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Chris Wilkinson: Murray tops biggest matches of 2013

Chris Wilkinson December 20, 2013
It is impossible to overstate the significance of Andy Murray's Wimbledon triumph in 2013 © PA Photos
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At the end of a season packed with thrills, spills, upsets and historic achievements, I've picked out my stand-out moments from a year that will live long in the memory for tennis fans - especially those of us in the UK.

Seventy-seven years

Wimbledon men's final: Andy Murray d. Novak Djokovic 6-4 7-5 6-4

Without a doubt, the biggest moment in tennis in 2013. You can't overstate the significance of what Andy Murray achieved in ending Britain's 77-year-wait for a Wimbledon men's singles champion. The quality of the final may not have been the greatest - Novak Djokovic was particularly jaded after beating Juan Martin del Potro in the longest semi-final in Wimbledon history - but it was unsurpassed in terms of atmosphere and emotion. Murray returned to the final a year on from losing to Roger Federer, and the tears that followed that 2012 final simply amplified the emotion and tension as he closed in on the title. It meant so much, not only to him but to the British public.

What should we expect from Murray in 2014?

  • Having been out with a back injury, January is a crucial month for him. He's always done very well at the Australian Open and it will be interesting to see how he does there after his time out. I get the sense that he could struggle initially, but he will get better and have a good year - by the time he reaches Indian Wells and Miami we'll start to see the real Andy Murray. There will be a different pressure on him as he heads to Wimbledon as defending champion, but I expect big things. He's a winner, not a one-trick pony.

The thing with Murray is that he is a winner - he's only interested in winning and what it takes to win. At long last, the public get that. The fact that he didn't turn up to collect his Sports Personality of the Year Award upset a few people, but from his point of view now is the time to be preparing for the Australian Open. His mentality is a winning mentality and people have come to understand that now. Personality-wise he might not be up there with the likes of Djokovic or Federer, but what he does bring is a single-minded approach to improving. In the past we've had sportsmen and women who have achieved fame through their personalities rather than from what they have achieved. From that point of view, Murray is a refreshing change - a sportsman people have warmed to because he is a winner.

Light the blue touch paper…

Australian Open fourth round: Novak Djokovic d. Stanislas Wawrinka 1-6 7-6 6-4 6-7 12-10

This was the match that really ignited the 2013 season. The quality of the tennis was incredible, but of greater significance was the effect the match had on Stan Wawrinka's season, even in defeat. After years spent walking in Roger Federer's footsteps, he finished the year in the top 10 and reached the ATP World Tour Finals.

Who will finish higher in 2014 year-end rankings: Nadal or Djokovic?

  • I think Djokovic will end the year on top. Nadal has so many points to defend in 2014 - especially early on - that he faces a tough task to maintain his lead in the rankings. Nadal had an incredible year, maybe because he was fresher following his time out, but I can see Djokovic regaining the No. 1 spot at the end of 2014. It will be those two jostling for the next few years to come, along with Murray and Juan Martin del Potro, who I reckon is set for a big year in 2014. We could see a new Big Four establish itself next season.

Djokovic went on to win the Australian Open again, setting up another incredible season - albeit one overshadowed by the achievements of Rafael Nadal. Both of those guys have had amazing years, with Djokovic finishing with a flourish at the World Tour Finals with victory against the Spaniard having gone unbeaten since losing to him in the US Open final.

What Wawrinka achieved in 2013 came through the confidence he took from that match. Is it a surprise that it has taken until now for him to enjoy a breakthrough season? It's tough to say. Players mature at different times, but the arrival of a new coach - former French Open finalist Magnus Norman - has made a big difference.

Wawrinka has always had the potential - here's hoping he can kick on once more in 2014.

Dethroned

Wimbledon second round: Sergiy Stakhovsky d. Roger Federer 6-7 7-6 7-5 7-6

Sergiy Stakhovsky beating Roger Federer stacks up as one of the greatest upsets in Wimbledon history. Think about it - the seven-time champion and world No. 2 losing to a player ranked outside of the top 100 in the second round.

Is the Roger Federer farewell tour underway?

  • I think Federer will keep going for another year or two. Wimbledon will be pivotal for him, but whether that is in 2014 or 2015 I'm not sure. So much depends on his ranking. He won't be like Lleyton Hewitt and keep on playing as his ranking slides - once he is outside of the top 10 we could quite possibly see him call it a day. I can't see him winning any more slams - the other guys are much too tough now - but he'll be a feature in the second weeks and will do well to get to the latter stages. He's just started a new sports agency, which suggests he is preparing for life after tennis.

By the time the players reached Wimbledon in June, it was beginning to look like a difficult year for Federer. I've said all along that I expected him to struggle this season. Age catches up with you - he's no youngster any more, he has this back injury that has prevented him from playing at 100% of his capabilities for most of the season. Personally I think he'll struggle to win another grand slam. The other players are getting better, and he's losing his edge.

But when you think about his record at Wimbledon, what he's achieved there and elsewhere, you would still expect him to do well on the grass. All credit to Stakhovsky, who serve-volleyed throughout the entire match and playing pretty incredible tennis. You just don't see players serve-volleying any more, now that the courts and balls are that much slower. But all credit to Stakhovsky, he stuck to his guns and believed in what he was doing. I was watching it, telling myself it was going to change any minute, but it was bizarre.

