- Alex Sharp

This year we witnessed a tremendous blend between the usual suspects, alongside the Next Gen truly flourishing.

Rafael Nadal hugging Dominic Thiem in the Roland-Garros 2018 final©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Soaring stars, legend legacies grew, 2018 was a season to remember

This year we witnessed a tremendous blend between the usual suspects clinching Major honours, alongside the Next Gen truly flourishing. Here’s the 2018 tale…

Melbourne magic once again for Federer


The legendary Rod Laver was spotted taking a quick snap on his phone, Roger Federer was blubbing with tears. What was the occasion? Well, the Swiss maestro had triumphed in a second successive five-set final to defend his Australian Open crown.

Federer’s passionate victory speech was a true tearjerker as he paid tribute to his legion of fans.

It says everything that his selfie with the trophy is still ‘pinned’ to the top of his Twitter profile.



Djokovic renaissance sweeps away the pack


Elbow surgery in February, despondent defeats, a dejected persona – would the gladiatorial Novak Djokovic ever reach the peak of his powers once again?

The Serbian labels the grass court season as a ‘catalyst’. That included a Queen’s Club final, but Wimbledon was where Djokovic truly ignited his renaissance. The 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(9), 3-6, 10-8 semi-final scorcher with Nadal was one of the matches of the decade. One to search out for the highlights for sure.

Djokovic’s Wimbledon title was complimented by completing the ‘Golden Masters’ collection in Cincinnati and ruling Flushing Meadows to lift the US Open. Rewind to the summer, the 14-time Grand Slam champion was world No.22. Now on holiday, Djokovic can reflect on the ultimate comeback.

Serena and Kerber soar back into contention


Equally as impressive as Djokovic, Serena Williams rocketed back to the top of tennis circuit.

Returning from a year away with childbirth, Williams’ comeback was box office and in Serena style, in just a fourth tournament back, she advanced to the Wimbledon final.

However, it was Angelique Kerber’s fortnight at the All England Club. The German crowned a return to form with a captivating collection of wins in SW19, before sweeping aside Serena.

"Wimbledon was always my biggest dream, when I was kid," added Kerber. "That was the biggest moment in my career, a special moment." 



 

Nadal savours “dream” No.11


Injuries unfortunately savaged Rafael Nadal’s 2018, but he still managed to lift plenty of silverware.

In a staggering accomplishment, the Spaniard ruled at Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Roland Garros for the 11th time as he dominated the clay court swing once again at his destructive best.

A 900th career win was aptly notched up at Roland Garros, courtesy of his fourth-round victory over Maximilian Marterer in Paris.



Wozniacki cracks the Grand Slam code

 
Hugging the trophy in her press conference, it was clear to see how much a maiden Grand Slam meant to Caroline Wozniacki.

Heartache in the 2009 and 2014 US Open finals was finally banished during a turbulent Australian Open.

The dogged Dane overhauled a break deficit in the deciding set to prevail past Simona Halep in the 7-6(2), 3-6, 6-4 final clash. Exactly six years after last ruling the roost, Wozniacki was back at No.1.



Halep finally joins the greats


It was a well-documented set of near misses. Simona Halep was renowned as a warrior, a spectacular athlete, but without Grand Slams to her name.

The fan favourite dissolved the disappointment of 2014 and 2017 Roland Garros final losses. Add into the equation the defeat by Wozniacki in Melbourne, the gravitas of the occasion for Halep in Paris was immeasurable.

The Romanian ousted Sloane Stephens in three absorbing sets to spark pure jubilation in team Halep. Hugs, tears and beaming smiles, Halep let all the emotions out as she greeted her nearest and dearest.

Another cracking contest with Stephens saw Halep capture the Rogers Cup title in the “best year of my career.” It will take a monumental effort to topple Halep off the top perch.



Osaka consolidates potential in style


“Hi I'm Naomi, okay never mind… I would like to thank Dasha for being super nice and a really cool person…This is probably going to be the worst tennis speech of all time."

Welcome to the witty world of Naomi Osaka.

The Japanese youngster has always been a mercurial talent, but in 2018 the Next Gen leader defeated Dasha Kasatkina to rule Indian Wells. This victory speech was a charming moment.




But don’t be fooled, Osaka is a fierce competitor. Having built up explosive speed and tactical prowess to compliment her cannonball shots, the 21-year-old also clinched the US Open.

The final was controversial, but Osaka managed to block out the drama unfolding with her idol Serena over the net to put in an accomplished display.

A player of very few words, but fortunately her tennis does the talking.



Forget the future, the youth are here now


The influx of fleeting youngsters following Osaka included the likes of Kasatkina and Aryna Sabalenka in 2018.

Over the men’s side and Stefanos Tsitsipas was a sparkling addition to the storyboard.

The gregarious Greek launched 76 ranking spots to finish the season world No.15. Wielding an artistic game, a Bjorn Borg image and picture-perfect diving volleys, Tsitsipas is the real deal.




Runner-up to Nadal in Barcelona, he then navigated past Dominic Thiem, Djokovic and Alexander Zverev en route to the Toronto final.

A scintillating campaign was capped by taking home the Next Gen ATP Finals trophy.

His opponent that day? Alex de Minaur, who also enjoyed a breakout year as the ATP ‘Newcomer of the year’

Up 177 ranking spots, the ‘Demon’ has illustrated his pedigree under the mentoring of a certain fellow Aussie Lleyton Hewitt.

 Add Paris Masters champion Karen Khachanov into the mix and we have a captivating collection of youngsters primed to take over the Tour.



Zverev sends of signal of intent


Despite his unlimited potential, Zverev has failed to truly deliver on the Grand Slam stage.

In a bite back to his critics, the German youngster fired out a warning to the established elite with a mightily impressive double over Federer, then Djokovic to curtail his season with the ATP Finals title.

Ivan Lendl joined the Zverev set up in August and has adapted the German’s artillery with more punch on the serve and astute forays to the net.

Very few can live with Sascha at his best. It’s very easy to forget he’s still only 21. Forget the Majors, every player would have seen that level of destruction Zverev inflicted on two legends of the sport.



 

The best of the rest


The ultimate entertainer Agnieszka Radwanska retired.  Renowned for her vast array of shots and trickery, the 2012 Wimbledon finalist called time on an absorbing career.



Elina Svitolina had the last laugh, taking home the WTA Finals in Singapore, whilst Ash Barty climbed to a career-high world No.15 courtesy of becoming the champion at the WTA Elite trophy.

It was also a memorable year for Juan Martin del Potro. His tormenting journey with a plethora of injuries has earned an adoring, dedicated following from very vocal fans.




They had reason to sing after the amicable Argentine saved three championship points to stun Federer 6-4, 6-7(8), 7-6(2) to win Indian Wells.

Furthermore, Del Potro blasted into a first Grand Slam final for nine years, eventually falling to the might of Djokovic in New York.