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My 2013 Grand Slammy awards

To tide me over the horrible tennis off-season I thought I would look back on the year before we get ready to do it all again in 2014. So I give you my very own Slammy awards: (NB there will be a lot of bias in here and the categories may not be so mainstream)

The ‘Oh I say! tennis day of the year’ award: Friday, July 5th

I thought at the time that this was one of the best days of tennis a Grand Slam had offered up in two decades; the four months in between have done nothing to dilute that view. When a British player reaching a Wimbledon final isn’t the highlight of the day, you know you’ve had a treat. The nine sets of men’s tennis served up in the Wimbledon men’s semi-finals will stand the test of time for their drama and for their incredible level of quality. As a side-note, don’t count Juan-Martin Del Potro out of winning that tournament one day.

The ‘Errrr crikey, what do we do for the rest of the tournament?’ award: Wimbledon Day 3

Wimbledon's Black Wednesday

Wimbledon’s Black Wednesday

Ah yes, the day that eight players withdrew through injury either before or during their matches, the day that six former World number 1s bowed out of the tournament. Not only were Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Caroline Wozniacki, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic all eliminated on the women’s side, but the 21st century’s King of Centre Court finally succumbed to an opponent he shouldn’t have lost to; Federer’s four-set loss to Sergiy Stakhovsky a fitting finale to a day that tennis enthusiasts will never forget. Exit stage right half of the tennis world protagonists.

The ‘Handbags at twenty paces’ award: Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova

Whilst the Siberian cannot live up to the World Number 1 on the court (remember it is almost a decade now since Maria has defeated Serena), their public falling-out was at least a more even match-up. Quite what seemed to cause the until-then good friends to fall out is open to interpretation but it did seem that the age-old “I don’t like your boyfriend” stance added fuel to the fire. It’s not quite what women’s tennis wants to be known for but it did get tabloid inches. I’d pay good money to see the stare-down between these two on a grand stage next year?

The ‘You’re tossing a potentially good career’ award: Bernard Tomic
So much raw talent but will somebody please get a hold of the Aussie before it’s too late? The 2011 Wimbledon quarter-finalist lost in woeful fashion to Britain’s Dan Evans in New York in August and looked like he wanted to be anywhere else in the world but on a tennis court. The ‘kid’ has talent but his will-to-win and desire to put in the training hours looks at very best suspect. He needs to cut himself loose from his father and get a seasoned experienced coach to put him back on the right track. Photos of him in a nightclub receiving lap-dances during the offseason do not suggest he is knuckling down just yet. Next year is vital for him, almost make-or-break. He has the talent, but then so did Jelena Dokic….

The ‘Duracell bunny’ award: Marion Bartoli
Her effervescent never-say-never attitude finally paid dividends in the summer of 2013 when, at her 47th attempt, she finally won a Grand Slam title. She took full advantage of the draw opening up with all of the withdrawals and shock losses and marched through to the Venus Rosewater Dish without losing a set. Her name will always be there on that plate and despite the fact that it was not a stellar tournament on the ladies’ side, her example goes alongside Francesca Schiavone’s from recent years with the maxim to kids that if you leave everything out there on the court, then you really can reach the highest of highs. Her decision to retire shocked many but not as many as you would first think. Bartoli was always a scientist, a mathematician. She left no stone unturned in her career and she logically concluded that Wimbledon 2013 would be the pinnacle of her career. Nothing left to achieve, merci and adieu! Well played Bartster!

The ‘Why are you still playing? Ah, that’s why!’ award: Radek Stepanek

Davis Cup trooper

Davis Cup trooper

The 35-year-old Czech can still be a nuisance on the singles tour. He gets into the heads of the very top players, albeit temporarily but struggles now to stick runs together at ATP level. He’s dropped down to play a few lower-level tournaments but it is the Davis Cup that he lives for these days. In November, he helped the Czech Republic to a successful defence of their title by overcoming Novak Djokovic’s Serbia, a year after they defeated Spain. Keep on running, old man – it’s clearly worth it!

Early predictions for 2014
Serena Williams to win less Grand Slam tournaments – whilst she is the undisputed Queen of the WTA, this was her year to capitalise. Next year Victoria Azarenka will win at least another Grand Slam and the youngsters will all be a year wiser and a year fitter. But Serena will still win one or two.
Juan-Martin Del Potro will win a second Grand Slam title. If the big man can ensure he gets amongst the top 4 seeds at the big tournaments, he is capable of adding to his solitary major.
Roger Federer will end the year in the Top 5. Not as many points to defend as in previous years, a switch of coach and a switch of mentality = dangerous maestro!
Slaone Stephens and Eugenie Bouchard will become established members of the WTA Top 10, Grigor Dimitrov and Jerzy Janowicz will crack the top ten on the men’s tour. Bernard Tomic will not.

Career crossroads

Career crossroads

From a British point of view, Andy Murray will add to his Slam collection, most probably in Melbourne at the year’s start. Heather Watson will battle back into the world’s top 50 due to her new attacking game but Laura Robson’s immediate future will depend on how quickly she settles into working with her new coach. Jo Konta will make it three British women in the Top 100 once again. Dan Evans should get into the Top 100 by the time the US Open series comes around.
Oh, and just so he doesn’t go without a mention…Rafael Nadal to end the year by winning the World Tour Finals and as World Number 1.