Incredibly, it was just one of Wimbledon's many shock exits in 2013, which brings me to…

Victim of his own success

Wimbledon first round: Steve Darcis d. Rafael Nadal 7-6 7-6 6-4

This result again came as a shock, but for very different reasons. Nadal was simply shattered after his incredible return to competitive action after his seven-month lay-off - having reached the final of all nine tournaments since his comeback in February, winning seven, the Spaniard ran out of steam. He looked tired following his French Open victory and was probably sore from his exertions throughout the clay court season.

Who can make a breakthrough in 2014?

  • I'd like to see some new faces in the top 10 of the ATP Tour. Milos Raonic made a brief appearance in 2013 and should establish himself next season, while Jerzy Janowicz will do well. Keep an eye on Grigor Dimitrov and Kei Nishikori - those four guys should be knocking on the door of the top 10 next season. As for the women's game, who knows!

Darcis was simply the player to meet Nadal at the right moment in a stellar year that ended with the Spaniard back at No. 1 and with two more grand slam titles to his name. For me his most incredible feat was winning Indian Wells - he hadn't won a hard court tournament since 2010 and was coming back from a second serious knee injury, something he put down to the toll the concrete courts take on his legs. I was expecting him to head to America and play for a week just to test himself out, but instead he went and won the tournament.

He's proved not only how good he is in 2013, but also that he's better away from the clay than ever before. To take seven months out and return to win 10 titles - four on hard courts, six on clay and a slam on each - is a formidable achievement.

Two dream runs, one final nightmare

Wimbledon women's final: Marion Bartoli d. Sabine Lisicki 6-1 6-4

The mental side of the game is fascinating. Sabine Lisicki went into her quarter-final with Serena Williams as a huge underdog, and was the lower ranked player against Agnieszka Radwanska. Without the weight of expectation she played beyond herself to beat them both, and suddenly she was in the final and the pressure changed completely.

She stepped on court with Marion Bartoli as the player who had taken out two of the favourites for the title. Wimbledon was suddenly hers for the taking - and she couldn't handle it. That's the difference between the best players in the world and the rest.

It goes down as the year's biggest choke. The German got too tight, too nervous. She wasn't used to the experience, whereas Bartoli had been in a Wimbledon final before, which helped her immensely.

It was nice having someone else win Wimbledon, someone nice, someone a bit crazy and unorthodox on court. It was refreshing in the women's game. Bartoli was focused, aggressive and relentless. Without facing a player in the top 10, she was crowned Wimbledon champion. And then, out of the blue, she retired.

Yes, Bartoli's retirement came as a shock, but she had reached a stage in her career where she had given so much for tennis that her body was knackered. Then there is the amount of pressure she had put on herself over the years, not least under the tutelage of her father. Something had to give. Winning Wimbledon allowed her to bow out rather than burn out. Nevertheless, I'm surprised she stopped - I thought she'd go for another year and return to the All England Club - but she retires as Wimbledon champion. Not many people can say that.

Back where she belongs

Qatar Total Open quarter-finals: Serena Williams d. Petra Kvitova 3-6 6-3 7-5

When it comes to the Williams sisters, for many years they have simply won when they feel like it. While that may not be true for Venus any more, Serena proved just that with a sterling 2013 season in which she reclaimed the world No. 1 spot for the first time in more than two years. Historically it made her the oldest No. 1 since the WTA Tour began.

Are there any players who can challenge Serena?

  • It's tough, isn't it? There are the likes of Petra Kvitova, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka are still there, but frankly it comes down to what Serena does. The others will maintain their level, but as it stands they won't be able to compete if Serena is on her game and motivated. Serena will be at the top of the women's game as long as she is fit and up for it.

To have returned to the top-rank position - not only from a slump to No. 175 in the world rankings but from the foot injury and life-threatening complications that left her sidelined for a year after her 2010 Wimbledon victory - is a testament to Serena's motivation over the past couple of years. She's been working with a new coach, Frenchman Patrick Mouratoglou, who has had a big impact on her hunger for the game, and since 2012 she has collected four grand slam titles and Olympic gold, as well as back-to-back victories at the season-ending WTA Tour Championships. She ended the year with a 78-4 win-loss record. Not bad for a 32-year-old!

The match that sealed it ended up being a contest befitting the achievement as Petra Kvitova pushed Serena all the way. The very fact Serena was in Doha, playing the tournament for the first time, spoke volumes about her desire to regain the No. 1 spot. But she was forced to dig deep against one of the few players out there capable of matching her firepower. Kvitova threw everything at Serena but the American held on to claim an emotional victory - with a spot in the semi-final guaranteeing her return to the top of the rankings.

Can she maintain that motivation going in 2014? As long as she stays injury-free I see no reason why not. There's plenty of talk about how dominant some of the men's players have been over the years, but what Serena achieved, particularly in 2013, has been nothing short of incredible. It's tough for the other players to even compete at her level.

Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1

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Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis. Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis.