be a sports fan.
There's plenty to look forward to in the coming weeks, but still what I'm most looking forward to is the return of tennis.
The tennis season just ended a few months ago, but that's one of the best things about the sport -- it's played mostly year-round. This year the season is starting even earlier. The first tournaments begin on Dec. 30, so the 2013 season actually starts in 2012. The Australian Open starts on Jan. 14, just a few short weeks away.
While I know most people are probably not huge tennis fans, I am, and I'm just as excited for the upcoming season as I am to see how all the football and basketball drama plays out.
Last year was one of the best years that I can remember in tennis. The Tennis Channel has been showing the top 30 matches of the year throughout the month of December, which reminded me just how many great matches there were. It also makes me wonder -- what's in store for 2013? So, here's a look at five of the biggest questions that will affect the upcoming season.
How will Rafael Nadal's health hold up?: Nadal is scheduled to play in an exhibition at the end of the month, his first action since June at Wimbledon. He was out the rest of the year due to a knee injury. Throughout his career, the Spaniard has been bothered by knee issues, a lot of which comes from all the running he does on the court. Nadal is a little like RG3 of the Washington Redskins, in that his playing style makes him a winner, but also can produce a lot of injuries. There's no question Nadal is one of the greatest players of all time, but I don't believe the 26-year old will be able to play more than another four or five years. Will he eventually pass Roger Federer for the most slams? I don't think so. However, I do think Nadal will come back strong this season and will win another French Open. He needs to limit his schedule so that it doesn't take so much out of his body. Nadal is still in his prime, and is certainly one of the best players in the world. I think if Nadal plays a little less, it will help him to have a very successful 2013 season.
Will Federer win another grand slam?: It was great watching Federer win Wimbledon last year, and even as I watched him celebrate I remember thinking this could be his last one. To me, Federer is truly the greatest of all time, and I would love to see the 17-time slam champion add even more to his resume. However, I don't see it happening in 2013. At 31, things will continue to get tougher for the Swiss star. He has said that he will cut back on his schedule in order to stay fresh throughout the year. This could hurt his ranking, but I think the bigger problem is simply the other great players around him. A healthy Nadal, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are all big threats at every slam, and unless there are upsets it will be very tough for Federer to go through two of those three guys. Federer will still be a factor, and he will go far in most of the slams. He has the record for most slam singles titles, and 17 is a pretty good number. If he doesn't win any more of them, I don't think he has anything to complain about.
Will Murray win more slams?: For several years Murray was the guy on the outside looking in. He was right there with the top three players in the world, but he couldn't break through and win a major. Then he won Olympic gold last year in his home country, and followed that up by winning the U.S. Open. After the Open he didn't finish the year as strongly as he would have liked, but there's no question he's a factor at every slam. He now has the confidence and knows that he can win any slam. I actually think Murray will win a slam, maybe even the Australian Open this year. It seems like he and his coach, former tennis great Ivan Lendl, are really clicking right now. I still think Djokovic is the player to beat in tennis, but with Nadal's health issues, and Federer's age, Murray may be Djokovic's top threat.
Will Serena Williams dominate women's tennis?: Williams was the clear-cut best player in the world last year, even though the rankings said she was No. 3. The 31-year old American won Wimbledon, an Olympic gold medal in singles, the U.S. Open and the year-end championships. If she stays healthy and focused -- always the question mark with Williams -- she could win the Grand Slam this year. There's really no one who can beat her if she plays at her best. She went a combined 8-0 last year against world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka and No. 2 Maria Sharapova. Most of the matches weren't even close. I think Williams will have a big year, but I do not think she will dominate. Williams tends to be injury-prone, and as she gets older it's hard to imagine her health will hold up for an entire season. With that said, I could see her winning three of the four slams, and putting herself firmly back at the top of tennis, even by the rankings.
Will the men's game continue to produce high drama at slams?: The last couple years, the men's semifinals and finals have been nothing less than riveting. Last year in the Australian Open semifinals, Djokovic beat Murray in a five-set battle, in a match that lasted almost five hours. Then Djokovic beat Nadal in a five-set, five-hour, 53-minute match that to me was the greatest match of all time. Then in the U.S. Open final, Murray beat Djokovic in a five-set, four-hour, 54-minute match. Can this continue? I think it can and will. With Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal at the top, I don't think there's ever been a better time for men's tennis. They are four great players, including two of the all-time greatest. Whether you're an avid tennis fan or just a casual one, I would encourage anyone to sit down and watch some of the drama that unfolds when the very best players in the world go at it. What the top four in the world have done for men's tennis over the last few years has been simply amazing, and I can't wait to see what they do next.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org