2014 Players of the Year

With two dominant year-end No. 1s in Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, many see clear choices here. But, surprise Slam winners on the men’s side and a retirement of Li Na while the reigning Australian Open champion, gives our readers more choices. Plus, Roger Federer came one set from adding another Wimbledon crown to a growing resume that now includes a Davis Cup win.

The men

Marin Cilic: The big and tall Croatian struggled up and down until August, but after reaching the second week he played perfectly, knocking down Berdych, Federer and Nishikori to win the US Open title. He needs to be more consistent overall, but he’s improved huge amount.

Novak Djokovic: The Serbian finished No. 1 again and pulled off the most spectacular in the Grand Slam final when he survived Roger Federer 7-5 in the fifth set. However, he only one Slam – was that good enough after losing some other huge matches in Australia, Roland Garros and the Us Open?

Roger Federer: The Swiss was unable to win a Slam, but the 33 year old was oh so close at Wimbledon and helped win Davis Cup for the first time.

WIMBLEDON, UK, NOVAK DJOKOVIC, STRETCHING WITH HEAD RACQUETRafael Nadal: Yes the Spaniard barely played after early July, but he won Roland Garros for the ninth time – a record – and nearly won at Australia again. However he is constanly getting hurt and that’s is painful

Kei Nishikori: The super fast  24 year old from Japan  didn’t win a Sla, but he reached the final of the US Open and put together big wins to start the year until the finish, ending ranked No. 5.

Stan Wawrinka: The Swiss finally won a Slam, knocking down Djokovic and Nadal to win at the Aussie. He put on some of the most fun matches, but he’s been  way up and down after January.

The women

Eugenie Bouchard: In so many ways, she came out of nowhere … the little kid reached the Australian Open and Roland Garros semis and the Wimbledon final. Sure, she fell apart after July, but she was extremely fast and aggressive.

Simona Halep: The Romanian was so close to being able to win Roland Garros in the final against Sharapova, But in the last two games, she was overwhelmed. However, she was been much more consistent overall and now loves to attack from inside the baseline.

Petra Kvitova: The Czech want to be become No.1 next year, and she was excellent winning Wimbledon, and grabbing the Fed Cup for the third time in the last four years. Yes, she can get frustrated, but the tall girl is faster now and is tougher overall.

Li Na: Unfortunately, Li retired during this fall. But, who can forget about the best Chinese player ever and who knocked off her foes by winning the Australian Open?

Maria Sharapova: Yes, she has had a lot of trouble against Williams over the years, but she has become so smart and faster recently. She won another Roland Garros, her fifth Slam, and pushed hard all year long.

li_mt_uso_082813Serena Williams: One of the all-time greats was upset when she wasn’t nailing down against the other top players, But, then, she went on a tear since mid-July, winning the US Open and the WTA final.

Caroline Wozniacki: We have all been waiting for the former No. 1 to be able to start beating the best again. Since this summer, she was as good as anyone except for Serena Williams, her great friend whom she still can’t find a way to outlast her. 2014 ATP & WTA Coaches of the Year

Voting will run through Dec. 23 … Please vote!

Bringing out the stars

At the end of 2013, the top players dramatically changed their coaches. Novak Djokovic announced he had hired Boris Becker, and Roger Federer asked Stefan Edberg to consult with him. Kei Nishikori working with Michael Chang and Goran Ivanisevic coaching Marin Cilic.

Only Toni Nadal had stayed put, and Magnus Norman had helped Wawrinka in 2013 and knew that he was about to arise in a serious manor.

At the end of 2014, the former standouts that are now retired listened to their players and all of them cheered. Wawrinka won the his first Slam by taking the Aussie Open, Nadal won Roland Garros again, Djokovic never stopping when anyone could have folded and he won Wimbledon; and Cilic find who his first title by bashing through and winning the US Open. Federer may not have been able to win another major, but he was so close against Djokovic in Wimbledon but kept on pushing and winning the Davis Cut for the first time. Nishikori finally listened to what he needed to do, reach a first final and ended the year at No. 5.

Who is the top of the Coach of the Year? They all did well, or spectacularly very well, this year.

