We all know of the stars of professional athletics--the "poster boys" of their particular sports. Tom Brady represents the face of the NFL, much like Kobe Bryant does the NBA, Tiger Woods the PGA, and Derek Jeter for the MLB.
What a lot of people seem to neglect is professional tennis. And until last year I also was included in the group that shrugged the sport off.
I used to think it was such a boring sport.
But I started covering it for the local high schools and I began to have a growing curiosity for the sport.
Prior to my interest in the sport, I used to think tennis was reserved for the Thurston Howells of the world, and only the rich and lavish participated at their pristine country clubs.
After watching a few high school matches, my curiosity began to grow. What's so special about smacking a little neon green ball over a net?
I began to watch more, and more, with a growing fascination. I tuned into the major tennis events going on around the world to see the upper-echelon competition perform.
Names like Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer began to jump out at me and I began to understand the level of competition these guys participated in.
As someone who typically only watches football, basketball, baseball--and occasionally golf-- this was almost a Lewis and Clark expedition into the unknown.
Once getting hooked, I became ensnared. I knew the big names, like Nadal and Federer...and their ongoing rivalry to trump one another to be No. 1 in the world.
Then, out of nowhere comes this Novak Djokovic guy.
Djokovic, who undoubtedly had the best year of any professional tennis player in 2011(and rightfully so considering he earned the No. 1 spot), posted an incredible 70-6 record last year.
Think about it, that's over a 10-1 win-loss ratio. It was just incredible to see that kind of streak in any professional sport.
We're back at it again with the start of another Grand Slam tournament--The Australian Open.
Currently, the tournament is in the second round, with Djokovic throned at the No. 1 seed. Followed by Djokovic are No. 2 Nadal, No. 3 Federer and No. 4 Andy Murray.
But the U.S. isn't without its top competitors, either. No. 15 Andy Roddick and No. 16 John Isner both represent the U.S. and had fairly successful seasons in 2011.
Roddick posted a 34-16 record in 2011, but was plagued with a few injuries that harmed his performances throughout his 2011 season.
Isner is a relatively newcomer to the world tennis scene.
The 24-year old from Greensboro, N.C. nearly mirrored Roddick's 2011 performance with a 36-21 record.
Both Isner and Roddick have tasted their shares of successes, but are aiming for higher accomplishments in 2012, with the hopes of making it to the finals of a Grand Slam tournament.
Even if Isner and Roddick exit before the tournament finals, watching those who do make it to the final rounds is a treat in itself.
Even more exciting than watching the tournament championships are the rivalries that develop throughout the season and various tournaments.
Last year alone, Djokovic faced (and defeated) Rafael Nadal six times in tournament finals.
But the Djokovic-Nadal rivalry isn't the only one in professional tennis.
Nadal has also developed a rivalry against the Swede, Roger Federer.
The Federer-Nadal feud began in 2004, with Nadal currently holding a 14-9 advantage in the clash.
Interestingly enough, Federer holds a 14-10 advantage over Djokovic in their rivalry.
The tango between the trio of top-tiered tennis players is an interesting one to follow. The "Trivalry" as it is dubbed, is sure to yield new battles in the year ahead.
Without a doubt, the Australian Open will surely see early indicators of who might rise up to challenge Djokovic's No. 1 reign.
But whether anyone will usurp the current world tennis leader is anyone's guess.
Who knows. With another top-performing year, Djokovic could very well be the new poster boy for the ATP.
Chris Siers is the sports editor for the Times-Gazette. Email him at email@example.com.