MELBOURNE, Australia -- If the first week of the Australian Open is any indication, the most fashionable show-off shot on the ATP World Tour right now is the forward-facing, between-the-legs shot. It's not usually a shot often seen in matches, but it's been dominant in the shots of the week Down Under. See who hit it best, along with a couple of other memorable strokes.

1. Roger Federer

He might have unceremoniously exited in the third round thanks to Andreas Seppi, but when it comes to spectacular shot-making, the old master is still showing the others how it's done. The undisputed king of the traditional tweener shows he can also handle this variation, which requires less technique but more athletic reflexes. Not only does Federer pull it off, but he hits a forehand winner on the line to finish off the point. It had to be seen on Hawk-Eye to be believed.

2. Gael Monfils

No one hits the shot like Gael Monfils, so he wasn't about to leave the tournament before reminding everyone it's still his trademark. In this point, he shows off his legs -- not only by getting the ball back between them, but by running across the court to retrieve the next shot as well.

3. Nick Kyrgios

Young Aussie Nick Kyrgios grew up idolizing Federer, and he emulates him again here with a shot combination similar to Federer's effort during the tournament.

4. Andreas Seppi

It's not just the shot, it's when he hit it. Seppi says he wasn't expecting to even reach the ball, let alone send the ball by Federer at net for a clean winner up the line on match point.

5. Feliciano Lopez

The big-serving Spaniard hits plenty of aces, but catches an extra, painful-looking target here. But to the ball boy's credit, he resumed his duties in a few minutes and got a personal apology from Lopez the next day, as well as a T-shirt and a wristband from the match. "Was very funny because he became very famous at school," said Lopez. "Luckily, he is perfect and he is fine."

MELBOURNE, Australia -- At 6-foot-10, you can sympathize with John Isner when he says he has a leg-room problem on airplanes.

Which is unfortunate, because after a 7-6 (4), 7-6 (6), 6-4 loss to Gilles Muller in the third round of the Australian Open, Isner will be making the long, cramped journey back to the U.S. far sooner than he had hoped.

Isner boasts arguably the most lethal shot in tennis, a wicked first serve, which against Muller reached 139 mph at times. But for Isner, who also hit a remarkable 30 aces, he forged just one break opportunity in the match -- one that he failed to convert.
[+] EnlargeJohn Isner
AP Photo/Andy BrownbillJohn Isner managed only one break-point opportunity against Gilles Muller in a straight-sets loss at the Australian Open.

Combined with Steve Johnson’s four-set loss to No. 5 Kei Nishikori, the U.S. men find themselves in familiar, hollow territory; they won’t have a representative in the fourth round of the Aussie for the fourth straight season -- an unfortunate circumstance for a country that is simultaneously producing a host of talented young women.

Isner came to Australia with new coach Justin Gimelstob, a move largely made to help the No. 19 seed quiet the Grand Slam fire alarm that’s been going off for years and to work on his overarching vice, the return of serve. But as we saw against Muller, Isner’s length can be an impediment. With arms as long as his, it’s a tough ask to first turn your shoulders and then swivel quickly enough to create any kind of offense on returns.

To Isner’s defense, Muller served with chilling efficiency, unleashing 24 aces of his own and winning 90 percent of points on his first deliveries. Muller, it should be pointed out, is somewhat of a feel-good story. The 31-year-old from Luxembourg was out of tennis for nearly a year after undergoing elbow surgery following the 2013 French Open. But he’s on to his first Grand Slam round of 16 in 3 years.

For the record, Isner has now gone 12 Grand Slams without reaching a quarterfinal and has never, ever made a semi.

As for Johnson, he started off quickly against Nishikori, the 2014 US Open runner-up. Johnson won a lengthy first-set tiebreaker before Nishikori figured out he was in fact Nishikori. Johnson, the two-time NCAA champ from USC, fell 6-7 (7), 6-1, 6-2, 6-3.

At this point, there won’t be any new questions, new concerns or new explanations on the state of U.S. men’s tennis. We’re more or less repurposing the same narrative that has dented the image of the Americans since Andy Roddick reached the Wimbledon final in 2009.

But even though it’s not a new story, it’s still a troubling one.
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Roger Federer was the victim of one of sport’s quirkiest stats. That is, he won more points than Andreas Seppi (145-144) but lost the match.

In statistical circles, this phenomena is known as the Simpson’s paradox, a trend present in different groups that is reversed when the groups are combined -- which is a complicated way of saying sometimes math is weird.

In tennis, those “groups” are sets and the combination, of course, is the match.

But let’s be honest here: This happens all the time in tennis. Player X can blow out Player Y in a set and then lose the next three in tiebreakers. Thus Player X wins more points, loses the match and this paradox is anything but an anomaly. An article last year in The Atlantic pointed out that Nicolas Mahut actually won 24 more points than John Isner in their 11-hour, 5-minute, 183-game marathon at Wimbledon five years ago -- a match that Isner famously won.

So why are we saturating you with a (bad) lesson in statistics? Because numerically, Federer played a competitive match in a 6-4, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (5) loss in the third round of the Australian Open, but from a motivational perspective, he just didn’t always seem to be on his game.

As Chris Evert explained on the ESPN2 telecast, Federer’s fire was missing during key points, which is a product of playing later in your career. Darren Cahill then pointed out that Federer tactical moves were a little flat.

Federer came into the Australian Open fresh off a title at the Brisbane International, where he won his 1,000th career match in the finale against Milos Raonic. That many wins (he’s one of only three players to reach that milestone) is an extravagant achievement but also a product of playing this game for a long, long time. These kind of days happen. Right?

“Oh, no,” Federer said, “this is a feeling I've had for 15 years. To me I don't read anything into those feelings you sometimes have and it's totally not true and you just come out and you play a routine match. Yeah, it was a mistake. And I know the strength of Seppi, especially after he beat Chardy, who I know can play very well. I was aware of the test and was well-prepared. Just somehow couldn't play my best tennis today. It was definitely partially because of Andreas playing very well.”

There were some alarming sounds after Federer’s last previous against Simone Bolleli, in which the great Swiss also dropped the first set. But he quickly recovered, winning the next three sets, and things appeared to be copacetic in the Federer camp.

Against Seppi, Federer served up nine double faults and failed to convert on 21 of his 50 net approaches. Those are not winning numbers.

Hard to believe, but this is Federer’s first third-round loss in a hard-court major since Jan. 20, 2001 -- yes, the very seem day George W Bush took office.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, ESPN crack researcher Alex Kennison dug deep into Internet archives and found out that was also the day Apple first introduced the I-Tunes digital media player.

In other words, it was a different lifetime ago, so long, in fact, that CiCi Bellis was only a year old.

OK, we’ll stop with our journey-back-to-the-past references (“The Wedding Planner” was No. 1 at the box office!) and only point out that what you likely already know: That is Federer’s consistent dominance is something we haven’t seen before. Federer insists we shouldn’t get worked up after Friday’s loss, and he’s right.

Because as he showed us during last year’s fantastic campaign, that the older he gets, the further away from retirement he is -- sort of a paradox in its own right.

MELBOURNE, Australia -- I recently googled the most rock-solid things on Earth. Because why not. Obviously, things like diamonds and various other precious stones popped up, as did substances only a well-versed geologist would appreciate. Raise your hand if you’ve heard of wurtzite boron nitride or mineral lonsdaleite anyway. If so, good on you, but here’s the one thing that surprised me. Graphene XT didn’t make the cut.

