Tour Finals 2012 – Serena and Novak assert authority with symbolic sign-off victories at season’s end

It was a fitting end to a remarkable year on both the ATP and WTA tours, Serena Williams who has dominated in the last six months and Novak Djokovic, cementing his status as the best player today if by a lesser margin.

Such is the quirkiness (read, unfathomable) of the womens game’s calendar, the ‘WTA Tour Championships’ isn’t even the final competition of the year, succeeded by another tournament.

The misleadingly titled ‘tournament of champions’ honouring players further down the rankings to have not made the Finals but who have still won a title in the preceding 12 months actually provides the book-end to the tour, Fed-Cup aside.

Whilst that was won by the evergreen Nadia Petrova (who enjoyed something of a return to form after a comparatively baron few years away from the top spoils of the singles rankings), it was a more familiar face who wrapped things up in the premier event three weeks ago now.

After her injury-hit Australian Open and ignominious exit at Roland Garros (before which she enjoyed a strong clay season) Serena Williams wrapped up every major tournament going, Wimbledon, Olympic Gold and the U.S Open were all hers once again.

This is hardly a revelation of course, all have been captured before by the 31 year old, but her dominance this year is best realised when looking at the score-lines against her fellow compatriots en route.

Wimbledon was hard-fought, a close straight sets victory over Azarenka (after defeating defending champ Kvitova) was followed by a topsy-turvy three set encounter with Radwanska.

But a few weeks later the green grass of SW19 now joined with the razzmatazz of The Games saw a spellbinding set of displays from Williams – her performance is outlined in my Olympic post from earlier but the two results that stood out amongst many were the 6-1, 6-2 drubbing of Azarenka in the semi’s before the 6-0, 6-1 rout of Maria in the final.

With the U.S Open added, the Tour Finals in Istanbul provided another stage for the Serena serenade to finish in style. Again without a dropped set, she vanquished Kerber, Li and Azarenka in the group stages before brushing aside a tired Radwanska in the semis and again edging out Sharapova in the decider.

2012 has been Serena’s year and although the rankings may not show it – as has been the case for many a year – when the American is on song there is no-one who can challenge her physically.

This is not to take away the performances of Williams’ peers, the aforementioned Petrova just one of many enjoying a fine year:

WTA – A good 2012 for

Victoria Azarenka – The first Belarussian winner of a Slam, Azarenka captured what will be the first of many majors in January in Australia, an Olympic Singles Bronze and Doubles Gold (w Mirnyi) plus the final of the U.S Open – which could’ve easily gone her way hardly amounts to a bad year. Oh and she sits at the top of the rankings going into 2013

Maria Sharapova – The career slam finally captured in Paris, Sharapova now has the stats to back up her status as one of history’s greats. As with Azarenka, Sharapova captured many a tour title in 2012, she also reacquainted herself with the top spot and grabbed herself an Olympic medal.

Agnieska Radwanska – Radwanska’s breakthrough year could have been so much more if not for a Wimbledon final here and there. The Pole has had a stunner of a year – as has her sister by her own standards, and 2013 looks to be just as good such is her dependable game.

Angelique Kerber – Another member of the break through club, Kerber was already a top player of course but she was miss consistent this year.

Sara Errani – Hopefully not a flash-in-the-pan year for the likeable Italian, as with all of these shock-stories, the test will come next term where failure to defend the points gained could equal a year of hurt.

And a year to forget for:

Caroline Wozniacki – Some rank results and at times just mediocre, the kind of year that can show-up a defensive style, nothing to show.

Petra Kvitova – A strong start but just failed to reach the heights of her 2011, some flashes of form here and there throughout the year but, like Wozniacki, this is a wake-up call.

Daniela Hantuchova – Injury blighted the erratic Slovak’s spring/summer, but there was still precious little to cheer. A usual case of promising wins and inexplicable losses.

Sam Stosur – Solid throughout but on too many occasions not at the races at all.

2012 sees the ATP in the rudest of health. Unlike Rafael Nadal who missed the entire last half of the year with those poor knees again buckling under the strain of the Spaniards style of play. It was he and Novak Djokovic who provided the first of many a highlight with that truly gruelling final Down Under. When the pair met again on the red stuff it was Nadal who sneaked to the win, calling upon all of his immeasurable clay-court strengths and – for the first time – some rain to win.

But come the summer and messeurs Federer and Murray would dominate proceedings, the former denying the latter an historic victory at Wimbledon to claim his 17th slam. But the Scot would make more history with Olympic Gold and his maiden major in New York.

This was the jewel in the crown for men’s tennis, already enjoying the three best players of this or indeed any generation at the top of the rankings, but now the ‘Big Three plus Andy/Big Four’ debate was settled, Murray vanquishing the resurgent Djokovic in the Big Apple for a perhaps long overdue achievement.

The four men dominated the year entirely, with only Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer really upsetting the apple cart. Ferrer continues to inspire and endear thousands, long may his rich run of form continue.

By the time of the Tour Finals last week, many had Federer’s name on the trophy, fully rested and imperious indoors it would almost prove to be a shrewd call. But despite a glittering performance against Murray in the semi’s, Roger could not put away his Serb opponent in the final.

It has so often proved the case, Djokovic just doesn’t know when he is beaten and seems to excerpt this quality most against the Swiss who was a healthy break up in both sets before succumbing to a 7-6 (7), 7-5 loss.

Djokovic represents the new face of the men’s elite, he has the complete game for the modern age. A perfect mix of Federer’s offence, Nadal’s defence and Murray’s tenacity, he cannot rival these three for any of those qualities, but he – unlike them – has them all on tap, combined with unrivalled fitness, elasticity and guile.

Djokovic’s grass-court season this year will hold many back from asserting that he could clean-up in 2013, but for the first time it is Murray who will be his biggest obstacle for domination. The Finals encounter with Federer, stunning as it was points to an inevitability that as long as his mentality holds up, Djokovic will always have an answer to Roger’s game despite it still firing on all cylinders.

Rafa still remains a question mark.

ATP – A good year for

Novak Djokovic

Roger Federer

Andy Murray

David Ferrer

Tomas Berdych

A poor one for

Rafael Nadal

Jo-Wilfred Tsonga

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