Men's tennis in 2013 has already been characterized by several spectacular memories. If 2012 was a year of championship parity, this year has thus far proved to be a mixed bag of upstart challenges and more competitive parity at the top. We are witnessing a transition of eras.
In determining the best moments through Wimbledon, great tennis is always the most important criteria. There is more weight given to Grand Slam venues and top stars. They are the epicenter of what will one day be recalled or discarded.
A great moment does not have to be confined to one point or one match. It can be a story that unfolds during a tournament. This will be noted as we count down the top 10 most memorable moments of 2013.
Tennis has been aching for a young star to challenge for Grand Slam titles. Teenage phenoms have now gone the way of the dinosaurs, and the next generation of stars—including the likes of Milos Raonic, Bernard Tomic and Grigor Dimitrov—has produced more sizzle than substance.
Enter 6'8" Polish hero Jerzy Janowicz. He can be turbulent, but so exciting. He serves bombs but loves to tantalize his opponents with drop shots. Best of all, he is unafraid to challenge the big stars in tennis. He believes he should beat them, and now he is a Wimbledon semifinalist.
The possibility of Janowicz's future is the biggest story here. Two years ago, Polish New Yorkers bought him shoes, and he often slept in a car on his tournament trips, according to James Buddell of ATP.com.
He should be able to afford a bigger car now, but Janowicz's ambitious character would rather own the U.S. Open title.
It was a cold, blustery night in Miami, unusual for late March. Tommy Haas had to keep blowing on his hands to keep them warm. Maybe he felt he could stay warm by moving all over the court. Time and again he cut off Novak Djokovic's passing shots and executed a variety of sublime backhand volley winners, big forehands and intelligent shot-making.
At least the mood and energy in the stadium was warm and fervent. Haas, nearly 35 years old, became the oldest man since 1974 to defeat the No. 1 player in the world.
It was the lone bright spot for a lackluster tournament, and Haas rode his momentum all the way to the finals before bowing out to David Ferrer.
In one of the most disappointing stories of the year, Wimbledon lost a large chunk of the sports world audience when tennis' two biggest stars were defeated.
Nadal was a first-round casualty, losing in three embarrassing sets to Steve Darcis, a journeyman two years his senior. He was wobbly with his backhand and his footwork slipped around like worn tread on a bad set of tires. Questions about his consistency and readiness have resurfaced.
Federer at least made it to the second round and was more respectable with his tennis effort. Unfortunately, it is another warning sign that he may only have a few opportunities left to win another Grand Slam title.
The Federer-Nadal losses illustrate the grim reality of a brave new world without its biggest stars. It will survive, but will be searching for new identities.
Take 90 seconds and rewatch this match point and aftermath. I'll wait for you to finish...
Wow! As if you needed another reminder of the energy and blistering shot-making these two provided in the 22nd game of the fifth set.
Chris Fowler: The champion lives to fight another day. The challenger on the canvas at the end.
Fowler (seconds later): What a battle. What a treat.
Fowler (searching for the appropriate epitaph): We expected the routine, but we got the extraordinary.
So what if this was only the fourth round at the 2013 Australian Open. It's quality and drama would outshine Federer vs. Murray in the semifinals. Djokovic's eventual clinching of a third consecutive Aussie Open crown was a mere footnote.
Rafael Nadal had been absent for seven months, following his Wimbledon loss to Lukas Rosol. He had seemingly disappeared into a dark cave, estranged from the Olympics, the U.S. and Australian Opens.
In February 2013, the tennis world did nothing more than talk about Nadal's comeback. Media attention speculated everything from his left knee to a silent ban for performance-enhancing drugs. Bleacher Report may have led the world with Nadal articles, producing all manners of articles and fan discussion.
The anticipation and attention on Nadal was somewhere in the outer limits where obsession meets insanity.
He flew down to South America and began his comeback against a cupcake lineup in Vina del Mar, Chile. As expected, he was rusty and only occasionally brilliant. He fell in the final to No. 73 Horacio Zeballos, who won his first ATP title and reeled in his career's shining moment of fame and glory.
Nadal's comeback would ultimately exceed expectations as he won seven titles, including Indian Wells hard courts and the French Open. Despite his Wimbledon flop, he is still bidding for a strong hard-court showing and possible run at the No. 1 ranking.
