Originally Published: February 12, 2014

The new normal not so normal

By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

So, six weeks into the 2014 tennis season -- in the midst of not-so-fabulous February -- what do we have here, exactly?

Switzerland's Stanislas Wawrinka, who has quietly played his career in the shadow of Roger Federer, is a first-time Grand Slam singles champion. Playing in her fourth major final in four years, Li Na is now a two-time winner. They both remain undefeated in this new year.

Wawrinka came into Melbourne with a combined record of 2-27 against Nadal and Djokovic but became the first man to beat them both in the same Grand Slam.

"My confidence, my game, my serve -- I can beat the top-10 guys now," said Wawrinka, who is suddenly the ATP World Tour's third-ranked player.

Frankly, at this early juncture there are already more questions than answers.

Rafael Nadal (back) and Juan Martin del Potro (wrist) left Australia with injuries, while Djokovic, Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova almost certainly went home with doubts about their games.

Last year, Williams and Nadal won four of the last six Grand Slams singles titles, both taking Roland Garros and the US Open, so there's still time for the return of normalcy. But ...

" Ana Ivanovic, who sort of disappeared after winning the 2008 French Open, beat Williams in the Australian quarterfinals and has won nine of 10 matches.

" Federer, left for dead at 32, played more aggressively than he has in ages and, with a new coach and racket, reached the semifinals.

" Top-15 players Tommy Haas and Roberta Vinci started the season a combined 0-6.

Del Potro's right wrist forced him to miss all but three tournaments in 2010, but now his left wrist is a concern. The 25-year-old Argentine won his first event of the year, in Sydney, but the change of surface and different balls in Melbourne bothered that vital hinge. He felt it in his first-round victory over American Rhyne Williams, but after losing to Roberto Bautista Agut in five sets del Potro shut it down.

He flew to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and conferred with Dr. Richard Berger, who gave him an injection and told him to take three weeks off. Del Potro, ranked No. 4, surfaced earlier this week in Rotterdam, along with eight other players in the ATP World Tour's top 20. He's expected to begin defense of his title there Wednesday.

For Rafa, it will be at least another week on the shelf.

Last week, he withdrew from Buenos Aires, citing his back injury and a stomach virus that curtailed training. Standing in front of his trophy-laden mantle at home in Mallorca, he offered fans a brief message in Spanish. Nadal, shrugging his shoulders and looking quite sad, said he would try to be ready for the inaugural Brasil Open, the country's first ATP 500 event, which begins Feb. 17.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Another one and done

Errani
Errani

Defending champion Italy left its two best players at home but still managed to defeat the United States 3-1 in Fed Cup play.

With Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci sitting this one out, Karin Knapp and Camila Giorgi were enough to send Mary Joe Fernandez's young team into a world group playoff April 19-20 at home against France.

With the Williams sisters and Sloane Stephens unavailable, it was left to Christina McHale (21 years old), Madison Keys (18), Alison Riske (23) and Lauren Davis (20). Davis and Keys who won America's lone point, in a dead doubles rubber after Italy clinched with Knapp's second singles victory.

A week earlier, the U.S. men lost to Great Britain 3-1 in Davis Cup and will have to win its world group playoff in September to have a chance to compete for the 2015 crown.

Germany -- which thrashed the Slovak Republic, playing at home, 3-1 -- could be the best team this year with a healthy Andrea Petkovic, Angelique Kerber and Julia Goerges. Italy will be strong, provided Errani and Vinci return to the lineup.

Going forward, which team is the favorite for this year's Davis Cup championship?

With Spain (minus Nadal, David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro) already out of it, some would say Switzerland.

After letting it be known they would sit out for their first-rounder against Serbia, Wawrinka and Federer made an appearance and triumphed over guys named Bozoljac and Lajovic for an eventual 3-2 victory. The Swiss will meet Kazakhstan in the April quarterfinals.

Two-time defending champions Czech Republic will play at Japan, which produced its first World Group victory (over Canada) since it was formed in 1981.

Great Britain, which beat the U.S. in San Diego, is into the quarters for the first time since 1986 and will travel to Italy. France hosts Germany, secure in the knowledge it has won the past six ties against Teutonic tennis.

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