James Peeling looks forward to the start of the 2014 tennis season.
Compared to many sports, tennis has a short off-season. The Davis Cup final on the 17th of November marked the end of the 2013 tennis season and just over one month later, the 2014 season is already on our doorstep. I still feel like hibernating every year during the off-season and have recently resorted to watching old YouTube videos to get my tennis fix, but live tennis is less than one week away!
On Boxing Day, the annual Mubadala World Tennis Championships from Abu Dhabi will begin its three days of competition. Although an exhibition, the organisers have flashed the big bucks and attracted a line-up of six top ten players. The first day of action features the quarter-finals with David Ferrer playing Stanislas Wawrinka and Andy Murray taking on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The winner of Ferrer-Wawrinka will play Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals and the winner of Murray-Tsonga will take on Novak Djokovic. The biggest talking point from Abu Dhabi is Murray’s first appearance since having back surgery and it will be interesting to see where he is on the comeback trail.
The first official week of the 2014 season is always a brilliant bonanza of tennis with 3 WTA tournaments and 3 ATP tournaments. It is made even more epic by the unique offering of the Hopman Cup. Billed as an International mixed team tennis event, the Hopman Cup gets underway on Saturday the 28th of December. It is still baffling that the 2014 season starts in 2013, but that is how the calendar has worked out this year. The Hopman Cup comprises of eight teams with one male and one female player from the same country. The eight teams are split into two groups, which play each other in the round robin format. Each tie consists of one mens singles, one female singles and one mixed doubles match. The winners of each group will play the final on Saturday the 4th of January, 2014.
2014 has drawn an attractive and consistent line-up across all eight teams. This includes the now dating, Radek Stepanek and Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic), stars of the future, Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard (Canada) and home hopes, Bernard Tomic and Sam Stosur (Australia). It is such a shame that the pairing of Agnieszka Radwanska and Jerzy Janowicz is no more after Janowicz pulled out with a foot injury. He has now been replaced by the world number 287, Grzegorz Panfil. The remaining pairs are John Isner and Sloane Stephens (USA), Tommy Robredo and Anabel Medina Garrigues (Spain), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Alize Cornet (France), and Andreas Seppi and Flavia Pennetta (Italy).
The Hopman Cup is essentially an exhibition tournament, but it is a great event with each player guaranteed at least three singles and three doubles matches. After two months away from competitive action, getting matches under the belt is crucial before the first Grand Slam of the year.
Brisbane is fast becoming the best of the official pre-Australian Open tune-ups. The womens Premier event has drawn a cracker with Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova all committed to play. Unfortunately the WTA draws in Brisbane have suffered a spate of injuries and retirements in the last two years so hopefully it will live up to its potential this year. The three players already mentioned will be joined by the likes of Jelena Jankovic, Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki and Sabine Lisicki. It is a very strong line-up for a 32-player draw with Kimiko Date-Krumm the last player into the main draw.
The ATP event at Brisbane has never attracted the same calibre of players as the womens draw but they have grabbed Roger Federer, who will play the event for the first time in his career. The Fed is joined by Kei Nishikori, Gilles Simon, Kevin Anderson and last year’s finalist, Grigor Dimitrov. It looks like a smart move from Federer because Brisbane has a super quick court and the average line-up should provide him with the opportunity to get some wins under his belt before the Australian Open.
The women will also be in Auckland, New Zealand for an International event where Ana Ivanovic, Venus Williams, Laura Robson and Roberta Vinci will all open their seasons. Auckland is a great event and normally has excellent coverage with all matches streamed and extensive highlights posted on YouTube. The third WTA tournament is in Shenzhen, China where Li Na and Sara Errani will headline a pretty sub-standard draw, by far the weakest of the three WTA line-ups in week one. Shenzhen have handed a wildcard to former world number 2, Vera Zvonareva, who makes her comeback to the tour following a year off with a serious shoulder injury.
The best of the ATP draws in the first week of the 2014 season will be from Doha where Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray headline. Murray has opted to begin the season in Australia for the past couple of years so it was somewhat of a surprise to see him heading to Doha. Murray will also team up in the doubles with Nenad Zimonjic in a surprising, but encouraging move. The third ATP event is in Chennai, India with Stanislas Wawrinka topping the current list of entries.
The first two weeks of the season are crucial with the first Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open, looming on the horizon. These tournaments will begin to give an indication of how the contenders are faring and who is looking hot for the first major tennis silverware of 2014.
Pundit Arena, James Peeling.
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