Here’s an overview of the 2014 season, with an accent on the top Canadians.
What a boom and bust month for Canadian players. The boom was Genie Bouchard reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open before losing 6-2, 6-4 to eventual champion Li Na. The picture above is of the first ever sighting of the now famous ‘Genie Army.’ It was out on Court 15 at Melbourne Park after Bouchard’s first round 7-5, 6-1 win over No. 487-ranked Hao Chen Tang of China. The Army’s profile would grow as Bouchard progressed, including wins over Aussie Casey Dellacqua in the round-of-16 and Ana Ivanovic in the quarter-finals.
Milos Raonic seemed poised for a good run at the 2014 Aussie Open before he slightly tore a tendon just above his left ankle in his opening match and was not 100 per cent in a third-round 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(10) loss to Grigor Dimitrov. The injury then kept him out of action until Indian Wells in March, meaning he lost a chance to gain valuable ranking points at European indoor events.
Things were even worse for Vasek Pospisil. He tweaked his back in training before the 2014 season began and should not have played (above being treated on court) his second match at the Australian Open against Matthew Ebden. He somehow won that Rod Laver Arena encounter but had to pull out of his third-round meeting with eventual champion Stan Wawrinka. The back became a huge and tough-to-diagnose problem until he visited a doctor in Prague in May. He didn’t win a match from Australia until Queen’s Club (0-8) in June.
After qualifying, Frank Danvevic suffered heat stroke (above) in his first round Aussie Open match against Benoit Paire. He later claimed he “saw Snoopy” when he passed out. The Peanuts character turned out not to be a good omen in the year when he turned 30 and saw his ranking dip from No. 122 at the start to No. 149 at the finish.
Daniel Nestor and Kristina Mladenovic won the Aussie Open mixed doubles, capping a stretch that saw them reach three finals in four Grand Slam events. But for the rest of 2014, they did no better than two semifinals (at Wimbledon and the US Open).
MAIN DRAWS: Stan Wawrinka won his first Grand Slam, defeating an injured (back) Rafael Nadal in the final. Wawrinka, who had only made one Grand Slam semifinal in 35 previous tries (2013 US Open), was 0-12 vs. Nadal (0-26 in sets) and would very likely not have won against a healthy Rafa. But his thriller 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 9-7 quarter-final victory over three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic added gravitas to his victory.
Li Na, after being runner-up two of the three previous years, was a deserving women’s winner with victories over Bouchard in the semifinals and 7-6(3), 6-0 over Dominika Cibulkova in the final. Diminished by a back injury, top seed Serena Williams went out in the round-of-16 to Ivanovic.
Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori spoke during the Davis Cup week in Tokyo before it was known that neither he nor Vasek Pospisil would play for Canada. Nishikori was the story as Japan won 4-1, Dancevic salvaging a lone singles win for the visitors.
In Fed Cup action in Montreal, Genie Bouchard led the home side to a 3-1victory over Serbia, without Ivanovic, Jankovic or Jovanovski, in World Group II action.
And Rafael Nadal defeated Pablo Andujar 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(10), saving two match points in the Rio de Janeiro semifinals in a personal favourite match of mine.
Rafa, always a fantastic fighter, deserves props for being involved in so many incredible matches, often because he’s not playing his best for whatever reason. Here’s a list of some other great ones in 2014: Coric (Basel), Klizan (Beijing), Kyrgios (Wimbledon), Simon (Rome), Nishikori (Madrid), Almagro (Barcelona), Dolgopolov (Indian Wells), Stepanek (Indian Wells), Nishikori (Australian Open) and Dimitrov (Australian Open).
After stumbling in Doha (Bethanie Mattek-Sands), Dubai (Annika Beck) and Acapulco (Caroline Garcia) in post-Fed Cup February, Bouchard went out in the round-of-16 to Simona Halep at Indian Wells and in her first match at Miami to Elina Svitolina.
Raonic returned from his injury to reach the Indian Wells quarters (beating Andy Murray), and the quarters in Miami before going out 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 to top seed Rafael Nadal. The Sony Open was marked by an unusual circumstance – both Nadal (Tomas Berdych) and eventual winner Djokovic (Nishikori) advanced to the final on walkovers.
The Canadian Fed Cup team qualified for World Group I in 2015 by beating Slovakia 3-1 in Quebec City as Bouchard won two matches after Aleksandra Wozniak pulled out the opener 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 over Jana Cepelova to set the tone.
Before the Fed Cup tie, Bouchard let one get away when she lost a match she seemed to have control of – 1-6, 6-3, 7-5 to Andrea Petkovic in the semifinals of the Family Circle Cup in Charleston. She would have played Cepelova in the final – ultimately her first WTA title would have to wait until the following month.
Milos Raonic reached his third consecutive Masters 1000 quarter-final of the year, winning over Yen Hsun Lu and Tommy Robredo in Monte Carlo before going out 7-6(5), 6-2 to eventual winner Wawrinka.
