Thursday, December 19, 2013
Home hardware for Andy Murray
By Kamakshi Tandon
Editor's note: On Dec. 9, we began our 10-part year-end awards series. Stay tuned each weekday for our latest entry.
Dec. 9: Men's POY | Dec. 10: Women's POY | Dec. 11: Best men's matches | Dec. 12: Best women's matches | Dec. 13: Points of the year | Dec. 16: Shot-makers of the year | Dec. 17: Tantrums of the year | Dec. 18: Controversies of the year | Dec. 19: On-court stories of the year
A look at which events were the most significant, most discussed and most prevalent this season in our on-court stories of the year:
1. Home win at Wimbledon
Every Wimbledon, there would be the same refrain -- no British man had won since Fred Perry in 1936. No longer. After 77 years, on the seventh day of the seventh month, Andy Murray's victory finally retired one of the most dubious statistics in the sport.
The circumstances also helped make it special. Murray, not always embraced at home, had become a popular figure after losing tearfully in last year's final and then going on to win the Olympic gold and US Open a few weeks later. His straight-sets win over Novak Djokovic finished with a dramatic 13-minute game, providing a satisfying and thrilling end to the British public's long, long wait.
A few numbers give a sense of its impact at home. The match was watched by 17.3 million people in Britain, was the country's most-talked about event of the year on Facebook, and got Murray the BCC Sports Personality of the Year and an OBE (Order of the British Empire, the second-highest British honor).
2. Rafael Nadal's dual dominance
His clay-court mastery was sealed with a record eighth French Open victory that took him one ahead of Bjorn Borg, his only rival for the title of the greatest clay-court player of all time. On top of that, he went an unbeaten 22-0 on hard courts, including a US Open title, dominating on what has been traditionally a more difficult surface for the Spaniard. Together, they helped propel him even further up the ranks of the greatest players of all time.
3. Roger Federer's struggles
Many observers were preoccupied with Roger Federer's woes this season. Though he began looking shaky early in the season, it was his second-round loss at Wimbledon that galvanized attention. Worries only increased when it was followed by a schedule shakeup, experimentation with a new racket, and more back trouble that culminated in a fourth-round loss to Tommy Robredo at the US Open.
But Federer did end the season on a more positive note, reaching the semifinals (and a final) in his last three events. Those signs of progress might create even more intrigue about his prospects for next season.
4. Serena Williams's nonstop season
She won two Grand Slams this season, a number that might have been expected to be higher. But she also won 20 more matches (78 to 58) and three more titles (11 to 8) in a season than she ever has, numbers that weren't expected. They helped her become the oldest No. 1 in WTA history, and it marked a year that moved her up significantly in the greatest-ever conversation.
5. Djokovic's fine finish
Novak Djokovic was the player who gave the year its bookends, winning 17 matches to start the season and 24 straight matches to finish it. If Serbia had won the Davis Cup (Djokovic won both his matches but the team lost to the Czech Republic), he would have had a definite claim to the finest post-US Open stretch ever. Even without that final touch, it's still one of the very best.
6. Marion Bartoli's brief breakout
In the midst of one of her worst seasons, Marion Bartoli won Wimbledon. In the wake of her biggest victory, Bartoli retired. The sharp, quirky Frenchwoman with double-fisted groundstrokes made a career of defying convention -- but never more so than in this career-defining stretch.
She had already been shaking things up this year, no longer being coached by her father and going from eschewing to embracing her fellow French players. Winning a first Grand Slam title at 28 and then making a late-night retirement announcement two tournaments later was the loop-de-loop on the roller-coaster ride.
7. Young players' slow progress
The next generation continued to inch rather than leap forward. Milos Raonic crept up to No. 11, Grigor Dimitrov won his first title, Jerzy Janowicz took advantage of early-round upsets to reach the semifinals of Wimbledon and Bernard Tomic mostly spluttered. A momentous breakthrough, however, was conspicuously lacking. Things were a bit more promising on the women's side -- Sloane Stephens, Eugenie Bouchard, Madison Keys and Laura Robson all reached their highest rankings and notched notable wins, though none sustained that form for any length.
All in all, it was another year of saying maybe next year.
8. Veterans wearing well
The tour's veterans, meanwhile, continue to defy expectations. David Ferrer, 31, reached his first Grand Slam final and ended the year ranked No. 3. Stanislas Wawrinka, 28, reached a Grand Slam semifinal, made the year-end ATP Tour Finals field for the first time, and ended at No. 8. Tommy Haas, 35, ended at No. 12 with two titles. Mikhail Youzhny, 31, is at No. 15. Tommy Robredo, 31, came from two sets down three times to make the French Open quarterfinals and also made the US Open quarterfinals on his way to No. 18. Dmitry Tursunov, 31, kept injuries at bay and returned to the top 30. Even the long-suffering Lleyton Hewitt tasted glory again by defeating Juan Martin del Potro in a night match at the US Open. Roger Federer was an exception, but he finished at No. 6.
Overall, 16 players over 30 won ATP titles this year, and a half-dozen reached Grand Slam quarterfinals or further.
On the women's side, Serena Williams is still setting the standard at 32, Li Na climbed to a career-high No. 3 at 31, Jelena Jankovic returned to the top 10 at 28, and Flavia Pennetta, also 28, made her first Grand Slam semifinal.
If this keeps up, the next breakthrough players might be more likely to be in their late 20s than their early 20s.
9. Bryans' Golden Slam
Bob and Mike Bryan completed the non-calendar Golden Slam, winning last year's Olympics and the next four Grand Slams in a row. Though a semifinal defeat at the US Open left them just two wins short of carrying off the calendar Slam, as well, a remarkable season still gave them the record for most Grand Slam titles as a team, and it extended their record for most titles and most weeks at No. 1. There are many legends around at the top of the game these days, and the Bryans are very much among them.
10. Rise of Canadian tennis
Building on Raonic's emergence over the past two years, Canada's presence on the international tennis scene surged this season. Eugenie Bouchard, last year's Wimbledon junior champion, ended this year at No. 32 on the women's tour. Vasek Pospisil shook off a bout with mono early in the year and vaulted to No. 32 by the end of the season. Daniel Nestor kept going in doubles. And Canada made the Davis Cup semifinals for the first time. That explains why the head of Tennis Canada was chosen to be the next chief executive of Britain's ever-beleaguered Lawn Tennis Association (LTA).