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The 2013 clay court season will go down as one in which Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams completely dominated, and for both of them it translated into French Open success.
This is Part II of the tennis season in review. In Part I, I reviewed the Australian Open series, the Middle East swing and the two major events at Indian Wells and Miami.
This part will look at the clay court season, as well as Wimbledon, which saw an unprecedented number of upsets which culminated in history being made and an unlikely pair of Grand Slam finalists left to fight it out for the women’s title.
The clay court season officially began at the Monte Carlo Masters, where Rafael Nadal was looking to close in on an unprecedented ten consecutive titles.
However, Novak Djokovic would have other ideas, as he dethroned the undisputed King of Clay to win the most significant clay court title of his career (after the pair of titles he won over Nadal at Madrid and Rome in 2011) and claim a psychological edge ahead of the French Open.
In Stuttgart, Maria Sharapova struggled her way to a second consecutive title there, by defeating (and avenging an Australian Open semi-final thrashing at the hands of) Li Na in the final. This won her the tournament’s top prize of another brand new Porsche, and talk was going to be what she was going to do with it.
Nadal, on the other hand, bounced back from losing in Monte Carlo for the first time in a decade to extend his dominance in Barcelona, claiming an eighth consecutive title there.
Madrid then rolled around, and this year the surface was reverted back to its good old red clay surface following the controversial blue clay surface which earned the ire of many top players, including Djokovic and Nadal, last year.
It was during this tournament in which Bernard Tomic’s father, John, was charged with assaulting his son’s training partner, for which he would later receive a 12-month ban from attending any ATP-sanctioned events, including the Grand Slams.
On court, Novak Djokovic crashed out in his first match to Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov, while defending champion Roger Federer and world number three Andy Murray were also early casualties, leaving Rafael Nadal to claim his second title in Madrid since the tournament switched from indoors to clay in 2009.
In the women’s, top four players Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska both fell in the second round, the former suffering her first defeat of the season to Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova after seemingly being in cruise control, having won the first set 6-1.
Radwanska, on the other hand, was easily beaten by Laura Robson; this defeat clearing the way for Ana Ivanovic, whom Radwanska had already beaten twice (later three times) in the season, to reach the semi-finals.
The semi-final line-up comprised four good clay court specialists: Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Sara Errani and Ivanovic. Eventually it was Williams who defeated Sharapova in the final to successfully retain the title.
Rome followed soon after, and once again it was Nadal who triumphed in the Italian capital, upending Roger Federer in the final. Williams, on the other hand, won her first title there since 2002 by defeating Azarenka in the final.
This tournament saw the run to the semi-finals by unheralded Romanian Simona Halep, who defeated big names such as Svetlana Kuznetsova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Jelena Jankovic on her way to the final four, where she eventually found Williams way too good for her.
Then came the second Grand Slam tournament of the year, the French Open. Nadal and Williams both entered as the favourites, and true to form, both triumphed.
Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro were pre-tournament casualties, with a back injury and illness respectively preventing them from defending their quarter-final points from 2012.
Nadal defeated good friend, compatriot and first-time Grand Slam finalist David Ferrer to become the first man to hold eight of any Grand Slam title, while Williams dethroned Maria Sharapova to win her first title in Paris in 11 years.
For Williams, this title was eleven years in the making. During the interval, Justine Henin won four French Open titles, two of which included defeating Williams on the way to the title (2003 semi-finals and 2007 quarter-finals).
Williams had also been on the wrong end of two major upsets: in 2008, when she lost in the third round to Katarina Srebotnik, and in 2012, when she lost in the first round to Virginie Razzano, that defeat sparking the current dominance we are seeing from the American today.
On both occasions, she had very easy draws and would have met the respective eventual champions, Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova, in the quarter-finals.
Given her dominance against both glamour girls, Williams could so easily have had four French Open titles now as well as a quadruple Grand Slam.
The grass court season then arrived. Murray and del Potro returned from their injuries to play at Queen’s, which Murray would win by dethroning defending champion Marin Cilic in the final.
Meanwhile, in Halle, Roger Federer would win his only title for the year by defeating Mikhail Youzhny in three sets, while in Birmingham, Daniela Hantuchova defeated rising Croat star Donna Vekic to win her first grass court title of her career.
