Island Idols: The Year-End Elite
To close out TTI’s inaugural Island Idols Power Rankings, Nick Nemeroff ranks the top three men’s and women’s performers of the 2014 season. Who were your best players of 2014? Sound off in the comments!
ATP TOP THREE
3. Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal didn’t have a groundbreaking year by any stretch of the imagination. The Spaniard won four titles, three of which were on clay, the other a 250 event in Doha.Embed from Getty Images
Despite all that, Nadal was still money when it mattered. He won his ninth French Open title in June, taking down Novak Djokovic in four sets. Most impressively, the Spaniard captured No. 9 after entering the tournament at his most vulnerable. He had already lost to David Ferrer in Monte Carlo, Nicolas Almagro in Barcelona, and Djokovic in Rome. Kei Nishikori, too, had him on the ropes, leading 6-4, 4-2 in the Madrid final before injury took hold.
His triumph was a testament to just how difficult it is to beat the King of Clay in a best-of-five match. The discussion of whether Nadal will pass Roger Federer in Grand Slam titles will get very interesting should the Spaniard maintain his reign over the terre battue.
Though Marin Cilic came close to unseating Nadal on this list, the Croat only won three smaller events outside the US Open. Nadal’s wrist injury and appendix troubles all but nullified the second half of his season, but he still showed up where we thought he would: holding the Coupe de Mousquetaires.
2. Stan Wawrinka
Stan Wawrinka won his first Grand Slam and Masters Series 1000 titles in 2014. I’d call that a damn good year.
The long-seen No. 2 Swiss was was pretty underwhelming following his Australian Open victory, save for a win in Monte Carlo, and the year overall was loaded with inconsistencies. In spite of that, he ended his season on top, leading Switzerland to the Davis Cup final – the first in his nation’s history – and had a big hand in bringing home the title.Embed from Getty Images
Wawrinka presented himself as one of the most dangerous offensive forces in all of tennis and proved that patience, fearlessness, and proper coaching were necessary ingredients that pushed him over the top.
1. Novak Djokovic
The talented Serb continues to deliver the goods, each and every season. With his unforgiving style of play – predicated on high margin tennis and ruthless consistency – Djokovic is a tough out on any surface.
It usually takes a special performance to bring the World No. 1 down, which is what we saw from Wawrinka in Australia, Nadal in Paris, and Nishikori in Flushing. To his credit, he took down Roger Federer in the best men’s match of the year at Wimbledon, and won Masters Series titles in Indian Wells, Miami, Rome, and Paris-Bercy.
Moving into 2015, it will be interesting to see if Djokovic can finally capture that elusive French Open title. With his persistence in creating major opportunities, it would appear to be but a matter of time before he completes the “Career Slam.”
WTA TOP THREE
3. Li Na
Li Na’s Australian Open was a famous Grand Slam victory. The player who has grasped the hearts and minds of so many tennis fans made Melbourne the final act in her decorated and memorable career. However favorable her draw became, we all know, all a player can do is win the match in front of her.
This is what exactly what Li did, particularly in the second week. After beating Lucie Safarova from match point down in the third round, she won her last four matches with the lost of just 20 games. It was a title she deeply wanted, especially considering that it is the Grand Slam of the Asia-Pacific.
In a year that ultimately was her last, Li Na bowed out as a champion.
2. Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova’s dominance of clay defies convention. Her game is ostensibly more suited for grass and hard courts, but when she’s firing on all cylinders, the surface of the court doesn’t seem to matter for the Russian.Embed from Getty Images
Sharapova finished 2014 18-1 on clay, picking up titles in Madrid (Premier Mandatory), Stuggart (Premier) and the French Open. Sharapova also won final Premier Mandatory event of the year in Beijing, beating Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the final.
But it was the grit and determination she displayed during the French Open fortnight that is unlikely to be forgotten any time soon.
1. Serena Williams
This should come as no surprise.
2014 was not one of Serena Williams’ best seasons but it was certainly the best of any WTA player. In addition to winning the U.S. Open for the sixth time, Serena won in Brisbane (Premier), Miami (Premier Mandatory), Rome (Premier 5), Cincinnati (Premier 5), and the WTA Championships. Her results in the first three slams of the year were quite frankly astounding. Not making it past the fourth round of any of the first three slams wasn’t without precedent, but it was shocking regardless.
She bounced back in New York City in a big way, winning all seven of her matches in straight sets and not dropping more than three games in any set and six games in any match. Comparing eras is extremely challenging and problematic in tennis but there’s no doubt Serena is up there with the all-time greats.
What goes up must come down. Stay tuned for the bottom three performers on the next Island Idols installment as our look back at 2014 continues.
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