ESPN Tennis: 2013 awards

A look at the 10 developments that were among the most significant, most discussed and most prevalent off-court stories in tennis this year:

1. Grand Slam prize money increases

Tennis' four biggest tournaments increased their prize money substantially this year, bowing to sustained pressure from players for a greater share of the Slams' burgeoning revenues. The Australian and French Open went up 15-16 percent, while Wimbledon and the US Open increased by 30-40 percent. Larger increases have also been planned for upcoming years.

Politically, the concession represented a significant shift in the power balance between players and tournaments. The ATP had long tried to get the majors to provide a larger share, but late CEO Brad Drewett was more successful with the negotiations that had the big four players, particularly Roger Federer, lending their authority to the cause.

The increases played a big role in the new prize-money records set on both the men's and women's side. Rafael Nadal won $14.5 million and Williams $12.5 million for their efforts this past season.

2. Injuries

They didn't dominate the headlines, but injuries quietly took a toll on players as the season went on. Andy Murray missed the French Open and didn't play after the US Open because of a back injury that eventually required surgery. Maria Sharapova began having shoulder trouble in May and played only one event after Wimbledon. Roger Federer experienced back problems on and off throughout the season.

Serena Williams' Australian Open was derailed by not one but two injuries -- an ankle sprain in the first round and a back injury in the quarterfinals that was likely the result of trying to favor the ankle. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga began experiencing knee problems at Wimbledon for yet another year.

Not surprisingly, nearly every top player had a nagging problem at some point during the season, and there were scores of less high-profile players who missed time because of serious physical ailments.

Injuries took center stage on the third day of Wimbledon, when Victoria Azarenka and Tsonga were among seven players who withdrew or retired. Along with several upsets of players such as Nadal, Federer and Sharapova, “Wild Wednesday” was easily the most memorable day of the tennis year.

3. Coaching changes

The coaching carousel was in full swing this season. Federer parted ways with Paul Annacone, while Maria Sharapova went from Thomas Hogstedt to a short stint with Jimmy Connors to Sven Groeneveld. Sloane Stephens began working with Annacone on a part-time basis, while Caroline Wozniacki picked up Hogstedt. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga dropped Roger Rasheed, who went to Grigor Dimitrov's camp. Other players who switched include Richard Gasquet, Milos Raonic, Marin Cilic, Gilles Simon, Bernard Tomic, Angelique Kerber, Ana Ivanovic, Samantha Stosur, Eugenie Bouchard, Laura Robson, Heather Watson and Christina McHale -- and others -- but this should be enough to indicate that it was a busy year.

Former Grand Slam champions were a popular choice. After Ivan Lendl's highly successful pairing with Andy Murray last year, this year saw Connors,
Michael Chang (Kei Nishikori), Juan Carlos Ferrero (Nicolas Almagro), Goran Ivanisevic (Cilic) and Sergi Bruguera (Gasquet) all try coaching roles. Novak Djokovic made a surprise announcement this week that he was adding Boris Becker to his team, and even Federer had childhood idol Stefan Edberg training with him over the past few days.

4. Drug testing and match-fixing

Anti-doping was frequently in the headlines this year, starting with reverberations from the Lance Armstrong revelations in cycling. That helped prompt increased funding and testing in tennis, and with those increased tests came a renewed number of controversial cases. From Victor Troicki's missed test to Marin Cilic's glucose tablet mix-up to Nuria Llagostera Vives' two-year ban for methamphetamine, there was plenty to generate discussion and divide opinion.

As for the other dogging problem, a newspaper report before Wimbledon blasted the Tennis Integrity Unit for its handling of match-fixing issues. The unit still operates in much secrecy, but this year two Futures players received penalties for match-fixing, with a third hearing reportedly in the works.

5. Agency changes

As with coaches, the players weren't hesitant to change agencies, either. Former IMG clients Nadal and Federer both left the agency last year, and Nadal returned to the tour having established his own setup with longtime agent Carlos Costa. Federer and his longtime agent, Tony Godsick, took things a step further by announcing last week that they are starting their own agency, Team8, which has also signed Juan Martin del Potro and Dimitrov. Andy Murray partnered with his agency, XIX Entertainment, and others to begin 77, with some of it now reportedly being handled by the Lagardere group. And IMG was sold to the William Morris agency, with private equity backing.

