The 2014 Wimbledon Championships fostered an epic Grand Slam tennis showcase in the men's draw, capped by a thrilling final in which Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer in five sets.
In addition to that clash of tennis titans, several other notable matches along the way featured some of the biggest names in the game. All of the stars involved, save for Djokovic, went home at least slightly disappointed, and how they apply their experiences to next month's U.S. Open will be fascinating to monitor.
There are a number of marquee tournaments to get through in the hard-court season, but here is a look at the top storylines to emerge from the All England Club and what they mean for the year's final Grand Slam event.
How Will Rafael Nadal Fare Away From Clay?
At least Nadal put up a better fight than his early-round exits of the previous two years, but he still struggled on the faster grass courts at Wimbledon. Granted, Nadal was coming off his ninth French Open title, had to expend more effort than his peers and doesn't get the same advantage with his topspin forehand as he does on clay.
The optimism reflected in Nadal's post-Wimbledon testimony bodes well for the rest of his season, per ATPWorldTour.com:
I am satisfied the way that I played this Wimbledon. The surface here is dangerous and my draw was not easy. I have not played against easy players. [...] This year I felt my knee was right to compete here. I think I competed well. [It] was not enough today, but that's the sport.
[...] I fought until the end on every single match. I was able to play some good tennis on this surface. That's something that I was not able to do in the last two years.
However, he still couldn't manage to get past the fourth round, losing to 19-year-old Nick Kyrgios in four sets. Now Nadal is no longer ranked No. 1 in the world, with Djokovic surpassing him, thanks to his triumph over Federer.
Between the losses by Nadal and Andy Murray, the BBC's Tom Fordyce believed a changing of the guard may be occurring, though it's still too early to tell if Kyrgios will be a part of it:
Nadal gone. Murray gone. Djokovic two sets to one down v Cilic. Seven of top 10 women out before quarters. Revolution in the Wimbledon air— tomfordyce (@tomfordyce) July 2, 2014
Nadal's health is always a bit of a question mark, what with his history of knee issues and now a back ailment that may be minimizing the impact his serve has.
The hard courts cater to higher bounces and will make Nadal's forehand more of a weapon than it was at Wimbledon. What remains to be seen is whether Nadal can use his physically grueling style to gather momentum and gear up for a legitimate shot at his 15th Grand Slam title in the U.S. Open.
Dimitrov Dominates Murray: A Critical Crossroads
Only Djokovic could stand in Grigor Dimitrov's way from reaching his first Grand Slam singles final—and there's nothing to be ashamed of there. What is vital for Dimitrov to do is to take the positives from his resounding victory over the 2013 Wimbledon winner in Murray.
Dimitrov smashed Murray 6-1, 7-6, 6-2, then managed to take a set off Djokovic and push him to a tiebreaker in the final two sets before being eliminated. There is no doubting the Bulgarian's all-court game, and at age 23, he's ascended among tennis' elite:
Wimbledon also captured the mature perspective Dimitrov had even after the big breakthrough in knocking off Murray:
Grigor Dimitrov refusing to get carried away by his win: "I have two more matches to play, hopefully. I'm just trying to stay on course"— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 2, 2014
Add that to the three singles titles Dimitrov has accrued this season, and he's on the cusp of breaking out in a big way. The key is to maintain his level of play and even elevate it to another level. The power Dimitrov generates on both his serve and groundstrokes should aid his efforts to thrive in the final major.
As for Murray, Wimbledon offered a proving ground for him to defend his title. After an impressive start to the tournament without dropping a set, he did nothing short of flame out versus Dimitrov in the quarterfinals.
The resilience Murray shows with his remarkable returning ability isn't always matched by his volatile temperament on the court. He's more susceptible than Nadal, Djokovic or Federer to letting a match get completely away from him.
Murray has not won a tournament all year. Part of that is to blame on rust coming off of back surgery, but now he has to dig deep to salvage anything of substance from a lost 2014 campaign to date.
Djokovic Defeats Federer: The Grand Finale
Unless fans were treated to viewing this match in its entirety, words almost don't do it justice. So many times, both Djokovic and Federer battled back from adversity, accentuated by Federer's five unanswered games to force a fifth set.
But in the end, it was Nole who reigned supreme, finally taking home his second Wimbledon title—the first in three years since he'd been labeled the No. 1 seed. Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch brought up a pertinent point about Djokovic's place in all-time tennis lore:
Given Federer and Nadal's alltime brilliance, I think Novak is actually underrated historically. A brilliant, all-court player.— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) July 6, 2014
There is no doubting Djokovic any longer after he somehow won the third set over Federer in a tiebreaker—despite the fact that Federer smashed 13 aces (h/t Wimbledon.com). That's just one example of how incredible this match was.
In reascending to the No. 1 spot in the world, Djokovic warded off the demons that plagued him in losing his previous three Grand Slam finals. Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated recorded this from the Serbinator:
Djokovic also knocked off Federer, a seven-time Wimbledon champion. When Djokovic is on, he looks borderline unstoppable by anyone, though Federer proved something in pushing him to the maximum amount of tennis in the final.
Who should be the 2014 U.S. Open men's tennis favorite?
Although it had to be rather heartbreaking for Federer to come out on the losing end at the All England Club, he has to gain a massive confidence boost that he can still hang tough on the big stage. Given that he came so close to defeating Djokovic at Wimbledon and has won five previous U.S. Opens, King Roger may have an edge entering Flushing Meadows if he puts forth a solid hard-court run.
Then again, the incalculable leverage Djokovic may have gained from his Wimbledon win may be too much for anyone to overcome. Having made the past four U.S. Open finals with just a 1-3 record, Djokovic will be eager to exact revenge, similar to how he did in London for losing the 2013 Wimbledon final to Murray.