Djokovic dominates, Federer finishes strong
Novak Djokovic ruled the first nine months of the tennis season while longtime dominator Roger Federer rose to the occasion in the closing weeks to sweep the table in a superlative end to the 2011 ATP season.
The Swiss with 16 Grand Slam titles continued on a record-setting pace as he came back from a six-week pause in the autumn to win three straight events indoors and set himself up as a major figure once again.
The 30-year-old, whose late-season fitness proved legendary compared to younger rivals Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, won his hometown event in Basle, the Paris Masters and the season-ending World Tour Finals in London.
Federer should have plenty in the tank for 2012 after a season which slumped by his own unworldly standards - it was the first since 2002 that he did not win at least one Grand Slam title, ending with four trophies and his 70th career title.
The Swiss said his big finish over the last month made it all worthwhile in the end.
"It's a lot of sacrifice, it's a lot of effort I have to put in every day," said the No 3. "I'm happy that the season is over because it has been long, it has been gruelling.
"But I'm very happy and upbeat about what's to come," he said after compiling 807 career match wins and a 64-12 record on the season. His career haul includes six each at Wimbledon and the World Tour Finals, plus five US Opens, four Australian Opens and the 2010 French Open.
Djokovic, 24, went into the off-season with satisfaction, but perhaps slightly troubled by his collapse due to injury and fatigue after winning three of the four Grand Slams, Australian Open, US Open and Wimbledon.
Abdominal and shoulder problems compromised what had been a superb showing as he limped into London and left again in the group stage. The season still counts as the best of his career.
"Nothing can ruin the season I had. Even if I'd not played after the US Open, my season would still be incredible," said the winner of ten titles.
Going into November, the Serb had lost only two matches and the four additional that he dropped in the final month of play hardly made a difference in a season of 10 titles and the No 1 ranking.
Nadal also had something of a down year, winning all of his three ATP titles on spring clay in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Roland Garros before ending the season with the Davis Cup trophy as well after a gruelling 11 months.
"This has been a tough season for me. I'm not lacking passion, what I'm suffering is weariness from many years of playing at this level, week after week," said Nadal.
Andy Murray headed to his usual December training base in Miami hoping for better luck after the groin strain which forced him to quit London. The Scot has failed to live up to expectations on some fronts, thought his treble sweep of the autumn Asian titles did lift his spirits before the late-season injury crash.
The women's game ended in controversy, with Dane Caroline Wozniacki standing atop the rankings against and still without a title at a major.
Breakthrough Wimbledon champion and year-end winner Petra Kvitova took second from Maria Sharapova and has already emerged as a tough rival to Wozniacki, whose relationship with golfer Rory McIlroy attracts as much attention as her tennis.
Australian Samantha Stosur achieved a dream by winning the US Open while Kim Clijsters didn't play after June due to injury and was hoping for a comeback at the Australian Open.
Serena Williams returned after nearly a year away, reaching the US Open final while sister Venus confirmed she is fighting illness with plans to resume play in the New Year. Seven-time Grand Slam champion Justine Henin retired for a second time, this one for good after quitting in 2008.
By Bill Scott, DPA