This Wimbledon semifinal could qualify as perhaps no less than the match of the year.
On one end was the World No. 1, Novak Djokovic, who sometimes stumbled on Centre Court's grassy dirt but kept spitting out ferocious line drives. Once again, he was locked into another epic match and he was doing his best to survive the pressure of a hot opponent.
The assailant was gun-slinging Juan Martin del Potro at his finest. Despite the heavy knee bandage and physical discomfort he was facing, he kept firing his bullets and reloading for more. He could have tossed aside his weapon at match points in the fourth set, but he willed himself on.
In the fifth set, Del Potro leaned on his racket like a cane. At other times he found himself chasing a shot and then sitting on the sidelines to regroup for the next point. When the theatrics include new footage of emotional images, it's something to behold.
It always seemed that Djokovic would win, and he did, but the cost was heavy. It was a physically brutal match that seemed to sap a good portion of his energy and resolve two days later in the Wimbledon final.
Serbia's Davis Cup match with the United States in early April was expected to be quiet news. Who knew that an ankle injury to Novak Djokovic would blow up the Internet and threaten to unravel the Serbian star's run at a French Open title. If you bet on that scenario, you are probably trying to decide on a retirement plan right now.
All tennis fans breathed a sigh of relief when it was revealed that the ankle had no structural damage. Still, few expected him to be a factor at Monte Carlo's red clay, especially when Rafael Nadal had owned that tournament for eight years running.
Djokovic not only recovered, he plastered Nadal in the final's first set and never looked back. Quickly, he was reestablished as at least a co-favorite to win the French Open title.
Even the most diehard Djokovic critic cannot but admire his grit and loyalty. He gambled his tennis season and possibly career-threatening injury to go to war for his country.
Indian Wells was simply spectacular with a full draw of the top stars. For a brief refresher, check out the video of the top 10 shots, as compiled by ATP.com. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro appear three times apiece.
Nadal vs. Ernests Gulbis was an electric atmosphere and main event tennis. Nadal's hard-courts comeback was intriguing enough, but he had to eke out the match over a hot Gulbis and end the Latvian's 13-match winning streak.
Juan Martin del Potro hit smoking forehands and delicate slice in outplaying Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. He was up a set in the finals before crumbling to Nadal.
Roger vs. Rafa happened for the first time in a year. Unfortunately, the billing was bigger than the result, in large part due to Federer's debilitating back injury that would force him to sit out for several weeks.
It was Nadal who seized the hard-courts title, his first since the 2010 U.S. Open. His comeback to tennis was a rousing success and set up a dominating clay-court season.
Very few Masters 1000 tournaments create so many highlights and memories. Here's hoping for more of this kind of action and drama at Toronto and Cincinnati.
French Open 2013 could have been remembered as David Ferrer's magic ride to a Grand Slam title. Instead, he faced his impossible match against Rafael Nadal and became the whipping boy for the Clay King's eighth title at Roland Garros. So much for an epic memory.
The real final was another Nadal-Djokovic war, bearing striking parallels to their 2012 Australian Open marathon. This time it was Nadal who emerged victorious.
It showcased Nadal's gladiator forehand on red clay .
It featured Djokovic's miraculous penchant for escaping dark dungeons.
The fourth and fifth sets read like portions of The Odyssey: They fought heroically against otherworldly elements as well as each other. The baking clay was dry enough to serve as an undercard to hell. Nadal faced Djokovic's tennis sorcery, and he battled his own internal demons. In the end, Fate intervened cruelly to muff Djokovic's overhead smashes.
Whatever rivalry still exists with Federer vs. Nadal, or with Djokovic vs. Murray, the Spaniard vs. the Serbian may be the most epic of them all.
The tennis match quality of the Wimbledon final may have been a dud to most fans outside of the United Kingdom. Novak Djokovic was physically compromised and his resilience was sapped. This is to take nothing away from Andy Murray.
He had to survive a five-set quarterfinals deficit to Fernando Verdasco, and then close out the title with a smart combination of shot-making and composure. It's not easy to endure the pressures of nearly a century from a media-driven nation that can pen literary angles to all manners of failure and success.
This is the most important tennis story accomplishment of 2013, and the one most of the sporting world will remember years from now. It transcends tennis.
This is the only time Murray appears in this top 10 list, but there is more chance for history at the U.S. Open.
We will be ready.