Tuesday, January 6, 2015

2015 season - New parternships, new milestones, new comebacks

 Djokovic addresses the press in Doha

Tennis has a way of exploding all of a sudden. After a brief calm stretch of offseason, the ATP and WTA are back at full throttle with five official tournaments being held this week – in Brisbane, Shenzhen, Doha, Auckland and Chennai - as well as the exhibition Hopman Cup taking place in Perth.

Barring a handful of withdrawals, everyone is in action this week – even Novak Djokovic, who hadn’t played an official tournament prior to the Australian Open since 2009.

The world No1 was lured into playing Doha for the first time and you can look at it in one of two ways – either he’s not feeling too confident with his game heading into Melbourne or the Qataris offered him an appearance fee he couldn’t refuse.

Considering Djokovic ended 2014 with two titles and has won 22 of his last 24 matches, it seems the latter is the more likely reason behind his Doha debut.

Entering the new year, a host of players are showing up for the first time with new mentors following a very active coaching carousel in the offseason.

Here are a few partnerships I'm quite excited about:

Madison Keys and Lindsay Davenport
Madison Keys is the highest ranked teenager in the WTA and could be the most exciting prospect in American tennis. The 19-year-old teamed up with three-time grand slam champion Lindsay Davenport and you could already imagine the former world No1 guiding Keys to the second week at Wimbledon this year. Davenport’s husband Jon Leach will also be helping out.
Agnieszka Radwanska and Martina Navratilova

Martina Navratilova is the latest super-coach to join the ATP/WTA circus and you’ve got to applaud Agnieskza Radwanska for hiring the Czech-born American legend. Not only is Navratilova an 18-time grand slam singles champion, the 58-year-old has been one of the best commentators in tennis over the past several years, and her ability to analyse the game could prove invaluable to Radwanska.
Radwanska is one of the most exciting players to watch but the ex-Wimbledon runner-up has been lacking a ruthless touch that can get her over the grand slam hump. If Navratilova can help her adopt some of her own aggressive style, the result could be just marvelous.

Tomas Berdych and Dani Vallverdu
This was an unexpected hiring as Tomas Berdych decided to take on Andy Murray’s ex-hitting partner as a full-time coach. It is Dani Vallverdu’s first gig as a head coach and it’ll be interesting to see how the Venezuelan will proceed after things turned sour in his final months with Murray. Could Berdych follow in the footsteps of Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic and be this year’s first-time grand slam champion?

Milestones

Ekaterina Makarova became just the 12th Russian to enter the top-10 in the WTA. With the points of the first week of the year dropped, Makarova has moved to No10 in the rankings. She is the only player currently in the top-10 in both singles and doubles.

Roger Federer can reach 1,000 career wins this week in Brisbane if he wins the title.

Comeback watch

Vera Zvonareva
After almost two and a half years with illness and injury, the two-time grand slam runner-up is launching another comeback. The Russian, currently ranked 250, kicked off her 2015 season with a win over world No22 Peng Shuai in Shenzhen. Here’s hoping this is a sign for better things to come for the 30-year-old.

Juan Martin del Potro
The ex-US Open champion delayed his return from a right wrist injury and has pulled out of Brisbane with Argentinean media reporting that he still can’t hit his backhand without pain. Out since last March, Del Potro’s Australian Open participation looks in doubt.

Janko Tipsarevic
The former top-tenner has also delayed his return to tennis after struggling with a benign tumour in his foot. His friend Djokovic said Tipsarevic, who hasn’t played since October 2013, is due to come back in February.

Laura Robson
Out with a left wrist injury for the past 12 months, Robson won’t play the Australian Open but will make her return in a series of low-key events in February.

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