In Eastbourne, Agnieszka Radwanska and Ana Ivanovic were first round casualties, their conquerors going on to meet in the final, which was won by Elena Vesnina over Jamie Hampton. Feliciano Lopez would win the men’s title by defeating Gilles Simon in the final.
Simona Halep, fresh off her run to the semis in Rome, claimed her first two career titles on two different surfaces in as many weeks, first by winning in Nuremburg and then at the TOPSHELF Open in the Netherlands.
Entering Wimbledon, talk dominated as to whether Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams could continue their season dominance at the All England Club.
In particular, as Nadal was to be seeded fifth, it was going to be interesting seeing which quarter he was to be assigned to.
Andy Murray’s fans were the most nervous, as it was Nadal who had three times ended the Brit’s hopes in 2008, 2010 and 2011. As of 2013, Murray has never beaten Nadal on grass, let alone in Great Britain.
In fact, Murray’s only win against Nadal in Europe was in the final of the Rotterdam event in 2009.
Eventually, he was drawn to meet Roger Federer in the quarter-finals, this ended up being the earliest possible stage they could have met since the 2004 Australian Open.
However, for the second year in a row, Nadal would end up on the wrong end of Wimbledon’s biggest upset – whereas last year he was stunned in five sets by Lukas Rosol, then ranked 100 in the world, this year saw an even bigger shock – a straight-sets dismissal on the very first day by Belgium’s Steve Darcis, ranked 135 in the world.
Nadal’s loss was the start of many upsets to strike the Wimbledon Championships.
His WTA rankings counterpart, Sara Errani, crashed out to Puerto Rica’s Monica Puig, hours before the Spaniard’s brain explosion on Court One.
Then, on Black Wednesday, there was an unprecedented number of upsets as many former-ranked top players fell on a chaotic day never before seen in tennis history.
The carnage started with Victoria Azarenka’s pre-match withdrawal from the tournament, which was followed soon after by Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki making swift exits to little known opposition, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retiring hurt to Ernests Gulbis and Lleyton Hewitt losing to German qualifier Dustin Brown.
But nobody saw Roger Federer’s upset dismissal coming.
The great Swiss and defending champion lost in four sets to Ukraine’s Sergiy Stakhovsky, ending his remarkable streak of 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarter-finals and seeing his ranking drop outside the top four for the first time in a decade.
His defeat followed error-strewn performances by Ivanovic and Tsonga, the former of whom was relocated onto Centre Court following Azarenka’s withdrawal from the tournament.
Amongst this carnage, however, Andy Murray, Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska all avoided the tsunami as they kept their Wimbledon hopes alive for at least another few days.
That was until Serena Williams failed in her bid to match her older sister Venus’ 35-match winning streak, which was set back in 2000, when she fell foul of Germany’s Sabine Lisicki at the gates to the quarter-finals.
It would be the only tournament in which Serena would not reach the quarter-finals all year, and it continued Lisicki’s habit of beating freshly-crowned French Open champions at the All England Club.
Svetlana Kuznetsova (2009), Li Na (2011) and Maria Sharapova (2012) have all previously fallen victim to the German, who after defeating Williams this year went on to beat Radwanska before suffering a meltdown in the championship match and losing to France’s Marion Bartoli rather easily.
Bartoli, for her part, became the first woman since Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2010 to win a Grand Slam title without dropping a set, and the first since Maria Sharapova won the 2008 Australian Open to win without playing a tiebreak set.
Meanwhile, the men’s final went to script and as expected it was Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray who met on the tournament’s final day.
This match-up almost never happened, as Murray found himself two sets to love down against Fernando Verdasco before rallying to win in five sets in the quarter-finals, while Djokovic found himself battling Juan Martin del Potro over five sets in the semi-finals.
In the final itself, it was Murray who all but buried the demons of last year’s failure as he recorded an emphatic straight-sets victory over Djokovic to become the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win the most coveted trophy in men’s tennis – Wimbledon.
And so that wraps up Part II of the tennis season in review.
Part III will review the US Open series all the way through to the Davis Cup final.