In London, little more than a week ago, Djokovic affirmed the year-end No1 for the third time in four years, but was chased to finish line by a Federer proving he was as fearsome an opponent at 33 as he had been at 23, when he first ended the year at No1. And he became the oldest year-end No2 in more than 40 years of ATP rankings history.
Meanwhile, Nishikori won four titles and reached his first Masters and Grand Slam finals to end the year at a career-high No5, the first Asian male in the top 10.
And the season finally dropped its curtain following one of the most rousing Davis Cup finals of recent years, making tennis team history as well as individual history. Switzerland won for the first time in its 80-year participation, and in the process made Federer the most successful Swiss player in Davis Cup history with 50 match-wins.
Appropriately enough, the last day of the tennis calendar, when Federer defeated Richard Gasquet to claim those two records, set a third record, for the number of spectators at an officially-sanctioned tennis match: 27,448.
But 2014 has enjoyed many more firsts and foremosts.
• As well as ending 2014 at No1, Djokovic marked his eighth straight top-three finish. He won his 20th Masters and reached 600 match-wins at Paris-Bercy barely a fortnight after becoming a father. He topped the year with his third straight World Tour Finals title, his seventh of the year, and an unbroken 31-match streak indoors.
• Federer ended 2014 as the oldest ever player ranked in the top two, and in the top 10 for the 13th straight year. He led the tour with 73 match wins and most finals—10 of them.
• Stan Wawrinka, in a year that saw him reach a career-high No3 and become the top-ranked Swiss for the first time, became only the second man in nine years, 36 consecutive Grand Slams, to deny one of the ‘big four’ a Major, at the Australian Open. ‘Stan the Man’ went on to win his first Masters in Monte-Carlo, and pave the way to Davis Cup glory for Switzerland.
• Nishikori kept marking firsts for an Asian player: first in the top 10, first at the World Tour Finals, and incidentally the first player to debut in the year-end top five since Andy Murray in 2008.
• Milos Raonic became the first Canadian and first player born in the 1990s to finish in the top 10. He reached his first Grand Slam quarter-final at the French Open, and topped it with a semi finish at Wimbledon, going on to reach a career-second Masters final in Shanghai.
• Grigor Dimitrov continued his rise by breaking the top 10 after a first Grand Slam semi run at Wimbledon—and he reached the quarters in Australia—and won three titles on three different surfaces, plus semi finishes at the Toronto and Rome Masters.
• Perhaps the stand-out from among the class of the 1990s, though, was David Goffin. He returned to the tour this January, ranked 110, after breaking his wrist last autumn. And after Wimbledon, he put together a 44-4 run that took in four Challenger titles plus his first two Tour titles in Kitzbuhel and Moselle as well as a final finish in Basel. He ended the year ranked 22 and with the ATP Comeback Player of the Year Award.
• Marin Cilic became the third new name in over nine years to have his name engraved on a Grand Slam trophy by winning the US Open. It catapulted him from a ranking of 37 at the start of the season to take part in his first year-end Championship.
• The youngest player in the top 100 is Borna Coric at 91. The Croat who only turned 18 a fortnight ago was the stand-out junior last year, winning the US Open Junior title, reaching the semis of the Junior Australian and French Opens and the quarters of Junior Wimbledon. He started 2014 outside the top 300, became the first 17-year-old to reach two ATP quarter-finals in a season since Nadal in 2004, reached his first Tour-level quarter in Umag and also won his maiden title at Challenger level. He saved the best for last, beating Nadal en route to the Basel semis.
• The highest-ranked teenager is 19-year-old Nick Kyrgios at No52, who began 2014 with two Challenger titles, made huge waves on grass by surging through qualifying to win eight matches on his way to the Nottingham Challenger, and thrilled Wimbledon with a quarter-final run through Richard Gasquet and Nadal. A third-round finish at the US Open and two Davis Cup wins for Australia brought his season to a fitting career-high ranking—and the promise of great things next year.
• Ernests Gulbis reached his first Grand Slam semi at Roland Garros to break the top 10, having not gone beyond the second round at a Major since his breakthrough to the French quarters in 2008.
• His coaching partner Dominic Thiem, still only 21, surged exactly 100 places during the season to end it at No39 and reached his first main-tour final in Kitzbuhel.
• At the other end of the age scale, the soon-to-be-33 Julien Benneteau proved that some players mature more slowly. A quarter-final run at Indian Wells, a semis finish in Cincinnati, the finals in Kuala Lumpur, and a quarter run in Shanghai took him to a career-high No25—but that was not all. The French Open doubles title was the pinnacle of an outstanding doubles year with Edouard Roger-Vasselin that included the Shanghai final and World Tour Finals semis. He ends the year at No5 in the doubles rankings, and with the best combined ranking on the tour.
• Benneteau has not been the only 30-something to stand out from the crowd. Feliciano Lopez, 33, also reached a career-high No14 after a final run at Queen’s and the Eastbourne title, and semi runs in Toronto and Shanghai.
• However, 32-year-old Tommy Robredo may be remembered as much for what he didn’t do as what he did. He ended 2014 at No17 after surgery sent him plummeting outside the top 100 at the start of 2013. He recorded more than 40 match wins in a year for the first time since 2009, and crossed the 500 match-win landmark. But in the space of a month this autumn, he twice faced Andy Murray in finals and both times failed to convert five match points. In Shenzhen, the Spaniard led 6-2 in the second set tiebreak having won the first set. He then faced the same scenario in Valencia, with match points in the second set tie-breaker, and more in the final-set tie-breaker, which eventually went to Murray, 7-6(8).
• Credit, too, to 28-year-old Pablo Cuevas, up to a career-high No30 from 220 in a single season, after winning the first two titles of his career in Umag and Bastad. He had never reached a final before, and almost left tennis in 2011 when forced to undergo two lots of knee surgery.
• Finally, a shout-out for the 22-year-old Argentine Diego Schwartzman, up to a personal best ranking of 61 from 118 after winning the ATP Challenger Tour Finals, his fifth title from seven finals on the second-tier circuit. He scored the most Challenger match-wins since Carlos Berlocq in 2010.
The 2015 season gets under way before the New Year is a week old, and before that, most players will be warming up for the Australian swing with a variety of exhibition tournaments at the end of December. And if you can’t wait that long, the brand new International Premier Tennis League kicks off a short and lively format of tennis with some of the finest current and former players ever to pick up rackets.
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