A one-on-one combative exchange, where tempers can flare and personalities clash, it’s no surprise that tennis is often compared to boxing.
2018 has been something of a wild year for tennis. From off court reforms to the sport’s ageing stars dominating another calendar year and the women’s tournaments again serving up unpredictable results, it’s been a roller-coaster.
Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep graduate 2018 at the top of their respective classes, but it doesn’t even go close to telling the whole story of the year that was.
Winding the clock all the way back to January, and the season officially got underway with the first grand slam of the year at a sweltering Melbourne Park.
The story of the tournament, without a shadow of a doubt, was again the set-up for a potential final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on the men’s side of the draw.
While Federer was able to blitz through his side of the draw on the way to a 20th grand slam title, Rafael Nadal battled through some slog-a-thons and the extra play told on his body.
A physical four-set encounter with Diego Schwartzman in hot weather was followed by a quarter-final battle against Marin Cilic, which ultimately ended in a fifth-set retirement.
Cilic then blasted past Kyle Edmund, while Hyeon Chung also rose from nowhere to make the semi-finals, only to be beaten by Federer in straight sets. It was the first time two unseeded players had made the semi-finals of the Australian Open.
It set up the second grand slam final between Federer and Cilic. When the Fed Express rolled through the first set 6-2, it looked like it wouldn’t be a challenge, but Cilic took him all the way to five sets in the end, only to be blown away 6-1.
Elsewhere, Nick Kyrgios looked like he had finally turned a corner (later proven not to be true) as he made the fourth round in a loss to Grigor Dimitrov.
On the women’s side of the draw, Caroline Wozniacki was finally able to break through with her first grand slam victory.
While Marta Kostyuk stole some headlines, becoming the youngest player to make the third round of any grand slam since 1997 at just 15 years of age, it was Wozniacki and Halep who stole the show in a final which ebbed and flowed over three sets.
It wouldn’t be fair to not talk about the match of the tournament though, which Halep obviously paid for. In the semi-final, she needed three sets and almost three hours in searing heat to get past Angelique Kerber, with the final set scoreline reading 9-7.
It wasn’t Halep’s only long match either – she went to 15-13 in the third set of her third round match against Lauren Davis.
Elsewhere, the women’s draw through up surprises galore. Johanna Konta, Daria Gavrilova and Garbine Muguruza gone in the second round, while Venus Williams was out in the first. Ashleigh Barty was the best-performed Aussie, getting to the third round before being ousted by Naomi Osaka.
Not for the first time, the game to play at Roland Garros was ‘see if you can stop Rafael Nadal.’
It seemed the only way Nadal was going to be stopped was if he came up with an injury or major, major choke. It was proven to be so, with Nadal only losing a single set throughout the tournament (to Diego Schwartzman), before he bashed Juan Martin Del Potro in the semi-final and Dominic Thiem in the final.
Thiem looked like he would be able to lay the challenge to Nadal at certain points during the tournament.
His form was excellent, beating Alexander Zverev in straight sets during the quarter-final, but as it turned out, he was no match for the world No.1.
The story of the French Open was the little-known unseeded Italian Marco Cecchinato, who eventually lost to Thiem.
The women’s side of the draw also shaped up to be a game of ‘stop me if you can,’ with Simona Halep the favourite and barely being challenged.
She went through the tournament only losing three sets, including the first of the first round against Alison Riske. From there though, she was dominant and ended up going on a run which included wins over Kerber, Muguruza and Sloane Stephens in the final.
Mugurza and Kerber were the two biggest challenges (both on the same side of the draw), but couldn’t do anything about the freight train that was Halep.
On the other side of the draw, it was an all-American semi-final as Madison Keys again fell just short, while Caroline Wozniacki only made the fourth round in backing up her Australian success.
It was a rough tournament for the Australians, with Daria Gavrilova and Ashleigh Barty making the third round, Samantha Stosur the second and everyone else being knocked out in the first.
This tournament will be forever remembered as the one which changed the rules. On the men’s side of the tournaments, advantage sets in the fifth are over, after a slew of long matches in 2018. 2019 will see tiebreakers introduced as 12-all.
And having watched every shot of the John Isner-Kevin Anderson epic in the semi-final, it’s hard to disagree with the rule change.
They played out to 26-24, with Anderson eventually qualifying for a final which he had nothing in the tank for, given his quarter-final effort – beating Roger Federer – was also a long one which went to 13-11.
The semi-final, which took over six hours, threw the tournament into mayhem, but the effort of Anderson couldn’t be discounted, who was backing up from beating the man who, like Nadal on clay, didn’t look beatable on grass.
Alas, he was and the second semi-final, between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal was delayed, then delayed some more. They eventually got on under the roof at Wimbledon, only to have play finish at 11pm local time due to a cease order in place.
