By Mike McIntyre
It was more of the same for the start of the 2014 season on the ATP World Tour. World number one Rafael Nadal hoisted the trophy in Doha continuing his impressive return to the game following an eight month injury break that lasted from June of 2012 until February of 2013. In the 18 tournaments he has played since then, Rafa has won an astounding 11 and lost in the finals of 4 others.
In Doha, Nadal overcame his 2012 Wimbledon nemesis Lukas Rosol in the opening round, defeated a tricky Ernests Gulbis in the third round, survived a stiff challenge from Peter Gojowczyk in the semis and then finally toppled Gael Monfils in the finals, a guy who has historically had his number in this early season tournament. Nadal is simply en fuego and not likely to let-up anytime soon. The favourite at the Australian Open - you bet.
You can count world number three and four, David Ferrer and Andy Murray amongst those who found Doha to be a disappointment to the start of their seasons. Ferrer lost in the second round to German Daniel Brands while Murray also fell in his second match against another German, Florian Mayer. Ferrer should rebound quickly enough but I am a bit concerned for Murray as he recovers from back surgery late in 2013.
Gotta give the German contingent credit for their performance in Doha. Four of them made it to the quarter-finals and the rise of the previously (relatively) unknown Gojowczyk was something to see. It reminded me of the emergence of Jerzy Janowicz in Paris in 2012 or Federico Delbonis in Hamburg last summer. We'll have to wait and see if he can continue his early season success but so far he is the surprise player on the ATP Tour in 2014.
In Brisbane, Roger Federer made his first ever appearance at the event and did not disappoint by making it all the way to the finals. Still, Federer did not leave with the trophy at the level 250 event which must be largely viewed as a let-down. No Nadal, Djokovic or Murray to contend with and yet he could not secure the title.
In fairness, let's give credit to Aussie Lleyton Hewitt who was able to win his first trophy since 2010 and the 29th tourney win of his career. I can only imagine how satisfying this must be for Hewitt to do in front of his home fans and against arguably the greatest player of all-time. Could it be the last title of Hewitt's career? Not if he keeps playing this way. When you look at what 35 year old Tommy Haas has been able to do the past couple of years, there's no reason to think Hewitt can't be a level 250 and 500 contender for a little while longer.
In Chennai, Stan Wawrinka continued his string of success where he won the title for the second time in his career and in his third final there. For the second year in-a-row Wawrinka is the first Swiss player on the ATP World Tour to capture a title. Who would have thought that day would ever come? He has quietly established himself as a bona-fide top-ten player and when we talk about the next player not named Nadal, Djokovic, Murray or Federer to win a Slam, Wawrinka's name must now be mentioned as a viable option.
One more week until the first Grand Slam of the year in Melbourne. Keep checking back with us at ProTennisFan as we will take a look at this week's tournaments in Sydney and Auckland. Be sure to follow us on Twitter as well for regular updates and analysis.