The first Grand Slam of 2014 is in the books, and Stanislas Wawrinka is the toast of men's tennis after capturing the Australian Open title in impressive fashion over world No. 1 Rafael Nadal.
Not only did the triumph deliver the Swiss star his first Grand Slam career title, it significantly elevates his stature among the top players in the sport. For his part, Nadal had a great run in Melbourne and despite the disappointment with the final result leaves Australia as the undeniable top player in the sport.
Behind those great champions, there were plenty of surprises—both good and bad—that will help to shape a post-Australian Open men's Top 20.
Some, like Wawrinka himself and semifinalist Tomas Berdych, went further and accomplished more than most expected. Others, like Juan Martin del Potro and David Ferrer, were bounced sooner than many thought likely.
Those doings Down Under, coupled with the top players' performances in the months leading up to the year’s first Slam, have helped craft this latest Top 20 power ranking. Debate away, but keep in mind this list is sure to change several times over as we move toward the French Open in May.
Australian Open Result: Lost to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in third round 6-7(5), 4-6, 2-6
2014 Outlook: Despite battling a badly twisted right ankle, Gilles Simon fought the pain and the heat to get through to the fourth round of the Australian Open, promising better things ahead during the upcoming clay court season.
Even at 29, the Frenchman’s court coverage remains among the best in the game, and he'll be a challenge for the top players to deal with this spring. The 11-time winner captured the Moselle Open last year in his native France and reached the fourth round of the French Open.
His struggles off the clay, however, make it difficult to put him much higher in the ranking.
Australian Open Result: Lost to Wawrinka in fourth round 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-7 (5)
2014 Outlook: Despite a difficult draw that included a third-round match with ninth-seeded Richard Gasquet, Tommy Robredo managed a strong run to the fourth round Down Under and is a significant threat to win multiple tournaments this spring.
The Spaniard won two tournaments last year and managed a trip to the fourth round of the French Open before falling to eventual finalist David Ferrer. A similar performance in Europe is likely this year as Robredo’s consistency and experience will carry him through difficult matches.
How he performs during the hard-court season, however, is much more the mystery and will ultimately define how successful the season is.
Australian Open Result: Lost to Nadal 6-7 (3), 5-7, 6-7 (3) in fourth round
2014 Outlook: The top Asian man on the ATP Tour, Kei Nishikori enjoyed a solid Australian Open, considering his run to the fourth round and the strong test he presented Nadal once there.
The 2013 U.S. National Indoor Tennis Championships winner is coached part time by Michael Chang and appears to be improving based on his victory at the Kooyong Classic earlier this month, which followed a run to the semifinals in Sydney.
With Chang now part of his coaching team, the Japanese star is likely to win another time or two this year and to make a deep second-week run in at least one of the year’s final three majors.
Australian Result: Lost to Martin Klizan in the first round 2-6, 6-7 (6), retired
2014 Outlook: The year got off to a strong start for John Isner, who captured the Heineken Open in early January, but things quickly turned ugly in Melbourne. After dropping the first two sets, Isner was forced to retire against Klizan in the first round due to an ankle injury.
Despite that setback, Isner will represent the United States in its Davis Cup match with Great Britain next week, where he is expected to play Andy Murray. A strong showing there could put the top-ranked American back on track for a strong season.
If his body and inconsistent ground strokes continue to cross him, however, the 2014 season could easily get away from him, and his Top 20 ranking could go with it.
Australian Result: Did Not Play
2014 Outlook: A shoulder injury kept Almagro out of the Australian Open and cost him an opportunity to improve upon his run to the quarterfinals in Melbourne last year.
Missing the year’s first major also casts doubts as to how effective the Spaniard can be in the upcoming clay-court season. Almagro reached the finals of a couple clay-court events last year, including the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships, and he advanced to the fourth round of the French Open as well.
If he hopes to improve upon those performances, and at the very least claim the 13th win of his career this year, Almagro will need his health to improve as quickly as possible.
Australian Open Result: Lost to Florian Mayer in second round 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 3-6
2014 Outlook: After a solid 2013 in which he won twice and reached at least the fourth round in three Slams, Mikhail Youzhny is off to a bumpy start in 2014.
The Russian lost his first match at the Aircel Chennai Open and followed that up with a disappointing second-round defeat at the Australian Open almost two weeks later.
The 31-year-old’s January struggles, coupled with first-round losses in three of his final four events last year (Youzhny did win the other start), creates doubt as to how much can be expected from the 10-time ATP winner during the rest of the year.
Australian Open Result: Lost to Mayer in third round 5-7, 2-6, 2-6
2014 Outlook: Much has been expected of Jerzy Janowicz, but the results to date have been mixed at best. His third-round exit at the Australian Open wasn't entirely a surprise and clearly shows the Pole, who advanced to the semifinals of last year’s Wimbledon Championships, still has some work to do on his game.
