Going out on a limb

Kvitovas ascension, Germanys European conquest and many more twists and turns lie ahead

Going out on a limb

It’s that time of a new year again, even if the world seems much more in need of accurate forecasting about what will happen outside of sports in 2012.

Who will win the presidency in the United States? What will become of North Korea? The euro? The Arctic ice pack?

Can’t help there, but I am still willing to hazard my annual guesses about the champions to come, and hazard still seems the right choice of verb.

Who foresaw in 2011 that Novak Djokovic was going to become a Grand Slam title hoarder with the endurance and big-match confidence of a certain Spanish left-hander from Majorca?

Not me.

Who knew that Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks, not LeBron James and the Miami Heat, were going to win the NBA title, or that the aging Cadel Evans, not the rising Andy Schleck, was going to win the Tour de France?

Pas moi.

But there were a few more shots on target than usual. I correctly, if not too boldly, picked Barcelona to win the Champions League, India and the All Blacks to win World Cups at home, the German women to lose the soccer World Cup at home, Sebastian Vettel to repeat as Formula One champion, Ryan Lochte to be the swimmer of the year ahead of Michael Phelps and Pyeongchang, South Korea, to become host city for the 2018 Winter Olympics ahead of Munich and Annecy, France.

Onward and hopefully not too far downward. Obama vs Romney? Out of my league. But maybe, just maybe, I can be of service when it comes to Bolt vs Blake.

JANUARY: Kim Clijsters defends her title at the Australian Open, proving that part time is still enough. Andy Murray, with new coach Ivan Lendl in his corner, begins a big sports year for Britain by staying positive and winning his first Grand Slam singles title, beating Roger Federer in the final.

FEBRUARY: In Orlando, with the NBA trade deadline looming, the Magic finally part ways with the latest basketball star to insist on a new team: Dwight Howard, who like Chris Paul ends up in Los Angeles, but not with the Clippers. Finally, in that rare thing – a Feb. 29 sporting event – Germany beat France in a soccer friendly in Bremen. The unfriendlies come later in 2012.

MARCH: Winning continues to prove elusive to the owner of the New Jersey Nets, Mikhail Prokhorov, as Vladimir Putin prevails in the Russian presidential election. Another enduring Russian figure, (skater Evgeny Plushenko) also loses at the world championships in Nice, France, in his latest comeback. But Plushenko does win his seventh European title earlier in the year, which makes it a better comeback than Ian Thorpe’s. Once the world’s best swimmer, the Thorpedo ends up a dud at the Australian championships and fails to qualify in an individual event for the Olympics. In Formula One, Kimi Raikkonen makes his own return, giving F1 a sixth former world champion driver in the lineup, along with Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Vettel. There is no stopping Vettel and Red Bull again, though.

APRIL: The consensus is that Rory McIlroy actually wins the Masters this time. Not so fast for a young man who has had some head-spinning life changes, including his globe-trotting romance with Caroline Wozniacki, who can’t caddie for him at the par-3 tournament because she is playing in the Charleston clay-court event. Jason Day, the young Australian, wins this Masters instead, although McIlroy’s day will surely come. It’s a good month for another golfing phenomenon, as Lexi Thompson, the huge-driving 17-year-old American, finishes in the top three at the year’s first women’s major, the Kraft Nabisco Championships.

MAY: It turns out that money does buy happiness, as Manchester City fans celebrate their team’s first Premiership title since 1968, a year when Harold Wilson was prime minister, London Bridge was sold to an American who rebuilt it in Arizona and Agatha Christie was still writing mysteries. Nothing so novel happens in Spain, as Lionel Messi and Barcelona again hold off Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid to win the Liga, but Barca can’t defend its Champions League title. Bayern Munich, playing at home in the final, takes that trophy instead, which sets the tone for a throwback soccer summer for Germany.

JUNE: Novak Djokovic wins his first French Open, completing the career Slam and keeping Rafael Nadal from breaking his historical tie with Bjorn Borg by winning his seventh title at Roland Garros.

JULY: On the first day of the year’s biggest sports month, Germany puts an end to Spain’s reign by winning the Euro in Kiev, giving the charismatic manager Joachim Low the major trophy he lacks. At Wimbledon, Djokovic and Petra Kvitova defend their titles successfully in what feels strangely like an Olympic warm-up tournament. Kvitova, the new women’s No. 1, beats Serena Williams in the final. Djokovic beats Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France to complete the no-longer rare Paris-London double. Schleck hangs on in the mountains this time and wins his first Tour de France on the same day that Luke Donald wins his first British Open, holding off Tiger Woods at Royal Lytham and St Annes. Britain is less interested than usual. The London Games are just about to start, and when they do on July 27, Roger Bannister lights the cauldron (in under four minutes).

AUGUST: The International Olympic Committee does not keep official national medal tables, but everyone else does, and in a mild upset the United States finishes atop the count in overall medals and golds, just ahead of China and the resurgent Russia. Britain is a solid fourth, with distance runner Mo Farah its biggest star after sweeping the men’s 10,000 and 5,000 meters. Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps aren’t the Bolt and Phelps of Beijing. Bolt gets off to a clean start in the 100 but still loses to his Jamaican training partner, Yohan Blake. Bolt does win the 200, though, and then joins with Blake to help break Jamaica’s world record in the 4x100 relay. Phelps wins six more medals but loses the gold rush to Lochte, who beats him in the 200 free and 200 individual medley. Other big winners: a teary Federer in men’s tennis at the All England Club, Team USA and James in men’s basketball and Oscar Pistorius, the inspired Paralympian from South Africa who runs on his carbon-fiber blades in the men’s 400. But the biggest winner is London, still good at pomp and circumstance despite all the global financial turmoil in the run-up to the Games.

SEPTEMBER: No rest for the Germans or Europe’s other weary soccer stars as 2014 World Cup qualifying matches begin. The Paralympics, normally an afterthought, continue to gather media momentum, generating extensive buzz in London. In Berlin, the men’s marathon world record falls again as either Wilson Kipsang or one of the Mutais, Geoffrey or Emmanuel, make up for missing the Kenyan Olympic team. On the same day, Sept 30, the United States and Woods take back the Ryder Cup under captain Davis Love III, beating the Jose Maria Olazabal-led European team, 15-13, at Medinah Country Club.

OCTOBER: The Texas Rangers win their first World Series, atoning for 2011, when they were one strike away from victory but lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. Darvish wins the big one in his rookie year, like another Japanese megastar pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka, who joined the Boston Red Sox in 2007.

NOVEMBER: Eyes are rubbed in disbelief worldwide as the men’s tennis season actually ends in November. Djokovic, based on his strong mid-year run, holds on to No. 1 and announces he will spend his off-season directing and starring in his first feature film. Argentina finally win their first Davis Cup, and Vettel clinches his third Formula One title in the final race in Sao Paolo.

DECEMBER: Another year ends without a Manny Pacquaio-Floyd Mayweather bout, but at least that gives us something to speculate about in 2013.

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