One of the things that brightens an otherwise dull January is the return of tennis. Things in tennis-land go quiet in December, once the finals are all complete and players are taking a well-deserved rest. But the WTA swings back into action in January, and we are already saturated with coverage. Brisbane, Auckland, Shenzhen and some bonus Hopman Cup were all available on our screens this past week.
With a year of the ups and downs of the tennis rollercoaster ahead, here are five things I’m looking forward to:
- Seeing how Halep fares without coach Darren Cahill. I always worry that too much is made of the coach/player relationship – the player has to be superbly talented to get to the top regardless of who is talking them through it. In Halep’s case, though, it’s clear that Darren’s no-nonsense attitude worked to great effect and helped her battle through whatever nerves or negative thinking was holding her back. Last year, she retained her World Number 1 spot, and took home her first Grand Slam winner’s trophy. Not bad going. Like many, I was gutted to see that the dream team would be parting ways, but on the other hand it does give us a chance to see if Halep can retain what she’s learned as she continues this journey.
- The comebacks. Murray continues to be a warrior and fights to play. He’s said many times that he’s not sure how much longer his playing career will go on for so every day is a bonus. It’ll be interesting to see if he can get any more decent success, he’s certainly worked for it. The same goes for Serena Williams, who already bounced back into the game in incredible style, but has just that little way to go to get back to her dominant self. Watch this space.
- The chasers. Those who are just starting to show what they’re made of – Svitolina, Ostapenko, Kvitova, we can even put Kerber in that bracket after her drop in performance following previous dominance. Halep needs to watch her back because there are so many talented players just waiting for a chance at the top spot.
- The rule changes – of all the tweaks this year, final set tie breaks is the one I’m most interested in. I know some people enjoy the Wimbledon matches that go on for 5+ hours, but I’m fascinated to see the furious tension in those final tie breaks, as opposed to the exhaustion of two players slugging it out to the dying moments.
- The unknowns. What is, of course, one of the highlights of any tennis year is getting to the end of it and realising the player that is now a household name was nowhere at the start. Like Naomi Osaka’s rise to glory last year, it’s always fab to see the youngsters breaking through and fighting with the established names. Who will it be in 2019?
Even though tennis is on almost all the year round, and the rolling nature of the points system means it is never really done, January does feel like a fresh start of a new season. Four fresh Grand Slams await, with hundreds of fabulous tournaments in between, let’s get this thing going!