Tennis has a lot to look forward to with three more Grand Slam opportunities in 2014. Stars like Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic look to get back to the winner's circle in the ATP. Serena Williams and plenty of other WTA stars should provide excellent matchups.
But if we could choose the most compelling matchups for each of the Grand Slam finals, what would they be?
There is one important rule here in order to set up the best variety of great matches. Each star may only be used one time for the three venues. We are not going to pencil in Djokovic three times, even though he is very capable.
We will choose our finalists, but not declare a winner. This will examine both the women and men at the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open.
Be sure to write in your own vote for the finals matches you would most prefer to see.
Serena Williams figures to respond after another disappointing Australian Open loss. The French Open has been historically her toughest major to win, even if she is the defending champion.
Who better to challenge Serena than Li Na? Li won the 2011 French Open title and would be in position to take the first two majors of 2014. She is a tough-minded veteran who will use her backhand power and consistency to try and keep Serena at bay.
On one hand, Serena has dominated Li with a 10-1 record, and she poses all kinds of difficulties with her superior serve and more powerful offense. When Serena is on, she is nearly unbeatable. She is also intimidating and mentally strong, winning with her determination as much as her talent.
But the pressure is off Li after winning two majors. Her confidence is high, and she did win an easy first set against Serena at the WTA championships last November. Furthermore, she and Serena have never met on clay, and this surface could mitigate a lot of the advantages Serena has with her power. Li might actually have the better footwork for clay.
Win or lose, Li is not the kind of opponent who will fold at this point in her career. She could present a great challenge to Serena in their version of superpowers, China vs. United States.
This would be the match of the year.
Rafael Nadal’s French Open reign will end one year. Many tennis fans have undoubtedly dreamed of somebody beating Nadal in the final. Trouble is, if Nadal gets to the final, it’s unlikely he will lose (barring injuries of course).
So let’s put two other finalists there in the most realistic and compelling non-Nadal scenario.
Contestant No. 1 has to be Novak Djokovic. The French Open is his Holy Grail, and now on par to how Federer must have felt by 2008. He is in his prime and must win soon. The agony of defeats the past three years at Roland Garros, especially his five-set semifinal loss to Nadal in 2013, will only be assuaged with a title.
Contestant No. 2 is Stanislas Wawrinka. Imagine if he became the first Australian champion in 22 years to win the French Open. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal could not do it. Impossible? Wawrinka actually prefers clay over hard courts. It would be an incredible run for the Swiss Ironman, and it would put him in position for a late-career charge at the Hall of Fame.
There is everything to love about the stakes to this match, and the promise of another classic. The last three times they met have been thrilling five-setters.
Their contrast in style is compelling. It’s the defensive and well-rounded champion Djokovic versus the hard-hitting and aggressive Wawrinka for a new French Open champion.
We are saving Wimbledon for a spirited rivalry that could threaten to scorch the grass at the All-England Club.
Has it really been 10 years since Sharapova burst onto the scene with her Wimbledon title? What a year it would be to carry the Olympic torch at Sochi and win a second Wimbledon. To win against her parallel twin of feistiness, Azarenka, would allow her to keep her patent on grunting.
Azarenka would love nothing more than to be the next Queen Victoria. Finally she would win a major in the northern hemisphere and prove to be the legitimate heir to Serena Williams. OK, so she is not likely to win half as many majors as Serena, but she could be the player to beat in 2014.
Maria vs. Victoria has the royal billing, flash and tennis substance to be a great championship. Azarenka holds a 7-6 career edge, but Sharapova has defeated her in their last two meetings. It would be a wonderful media spike for women’s tennis at Wimbledon.
One more time for the ages, and this will be the last time! Are you listening tennis gods? Yes, we all know that Rafael Nadal has owned Roger Federer and has not lost to his rival in Grand Slam play since 2007 Wimbledon, but things could be different this time around at SW19.
The cathedral of tennis, Centre Court at Wimbledon, has been Federer’s backyard for over a decade. This is where he can battle Nadal on equal terms.
Federer still has the best grass-court skills in tennis. Let him be healthy and energized. Imagine that he has had another five months to work on his more aggressive net play with Stefan Edberg. All he needs is this chance for ultimate redemption and a chance to ride out into the sunset.
Of course we've all seen Nadal backed into corners before. He could fight off a pack of wolves with a plastic spoon. Nadal has lost matches as the favorite, but how often does he lose a big match as the underdog? Nadal would love nothing more than to tattoo passing shots from unimaginable angles and watch Federer scold the chair umpire. He would love to turn a carnival-like atmosphere into a doleful congregation.
However it turns out, it will be the final word in their rivalry and mythical GOAT nonsense. Winner takes all and no more debates between Federer and Nadal fans.
Do we really want Serena Williams vs. Victoria Azarenka for a third straight year? It’s still probably the most championship-level offering, but let’s go with a fresh intriguing championship.
We are going to pass on some of the young, talented women who are sure to contend for Grand Slam titles in the years to come. Eugenie Bouchard, Sloane Stephens and Simona Halep are out, although any of them would be an attractive finalist.
Instead, let’s go with a couple of experienced stars who would capture the interest of tennis fans around the world and shun power for a more old-school version of tennis.
How about Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Caroline Wozniacki? Both have had bright moments but have been unable to get over the hump. One of them would win her first major.
Radwanska brings a thinking woman’s approach to tennis. She has wonderful control of her shots and relies on the kind of savvy that delights purists.
Wozniacki has been in turmoil with her fading career and coaching carousel. She was once the No. 1 player in the world but is now lurking outside of the Top 10. Her comeback and bid for a major would add more intrigue to women’s tennis. She also possesses the kind of skills and defensive game that can be beautiful when playing well.
Radwanska vs. Wozniacki would also be a compelling rivalry on the big stages. It would receive more than the partisanship of Baltic attention. It would be interesting tennis.
The U.S. Open can sometimes confirm the most dominant player of the year. But we’re going to go another route and hope that we get a look at the future of tennis.
Would it not be exciting to see Grigor Dimitrov’s talent mature into a tough Grand Slam contender? He could show that the future is now, and that youth will not suffocate inside the iron world of Fab Four dominance (Federer-Nadal-Djokovic-Murray).
Dimitrov will have to earn his first Grand Slam title against two-time major winner, Andy Murray.
The scrappy Murray loves the fast hard courts and will present possibly the best return and defensive game to counter Dimitrov’s more offensive game. He would also be the favorite in this match and would be the one to pull championship experience out of his tennis bag. Besides, his offense has good variety as well.
This match would test Dimitrov, and witness if he is worthy of breaking up the previous decade’s legends. Or it would see if the resilient Murray continued to build his own impressive kingdom in the fashion of his contemporaries.
This would be a new kind of match, but with a legitimate aura. Tennis fans would welcome a fresh rivalry.