They resumed the following day, with Djokovic taking the final set 10-8 in what may well have been match of the year. It delayed the women’s final on the same day, with Angelique Kerber battering Serena Williams in straight sets.
Kerber improved throughout the tournament, going from strength to strength to the point where she looked almost unstoppable come the final. She only lost a single set across her seven matches, and had some tough matches throughout that run.
The surprise was seeing Simona Halep knocked out in the third round by Hsieh Su-wei, while Caroline Garcia, Elina Svitolina and Sloane Stephens – seeds four through six – were all knocked out in the first round.
Elsewhere, Nick Kyrgios was the best Aussie, getting to the third round before being broken down by Kei Nishikori, while Daria Gavrilova and Ashleigh Barty also made the third round – Gavrilova after knocking Stosur out.
The 2018 US Open is unfortunately always going to be remembered for Serena Williams’ meltdown during the women’s final.
While it shouldn’t be the way, it will be. Naomi Osaka put on a stunning performance to beat the former world No.1, who was looking to cap her return from childbirth with a home grand slam win.
However, things went against her and she ended up with multiple code violations throughout the match, before the crowd got involved for Williams during the presentation.
It was an embarrassing display in the final grand slam of the year, but what wasn’t embarrassing was Osaka. She will aim to continue a run of form into 2019 which saw her only drop a single set for the entire tournament, although some will say she had an easy draw.
It could have been an all-American final as well, but Madison Keys was beaten by Osaka soundly.
Ashleigh Barty was again the best of the Aussies, making the fourth round before losing to Karolina Pliskova.
On the men’s side of the draw, Novak Djokovic continued his glorious return to the top, smacking Juan Martin Del Potro in the final without raising a sweat.
It was the perfect way to cap off the year for Djokovic, who will have his eye on the world No.1 ranking in 2019.
It could have been so much tougher though, if not for a retirement from Rafael Nadal during the semi-final where he was clearly battling with the heat and injury.
The story of the men’s side of the draw though was Australian John Millman, who came away with a career-defining victory over Roger Federer, before pushing hard against Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals, ultimately falling short.
The Davis Cup got more attention than it has done for a number of years in 2018, but it wasn’t the on-court action which dominated the headline.
I’ve made my opinions on the reforms to the competition clear previously, but from next year, it’ll be three-set tennis and only one home-and-away qualifying round ahead of a finals series to be held in Spain.
Safe to say it’s not the Davis Cup tennis fans have come to know and love.
And a what a Davis Cup it was in 2018. While Australia were bundled out early doors by Germany, which, at the time, set up a daunting task (one the nation ultimately failed at) to stay in the World Group against Austria, it ended up meaning nothing with all the top 24 teams invited back to qualifying next year.
Back out on the court, and it was a Marin Cilic inspired Croatia who played some exceptional tennis, before going to France – who were the defending champions – and putting on an incredible final effort to win 3-1.
Cilic was joined in the singles by Borna Coric, and while Coric lost his match, there was no getting past a red-hot Cilic who beat both Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Lucas Pouille to guide his team to victory.
The tie of the tournament though were in the semi-final rounds, with Croatia beating the USA 3-2 at home after Jim Courier made the baffling decision to play Frances Tiafoe in a deciding rubber.
The Fed Cup suffered no such reforms off the court, but there was some cracking tennis on it. Without Australia in the main world group, the Czech Republic rubber-stamped their dominance on female tennis, winning the competition for the fourth time in the last five years.
They laughed all the way to the bank in the final as well, smashing the USA 3-0.
Their team, featuring world No.7 Petra Kvitova, Barbora Strycova and the world No.1 doubles team of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (who won two doubles grand slams this year), were never going to be challenged.
They lost just a single live rubber across the three rounds of competition.
Australia’s plight was maintained in World Group 2. A close 3-2 victory over the Ukraine allowed qualification for the World Group Playoffs, where, despite Samantha Stosur losing the first rubber, Australia would come away with a 4-1 victory over the Netherlands in Wollongong to qualify for the top eight next year, where a tricky trip to the USA awaits.
