The 2013 season kicked off in Australia, New Zealand, Qatar, India and China with titles for Andy Murray, Serena Williams, Richard Gasquet, Li Na, Janko Tipsarevic and Agnieszka Radwanska.
A new year, a new beginning. At least that is the way the new year is ideally meant to start. Except in tennis, it seems, as some very familiar faces claimed the spoils in the opening week of the 2013 season.
Andy Murray, the reigning US Open champion, ended the first competitve week in 2013 in exactly the same vein as he had done in 2012 - clutching the trophy on the Pat Rafter Arena in Brisbane. But the win was set against a rather different backdrop. The Andy Murray of 2012 was a three-times Grand Slam finalist, the world No.4, but nothing more. The Andy Murray of 2013 is a Grand Slam champion, an Olympic champion, and, thanks to the Queen's New Years' Honours list, an MBE.
But titles and honours count for little when it comes down to simply beating the man on the other side of the net. And it was an impressive performance from Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov, widely tipped to be one of the players of 2013, that pushed Murray to a 7-6(0), 6-4 win to retain his title. Click here to view match highlights.
"He plays a lot of different shots, which is tough to play against because you're kept off balance a lot of the time," Murray said about Dimitrov's style. The Bulgarian, competing in his first ATP World Tour singles final, recently moved from the Mouratoglou Academy to work with Magnus Norman, Nicklas Kulti, and Mikael Tillstrom at the Good to Great Tennis Academy in Sweden. But even though everyone is talking about him, and has been since he won the junior Wimbledon title in 2008, Dimitrov, nicknamed 'Prime Time' by the likes of Brad Gilbert, believes he is still settling into his game.
"I didn't feel that I was far, far from winning the set or even the match," he said. "I think I still need couple of years on the tour to get stronger and be able to hang with these guys all weeks, and especially playing best of five sets."
Murray, who dedicated the win to a friend struggling with illness, later revealed to be fellow Brit Ross Hutchins, admitted that he felt himself to be more relaxed in the week before a Grand Slam tournament than he has done in the past. But, although he, along with Novak Djokovic, are believed to be the front-runners to lift the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup in Melbourne, the statistics show that only twice has a winner of one of the ATP events in the two weeks preceding the Australian Open gone on to win the title. Roger Federer won Doha in 2006 before taking his second Melbourne title and in 1998 Petr Korda also won Doha before winning his one and only Grand Slam title in Melbourne three weeks later. Could Murray be the third?
Another player who will change up the numbers a bit if she wins in Melbourne is Serena Williams, who powered past Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2, 6-1 to win the WTA title in Brisbane in nine minutes shy of an hour. It is the first time that Williams will enter a Grand Slam with a title under her belt since Wimbledon 2002, and she extends her figures since April 2012 to 52 wins and just two losses. Click here to view match highlights.
"Today was really good," Williams said. "I kind of zoned, where I'm in a really calm place and not panicking, I'm not overthinking it and not just blasting every ball. I get really calm and kind of serene.
"I was looking at a lot of old matches on YouTube and I feel like right now I'm playing some of my best tennis. I feel like I want to do better and play better still, and I've always felt like I could play better."
While Li Na won the inaugural WTA event in Shenzhen, China, in somewhat turbulent fashion, defeating Klara Zakopalova 6-3, 1-6, 7-5, Agnieszka Radwanska, one of the highest risers of 2012, won her 11th singles title with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Yanina Wickmayer. Both Li and Radwanska are ably suited to the Australian hard courts, and being in title-winning form is never a bad thing for either.
Meanwhile in Doha, the title-decider came down to two golden oldies, Richard Gasquet and Nikolay Davydenko, the Russian the most surprising member of the final two after knocking out world No.5 David Ferrer in the semi-finals. As he lead by a set and a break, it looked like it could be a famous start to 2013 for the 2010 Doha champion, who last lifted a trophy in Munich in 2011. But Gasquet came powering back, eventually seeing off an exhausted Davydenko 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-3.
Janko Tipsarevic, meanwhile, claimed the spoils in Chennai with a 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 win over Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut.
With just seven days to the start of the year's first Grand Slam, the tour's top men and women will be hitting up ferociously at Melbourne Park, while others compete in Sydney (ATP & WTA), Auckland (ATP), and Hobart (WTA). And there's Australian Open qualifying too, which you can follow live on australianopen.com. It's set to be a scorcher.