It's a long way from the early days of Open tennis, when IMG and ProServ were the only game in town.

6. Anniversaries

It was quite a year for anniversaries, particularly those related to the professionalization of the game. This year marked 45 years since Open tennis began in 1968, and 40 years since the 1973 ATP boycott of Wimbledon, the formation of the WTA, the Battle of the Sexes and computer rankings. Others include 25 years since Steffi Graf's Golden Grand Slam, 10 years since Roger Federer's first Grand Slam and five years since the epic 2008 Wimbledon final between Federer and Nadal.

Some provided extra significance for this season's accomplishments. Serena Williams' French Open victory came 10 years after she completed the Serena Slam. It was also Williams one-year anniversary of losing her only first-round Grand Slam match.

7. Calendar shifts

The WTA increased its move into Southeast Asia by awarding the year-end championships to Singapore and announcing a number of new events in the region, which will host about a dozen tournaments next year. Two ATP events in the U.S., San Jose and Los Angeles, relocated to South American locales in Rio de Janeiro and Bogota, Colombia, respectively.

The grass season is also being reconfigured for the extra week between the French Open and Wimbledon that will be introduced in two years. ATP tournaments at Queen's and Halle are to become 500-level events, and the current clay-court event in Stuttgart will switch surfaces and dates. The WTA will add a new grass-court event in Nottingham.

8. New heads appointed

The search for a new ATP chief remained ongoing when Drewett passed away, and after several months, Chris Kermode was announced as the new leader of the men's tour. Kermode was the tournament director of Queen's and the managing director of the Tour Finals, and he had an endorsement from Andy Murray.

There were also some changes among the national federations. Craig Tiley was made the head of Tennis Australia in addition to being the tournament director of the Australian Open, while Tennis Canada head Michael Downey was chosen as the new chief executive of Britain's Lawn Tennis Association.

Exits included Andre Silva, the ATP chief player officer who has joined the new Team8 agency, and WTA communications VP Andrew Walker.

9. Courageous comebacks

Alisa Kleybanova was named WTA Comeback Player of the Year. She returned to the tour two years after revealing she had Hodgkin's lymphoma. That was the same diagnosis received by doubles player Ross Hutchins, who underwent six months of chemotherapy this year and plans to return at the beginning of next season.

10. Court decisions

The Tennis Channel continued its battle with cable giant Comcast over its placement on a subscription sports tier. The channel won decisively at the FCC level but lost a subsequent D.C. Circuit Court ruling and was not granted an appeal. It has now asked for a review of the decision from the Supreme Court.

Home hardware for Andy Murray

December, 19, 2013
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).

Top controversies of 2013

December, 18, 2013
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

Matches aren't the only faceoffs on the tennis circuit. These 10 controversies were among the most talked about this year.

1. Time violation rule

The ATP said it was going to start enforcing a new version of the 25-second time limit between points this year, but who knew it was actually going to do it? Certainly not many of the players, who reacted with surprise and outrage when they started receiving warnings and point penalties en masse at the beginning of the season (and Nadal hadn't even returned to the tour yet).

On one hand, some of the delays were getting out of hand. On the other, the rule was sometimes enforced in ways that weren't always appropriate. Examples include after a long point or when players were penalized for delays caused by waiting for an opponent, ball kids or the crowd. And the new measures didn't even apply at the four biggest events, the Grand Slams.

Throughout the year, it caused repeated and occasionally disruptive conflicts between male players and the chair umpires. By the end of the season, however, the players did seem to be quicker than before, and umpires also appeared to have loosened up on the rule again.

Happy medium or just fruitless furor? Either way, there was a lot of time spent on the time spent between points this year.

2. Drug tests

Viktor Troicki received an 18-month ban for not giving a blood test, saying he had not been feeling well and the testing supervisor had allegedly indicated it would be OK to miss the test. The suspension was reduced to 12 months on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), with opinion divided on whether his treatment was too strict. Compatriot Novak Djokovic felt it was the testing supervisor's fault. Others felt it was too lenient. Roger Federer and Andy Murray said players had a responsibility to follow the rules.

