Off-season is a period of reflecting on the season behind us and trying to predict the year ahead based on the information we currently have. Marine of Tennis Notebook poses five big questions for the upcoming 2013 season and tries to foresee what kind of an outcome we will have. Marine discusses the challenge ahead of Victoria Azarenka in the beginning of the year, Serena Williams' No.1 prospects, the young generation, etc.
1. Will Victoria Azarenka be able to keep it up in 2013?
WHY YES: 2012 was what you’d call a confidence-boosting year for Azarenka. She managed to come out of a shadow of her peers Caroline Wozniacki and Petra Kvitova and started her own dominance. Achieving success of such scale has surely opened many doors for her, so she may have enough spirit and motivation to repeat the same next year.
WHY NOT: Her great run at the start of 2012 means there will be a lot of pressure on Azarenka’s shoulders from the very beginning. She’ll start 2013 with four big titles to defend (Sydney, Australian Open, Doha, Indian Wells), which is a total of 4370 in terms of ranking points. Will be tough…
2. Will Serena Williams become the next No.1?
WHY YES: Williams still has the upper hand over other top players, especially on the grand stages. Also, she has become more consistent, so if there is nobody to challenge her, she could surpass Azarenka quite comfortably during the Australian Open series.
WHY NOT: In 2012 Williams played a lot more compared to the previous years, which gave her opponents more opportunities to face her and study her game. Compared with other top players her schedule is lighter, therefore, if she doesn't manage to stay consistent she simply might not have enough points to reach No.1.
3. Will the Top 20 welcome a new member from the young generation (21 and under)?
WHY YES: In the 2012 season, young players started to be more of a challenge and managed to win titles and also defeat the top players. Maybe they are ready to achieve the level of consistency necessary to enter the elite.
WHY NOT: Younger generation did win tournaments, but only the International-level ones. And, in comparison with older players, it took them longer to win big. Just to compare, at 20 Ana Ivanovic won three events out of which one was International. At the same age Heather Watson won her first International title.
4. Will any player manage to rise and follow the path of Sara Errani or Angelique Kerber and go high up in the rankings?
WHY YES: In the Top 30-40 range, where Errani and Kerber were last year, there are several players who could move forward a lot higher if they keep up their form from this season. For example, Sofia Arvidsson has moved up from No.78 to No.41 this year; Heather Watson started the year outside of the Top 100 and finished it in the Top 50.
WHY NOT: The current Top 10 is just too strong and there is no room for a newcomer. There is "The Big 4", all of whom are very consistent, and the rest of the group includes several Grand Slam winners and a former No.1. Considering the strength of the competition, it is going to be incredibly tough for lower-ranked players to break through.
5. Will somebody from the Top 10 be able to defeat Serena Williams at a Grand Slam?
WHY YES: Last year Williams was beaten in a Grand Slam by Sam Stosur and this season Victoria Azarenka was inches away from accomplishing the same. Maybe in 2013 there will be another top player who with have enough confidence and game to seize their chance.
WHY NOT: Compared to the rest of the Top 10, Serena Williams is better at handling pressure situations. In the US Open final against Azarenka, she showed a never-say-die attitude and won despite facing match points. Apart from that, Serena knows her rivals well enough and is always in control of the game. She is a nemesis of all top players and that trend is unlikely to end.