Tennis has a way of exploding all of a sudden. After a brief calm stretch in the offseason, the ATP and WTA are back at full throttle with five official tournaments being held this week – in Brisbane, Shenzhen, Doha, Auckland and Chennai – as well as the exhibition Hopman Cup taking place in Perth.
Barring a handful of withdrawals, everyone is in action – even Novak Djokovic, who hadn’t played an official tournament prior to the Australian Open since 2009.
The world No1 was lured into playing Doha for the first time and you can look at it in one of two ways; either he’s not feeling too confident with his game heading into Melbourne, or the Qataris offered him an appearance fee he couldn’t refuse.
Considering Djokovic ended 2014 with two titles and has won 22 of his last 24 matches, it seems the latter is the more likely reason behind his Doha debut.
Entering the new year, a host of players are showing up for the first time with new mentors following a very active coaching carousel in the offseason.
Here are a few partnerships we’re excited about…
Madison Keys and Lindsay Davenport
Madison Keys is the highest ranked teenager in the WTA and could be the most exciting prospect in American tennis.
The 19-year-old teamed up with three-time grand slam champion Lindsay Davenport and you could already imagine the former world No1 guiding Keys to the second week at Wimbledon this year. Davenport’s husband Jon Leach will also be helping out.
Agnieszka Radwanska and Martina Navratilova
Martina Navratilova is the latest super coach to join the ATP/WTA circus and you’ve got to applaud Agnieskza Radwanska for hiring the Czech-born American legend.
Not only is Navratilova an 18- time grand slam singles champion, the 58-year-old has been one of the best commentators in tennis over the past several years, and her ability to analyse the game could prove invaluable to Radwanska.
Radwanska is one of the most exciting players to watch but the ex-Wimbledon runner-up has been lacking a ruthless touch that can get her over the grand slam hump.
If Navratilova can help her adopt some of her own aggressive style, the result could be just marvellous.
Tomas Berdych and Dani Vallverdu
This was an unexpected hiring as Tomas Berdych decided to take on Andy Murray’s ex-hitting partner as a full-time coach.
It is Dani Vallverdu’s first gig as a head coach and it’ll be interesting to see how the Venezuelan will proceed after things turned sour in his final months with Murray.
Could Berdych follow in the footsteps of Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic and be this year’s first-time grand slam champion?
Ekaterina Makarova became just the 12th Russian to enter the top-10 in the WTA. With the points of the first week of the year dropped, Makarova has moved to No10 in the rankings. She is the only player currently in the top-10 in both singles and doubles.
Roger Federer can also reach 1,000 career wins this week in Brisbane if he wins the title.
After almost two-and-a-half years with illness and injury, the two-time grand slam runner-up is launching another comeback. The Russian, currently ranked 250, kicked off her 2015 season with a win over world No22 Peng Shuai in Shenzhen. Here’s hoping this is a sign for better things to come for the 30-year-old.
Juan Martin del Potro
The ex-US Open champion delayed his return from a right wrist injury and has pulled out of Brisbane with Argentinean media reporting that he still can’t hit his backhand without pain. Out since last March, Del Potro’s Australian Open participation looks in doubt.
The former top-tenner has also delayed his return to tennis after struggling with a benign tumour in his foot. His friend Djokovic said Tipsarevic, who hasn’t played since October 2013, is due to come back in February.
Out with a left wrist injury for the past 12 months, Robson won’t play the Australian Open but will make her return in a series of low-key events in February.
Rafael Nadal admits that “things aren’t looking very well” for Spain in the Davis Cup this year, implying a promotion back into the World Group may not be in the cards.
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The Spaniard was not keen on discussing details of the problems the players are having with their federation, who surprised the team by appointing ex-WTA player Gala Leon as the new captain replacing Carlos Moya.
The players, who felt they weren’t consulted before the decision was made, were then accused of being sexist, with allegations that they are against Leon’s appointment because she is a woman, but Nadal and his team-mates hit out at such accusations, saying they were false and that the federation and Leon were inciting controversy that does not exist.
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Spain, who had dominated Davis Cup since the turn of the century, winning the title five times in 2000, 2004, 2008, 2009 and 2011, but suffered a shock relegation at the hands of Brazil last year.
They have a bye in the first round of the Group I this season, and will face either Russia or Denmark away in the second round in July.
Nadal refused to say he is committed to playing that tie and feels the circumstances are lined up against Spain to have a successful campaign in the inter-nation competition this year.
“A lot of controversy, a lot of people saying things that were completely not true,” Nadal told reporters in Abu Dhabi ahead of his opening match in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship on Friday.
“It’s difficult to say things about that. But seriously, it’s not the ideal situation for nobody at the end. Because when nobody is happy, when the federation is not happy with the players, when the players aren’t happy with the federation. When nobody is happy with nobody then the situations are a little bit more difficult to make the right process, to try to be back in the World Group.
“But somebody chose that way. Just accept that.
“My plan to play in Davis Cup… I’m here in Abu Dhabi, we don’t have Davis Cup until July and it’s difficult for me to say yes or no. Because I really don’t know and now I really don’t care much. I’m worried about other things.”
Asked how confident he was that Spain can overcome such off-court drama and get back to top flight, he said: “Things aren’t looking very well. We have a tough rival, probably will be Russia, but either way it will be outside (away). It won’t be easy. Even playing with the best players in our country it won’t be an easy confrontation. I don’t know if these situations are ideal ones to have all the implication that the competition needs to be back in the World Group.”
Former world No9 Nicolas Almagro has shed doubt on his participation at the Australian Open, conceding that he may not be ready to return to official competition following a seven-month injury layoff.
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The Spaniard has slipped to No71 in the world after sustaining a foot injury that required surgery.
He had not played a match since last May and despite making his return in Abu Dhabi this weekend – falling to Stan Wawrinka and beating Feliciano Lopez – Almagro has withdrawn from the ATP event in Doha next week and is unsure whether he will play the Australian Open.
The 29-year-old, whose 12 career titles have all come on clay, admits that he considered holding off his comeback until the South American clay court swing but decided to give it a shot so as not to miss the opening grand slam of the season.
On why he decided to pull out of the Qatar Open, which starts on Monday, he said: “Yesterday was tough moments at the beginning of the match (against Wawrinka). I didn’t feel really good with my movement, with my foot again. I decided to rest a little bit because it was really tough during the last six months. I took that decision because the season is really long and I don’t want to play with more pain.”
Asked whether his Australian Open participation was in jeopardy, the Murcia native added: “We need to see. Today was a bit better but we’ll see tomorrow. I’m going to have a lot of pain but we’ll see. You never know.”
Almagro describes 2014 as a tough year and is looking for answers as to why he keeps picking up injuries.
“It’s impossible to have the shoulder, the knee, the foot – the calf which I injured when I was trying to come back at the end of the year,” he added. “It’s destiny, it’s life, but 2014 was a really, really, really tough year for me. We’ll see what will happen in 2015. I’m happy and I want to be healthy.”