COMMENTARY | Lovers of high-quality tennis are likely preparing their enjoyment receptors for a brief hibernation as the men's professional tennis tour enters the offseason.
Despite this depressing reality, the table appears set for a blockbuster year of tennis in 2014.
The Australian Open kicks off on January 13, 2014, which means the continuation of this golden age in the sport isn't actually that far away. Assuming things pick up where they left off in 2013, fans should be in for a real treat during the first half of the upcoming Grand Slam season.
That's because 2014 might represent the best chance for another Open Era player to achieve a rare feat in the game that hasn't been repeated since 1992 -- a year that Jim Courier won both the Australian Open and French Open to kick off the calendar.
Although several players have won three Grand Slams in a calendar year since 1992, none of them have done so by winning the first two. That means, technically speaking, Courier is the closest to winning the calendar Grand Slam since Rod Laver.
Jim Courier is the last player since Laver to enter the gates of Wimbledon with the knowledge that a title in London would put him only one step away from immortality.
Next season is shaping up to be an exciting year because there are two players with a very good chance of entering Wimbledon with that same type of epic opportunity. Those two players are, of course, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, the two top-ranked players in the world as of today.
For years, one of the most impressive feats in tennis has been winning the French Open and Wimbledon consecutively. Played on clay and grass with a short window of time between them, this double is believed to be one of the most difficult achievements in the game.
Interestingly, one would think that the difficulty of such an extraordinary feat would match its relative rarity. However, that simply isn't the case.
Looking back at history, the Australian-French double is even more rare as compared to other consecutive Grand Slam doubles during any given calendar year.
Looking more closely at the numbers reveals the following players and years that each Grand Slam double has occurred in Open Era history:
Rod Laver (1969)
Mats Wilander (1988)
Jim Courier (1992)
Rod Laver (1969)
Bjorn Borg (1978, 1979, 1980)
Rafael Nadal (2008, 2010)
Roger Federer (2009)
Wimbledon-US Open Double:
Rod Laver (1969)
Jimmy Connors (1974, 1982)
John McEnroe (1981, 1984)
Boris Becker (1989)
Pete Sampras (1993, 1995)
Roger Federer (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007)
Rafael Nadal (2010)
Novak Djokovic (2011)
Occurring only three times in the entire history of the Open Era, the Australian-French double is clearly a lot more rare than the French-Wimbledon double (7 times) and the Wimbledon-US Open (14 times). It's so elusive in the modern game that not one of the "Big Four" has accomplished the feat.
What makes 2014 so exceptional is that Novak Djokovic and Rafael could likely be considered co-favorites to actually lift both the Australian and French trophies in 2014.
Rafael Nadal recently completed an undefeated sweep of the 2013 American hard-court summer season that concluded with a title at the US Open. Should he remain injury-free through the start of the 2014 Australian Open, he will be itching to extend this run with another Grand Slam title on cement.
If he were to prevail in Melbourne, Nadal would be in an amazing position to cap off the double on what has essentially become his home court in Paris.
Novak Djokovic, on the other hand, has been dominant Down Under. Having won the Australian Open for a record third-consecutive time in 2013, Novak will undoubtedly throw everything he has at defending his turf. His past success in Australia, including against Nadal in the 2012 final, should bolster his confidence immensely.
If Novak were to take home a record fifth overall title at the Australian Open in 2014, he could potentially ride that wave of confidence through to the trophy ceremony in France. Djokovic has closed the talent gap against Nadal on clay in recent years, culminating with their nail-biting five-set semifinal last year.
As an added twist, each player has every reason to covet the other's title more than his own. Djokovic is still fighting to claim the career Grand Slam and is missing only the French Open for a full set.
Nadal, for his part, is surely aware that another hard court Slam would bolster his case in the seemingly endless "greatest-of-all-time" debate. With another title in Melbourne, he would not only be one step closer to Federer's 17, but he would become the first player in history to win a Grand Slam in 10 consecutive years -- he already stands alone with the current record at nine.
If either player matched Courier's mark in 1992, the ensuing atmosphere at Wimbledon would be mind blowing. No player since Laver has won the first three Slams in a calendar year and not player in history has ever done it on three different surfaces.
Of course, Roger Federer won't be standing idly by as the top two players fight for these extensive spoils. It's guaranteed that after such a poor showing in 2013, Federer will be throwing everything but the kitchen sink at his opponents in hopes of one last chance for glory.
Given the potential drama on tap for 2014, January 1 can't arrive soon enough.
Andrew Prochnow is a derivatives trader by day and a tennis buff by night. Tweet him @AndrewProchnow.
- Sports & Recreation
- Rafael Nadal
- Novak Djokovic
- Australian Open
- Roger Federer
- Jim Courier
- Rod Laver