On December 28, the ATP World Tour will once again commence with the start of yet another exciting season, peppered by a variety of appealing storylines that will take centre stage in the early part of the season. While the majority of fan anticipation is focused on 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer and his expected comeback in 2014, there are several other interesting topics to take notice of including the recent string of high-profile coaches and the projected impacts they will have on their clients.
Here are the top four storylines ahead of the 2014 season:
1. Can Federer Silence His Doubters?
Arguably the biggest storyline heading into the 2014 season is whether or not 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer will be able to return to the form most expect of him. Federer, arguably the greatest tennis player of all time, is unfairly subjected to far more scrutiny than all other players on the tour. HIs extraordinary decade on the tour has made for a sore contrast to his dismaying 2013, where he only won one title this season (Halle), reached the finals of two other events in 2013 and failed to capture a single Grand Slam title. He even exited two of the Grand Slams before the quarter-final stage, which had not occurred since 2004. This ultimately resulted in the Swiss star plummeting to no.7 (ended the year at no. 6) in the Emirates ATP Rankings, after regaining the no. 1 spot the prior July.
It was a turbulent year riddled with surprising losses and disappointing results, including first-time losses to Sergiy Stakhovsky, Federico Delbonis, Daniel Brands and Tommy Robredo. The one upside for record-breaking singles champion is that the tail-end of the season was far better than the early portion as he was able to salvage the year with a few strong showings in the final three events on the tour: Basel, Paris, and the ATP World Tour Finals in London.
Will Federer silence his doubters in 2014? Or will fans have to suffer through another heart-wrenching year or disappointing losses. Only time will tell.
2. Can Murray Regain Momentum Following Back Surgery?
Another major storyline heading into 2014 is whether Andy Murray will be able to carry forth the momentum he had successfully built with his first two Grand Slam titles, particularly his historic win at the 2013 Wimbledon Championships. The Scotsman was barely able to enjoy his victory at SW19 before he was began to struggle once again with his back. He exited the Rogers Cup in the third round, the Cincinnati Masters in the quarter-finals and then failed to defend his US Open title, when he lost to Stanislas Wawrinka in the quarter-finals at Flushing Meadows.
While most have high expectations for the Brit, Murray was his usual blunt and modest self when it came to self-analysis and expectations, saying that he is “not expecting anything.”
“ I’m coming back from an injury and I’m not expecting anything,I would personally like to get good results in the grand slams. My training has gone very well but until the time you don’t play many matches, you don’t know how good your body is. So therefore, I can’t set any goals right now. I will be playing the best and will get to know what my weaknesses are as others would look to exploit that.”
Playing at the Abu-Dhabi Exhibition event this week, Murray appeared to be moving well on court and even though he lost his opening match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, it was a promising return for the 26-year-old. How he performs at the early portion of the season is anyone’s guess; will he return as a motivated force or will the remainder of his run on the tour be overshadowed by his win at Wimbledon?
3. Can Nadal Continue his Dominance on the Tour?
It has been a remarkable year for world no. 1 Rafael Nadal. Since his return from a career-threatening knee injury in February, Nadal won 10 ATP titles, including two Grand Slams (Roland Garros and US Open) and five Masters 1000 events. Following his US Open victory over Novak Djokovic, Nadal regained the no. 1 position on the Emirates ATP rankings the following week and also reached the finals of the Barclays World Tour Finals, making it arguably the greatest comeback seasons in the Open Era.
Rafa may have taken part in arguably his greatest season on the tour in 2013, but the question now is whether he can maintain this momentum in 2014 and remain in the top spot on the ATP rankings. While it is expected that he remain firmly in control on clay, the question still remains as to whether her is capable of continuing his dominance on hard courts, particularly at the Australian Open, which is the only Grand Slam he missed last year.
4. High-Profile Coaching Changes…a Hit or Miss?
One of the more talked about aspects of this particular off-season has been the recent surge of high-profile coaching changes occurring at the highest level on the ATP tour. It began with Japanese no. 1 Kei Nishikori hiring Michael Chang, a promising partnership following Nishikori’s underwhelming season on the tour. The world no. 17 began 2013 on the right track, when he won the U.S. National Indoor Tennis Championships in February but since then has failed to reach the semi-finals at any other event throughout the year and even exited the US Open in the opening round. This new partnership has all the makings of a favourable one, as Chang, a former world no. 1 and Grand Slam champion, could bring an interesting perspective to Nishikori’s game.
The more radical coaching change came a couple of weeks later, when world no. 2 Novak Djokovic announced that he has hired Boris Becker as his new head coach for the upcoming season. Inspired by Andy Murray’s successful partnership with Ivan Lendel, Djokovic is hoping that the German star could leave a similar mark on him. Yet the partnership is a surprising one all the same, Becker has no history as a coach on the professional tour and had a far different style of play than the Serb. Does Becker have the potential makings of a great coach? Is he willing to put in the time and effort to make the necessary changes to Djokovic’s game? With an intensive travel schedule, it will be interesting to see how they handle the transition.