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2014, Serve It Up

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We were privy to some glorious tennis is 2013; the sustained dominance of one the greatest players to ever play tennis, the emgerence of a young American superstar, the lifelong pursued dream of an unorthodox Frenchwoman finally captured, and that the fire still rages for two eastern European greats; 2013 left the tennis world grasping for more and 2014 should continue to do the same!

Serena Williams started 2013 as the women to beat and she ended the year as the women to beat; not only did she continue to claim her rightful place in history as "one of the greatest ever" by winning two grand slams (Paris and New York) but she had her best year statistically, winning ten tournaments and only losing before the semi-finals of any tournament twice. It's hard to imagine Serena not winning at least two of the four majors, she's just way too good at this stage of her career; her serve is superb, her movement is basically at it's best, but it's her consistentcy that's amazing, and let's not forget the power she posseses. Serena has nothing but glory to gain in 2014 and she's on a mission to capture it, believe it.

Maria Sharapova had herself great first half of the year in 2013; she reached the semis in Australia and the finals in Paris, but then she sort of tailed off losing early in London and got injured and only played one match in the fall. On paper and visually, she's the player who can and should be neck and neck with Serena, but physically and mentally she's nowhere near Serena. Maria is going to have to step it up and take down her two main rivals on a consistent basis (Victoria Azarenka being the other). Maria can tough out a major, but she's going to need a little help from the draw.

Victoria Azarenka, also known as Vika, had a tremendous 2012 and she duplicated that in 2013; she started off hot down under defending her Australian Open crown succesfully. Vika maintained her solid form throughout the year with ther only blip being an early exit at Wimbledon due to a leg injury; she made the semis at the French Open and the finals at the US Open, narrowly losing to Serena for the second straight year. She did manage to beat her main rival in a dramatic three set final in Cincy, so beating Serena isn't impossible for this woman, but it's Serena in a grand slam that's hurting her (Vika is 0-5 against Serena in majors, four of the matches being on hard courts and 2 being in the finals). I don't think she'll win down under for a third consecutive year, but winning a major is a huge possibility.

Li Na rose to #3 in the world and had her best year to date, despite not winning a major. Her penetrating groundstrokes are devastating on all surfaces and with the improvement to her transistion game, winning a second major isn't farfetched, but I'm not sure she can do it without help from the draw.

Former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova is such a massive talent; when playing well she can beat any and everyone, but when not playing her best she's vulnerable to just about anyone. If she can find a way to not go walkabout during her matches, she can definitely win more majors, she's just that good.

This is a big year for three players in particular: Venus Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, and Svetlana Kuznetsova; all three had topsy turvy years in 2013 and it's hard to imagine that if things don't improve in 2014 that they'll be considered part of the games elite. Wozniacki was sub-par at best in 2013, playing without a racquet contract for majority of the year. She's lacking in confidence, especially from being the year end world #1 in back to back years in 2010 and 2011, but if she doesn't find some kind of magic or fortitude then the title "best to not have won a major" will stick.

Kuznetsova is similar to Kvitova, so very good when playing well but terribly awful when not playing her best. Kuznetsova is a two time grand slam winner and has a career litered with great results, but inconsistency and lack of focus has always plagued her. If she can find a way to stay focused for two sets every match and stay healthy, theres no reason she can't challenge for majors.

The elder Williams sister still manages to play on in spite of her ailments, aging body, and lack of recent major success; she's a total class act and such a model athlete. Venus has been Venus her whole career, so even though she suffers from the autoimmune disorder, she's still practically the same player; huge first serve, blistering groundstrokes, wonderful transistion game and with all those great attributes, there's also the same weaknesses like the creaky forehand and wobbly second serve. So with that being said, there isn't much difference from Venus now and Venus 4 years ago, she's still very capable of challenging at the majors and possible winning one if the draw opened up. There's sort of this thickness in the air that if Venus continues to lose early in the majors that regardless of her desire to play the olympics in Rio, she won't stick around; she's a graceful yet cocky champion, she's had the taste of success for so long and she won't want to stick around and taste the constant sourness of defeat while tarnishing her legacy. Venus needs to focus on two main things and the success could very well come back:

1. play every match as if it's on Centre Court at Wimbledon. She's had so much success there and she forces herself to come forward as much as possible when on grass. If she can get to net and stop getting locked into these long protracted rallies and 3 hour matches then she can get back to where she wants to be.

2. just go out there and play; she's been playing with so much pressure on herself and has been getting nervous and even choking. She can tell that the window to win majors is fading, but she must remind herself to stay calm and play within herself. Billie Jean King once said "pressure is a privledge", but what I find more compelling is that "pressure is an equalizer".

Marion Bartoli came from nowhere to do what she's dreamt about her entire life, to win Wimbledon. When the second week rolled around and Serena, Maria, nor Vika where there, Bartoli knew this was her best and probably last chance at a grand slam. Once a Wimbledon finalist in 2007, she knew she had to make the most of her chances and she did just that without dropping a set. What's most compelling about her year was when she retired just a few weeks later of her crowning acheivement, totally shocking the tennis world.

Sloane Stephens, the new darling of tennis, broke though when she made the semis in Australia taking down Serena in a massive quarter-final tussell. She had a little falling off after Australia, dealing with the pressure, but she rebounded well by making the fourth round in Paris and New York and made the quarters in London. With a heavy forehand and cat-like quickness, this young lady has a bright future and 2014 will be her plateau.

So, all in all, 2014 has the making for one stellar year; so many storylines can and will unfold and the only way to find out which will is to just sit back and watch. Enjoy!

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