Yeah, seriously.

I have no idea how that glaring omission escaped this group of world-wide wizards. Now truth be told, I can’t tell you anything about the carbon atoms and other elements that make graphene the able material it is, but here’s what I can tell you:

I had a chance to use the new Novak Djokovic-endorsed Graphene XT Speed Pro -- and it’s rock solid. I mean diamond-esque solid. Or for you Earth science wizards, wurtzite boron nitride solid. Every groundstoke felt like it was being unleashed by a cannon. Forehands, backhands, you name it, this new line of Head rackets, most notably the XT Speed Pro, felt as stable and husky as any frame I’ve used.

Last year, I reviewed the previous iteration of the Speed Pro, which I enjoyed a lot. But if there are two takeaways, it’s this: The XT is a little more muscular near the top of the head than its predecessor, and, admittedly while this seems somewhat counterintuitive, it swung much faster despite the added strength up north.

The stats say the XT Speed Pro is only one point head lighter than the 2014 model, but there’s a discernible difference. Whereas last year’s stick predominantly catered to advanced players, I feel like this year’s XT Speed Pro -- because of the ability to cut through the ball more easily -- will appeal to a wider spectrum of competitors.

I can’t say enough about the groundstrokes. Aside from the sturdy, steady response, there were absolutely no fly-aways -- that is I felt eminently connected to the ball upon contact. The racket moved little, if at all, when making off-center contact.

This year’s XT Speed line, all of them in fact, have been engineered, according to Head Tennis, “to optimize the racket’s weight distribution to where players need it most.” In this case, it means the power in this line is generated closer to the upper hoop. For what it’s worth, Head also says Graphene XT is 30 percent stronger than last year’s frames, which after hitting for quite some time with the new Speed Pro, seems about right.

Aside from the ground game, volleys were spot on and extremely plush. It took minimal effort to stick a ball with authority and place it in the corners. And the controlled response spawned a lot of confidence at net as well.

If there was one shot I needed some time to acclimate to in this racket, it was the serve. With an 18/20 pattern, the raw power isn’t what you’d get from other more powerful frames, but after 15 minutes or so, I was serving as well as I had been with wider ‘tweener rackets. Although I felt like my radar-gun speed was down slightly, I was able to place balls down the T, out wide and into my opponent’s body better than any other racket I’ve play-tested in quite a while -- perhaps since using last year’s Speed Pro. And the swing speed helped deliver a good amount of spin, far more than you’d normally receive from a denser string set-up.

I highly recommend players give this one a stab. The line of Head Graphene XT Speed rackets honestly have a unique, confidence-inspiring feel. The Speed Pro might be Head’s heaviest model in this line, but aside from being one powerhouse of a frame, it swung with serious speed. Go figure.

Head Graphene XT Instinct MP
[+] EnlargeHead Tennis
Head TennisThe new Head Graphene XT Instinct MP is a solid frame in all aspects.

If you haven’t seen Head’s latest Instinct yet, you will soon. Actually, it’s kind of impossible to miss. With various hues of blue, it’s really, well, blue. Sort of a combination of mix of air force blue and baby blue.

So if you like the color blue, this is definitely the racket for you, and if you don’t -- it’s probably a good choice as well.

The XT Instinct MP is a tremendous hit from all aspects of the court. It’s a nice improvement from last year’s model, which was solid in the sweetspot but a little shaky outside of it.

The Instinct swings freely at 11.1 ounces, but based off the response, you'd think it was heavier because of the XT technology in the upper hoop.

I found easy access to power from both wings. Compared to the Speed Pro, I was able to generate more spin, a product of the more open 16/19 pattern, although the response was slightly less crisp. I think a small amount of led tape in the head would solve that issue.

Head rackets in general have a unique handle shape. They’re more rectangular (and a smidge smaller) than most other major brands. I found this to be a huge advantage in Head’s latest line of XT Graphene frames because it allowed me to whip through the ball and take advantage of the weight at the top of the head.

Like the latest Speed Pro, I was able to stick volleys with precision and place them deep into the corners of the court or drop them over the net. And while I felt more native power from the Speed Pro serving, the Instinct was as efficient in terms of placement as any racket out there.

As I mentioned before, I think a small amount of led tape would help, especially on the serve, but don’t get me wrong: There’s nothing wrong with it at all.

So, if you’re feeling down about your tennis game or tennis racket, pick up this new Instinct. There’s a good shot it will solve your blues.

New season, new sights

January, 19, 2015
Jan 19

The new tennis season has begun with its familiar sights and sounds -- with tennis balls spraying the blue courts, the bright Australian sun shining down on Melbourne Park and players cozying up with koalas. But it's also featured some unusual spectacles and curious happenings. Here are a few things you don't see every day:

1. Serena's coffee wake-up call

Serena Williams still hadn't adjusted to the time zone when she played her first match Down Under against Flavia Pennetta at Hopman Cup. The world No. 1 dropped the first set 6-0, asked for an espresso and ... won the match.

2. John Isner gets hit where it hurts

Even John Isner's giant serving hasn't inflicted the kind of damage Flavia Pennetta did with this stinger.

3. Alize Cornet's triumphant ace

Alize Cornet isn't known for her serving, while Andy Murray is one of the best returners on tour. But she somehow aced him in this Hopman Cup match, only to see him return the favor.

4. Auckland's ball dogs

Ball kids are supposed to go unnoticed, but these stand-ins at the Auckland tournament received worldwide coverage.

5. Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt's boat match

Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt have played in a lot of places, but racing each other in boats on Sydney Harbor was new even for them. The wind and cramped conditions didn't stop them from getting a few rallies going.

6. Federer-Hewitt II

If the Federer-Hewitt rivalry is getting a bit old, here's a new version, featuring Hewitt's son, Cruz. The 6-year-old took on Federer during the warm-up of the Sydney exhibition the two players participated in last Monday. Cruz even won a point against the 17-time Grand Slam champion.

7. Sloane Stephens on a knife edge

Usually she just gets tennis balls flung her way, but Stephens found herself against an entirely new opposition in this knife-thrower at Hobart.

8. Federer's 1,000 wins

Federer winning tennis matches and tournaments is nothing new, but with his victory over Milos Raonic on Jan. 11, he became only the third player to reach 1,000 ATP wins.

9. Angelique Kerber's 3 a.m. contest

Tennis matches are known for going long into the night, but few, especially women's matches, have stretched to 3:09 a.m. local time. But that's when Angelique Kerber completed her rain-delayed match against Daria Gavrilova in Sydney.

10. Marinko Matosevic's extra delivery

Matosevic has been a pro long enough to know that when serving, you only toss the ball, not the racket.

Editor's note: For two weeks, starting Dec. 8, is unveiling its 2014 tennis awards once per day.

Dec. 8: Men's player of year | Dec. 9: Women's player of year | Dec. 10: Top men's matches | Dec. 11: Top women's matches | Dec. 12: Top shot-makers | Dec. 15: Top shots | Dec. 16: Top tirades | Dec. 17: Most mystifying moments | Dec. 18: Top on-court moments | Dec. 19: Top off-court stories

What happens on the court isn't all that happens in tennis. Here are some of the biggest developments around the game this season.

