A new year comes with new hopes and fresh determination. Since the new tennis season has already begun, and as the wise old saying goes, "well begun is half done", the players in the top tennis fraternity have already gotten off the blocks. The end of 2013 was only a beginning for what to expect in 2014, and to respond to the challenge of either to stay on top or to fight the odds to get there.
Speaking of ladies first, Serena Williams was and still is, almost unbeatable. The bigger the tournament, the less likely she is to lose. She is the one and only contender in the ladies section and with due respect, rest all are only challengers - and ironically even they don't seem to pose any kind of challenge. As if the bulldozing of 2013 was not enough to cement this fact, the younger Williams started the year 2014 by comfortably sweeping the field at the ATP 250 Brisbane International. And the field was full too. Serena overcame Maria Sharapova in the Semi's and Victoria Azarenka in the Finals with consummate ease in straight sets. Well, if these two cannot push her any significantly, God knows who can. Williams with 17 GS titles, and in her 20th year since turning pro, is gunning for more GS glory to overcome Martina Navaratilova (18) and Chris Evert (18), and to stand in the same stead of Steffi Graf (22) and Margret Court (24). Though Azarenka seemingly push her many a times, she has not yet found any winning formula. Maria, on the other hand, has just suffered her 14 consecutive defeat at the hand of Williams to make the pro tennis look childishly lopsided. She can only try. As of now, there seems to be no stopping her and if anybody other than her wins the Aussie Open, that in itself can be called a major shock. But actually, that's where a lot of glory lie.
In the ATP world, no man is as happy as Ms. Williams. Yet, many more fancy their chances than Maria and Vika. The resurgence of Rafael Nadal and dethroning of Novak Djokovic from World No. 1 has kind of renewed their rivalry once again. Djokovic has retained a 'Nadal-less' Australian Open but could not get his hands on the French (courtesy Nadal), nor Wimbledon (courtesy Murray) and faced a beat-down at his favourite Arthur Ashe arena, again by Nadal. Of course, some of the credit in these loses also goes to the lack of hunger and tentativeness Novak showed. Nadal surely is way too happy to have come back in a fairytale fashion (with steroid usage exclamations surrounding him), having one of the best years he has had in his decade long career. Rafa, with 13 titles, is now chasing Federer in the number of GS titles and the ever argued claim of best ever, and for that Novak is his biggest hurdle. But, Rafa has started 2014 by winning the Qatar Open and coming on top of some hard fought matches. Andy Murray seemed to come around for good last year after winning his 2nd GS title and 1st Wimbledon, but it was not to be. He could not retain the same motivation at the US Open and missed the last part of the season with a lingering back surgery. He returned in Doha as the second seed to Nadal, but found himself dumped in the second round by Florian Mayer. So, his level is still uncertain and he does not seem likely to give a Nadal-esque performance post injury. Djokovic, on the other hand, is firing on all cylinders post USO. He went undefeated post US Open and defeated Nadal twice; also extending Nadal's wait for the elusive Year End trophy to at least one more year.
The loss of US Open final has seemingly got Djokovic out of a deep slumber. His pride is hurt and he seem to be doing whatever he can to reach the summit again and hopefully to stay longer this time. In an unconventional and surprising move, Djokovic has signed former star Boris Becker as his new Head Coach, and one can definitely say that it is a weird move. Becker has so far zero experience at pro level coaching and was sitting in the commentary box post retirement. Nole's former coach Marian Vajda is retained for few not so important tournaments, when he seems to be doing perfectly well for Djokovic ever since turning pro. Yet, one thing is clear that Novak is shaking things up and getting out of his comfort zone to achieve greater goals this year. Aussie Open is the place where both Nole and Rafa would want to start by stamping their authorities and gain an advantage over the other for the rest of the year.
And well, it may be for the first time since 2003 that Roger Federer is not discussed in the list of possible contenders at the start of the year. Still a World No. 6, yet he seems to be on an unending slide. He has nothing to prove and yet he wishes to contest on. Federer had a significantly poor 2013 by his lofty standards and one cannot see how it can go worse in 2014. Federer also like Novak, though both are in very different phases of their careers, is shaking things up a lot to get his hands on a few more trophies and Grand Slams, if possible. He has severed ties with coach Paul Annacone and is currently working with Stefen Edberg, his childhood idol, on a trial basis. Moreover, he has committed to the new Wilson 98" racquet that he tried after Wimbledon last year, and will play with that stick henceforth. At over 32, Roger Federer retains his class and elegance for short spans and patches but does not seem to have the same feet movement and pin point precision of his prime. He lost the Brisbane Final yesterday to Lleyton Hewitt, a former champion but ranked 60 now and is also aged 32. Despite all that, he will be around this year and Wimbledon will be his best chance to rise both in confidence and number of GS titles. All said and done, we might just be watching the last days of another legend and that has to be savoured while it lasts.
Hopefully, Tennis this year will move ahead with the Stephens, Robsons, Del Potros, Gulbis', Janowiczs, Raonics, Dimitrovs and unheard names to topple the reigning order and to take the game to ever new heights. With the hope of New Year, the longing to see a New Season, to watch the tacticians in the New Coaches, to follow the battles reaching New Levels, let us join in the fun.
Happy New Year 2014!