Amidst the Big Four shakeup that was the 2014 Australian Open, we rightfully questioned tennis’ royalty, the Big Four, in both name and future. Consider: the Monday after the Australian Open, the Big Four were ranked Nos. 8, 6, 2 and 1.
A month later, we deflect the hype and measure the Big Four’s more complete starts to 2014.
Federer has the strongest start to 2014 of the Big Four. (Lesson: Set the bar low.) The GOAT dispensed of Murray in the Australian Open, only losing to Rafael Nadal, who was, unsurprisingly, playing unreal tennis.
And a month later, Federer has already matched his 2013 title haul by winning his sixth Dubai Championships. Moreover, his mind is right and his back is better. All good signs that Federer, whatever version, is back for 2014.
Hard to share a fair read on Murray so far. He explicitly lowered his expectations before Australia and rightfully so after the back surgery.
One way to read his 2014: He’s had a rough start. Murray didn’t reach the Australian Open finals for only the second time in five years. Last month at Acapulco, he lost in the semis.
Another, more realistic way to view his year so far: He’s had a solid start. He reached the quarters of the AO, pushing a resurgent Federer to four sets. Murray also has been able to stay healthy so far this year. (Knock on wood.)
He played four matches in four days, including three three-setters and some late-night finishes, without his surgically repaired back bothering him.
“I woke up the next morning feeling good for the first time since the surgery,” Murray said Monday.
With Murray in 2014, we, again, recognize the beauty of not expecting much.
Here, we can authoritatively say that Djokovic has had a rough start to 2014. Djokovic, three-time AO champion, a gladiator in five-set battles with Stan Wawrinka and whomever else challenges him Down Under, was upset in the quarters to Our Man Stan. That was unexpected.
We can cut the upset a couple ways. In five-set marathons in which the players are so evenly matched and three points decide the match, a guy is probably going to lose one of the contests at some point. We could say the AO was simply Djokovic’s turn and Wawrinka’s breakthrough. But Djokovic also has been the guy who has owned these matches. In 2012, he beat Nadal in a five-set AO final. What’s going on?
All that said, we’ll take the contrarian viewpoint with Djokovic and remain bullish the rest of the way. With all the questions and doubts swirling around him, he’s too good not to revive the year in a big way.
Nadal might have scared us the most so far this year, which is fitting, because he freaked out the tennis world in 2013. Despite the awkward final in Australia, we give the world’s No. 1 an excellent grade for his 2014 start.
Nadal made the finals of the AO, a Major he has won only one other time. Nadal in Australia wasn’t Nadal cruising on clay in Paris; this was Nadal fighting and dominating on a fast surface. Scary, indeed.
Of course, thanks to tennis’ crazy season, in which year outlooks turn on a week’s worth of results, this could all change in a mere 10 days. In that case, enjoy the tennis.