Toni Nadal is the only man of the five selected coaches who neither won majors or came very close. He never played for the ATP, but he is extremely smart, which is why after Rafa owns 14 Slams. Uncle Toni might win the poll again, but Magnus, Boris and Goran kept calm and knew when to push their opponents or make them back off. Magnus taught him that he would never say die, while Stefan convinced his all-time great that he will be happier than Davis Cup than anything else around.

So pick your choice, but make sure that the man is truly the most successful choice.

Psychology important with the women

On the WTA side, things have also changed. Maria Sharapova hired Sven Groeneveld at the end of 2013; Nick Saviano grabbed Eugenie Bouchard around the same time and Wim Fissette signed up with Simona Halep in February.

Groeneveld has been around for a long time, bringing Ana Ivanovic to win Roland Garros in 2008 and for Sharapova she did again, as the Russian won Paris for the second time. Sharapova faced Halep in the final, where Fissette (who once coached another former Slam champ Kim Clijsters) helped the Romanian to keep her on the ball and she nearly won it.

Saviano had known Bouchard for years, but rarely traveled with her. This year he decided to try it out and the Canadian was immediately focused, reaching the semifinals of the Aussie Open and Roland Garros and reaching the Wimbledon final.

But there are three coaches whom we know well and are smart enough to be quite when their charges are upset: Carlos Rodriguez with Li Na, David Kotyza with Petra Kvitova and Patrick Mouratoglou with Serena Williams. If they were mad, all you need to know was to shrug their shoulder. When they began to feel better, it was time to release them and tell them its time to rip the ball.  They did and all three of them won Slams again: Li at the Aussie Open, Petra at Wimbledon and Serena at the US Open.

No WTA player was perfect this year, but every player was darn good. It’s finding out which coach was needed the most. Your choice, but it has to be a smart one. 2014 Player Tweeter of the Year

Early voting: Roger Federer-36%, Laura Robson-25%, Tomas Berdych-16%

What entices someone to follow a particular player on Twitter who they are not a huge fan of? A great sense of humor? Strong opinions? Honesty about matches and tour issues? Profound statements? Great photos?

Some or all of those qualities apply to the 10 following nominees for Tweeters of the Year.

Laura Robson won the Player Tweeter of the Year Poll, squeaking over Roger Federer. Will the stylish Robson due it again, even though she missed almost her entire year due to her back surgery. But she is funny and makes us laugh.

Here are our nominees and a quote from this year. Please vote through Sunday, Dec. 21.

Tomas Berdych @tomasberdych
I had a great time talking about tennis with Ivan Lendl today. Result? Ivan would like to help me, but he is too busy…

Genie Bouchard @geniebouchard
Zoned out during press and found myself staring into a huge camera lens. That’s gonna be an attractive picture. #deletepls

Grigor Dimitrov
Got whacked on my way out of the court! I love my fans but please don’t bruise me next time:) #tennisisacontactsport

Roger Federer @rogerfederer
Honored to be awarded. But remember, is bigger than any one person #LoveThisSport

Andy Murray @andy_murray
Huge day for Scotland today! no campaign negativity last few days totally swayed my view on it. excited to see the outcome. lets do this!

Laura Robson @laurarobson recently said:  
Went to the cinema by myself again and the same ticket lady was there. She literally thinks I have no friends.:

Maria Sharapova@MariaSharapova
Hey buddy, I’m right behind you… :)

Stan Wawrinka @stanwawrinka
Back to reality! 6am doping control! 9:30 back to practice ! #WorkHard

Serena Williams @serenawilliams
Big sister taught little sister a lesson..

Caroline Wozniacki @CaroWozniacki
To the paparazzi outside the hotel: I can see you and your camera even when you wear camouflage clothes and a fake baby on your chest lol

Can the ATP top 5 stay there?

Milos Raonic 41%
Grigor Dimitrov 39%
Marin Cilic 9%
Ernests Gulbis 6
Gael Monfils 5%

Cilic, Raonic, Dimitrov, Gulbis and Monfils all are ready to move up

At some point in the future, say the next two years (2017 to start), the Big 4 of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray will no longer be dominating and another group will push them out of the elite group. Eventually, things change and the Big 4 won’t be easily sitting in the top 5.

