The new tennis season is only one week old but there’re plenty of talking points already. With 6 events taking place in the first week besides the Hopman Cup, here’s our look at who got the passing grades and who will need to work harder in the weeks ahead:
It’s hard to come up with new superlatives every time Serena Williams wins – let’s rephrase that – every time Serena Williams dominates a tennis tournament. So just sit back, continue enjoy watching her purple patch and let the numbers do the talking. 16 consecutive match wins, 52 of her last 54 matches won and career title no. 47; Serena heads into Melbourne as the odds-on favourite. The streak will be broken soon. Let’s just hope that when it happens, it’s against a worthy opponent and not due to an error-strewn or unfocussed Serena.
Andy Murray has shown that he now has what it takes to win the big titles after his triumphs at the Olympics and the US Open. But if Murray wants to be world no. 1, he will need to be at the top of his game week-in and week-out. The Scot made a good start to that with a successful defence of his Brisbane title. Murray goes into Melbourne as co-favourite along with world no. 1 Djokovic.
Is there another non-ranking event that has entrenched itself as one of the top events in the tennis calendar? The Hopman Cup attracts top players, great crowds, and intense competition every year. Spain won for the fourth time, with Anabel Medina Garrigues, who won 3 of her singles matches and Fernando Verdasco, who lost 3 of his 4 singles matches, representing the Spaniards. It was also a good week in Perth for Bernard Tomic, who won all three singles matches including a win over top ranked Djokovic, and 32 year old Venus Williams, who also went 3-0 in singles and looked set to lead US to the finals until partner John Isner pulled out lame.
The tennis world has been waiting for the Russian to break through for a while now. Pavs (as she is known) was a junior standout and reached the French Open semi-finals a few years ago, peaking at no. 13. But like many others who promised lots and delivered not as much, Pavs had fallen by the wayside in the last couple of years. Looking fitter after the off-season, the 21 year old pulled off back-to-back upset wins over Kvitova and Kerber and went all the way to the finals in Brisbane. It would have been nicer if she challenged Serena a little more in the title match, but for now, let’s hope this is the start to a promising season for the Russian.
We’ve been waiting for the coming of age of Baby Fed for a while now. Dimitrov is now 21 years old and scored some quality wins over Roanic, Melzer and Bagdhatis on his way to the finals in Brisbane. The Bulgarian has split from his French coaching team and is now training at the Good to Great Tennis Academy, which he says is working well for him. And if word on the street is to be believed, Dimitrov is dating Russian supernova Maria Sharapova. Perhaps 2013 will be the year that Baby Fed becomes a man on the court and off-it!
Sania Mirza-Bethanie Mattek-Sands & Cara Black
Two noticeable results from the doubles world this week. India’s Sania Mirza has been busy off the court – with an upcoming book, a new tennis academy, a coffee chain venture and a guest appearance in a dance reality show. But she still has time to be a top doubles player. Playing with BFF Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Sania won her 15th career doubles title in Brisbane over a high quality field. Meanwhile, 33 year old Cara Black won in Auckland – her first WTA event since having a baby more than a year ago. Tennis moms never had it so good.
Agnieszka Radwanska, Li Na, Richard Gasquet and Janko Tipsarevic
With 3 events on both the men’s and women’s circuit, there was plenty of silverware to go around this week. World no. 4 Radwanska won the title in Auckland. The Pole plays an intelligent game and will most likely, continue to be a top 5 player for the next couple of years. China’s Li Na warmed up for the Australian Open by playing the WTA event in Shenzen. Na won the title and moves back up to no. 6 in the rankings. Even better news was confirmation that she will continue working with Carlos Rodriguez in 2013. Gasquet won his eighth career title in Doha and Tipsarevic won his fourth career title in Chennai. Neither Gasquet nor Tipsarevic will be winning slams or masters series titles in 2013, but look for them to make a play for the final spots in the year end championships in London, come October.
If players were stocks, Sloane Stephens is definitely one to go long for. Even Serena Williams, who beat her in a tight 6-4, 6-3 quarter-final, thinks Sloane could be the best in the world someday. The strokes are there, so is the movement and the personality. What’s more, she showed up against Serena believing she had a chance to win. That attitude itself is worthy buying into.
