Tennis 2011: Ferrer, Tsonga prove worthy challengers to Big Four
If the Big Four continued to dominate, there were a few who made an impact as well on the tennis scene. However, they fell short when it came to winning tournaments that matter. Nonetheless, says Bikash Mohapatra, it was because of the consistency of these players that there was a certain level in the competition overall.
David Ferrer (59-19, two titles)
The Spaniard started the year with a bang, winning his 10th ATP Tour title (in Auckland) and beating the then No. 1 Nadal in straight sets in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.
Another title in Acapulco (Mexico) was followed by a string of losses in finals -- Monte Carlo and Barcelona (both against Nadal), Bastad (to Soderling) and Shanghai (against Murray).
During his semi-final run in Tokyo, Ferrer recorded his 400th career match as well. He finished the year ranked No.5.
However, in the final analysis there were more disappointments for the 29-year-old than positives.
The Spaniard is consistent enough to be among the top. However, the fact that he is yet to get it past the big players (on the bigger occasions) means he is yet to win that elusive big title.
Image: David Ferrer
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (55-24, two titles)
Having had a relatively quiet start to the year, highlighted by a final appearance in Rotterdam (lost to Soderling), Tsonga peaked just before Wimbledon.
The Frenchman upset the then No.1 Rafa Nadal in the quarters before losing to Murray in the final. At the All England Club, the 26-year-old made a brilliant comeback to beat six-time champion Roger Federer in the quarters.
His win marked the first time the Swiss had lost a Grand Slam match having been two sets up.
Tsonga continued his consistent run, with title triumphs in Metz and Vienna and a final appearance in the Paris Masters (losing to Federer).
That ensured him a berth in the ATP World Tour finals, where he impressed with a final showing, beating Nadal en route.
Though he lost twice to Federer in the tournament (including the final), Tsonga had done enough to prove himself as a worthy challenger. Maybe a contender for a major title in the near future.
Image: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Janko Tipsarevic (54-26, two titles)
Having been a journeyman for many years, at most capable of inflicting an upset or two, 2011 was in many ways a breakthrough year for Janko Tipsarevic.
The Serbian started the season with a semi-final appearance at Chennai followed by a run to the Delray Beach final, coming up short against Juan Martin del Potro.
Injury forced him to withdraw from his second final of the year, at Eastbourne (against Andreas Seppi). However, he came back strong making his maiden appearance in the quarter-finals of a major at the US Open, beating Tomas Berdych and former finalist Juan Carlos Ferrero en route.
That result gave him ample confidence leading to his maiden title triumph in Kuala Lumpur. It was his first title after four final defeats. He didn't have to wait long for his second though.
A straight sets win over compatriot Viktor Troicki in what was the first all-Serbian on the tour helped Tipsarevic pocket the Kremlin Cup in Moscow. A few weeks on he lost to Marin Cilic in the final in St Petersburg.
However, by then he had done enough to ensure he would finish in the year-end top 10 for the first time in his career.
Andy Murray's withdrawal ensured him a place in the ATP World Tour Final, as the first alternate, and Tipsarevic upset reigning No.1 Djokovic. Had he converted the match point opportunity he had in his opening match against Berdych, Tipsy might as well have booked a berth in the last four.
Image: Janko Tipsarevic
Nicolas Almagro (47-23, three titles)
The third Spaniard in the top 10 at present, Nicolas Almagro had a good start to the year with a semi-final showing in Auckland and reaching the round of 16 at the Australian Open, where he lost to the eventual champions Novak Djokovic.
The 26-year-old continued his impressive run with back-to-back title triumphs in Costa do Sauipe and Buenos Aires. He put up a 13 match-winning streak in reaching the final in Acapulco, where he came up short against compatriot David Ferrer, the latter ending his attempt to become the only player to win three of the four 'Golden Swing' crowns in the one season.
Almagro reached the semi-finals in Barcelona, the result ensuring he became the 17th different Spaniard to enter the Top 10. A few weeks later, he won his 10th career title in Nice (France).
The second half of the year wasn't as productive as the first. But Almagro did just enough to ensure he would hold on to his top 10 ranking at the end of the year.
However, a laborious game, atypically Spanish that largely waits for an opponent to make mistakes, coupled with poor results in surfaces other than clay means Almagro will probably always remain a fringe player.
Image: Nicolas Almagro
Juan Martin del Potro (48-16, two titles)
For Juan Martin del Potro, 2011 was all about making a comeback.
Having missed large parts of 2010 due to injury, the 2009 US Open champ, did just enough to prove he is back to his best.
The Argentine started the year on a consistent note, reaching the semi-finals in San Jose and Memphis, before pocketing his first tour-level title in 18 months in Delray Beach (Florida).
A semi-final appearance in Indian Wells was followed by a title triumph in Estoril (Portugal), in what was his first claycourt tournament in almost two years.
Del Potro was consistent during the rest of the year, ending the year at No.11. Moreover, he led Argentina to the Davis Cup final, winning both singles rubbers (over Tipsarevic and Djokovic) in their last four win over defending champions Serbia.
His performances this year have ensured a lot will be expected from him next year.
Image: Juan Martin del Potro
Robin Soderling (38-9, four titles)
Robin Soderling's season began with a bang but ended in a whimper.
The Swede began on a high, beating Andy Roddick to win in Brisbane. He made it to the round of 16 at the Australian Open where he surprisingly lost against an unheralded Alexandre Dolgopolov.
Thereafter, the 27-year-old had a nine-match winning streak, with back-to-back title triumphs in the indoor hard-court tournaments in Rotterdam and Marseille. The Swede had a commendable run in the European clay swing, reaching the last eight in Estoril, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros while also winning all three of his singles matches at the World Team Championships in Dusseldorf.
In July, he won his fourth title of the year (10th of his career) with a straight sets win over David Ferrer in Bastad (Sweden).
However, a right wrist injury -- Soderling later confirmed he was suffering from mononucleosis -- meant he couldn't take the court in the latter part of the year. Consequently his rankings suffered.
Soderling though proved it yet again than when on song he can get the better of the best in the business.
The only problem: consistency isn't one of the Swede's strengths.
Image: Robin Soderling
Photographs: Getty Images