This article is written by Rajnikanth - a sports fan and a tennis fanatic. He is on a personal mission to watch ATP events in every place possible :-) and is hoping that his god 'Roger Federer' wins a few more tournaments in 2014. Rajni is a banker and is based in the middle east. You can reach Rajni on his email - firstname.lastname@example.org
The new year was rung in with greetings from players across the world, followed by some key announcements. The new season is already a fortnight old and there have been plenty of excitement and several developments - on the Tennis court and off it!
Rafael Nadal continued his good run since his comeback in Feb 2013 but also suffered a rare loss at the hands of his compatriot, Davis Cup team mate and good friend David Ferrer in the exhibition tournament at Abu Dhabi and finished third. However, the following week, he won the Qatar Open, earning 500 ATP points and extending his lead over Novak Djokovic who continues to hold the second spot in the ATP rankings since Rafa dethroned him after the US Open last year. Rafa’s win at Qatar gave him a title at the beginning of the year for the first time ever in his career and augurs well for him.
Novak Djokovic himself won the Abu Dhabi open and has carried on the good form that he had shown during 2013. Having successfully defended his title two years in a row, Novak has his eyes set on winning the Australian open for a record fifth time. This will not be an easy task and Novak has his task cut out. No other player, including Roger Federer, has done that and Federer himself would be making his bid for a fifth title at the Australian Open.
Roger Federer himself is trying to put a forgettable year and season behind him as he seeks to probably mount one more offence on his younger opponents - Rafa, Novak and Andy - who have overtaken him in the rankings and have also managed to defeat the legend in almost every match since the Olympics 2012 final match. Even Juan Martin Del Potro has defeated Roger thrice in a row after that epic loss in the London 2012 Olympics Semi-finals. Roger, however, defeated Juan Martin at Bercy, Paris 2013 and also at London in the ATP World Tour Finals 2013 and has managed to maintain a 15-5 head to head record against the Argentine. Roger seemed on course to win at Brisbane but was upset in 3 sets by Lleyton Hewitt who improved his head to head with Roger to 9-18 during the 14 year span they have played on the circuit. Whilst this would have been disappointing, Roger has been making all the right noises about being fit, training as he used to prior to 2013 when he suffered from niggles and a back injury and about his confidence level having improved. Crucially, Roger qualifying for the ATP World Tour Final in November 2013 albeit as the sixth player to do so (not as one of the top 2 or 3 as had been the case until 2012), seems to have given that something that was required to sustain his motivation levels.
Andy Murray seems to have been bitten by the injury bug after winning Wimbledon 2012 and has slipped from second to fourth in the ATP rankings. He was beaten at the early stages of the tournaments at Abu Dhabi as well as Qatar and faces an uphill task at the Australian Open where he comes as the least prepared of the top 6 ranked players.
In his attempt to improve his performance further, Novak has hired Boris Becker - a six time Grand Slam champion himself - as his head coach, as announced during the holiday season. With Roger too hiring his childhood day idol Stefan Edberg as his coach, it represents a throwback of sorts to the 80s and 90s with Ivan Lendl (Andy’s coach since the past 2 years), Boris and Edberg trying to out-manoeuvre each other, the year ahead seems set for many an interesting and absorbing tussle. Kei Nishikori has also hired Michael Chang as his coach and Richard Gasquet too changed his coach ahead of the holiday season.
So, there has been plenty of off court activity that has added to the buzz on the courts. There have also been a few exhibition matches involving Rafa, Novak, David Nalbandian who called time on his career in 2013 during the first fortnight of December and Roger Federer and Jo WilFried Tsonga at Melbourne just before the Australian Open.
Roger Federer, who apart from changing his head coach has also changed his racquet to a 98 square inch which he had tried during July 2013 and got refined by the manufacturer Wilson - has stated that any of the top 10 players can knock off Rafa and Novak, stating he does fancy his chances against both these players.
Tsonga and Berdych too have said that they hope to make an impact in the Grand Slam events during 2014.
Wawrinka reclaimed his Chennai Open title made slightly easier in the absence of Tipseravic who dropped out due to an injury and did not have the opportunity to defend his title. Wawrinka too has stated that he expects to do better in 2014 following on from his best year so far in his career where he stretched Novak Djokovic thrice - including in the Grand Slam events - before running out of steam each time.
From the next generation, Juan Martin seems to be on course to better his performance of 2013 and win a second Grand Slam title. Juan Martin won the title at Sydney defeating Bernard Tomic - another dangerous player and a rising star - who is drawn to face Rafael Nadal in the first round at the Australian Open.
Grigor Dimitrov, nicknamed Baby Fed for having a style very similar to Federer has also stated his intent and desire - not just in words but by winning his first title
The big serving John Isner won the Auckland Open and looks set to make a mark at Melbourne as also the rising star Milos Raonic who was unfortunate to not make it to the ATP World Tour Finals, being the reserve player who never got an opportunity.
Whilst Rafa and Novak with their rankings and performances for the most part of 2013 and first fortnight of 2014 being considered the favourites but not as strong favourites, for the first time in almost a decade, the field seems to be wide open and predicting a winner has probably become that much more difficult. Whilst former players and pundits are backing each of the BIG FOUR - Rafa, Novak, Roger and Andy - giving their own reasons, it is also possible that someone other than these could lift the title.
Looks like we are set for another exciting season ahead!