Tennis brought chills, chuckles, scandal and awe to the world in 2014. The Russian Nikolay Davydenko announced his retirement. So did Asia’s beloved wonder girl, Li Na. Newcomers like Marin Cilic vied for a spot with the hallowed “Big Four,” and Novak Djokovic defended his precarious position against Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Here are five of the unforgettable moments, men and women from 2014.
“Winning isn’t everything, but it beats anything that comes in second.” So said William C. Bryant, bearded poet extraordinaire. Djokovic and Federer, ranked number one and runner up, took this advice to heart. Their rivalry bounced around the world, from the short-cropped court at Wimbledon to the hard clay of Monte-Carlo with satellite TV airing hours upon airs of live coverage for fans who couldn’t get enough.
Federer opened the year like a Las Vegas gambler, slamming down ace after ace on the hard surfaces of Dubai. It was the first match against Djokovic that he would lose the first set and rally to victory. A few weeks later, Djokovic plugged up Federer’s 11-match winning streak at the final match at Indian Wells.
Throughout the year so they battled, the Swiss and the Serb. Their rivalry culminated beneath the smog of Shanghai, China, when Federer shattered Djokovic’s 28-match winning streak. The Serb, however, kept his throne atop the Emirate rankings.
Wimbledon: No. 2 Court, day four. It was the second round of the tournament, and the Aussie wild card Nick Kyrgios was set to play the biggest match of his career. Looming against him was 13th-seeded Richard Gasquet. Kyrgios, the upstart who boasted three additional inches on Gasquet, zapped the audience with his electric performance. He tied a Grand Slam record by saving nine match points, and he sacrificed 44 unforced errors in return for 86 winning hits.
Kyrgios later said in astonishment, “It was an unbelievable match out there. I played some unbelievable tennis today.” He gave a repeat performance four days afterwards when he shut down world champion Rafael Nadal with a through-the-legs half-volley shot.
Best Grand Slam Win
Taylor Townsend was working towards two things: a high school degree and a Majors tennis championship. In the 2014 French Open, she pulled off a wildfire upset. Aided by her trusty notebook, she beat 20th-seeded Alize Cornet 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. Her own position: 205th. Paris dropped its mouth wide open.
Townsend’s Grand Slam upset was astonishing not merely for her technical performance, because earlier in 2012, the same year she won the 2012 Australian Open, she was barred from the US Open due to her weight. So she split from her USTA coaches, trained under Wimbledon finalist Zina Garrison, and hasn’t looked back. Cornet, her defeated opponent, mused, “She has huge potential. I’ll keep an eye on her.”
Best Off-Court Moment
“Finally, I got her,” said Li Na, the svelte winner of the women’s 2014 Australian Open. Her tongue-in-cheek on-court speech lasted less than two minutes. Too short. To thank her agent, she said, “Max make me rich.” To thank her husband, she said, “You are a nice guy … and you also so lucky [to] find me.” As the crowd burst into laughter and Na burst into smiles, tennis bid farewell to its winsome champion and 15-year veteran.
Best Overall Player of the Year
Due to an injured Nadal, Grigor Dimitrov was invited to the exclusive eight-man round robin tournament in London: the ATP World Tour Finals. Dimitrov, a 23-year-old Bulgarian, opted out. “If I go, it is because I deserved to be there, not hope someone gets hurt so I get to play,” he said. Dimitrov was subsequently nominated for the ATP Sportsmanship Award.
His off-court manners are bested only by his on-court athleticism. Currently ranked at 11th worldwide, Dimitrov is the highest-paid Bulgarian tennis professional in history.
And so the phoenix burns.