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Stepping up in the city that never sleeps; time for new Number 1s?

Positive memories

Positive memories

The scores change, the matches change, the years change, even the players change, yet tennis just continues on and on and on. No time to stop to admire Marion Bartoli’s career whose pinnacle came right at the denouement. It was 12 months ago that the sport bade farewell to two Slam champions in Kim Clijsters and Andy Roddick whose bodies finally gave out on them and gave in to the sport. How many passing thoughts have been given to those two in 2013? My point exactly. The wheel trundles on. So let me bask for just a second in the fact that for the first time in 35 years a British player goes into a Grand Slam as the defending champion, as “the hunted” according to John McEnroe. Add into that mix that we have a woman as a seed for the first time since 1988, and it’s nice to be looking forward to a Slam with excitement rather than trepidation. But off come the red, white and blue sunglasses for now.

Who are the form horses coming into the final slam of 2013? Where is the smart money going? It is difficult to look too far beyond Andy Murray, even without British bias. Good memories will be all around him all fortnight. New York is the place he broke through, the place where he won his first Slam by defeating the World Number One in five tough sets. In addition to that, he has appeared in the final of every Slam he’s competed in since and thrashed Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final. I don’t think you can say enough about how much that can do for a person’s game and belief. Okay, he isn’t in fantastic form coming into the event but once he strolls out onto Arthur Ashe Stadium court, I think that will rectify itself pretty quickly. His potential path to the semi-finals is pretty straight-forward and things will hot up at that stage. The winner of the Novak Djokovic v Juan-Martin Del Potro quarter-final tie will pose a hard-hitting threat. I’m taking Del Potro to edge that quarter if he carries his Wimbledon form into the Slam he won four years ago.

Rafael Nadal will be a relieved man to be in the bottom half of the draw. He will fancy his chances in a potential quarter-final clash with Roger Federer (the Swiss maestro will be back to Last 8 form here in my opinion) and will find little trouble waiting for him in the form of compatriot and old friend David Ferrer at the penultimate stage. Nadal’s hard-court record this season is second to none and he will almost certainly feature on Finals day. If Del Potro has managed to beat Djokovic and Murray back-to-back, then Rafael Nadal will be a bridge too far and will pick him off without too many worries in the final. If it’s Murray who comes through from the top half, expect the Scot to get his first major final W against the Spaniard and give himself every chance of finishing the year as the world’s top player.

Roof-less....for now

Roof-less….for now

The women’s draw is depleted by the absence of Maria Sug….errrr Sharapova. The cynic in me wonders why she came to New York at all, and at that I shall leave it. All her absence does in my mind is solidify the expected repeat of last year’s final when Victoria Azarenka pushed Serena Williams to the very limit. And this year, I expect the Belarussian to avenge that particular defeat. She knew that she could live with Serena after that balmy New York night in 2012, and her fighting qualities saw her become a multi-major winner earlier this year in Melbourne. A victory in another of the majors will only reinforce her position as one of the best two players in the world. Her path to the final is easier than Serena’s, much easier. Serena starts off against former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone. Whilst the Italian’s best years are well behind her now, her game of slice and backhands has the potential to upset Serena right from the off. Her route further in could involve match-ups against the up-and-coming stars of the game, the likes of Sloane Stephens and Eugenie Bouchard, who both know what knocking out Serena in New York could do for their careers.

Vika has an easier route through; I would imagine she will have one small scare along the way, possibly against Alize Cornet as she did in Paris but I would be flabbergasted if she wasn’t in the Final in two weeks’ time. After a comparably easier fortnight, I think Azarenka will lift the third major title of her career.
As for the losing semi-finalists, I expect Agnieszka Radwanksa to take her decent Wimbledon form into the final slam of 2013 and get by the likes of Na Li, who in turn should have enough about her to see off a not-100% Laura Robson in Round 3 and thus extinguish any painful memories she has of said player from last year. And the big prediction from the bottom half of the draw is that I see Simona Halep dragging her amazing summer form into a Slam and taking advantage of a kind draw to cement her place in the Top 20. The Romanian has won four titles since June and being in the same quarter as Elena Vesnina, Sara Errani and Maria Kirilenko presents her with an opportunity she really cannot afford to turn down.

Let’s hope that we have a relatively dry US Open, although not too dry that the USTA goes back on their decision to install a roof on Ashe Stadium court! Kudos to them for finally dragging the tournament into the 21st century. In reading former players’ autobiographies, it beggars belief how much more innovative Wimbledon is these days compared with the US Open. Nobody would ever have imagined Wimbledon to be the more forward-thinking of the two. Let’s further hope that at the end of the fortnight, we have two deserving champions after two weeks of superb tennis. Two champions who believe that they belong at the very top. Andy and Victoria, your times are now. Time to seize, before the sport trundles on, passes you by and picks the next champions.

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