I have been crossing the days on my calendar for the new tennis season to start and it is nearly upon us! The first tennis of the season actually kicks off on the 29th of December in Abu Dhabi as the stars of the ATP turn up for the big-bucks Mubadala World Tennis Championships. The world number one, Novak Djokovic debuts at this event and is joined by a star-studded line-up including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils. I find it strange that the players have been pushing for a longer off-season, yet they are willing to play at this exhibition… that is what money will do for you!
The season officially kicks off on the 31st of the December with the Hyundai Hopman Cup in Perth. This is one of my favourite tournaments on the calendar where eight teams assemble from different countries with one male and one female player from each country. Each tie consists of a ladies singles match, a mens singles match and a mixed doubles match. The line-up is extremely strong on the womens side with Caroline Wozniacki, Petra Kvitova, Li Na and Marion Bartoli all competing. However the mens side is much weaker compared to last year with Tomas Berdych and Mardy Fish the highest ranked competitors. The Czech Republic (Petra Kvitova and Tomas Berdych) look to be the strong favourites on paper for this tournament. The tournament will begin on the 31st with France (Marion Bartoli and Richard Gasquet) taking on China (Li Na and Wu Di).
The WTA tour will kick off on the 2nd of January with the tournaments in Brisbane and Auckland. Brisbane, which has been upgraded to Premier level status this year has its strongest ever line-up. Unfortunately, Maria Sharapova (who would have been the number one seed) has withdrawn from the tournament with an ankle injury; however the tournament still boasts a stellar line-up, which will now be headlined by the US Open champion Sam Stosur. Andrea Petkovic, Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic are all set to compete in Brisbane as well. I always enjoy watching matches in Brisbane because the courts are very fast, which provides some high quality and exciting tennis. The final in 2010 between Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters was one of the best matches of that year and with the line-up here, i’m hoping we will get another cracker.
Auckland has a strong line-up too although like Brisbane, it has suffered a big name withdrawal in Venus Williams. Venus has played a few exhibitions with her sister Serena in the last couple of weeks so I was slightly puzzled by the withdrawal. Sabine Lisicki will be the number one seed and she is joined by Peng Shuai (who will be going for her first ever WTA title), Svetlana Kuznetsova and Flavia Pennetta. The draw is littered with dangerous floaters such as Petra Cetkovska, Christina McHale, Zheng Jie and Marina Erakovic. Last year, Greta Arn stunned everyone to claim the title and I would expect one of the floaters to go deep into the tournament…
The ATP tour will begin with three events in Doha, Brisbane and Chennai. The strongest line-up is found in Doha where four of the competitors from Abu Dhabi in Nadal, Federer, Tsonga and Monfils officially begin their 2012 campaign. The draw also contains the much improved Alex Bogomolov Jr. and former World Tour Finals champion, Nikolay Davydenko. I would expect the top four to be dominant in Doha.
Andy Murray has broken tradition of opening his season at the Hopman Cup to headline this years event in Brisbane. I think this is a smart move from Murray; although he has reached the last two Australian Open finals, he has suffered in the subsequent months from the final loss so mixing it up is a good decision in my opinion. Murray is joined in the draw by a number of up and coming players in Alexandr Dolgopolov, Kei Nishikori, Kevin Anderson, Bernard Tomic and Ryan Harrison.
The final ATP tournament in Chennai, India is headlined by Janko Tipsarevic, Nicolas Almagro, Stanislas Wawrinka and Milos Raonic. I think this year could be a good one for both Tipsarevic and the rising Raonic; in particular it will be important for Raonic to get matches under his belt after missing the latter part of the 2011 season following hip surgery.
NEXT – Previews and predictions of the main draws for the WTA tournaments (and ATP tournaments if I have time!) in the New Year!
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO EVERYONE 🙂