2015 was a strange year for tennis. The accepted wisdom is that the old need to fade away, to make way for the new. But, while we saw the resurgence of old war horses Roger Federer and Serena Williams, emerging players who seemed ready to make the leap into the biggest league were strangely subdued and below par this year.
The 2 most striking examples of this were Grigor Dimitrov and Eugenie Bouchard. Both of these players had a fantastic run in 2014, but come 2016, they have slipped into oblivion again, and will have to put in the hard yards to get back in the elite league once again.
Grigor Dimitrov rose to prominence back in 2008, when he won the Wimbledon and the US Open titles at the Boys Level. This announced him as the next big thing in tennis, and he spent the next few years on the cusp of the elite, falling in the second or third rounds of most Majors.
Till 2013, his claim to fame was being Serena William’s real life partner. But 2013 was the year of drastic changes. On the personal front, he started dating Maria Sharapova, and the couple soon became tennis’ next ‘cute couple’, whereas, on the court, Dimitrov won his first ATP title at Stockholm, defeating David Ferrer in the final. With a consistent showing at most ATP tournaments, that he participated in, the highlight of which was him beating Djokovic at the Madrid Open.
The promise of 2013 finally came through in 2014, when Dimitrov announced his arrival on the world stage. What worked the most in his favour was his ability to adapt to all surfaces, a testimony to which was the 3 titles he won in 2014, all coming on different surfaces. These 3 victories, which came in Acapulco(hard), Bucharest(clay) and the prestigious Queens(grass), to go along with a semifinal showing at Wimbledon and a QF one at Australian Open, all indicated to the fact that 2015 could be Dimitrov’s year. But this is when it all came apart.
In 2015, Dimitrov ended 2 long relationships. Professionally, he split from his coach Roger Rasheed, who had overseen his emergence in the last 2 years, and on the personal front, the Bulgarian ended his three-year long relationship with Maria Sharapova. How much these splits directly affected him is impossible to fathom, but his performances certainly took a dive.
The baby-faced ‘next Federer’ failed to defend any of his 3 titles as well as exited from all the Grand Slams in the initial rounds. He hired Franco Davin as his new coach, but a string of poor performances meant that he ended the year ranked World No. 28, way down from a career-high of No. 8 in 2014, and also failed to make the ATP World Tour Finals.
In a weird symmetrical occurrence, an almost identical story was playing out in the women’s draw too. Another baby-faced champion emerged from another country one doesn’t associate with tennis. Eugenie Bouchard from Canada came to prominence by winning the Juniors Wimbledon 2012, but unlike Dimitrov, didn’t take long to find her footing amongst the elite.
She rose to prominence in the very next year, as a giant killer. In her first year on the senior circuit, she had the likes of Samantha Stosur, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic as her scalps, as she broke into the top 100, ending the year as the ‘WTA Newcomer of the Year’.
Come 2014, the Bouchard juggernaut rolled on. A stunning string of performances resulted in her reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open, which resulted in her breaking into the top 20. In the build-up to the French Open, the Canadian helped herself to her first WTA title, winning the Nuremberg Open. The French Open was another dream run, reaching the semifinals, before being ousted by eventual champion Maria Sharapova. This run included victories over the likes of Kerber and Suarez Navarro.
At Wimbledon, Bouchard went one better, exceeding all expectations, as she progressed to her maiden Grand Slam final, on the grandest stage of them all. This run included victories over the likes of Daniel Hantuchova, Kerber and World No. 3 Simona Halep. Unfortunately, the dream wasn’t to be as she fell at the final hurdle in straight sets.
She became the first woman since Dinara Safina to reach the semifinals of the first 3 Majors of the year. At the US Open, she fell in the 4th round. She ended the year as the ‘WTA Most Improved Player’, but, also, she parted ways with her coach of 8 years, Nick Saviano.
In what was a more direct result of what a split with a long-time coach can be, Bouchard had a horror show in 2015, with the highlight being a quarter-final showing at the Rod Laver Arena. Losses to opponents familiar and unfamiliar, wild cards, top seeds contributed to a stunning loss of form, with Bouchard’s stock falling as exponentially as it had risen the year before.
First round exits at French Open and Wimbledon resulted in her dropping out of the top 20 for the first time in 18 months. In fact, the losing streak was so terrible that when she won 2 matches on the trot at the US Open, they were her first back to back victories since March. She progressed to the 4th round and just when it looked like a return to form after a year in the wilderness, anarchy reigned supreme.
A million hearts broke as Eugenie slipped in the locker-room and suffered a concussion, which forced her out of the US Open and tournaments that followed as well. A lawsuit was filed against the USTA too, on her behalf, arguing that a “dangerous foreign substance was there on the floor and hadn’t been cleaned up, resulting in the slip and the severe head injury it caused”. 2016 has started on a bright note for her, with her coming back to competitive tennis and reaching the final of the Hobart International.
As the Australian Open starts, it is imperative for these two youngsters from nations not known to the tennis world to succeed for the game to become more popular worldwide. A top ranked player can cause an explosion in the tennis scene of that country as witnessed by their idol Roger Federer’s rise and how it helped tennis in Switzerland. As the years pass and the legends walk away into the sunset, the youngsters need to fill the void. They don’t come much more talented than these two. It is time for them to step up, and make that talent count.