OK. It's been an interesting year. After all, we saw Federer lose at the Australian Open and declare later that he was happy that the hard court season was over. We saw Nadal go on a tear until the French Open when he fell due to injury and could not play until the US Open series. We saw one of the best finals ever (Nadal v Djokovic) which went on for 4 hours in Monte Carlo. We saw both Nadal and Djoko go through some rough patches, but both have come back pretty strongly, as evinced by their performance in Paris this weekend.
We also saw some players whom many pundits saw as contenders NOT do so well. Murray has been hampered by injury, but he still has a consistency problem. Simon, too, has had to struggle with knee problems, as had Roddick. However, some others don't really have an excuse. Monfils is great when he's on, but he is the not the king of consistency. Ditto, Soderling. Verdasco has been around the top 10 like some sort of a yoyo, going from 8 to 15 to 9 and so forth. Yes, he's been hampered recently, but not to the scale of Nadal or Simon. The most glaring under performer for me is Del Potro. I like the guy, but it seems that the hype got to him. Not in the ego way but in the sense that he seems to be dealing with pressures for which he wasn't completely prepared.
Regardless, it's interesting that the top 3 last year and for several years now are still the top 3 now. In spite of all the challenges and setbacks, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic keep defying the critics and the pundits. It just goes to show you that all of these "professionals" and "analysts" need to do some more studying. Look, when Johnnie Mac or Mats Wilander speak about tennis and what it's like to be a champion, I'll listen. When I hear the others talk, I tune out. Why? Because unless you've been at the top you have no clue what it's like. You can try to imagine, but it's not the same as having the mentality and the experience. Federer knows what it's like to be Number 1 and to stay there. Nadal knows what it's like to play at that level, and Djoko knows what it's like to be there with them. And all three are fairly honest about how they feel, what they are experiencing and what they hope to achieve.
So, when I hear that there's someone providing a new challenge, I welcome it, but let's remember this: Just because others are improving does not mean that the champs aren't also improving. What? You think that they stop training? To hear the pundits, you'd think that these guys are complacent men who have nothing to do. Right. As Federer noted once, being number 1 is nice, but winning the championships is what you get paid to do. That brings endorsements. If you win enough, you'll get to the top. Nadal says being number one doesn't matter as much to him as winning the big tournaments. Believe it. He loves to play. The fire in him is stoked by competition. He lost sleep over the French Open, not his ranking. And Djoko will still be around to keep them honest and provide some company for Nadal. (It was Djoko who was among the entourage of 3 in London for the announcement about his Wimbledon withdrawal.) 2010 is going to be interesting, but I wouldn't be surprised if we see the same 3 in the top spots next year at this time. They're that good.