The 2013 Australian Open finished its final match on Sunday and once again we will wait another year for a new champion. Novak Djokovic won his third consecutive title, and Victoria Azarenka won her second straight.
This year's tournament became more of a confirmation than a revival.
The revival of American tennis was cut short when players such as Ryan Harrison and Sam Querrey were defeated early in the first week. Lleyton Hewitt's return to tennis from an injury also came to a quick end when he was defeated by Janko Tipsaravic in the first round.
On the women's side, Serena Williams rolled her ankle and she was never the same after that. But the same time we were grimacing for Serena, we saw another American rise up to stardom. Sloane Stephens made it to the semifinals and won the hearts of the Aussie Open crowd. But in the end there was no stopping Azarenka to her second title.
In a place where young up-and-comers and late bloomers get to have their two weeks of fame, the top players were simply too good and too convincing to push them out of the spotlight.
Here are five things the Australian Open taught us about 2013.
Novak Djokovic won his third consecutive Australian Open title and fourth title overall. His performance was dominant, to say the least, and he never looked in real trouble besides the five-set thriller against Stanislas Wawrinka. But it's not so much the length of his matches or the fact that he won even that raises eyebrows, but it's the way in which he wins.
Djokovic makes the court seem even bigger than it actually is. Using precise change of direction and his heavy forehand, players are constantly having to guess where he's about to hit. He never gives players a chance to collect their thoughts.
Even in the men's final, when Djokovic seemed to be headed for another five-set war, he dictated the court by the end of the second set, and after that it was clear who was in control of the match.
The aggression and gritty style of Djokovic's play complements hard courts perfectly as he has enough time to set up his shot but the court is fast enough to keep the ferocity of his shots.
In the summer hard-court swing, during which Andy Murray has recently done extremely well, Djokovic seems like he won't be stepping back from the spotlight anytime soon. It is difficult to predict the outcome of the U.S. Open when it's still so early in the season, but if Djokovic can stay healthy throughout the year, there's no question he'll be the favorite there.
Don't be mistaken, that's not a photograph from last year. Or from the U.S. Open, or from Wimbledon for that matter. Even though we are witnessing an unbelievable era in tennis, one sad truth is that nobody comes close to the top four players. David Ferrer and Juan Martin Del Potro replace Rafael Nadal when he's sidelined from injury, but other than that, the Big Four don't seem to be going anywhere.
There will be different storylines and different champions, but it will most likely be a recycling of the top 4 players. Each player will win one of the Grand Slams—some perhaps winning two or more—but don't expect any new faces to suddenly get on the astronomical level that they're on.
Roger Federer seemed to be in a min-slump, and players such as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga were giving Fed trouble for a while, but even at the age of 31, he's playing the clean and dominant tennis he has always played.
The top is just so heavy that somebody has to literally retire for a new player to have his shot at a Grand Slam title. With the much-anticipated return of Rafael Nadal, who knows when the next big thing in tennis will appear?
Sloane Stephens caused a bit of a uproar when she upset Serena Williams in the quarterfinals. People are already touting her as the next carrier of the torch that is American tennis. Stephens overpowered Williams and looked to be en route to another comeback against Azarenka until the controversial injury timeout before the final game. She has entered the tennis scene, for sure, but people come in and out of tennis all the time.
Melanie Oudin had her breakout performance at the U.S. Open, but she quickly faded out of tennis the same way she came in. However, Stephens' situation is quite different.
Stephens still has roughly seven months of tennis remaining, whereas Oudin had her dream run cut short because it was near the end of the season. If Stephens can keep the momentum she gained from the Australian Open and translate it to the clay court season, we could be seeing a fresh face for years to come.
Sloane Stephens' success for the future will depend on whether she could ride this emotional roller coaster to a top-10 ranking.
Once again, momentum is key for her success, and she needs to notice that momentum can be enough to intimidate an opponent out of her comfort zone.
Serena Williams may have won the title if she hadn't rolled her ankle, but she seems to constantly be under some sort of injury. Her age, playing style and movement are not mixing well at all, and this may be her last year on tour. Venus Williams on the other hand hasn't been in title contention for over a year and seems to rely on her partnership with Serena to at least be in contention for the doubles title.
The loss to Sloane Stephens, out of all people, must have affected Serena in some sort of way, and she may be thinking whether this is the right time to hang up her rackets. But Serena has never been the one to give herself up for somebody else so she'll make an independent decision no doubt.
However, with the recent retirement of Andy Roddick, American tennis is undoubtedly reaching its renewal phase, where new players attempt to surpass the illustrious careers their seniors have accomplished.
The Williams sisters have dominated tennis for around a decade, but with the recent slump of both sisters; this may be the end of an era.
After the conclusion of the Djokovic-Murray final, one thought crept into my mind: Tennis really misses Rafael Nadal. Although Djokovic and Murray provide scintillating tennis, they're styles are much too similar for a truly contrasting rivalry. Nadal's style is so far off on one side that any of his battles against Djokovic, Federer or Murray provide an interesting battle of pure ferocity against its counterpart.
Nadal's speed alone will force players like Djokovic to work even harder for their control of the baseline rallies. There is nobody actually pushing players out of their comfort zone; it's more of a battle of wit and momentum without Nadal. But with Nadal's forehand, he just wills his way out of trouble. Matches against Nadal can't be won with little momentum shifts here and there; that's not enough. Players have to yank the match out of Nadal's hands, and tennis fans really miss that kind of mano-a-mano atmosphere.
Rafael Nadal is slated to return to tennis at San Paulo, and all eyes will be on him in his attempt to regain his dominance on the clay courts.
Tennis has seen enough of wit and accuracy; raw aggression is long overdue, and Nadal is the only one that can bring it.