The ATP World Tour resumes on Monday with tournaments in Australia, India and Qatar to begin the 2014 season. We take a look at some of the key storylines heading into the season and what to expect as well as a few predictions.
What can be expected of the big four this season?
Novak Djokovic – For a player who won a slam, held the No.1 spot for the majority of the year and picked up the title in the season ending World Tour Finals last year, it could be argued that Djokovic could feel he could have done better. After continuing his domination at the Australian Open, he went 0-3 against Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray at the other slams relinquishing winning positions against Nadal twice while he was outplayed by Murray in the Wimbledon final. He looks good to make it four years in a row in Melbourne but it will be elsewhere that determines how much of a success his season is. He has twice got into good positions against Nadal at the French Open only to fade away and most likely would have gone on to win the event in 2013 were it not for the unforgivable net touch that led to the Nadal comeback. Djokovic is one of a number of players who have appointed a new coach in their team – Boris Becker will be joining Djokovic at a number of tournaments throughout the year. At the highest level, the odd point here and there can make all the difference and the German’s experience could be vital.
Rafael Nadal – Although he is capable of it, it would be a major shock if Nadal were to repeat his astonishing 2013 in this upcoming season. This is not a slight on Nadal but more of a recognition of what a great season he had, especially after returning from a long term knee injury. Along with winning two of three slams he competed at in the year, he returned to the No.1 spot in the autumn. 2013 wasn’t quite up with 2010 where Nadal won the last three slams of the year but the following year suggests there could be cause to believe Nadal may suffer a let down. He was found wanting with the emergence of the new and improved Novak Djokovic, winning just three titles, all of which were on clay. Remaining fit will be half the battle for Nadal as he nears ever close to Roger Federer’s total of 17 slams. Until he retires, Nadal will always be the favourite to pick up the trophy in Paris but he will need to up his game at Wimbledon or Flushing Meadows. In 7 attempts since 2010, he has been victorious just once and been out before the semi finals four times.
Andy Murray – Post-Wimbledon, all the talk about Murray would have been about how he would handle the high of ending the drought at SW19 of Men’s Singles winners. It didn’t look at all promising as a weak attempt at defending his US Open title was finally ended by an inspired Stanislas Wawrinka before his season was ended early by back surgery. Murray made his return in Abu Dhabi this week and should hopefully be fully fit by the time the Australian Open comes round. He has been a major threat in the past few years with three finals in his last four attempts in Melbourne with Novak Djokovic denying him in both 2011 and 2013. If Murray has finally recovered from the back problems that have plagued him for a while, this is probably his best chance at a year with two slams. His grass performances over the past two years suggest he is currently the best grass court player in the world while fully fit. Another thing to look forward to will be the inevitable matchup between Nadal and Murray. They have not met since late 2011 and Murray has made huge strides since then.
Roger Federer – It is looking to be the beginning of the end for Federer as time continues to catch up with the 17-times slam champion. At 32, expectations that he would fail to keep up with the leading pack were proven in 2013 although many disappointing losses to average players were not to be expected. From Sergiy Stakhovsky to Julien Benneteau to Tommy Robredo, the season was full of surprise losses and it feels like they are only going to be more and more common as time goes on. Stefan Edberg has joined Federer’s coaching team temporarily as the Swiss looks to change things up but the Swedish great may have a battle on his hands. Nonetheless, Federer still remains a joy to watch even if his killer instinct is fading away.
Best Of The Rest?
Although his slam results were far from consistent last year (3R-A-SF-2R), Juan Martin Del Potro still managed to end the season in the top 5 thanks to his outstanding performances in 500 events as well as making two Masters Finals. More than this, he has shown he is capable of holding his own against the best. He has wins over each player in the top 6 and at his best is almost unplayable. He is way ahead of the rest mentally when facing the elite with Tomas Berdych, David Ferrer, Stanislas Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet all seemingly beaten before stepping on court and it is reflected in their awfully lopsided head to heads against the best. Although he picked up the Davis Cup again, it is unforgivable for a player of Berdych’s talent to go without a title. Wawrinka has shown massive improvement in emerging from the very big shadow of Roger Federer but failed in closing out matches twice against Novak Djokovic but will be a big threat on hard courts.
As shown by his runs in Paris (Masters) and Wimbledon in the past 2 years, Jerzy Janowicz has proven he has an explosive game that is capable of troubling the top players and it may result in another deep tournament run and/or surprise victory against a tough player but it may be too early for the Pole to iron out the inconsistencies (namely, shot selection) in his game to become a top 10 player. Both inside the top 20, Milos Raonic has a chance of breaking the top 10 at the years end. Raonic was narrowly inside at 10 earlier in the year but finished in 11 and will always be around there due to his performances in North America. At 23, it seems a bit of a stretch to call these two young but there are slim pickings for the 21 and unders. The coaching situation will always be troubling for Bernard Tomic who will most likely play very well in Australia only to disappoint for the rest of the year. There is only one teen in the top 200 and that is Nick Kyrgios who should be the recipient of an Australian Open wildcard allowing him to showcase his undoubted talents on the biggest stage.
Australian Open – Novak Djokovic
French Open – Rafael Nadal
Wimbledon – Andy Murray
US Open – Novak Djokovic
1. Roger Federer to fall out of the top 10
2. There will be a first time slam finalist
3. Czech Republic continue their domination of the Davis Cup