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Tour report: Hewitt, Nadal, Serena, Ivanovic win early titles

Lleyton Hewitt completed a famous win over Juan Martin Del Potro
by Alexandra Willis
Monday 6 January 2014

The 2014 season began with titles for Rafael Nadal in Doha, Serena Williams and Lleyton Hewitt in Brisbane, Ana Ivanovic in Auckland, Li Na in Shenzen and Stanislas Wawrinka in Chennai. Wimbledon.com reports...

A new year, a new start, a new chapter. But the first full week of the 2014 tennis season was the preserve of champions who are far from new. Going against the grain, perhaps, of what is traditionally one of the most unpredictable parts of the season, some players bounding fresh off the pre-season treadmill, some staggering off it, the weekend resulted in yet more trophies for Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams, Lleyton Hewitt, Li Na and Ana Ivanovic.

Nadal, who had admitted that his off-season commitments had left him short of recovery time, instead responded by winning his first title at the Qatar Open in Doha, the first time he has won a tournament in the first week of the season. Defeating Gael Monfils, an opponent he had never previously beaten, 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-2, it was also his third three-set match of the week. 

“In the end, the important thing is I was able to play five matches and win all five. That’s positive [for my] confidence. That doesn’t mean I’m going to play well in Australia, but it’s true that I prefer to arrive to Australia without feeling a loss," Nadal said.

“I hope to have a good week of preparation there in Melbourne and try to adapt my game to that quick surface and hope to be ready for next Monday.”

Such form bodes ominously for Nadal's rivals, who are all too aware of the danger of him playing himself into form, particularly given the way he rolled through the US Open Series to the US Open title. Australia though can be a different kettle, and, with reports that the Melbourne hard courts are playing particularly quickly this year, there is no need to write Nadal into the Australian Open's latter stages just yet. 

Conversely, a fast surface is a late Christmas present for Lleyton Hewitt and Roger Federer, who contested the final on what was a similarly quick Brisbane court. Causing quite a bit of head-scratching amongst tennis fans around the world, Hewitt topped his old rival 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 to win his first ATP title since Halle in 2010, which, ironically, he beat Federer to win. 

"Playing the best players in the world and finals of tournaments, always it's exciting. That's why you still play the game," Hewitt said. "For me, it was motivation enough just to try to get the win out there and obviously win another title. It's been a couple years. So I was just ready for the challenge today."

It was Hewitt's first final on Australian soil since Melbourne 2005, 45th in total, proving that he has not beyond it yet. Federer by comparison, who hadn't dropped serve all week, was the first to admit that he was not at his best. 

"I didn't play great today which is a bit unfortunate. But also Lleyton was the best player I played this week. He made it toughest on me. So I have a clear idea what I need to work on, and I have a clear idea where my mind and body is at. I'm very hungry and eager to attack the Australian Open next week," Federer said.

It remains to be seen whether Federer, with Stefan Edberg now whispering in his ear, but still adjusting to his heavier racket, can stand up to the toughest opposition on their best days. Or whether he is bound for a repeat of what happened in New York. 

The player running very much against that trend is Serena Williams. Federer's fellow 32-year-old picked up her 58th WTA title, successfully defending her crown in Brisbane as she beat her biggest rival of the moment, Victoria Azarenka, 6-4, 7-5. While extending her winning streak to 22 matches won since losing to Azarenka in Cincinnati, at the same time she ended Azarenka's run of 24 matches unbeaten on Australian soil. 

The week's other three titles were scooped up by Federer's compatriot, Stanislas Wawrinka, who beat Edouard Roger-Vasselin 7-5, 6-2 to win Chennai, and Li Na, who downed Peng Shuai 6-4, 7-5 to win the Shenzen title, the first time she has ever successfully defended a WTA singles title. Li traditionally plays well in Australia, the surface speed, temperature and general temperament agreeing with her. Perhaps 2014 will be the year she clears the final hurdle.

Finally, Ana Ivanovic defeated another very familiar face, Venus Williams, 6-2 5-7 6-4 in Auckland. Her first title since Bali 2011, Ivanovic had to run and run to hold off Venus, who was competing in her 72nd WTA final, a staggering figure in itself. That Ivanovic did not crumble after surrendering a lead to lose the second set was almost as surprising as Hewitt's win. 

"Every victory is special, this one even more so because it's been a while since I've won a tournament," Ivanovic said. "I've worked really hard for this and many times I've been in a position to win another title, so to come through in a final like this against such a good player is obviously a great feeling."

Will the 2014 Australian Open yield a new Grand Slam champion? It seems unlikely. 

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