Bouchard won her first WTA tournament a week before the French Open – defeating Karolina Pliskova 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 in the final in Nuremburg, Germany.
Before that, her clay-court season heading into Roland Garros was not impressive with losses to Svetlana Kuznetsova (Oeiras), Agnieszka Radwanska (Madrid) and Francesca Schiavone (Rome). But on the heels of the title in Nuremburg, she reached the quarter-finals at Roland Garros without losing a set and then overcame Carla Suarez Navarro 7-6(4), 2-6, 7-5. She played great in her semifinal with eventual winner Maria Sharapova, well enough to win but came out on the short end of a highly-entertaining 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 contest. That was a clear indication that her Aussie Open semi was no fluke.
Raonic played two of his best 2014 matches on the European red clay – losing an extremely close semifinal in Rome to Djokovic 6-7(5), 7-6(4), 6-3 and then winning a hard-slog over Gilles Simon in the third round at Roland Garros by a 4-6, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 score. He went on to make it to his first Grand Slam quarter-final before Djokovic beat him 7-5, 7-6(5), 6-4.
MAIN DRAWS: Nadal won his ninth Roland Garros in 10 years with a 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Djokovic in suddenly hot weather, conditions that did not help the Serb’s bid for a first Coupe des Mousquetaires.
Sharapova, as she had in the semis vs. Bouchard, called on her almost unflinching willpower to outduel Simona Halep in the final by a 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-4 score. The most astounding result of the fortnight was defending champion Serena Williams exiting 6-2, 6-2 to Garbine Muguruza in the second round.
There was no hint of big things to come for Bouchard and Raonic when both lost (Bouchard to Vania King) and Raonic (to Peter Gojowczyk) in their only pre-Wimbledon matches on grass.
But both played dominating tennis from the start at the All England Club. Bouchard didn’t lose a set in becoming the first Canadian to reach a Wimbledon singles final – with her best match likely being her fourth round 7-6(5), 7-5 victory over Alizé Cornet, who had upset five-time champion Serena Williams in the previous round.
That Bouchard lost a one-sided 6-3, 6-0 final to Petra Kvitova was disappointing. But everyone has known the powerful Czech lefthander, champion at Wimbledon in 2011, is capable of devastating tennis on her day. In 2014, she was able to produce it for the biggest match on the grandest of all tennis stages.
Raonic won his first three matches in straight sets and probably played his finest match in a 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-4, 7-6(4) win over Nishikori in the round-of-16. Having been an unremarkable 3-3 at Wimbledon before this year’s event, that match with the 24-year-old Japanese proved that the Centre Court lawn is where he has his best chance to win a Grand Slam title. He would go on to outplay Aussie revelation Nick Kyrgios in the quarter-finals but lost his serve to Roger Federer in the opening game of the semifinals and never really recovered in a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 loss.
As if Bouchard and Raonic hadn’t gained enough exposure for the red maple leaf at Wimbledon, Vasek Pospisil, alongside American partner Jack Sock, did his part. Playing together for the first time, Pospisil and Sock won the men’s doubles with a 7-6(5), 6-7(3), 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 roller-coaster win in the final over top seeds Bob and Mike Bryan. The Bryans would later say that first-timers Pospisil, 24, and Sock, 21, were in the “honeymoon period.” They certainly played with guileless gusto and completely enthralled Centre Court patrons.
Pospisil and Sock ran their record to 10-0 when they won the Atlanta ATP 250 title later in July.
MEN’S MAIN DRAW: Djokovic had only won a single time in his previous six Grand Slam finals, but in this one he slightly outplayed sentimental favourite Federer, winning in a 6-7(7), 6-4, 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-4 classic. “I needed this win a lot,” Djokovic said. It was his second (2011) Wimbledon title.
The Rogers Cup events in Toronto and Montreal were set to be showcases for Raonic and Bouchard after their big Wimbledon breakthroughs.
It all came unraveled for Bouchard in Montreal in her opening match against No. 113-ranked American qualifier Shelby Rogers. Bouchard lost 6-0, 2-6, 6-0. At 20 years old, it just showed that, even with her preternatural poise and mental toughness, she could be rattled by all the hype and expectations of her hometown supporters.
In Toronto, Raonic won two matches (Sock and Benneteau) before having an off-night in a 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3 loss to Spanish pal Feliciano Lopez in the quarter-finals.
It turned out the best of Raonic had been the previous week when he was victorious in Washington – winning 6-1, 6-4 over Pospisil in the only all-Canadian final in the history of professional tennis. For Raonic, it was a first triumph at an ATP 500 tournament and for Pospisil it was a self-validating week after struggling so much in the first half of the year.
In doubles, he and Sock ran their unbeaten streak to 14 before losing the final of the Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati to the Bryans.
Raonic reached another Masters 1000 quarter–final in Cincinnati, losing 6-2, 6-3 to Federer.
In the absence of Bouchard, 34-year-old Venus Williams took over and was the big crowd-pleaser in Montreal, scoring a rare victory [6-7(2), 6-2, 6-3] over sister Serena in the semifinals before fading in a 6-4, 6-2 loss to to Agnieszka Radwanska in the final.