1. Surplus of super coaches

The trickle of former champions turning to coaching became a torrent this season, as players ranked high and low snapped up big names to work with them. The year began with men's Grand Slam champions such as Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisevic and Michael Chang taking up the reins, and more recently, women's champions such as Amelie Mauresmo, Lindsay Davenport and Martina Navratilova have joined them.

2. Increased prize money

The amount of prize money given at the Masters tournaments was the issue bubbling behind the scenes for much of this season. With tournament earnings at that level said to have increased 7 percent, double the projected amount, players wanted more than the 9 percent increases they previously had been getting. The tournaments resisted, and representatives of the two sides clashed fiercely and at ATP board meetings. The issue dragged on and on before a figure of 14 percent -- 11 percent from the tournaments, 3 percent from the ATP -- was approved this week, just before the new season begins. But things may not be settled even now. Reports say the tournaments have written to the ATP objecting to the increase.

[+] EnlargeIPTL
AP Photo /Manish SwarupAfter a long season, top players still had enough bandwidth to play in the International Tennis Premier League.
3. Additional tennis leagues

The long-standing World Team Tennis league was joined by two newcomers this year -- the much-publicized International Tennis Premier League (ITPL), played between four teams from four Asian cities, and the lower-profile Champions Tennis League (CTL), played between teams in six Indian cities. The ITPL, organized by former doubles player Mahesh Bhupathi, received plenty of attention as it spent $24 million recruiting players and snagged top names such as Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. The league attracted crowds at most sessions during its two-week run, and wants to become a regular competition during the offseason.

4. Kids and wives

A lot of top men had plenty happening off the court. Federer had a second set of twins, boys named Leo and Lenny. Djokovic married longtime girlfriend Jelena Ristic and had his first child, Stefan. And Andy Murray has announced he is engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Kim Sears.

5. WTA television production

The WTA has just signed a new deal with Perform Group to broadcast all 2,000 matches played on the tour each year, a big increase from the 700 that are currently on camera. The new arrangement also came with some eye-catching figures -- $525 million for 10 years -- that WTA CEO Stacey Allaster said will more than double the $21 million the tour and tournaments received through their previous agreement.

6. Breakups between high-profile athletes

Several high-profile WTA pairings dissolved during the season. Caroline Wozniacki and Rory McIlroy received the most publicity when McIlroy called off their engagement, but Maria Kirilenko and NHL player Alex Ovechkin, Victoria Azarenka and musician Redfoo, Petra Kvitova and Radek Stepanek also are no longer couples. And the unconfirmed relationship between Serena and coach Patrick Mouratoglou is now an unknown status as well.

7. Sharapova Inc. taking off

Maria Sharapova has had the spot of highest-earning women's athlete sewn up for a while now, but is also increasingly showing off her entrepreneurial instincts. The Russian was almost as visible at corporate events as on the court this year, making appearances for sponsors such as Porsche or her own candy company, Sugarpova -- and sometimes both at once. She also signed on for her own fragrance and took an investment position in a skincare company, as well as setting up a Sugarpova shop at Wimbledon and during the US Open. Though still well behind Federer and Rafael Nadal, her estimated $22 million in off-court earnings is double the $11 million Serena Williams is said to earn, and Sharapova earned herself another Grand Slam trophy this season as well.

8. Asia tournaments on the rise

Asian players were big this season, but so were tournaments. There are now 24 WTA events in Asia-Pacific, more than anywhere else, with eight played in China. The ATP is looking at more potential locations for the Tour Finals in London, with cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Doha and Abu Dhabi among the contenders for the event. And two new Asian-based leagues were launched this year, giving the region more tennis than ever.

[+] Enlargeballboy
Chris Hyde/Getty ImagesThe Australian Open saw record-breaking heat this year, much to the chagrin of some players and ball boys.
9. The heat is on

The Australian Open saw temperatures of more than 100 degrees, with players cramping and collapsing on court. The tournament’s extreme-heat policy was put into effect, but not before players had criticized officials for not stopping play and Canadian Frank Dancevic dramatically complained of hallucinations. The heat policy was also in effect at the US Open. Shuai Peng, who had been one of the players who collapsed at the Australian Open, had to be wheeled off court following a breakdown during the semifinals. The Aussie Open has since announced a new heat policy, with play to be stopped at an even number of games or following a tiebreaker instead of to the completion of a set, and the referee is now required to consider stopping play when temperatures reach a high level.

10. Player development and national federations

There were new faces and new approaches among the national federations, with the full-scale, federation-controlled system giving way to more cooperation with private coaches. The former chief of Tennis Canada, Michael Downey, now leads the Lawn Tennis Association, which has pared back its National Training Centre. Tennis Australia has appointed Patrick Rafter in change of its development program. Patrick McEnroe is stepping down from his position at USTA player development, and while a new 100-court, $60 million facility is being built in Florida, there is no longer as much emphasis on players doing their training at USTA centers with USTA coaches.

The rise and fall of Rafael Nadal

December, 17, 2014
Editor's note: For two weeks, starting Dec. 8, is unveiling its 2014 tennis awards once per day.

Dec. 8: Men's player of year | Dec. 9: Women's player of year | Dec. 10: Top men's matches | Dec. 11: Top women's matches | Dec. 12: Top shot-makers | Dec. 15: Top shots | Dec. 16: Top tirades | Dec. 17: Most mystifying moments | Dec. 18: Top on-court moments

The familiar and the new meshed in what was a frequently surprising year on the tennis tour. Here are some of the most significant on-court developments of the season.

1. Big Four dominance diminished

The Big Four won only two of the four Grand Slams this year, but let's also not get too carried away with talk of a decline. Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray were still six of the eight Grand Slam finalists and won seven of the nine Masters 1000s. But each was a bit off. Murray's results haven't been the same since back surgery, Nadal had a string of physical problems, Federer was consistent but lacked a little extra in a few of his biggest matches, and Djokovic was up and down in a year where he had a lot happening off the court. That opened up opportunities for other players, making this season the most open on the men's tour in quite a while.

[+] EnlargeBouchard
AP Photo/Paul ChiassonCanadian Eugenie Bouchard made her mark this year by reaching the Wimbledon final.
2. Serena Williams ties major company

She tripped up at the first three majors, but Serena scored her 18th Grand Slam victory and a significant piece of tennis history at the US Open, tying Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert and lifting her to fourth in the all-time ranks. Margaret Court holds the record with 24 Grand Slam singles wins.

3. Rafael Nadal nets Slam No. 14

For all the Spaniard's physical problems and defeats on clay this year, he still won his record ninth French Open title. That gave him 14 Grand Slam singles titles, tying him with Pete Sampras for second-most all time for the men.

4. Influx of injuries

They have become a regular part of the sport for players, but injuries seemed to have an even bigger impact than usual. From Nadal's back injury at the Australian Open to Federer's back injury at the Tour Finals, there was a season-long surge of physical travails. Nadal also withdrew from the US Open with a wrist injury, while Kei Nishikori withdrew from the Miami semifinals and retired during the Madrid final with hip and back problems. And though he reached the US Open final, he almost didn't play the tournament because of yet another injury issue. Victoria Azarenka's foot problem kept her off the tour for most of the season, and Juan Martin del Potro's wrist surgery did likewise. Serena had back and knee problems during various portions of the season, as did Ana Ivanovic with her hip and Sloane Stephens with her wrist.

And scores of other players such as David Ferrer, Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet had nagging problems that took them on and off the tour, with a few even driven into retirement.

