Djokovic Tops Federer at Wimbledon
Coming into this match, there were so many storylines and questions to get excited about. Could Djokovic banish the Grand Slam demons and inconsistency that had been chasing him for the last year? With a win, he would reclaim the #1 ranking, but could he do it? Would a resurgent Federer cast off his poor 2013 and take back his Wimbledon title? Could he really claim his 18th Slam title at age 32?
In the end, it was Djokovic who came out on top with the win and, in the process, fans were treated to perhaps the best match of the entire season. The five set, nearly four hour match was high quality throughout and featured plenty of twists, turns, suspense, and winners. For me, the only lingering question left at the end of this one was "Did Federer miss one of his last, best chances to add to his Grand Slam legacy against a vulnerable Djokovic?"
Murray's Furious Charge
After a breakout 2013, Murray took a step backwards in 2014. He struggled in his return from back surgery and seemed to have even more trouble after splitting with Coach Ivan Lendl. By September, Murray's ranking had dropped out of the top ten for the first time since 2008.
In danger of missing the ranking cutoff for the World Tour Finals for the first time since 2008 (he skipped the event in 2013 because of the surgery) Murray packed his post-US Open schedule full in a last-ditch effort to rack up some ranking points. Murray played an exhausting six tournaments in six weeks, captured his first three titles of the season, and produced a pair of memorable, grind-it-out three set finals against a resurgent Tommy Robredo. In the process, Murray was able to boost his ranking enough to qualify for the World Tour Finals and bring some extra excitement to a part of the schedule that has often ended up being a little sleepy.
Wawarinka Breaks Through; Cilic & Nishikori Try to Join the Club
Famous for possessing one of the most beautiful, lethal backhands in the game, Wawrinka has long lived in the shadow of his countryman. He stepped out of Federer's shadow in 2014 and got the year off to a blazing start as he blasted his way through the Australian Open draw to become (at the time) just the third player—other than Federer, Nadal, Murray, or Djokovic—to win a Slam since 2005.
On the way to the title, Wawrinka was able to turn the tables on Djokovic and win a tough five-setter after dropping two consecutive five set matches to the Serb the previous year. He followed up with a four set win over perennial top-tenner Tomas Berdych and then a four set win over an injured Nadal in the final, setting off a firestorm of speculation about the decline of the game's established champions.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the tennis season, Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori both reached their first ever Major final at the US Open—guaranteeing that another player would join Stan in the Grand Slam club. Both players have disparate, but equally interesting stories that really made the matchup compelling.
Nishikori has long been touted as part of tennis' next generation of talent, but injuries and inconsistent play have plagued the Japanese player. Since cracking the top 20 in 2012, Nishikori has bounced around, turning in results that were good, but never great. Cilic, on the other hand, had been around for a few more years, even cracking the top ten as early as 2010, though he's never truly been a Slam contender. A doping suspension in 2013 forced Cilic to miss four months and saw his ranking drop out of the top 40.
In the end, Cilic prevailed, grabbing a Slam trophy with three consecutive straight-sets wins. Sure, the remainder of Cilic's season was a little flat, but there's no arguing with the excitement of seeing a first-time Slam champion blast his way into the spotlight.
Switzerland Captures Their Maiden Davis Cup
A Davis Cup championship was the last major item missing from Roger Federer's already-packed résumé and he made it a priority right from the start of his 2014 campaign. Federer appeared at least once in all four of Switzerland's 2014 ties, including going 2-1 during the final against France. The final drew a record crowd and the buzz about Federer's legacy drew some added media coverage of the event.
The Bryan Brothers Capture #100
American men continued to turn in lukewarm results in singles, but the Bryan Brothers continue to be a bright spot. In 2014, the twins captured their 100th career doubles title on home turf at the US Open. They also broke out of their Grand Slam "slump," winning their first Major title since 2013 Wimbledon and avoiding their first season without a Slam since 2004. The twins have committed to playing through the 2016 Olympics, so I'm looking forward to another season of milestones and memories in 2015.
Honorable Mention - Nadal Stumbles, but Wins Historic Ninth French Open
Rafael Nadal's 2014 season certainly won't go down as one of his best—especially since he only managed to play seven matches after Wimbledon—but its relative mediocrity is part of what makes it memorable. Nadal deserves some credit for battling his way to a ninth French Open crown, but unfortunately, the rest of his season outside of Roland Garros was injury-plagued and largely subpar.
After tearing through the draw at the Australian Open—including a straight-sets demolition of Roger Federer in the semis—a back injury derailed Nadal during the final, prompting another round of concerns for the oft-injured star. He also struggled during the European clay court season—usually his most dominant stretch—losing back-to-back quarterfinals to David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro.
After Roland Garros, Nadal failed to make it past the quarterfinals of any event. He missed out on the entire summer hard court swing due to a wrist injury sustained during practice. Then, after a brief comeback towards the end of the year, Nadal had to pull the plug on 2014 to have surgery to remove his appendix.