Janowicz remains in search of his first ATP victory, and if he hopes to accomplish that feat in 2014 he’ll need to fully recover from a broken bone in his foot and find a modicum of consistency to complement the power and athleticism of his game.
Provided his physical health improves, the 23-year-old will likely break through with that elusive victory. It will not, however, come in a 2014 Slam.
Australian Open Result: Lost to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in first round 5-7, 2-5 retired
2014 Outlook: While 2013 revitalized Tommy Haas’ career, 2014 has gotten off to a bumpy start. The veteran German was forced to retire from his opening match at Melbourne Park with a shoulder injury while a set down and trailing late in the second.
While the injury doesn't appear serious, it certainly casts a shadow over the 35-year-old's ability to follow up on last year’s unexpected campaign, which featured two victories and a quarterfinal run at the French Open.
If he gets healthy, he will likely continue to drink from the ATP fountain of youth; if not, Haas will be hard pressed to remain among the Top 20 as the season wears on.
Australian Open Result: Lost to Nadal in quarterfinals 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-7 (7), 2-6
2014 Outlook: Despite losing to Nadal in the quarterfinals, Grigor Dimitrov was impressive enough Down Under to dwarf his ranking of 22 heading into the event.
Providing great promise for a strong 2014 season moving forward, Dimitrov pushed Nadal throughout their four-set contest and easily could have pulled the upset in Melbourne.
The 22-year-old Bulgarian has the perfect mix of power and athleticism to make a big push this year and perhaps find his way into the Top 10. He already has one victory in his young career, and given his form Down Under, he has to be considered a strong candidate to add another at the very least.
Australian Open Result: Lost to Dimitrov 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 6-7 (10)
2014 Outlook: At 23, Milos Raonic is another promising star that still has to prove he has the game to go deep in a Grand Slam, and ultimately win one.
The Canadian fell short of that standard at the Australian Open, losing to Dimitrov in the third round at Melbourne Park. Still, Raonic owns five ATP titles, including two last year, and should only improve as this season progresses.
To reach his full potential this year, however, Raonic needs to avoid the type of early-round exits that have plagued him thus far in his career.
Australian Open Results: Lost to Robredo 6-2, 5-7, 4-6, 6-7 (6)
2014 Outlook: After winning three times in 2013, expectations were high for Richard Gasquet heading into 2014; early results, however, haven’t lived up to the billing. After a second-round loss at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open, the Frenchman followed with a third-round exit at the Australian Open.
That slow start notwithstanding, Gasquet's strong 2013 campaign, which included a run to the U.S. Open semifinals, shouldn't be forgotten when looking ahead.
In fact, he remains a significant threat to win enough tournaments during the clay- and hard-court seasons to maintain his position among the Top 10 players in the world.
Furthermore, At 27 years of age, the 10-time winner has the experience and talent to challenge for a Grand Slam title if the cards fall right, despite what his performance Down Under might suggest.
Australian Open Result: Lost to Roger Federer in the fourth round 3-6, 5-7, 4-6
2014 Outlook: A knee injury forced Tsonga to retire early from the 2013 Wimbledon Championships and prevented him from even competing at the U.S. Open.
Yet his run to the fourth round of the Australian Open provided enough evidence that the talented Frenchman is close to regaining the form that made him a Grand Slam threat the past several years.
Since his return to action last September, Tsonga hasn't managed to win a tournament, but if he remains healthy heading into the clay-court season, that’s very likely to change.
Australian Open Result: Lost to Roberto Bautista Agut in second round 6-4, 3-6, 7-5, 4-6, 5-7
2014 Outlook: Del Potro’s second-round exit at the Australian Open surprised many, but it was his second straight such disappointment in a Slam. The Argentine was bounced by Lleyton Hewitt in the second round of the U.S. Open, spoiling what was otherwise a solid 2013 campaign.
That said, the 25-year-old did win the Apia International Sydney leading up to the Australian Open, and he remains the only man not named Nadal, Djokovic or Andy Murray to win a Slam since 2009.
To get things back on track, del Potro needs to regain his energy in Grand Slams, and in the process squash any notion that's he's anything less than one of the top seven or eight players in the world.
Australian Open Result: Lost to Wawrinka in the semifinals 3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-7 (3), 6-7 (4)
2014 Outlook: Tomas Berdych’s impressive run at the Australian Open came up one victory shy of a second trip to a Slam final, but it also served as a reminder he has more than enough game to win a major.