5. Men's up-and-comers

They haven't toppled the top guys consistently, but younger players such as Nishikori, US Open champ Marin Cilic, Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov and Ernests Gulbis all followed through the door opened by Stan Wawrinka's Australian Open victory, crowding into the top 10. It was a significant shift from the veterans who had been filling the ranks in previous years.

6. Women's comebackers

Newer names like Simona Halep and Eugenie Bouchard had a big impact, but the women's game also saw several familiar figures move back toward their former heights. Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki returned to the top 10. Petra Kvitova won another Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, while Dominika Cibulkova hit her way into the Aussie Open final and Venus Williams found her way back into the top 20. But even with all this, the WTA comeback player of the year officially went to former prodigy Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who defeated Halep at the US Open before winning her first WTA title in 16 years in Quebec City.

7. Canada’s rise

Having steadily climbed upward for a few years, Canada announced itself on the world stage at Wimbledon this year with Raonic making the men's semifinals, Bouchard the women's final and Vasek Pospisil winning the men's doubles. Bouchard also reached two Grand Slam semifinals, while she and Raonic also qualified for the WTA and ATP Finals. And with doubles veteran Daniel Nestor also still playing and one or two younger women emerging, the new Canadian presence in tennis looks set for a while.

[+] EnlargeKei Nishikori
Julian Finney/Getty ImagesKei Nishikori has always had the talent and this year, he proved it.
8. The Southeast Asia boom

The Grand Slam season began with Li Na’s victory at the Australian Open, propelling her to No. 2 and the highest ranking achieved by an Asian player, and though she was about to retire by the US Open, the tournament saw Nishikori reach the final and get to No. 5, the highest for an Asian man. The growing number of players from the region comes coincidentally (or not) at a time when Asia is seeing a boom in the number of tournaments there.

9. Teenagers make their mark

Almost gone from the men's top 100 for a few years and only occasionally seen in the women's, teenagers re-established themselves this season. Nick Kyrgios pulled off one of the year's most significant performances by defeating Nadal at Wimbledon. The 19-year-old is joined by two others -- Alexander Zverev, Borna Coric -- as teenagers in the top 100. Meanwhile, Madison Keys won her first tour title at 19 and is one of four teens in the WTA top 100.

10. Switzerland takes Davis Cup

With Wawrinka establishing himself as a top player and Federer returning to the fold, Switzerland lifted its first Davis Cup by winning a fascinating final against France in front of record crowds. It can also be seen as Federer's most notable achievement of the season, giving him one of the few significant titles he had yet to capture.
Editor's note: For two weeks, starting Dec. 8, is unveiling its 2014 tennis awards once per day.

Dec. 8: Men's player of year | Dec. 9: Women's player of year | Dec. 10: Top men's matches | Dec. 11: Top women's matches | Dec. 12: Top shot-makers | Dec. 15: Top shots | Dec. 16: Top tirades | Dec. 17: Most mystifying moments | Dec. 18: Top on-court moments

It was a season full of surprises on the tour, with plenty of twists, turns and talk. But some unfolded in particularly unusual fashion, arresting attention as they happened. Here are some of the moments that left tennis watchers gaping.

1. Serena Williams' Wimbledon exit

She had already been ousted from the singles in a dramatic three-setter, but Serena would make an even more eventful exit in doubles. With her sister Venus sitting expressionless beside her, Serena called for the trainer during the warm-up, saying her vision and balance were affected. She then attempted to play the match, sending the ball flying when making contact in the first game. Next Williams hit four double faults that often weren't even in the vicinity of the service box, retired from the contest and, ultimately, left the tournament before giving a news conference. And she has still not given a more specific explanation than illness, saying she planned to have tests in the offseason.

[+] EnlargeLi Na
Goh Chai Hin/AFP/Getty ImagesDespite winning the Australian Open earlier in the season, Li Na called it a career in 2014.
2. Li Na’s retirement

Li won her second Grand Slam at the Australian Open, injured her knee and had a sharp fall in her results during the clay season, had valued coach Carlos Rodriguez leave her following Wimbledon and withdrew from the US Open. With retirement rumors swirling, Li announced she was stopping just before her hometown tournament, which was to be played for the first time this year with her as its top attraction. Quite a roller-coaster season.

3. Rafael Nadal's injury issues

Nadal's physical problems produced some unusual sights on the court this season. He began experiencing back problems in the warm-up during the Australian Open final against Stan Wawrinka and called the trainer down a set and 2-0. Nadal had to leave the court to be examined, which led to a break of about 10 minutes, causing Wawrinka to complain angrily to the umpire. Nadal was even booed when he returned to court, but it was apparent the Spaniard was really hurt when he began serving at about 80 mph and could barely stay in points. He then improved and somehow won the third set against a nervous Wawrinka, but the first-time Grand Slam finalist was able to clinch the match in the fourth -- one of the stranger Grand Slam finals ever played.

Nadal had then only just returned from a wrist injury when he developed appendicitis in Shanghai, but chose to take antibiotics and keep playing rather than have surgery right away. Initially unable to practice and not sleeping properly because of the painful condition, he had poor showings in Shanghai and Basel and then decided to stop for the season.

4. Miami's men's semifinals

The Miami semifinals were supposed to feature Nadal versus Tomas Berdych and Djokovic versus Kei Nishikori, but instead saw no action when Nishikori withdrew with a hip injury and Berdych followed suit with a stomach problem. It wasn't the only no-show day on the men's circuit in 2014. Roger Federer withdrew from the final of the ATP World Tour Finals against Novak Djokovic because of a back injury.

5. Eugenie Bouchard's Montreal appearance

It was one of the most hyped appearances of the year -- Montrealer Eugenie Bouchard playing her hometown event in her first tournament since reaching the Wimbledon final. There were record ticket sales, television cameras and packed crowds as she walked on court for her opening round against little-known qualifier Shelby Rogers. Clearly affected by the attention, Bouchard didn't win a game in the first set and told her coach, Nick Saviano, that she wasn't even in the match. She gathered herself and took the second set, but then unraveled -- the 6-0, 2-6, 6-0 score line telling the story of a very ragged match.

6. Stan Wawrinka's Davis Cup faceoff

The fifth match of the Davis Cup final wasn't played as Switzerland took a winning 3-1 lead against France, but Wawrinka still had a faceoff with the French team that evening. A slightly tipsy Wawrinka had said during the news conference that the French players had "talked too much" going into the tie, and they confronted him in the bathroom about his comments during the Davis Cup dinner. French player Julien Benneteau told a French newspaper that Wawrinka apologized and there was no violence, but a heated five-minute discussion ensured before Gael Monfils stepped in to calm things down.

[+] EnlargeShuai Peng, Caroline Wozniacki
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty ImagesShuai Peng couldn't overcome full-body cramps against Caroline Wozniacki at the US Open.
7. Shuai Peng's US Open collapse

A hotly contested match on a hot day at Flushing Meadows was too much for Shuai Peng, who collapsed on court during the second set against Caroline Wozniacki. The trainers conducted a lengthy examination that determined Peng was experiencing heat illness, not cramps, which allowed her to receive medical attention midgame. Though advised not to keep playing, she resumed for five more points before again falling to the court and retiring. The scenes of Peng on the ground crying and being wheeled off court led to tournament officials being criticized both for giving her too much assistance, disrupting the match, and for not giving her enough, potentially compromising her health.