In Toronto, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga completed a string of four Top 10 wins – Djokovic (1), Murray (9), Dimitrov (8) – with a 7-5, 7-6(3) victory over No. 3 Federer in the final. Like Venus in Montreal, Federer was the darling of Rogers Cup in Toronto, celebrating his 33rd birthday at the tournament on the Friday.
The US Open unveiled three new courts – 4, 5 and 6 – this year on the west side of Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Bouchard played some terrific matches at Flushing Meadows, toughing out laborious three-setters against Sorana Cirstea and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in the second and third rounds before losing 7-6(2), 6-4 to Ekaterina Makarova on a steamy afternoon when the heat and fatigue got to her. It was disappointing exit but she had a terrific Grand Slam season. Ranked No. 7 at year’s end, Bouchard won more total Grand Slam matches, 19, than any other player. World No. 1 Serena Williams had 13, No. 2 Maria Sharapova 16, No. 3 Simona Halep 17, No. 4 Petra Kvitova 11, and No. 5 Ana Ivanovic just nine.
Raonic won his first three rounds comfortably at the US Open before running into Nishikori for the third of four times in 2014 – the Japanese rallied for the victory, finishing off the round-of-16 win 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-7(6), 7-5, 6-4 at 2:26 a.m.
It was a match Raonic easily could have won, and Nishikori went on to reach the final. Ten days later, he rebounded (wins over Alejandro Gonzalez and Santiago Giraldo) to lead Canada to a 3-1 Davis Cup victory over Colombia in World Group Play–off action in Halifax. That guaranteed a fourth year in a row for Canada in the 16-nation World Group, with 2015 action beginning March 6-8 in Vancouver versus Japan.
MAIN DRAWS: Serena Williams finally played as many had expected her to do all year – blitzing the US Open field without losing more than three games in any set. The men’s event was quite the contrary. With defending champion Rafael Nadal out with an injured wrist, Djokovic and Federer were the favourites but both went out in the semifinals – Djokovic to Nishikori on a hot day that seemed to get to the Serb – “the sun hit Novak first,” his coach Boris Becker would claim later. Marin Cilic, simply playing out of his skull, ousted Federer in three uncomplicated sets. It was the same two days later in the final, Cilic winning his first Slam with immaculate form in a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 dusting of Nishikori.
In a year when veteran players like Berdych or Tsonga might have been expected to make a long-awaited Grand Slam breakthrough, it turned out to be Wawrinka and Cilic who jumped the queue and won their first majors.
The best moments for Bouchard and Raonic came in China and Japan. Bouchard reached her third final of the year but lost 6-3, 6-4 to Kvitova in the debut of the Wuhan, China, tournament.
As for Raonic, he faced Nishikori and the home crowd in the Tokyo ATP 500 final and lost a tight one 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-4. Nishikori hit a sensational reflex service return off a major blast serve from Raonic trailing 4-5 in the first-set tiebreak – and that seemed to turn the tide.
Health woes began to affect Bouchard (she pulled out of Linz after her first match) and Raonic (he retired with virus in his opening match in Shanghai.)
Bouchard’s woes carried over to her first appearance in the BNP Paribas WTA Finals in Singapore where she lost all three matches badly to Simona Halep, Ana Ivanovic and Serena Williams. During one match she questioned why she was even playing. Williams, who had another shocking result – and second match 6-0, 6-2 loss to Halep – rallied to edge Caroline Wozniacki 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(6) in the semifinals and then got revenge (6-3, 6-0) in the final against Halep to finish on a high note. It marked the first time in her illustrious career that she ended the year as No. 1 for a second season in a row.
The “honeymoon period” appeared to end for Pospisil and Sock. After winning 14 matches in a row, they won only two of their last six and failed to make the final eight for the ATP World Tour Finals.
On the first of November, Raonic had – on paper at least – the biggest win of his career when he beat Federer 7-6(5), 7-5 to reach the final of the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris. Raonic played better matches in 2014 but finally getting a win against the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic axis was a major symbolic success for him.
In the final, Djokovic, who finished the season very strong, defeated him 6-2, 6-3.
The Serb, new father of son Stefan, won the ATP World Tour Finals in London without having to play the final because of Federer’s bad back. Raonic, in his O2 Arena debut, lost 6-1, 7-6(0) to Federer and 6-3, 7-5 to Murray before withdrawing with a quadriceps injury. He still finished 2014 with a No. 8 ATP ranking.
Earlier in November, Petra Kvitova led the Czechs to a 3-1 Fed Cup final triumph over Germany at home in Prague. It was the Czechs’ third in four years. Two weeks later in front of over 27,000 spectators in Lille, France, Federer and main man Wawrinka combined to beat the French 3-1 for a first ever Davis Cup for the nation of Switzerland.
NOTE: The next two weeks will feature our annual genius/joker tennis quiz and ‘best pictures’ of 2014.