Roundtable: Looking ahead to the major storylines of tennis in 2014
Before the calendar turns to 2014, SI.com asked media from across the tennis world what they are most looking forward to in the upcoming year.
Darren Cahill, ESPN commentator: Think back through every generation in the men's game, and there's always been young champions or teenagers bursting onto the scene making their presence felt in majors. The game needs youngsters challenging. We need this group of 23 & under players to step up in 2014 or a lot of the gloss with be erased. Milos Raonic, Bernard Tomic, Grigor Dimitrov, Kei Nishikori, Ryan Harrison, Jack Sock, to name a few. Milos has been very good in ATP events but struggled at majors. Grigor is yet to taste a round of 16 match at a Slam. Bernie has been... well, he's been Bernie and completely unreadable. Kei has struggled with injuries and belief in the big matches, and the two Americans have been disappointing so far.
Maybe the game has changed that much that it's impossible now at that age to crack the top 5, or maybe this group is not really made of the right stuff. One thing is for sure, these guys have been signing big money deals of late on the promise of delivering soon. And soon means in the next couple of years, or they will be waving bye bye to large chunks of cash. Companies will look to the next generation to invest in, and there's plenty of talent coming through.
2013 was the year of Serena Williams. 2014 will be the year of Serena Williams. My biggest hope in the women's game is that she has to fight for that dominance like she's never fought before. She's the Roger Federer of 2005 and 2006, and the field has to reel her back in. Each and every player can learn from her power, strength and athleticism to become better. Study her, train harder than her, be tactically better than her, and together as a group they can challenge her. There needs to be more than one rival for Serena to break her down. Victoria Azarenka can't do it alone. Vika needs help, and she needs a few of her WTA friends to invest in themselves and not to be content by just occupying a comfortable place in the top 20, or even top 10.
Stephen Tignor, Tennis.com: Opening the next chapter in the rivalry between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. They seem to me to be starting the season all square again.
Finding out what several young WTA players have to show us, specifically Sloane Stephens, Eugenie Bouchard, Madison Keys and a 19-year-old I've never even seen play, Elina Svitolina. Hearing whatever Ernests Gulbis has to tell us.
Doug Robson, USA Today: I’m looking forward to two things: One, can someone, anyone, finally break the hegemony atop the men’s game. 34 of past 35 majors? The time is ripe for a player to take ownership of some real estate on Mount Nadal/Djokovic/Murray/(Federer). Two, how will Serena and Sloane Stephens respond to their excellent 2013s? Will they backslide? Get injured? Stall? Fall into ennui? Or grasp the momentum and run?
Chris Evert, ESPN commentator: In 2014, I will be very curious to see whether Federer and Maria Sharapova can win another major at this point in their careers, having been shut out this past year. What I am looking forward to – and expect – is that the promising crop of young American women will step it up and go deeper in the draws.
Kevin Mitchell, The Guardian: I would like Jerzy Janowicz to win something big -- and maybe learn how to volley. What a player he would be then. I would like someone to steal the players' towels on a really hot day. I would like Serena to have a big girls' night out with Stephens and Sharapova. And I would like Federer to reveal that he is, actually, @PseudoFed.
Louisa Thomas, Grantland: I'm looking forward to watching someone totally unexpected win a men's major. It has to happen someday, right? (Right?) But most of all, I'm looking forward to watching Serena Williams do what Serena Williams does.
Matt Cronin, TennisReporters.net: What both tours really need now is for some younger players to challenge the elite veterans. Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, when he was healthy, had a stranglehold on the ATP, and Serena owned the WTA after the Australian Open. There are plenty of talented youngsters out there like Raonic, Dimitrov, Stephens and Simona Halep, but they have yet to show they can consistently play with the big boys and girls. If they can do so in 2014, it would add much needed spice to the pro game.
Ben Rothenberg, The New York Times: For the women, I'll be most looking forward to the French Open. I think a massive number of players can be considered legitimate title contenders there (Serena, Sharapova, Azarenka, and even Halep, Jelena Jankovic, Sara Errani, Sam Stosur), and unless Serena goes on another "she won Rome and Madrid" tear through the clay swing, I think it could be the most wide-open Slam in some time. For the men, all I want is for Nadal and Murray to play one another for the first time since 2011. I don't think that's too much to ask, really.
Russell Fuller, BBC: I'm really looking forward to seeing whether Serena and Rafa can go to the well one more time. There's the enduring fascination of the fortunes of the big four in the men's game, and from a British perspective, we wait to see whether Murray can play free of back pain, and whether Laura Robson can reel in the likes of Stephens and Bouchard.
Peter Bodo, Tennis.com: I'm looking forward to Marion Bartoli's comeback (don't all the women who retire while they can still play return?) as well as Nadal's attempt in what looks like a "swing year" to close the Grand Slam title gap with Federer - which may be the best source of motivation Federer can muster in his 32nd year.
Carole Bouchard, L'Equipe: What I'm most looking forward to in the 2014 season is to see if someone will be able to come between Nadal and Djokovic regarding the battle for the throne and if Serena can achieve the Calendar Slam.
Kamakshi Tandon, ESPN.com: How about... great matches abounding, Roger Federer rebounding, someone to rival Serena, the Wimbledon grass staying a little greener, the clay season not to be such a snooze, a few more interviews, anyone breaking through, Maria taking the mic, some more comebacks to like, an epic or three... and a partridge in a pear tree. Because who doesn't like a partridge in a pear tree?
Tom Tebbutt, Tennis Canada: Dominant teams and dominant individuals are what make sports most compelling because you feel you’re observing excellence. So in 2014, more of the best players playing well and the emergence of some legitimately superior individuals to challenge them. And fewer injuries that affect the outcomes of big matches.
Tom Perrotta, The Wall Street Journal: What I am looking forward to in 2014: Sloane Stephens. Nadal vs. Djokovic. I just don't tire of it. It would be great to see another six or seven installments this season. Jack Sock hiring Pete Sampras as a coach. Why not? We've already seen Ivan Lendl team up with Murray, Boris Becker and Djokovic, Federer and Stefan Edberg and Nishikori and Michael Chang.
WERTHEIM: What does Roger Federer's future hold?; more tennis Mailbag Colette Lewis, ZooTennis.com: Three 15-year-olds, all born within a month of each other in 1998, have had exceptional junior careers, even if those “careers” span only four years. Stefan Kozlov won the Eddie Herr 12s and has reached four Futures quarterfinals this year, Michael Mmoh has won both the Junior Orange Bowl 12s and 14s titles, and Francis Tiafoe won the prestigious Les Petits As championship in 2012 and became the youngest 18s champion in Orange Bowl history in December. Mmoh and Tiafoe led the US to the ITF World Junior Tennis 14-and-under team title in 2012. Now all ranked in the ITF Junior Ranking’s Top 10, an extraordinary accomplishment at age 15, the trio will face increased scrutiny of their games and their results in 2014. I’ll be among those keenly interested in how they cope with these increased expectations at the junior slams and at Kalamazoo, where a US Open main draw wild card awaits the winner.