I love the ATP Masters 1000. They’re a genius idea: you make a set number of events mandatory for the top guys, you dump a ton of money on them, and then you sit back and enjoy the fireworks.
2012 wasn’t a historically great season for the M1000s, but they still managed to influence the various storylines that defined men’s tennis this year. For example, the M1000s played a key role in Federer’s return to the No. 1 ranking. Had Federer not managed to pull out the Indian Wells and Madrid titles, his quest to pass Sampras’ record of all-time weeks at the top of the rankings would’ve surely ended in failure, even with his Wimbledon win. Nadal finally broke his seven-final losing streak to Djokovic by beating the Serb in Montecarlo, and started a streak of his own by repeating the feat in Rome and then in the French Open Final. The M1000s also provided Novak Djokovic the chance to get re-acquainted with his 2011 self when he stared down five match points in Shanghai. Djokovic’s successful Houdini act there was definitely the springboard for his success at the 02 in London a few weeks later, and the clincher for the year-end No. 1 ranking. I could literally go on and on and on.
So, how about ranking the 2012 editions of these wonderful tournaments, and point out some of their highs and lows? Like the embattled José Mourinho would say, why not?
The Good: If there was a M1000 Yearbook at the end of each season, Paris would routinely get voted “Most Likely To Be Dropped”. By the time this tournament rolls in, the season is not even on its last legs: it’s lying dead with vultures circling around. However, Paris was bailed out this year by a truly unexpected event: Jerzy Janowicz‘ fantastic run to the final. The young Pole had to play two rounds of qualies just to make the main draw, where he then proceeded to dump two top 10 players (Murray and Tipsarevic), and a few top 20 players (Kohlschreiber, Cilic, and Simon), before running out of gas against an in-form David Ferrer in the final. Janowicz’ booming serves, blistering forehands, and insane drop shots single-handedly infused this M1000 with life, and made it a treat to follow from beginning to end. Also, David Ferrer finally won his first M1000 – something that was long overdue. The Spaniard’s performance was simply outstanding all week, particularly in the semis against a white-hot Llodra and in the final against the fearless youngster.
The Bad: You could easily point out to the absence of half of the Big Four before the tournament started (Federer pulled out after losing the Basel final to Del Potro, a good move, since there wasn’t a week of rest between Paris and the World Tour Finals this year, and Nadal was still out injured). Then, the rest of the Big Four disappeared pretty quickly: Novak Djokovic lost in his first match against Querrey, and Murray lost in just his second outing. Normally, this would spell disaster for a tournament (and Guy Forget, Tournament Director, looked appropriately distressed), but instead it allowed for Janowicz’ coming-out party to roll on, and provided a golden opportunity for Ferrer. Oh, but there was a bad thing about Paris: Janko Tipsarevic’s pathetic retirement during his quarterfinal match against Janowicz. It happened when Tipsarevic was getting thoroughly dismantled by the tall Pole, 4-1 in the deciding set. The match was about 10 minutes from being over, yet Tipsarevic pulled the plug citing some sort of vague discomfort. The next week, Tipsarevic played all three of his matches at the World Tour Finals.
The Random: Novak Djokovic started his second round match with Sam Querrey by winning the first eight games of the match. He then lost the second set in a tiebreaker, and the third 6-4 to an inspired Querrey. Also, the World No. 1 continued his strange tradition of coming on court wearing some sort of mask, by donning Darth Vader’s head.
2. Indian Wells
The Good: John Isner arrived to the top 10 in style – by beating the World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in a dramatic third set tiebreaker in the semis. This would mark the end of what we may end up calling “Isner’s Prime”: a few weeks earlier the man from Greensboro, North Carolina had beaten Roger Federer 1) in Switzerland 2) in Davis Cup 3) in four sets 4) ON CLAY. Unfortunately for him, Federer was waiting in the final, and the world’s leading champagne spokesman was ready for revenge.
The Bad: The weather hindered the Federer-Nadal semifinal, but by far the worst thing about Indian Wells was the unforgivable mistake by the schedulers, who early on in the tournament completely forgot to schedule David Ferrer’s match with Denis Istomin. They literally forgot about the fifth-best player on the planet. Shame on you, Indian Wells. I thought about demoting you at least a couple of spots for this.
The Random: The above qualifies for the random category as well, but we have these other fun entries: Almagro bageled Berdych. Given their head-to-head, that seems wildly surprising, as is Almagro pulling out a great result on hard courts. Also, Pablo Andújar somehow made the Round of 16. Once there, he proceeded to take a set off Djokovic … right after getting bageled.
The Good: Djokovic and Murray put together the best M1000 final of the year. The quality of the match was absurdly high right from the start, and right until Djokovic broke Murray in the third set. In between, Djokovic saved not one, not two, but five match points, four of them in spectacular fashion. In a way, Djokovic and Murray played the match that they should have played in Flushing Meadows; then, they were derailed by the nightmarish wind. So if you haven’t seen this Shanghai final, give it a chance. It was incredible.
The Bad: For Shanghai, this was the usual complaint: very sparse crowds for the early rounds. Seriously, Shanghai. Give away the tickets. Invite entire schools to the tournament. Do anything except what you’re currently doing: having the worlds’ best players showcase their extremely rare abilities in front of mostly empty seats.
The Random: Once people did start showing up to the matches, they developed the very strange habit of rooting for an outcome during challenges. If Federer challenged a shot of his that landed out, the crowd would chant “In! In! In! In!” If Djokovic challenged a shot by Murray that was called in, the audience would roar “Out! Out! Out! Out!” It was tacky, and it was bizarre. Cut it out, Shanghai.