8. Andy Murray's referendum tweet

Having insisted that he did not plan to publicly express an opinion on this year's referendum on Scottish independence, Andy Murray caused waves by sending a tweet that morning apparently supporting the “yes” side.

It became one of the most retweeted comments of the referendum, prompting so much negative reaction from the opposing side there was even a police investigation into some of the comments. Murray subsequently said it had been an impromptu decision, and that while he did not regret expressing an opinion, he would now have done it a different way.

9. Spain's Davis Cup captaincy

Former WTA player Gala Leon Garcia, now sporting director of the Spanish tennis federation, was appointed to select Spain's next Davis Cup captain when Carlos Moya decided to leave his position because he was unhappy that the top players had declined to show up for the World Group playoffs. Garcia chose herself, becoming the country's first female Davis Cup captain and setting off controversy. Prominent players like Nadal, Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez, as well as Nadal's coach and uncle, Toni, complained they had not been consulted and criticized her lack of coaching experience, especially on the men's tour. That led to accusations of sexism, particularly on the locker-room question, which Nadal countered by saying the new captain was misrepresenting her critics' position. Next season Spain will attempt to rebound from relegation and get the top players playing again.

10. Simona Halep's coaching changes

Simona Halep had her best season yet, reaching as high as No. 2 and making a Grand Slam final at the French Open. Much of it was while working with Wim Fissette, the former coach of Kim Clijsters, but Halep decided to get rid of him as the offseason began. There were plenty of questions about why she would change a winning formula, but then again, maybe she wasn't. Halep had done exactly the same thing a year ago, dropping Adrian Marcu despite getting to No. 11 and winning a host of titles. Perhaps her next coach shouldn't do such a good job, if he wants to keep his job.

Editor's note: For two weeks, starting Dec. 8, is unveiling its 2014 tennis awards once per day.

Dec. 8: Men's player of year | Dec. 9: Women's player of year | Dec. 10: Top men's matches | Dec. 11: Top women's matches | Dec. 12: Top shot-makers | Dec. 15: Top shots | Dec. 16: Top tirades

The tension of a match can lead to tempers and rackets flying, and this season was no exception. There were heated discussions and shows of anger as players argued -- often correctly -- with umpires, each other and whoever else happened to be around. Here are some of the more notable tirades from this season.

1. Fabio Fognini: Hamburg Open

Fognini could fill up all the spots by himself, erupting at almost every tournament he played this season. From a racial remark in a match at Hamburg to giving the crowd the finger in Shanghai, there was no shortage of distasteful behavior by the Italian. He was fined $27,500 at Wimbledon for breaking rackets and other violations, as even his frequently entertaining theatrics became wearisome. Then there was the display in Madrid, where Fognini suggests retribution for the umpire following a disagreement about a ball mark, another troubling example.

2. Stan Wawrinka and Mirka Federer: Tour Finals, London

This would have been a regular run-of-the-mill complaint about the crowd -- especially coming from a regular like Wawrinka, except that it happened to be about Federer's wife. Wawrinka objected to the timing of Mirka's cheering, telling the umpire "she also did it at Wimbledon" when the two players played in the quarterfinals. On TV replays, a female voice was subsequently heard yelling "crybaby," to which Wawrinka appeared to react toward Federer.

It became even bigger news when reports surfaced that Wawrinka and Federer then had a 10-minute discussion in the locker room about the argument, with the two scheduled to play together in the Davis Cup final the following week. But that's as far as it seemed to go between the two, who were perfectly friendly when they re-appeared as teammates just a day or two later.

3. Andy Murray: Sony Open

A player gets cut some slack when arguing correctly against an umpire's call, like Murray was in the Miami final against Novak Djokovic. He wasn't alone this season, as Denis Istomin (Indian Wells), Fognini (Indian Wells), Daniela Hantuchova (French Open), Rohan Bopanna (Wimbledon), Roberta Vinci (Stuttgart), and a few others described here all had reason to question obvious mistakes by officials.

In this case, Murray was objecting to Djokovic reaching across the net to put away a volley -- a no-no in tennis rules. But the umpire did not see Djokovic make contact with the ball on his opponent's side of the net, though replays clearly showed he had done so. The ensuing cross-talk between Murray and the umpire had the world No. 6 laughing at the absurdity of it all. Djokovic, who is known for giving points to opponents when the occasion demands, said following the match that he had not known the rule.

4. Maria Sharapova: Western and Southern Open

No lengthy rant, this one, but it was as cutting as it was concise. As Sharapova double-faulted to drop her service game in the third set against Ana Ivanovic, she gestured angrily and told the umpire, "Check her blood pressure." The Russian was still fuming about Ivanovic calling a medical break during the third game of the set, when the Serb said she was nauseous and had her blood pressure checked by the doctor, though her play did not seem to be affected.

5. Serena Williams: WTA Finals, Singapore

Serena Williams didn't even need words; a well-performed destruction of her racket spoke eloquently as she went down in the first set to Caroline Wozniacki. Three mighty swings and it was crumpled. Even Serena called it "legendary." By consensus, this was the best racket smash of the season.

6. Donald Young: Tallahassee challenger

It's not often that a player will go to such lengths to argue that an opponent's ball was in, but that's what Young did during his match against Alex Kuznetsov at the Tallahassee challenger. With his opponent serving, Young successfully returned the ball, only for the umpire to say Kuznetsov's delivery had been long. The two players then exchanged words about the disruption in play, and the umpire agreed to Kuznetsov's request for a first service. That started Young off again, with demands to call the supervisor.

7. Tomas Berdych: US Open

Berdych protested furiously when he was called for a double bounce, asking the umpire if she had been "in the sun" for too long or "ever had a racket" in her hand. But when he saw replays following the match showing the ball had indeed bounced twice, Berdych tweeted an apology.

8. Sara Errani: Western and Southern Open

Errani had enough reason to rant when the umpire saw a ball well inside the service box as wide, but she became even more rattled when he ordered the point replayed. Convinced that her opponent, Yanina Wickmayer, had not made the return and the point should be hers, the Italian let the umpire have it.

9. Benoit Paire: Wimbledon

The Frenchman has to be credited for persistence, keeping his campaign against the All England Club going for a second straight year. Paire spoke at length about his dislike of Wimbledon following his defeat at the tournament, saying, "I'm glad to leave as soon as possible." A year before, he had smashed his rackets against a wall, complained about the courts, and said "all they like is giving fines."

10. Caroline Wozniacki: WTA Finals, Singapore

Wozniacki had used up all her challenges against Sharapova at the Tour Finals and then got a bad call, as Sharapova's ball was called in when replays showed it went wide. Wozniacki demonstrated the shot to the umpire, smacked her racket against the net and waved her hands, but to no avail, finding herself facing a set point in the second set.

Roger Federer hits top shot of 2014

December, 14, 2014
Editor's note: For two weeks, starting Dec. 8, is unveiling its 2014 tennis awards once per day.

Dec. 8: Men's player of year | Dec. 9: Women's player of year | Dec. 10: Top men's matches | Dec. 11: Top women's matches | Dec. 12: Top shot-makers | Dec. 15: Top shots

Every tennis season brings with it a hefty helping of great points. They can happen at any time in any match -- a combination of stellar shot-making in a sustained exchange. Although Big Four dominance declined on the men's tour, their ability to produce stunning shots -- and inspire them from opponents -- seems as good as ever. And even if the counterpunchers on the women's tour didn't lift the big trophies, they showed some big swings of their own. Here are a few examples sampling this year's smorgasbord of memorable exchanges.

1. Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic, Dubai SF

This was the Big Four rivalry of this season, and it produced some of its best points. The consistent quality of this exchange is exceptional, punctuated by a skillful Federer lob followed into net to put away the point.

2. Grigor Dimitrov vs. Andy Murray, Acapulco SF (click for clip)

Grigor DimitrovScott Barbour/Getty Images
The pyrotechnics in this one are something to see. A 27-shot rally, highlighted by some typically electric shots from Dimitrov that had the crowd roaring as he captured the point.

3. Andy Murray vs. Rafael Nadal, Rome QF

Murray shows that it takes something special to get the ball by Rafael Nadal on clay.

4. Angelique Kerber vs. Jelena Jankovic, Doha R

Two of the best point-extenders on tour do what they do, as the Serb yanks (Janks) her opponent across the court before the German finds a winner to curb (Kerb) the onslaught.

5. Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic, Monte Carlo SF

They're at it once more, an entertaining exchange that makes it hard to tell Djokovic has a bad wrist.

6. Stan Wawrinka vs. Novak Djokovic, Australian Open QF

Like their other recent Grand Slam encounters, Djokovic and Wawrinka saved some of their best tennis for the biggest moments, such as this break point with a thunderous exchange decided by the type of Wawrinka winner seen so often during the tournament.

7. Caroline Wozniacki vs. Maria Sharapova, US Open fourth round

The marathon woman ran down everything Sharapova threw at her, and then struck a blow of her own in the turning point of a long and demanding match.

8. Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan vs. Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic, Madrid final

Bryan BrothersAP Photo/Mike Groll
Put two good teams on the court, and doubles contests routinely throw up sparkling exchanges. This is just such an example between two seasoned pairs.

9. Eugenie Bouchard vs. Alisa Kleybanova, Estoril 2R

A pretty good rally, but it puts itself on the highlight reel when Bouchard stumbles and falls but keeps on playing, giving added meaning to hitting off the ground.

10. David Ferrer vs. Rafael Nadal, French Open QF (third point)

These two titans of the clay courts show why this is their terre-ritory, with Nadal hitting his signature forehand but Ferrer still finding a winner.
Editor's note: For two weeks starting Dec. 8, will unveil its 2014 tennis awards once per day.

Dec. 8: Men's player of year | Dec. 9: Women's player of year | Dec. 10: Top men's matches | Dec. 11: Top women's matches | Dec. 12: Top shot-makers

Perhaps not the winningest players in 2014, Gael Monfils and Agnieszka Radwanska were certainly the flashiest.

With that, your top shot-makers of the year.

Men: Gael Monfils

This usually comes down to a competition between Monfils and Grigor Dimitrov, though Dustin Brown is definitely starting to get a look with an improved ranking that allows him to show his skills at ATP events more often. Dimitrov, however, has ditched some of his showmanship in favor of a more disciplined, determined approach, which has seen him climb toward the top 10 in the rankings, and Brown still doesn't play a lot of high-profile matches.

But Monfils is as freewheeling as ever, leaping and hitting from everywhere in the court despite injured knees that regularly sideline him. He is at his best with big occasions and big crowds, as he showed in his straight-sets defeat of Roger Federer in front of a packed stadium in the Davis Cup final and taking a two-set lead against Federer in a night match on Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open a couple of months earlier.

Monfils hit so many dazzling shots, the bigger challenge might be choosing among them. Here's a selection that shows some of his range.

Slide, lunge and stretch. Or all at once.

This forward, between-the-legs leaping shot has become almost a signature move.

There's even touch.

When the opponent is 6-foot-6, this is not the easiest way to win a point.

He can do it looking the other way -- just twist to open.

He can even do it with the other hand.

Not that Dimitrov has gone completely on the straight and narrow, either. The 23-year-old Bulgarian still produced plenty of hot shots this season, but what makes this one so nice, is that he did it twice.

Women: Agnieszka Radwanska

There isn't a player on the WTA Tour who can match Radwanska for shot-making these days, with the 25-year-old becoming increasingly known for her improvisation and variety on court. Despite a subpar season that saw her reach only one Grand Slam semifinal and fall to No. 6 in the rankings, she added to her reputation for plucking spectacular shots from awkward positions. Here's a selection from the wand that is her racket.

This was voted the WTA's shot of the year, a backhand smash that few could pull off.

When the ball hits Radwanska's racket, it's anyone's guess what will happen.

It's not often that a player draws cheers and didn't win the point, but this backwards scoop backhand gets the crowd sitting up.

She can even do it sitting down.

Drama-filled matches for Serena, Sharapova

December, 11, 2014
Editor's note: For two weeks starting Dec. 8, will unveil its 2014 tennis awards once per day.

Dec. 8: Men's player of year | Dec. 9: Women's player of year | Dec. 10: Top men's matches | Dec. 11: Top women's matches

Not only did Serena Williams snare the WTA Player of the Year honors (again), but she also played the most thrilling women’s match of 2014. Your top 10:

1. Serena Williams defeats Caroline Wozniacki, WTA Finals SF, 6-2,3-6, 7-6 (6)

Not only were these two players increasingly friendly off the court this season, they were increasing rivals on the court, going three sets in three of four matches.

Wozniacki had been on a long slide since dropping from the No. 1 ranking but began playing better right around the time she committed to running the New York Marathon, which was following Rory McIlroy's decision to call off their engagement. She warmed up for it with this marathon match against the world No. 1, dominating the first set against a frustrated Williams and serving for the match in the third set. But Williams, who was coming in off a leg injury and had won only two games in one of her round-robin matches during the week, struck back to win a tiebreaker.

She then swept through in the final and was at the marathon the following week to greet Wozniacki as the younger player completed the run in impressive time.

[+] EnlargeSharapova
AP Photo/Thibault CamusMaria Sharapova showed some serious game, winning the French Open in dramatic fashion.
2. Maria Sharapova defeats Simona Halep, French Open F, 6-4 6-7 (5), 6-4

The French Open women's final finally produced a compelling contest following years of straight-setters, with Sharapova and Halep on court for more than three hours. Sharapova had already played three-setters in her three matches coming into the final, dropping the first set each time. She changed that in this match, but Halep, playing her first Grand Slam final, hung on in the second set. The Romanian was broken twice while serving for the set but came from 5-3 down to win the tiebreaker. The match reached fever pitch in the third, but Sharapova's experience showed as Halep was rattled by an umpire's call and the Russian took eight points in a row to secure her second French Open title.

Sharapova could only imagine her reaction had anyone told her she would one day have two Grand Slam titles on what used to be her least preferred surface. "I would go get drunk," she said. "Or tell them to go get drunk."

3. Petra Kvitova defeats Venus Williams, Wimbledon 3R, 5-7, 7-6 (2), 7-5

This could have been the match that decided the tournament, with five-time champion Venus giving eventual champion Kvitova her tightest contest during the tournament. Both women were broken only once during the three sets, almost unheard of in a contemporary WTA match, and there was little let-up in this high-quality tussle. Venus was two points from victory in the second set, but Kvitova got on top in the tiebreaker and snuck through in the third.

It was the fourth straight match between these two to go three tight sets, including a similar encounter a few months before in Doha. This meeting confirmed the rivalry as one of the best on tour and was another indication of a Venus resurgence that would see her return to the top 20 in the rankings.

