Both the ATP and WTA tours continue their almost never ending march to their respective year-end finales with the fall season, a strange and not quite connected mix of an Asian swing of events that many feel should be placed earlier in the year, indoor tourneys in Europe and some small clay court events. Sure there’s money to be won, ranking points to earn and a chance for some players to solidify or make up for lackluster results this summer, but many fans will either catch up on their sleep or just follow the results with a half-open eye until the year-end championships. But like the fall television season which promises exciting new shows and a return of familiar stars, tennis’s fall season includes an anticipated return, a possible battle for No. 1 on the women’s side and a chance for a few to have a breakout event.
And yes, it will also mean the chance for more bizarre photo ops that only a true tennis fan could love.
It’s not a surprise that the return of Juan Martin Del Potro to the tour next week since a wrist injury and subsequent surgery saw him miss eight months of action will be the biggest story for the next month or two. Even if Del Potro needs a few events to get him in gear again, it’s a welcome relief for the ATP who needs the rising Argentinean star back in the mix again. Asia, most specifically Tokyo, will also see the return of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who missed out on the summer hard court season due to a knee injury and hopes to defend his title in Tokyo along with earning some needed points for the year-end championships. Asia will also see the return, albeit only in Shanghai, of Roger Federer who blew off the whole Asia swing last year to spend more time with his newborn twins.
As far as potential breakout performances like we saw last year from Nikolay Davydenko, perhaps Robin Soderling, who always plays well indoors, is the one to watch. Or could it be of all people Mardy Fish who has no points to defend from last year and with another decent run could find himself edging closer to taking over as the No. 1 ranked American from his good friend Andy Roddick. Roddick will be closely watched himself to see how healthy he is and if he has any shot of qualifying for the year-end championships.
For the women, with Serena Williams withdrawing from Tokyo and Beijing as she continues to heal from her foot injury, there’s a real chance for either Caroline Wozniacki or Vera Zvonareva to take over the No. 1 ranking from Williams who has only played six tournaments this year. It’s more likely Wozniacki, who lost early in Tokyo and Beijing last year, has a better chance than Zvonareva who must reach the finals of Tokyo and win Beijing outright to have a shot. If for some reason Williams holds on to her top ranking for the year, it will be quite the accomplishment but will also cause eyes to roll on how Williams continues to dominate the WTA while being, even with her injuries, a part-time player. If Wozniacki or Zvonareva take the crown, their joy may be short-lived as they’ll probably face the same harsh criticism Dinara Safina did during her reign at the top on how she could be the best women’s player in the world without winning a Slam.
This kind of drama along with some breakout results could be enough to make casual fans tune in the next few months. But even if they don’t, what happens now can only lay the groundwork for 2011 which will probably see the biggest transition for both tours in recent memory. But more about that next time.