With the start of the 2014 tennis season just days away, Beyond The Baseline highlights the 10 most intriguing ATP players. Some are on the verge of some headline-grabbing storylines (for better or worse), while others are just bound to be headline-grabbers just by being themselves.
Roger Federer (Ranked No. 6): He is the most interesting man in the tennis world right now — a man of mystery, if you will. He blames his sub-par 2013 season on his back injury, but he’s been able to play and practice without pain for the last three months. While 2014 is shaping up to be a battle between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic for supremacy, Federer, who turns 33 next year, is hands-down the most intriguing player for 2014. Given how much he means to the game, I think I can safely say everyone aside from rabid anti-fans is rooting for a rebound.
Juan Martin del Potro (Ranked No. 5): You tune into a del Potro match for the same reason why you tune into the home run derby or why you put down your phone to watch David Ortiz step into the batter’s box in October — because it’s fun to watch a guy clobber the cover off the ball just because he can. Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Andy Murray have won 34 of the last 35 Grand Slams, and the lone Slam was won by this man, who crashed the Big Four party in 2009 to win the U.S. Open, beating both Nadal and Federer along the way. Finally putting his wrist injury woes behind him, del Potro was the only player to beat all four men in 2013, and his destructive forehand looked back on form as the year went on.
Stanislas Wawrinka (Ranked No. 9): Wawrinka forced everyone to sit up and take notice in 2013; the question is whether he can do it again. We’ve seen too many players break through only to fall off the radar and suffer a sophomore slump. Here’s to hoping Wawrinka doesn’t follow the pattern. Watching him rip one-handed backhands cross-court was one of my favorite sights this year.
Tommy Haas (Ranked No. 12): After back-to-back seasons in which he finished at No. 21 (after being ranked outside the top 100) and No. 12, does the 35-year old Haas have another one in him? Based on this photo, I wouldn’t bet against him. Much like his good friend Federer, there’s nothing more intriguing than watching athletes try and succeed in keeping Father Time at bay for (at least) one more year.
Grigor Dimitrov (Ranked No. 23): The season is already starting off like gangbusters for Dimitrov, and he hasn’t even hit a ball yet. There’s an actual “Baby Fed” on the way, which means he may just shed that nickname once and for all (or at least for the next nine months). Dimitrov has always been a fun talent to watch, with his one-handed backhand and oddly-effective Bambi-on-Ice-style defense. But now that he’s winning titles and competing well against the game’s elite, he’s no longer just a hype-machine (or Maria Sharapova’s arm candy).
Ernests Gulbis (Rank: No. 24): The importance of being Ernests is that you’re unapologetic about being Ernests. What’s not to like about the guy? Yes, he has the tendency to run his mouth on a variety of topics, but he always speaks his mind and cuts through all the PR nonsense that forces so many other players to hold their tongues. He has a load of points to defend in the first half of the season, and it will be telling to see how he handles that pressure. He’s easily a top 15 talent if he can reign in his inconsistency, but then again, if he were consistent, reliable and predictable, he wouldn’t be Ernests Gulbis.
Benoit Paire (Rank: No. 26): Not only is he coming of a career year that saw him hit No. 24 this summer, but he also hits shots like this, breaks rackets like this and prepares for matches like this. He is your new favorite tennis player.
Gael Monfils (Rank: No. 31): Everyone loves watching Monfils. How do we know this? Because he made a stadium full of Americans root against one of their own who dared to beat him. The most entertaining man in tennis somehow finished right outside the top 30 after a sub-par year that was marred with injuries and layoffs. Win or lose, he always puts on a show.
Vasek Pospisil (Rank: No. 32): Prior to this season, Pospisil’s heroics were confined to his “Beast Mode” effort for the Canadian Davis Cup team in 2011 to put them back into the World Group. But the 23-year old (yes, he’s older than Canada’s No. 1 Milos Raonic) shot up the rankings this season thanks to a miraculous run to the semifinals of the Rogers Cup in Montreal, as well as the semifinals of the Swiss Indoors this fall. He would have risen even higher had a series of tiebreak matches gone his way.
Donald Young (Rank: No. 96): There’s a predictable cycle that consistently ensnares sports prodigies. When the prodigy takes the big stage, fans resent their hype and hope they fail. Then, they fail (because really, who has ever lived up to the hype?), get knocked for their failure and are nearly forgotten about. But then comes a time when they begin to redeem themselves, and fans come back to root for them hard. Now at 24 years old, Young is at the end of that cycle. After falling out of the top 200 in February he toiled away on the ATP Challenger circuit and worked his way back inside the top 100. His story isn’t quite done yet.