Marin Cilic received a nine-month ban for testing positive for a stimulant, which he said was caused by a French-labeled product he mistakenly took instead of glucose tablets. On appeal, CAS reduced the ban to the four months Cilic had already missed. But there was controversy over his Wimbledon withdrawal cover-up. Cilic cited a knee injury rather than disclosing the test results. There was at least one other ambiguous-looking positive test as well.

All this came after the testing program began receiving added scrutiny following the Lance Armstrong revelations in cycling, which may have been what prompted the ITF to carry out more tests and introduce a biological passport. So more news may be good news as far as tennis’ anti-doping efforts are concerned.

3. Serena Williams' player relations

Serena Williams had few problems with other players on the court this year, but off the court, it was a different story. Sloane Stephens spoke out about Williams cutting off communication after losing their Australian Open quarterfinal meeting, though she later backed off the comments. (Stephens had also described Williams' cries of “Come on” as "disrespectful" during a match at the beginning of the year.)

Then it was Maria Sharapova, hitting back after Williams was quoted in a magazine, making some biting comments that apparently referred to Sharapova and her boyfriend, Grigor Dimitrov.

Jelena Jankovic had a testy on-court exchange with Williams at Charleston after Williams made her wait to serve. "How long do I have to wait?" Jankovic asked the chair. "'Til I'm ready," Williams replied. “I’m not slow." At the year-end championships, the Serb questioned whether Williams' fluctuations during matches were gamesmanship.

4. Wimbledon grass

Big names tumbled on the grass and out of the tournament this year, creating plenty of speculation about the state of the courts. A cold snap was blamed for the slippery conditions, and the hastened turnaround required after last year's Olympics may not have helped, either.

5. Marion Bartoli

It wasn't exactly clear what BBC presenter John Inverdale meant when he wondered if Bartoli's father had told her that she would have to fight harder on the court because she wasn't going to be a "looker." The insensitive comment, made during the Wimbledon final won by Bartoli, generated an explosive reaction and got even members of Parliament talking. In the end, though, the best response may have been Bartoli's own: "Have I dreamed of having a modeling contract? No, I'm sorry. Have I dreamed of winning Wimbledon? Yes."

6. Lack of controversy

Ernests Gulbis protested boring interviews by giving a decidedly non-boring interview during the French Open in which he said, "I respect Roger [Federer], Rafa [Nadal], Novak [Djokovic] and [Andy] Murray, but, for me, all four of them are boring players. Their interviews are boring. ...

"It is Federer who started this fashion. He has a superb image of the perfect Swiss gentleman. I repeat, I respect Federer, but I don't like it that young players try to imitate him. When I hear them answer like Roger, I am terrified by phrases 'I had a little bit more success at certain moments and that is how I won.'"

The talented-but-erratic Gulbis could solve his own problem simply by becoming a top player himself.

7. Malek Jaziri boycott order

Jaziri pulled out of his challenger match against Amir Weintrab in October with -- what else? -- a knee injury. But Jaziri's brother then revealed the Tunisian federation, at the direction of the government, had ordered him not to play an Israeli. As a result, the ITF banned Tunisia from Davis Cup for a year.

8. Toronto's men's exhibition match

The WTA event in Toronto, worried about attendance, supplemented a night session with a men's exhibition match between Feliciano Lopez and Bernard Tomic, two first-round losers at the ATP event in Montreal. Coincidentally, it was on the same day Billie Jean King was in attendance to receive an honor from the tournament. For the second straight tournament, a men's legend event was also held during the tournament.

9. Milos Raonic's net touch

At first, it wasn't even clear if the issue was whether Milos Raonic had touched the net or if the ball had bounced twice by the time he had touched it. But it was clear that Juan Martin del Potro was angered. (After the match, he tweeted, "Very upset about the match I lost ... I think everyone saw what happened.'') And that, Raonic was unrepentant about not giving his opponent the call. When told del Potro should have had the point, he replied in a now-famous answer, "Hypothetically, yes; technically, no."