Australian Open men’s singles: Roger Federer defeat Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1
Australian Open women’s singles: Caroline Wozniacki defeat Simona Halep 7-6, 3-6, 6-4
Australian Open men’s doubles: Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic defeat Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah 6-4, 6-4
Australian Open women’s doubles: Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic defeat Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina 6-4, 6-3
Australian Open mixed doubles: Gabriela Dabrowski and Mate Pavic defeat Timea Babos and Rohan Bopanna 2-6, 6-4 [11-9]
French Open men’s singles: Rafael Nadal defeat Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-3, 6-2
French Open women’s singles: Simona Halep defeat Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1
French Open men’s doubles: Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut defeat Oliver Marach and Mate Pavich 6-2, 7-6
French Open women’s doubles: Barbora Krejčíková and Kateřina Siniaková defeat Eri Hozumi and Makoto Ninomiya 6-3, 6-3
French Open mixed doubles: Latisha Chan and Ivan Dodig defeat Gabriela Dabrowski and Mate Pavic 6-1, 6-7, [10-8]
Wimbledon men’s singles: Novak Djokovic defeat Kevin Anderson 6-2, 6-2, 7-6
Wimbledon women’s singles: Angelique Kerber defeat Serena Williams 6-3, 6-3
Wimbledon men’s doubles: Mike Bryan and Jack Sock defeat Raven Klaasen and Michael Venus 6-3, 6-7, 6-3, 5-7, 7-5
Wimbledon women’s doubles: Barbora Krejčíková and Kateřina Siniaková defeat Nicole Melichar and Kveta Peschke 6-4, 4-6, 6-0
Wimbledon mixed doubles: Alexander Peya and Nicole Melichar defeat Jamie Murray and Victoria Azarenka 7-6, 6-3
US Open men’s singles: Novak Djokovic defeat Juan Martin Del Potro 6-4, 7-6, 6-3
US Open women’s singles: Naomi Osaka defeat Serena Williams 6-4, 6-2
US Open men’s doubles: Mike Bryan and Jack Sock defeat Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo 6-3, 6-1
US Open women’s doubles: Ashleigh Barty and CoCo Vandeweghe defeat Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic 3-6, 7-6, 7-6
US Open mixed doubles: Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jamie Murray defeat Alicja Rosolska and Nikola Mektic 2-6, 6-3, [11-9]
Men’s singles: Alexander Zverev defeat Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-3
Men’s doubles: Mike Bryan and Jack Sock defeat Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut 5-7, 6-1, [13-11]
Women’s singles: Elina Svitolina defeat Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-2, 6-2
Women’s doubles: Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic defeat Barbora Krejčíková and Kateřina Siniaková 6-4, 7-5
Men’s futures singles: Stefanos Tsitsipas defeat Alex De Minaur 2-4, 4-1, 4-3, 4-3 (Fast 4)
WTA elite trophy: Ashleigh Barty defeat defeat Wang Qiang 6-3, 6-4
Davis Cup: Croatia defeat France 3-1
Fed Cup: Czech Republic defeat United States of America 3-0
Hopman Cup: Switzerland defeat Germany 2-1
Laver Cup: Team Europe defeat Team World 13-8
Indian Wells: Juan Martin Del Potro defeat Roger Federer 6-4, 6-7, 7-6
Miami Open: John Isner defeat Alexander Zverev 6-7, 6-4, 6-4
Monte Carlo Masters: Rafael Nadal defeat Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-2
Madrid Open: Alexander Zverev defeat Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-4
Italian Open: Rafael Nadal defeat Alexander Zverev 6-1, 1-6, 6-3
Canadian Open: Rafael Nadal defeat Stefano Tsitsipas 6-2, 7-6
Cincinnati Masters: Novak Djokovic defeat Roger Federer 6-4, 6-4
Shanghai Masters: Novak Djokovic defeat Borna Coric 6-3, 6-4
Paris Masters: Karen Khachanov defeat Novak Djokovic 7-5, 6-4
Qatar Open: Petra Kvitova defeat Garbine Muguruza 3-6, 6-3, 6-4
Indian Wells: Naomi Osaka defeat Daria Kasatkina 6-3, 6-2
Miami Open: Sloane Stephens defeat Jelena Ostapenko 7-6, 6-1
Italian Open: Elina Svitolina defeat Simona Halep 6-0, 6-4
Madrid Open: Petra Kvitova defeat Kiki Bertens 7-6, 4-6, 6-3
Canadian Open: Simona Halep defeat Sloane Stephens 7-6, 3-6, 6-4
Cincinnati Open: Kiki Bertens defeat Simona Halep 2-6, 7-6, 6-2
Wuhan Open: Aryan Sabalenka defeat Anett Kontaveit 6-3, 6-3
China Open: Caroline Wozniacki defeat Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 6-3
1. Novak Djokovic
2. Rafael Nadal
3. Roger Federer
4. Alexander Zverev
5. Juan Martin Del Potro
6. Kevin Anderson
7. Marin Cilic
8. Dominic Thiem
9. Kei Nishikori
10. John Isner
1. Simona Halep
2. Angelique Kerber
3. Caroline Wozniacki
4. Elina Svitolina
5. Naomi Osaka
6. Sloane Stephens
7. Petra Kvitova
8. Karolina Pliskova
9. Kiki Bertens
10. Daria Kasatkina