This year, the season ended between No 1 Djokovic, No. 2 Federer, No. 3 Nadal, No. 4 Stan Wawrinka and No. 5 Kei Nishikori. Murray is No. 6, who was way down and struggling seriously big time until he was rose up in the fall — until he faced against Federer in London and collapsed. Can he reconstruct his purpose quickly? That we do not know but we do know the two-time Slam champion believes he can beat anyone, except for the rest of the Big 4, whom he did not beat him during the 2014 season. Even if he loses to the Big 3 during 2015, he still could finish in No. 4.

But the big question remains: Is the new bread ready to pounce and finish in the top 5 at the end in 2015?

Not everyone has a serious chance, but there are enough who are encouraged and ready to make it very close to the top 5. Will they stay for more than brief moments or will they stay? Here are a few who have yet to end 2015 in the top 5:

cilic goran 14

US Open champ Cilic has the potential to grab a 2015 slam.

Marin Cilic: The Croatian finally broke out, smashing with serves, forehands, backhands and at the net, winning the US Open. He is tall and he’s in great shape, but he gets hurt and can become depressive. He has to steady his nerves and, if he does, he will have another Slam in his pocket.

Milos Raonic: The Canadian is consistently better year after year. His backhand has improved in 2014 — which is mandatory – and he is looking why he should be thinking about his better point construction. He is very aggressive, but he has to begin to best the top guys or he will never make it.

Grigor Dimitrov: The Bulgarian is a very colorful person and when he on fire, he can actually beat just about anyone, including the Big 4. But even though he can dance and react to size of the back, he can also grow at impatient and lose games before he wakes up. The top men have lasted so long because they don’t think about messy calls. They yell, they glare, but then they move onto their next point. Dimitrov must go the same, because if he does, he will look as pretty as Federer does by dipping wicking slices with their one-handed backhands, or he can be stuck in their mud outside of the top 10 forever.

Ernests Gulbis: The 26-year-old came a long way from outside  the top 100 and now is ranked No. 13, but the talkative Latvian started fast and then slowed down fast. He is a very flashy opponent who isn’t afraid to go for his shots. Many fans discovered who he is when he took down Federer and Tomas Berdych to reach the Roland Garros semis, before he went down to Novak Djokovic. He looked like he was ready to really break out, but after Paris, he did nothing after July, losing everywhere and everyone on grass and hard courts in the fall. He likes to talk about how good he is, but to ever reach the top 5, he has to commit to playing hard for an entire season and he’s never really been close for that.

Monfils IW 10 MALT6324

Monfils has the talent to return to top 10 but can he break into the elite circle? Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Gael  Monfils: Can the Frenchman looked as good as he ever was when he stunned Federer in the Davis Cup final, or will the world No. 19 stay healthy enough and make the top 5 for the first time? The quick-footed Monfils once reached No. 7 in 2011, but he began to slip. The 28-year-old has been consistently hurt due to his sore knees, but he can play for hours and loves his crowds. He lives for long points, but he can swing away from his first serve and his gigantic forehands. He looks like he will make one last push, but staying in the top 5 for more than a week or so? This time, why not?

Who says what: Why are the players not resting?


Berdych is one of the stars playing in the debut IPTL season. Photo by Mal Taam/maltphoto

The women have been done for three weeks now and many of them are itching to play again. But, hold on, the 2015 won’t start until January 3, so relax a little bit, enjoy it and make sure that your body feels very good. Why? Because we have met so many people who over trained in December and, by the time they are in Australia, they are already hurt and that is not good, not good at all when there is now long rests from January through October.

So, when you have a chance, sit down and rest until you are feeling very good and then you can get up and train again. But, don’t get so anxious and most especially, don’t complain that the year is too long if you aren’t resting now …

What is a bit of crazy is players who are done for the season of the WTA and ATP are still playing exhibitions? So fine, if they like to play, love the different places and want to have fun and, of course, they are earning big money. Then, fine. But, do not complain about too many tournaments. If you want to discuss about the future of the Slams, the WTA, the ATP, whomever, that is fine, but do not pretend that you were not over worked in November and December for the WTA, and the second half of November and December in the ATP. Let’s be honest and real …

Yes, the new International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) this weekend looks very impressive. A number of excellent stars such as Maria Sharapova, Jo Tsonga, Tomas Berdych, Andy Murray, Ana Ivanovic and Sania Mirza and more are playing. We say: Good for you to the Manila fans who went out to watch some of the best players for the first time on the Philippines courts. But what we do know is that the top players are paid big dollars and what we do not know if whether the owners can make enough money this week to repeat in 2015. Perhaps they will, but the top players will usually try it once, but then skip it the next time unless they are competing for points. They don’t know if the tours will recognize the league and the player may never receive the points. Unless it matters a great deal, the major players will skip it and then the owner will have to convince the fans that they should come out and follow the second tier. Maybe they will, but it is rare.