But though that was technically his position, hypothetically he changed it the following week. "I feel like I made a mistake in the spur of the moment, something, I guess, because I hadn't been faced with it before. I'm disappointed with myself how I dealt with it, and it's something I learned a lot from,'' he said.

"I really didn't have the opportunity until really the last two days to think about it that much. It's something that I feel sorry about and something I want to apologize to Juan when I see him here. I don't think I dealt with that the right way, and I think it's something that I probably should have in that situation, and probably in the future, call on myself."

10. Indian Wells prize money

The tournament, owned by billionaire Larry Ellison, offered to increase prize money for early-round losers this year by about $800,000, following an increase for the later rounds last year. But the ATP board, concerned about its distribution rules and how it would affect other tournaments, refused to accept. After much criticism from players and media for turning down extra bucks, the decision was reversed.

Our 2013 tennis tantrums of the year

December, 17, 2013
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

In the tense, competitive cauldron of a tennis match, emotions easily bubble over.

Led by the enforcement of the new time-violation rule and that old favorite, controversial calls, this year produced some extravagant displays of temper. As usual, umpires took most of the heat, but linesmen, opponents and the crowd all came under fire.

1. Jerzy Janowicz: Australian Open

Thanks to Janowicz, "How many times?!" is now a fixture in the tennis lexicon.

2. Viktor Troicki: Rome

The top two was a pick 'em. "There is no space!" hasn't quite caught on in the same way, but Troicki gets points for the innovative use of a cameraman to record the mark (beats using a cellphone, as some players did this year). How crazy did he go? His opponent was temperamental racket-smasher Ernests Gulbis, and he was telling Troicki to calm down.

3. Fabio Fognini: Wimbledon

Fall to the floor, wave hands dramatically while delivering a stream of Italian, turn around and shriek at the sky. It started as a tennis match, but an opera broke out. (Clip contains expletive in Italian.)

4. Victoria Azarenka: Madrid

Know your opponent, goes the saying, and that goes for umpires as well as other players. "After all you have done, how are you still in the game?" Azarenka demanded of Mariana Alves, who was in the chair for the infamous Jennifer Capriati-Serena Williams match, which featured several blown calls that helped lead to the establishment of Hawkeye. Azarenka, unaware she had already been called for unsportsmanlike behavior earlier in the match, was upset at receiving a point penalty in the third set.

5. Caroline Wozniacki: Doha

Wozniacki didn't get anywhere trying to argue for a point to be replayed after an "out" call from the crowd, so her father and coach, Piotr, took up the cause.

6. Tomas Berdych: Monte Carlo

Not too slow, not too fast. Berdych just couldn't get his head around the time violation rule, but he wasn't about to stop demanding answers.

7. Richard Gasquet: Miami

Another player, another time violation complaint. Gasquet's most famous show of frustration this year was throwing his socks on court at the US Open, but this one was perhaps his angriest.

8. Novak Djokovic: Madrid

Annoyed at the vociferous support for his opponent, Djokovic screamed an obscenity at the crowd after winning the second set. (Clip contains expletive in Serbian.)

9. Roger Federer: Australian Open

Federer is usually so well-controlled that even a racket smash or "Shut up" once a year makes news, so it was a bit shocking to see him deliver an expletive when accusing opponent Andy Murray of stopping during a previous point. Murray responded with a sardonic smile, later saying it was "very, very mild compared with what happens in other sports." (Clip contains expletive in English.)

10. David Ferrer: Indian Wells

His generally mild-mannered reputation made this show of anger over a call even more unexpected. (Clip contains expletive in English.)

*Footage was lacking, but two others that might have made the cut were Rafael Nadal furiously arguing a coaching violation in the third round of Indian Wells, and Anastasia Rodionova yelling and kicking bottles in the first round of Charleston.
And it's not just players -- even umpires can get in on the act sometimes.

Best points of the 2013 season

December, 13, 2013
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

With so many amazing points played on the tours each year, cataloging the best is a daunting task. Many factors go into a choice -- the occasion, the moment in the match, displayed skills, the length, the variety, the finishing shot. These 10 had all or most of these qualities.

1. Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic, US Open final

The match may not have been the best they played this year, but this 54-stroke rally was their best exchange. It's not often one point gets a standing ovation from the crowd. This one did.

2. Novak Djokovic vs. Stanislas Wawrinka, Australian Open 4R

An already memorable point on any occasion, but all the more so on match point. A fitting finish for a contest that could fill a highlight reel by itself.

3. Gilles Simon vs. Gael Monfils, Australian Open 3R

This one could be described as more quantity than quality, but a 71-stroke rally is an achievement in itself. It was the high-water mark of the 4-hour, 43-minute match, which featured the five longest rallies of the tournament and seven of the top nine.

4. Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray, Australian Open final

Fall down, make the shot, get up, hit a near-winner, run up to net, put it away. All in a point's work for Djokovic.

5. Radek Stepanek vs. Potito Starace, Rome 1R

What more could Starace do in this point? Not much, except win it.

6. Serena Williams vs. Agnieszka Radwanska, Istanbul RR

It's usually Williams making her opponents run all over the court, but Radwanska reverses the situation with some beautiful touch.

7. Rafael Nadal vs. David Ferrer, Rome quarterfinal

Think these two know how to move on clay? Ferrer suffered at the hands of his buddy Nadal this year, but did manage to get the better of him in this point by showing some amazing defense followed by a spectacular winner.

8. Victoria Azarenka vs. Caroline Wozniacki, Cincinnati quarterfinal

A lengthy exchange has Azarenka fending off a near-winner by Wozniacki before going on the offense herself.

9. Victoria Azarenka vs. Serena Williams, Cincinnati final

When it's 6-6 in the third-set tiebreak against Williams, it's time for tennis like this. And Azarenka delivers.

10. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Milos Raonic, Indian Wells 4R

A spirited net exchange produces a bit of excitement between these two attacking players.

Serena, Azarenka put on good shows

December, 12, 2013
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

The top two players on the WTA took most of the year's big titles and played many of the biggest matches. Seven of these 10 selections feature Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka or both.

1. Victoria Azarenka def. Serena Williams
Cincinnati final, 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (6)

All their hard-court meetings this year were battles, but this one had the closest and most dramatic ending. Williams served for the match at 5-4, hesitated, then did the same thing with a 5-4 lead in the tiebreaker. Then Azarenka took command and dominated the last two points to grab the match. It's something few have shown the ability to do in tight matches against Williams.

2. Serena Williams def. Victoria Azarenka
US Open final, 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1

This time it was Williams' turn for a strong finish. The defending champion looked in command during the second set but could not close out a valiantly battling Azarenka. Williams quickly regained control, however, and didn't flinch in a third set.

3. Sabine Lisicki def. Agnieszka Radwanska
Wimbledon semifinals, 6-4, 2-6, 9-7

The contest between the big-serving Lisicki and the crafty Radwanska made for pleasing tennis on Wimbledon's Centre Court, and the personal tension between them just added to the interest. Lisicki went up 3-0 in the third set only for Radwanska to come back, but it was the Polish-born German who eventually triumphed over the partly-German-raised Pole. Radwanska, who had beaten Lisicki in all 10 of their previous matches, could barely bring herself to shake her opponent's hand after missing her best opportunity to finally win a Grand Slam.

4. Sabine Lisicki def. Serena Williams
Wimbledon quarterfinals, 6-2, 1-6, 6-4

In this match, it was Lisicki who found herself down 3-0, but a collapse from Williams allowed her to pull off the most inexplicable women's upset of the year. Williams had been expected to be challenged by the grass-court-loving Lisicki, but not let the match slip away after putting herself in a winning position.

5. Serena Williams def. Svetlana Kuznetsova
French Open quarterfinals, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3

Only those who can play with spin and can grind out points managed to give Williams significant trouble on clay this year, and former French Open champ Kuznetsova was a prime example of a player who can do just that. The Russian came on strong to take the second set and go up 2-0 in the third, but Williams somehow served out the next game and ran off five in a row to regain control of the match.

