There’s no doubt that men’s tennis has been spoiling its millions of fans for nearly a decade now. Long gone are those awkward early 2000’s when no new blood could deliver consistently at the majors. Does anybody else remember the ATP’s desperate “New Balls, Please” campaign? Consider yourself lucky if you don’t. Today, we are given the luxury of watching three of the greatest men’s tennis players of all time (Nadal, Djokovic, Federer) consistently compete against one another in excruciatingly tantalizing matches on all of tennis’ biggest stages. Let’s not forget that Andy Murray isn’t too shabby of a player either! Will 2014 continue to deliver the way 2013 did or will we have to start paying attention to women’s tennis again (gasp!)? I dive in and explore the burning questions whose answers will solve the puzzle that is the 2014 ATP World Tour.
1. Roger Federer: Retirement, Resurgence, or Mediocrity?
Finishing the year at #6, there’s no doubt that Roger Federer’s 2013 season was his worst on record since 2002. He compiled just a 45-17 record, and was only 4-10 against top 10 players. His lone title came on the grass at Halle, and he failed to reach a single grand slam final. I could keep going, but I think I’ve made my point. Commentators and analysts who have made a living drooling over Federer for the past decade will remind you that it’s irresponsible to count Roger out, and they are right. That being said, how long will he keep playing if he continues to swim in mediocrity (I’m talking mediocrity by GOAT standards)? This isn’t sudden, by the way. Aside from his 2012 Wimbledon win, Federer has barely been relevant since his win at the 2010 Australian Open. Federer needs to make some decisions in 2014. Can he rise to the challenge that Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray have posed the last four years? Nobody has ever been as dominant as Federer was from 2004-2007, so if anyone can, it is him. If, however, he isn’t able to elevate his level, here’s to hoping he sees the writing on the wall and doesn’t continue to put up disappointing results and further ruin his head-to-head records against his rivals.
2. Andy Murray: Can he find more motivation?
To be completely honest, I’m still in disbelief that Andy Murray won Wimbledon. I mean seriously? The drought is over? Watching the emotional rollercoaster that Brits go on every year since I started watching Wimbledon in 1999 has been part of the All England Club experience for me! Actually, I was on that rollercoaster as well and couldn’t have been happier last summer when I finally got off the ride. Nonetheless, Murray’s post-Wimbledon season left much to be desired as he went just 7-3 in tournament play. His season ended in mid-September in order to undergo surgery on a long-standing back problem. One can’t help but wonder if the Scott will continue to experience a bit of a hangover in 2014 after achieving arguably the two greatest wins possible (Wimbledon, Olympic Gold on home soil). I truly doubt that motivation to win the Australian Open or French Open will elevate his game, but I have a hunch he wouldn’t mind being the 26th player to top the world rankings.
3. Nadal-Djokovic rivalry: Which way will the pendulum swing this year in tennis’ most compelling rivalry?
This is the perfect example of how men’s tennis fans have been spoiled in recent years. Flashback to 2008 after the Wimbledon final and all the fuss was about how the Nadal-Federer rivalry would quite possibly end as the greatest of all time. Rightfully so, I might add. Flashforward to 2014. Who would have thought just a few short years later a rivalry that began in 2006 would already be threatening to dethrone the Nadal-Federer saga? Granted, in the early years it was a bit one-sided with Nadal holding a 16-7 advantage, having never lost to Djokovic in a grand slam. Then, 2011 happened. Djokovic went on a tear, winning seven straight matches against Nadal, including two in claycourt finals and three in grand slam finals. Not to be outdone, Nadal proceeded to win six of the next seven matches, including three in grand slams and two on Djokovic’s preferred hardcourts. Today, their rivalry stands at 22-17. Their 39 matches are the most encounters of any two men’s tennis players, and much closer in wins than the Nadal-Federer rivalry which Nadal leads 22-10 and has won 14 of the last 18. Although Djokovic has prevailed in their last two encounters, I would never put much stock in any of Nadal’s results after the US Open since he has never thrived indoors. What will be the next chapter in this classic rivalry, and who will be holding the pen? The answer to this question will surely play the biggest factor in the year’s unfolding.
4. Can anyone crack the Big 4?
I won’t spend much time on this question, as it has undoubtedly been asked by tennis analysts in varying forms for several years now. Indeed, it’s really quite astonishing to realize that 34 of the last 35 slams have gone to just four players (Shoutout to Delpo!). If we exclude Murray, 32 of the last 35 slams have gone to just three players. Not only that, but it’s almost equally as rare that a player outside of these four even reaches a grand slam final. Ferrer did breakthrough to a grand slam final in 2013 at the French Open, but it’s always going to be a stretch to imagine him going further than that if he’s playing a Big 4 in the final. Del Potro had a promising season, and as I mentioned earlier, is the only blemish in the Big 4’s slam chokehold since the 2005 French Open. Unfortunately for him, he has only reached one major semifinal since his 2009 US Open win. You’d be hard-pressed to find a top 10 player who hasn’t had a big win in a grand slam against the Big 4, but none have proven that they can string wins together. Will 2014 be any different? My guess is no.
5. Will history be made?
Let’s ponder on some of the most historic moments of the last few seasons. Last year saw Andy Murray end the most famous drought in tennis while Rafael Nadal broke the record for most titles at any single grand slam event. In 2012 Federer broke the record for weeks at #1 three years after breaking the all time grand slam record. Novak Djokovic started off the 2011 season with 41 straight wins, the most of all time depending on how you measure a season. Finally, Rafael Nadal became just the third player in 2010 to own all four grand slam trophies, and only the second to have a golden slam (2008 Olympic gold). So, what record will be broken in 2014? Novak and Roger could both break the record for the most Australian Open titles with a fifth win, a feat Roger could also achieve at Wimbledon. Perhaps Rafa will win his fifth consecutive French Open, a record he failed to break in 2009 when he bowed out in the 4th round to Robin Soderling, his sole loss at the event. Maybe Nadal will sweep all four slams and tie Federer as the record grand slam title holder with 17, just five years after Federer broke Pete Sampras’ record. Given the crop of players at the top of the game today, it’s a safe bet that history will be made. How, on the other hand, is more of a crapshoot.
Well, there you have it. The 2014 ATP World Tour season begins with a lot of questions that were left unanswered in 2013. It is likely that this season will not look drastically different from the previous, but they wouldn’t play the matches if the odds always held true would they? Let’s hope this season brings all the drama, excitement, and quality of play that tennis fans have become accustomed to.