Where does Federer go next?

Nadal IW 13 TR MALT9260One week before the Davis Cup final between the Swiss and France, Roger Federer somehow managed to play even though he was hurt on Saturday against Stan Wawrinka in the ATP Finals semifinal.

He won a classic over his buddy, Stan, but then his back was very sore, making him pull out vs. Novak Djokovic, and the Serbian won the year-end prize.

No one knew whether Federer would be able to play on Friday against France, but some how, some way he got out there. Even though he lost that day against the high-flying Gael Monfils, he still showed up. Just seeing the Swiss team watch Federer trying even though he was stiff, they grew more inspired and they were ready to take down anyone who was in their path.

Wawrinka played terrific crunching Jo-Wilfried, the pair of Federer/Wawrinka in doubles were out of this world, wasting Richard Gasquet/Julie Benneteau on Saturday, and when Tsonga got hurt again and couldn’t play, Federer was there, feeling healthier and ready to rock and roll. He blew apart Gasquet and the Swiss won for the first time ever in Davis Cup, shutting them down 3-1. They smiled all day and all night long.

Who’s the best?

So now Federer has won just about everything. He has won 17 Grand Slams, all four majors, Master Series crowns all over the place, 82 titles overall, and about to go over 1000 career records in Australia in January.  Really, there is nothing to gain any more, except perhaps the 2016 Olympic. He and Stan won in the doubles in 2008 Beijing, but Roger hasn’t won the singles there. And yes, he fell to Andy Murray in the 2012 London – and that hurt – but it is not as important of the Slams, or really, not even as important as the Davis Cup, at least for me.

The Davis Cup is different, because there are national teams which have to work with each other. It is not just one person winning by himself. This time, Federer and Wawrinka worked with each other and it paid off, as they were hurting or tired or not playing great. They just kept going at it. He will never forget that; neither will Stan.

Essentially, it is pretty clear that Federer is considered The GOAT, the Greatest of All Time Perhaps, but the one thing we do now is that there is one man who is nipping at the heels of the GOAT. That man is Rafael Nadal, owning 14 Grand Slams, and who has won a huge amount of Masters Series, has won Davis Cups, and who won the Olympics gold in 2008 in singles. Will Nadal actually win four more Slams and pass Federer to reach 18 majors? I doubt it given that Nadal is constantly hurt again and missed much of this season after June.

But what we do now is that Nadal is 23-10 over Federer in head to head and that is huge.

Roger is 33 years old and Rafa is 28 years old. As the old man is getting a bit slower and you’ve got to figure Federer will retire after the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. But, what if Nadal beats Fed another say four more times? Will the Swiss retire down 10-27 in head to head and say, “I’m the Best Ever” over the guy who beat him again and again? Will he actually say that, or will Federer just say to the tennis media, “What all of you decide is fine by me.”

What we don’t know, but will find out, which one will wins in 2015.

But what we did find out last week is that Federer rose up and pocketed a very necessary win to help grab the Davis Cup for the Swiss.

Now we know that Federer is battling again.

But, considering the Federer vs. Nadal rivalry, we almost have a brand new world.

Djokovic just can’t be beat indoors

Djokovic recalled his roots

Djokovic reaches ATP Finals final against Fed.

LONDON – Novak Djokovic loves indoors, perhaps because when he was a little kid he went up into the mountains and exercised long and hard. He raced down the snow, and let us forget, he could strike tennis balls, even if he was freezing.

The Serbian will win outdoors, but on a streak, he is even better indoors.

This week in London, it wasn’t very cold or wet. In fact, in the middle of November, it’s been positively respectable, rubbing your hands to keep them dry, and loosing up your fingers and squeezing them oh-so-tight.

