With the lifting of the ATP World Tour Finals trophy, Novak Djokovic put the exclamation point on the 2013 season. Though Djokovic’s 6-3, 6-4 victory over Rafa Nadal was impressive, (somehow Nadal has never won the year end tournament) it was in no way representative of the ATP season as a whole. 2013 gave us a mixed bag of dominance, drama, and maybe most notably, decline.
What a difference a year makes for Rafa Nadal. After getting knocked out in the 2nd round of Wimbledon and missing both the Olympics and the US Open due to injury, it was looking as though Rafa’s chronic knee injuries had finally caught up with him. Were we ever going to see that deadly forehand and stunning athleticism in all its grandeur ever again? A ridiculous 75-7 record and subsequent #1 ranking seems to have alleviated any and all fears.
Lets stop for a second and compare Nadal’s 2013 win-loss record to Novak Djokovic’s epic 2011 season record in which he went 70-6. While it is notable that Nadal matched his total number of titles (10) it is far more impressive that Nadal was able to compete in over 80 matches during this year considering the manner in which his 2012 was cut short. While Nadal was only able to take down Djokovic 3 of the 6 times they played this year (Djokovic went 6-0 against Nadal in 2011. No one does that. Just ridiculous.), he defeated him when it mattered most. He beat him predictably at Roland Garros and also won rather handily at the US Open. The only reason I’m hesitant to put this season in the same ilk as Djokovic’s 2011 season is because he suffered perhaps one of the worst losses of his career, and biggest upsets ever, at Wimbledon. In bowing out in the first round to Belgian journeyman Steve Darcis, Nadal failed to make it past the 2nd rd of Wimbledon for the 2nd straight year. If you are going to exalt Nadal for his Grand Slam successes, you’ve got to condemn him for the ones he utterly botches. More than anything, 2013 was back to business for Nadal.
Speaking of Wimbledon, it’s conclusion was probably the most dramatic yet merited result of the 2013 season. It wasn’t however, dramatic because the final between Djokovic and Murray was particularly thrilling, but rather it was the circus following Murray’s win that captured the imagination. What would the celebration be like? What would the press headlines be? Would Andy propose to Kim in the stands? Would Murray usurp British Prime Minister David Cameron? All bets were off.
If you didn’t root for Murray, who had been graciously carrying the weight and expectation of a tennis crazed country starved for a champion, then you’re probably the kind of person that rooted for Voldemort over Harry Potter. Fully deserved of his Wimbledon title, Murray was visibly relieved yet drained after this signature win. In the end he didn’t put up much of a fight up in New York before calling it quits on 2013 with a back injury. In all honesty, he earned this time off, even if it came under less than ideal circumstances. I’ll be anticipating his title defense of Wimbledon as much as any tournament in recent memory.
Sure, 2013 had some fantastically upbeat and inspiring story lines. With every triumph however, there is usually a defeat in tow. Roger Federer emphasizes this point. Not since 1999 had Federer failed to win a tournament in the first four months of the year. Not since 2004 had Federer failed to make it to the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam. He has only one Grand Slam victory in his last 15 attempts. Roger Federer is a legend. He’s probably the best tennis player to ever walk the planet. Yet by this time next year he may not even be in the top ten. It had to happen sometime, and 2013 seems to have been the turning point in Fed’s decline.
Growing up watching Federer it’s tough to see him spray forehands long or change equipment as if it’s the raquets fault (Oldest trick in the book. Sneaky respect it). Some may blame his tough season on injuries but that’s literally the reason you get worse as you get older. You get older, your body does as well. It’s pretty simple. I just wish he had pulled an Elway and gone out on top, instead of possibly pulling a Jordan. Just because you’re the best ever doesn’t mean I won’t cringe when I see you on the Wizards alongside Juan Dixon or grinding out 2nd round victories at Indian Wells against Jan Hajek. I’ll be interested to see how he rebounds in 2014 (he is the best ever after all). For all the story lines during this 2013 season this may be not be the most sexy, but it certainly, for me, was the most poignant.