Tennis

Tsonga poised for big leap in 2012

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Richard Evans

Richard Evans has covered tennis since the 1960s, reporting on more than 150 Grand Slams. He is author of 15 books, including the official history of the Davis Cup and the unofficial history of the modern game in "Open Tennis." Follow him on Twitter.

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Welcome to the 2011 Year in Review. Beginning Dec. 20, in a time frame just shy of a fortnight, FOXSports.com's panel of tennis commentators — Richard Evans, Greg Couch, Brian Webber, Addie Rising and Tim Blankemeyer — will share their thoughts on the topic of the day. So check in each day to catch one final look back at a memorable year in tennis.

TO CONTINUE OUR YEAR IN REVIEW, WE ASK . . . WHO ARE THE MEN TO WATCH?

 

I’m going to cheat on this and cherry-pick as I roll down the ranking list rather than select one man to watch in 2012.

At the top, the player with the most potential to make an impact is undoubtedly Jo-Wilfried Tsonga whose confidence is starting to match his flamboyantly powerful game. He always did the Muhammad Ali victory dance. Now he looks as if he means it. If anyone can muscle his way into that tight little Top Four Club it is this charming Frenchman from Le Mans.

Ranked one place below Tsonga at No. 7, Tomas Berdych could also do some damage but I think the big Czech still doubts himself and he needs to find some consistency at the highest level.

At No. 25, Kei Nishikori is poised to make a rankings leap in 2012. If he can stay fit, this Florida-based Japanese player can thrust himself into the top ten with his powerfully athletic ground game.

Milos Raonic finished the year at 31, having started it at 156. Amazingly, that turned out to be something of a disappointment. His rise over the first six months of the year was so swift and so impressive that some of us were predicting a top-ten finish to the year but hip surgery threw him off the rails. He was back on track by November, however, and providing he has not lost confidence, this bright Canadian with a majestic all-court game could continue his upward surge in the coming months.

At No. 42, Bernard Tomic could feel reasonably satisfied with his first full year out on the circuit but doubts remain over the Australian teenager’s willingness to grind through the lesser tournaments. If he can learn to concentrate as well on Court 5 at Delray Beach as he does on Rod Laver Arena, Tomic should make further strides up the ranking. The talent is not in doubt.

Grigor Dmitrov is a teenage Bulgarian of whom great things have been expected for some time. Under the tutelage of the experienced Australian Peter McNamara, working out of the Mourotoglou Academy in Paris, Dmitrov did begin to show real promise and cracked the top 100 for the first time to finish at 72. But then Dmitrov's father decided to take over as his coach and oust McNamara, now we await the results with trepidation.

And what of the Americans? There will certainly be an expectation that Sam Querrey can shake off his injuries and get back, not merely into the top 100, but the top 20 which is where he belongs.

Alex Bogomolov Jr. who finished at No. 34 and Donald Young, No. 39, will both be hoping they can jump out at the start of 2012 as they did 12 months before. In two of the biggest shocks of the year, Young beat Andy Murray in straight sets at Indian Wells and Bogolomov promptly emulated that feat the following week in Miami. Obviously Murray was in a psychological slump at the time but a win is a win and both Americans gained a measure of confidence from their unexpected victories.

In a late flowering burst to his career, the 28-year-old Bogomolov enjoyed his best year ever as did Young who finished the season in good form, beating Gael Monfils in Bangkok before Murray took revenge on him in the final.

Much will be expected of Ryan Harrison, who ended the year with a ranking of 79 and a report card which could be marked 'good effort.' Harrison is a very serious student of the game who might tend to put too much pressure on himself. If he frees up his talent, he could find the next 12 months very rewarding.

WEBBER: Milos Raonic is a rising star who could be ticketed for stardom. The big hitter uses his 6-foot-5 frame to his advantage, generating impressive pace that few players can match. Raonic is already the highest-ranked Canadian tennis player in the history of the ATP Tour, reaching a career-high mark of No. 25 in February. He won his first career singles title this year in San Jose and made a splash at the Australian Open by advancing to the round of 16. Raonic is ringing in the New Year by celebrating his 21st birthday. With a huge serve that has been clocked at over 150 mph, you can expect Raonic to continue to come of age on the court in 2012.

Richard Evans is a tennis writer for FOXSports.com. Greg Couch is a national columnist for FOXSports.com. Brian Webber is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com's tennis coverage. Addie Rising and Tim Blankemeyer are tennis editors for FOXSports.com.

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