In Saturday, Djokovic beat Kei Nishikori 6-1, 3-6, 6-0 to advance to the final. Djokovic has now won 31 matches indoors, which is pretty fair considering that the man isn’t super tall, or a huge server that will goes for ace after ace. No, that is not it. He is willing to play super-fast courts or slow ones. He can kiss the lines on his first serve, jump inside the baselines with his forehand and backhands, or retrieve falling back. He’s got that type of diverse skills.The No.1 makes it on his terms.

Nishikori stunned Djokovic in the semis of the US Open, but this time around, he said that he wouldn’t miss. He wouldn’t go to crazy early, and wouldn’t be too passive.

“The conditions indoor and outdoor, where I lost to him in US Open, are quite different,” Djokovic. “I’m feeling pretty confident playing now, as well as he. So it’s going to be a good, high‑class tennis.”

Djokovic started the match very well as he knows both of them are both extremely fast. Still, both have to put plant on their feet. He was pretty predictable with his backhand crosscourt, which allowed Djokovic to sleight down the line. The 25-year-old Nishikori looked unsure of himself and there was no way he had a real chance if he could not get early but lost the first set 6-1.

In the second, US Open finalist got it together, leapt around, took his chances and finally grabbed a break. When Djokovic rushed the net, Nishikori went backwards. The Serbian could only nudge an overhead and the Japanese wailed a forehand winner. He broke at 5-3 and held to grab the set 6-3. It looked like they were going to have an excellent contest in the third.

But, no … Nishikori folded, oh so quickly. The younger kid had a huge shot at breaking in the first game of the third set, with Djokovic serving at 15-40. He had a two big chances but he couldn’t deliver: he missed a forehand and then his backhand under-cooked. Djokovic took a deep breath and then ran over him, 6-0 in the third.

Nishikori had a chance to finish the year ranked No. 4, but will stay No. 5. He has had a very good year, but he is not ready to break into the top 4 yet.

“The second set I start playing well,” Nishikori said. “He got little bit tight. I took some risk. Everything worked well in the second. I was playing well. Even first couple points in third set, I thought I had it. I think I start thinking too much about he’s No. 1 player, Novak. I think I risked too much. I think I did too many unforced errors first couple games. Then he start playing better. It’s very disappointing because I think, if I little bit change, I could be I think little more closer in the third set.”

Djokovic was apparently upset that a few of the fans nearby were yelling for Nishikori and he lost his head for a little while. He regained his composure and raced ahead to win the contest, but when he finished he wrote on a camera lens that he stuck it to them.

This was indoors and Djokovic wants to be the top dog all the time, even after a win.

“It was my fault that I allowed it,” Djokovic said. “I cannot blame the crowd. The crowd has a right to do what they want, to cheer for whoever they want. Some individuals that were going over the line throughout the whole match, some provocations that I usually don’t react on, but I did. It was my fault. I lost the concentration. I lost the break because of that. I allowed myself to be in the situation to lose the set, maybe even lose the match. So generally it was my fault and I should know better.”

Nishikori raises the bar on his way to the semis

nishikori 2012 tokyo

On to the semis for Nishikori.

LONDON — Milos Raonic was gone even before he started on Thursday, when the Canadian pulled out with a quad injury against Kei Nishikori. Even though Raonic was played very tight against the two younger guys, he knew that Raonic was a bit hurt so maybe he could run into the court him and run him around very quickly.

But he has to face David Ferrer instead, who was in a sub, and while the Spaniard had no chance at moving into the semis, he fought anyway, even if he had not played extremely well this year.

Nishikori was 1-1, taking out Andy Murray and losing to Roger Federer. He had a good chance reaching the final based on his two victories in the round robin, losing only two Federer. He has playing very well and seemingly not thinking about a faceoff with the likes of Djokovic and the Swiss.

The 25-year-old has been the youngest singles player at the ATP Finals this season, not only because he reached the US Open final, but because he knocked off a number of fine players. One was the former No. 4 Ferrer, who he beat him on three occasions and all three sets in Masters Series events: 7-6(9) in Miami; 6-3 in Madrid; and 6-4 in Paris, just two weeks ago.

Nishikori is about as fast as any player, and while he was running and hitting the corners as hard as he could, Ferrer was very good overall and jumping on top of his forehands. Both men can go either which way, but the Japanese is more creative when it comes to his backhand. Ferrer likes to grind out points, but he decided to counterpunch his foe on Thursday. So when Nishikori was banging away, the Spaniard looked calmer and it showed as he kissed his lines and won the set 6-4.