6. Victoria Azarenka def. Li Na
Australian Open final, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3

Most of the women's Grand Slam finals were competitive this year, and Azarenka and Li kicked things off with this topsy-turvy three-setter. Azarenka had to deal with the hostility of the crowd after a controversial medical timeout in the semifinals, and Li had to deal with stumbling twice on the court, once hitting her head hard on the concrete. The second set was close, but Azarenka closed out a dazed Li in the third.

7. Petra Kvitova def. Venus Williams
Tokyo semifinals, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5)

The older Williams wasn't visible on the tour very often this year, but this was one of the weeks when she definitely was. After defeating an ill Azarenka early on, Venus reached the semifinals, giving eventual champ Kvitova all she could handle before the Czech took command in the tiebreaker.

8. Serena Williams def. Jelena Jankovic
Istanbul semifinals, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4

These two usually make for an entertaining matchup, and this was no exception. After a busy season in which she played more than 80 matches, Williams said she was exhausted coming into this semifinal and looked weary during the match. Jankovic later complained about Williams' dramatics when the world No. 1 was falling behind -- and her frustration could only have grown when Williams somehow pulled it out in the third set.

9. Victoria Azarenka def. Jamie Hampton
Australian Open third round, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2

Azarenka was not expected to be challenged severely, but Hampton was more than a match for the then-No. 1 through the first two sets. Even when nerves triggered Hampton's back injury and required a second-set timeout, she played well enough to make Azarenka sarcastically ask, "Can I have a back problem?" in her postmatch news conference. Hampton also dominated parts of the third set, hitting 41 winners, but an even greater number of mistakes helped the defending champion through.

10. Jie Zheng def. Samantha Stosur
Australian Open second round, 6-4, 1-6, 7-5

Stosur's biggest opponent in this match may have been expectations rather than Zheng. Playing in front of the home crowds has always been a challenge for the Australian, and she served for the match twice in the third set, at 5-2 and 5-4, and ended with a double fault. Zheng had her own struggles with nerves but never stopped fighting and was eventually rewarded with an improbable victory. Stosur would experience a similar defeat against Victoria Duval at the US Open, but she finished her season with back-to-back titles.
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

Looking at the top men's matches of the year, a few names keep coming up -- Stanislas Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal and, most of all, Novak Djokovic. The Serb was involved in six of these 10 selections, including the top four contests. He might not have been player of the year, but it could be said he was the match-player of the year.

With that, our 2013 men's matches of the year:

1. Novak Djokovic def. Stanislas Wawrinka
Australian Open 4R, 6-1, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7(5), 12-10

It wasn't billed as a big-time match, but this fourth-rounder quickly became a classic. Wawrinka came out firing, hitting winner after winner and going up a set and a break. The defending champion, struggling with his footing, then came back and took a two-sets-to-one lead. But it wasn't over yet. Wawrinka didn't wilt, didn't waver, didn't go away or do any of the things lower-ranked players are supposed to do after losing a lead against a big name. With Roger Federer staying up well into the night to watch his compatriot, Wawrinka took the fourth set and stayed with Djokovic as they went deep into the fifth as well.

Djokovic finally finished the match with an amazing rally, ripping off his shirt to celebrate an unexpectedly tough but satisfying victory. Wawrinka, meanwhile, had announced that he would be someone worth watching this season.

2. Rafael Nadal def. Novak Djokovic
French Open semifinals, 6-4, 6-3, 6-1, 6-7(3), 9-7

Nadal-Djokovic was the rivalry of the season, and this match would be the most dramatic meeting. Nadal, who had struggled in some of his earlier matches, competed with a ferocity that stood out even from his usual exhorting, fist-pumping style.

For four sets, the advantage ebbed and flowed between the defending champion and then-No. 1 Djokovic, who had the early advantage in the fifth as he served up a break at 4-3. But as he put away a volley for game point, the Serb lost his balance and touched the net. Nadal, who had been quick to spot the stumble, had the point instead. Three points later, the Spaniard broke back, going on to win the match and subsequently his eighth French Open title.