The Good: The four best clay courters met in the semifinals, which was fitting (they would also meet each other in the semifinals of the French Open a few weeks later in the exact same configuration: Djokovic played Federer, while Nadal battled his countryman Ferrer). Apart from that, Andreas Seppi’s triple tiebreak extragavanza against Stan Wawrinka was probably the biggest highlight of men’s Italian tennis of the past few years. Also, I hear Nadal-Berdych was a lot of fun.
The Bad: The semifinals didn’t really deliver, and neither did the odd Monday final. In retrospect, maybe I remember Rome so fondly because it showed what a proper clay M1000 should look like, after the Madrid fiasco the week before.
The Random: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat Juan Martín Del Potro 4 and 1. Not sure how that happened. Maybe Jo-Willy crushed an insect at some point during the first set, which surely sent Del Po into a sadness-filled tailspin.
The Good: It was better than Toronto? Not that it was terribly difficult to achieve that. But the field was a lot better, and a marquee match-up in the final at least rendered one decent set of tennis.
The Bad: Besides Djokovic’s “performance” in the first set of the final (in which he got bageled) not much went wrong in Cincinnati. Yet nobody besides Roger Federer will remember this particular M1000 as anything other than an unremarkable detour on the way to the US Open.
The Random: Jeremy Chardy somehow beat Andy Murray 4 and 4. It actually happened. Stan Wawrinka beat David Ferrer 4 and 1. Also, Novak Djokovic, one of the great hard court players of this era, made the Cincinnati final for the fourth time in the last five years. He’s lost every single time. Not only that: the five-time Grand Slam winner and 13-time M1000 winner hasn’t managed to take a single set in any of those finals. He’s won Indian Wells twice, Miami and Canada three times. Cincinnati? Never. I have nothing.
The Good: Andy Roddick managed to get only his third win over Roger Federer in another magical Miami night session. It was a fun match, and serves as probably the last highlight in Roddick’s illustrious career.
The Bad: When I was trying to remember how the semifinals in Miami went, I drew a blank. I had no idea who Murray played (the answer was: nobody – Nadal withdrew before the match) or who Djokovic had to beat (it was none other than Juan Mónaco). Also, the final got a lot of buzz, because Djokovic and Murray had played such an incredible semifinal in Australia. The sequel was a dud (actually, as Israel TennisResults points out, the real sequel to the Australian Open semifinal between Djokovic and Murray took place a few weeks earlier, in the Dubai semifinals. Sadly, that match was also a dud).
The Random: Novak Djokovic played David Ferrer in the quarters (nothing random here) and then … Juan Mónaco in the semis. Juan. Mónaco. On a hardcourt. In a M1000 semifinal.
7. Monte Carlo
The Good: Rafael Nadal achieved what will surely go down as the craziest M1000 fact ever: he won his eighth (!!!) straight Monte Carlo trophy. Winning any tournament eight straight times is ridiculous in an of itself, but winning a M1000 eight straight times? Not a whole lot of people have won eight M1000 titles in their careers! I feel like not much has been made of this, which is absurd. Eight straight Monte Carlos!
The Bad: For some strange reason, the historic and aristocratic tournament failed to identify a serious problem with the center court surface, and it cost three people (someone I can’t remember from the qualies, Mónaco and Benneteau) time away from the sport due to injuries sustained by running into the problematic spot. Benneteau’s injury was particularly gruesome. This court problem was totally avoidable, so shame on you, Prince Albert. Also, the final was as anticlimactic as they get. Novak Djokovic’s grandfather had passed away earlier in the week, and while the Serb battled through to make the final, he didn’t seem to have any emotional reserves by the time he faced a very determined Nadal, which was unfortunate, given that the last time these two played each other they partook in the longest Slam final ever.
The Random: Gilles Simon and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga played for a spot in the semis, and noted clay master Gilles Simon won. Also, Thomaz Bellucci somehow beat David Ferrer in straight sets. You read that correctly.
The Good: Hmm …. the good. What was good about Toronto? I have no idea. It felt like a 500, which is about the worst thing you can possibly say about a M1000.
The Bad: No difficulty finding bad things about poor Toronto: the scheduling took out the top guys (Federer withdrew before the start, Murray withdrew after one match, and Del Potro lost in his opener). Then you have the rain that wrecked havoc all week. Not satisfied by that, the tournament ended with what was probably one of the two worst finals of the year. Not a great year for the usually fantastic Canada Masters. We’ll blame it on the Olympics.
The Random: Richard Gasquet made a M1000 final! The self-proclaimed top-15 player found himself at the exact same stage he reached in 2006, when people still thought the erratic Frenchman could mix it up with Federer and Nadal. Six years ago, Gasquet played well enough to take the first set in a rout before falling in three to Federer. This year was the opposite: the final lasted all of 62 minutes. And really, that feels about half an hour too long.
The Good: The best thing about Madrid this year was that the ATP acted swiftly (which happens all the time, right?) and deemed the blue “clay” to be so inadequate that it was henceforth banned from the tour. A surface got BANNED! Take a bow, Mr. Ion Tiriac!
The Bad: Madrid was turned into a tasteless reality show when the geniuses behind the blue “clay” laid out a surface that had everybody slipping away (and lest not we forget, was so terrible that it got banned). If you listened during the points, it sounds like the players are trying to find their way around sand. When the season’s two best clay courters in the world (and at the time, the top two ranked males) openly say that if the horrid surface returns in 2013 they would both skip the tournament, you know you’ve screwed up. Big time. Again, take a bow Ion Tiriac!
The Random: Ferdando Verdasco beat Rafael Nadal. He was 0-13 heading in. Nadal had a 5-2 lead in the third. This was not 2009 Fernando Verdasco. It was 2012 Fernando Verdasco. ‘Nuff said.