But Nishikori regrouped and he began to charge. He set up inside the baseline, cleaned up his backhands and served with more speed. He decided that — win or lose — he was going to swing as hard as he could. He did and after he won the second set 6-4. From that point, he was flying. He won the match 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, dancing with a big grin.

“It’s never easy playing against David because he’s very consistent from the baseline,” said Nishikori. “If I want to win, I have to do something to break his tennis. From the second set, I was more aggressive. The final set was almost perfect.”

Now Nishikori will play on Saturday against Novak Djokovic, who destroyed Tomas Berdych 6-2, 6-2 and clinched the yearend No. 1 for the third time in four years. Nishikori has said that someday he would like to reach No. 1 someday, but he is a long way off. Still, if he can whip Djokovic, then we will begin to discuss 2015.

What does Murray do after Federer’s demolition?

Andy Murray

Murray must start beating the other “Big 4″ to stay in the elite group. Mal Taam/MALT Photo

LONDON – Everyone can have bad days. Every person has experienced one or another. But if you look at the greats in tennis, all of them have admitted that they had a lousy match and learned from it. Or forgot about it. Or just threw it in the trash.

But exactly what will happen to Andy Murray mindset after he went down 6-0, 6-1 to Roger Federer on Thursday in a packed house? Everyone wanted to see their countryman win. He was back and ready to knock down the other best players? But he was not even close. He wasn’t in the ballpark or, in this case, The O2.

Murray has been unable to beat the big guys again. Yes, he has played well enough to beat anyone outside of the Big 4 and he looked pretty well during the fall. He scratched up to No. 5, largely because he outworked David Ferrer in October and early November. But against Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Federer during the season, that was another story this year. Murray entered the ATP Finals knowing that he had gone 0-8 of the three guys this year.

That hurt, but a chance to taking down Federer and Djokovic, and that would have made the season.

Somehow he went all wrong and quickly. Murray whacked the ball in the first four points, but after that, he could not find his rhythm. He was never there. Federer played very well, but he never had to play great, even though it seemed he couldn’t miss his forehands, backhands, slices, rushing into the net, digging in, smashing, and pocketing balls deep.

It did not really matter because Murray couldn’t get anything going. It was impossible to tell what his plans were, because he did not have anything at all. He was so out of it that the fans were shaking and were afraid. Down 6-0, 5-0, somehow Federer made a couple of errors and Murray won a game. One single game to 6-0, 6-1. The fans cheered and laughed. Andy didn’t smile for a second. Federer found it odd, shook his hand and did not to celebrate 6-0, 6-1. So much for classic contests.

“Not so cool because I wouldn’t want to be in that position,” Federer said. “I was happy to get it done. At the end I was happy I didn’t win the second to last game to be quite honest. Yeah, it’s uncomfortable. I don’t know. I don’t like it.”

Murray admitted that he did not play well at all – obviously – and that Federer was quite good. But what has his show for it this season? He won three tournaments, which is fine, but they were not Slams or ATP Masters Series. At a few times in 2014 he looked as though he would return to his normal self. But, as he said, it has been very hard to come back easily after his back surgery.

“The first three, four months were tough,” he said. “It was hard. Going through surgery isn’t easy. Maybe I didn’t appreciate that so much at the time. I found it quite frustrating at the beginning of the year. But then once I accepted that it’s a hard thing to go through, and obviously in the middle of that period I switched ‑‑ obviously stopped working with Ivan [Lendl].

“The French Open [Rafa Nadal] and Wimbledon [Grigor Dimitrov], I played well, but when I got to the semis of the French and the quarters of Wimbledon, I didn’t feel like I played well.

“Obviously tonight,I’m disappointed with those matches. I don’t want to play matches like that obviously.”

Murray is hearted of the fall as he did win Shenzhen (over Tommy Robredo), Vienne (over David Ferrer) and Valencia (over Robredo), but if he is going to have any chance in Australia, he is going to have to change it up. If Murray wants to remain his “Big 4,” he is going to have to start beating them on occasion, especially as the younger players like Kei Nishikori and and Milos Raonic become more formidable foes. Right now, he has to figure out exactly why and what will his answers be. At the very least, he has to work harder than before.