3. Novak Djokovic def. Juan Martin del Potro
Wimbledon semifinals, 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-7(6), 6-3

For 4 hours, 43 minutes, the two bludgeoned and retrieved the ball all over the grass on Centre Court. While del Potro was hitting his forehand with abandon, Djokovic slipped repeatedly after being told by the tournament to wear shoes without pimpled edges (which helped him grip the court better when sliding).

Djokovic nevertheless took control of the fourth set, but del Potro fought back to capture the tiebreaker. But the Argentine seemed to tire as Djokovic quickly regained his lead in the deciding set. The long match might also have taken its toll on Djokovic, who lost the final in straight sets to Andy Murray.

4. Rafael Nadal def. Novak Djokovic
Montreal semifinals, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2)

This high-quality meeting was their first of the season on hard courts, with Nadal playing more aggressively than before to defeat Djokovic on the Serb's favorite surface. Nadal even accidentally hit Djokovic in the face with a shot during the third set -- much to viewer Andy Murray's delight -- and then the Spaniard dominated the tiebreaker to defeat his opponent for the second straight time.

5. Stanislas Wawrinka def. Richard Gasquet
French Open 4R, 6-7(8), 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 8-6

The French crowd roared and chanted as their man, Gasquet, won the first two sets, then quieted as Wawrinka came back, evening the battle of one-handed backhands in a magnificent fourth set. Gasquet began struggling with cramps but fought valiantly in the fifth, holding two break points at 6-6 before succumbing fewer than two games later. But at least he would find redemption later in the year, defeating Milos Raonic and David Ferrer in five sets at the US Open on his way to the semifinals.

6. Rafael Nadal def. Roger Federer
Cincinnati quarterfinals, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3

Unlike most of their meetings, expectations were not high. Federer was coming off a string of defeats, while Nadal was undefeated on North American hard courts for the season. But the 17-time Grand Slam champion managed to find his form for this encounter, producing plenty of winners to take the first set and having chances to pull off the upset in the second. Nadal slowly took command, however, and a tiring Federer could not keep up in the third set.

7. Novak Djokovic def. Stanislas Wawrinka
US Open semifinals 2-6, 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-4

Their second Grand Slam marathon of the season would be almost as memorable as the first. After hurting his leg in the first set, Wawrinka played with added urgency, trying to avoid a long match. He was successful early on, winning the first two sets, but Djokovic fought back to win the next three and the match. Most memorable was the third game of the fifth set, which lasted 21 minutes with Wawrinka saving five break points to finally hold.

8. Grigor Dimitrov def. Novak Djokovic
Madrid 2R, 7-6(6), 6-7(8), 6-3

There were several twists and turns in this encounter, which was one of the season's notable upsets. The up-and-coming Bulgarian saved three set points in the first set, then went up a set and a break before cramps began to affect him. He still had a match point in the second-set tiebreaker -- and the crowd behind him -- but a fired-up Djokovic managed to level the match. Inspired by a prematch pep talk from his girlfriend, Maria Sharapova, Dimitrov hung in and was given an early break by Djokovic, completing his victory in 3 hours, 5 minutes.

9. Andy Murray def. David Ferrer
Miami final, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(1)

They not only had to face each other, but they had to battle the heat as well. The third set was a tight and dramatic affair. Ferrer, who had been playing with uncharacteristic aggression, stopped play on match point at 5-4 to challenge a deep Murray ball that had left him in difficulty. But replays showed the ball in, and Murray would go on to win the game and dominate the tiebreaker.

10. Tommy Haas def. John Isner
French Open 4R 7-5, 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-7(10) 10-8

It looked like a straightforward match at first, but it turned into a gripping contest from late in the fourth set onward. The 35-year-old Haas needed not one, two or three, but 12 match points to close out the encounter. It looked like Haas was on his way to a gut-wrenching defeat when Isner pulled out the fourth-set tiebreak and then pulled ahead 4-1 in the fifth set. Yet the veteran German kept fighting, and Isner, who needed an 8-6 fifth-set win in his previous match, ran out of energy. By the finish, it had turned into one of the most memorable contests of the year.