Tennis Betting: Who to keep an eye on in 2009
It's been an intriguing year on the Men's Tennis tour and Simon Mundie reflects on the events of 2008 as well as taking a look at which players could be making an impact in 2009.
A frenetic year on the men's tour is now over, and it has certainly been one to remember. As has been the case for the last four years, the very top of the game has been dominated by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, two players who will go down as greats no matter what they achieve during the rest of their careers.
However, unlike the previous three seasons, top spot was wrestled away from the iron grip of the Swiss maestro by Nadal, who proved once and for all that he is far more than simply a great claycourter. And this year, Novak Djokovic proved that it wasn't just the top two who were capable of winning the Grand Slam events.
By winning the Australian Open at the beginning of the season, as well as the Masters Cup at the end, he made Federer's position as world number two extremely precarious; a situation that would have been virtually unthinkable last year.
Andy Murray's end to the year has made people sit up and take notice; consider him a very real challenger for the top spot, and besides him there have been several young players who have shot up into the top ten and marked themselves out as competitors of the top order; players like Gilles Simon, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Juan Martin Del Potro. The year ending top-ten is one of the most exciting this decade- as there is real quality in abundance from top to bottom.
But leaving them to one side, who are the players to keep your eyes on in 2009?
One to watch is a man currently some way off the top echelons of the game, Ernests Gulbis. The six foot three inch Latvian is currently ranked 53rd in the world, but showed in a couple of powerhouse performances during the season that he could be set to make his move. The highlights of his year were a quarter-final finish at the French Open, where he lost to Novak Djokovic, and a superb match with Rafael Nadal in the second round of Wimbledon, where he took the first set and only really lost control of the match in the third set tie-break.
His game is built around powerfully hit groundstrokes, particularly off the forehand side, and his only weakness is his on-court naivety. If he can learn to construct points and generally improve his court craft, as well as stay calm on the big points, 2009 could be a big year for him, particularly during the clay court season.
Another twenty year old who could make a breakthrough over the next twelve months is the strapping Croatian Maran Cilic. He started 2008 fairly well, reaching the semi-finals in his first outing in Chennai, before advancing to the fourth round at the Australian Open. Thereafter he suffered something of a slump, reaching just one quarter final before the British grass court season, and will not want to make the same mistake next year. In the second half of 2008, he was a regular at the business end of most of the tournaments and will be a force to be reckoned with if he works hard during the off-season.
The clay court season will be dominated by Rafael Nadal once more bar injury, but another man to be wary of on the dirt is the Russian Igor Andreev. He has had his problems with injuries over the years, and isn't as young as the likes of Gulbis or Cilic, but he feels his best tennis is still ahead of him. Often claycourt specialists get their best results late in their careers; Andres Gomez and Albert Costa winning the French Open being cases in point, and this year could see Andreev produce some big results. He has actually beaten Rafael Nadal on clay, and is capable of overpowering pretty much anyone if his forehand is on song.
Fernando Verdasco finished the year with a flourish, securing Spain their third Davis cup triumph in unlikely circumstances in Argentina. Whether that will give him the all-important confidence to go on and rise through the rankings remains to be seen, but his talent is undeniable. A lack of a second gear has been problematic for Verdasco; he has a knack of simply trying to blast himself out of trouble. If he could add some finesse to his game; coupled with the confidence he will have got from his Davis Cup final exploits, he could trouble the top 10.
At the top of men's tennis, the difference between the very best and the rest is often a matter of fractions, and if any of the players mentioned can improve by just 5 %, particularly between the ears, the top 10 could again be shaken up in 2009.