“It’s not a nice way to finish the year,” said Murray. “But I know there’s obviously a lot for me to work on now. I didn’t feel like I was playing that badly going into the match. I’d had some good wins the last few weeks. Had played decent against Milos. So obviously in that respect I know I’m going to have to put in a lot of work on the tennis court, a lot of work in on my game. If I want to start the season, with an opportunity to win in Australia, I’m going to have to put in a lot of work, that’s for sure.”

Cilic comes down and blown out by Berdych: ‘Tough to handle’

LONDON – Marin Cilic completely changed after he won his first Slam at the US Open. The Croatian has not been played extremely well during the fall and, even though he has made it into the ATP World Tour Finals, the world No. 9 needs to show that if he ever wants to be No.1, he has to be very consistent.

Take a look at Cilic on Monday in Group A when he faced Novak Djokovic. He was blasted, knocked out 6-1, 6-1. He was not even close and, while he has said that he is hurt a bit, he has enough of a rest to be striking the ball and believing that he could disturb the Serb. But Djokovic was so much faster that evening that Cilic looked lost.

That is because the younger generation of top players can be excellent at times, but they have yet to prove that they can rise to the level of truly superior players. So even though the US Open winner Cilic and the finalist Kei Nishikori opened up our eyes when they stunned Roger Federer and Djokovic in the semis, they have yet to show that can beat the “Big 4” – the 18-time Slams champ Federer, 14-time champ Rafael Nadal, seven-time Djokovic and two-time victor Andy Murray – on a consistent basis.

If you look at the Big 4 and how well they have been year after year, they have been pretty darn good day after day. They have won Slams, ATP Masters Series, ATP 500s and even 250s. They went everywhere; they wanted to go and win time after time.

Berdych IW 11 MALT7689

Berdych made the most of Cilic’s poor play. Photo by Mal Taam/MALTPHOTO

But Cilic has not done yet and maybe he never well. He does have a huge first serve, can rip off both his forehands and backhands and is pretty good when he attacks on the net, but he mentally goes in and out. That is why the 26-year-old has won 13 titles, and other than the US Open, he has only won ATP 250 tournaments. He has never even reached a final of the Masters.

Look at the 27-year-old Murray, who is loved in London, even though he has not won as much as Fed, Rafa and Novak. But Murray has been very, very good and way much better than Cilic: Murray holds 31 titles, including two Slams, Olympic gold and nine ATP World Tours Masters.

So while Cilic has played much better this year, winning four titles and scoring over wins like Tomas Berdych, Federer and Nishikori – he should have entered London this week prepared to rack up significant victories.

But it appears that he is already gone, even though he has a small chance of reaching the semifinal.

On Wednesday, Berdych played fairly well and smoked Cilic 6-3, 6-1. Cilic only managed to hit 11 winners, but suffered 30 unforced errors. The 6-foot-5 big guy only managed three aces.

Berdych didn’t look well at all when he quickly lost to Stan Wawrinka on Monday. He recomposed and kept landing his shot deep and into the corners. The Czech outhit him by whipping his forehands, and he was able to guess which way Cilic was going with his heavy serves and popped them back the other way. Once Berdych began rallies, he was not going to be impatient, while he was dared Cilic to be accurate. The Croatian could not keep his balls in the court. He walked away quietly.

Now he says that he is hurting but wants to be there anyway. At least he is being honest, which is good. He may not make it in the semis, but says that regardless of what happens this week, he says that he is still thinking about how “amazing” he was in winning the US Open. Perhaps he can pull off another Slam at the 2015 Australian Open. Perhaps.

“It’s a little bit disappointing to play like this,” he said. “I was not expecting it. But sort of I feel a little bit tired, and body feels a little bit tired on the court.

“It seems that the things that I’m doing that are all basically going in a wrong direction. Especially with these guys at this kind of level, even small mistakes, or if you’re not at your best performances, the outcome is not going to be going in your favor.

“I haven’t also been playing last few weeks. Also, the body, of course, is not at the best possible shape. … I was looking forward to play here, to do well, to play good matches on a high level. But it’s a tough to handle, tough to look at. Both matches I’ve played, I didn’t play on a good level. That’s tough to handle, too.”