Berdych’s power and solid serve were on full display at Melbourne Park—the same traits that make him a dangerous player on any surface. The performance shows promise that the 28-year-old is poised to rebound from an uneven 2013 in which he failed to win a single tournament and didn't get beyond the quarterfinals of any Slam.
Indeed, if he maintains the top form he displayed at the Australian Open, a much better season waits ahead of the Czech in 2014.
Australian Open Result: Lost to Berdych in the quarterfinals 1-6, 4-6, 6-2, 4-6.
2014 Outlook: Ferrer played well enough to reach the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, but his exit from the Slam wasn't pretty. The Spaniard fell to Berdych in a four-set tussle that included an unfortunate incident in which he slightly pushed a line judge.
The tournament’s No. 3 seed has escaped any further repercussions from the third-set encounter, but it certainly didn't get his season off to the best of starts.
The 2013 French Open finalist is easily one of the game's top five or six players, and heading into his all-important clay-court season he needs to have his head on straight if he’s going to challenge for that Slam title that has eluded him up to now.
Expect another deep run at Roland Garros in May and for that effort to serve as a springboard to a strong second half of the season.
Australian Open Result: Lost to Nadal in semifinals 6-7 (4), 3-6, 3-6
2014 Outlook: After a disappointing 2013 campaign, Federer switched to a bigger racket and added legend Stefan Edberg to his coaching team. The positive results were evidenced by the Swiss star’s semifinal run Down Under, which included a four-set triumph over Murray in the quarterfinals.
While he remains winless in Slams dating back to the 2012 Wimbledon, Federer showed glimpses of his vintage form. His court coverage and fitness appear improved, and if he can stay healthy, the veteran will surely be a threat to add to his 17 career major titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Given the talent around him, most notably Nadal and Djokovic, it won’t be easy, but early results suggest a Federer rebound in 2014 at the very least.
Australian Open Result: Lost to Federer 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (6), 3-6
2014 Outlook: Considering it was just his second tournament since September back surgery, Murray can’t be entirely disappointed with his quarterfinal showing Down Under.
The key now for the Scot is to work his way toward complete health and avoid any setbacks during the spring season.
It may well be a bumpy couple of months for Murray, but if he remains patient and allows the back to strengthen, he'll likely be in good form for his defense at the All England Club in July.
Success at Wimbledon will lift him into the summer hard-court season with momentum and a great chance to reaffirm his place alongside Nadal and Djokovic.
Australian Open Result: Won tournament defeating Nadal in the finals 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3
2014 Outlook: Stan truly was the man Down Under, and as a result he is making a fast climb up the rankings. Not only did the Swiss star beat Nadal in the Australian Open finals, he took out Djokovic in the quarterfinals along the way to his first-ever Grand Slam title.
In the process, Wawrinka was dominant with his ground strokes, kept opponents off balance with his strong serve and showed the confidence issues that plagued him in the past are behind him. As a result, even greater things are ahead in 2014 for the 28-year-old, who has finally emerged from the shadow of fellow countryman Federer.
How Wawrinka deals with his newfound stardom and the increased expectations surrounding him will likely be the biggest question moving forward. A mild slump following the Australian Open wouldn't be unexpected, and he has three months to clear his head before chasing a second Slam title at the French Open.
If he uses that time wisely, Wawrinka will be a significant threat at Roland Garros and in many more majors to follow.
Australian Open Result: Lost to Wawrinka in the quarterfinals 6-2, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 7-9
2014 Outlook: Though certainly disappointed by it, Djokovic had no reason to hang his head following his five-set quarterfinal loss to Wawrinka. In fact, the Serbian likely played well enough to beat just about any other man in that match.
Despite the earlier-than-expected exit, Djokovic was in solid form Down Under, displaying his own trademark fierce determination and powerful ground strokes during his five-match trip through the draw. His serve remains solid, and while it certainly can improve, his service return game was good enough to win with.
Given that, there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue to hold his place as the second-best player in the world and likely win at least one Grand Slam as the 2014 season wears on.
Australian Open Result: Lost to Wawrinka in the finals 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 3-6
2014 Outlook: While his loss to Wawrinka in the finals was unexpected, Nadal made a strong return to the Australian Open after missing last year’s championship due to injury.
As a result, he still heads toward the French Open as the clear favorite to win his ninth title at Roland Garros and remains firmly entrenched as the sport’s top player. Though he was outclassed by Wawrinka, Nadal appeared healthy, fit and focused Down Under, and that promises significant things to come this season.
He may not match his incredible 10 wins from last year and will again be challenged to win at Wimbledon, but his all-court game remains the best in tennis and his ability to wear down opponents is still a significant weapon.
Bottom line, Nadal will shake off the disappointment of falling short Down Under and win no less than one Grand Slam this year, and more likely two.