(AP Photo/David Goldman)
Novak Djokovic ended the 2013 season just like he began it, on a winning note. The world number two successfully defended his title at the year-end championships in London, beating his arch-rival Rafael Nadal in the final. Once again, it was a year that saw the ‘Big Three’ dominate proceedings. And, as the season draws to a close, now’s a good time to take a look back at the year that was.
Action got underway in Melbourne in January with the season’s first Grand Slam. Nadal put off his much anticipated return to the tour with an untimely stomach virus ahead of the Australian Open. But it was business as usual for the rest of the guys. The men’s draw saw a surprise quarterfinalist in Frenchman Jeremy Chardy, who took out sixth seed Juan Martin del Potro in the third round, but was eventually beaten by the Scot, Andy Murray. The final was a repeat of last year’s semifinal and the result, the same. Djokovic completed a three-peat with his four-set win over Murray, becoming the only man in the Open Era to win three successive Australian titles. “Winning it three in a row, it’s incredible,” Djokovic said after his 6-7 (2), 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-2 victory Sunday night. “It’s very thrilling. I’m full of joy right now. It’s going to give me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season, that’s for sure.”
Viña del Mar in February became the talking point for tennis fans as Nadal, after a seven-month layoff, returned to competitive play. While he lost to the unheralded Argentine, Horacio Zeballos in the final that week, it was a start of great things to come from the Spaniard. Nadal went on an impressive 19-match winning streak, with titles in Sao Paulo, Acapulco, Indian Wells, before his run was halted by Djokovic in the final of Monte Carlo, a tournament he’d won the last eight years.
Rafa dominated the European clay season, as he has done for almost a decade now, and the rest of the field could only watch as the King of Clay reigned supreme. Nadal’s biggest challenge came in the semifinals of the French Open when he was taken to a deciding fifth set by, then world number one Djokovic, but that didn’t stop the Spaniard from lifting the Coupe des Mousquetaires for a record eighth time.
From the red clay of Europe and on to the lush green grass of the All England Club, with the start of the Wimbledon Championships. Twelve months ago Britain’s favorite son Murray had won the hearts of the entire nation when he broke down in tears, following his loss to Roger Federer in the final. This year he got his bid for a maiden Wimbledon title off to the perfect start with a win at the warm-up event in Queens. Taking advantage of the shock upsets of Federer and Nadal in the first week of the Championships, where both were in Murray’s half of the draw, the second seed stormed into the final to face top seed Djokovic. A calm Murray knocked off Djokovic in straight sets to end Britain’s 77-year wait for a home-grown men’s champion. It was a fairytale finish to the tournament. “I understand how much everyone wanted to see a British winner at Wimbledon so I hope you enjoyed it,” Murray told the crowd at Centre Court, after his win. “I tried my best.”
It was a year that saw two veterans of the game enjoy considerable success. German Tommy Haas, 35, and Spain’s Tommy Robredo, 31, showed the rest of the field that they still packed a mighty punch. Haas, who’s had an injury-ridden career, took out world number one Djokovic in Miami and reached the quarters of Roland Garros, besides bagging titles in Vienna and Munich. As for the plucky Robredo, he famously took out Federer at Flushing Meadows and was a quarterfinalist at both the U.S and French Open.
While the two Tommy’s are still going strong, tennis fans bid farewell to two other seasoned competitors. American James Blake and the very talented Argentine, David Nalbandian, decided to hang up their rackets this year. Blake, who reached a career-high ranking of four, wants to spend more time with his family while a troublesome shoulder injury forced the 2002 Wimbledon finalist, Nalbandian, into retirement.
Speaking of retirements, Switzerland’s Roger Federer isn’t walking away anytime soon. After a dismal season by his lofty standards, which saw him win just the one title in Halle, Federer dismissed all talks of retirement. “It’s just something I enjoy doing,” Federer said, when asked about what keeps him coming back year after year. “The thing is that when you stop, you’re still so young that why stop so early? Why just walk away from it because, I have many other things to do in my life than play tennis, but because I can still choose, I pick to play. As long as I have this choice, I’ll keep on playing.”
And then there was the rise of the big-hitting Canadian, Milos Raonic. The 22 year old impressed with his two titles and a finals appearance at the Roger’s Cup in Montreal. He cemented his place in the top 10, the first Canadian to have done so, and just missed out qualification for the year-end championships in London.
But the year, in all fairness, belonged to Nadal. He reclaimed the number one ranking from Djokovic after his U.S Open win and ended the year at the top of the world. The Serb, however had the last laugh as he finished the season on a 22-match winning streak, beating his Spanish rival twice during that run. This sets up things very nicely for the coming year. Will Djokovic get back to world number one? There’s also the big question mark over Murray’s return from back surgery. All that and more, will be answered once the 2014 season kicks off in January.