4. Ana Ivanovic defeats Serena Williams, Australian Open 4R, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3

Ivanovic was on the upswing and looking more competitive than in their recent matches, but it didn't look like that would make a difference as Serena still took the first set. But the Serb stepped up, imposed herself against Serena's serving and hit 33 winners, most off her stronger forehand. It was her best victory since winning the French Open title in 2008. For Williams, who said she almost didn't play the match because of a back injury, it would be the first of three unexpected defeats at the majors during a period of increased inconsistency.

5. Agnieszka Radwanska defeats Victoria Azarenka, Australian Open QF, 6-1, 5-7, 6-0

This match featured some of the most spell-binding tennis of the season, as Radwanska unfurled her beguiling array of shots against a former friend who had generally had the better of their matches. Azarenka, hampered by the leg injury that would keep her sidelined for most of the season, got into the match in the second set, only to be caught in a whirlwind of drop volleys and winners. Even Radwanska had to smile at some of the shots she produced, and Radwanska does not smile on a tennis court very often.

6. Maria Sharapova defeats Karin Knapp, Australian Open 2R, 6-3, 4-6, 10-8

It began as just another match on a busy third day at the Australian Open but turned into the highlight of a scorching day in Melbourne. Play dwindled as the tournament's extreme heat policy came into effect, and soon these two were the only ones left on court. Attention gathered on the match as they played on and on, earning admiration for their fitness and determination in brutal conditions.

Sharapova has long been established as one of the sport's toughest competitors, but the lesser-known Knapp also showed her stuff, breaking back during the third set before Sharapova finally came through in 3 hours, 28 minutes of torrid play.

7. Li Na defeats Lucie Safarova, Australian Open 3R, 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3

She would go on to win the tournament, but Li's campaign turned on a few inches as Safarova swung a backhand by her on match point in the second set. A Hawk-Eye challenge confirmed the ball was long, keeping Li in the match -- and the tournament. Her talented but erratic opponent wasn't quite the same once the contest resumed, and Li, buoyed by her second chance, would start playing better and wound up lifting the trophy.

8. Caroline Wozniacki defeats Maria Sharapova, US Open QF, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2

Their match at the WTA Finals was tighter, but this one was more significant, announcing Wozniacki's return to Grand Slam relevance. Sharapova played a lot of three-set matches this year and usually won them, but not this one. Wozniacki was feistier and fitter in the hot conditions and wore down Sharapova in the third.

9. Petra Kvitova defeats Angelique Kerber, Fed Cup, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4

It took a match between of the tour's most inconsistent players and one of its steadiest to produce this up-and-down, back-and-forth encounter. The Czechs had won their first two matches against the German team, with this match starting the second day of play. Kerber led 5-2 in the first set and had five set points at 6-5, only to see Kvitova take the tiebreaker as the Czechs attempted to win their third Fed Cup in four attempts. In the second, Kvitova would go up 3-0 before Kerber leveled the match to keep Germany in the tie. Played in front of a full stadium in Prague, the third set would again see a change in momentum as Kerber took the lead before Kvitova delighted the home crowd by clinching the match and securing a 3-0 victory.

10. Angelique Kerber defeats Maria Sharapova, Wimbledon 4R, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 4-6

As well-contested as this match was all the way through, it became most memorable when Kerber reached match point. It was 5-2 in the third set. Sharapova, showing her mettle once again, fended it off. Kerber reached match point again at 5-4. Sharapova fended it off again. And again, and again -- six in total -- before Kerber converted the next to somehow put away her steely opponent. The spectators watched raptly as the match teetered, and others gathered to watch as the games carried on and on.
Editor's note: For two weeks starting Dec. 8, will unveil its 2014 tennis awards once per day.

Dec. 8: Men's player of year | Dec. 9: Women's player of year | Dec. 10: Top men's matches

For another year, Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic dominated the best contests, topped by the one that featured them both. Although the meetings between Djokovic and Rafael Nadal lacked their usual enthralling quality, plenty of other players stepped up to challenge the top players. Here are your 2014 matches of the year.

1. Stan Wawrinka defeats Novak Djokovic, Australian Open quarterfinal, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 9-7

Given the two classic five-setters they played the previous season, this was almost expected to be another top-notch contest. They delivered and went the distance again in another high-quality encounter, with which they reprised their memorable meeting in the fourth round a year ago. Only this time, it was Wawrinka's turn to win, and he would go on to take the title and give the tour its first new Grand Slam champion in a while.

2. Roger Federer defeats Stan Wawrinka, ATP Tour Finals semifinal, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7)
[+] EnlargeDjokovic
AP Photo/Sang TanNovak Djokovic needed some serious OT to win his second Wimbledon championship.

The emergence of Wawrinka turned this duo's meetings into a genuine rivalry, rather than the Federer domination of old. They went into this encounter having split their two first meetings this season, and the match that followed would be the best of the three -- a tight, tense three-setter with high-quality baseline exchanges, net play and even Wawrinka getting into it with Federer's wife, Mirka. Federer would eventually take the match in 2 hours, 48 minutes. He saved four match points in the process.

At first, it seemed the match had come at a high cost. Federer tweaked his back during the tiebreaker and had to withdraw from the final, which put his Davis Cup appearance the following week in doubt, and he and Wawrinka clashed in the locker room about Wawrinka's complaints regarding Mirka's cheering. But they were all smiles in a few days, and they combined to give Switzerland its first Davis Cup victory.

3. Novak Djokovic defeats Roger Federer, Wimbledon final, 6-7 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-4

Another Grand Slam victory, another lengthy encounter for Djokovic. Following a solid start by Federer, Djokovic was more in command than the score line indicated, but the Serb's nerves and Federer's opportunistic net play prolonged the encounter. The seven-time Wimbledon champion came from 5-2 down in the fourth set to send the match into a fifth. Djokovic not only won his second title at the All England Club, but he also returned to No.1 and then got married the week after his win to cap a special period that took some of the edge off his play for a few months.

4. Andy Murray defeats Tommy Robredo, Valencia final, 3-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (8)

This 3 hour, 20 minute match, in which Robredo had five match points, would be compelling enough in and of itself, but it was all the more remarkable because the pair had played a similar final just a month before. In that encounter, Robredo had five match points in the second set, only for Murray to run away with the third. This one would be much tighter, with the Spaniard holding two match points in the second set and three in the third, but it was Murray who came through once again in a dramatic tiebreaker.

The veteran Robredo then showed Murray both middle fingers when the two met at net, which ensured a memorable handshake for a memorable contest.

5. Nick Kyrgios defeats Rafael Nadal, Wimbledon fourth round, 7-6 (5), 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-3

It wasn't the most competitive encounter, but that only makes it more remarkable. The Australian 19-year-old, No. 144 in the world, took charge against former champion Nadal. He blasted winners left and right and sent the top seed packing like he was the one expected to win the match. Order seemed to have been restored, as Nadal rebounded to take the second set, but Kyrgios refused to go away and looked dominant by the time he broke to take a lead in the fourth set.

Nadal, coming off a French Open title and some nagging injuries, was not at his best, but Kyrgios showed some formidable ability to produce perhaps the year's most surprising match.

