Tennis in 2014: Serena chases history as Federer faces new challenges
The men-behind-the-scenes will certainly be hoping that the tour can look toward the next generation rather than the previous generation to keep the fans engaged in the long run.
2014 will not ring in until Wednesday — but the new tennis season has already kicked off this weekend with multiple ATP/WTA events and the ITF-sanctioned Hopman Cup taking place across Asia and Australia. And while you might think that the weeks preceding the kick-off of a new season may be slow, there was plenty happening to keep the fans' interest piqued. Here’s a look at some of the talking points as the first week of the 2014 season gets underway.
Boys to Men: On the ATP Tour, Rafael Nadal ended the season as world No 1, winning two slams and inching closer to becoming a legitimate GOAT candidate. But it was Novak Djokovic, who ended the year with a 24 match winning streak and chasing Nadal’s top ranking.
Britain’s Andy Murray is ‘back’ (pun intended) and it will be interesting to see how he holds up in the Melbourne heat and as defending champion at Wimbledon in June. And after a dismal 2013, a 32-year-old Roger Federer will hope to prove his detractors wrong by trying to win his 18th major title. If all that wasn’t enough, there’s also the celebrity coaches to pay attention to.
Two years after Murray went out and hired Ivan Lendl to help him get over the grand slam bump, Djokovic has recruited Boris Becker as his coach while Federer has hired Stefan Edberg on his team (perhaps with an eye on a Wimbledon title... though news that he is going to be a father again around June may prove to be a costly distraction). Michael Chang has been hired by the Japanese player Kei Nishikori; Goran Ivanisevic is working with Marin Cilic and Sergi Bruguera will coach Richard Gasquet.
And the men-behind-the-scenes will certainly be hoping that the tour can look toward the next generation (Raonic, Dimitrov, Tomic, Tursunov and Nishikori) rather than the previous generation to keep the fans engaged in the long run.
Serena chases history: When Federer and Serena Williams won the Australian Open in 2010, it was Federer’s 16th slam title and Serena’s 12th major. No one would have quite predicted back then that four years later, Federer and Serena would be tied with 17 slams with the American having a much better chance to win an 18th. Williams is also 32-years-old but supremely motivated and fit. She is now only one slam away from equalling Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova who have 18 slams each. Ahead of that, there’s only Steffi Graf with 22 and Margaret Court with 24 slams.
The closer Serena gets to 24, the hungrier she is going to become. And that’s a scary thought for the rest of WTA’s strong and beautiful cast. World No 2 Victoria Azarenka will be hoping to push Serena as she has over the past couple of seasons. Azarenka has become a mentally stronger player in recent years and certainly has the game to stay with Williams on the hardcourts (not so much on clay or grass).
Maria Sharapova is back after another shoulder injury – this one did not require surgery but has limited her to only one match since Wimbledon. With a new coach on her team, Sharapova should be refreshed but it will take her a while to find her feet and confidence on the court. China’s Li Na and Czech Petra Kvitova could be threats at the majors only if they are able to keep their bodies and minds in check.
The other big story to look out for in the women’s game will be the emergence of the young brigade. Sloane Stephens, Simona Halep, Laura Robson, Eugenie Bouchard, Madison Keys and Donna Vekic are just a few of the young guns ready to make an impression in the new year.
India’s biggest tennis show: At one point, India was home to two ATP and two WTA events. Now, the Aircel Chennai Open is the only ATP or WTA event held in the country. In its 19th year, the tournament has attracted a decent field for an ATP-250 series event – 8th ranked Stanislas Wawrinka, 15th ranked Mikhail Youzhny, 16th ranked Fabio Fognini and 26th ranked Benoit Paire.
The Indian challenge will be headed by Somdev Devvarman and Yuki Bhambri. Also watch out for the reunion of the Indo-Pak Express Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Huq Qureshi. Leander Paes will partner Fognini in the doubles while Mahesh Bhupathi has decided to skip the event altogether.
Year starts with a bang: Besides Chennai, there are two other ATP events, three WTA events and the Hopman Cup in the first week itself. With a travelling family, Federer chose to come to Australia earlier than usual and compete in Brisbane over the cash-rich Doha event. He is joined by Kei Nishikori, Gilles Simon and Kevin Anderson in the draw while Nadal and Murray will battle it out with the likes of Richard Gasquet, Tomas Berdych, and Ernests Gulbis for the Doha crown.
Serena, Azarenka and Sharapova will all begin their campaigns in Brisbane, which is soon replacing Sydney as the premier Aussie Open warm-up for the women. Li Na and Sara Errani will play in the new Shenzhen event while Roberta Vinci, Ana Ivanovic and Venus Williams headline the field in Auckland.
As usual, the Hopman Cup, the only mixed team tennis event on the calendar, has drawn a stellar cast which includes Sam Stosur, Agnieszka Radwanska, Kvitova, and Stephens among the women; and Jo-Wilfried Tonsga , John Isner, Tomic and Raonic among the men.
What’s in store for Indian tennis: Will 2014 be the year that singles becomes the focus for Indian tennis once again? After an injury plagued 2012 season, Somdev Devvarman bounced his way back to the top 100. If he remains healthy, he could be headed to the top 50 in the world for the first time in his career. And while Yuki Bhambri has been slowed down by growing pains, the 21-year-old youngster is now back inside the top 200 and ready to climb higher. On the women’s side, 20-year-old Ankita Raina is now ranked inside the top-300 and there are a host of other young names behind her in the 300 to 600s ranking range.
But doubles will likely be where we continue to win the silverware. Look for Bopanna chasing his first grand slam title, now having reunited with former partner Qureshi. Paes will continue to play with Stepanek and contend for the slams. Bhupathi has decided postpone his retirement till Wimbledon though he will play a very limited schedule. And Sania Mirza will hope to begin 2014 with Cara Black in the same winning manner in which they ended the 2013 season.
All in all, it should be yet another humdinger of a season. You can follow the major tennis stories right here on Firstpost through our weekly tennis blog. Stay tuned.
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