The Russian is 31 years old and currently ranked no. 44 in the world. But for most of the week in Doha, he played like a top 20 player. Davydenko upset 4th seeded Mikhail Youzhny and top seeded Ferrer en route to his 3rd final in Doha in the last four years. He led Richard Gasquet by a set and 4-2 before the Frenchman bounced back to win the final. At 31, Davydenko is unlikely to return to the top 10 but he’s certainly fun to watch and interview (He told reporters in Doha that other players in the locker room aren’t exactly missing Nadal) when he’s playing this well.
It’s hard coming back from a two year injury break. It’s even harder when you are 29 years old. But credit to Prakash, son of Indian tennis legend Vijay, for not giving up on his tennis dreams. Amritraj has had some success on the ITF and Challenger circuit in the past few months and won 2 matches to qualify for the main draw of the Aircel Chennai Open. There, he knocked off a top 100 player to score his first ATP level win in more than 2 and a half years and extended eighth seed Go Soeda in a three set thriller in the second round. Prakash has gone from unranked seven months ago to the top 450 in the rankings next week. If he remains injury free in 2013, he could be back in the top 200 soon.
The Spaniard won an ATP leading 7 titles in 2012, including his first Masters Series title. Time to take the next step, right? But it seems like Ferrer doesn’t believe in himself. The Spaniard said his goal for 2013 was to remain in the top 10 (not very ambitious for someone who is currently ranked no. 5) and also said he does not think he will be able to reach a grand slam final. It makes you wonder what Ferrer could achieve if he actually believed in himself. As the top seed in Doha, the Spaniard lost to Davydenko in the semi-finals. Just the sort of result that will help him stay in the top 10.
The Spaniard was expected back on the circuit this week on Doha but a stomach infection has deprived him of valuable practice time. Rather than go into the Australian Open without any matches under his belt, the Spaniard has withdrawn from the first grand slam of the season and now is only likely to come back at the end of February for the ATP event in Acapulco. Tennis is poorer without Nadal and let’s hope when he is back, his knees are back in shape too.
Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki, Samantha Stosur
Twelve months ago, Wozniacki was world no. 1, Kvitova was knocking on her heels and Stosur came into Melbourne as the US Open champion, with hopes of becoming the first Australian woman to win in Melbourne in decades. Coming into this year’s first grand slam, Kvitova is down to no. 8 in the world, Wozniacki is down to no. 10 and Stosur has lost 4 of her last 5 matches in her country. All three are likely to be marked as early upset victims. Woznaicki and Stosur were beaten in the first round in Brisbane, while Kvitova was ousted in the second. Stosur is recovering from foot surgery she underwent six weeks ago, Wozniacki is still making headlines for her romance with Rory and Kvitova is still struggling with her fitness in the outdoor heat. If 2013 is going to be a revival year for either of these three, it’s highly unlikely that it will begin in Melbourne.
Milos Roanic, Tomas Berdych
If Tomas Berdych is ever to make a serious run for a grand slam, 2013 is probably his last chance. The Czech is 27 years old and has been knocking on the top 5 for a while now. But Berdych did not begin his season on a good note, losing in the quarter finals in Chennai. Roanic, on the other hand, is expected to break into the top 10 this year. But he didn’t start his season on a bright note either. The Canadian lost his first match of the season to Dimitrov and perhaps needs more time to practice before Melbourne. Hopefully, that will translate to better results at the Australian Open.
India’s doubles players
After the Olympic selection fiasco, India’s doubles stars all decided to go their separate ways in 2013. Rohan Bopanna will play with Rajeev Ram, Mahesh Bhupathi will partner Daniel Nestor while Paes will continue playing with Radek Stepanek, though he partnered with Eduardo Roger-Vaselin this week. But all three flopped big time in Chennai, India’s only ATP event. Paes was beaten in the first round, quickly followed by Bopanna and Bhupathi in the quarters. Let’s hope the Indians bounce back in style at Melbourne.