6. Kei Nishikori defeats Stan Wawrinka, US Open quarterfinal, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 6-7 (5), 6-4

This was a back-and-forth encounter, with Wawrinka controlling the start of the match before Nishikori somehow grabbed the second set. The 24-year-old from Japan had a lead in the third but was broken back before he won it in a tiebreaker, while Wawrinka went up two mini-breaks in the fourth-set tiebreaker and only just squeaked through. Nishikori would finally break again in the fifth set to secure the match in 4 hours, 15 minutes and go on to reach the final.

It was an especially notable performance, given that Nishikori had almost not played the tournament due to a surgical procedure on his foot. He came in with no warm-up hard-court events -- not to mention the match he had played the round before (see next).

7. Kei Nishikori defeats Milos Raonic, US Open fourth round, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-4

Two of the top up-and-comers went at it for 4 hours, 19 minutes, and wrapped at 2:26 a.m. to tie the US Open record for the latest ending. A contrast of styles between the big-serving Raonic and the counterpunching Nishikori, each set was tight, but it was Nishikori who proved more effective against his opponent's deliveries.

The match was expected to leave Japan's highest ranked player ever with little for the next round -- but far from it. He would return and do it again by going five sets against Wawrinka in the quarterfinals and sending his country into a whirlwind of excitement -- all before ousting Djokovic in the semifinals.

8. Roger Federer defeats Gael Monfils, US Open quarterfinal, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2

The two had gone three entertaining sets in Cincinnati just two weeks before, and they weren't done yet. Monfils delighted in front of the night crowd on Ashe and played in his inimitable, athletic style to take a two-set lead. Even with Federer taking the third set and going up a break in the fourth, the Frenchman stayed with him by blasting away from the baseline and earning two match points in the fourth set.

But the 17-time Grand Slam champion took a deep breath, told himself, "Don’t miss an easy shot" and held on to level the score before running away with the fifth set.

9. Rafael Nadal defeats Pablo Andujar, Rio semifinal, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (10)

The lower-ranked Spaniard had never given his illustrious countryman much trouble, but it was a different Andujar on court for this match. With Nadal still finding his game after a back injury, he was able to take more control of points and win the first set convincingly. Even with Nadal coming back in the second, Andujar kept up, and the two played one of the best tiebreakers of the season. They scattered winners across the court as Nadal fought off two match points to come through.

10. Grigor Dimitrov defeats Andy Murray, Acapulco SF==semifinal, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3)

Murray was finally playing like himself after back surgery, Dimitrov was up to his usual shot-making extravaganzas, and they entertained the midnight crowd well into this three-setter. Both had played three-setters coming into the match, and the Bulgarian would go the distance again in the final to take the title. But this was his biggest win of the week, and a reflection of the tennis -- and increased fitness -- that would see him climb to No. 8 in the rankings.
Editor's note: For two weeks starting Dec. 8, will unveil its 2014 tennis awards once per day.

Dec. 8: Men's player of year | Dec. 9: Women's player of year

Sometimes there just isn't much competition. Serena Williams did not have a stellar year by her standards. She still won seven tournaments, including the US Open, the WTA Finals and two top-level WTA events, but that doesn't quite compare to the previous season, when she won 11 titles and two Grand Slams despite receiving greater challenges from rivals Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka.

[+] EnlargeSerena Williams
Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty ImagesAfter a disappointing Grand Slam season, Serena Williams won the US Open and the WTA Championships to close out the season.
But all the same, she is once again the Player of the Year, for the measure is not against herself but against the field. Although Williams didn't dominate as in the year before, her rivals fell back even more. A combination of inconsistency, injury, fatigue and even retirement scattered the order that was beginning to build among the established names on the women's tour, and emerging players such as Simona Halep and Eugenie Bouchard are still adjusting to the upper levels. Azarenka, in particular, spent much of the season injured, while Grand Slam champs Sharapova and Petra Kvitova did not sustain their form for long periods.

Williams was also inconsistent and injured sometimes. She suffered surprising losses in the first three majors of the year, said she wanted to take a break following a lackluster performance at Charleston and had problems with her back and knee during the season. Then there was her memorable and bizarre display at Wimbledon, when she was defeated in the singles and appeared ill when she returned for doubles and served four double faults before withdrawing from the match.

But she returned with a vengeance and won five tournaments. "It was really up and down," she said of her season. With no consistent challenger, her most significant victory of the season was one for the record books -- an 18th Grand Slam title to equal the totals of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert for fourth among the all-time singles Grand Slam winners. And this at an age when most players are not still playing on tour, let alone at the top of their games.

She doesn't look like she has any intention of letting up, either. "You know, I've just been having such a great time winning titles, chasing different goals that I have, personally," Williams said of her motivation to stay on tour during the WTA Finals.

It remains to be seen whether Williams will play as much next season or only appear at the bigger events. Either way, she is still the player both the tour and record books can expect to be their biggest challenge.
Editor's note: For two weeks starting Dec. 8, will unveil its 2014 tennis awards once per day.

He isn't the most straightforward choice, but choosing the player of the year isn't just about achievement. It's about impact as well.

Novak Djokovic might have won more. A Grand Slam title, the ATP Tour Finals and four Masters were among his seven tournament victories. Roger Federer might have been more consistent; he reached at least the semifinals in 14 of 17 tournaments. Even Rafael Nadal's injury-plagued season had similar silverware: one Grand Slam victory, a Masters title and two other tournament victories.
[+] EnlargeStanislas Wawrinka
Julian Finney/Getty ImagesStan Wawrinka won the Aussie Open and, in the process, instilled confidence in the non-top-four players that they, too, could win.

But none of them had a career year, and in a season with four different Grand Slam winners and no dominant player, no one shook things up more than Stan Wawrinka. The second most well-known player from Switzerland established himself in his own right. He won the Australian Open and became a first-time Grand Slam champion as a 28-year-old, then took his first Masters title at Monte Carlo (by beating Federer in the final) and hoisted the Davis Cup alongside his teammates.

"Clearly, it's been an exceptional year for me," a smiling and slightly tipsy Wawrinka said after Switzerland's Davis Cup victory.

But it isn't just that Wawrinka broke new ground for himself; he did so for others as well. Going into the season, the Big Four of Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Andy Murray had won 34 of the previous 35 Grand Slams. The “Wawrinka effect” was noticeable following his unexpected Australian Open triumph, as regular players saw one of their own capture one of the sport's biggest titles.

Tomas Berdych, Milos Raonic and Ernests Gulbis were among those who noted a new sense of opportunity in the locker room, and several emerging names subsequently took big strides toward the top. Kei Nishikori and Raonic reached the top 10, and the season got a second new Grand Slam champion when Marin Cilic won the US Open.

The top players were also affected by Wawrinka and his big-swinging game. He loosened the grip Djokovic and Nadal had established on the big events the previous season and prompted Roger Federer to pursue one of the few things the 17-time Grand Slam champion had left to achieve -- the Davis Cup. What Wawrinka lacked was consistency.

All three of his tournament victories were at the beginning of the season, when he went 6-0 against top-10 players, but then he was sporadic until he found his game again at the Tour Finals and Davis Cup. He'll take it, however, especially following all those tight defeats against the big names the previous season.

"I couldn't ask for more this year,” he told reporters in Shanghai. “Winning Grand Slam, Masters 1000, being in the top five. Everything has been amazing."

For men's tennis, this was an unusual -- and potentially seismic -- year. There's little doubt much of that was thanks to Wawrinka.