World No.1 Andy Murray pumps his fist after winning a point over Novak Djokovic at the ATP World Tour Finals in London in November.
World No.1 Andy Murray pumps his fist after winning a point over Novak Djokovic at the ATP World Tour Finals in London in November.

Year in review: Rivalry at top hits new levels

WHEN Novak Djokovic beat Andy Murray to claim the French Open in June, becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four grand slam titles at once, he looked to have a mortgage on the world No.1 ranking.

But by the end of the season, the Serb's 122-week run at the top of the rankings was over, as Murray bounced back to put together an astonishing second half of the season.

The 29-year-old strung together 24 successive victories to end the year - including a straight-sets win over Djokovic in the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in London that sealed his position on top of the rankings. In doing so he became the first player since Andy Roddick in 2003 to claim the year-end No.1 mantle other than Djokovic, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal.

Murray made the finals in 13 of the 17 tournaments he entered this year, winning nine of them. Incredibly, he hadn't won a tournament this year until the Italian Open in May. The ATP World Tour Finals title was his fifth in a row.

Among his wins was his second Wimbledon crown, defeating Milos Raonic in the final, and his second Olympic crown, downing Juan Martin del Potro in the gold medal play-off.

It was a good year for Murray off the court too. He welcomed his first child, Sophia Olivia, in February with his wife, Kim Sears.

Murray has said he is more determined than ever to hold on to his mantle as the world's best player.

"I feel motivated to keep going," he said. "I've enjoyed the last five or six months the most I have in all of my career. That is probably because I have won a lot, so I want to keep going."

Kerber reigns

THERE were shades of the Murray-Djokovic rivalry in 2016 on the women's tour, as Angelique Kerber dethroned long-time world No.1 Serena Williams at the top of the rankings.

The American had sat atop the rankings since February 2013, but her defeat in the US Open semi-finals to Karolina Pliskova meant Kerber ascended to the world No.1 position.

Kerber had an outstanding season, claiming her first grand slam at the Australian Open, before adding the US Open title. She also made the finals at Wimbledon - going down to Williams in the decider - and the Rio Games - where she lost to Puerto Rican surprise packet Monica Puig in the gold medal playoff.

It was also a breakthrough season for Spaniard Garbine Muguruza, who won her first grand slam at Roland Garros and finished the year as world No.3, while resurgent Slovakian star Dominika Cibulkova won four titles, more than anyone else on tour. Pliskova also showed her run to the US Open final was no fluke, winning titles at Eastbourne and Cincinatti, and was part of the Czech team that won the Fed Cup for the third straight year.

After her rise to the No.1 ranking, Kerber said she was expecting her rivals to be gunning for her.

"Of course now everybody will try to beat me and have nothing to lose," she said.

"I will try to take this challenge, because it will be a little bit new situation for me."

With Kerber turning 29 next month and Williams now 35, Kerber could find herself at the pinnacle for some time to come.

Changing of the guard

WILL 2016 be remembered as the year the Big Four became the Big Two?

While first Djokovic and then Murray dominated the season, their perennial rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal endured a year to forget.

Swiss great Federer, a 17-time grand slam winner, failed to win a title before a knee injury forced him to end his season in July. He did make the semis of the two grand slams he entered - the Australian Open and Wimbledon - but, at 35 and now ranked No.16 in the world, his best seems to be behind him.

After Nadal suffered a shock first-round defeat to Fernando Verdasco in Melbourne, he seemed to have returned to his best with back-to-back titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. But a wrist injury hampered his season and he failed to add to his two titles before calling it quits for the year in October. The 30-year-old is now ranked at No.9 in the world.

There was no shortage of challengers ready to take their place.

Canadian Milos Raonic will begin 2017 as the world No.3 after a consistent, if unspectacular, season. The 25-year-old won only one title - January's Brisbane International - but did make the final at Wimbledon, his first grand slam decider, and the semis at the Australian Open.

Stan Wawrinka added a third grand slam to his career resume by winning the US Open, one of four titles the Swiss won on his way to finishing the year ranked at world No.4.

Austrian young gun Dominic Thiem, 23, also won four titles in 2016 and cracked the top 10 after making the semis at Roland Garros.

And venerable Argentine Juan Martin del Potro made a triumphant return to the tour after being out of the game injured for nearly two years. He sunk to No.1145 in the world in February but by the year's end had won an Olympic silver medal, the Stockholm Open and - most impressively - inspired his country to its first Davis Cup, defeating Croatia's Marin Cilic in a five-set thriller in the deciding rubber.

Grand slammed

AND then there was Nick Kyrgios.

Aussie tennis's very own superbrat outdid himself with a disgraceful performance at the Shanghai Masters, putting up weak serves, playing shots between his legs, walking off court before points were finished and arguing with spectators in his second-round defeat to German Mischa Zverev.

It prompted an on-court warning from the chair umpire and ended with Kyrgios being hit with an eight-week suspension - which was reduced to three after he met with a sports psychologist - for conduct contrary to the integrity of the game for failing to provide his best effort.

It was the tour's first suspension for behavioural issues since American John McEnroe's ousting in 1987.

It wasn't Kyrgios's only run-in with the ATP this year either. He was hit with a code violation at the French Open for shouting too loudly when requesting a towel from a ball boy. Kyrgios responded with: "A code violation for saying towel loud? Now I've seen it all. That's bulls***." He also copped fines for swearing in his first and second-round wins at Wimbledon.

His antics overshadowed an encouraging year for the 21-year-old. He won his maiden ATP title in Marseille before also claiming the Atlanta Open and the Japan Open, in the process reaching a career-high ranking of world No.13.

Alcott aces it

DYLAN Alcott was undoubtedly the star of Australian tennis in 2016.

The world No.1 became the first wheelchair athlete to win the coveted Newcombe Medal, the highest honour in Australian tennis, after winning gold at the Rio Paralympics in both the singles and doubles - with partner Heath Davidson - as well as defending his Australian Open title.

Alcott said after winning the award that he was thrilled to pave the way for disabled athletes.

"These big top awards are normally reserved for the best able-bodied athlete to be honest, so to have a disabled athlete there, a Paralympic athlete, is just a massive glass ceiling-smashing effort by Tennis Australia," he said.

French Open semi-finalist Sam Stosur was also short-listed for the award, as was Daria Gavrilova, who reached a career-high ranking of No.24, made her first WTA Tour final in Moscow and defeated world No.1 Kerber in Hong Kong in September. John Millman, Jordan Thompson and doubles specialist John Peers were the male nominees.

Despite successful years on court, Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic - who made the final at Acapulco and reached a career-high ranking of 17 in 2016 - were overlooked for the Newcombe Medal.

Neither player made themselves available for the Olympics, while Tomic drew criticism for attempting to return a serve from Fabio Fognini with his racquet handle on match point at the Madrid Open, and was fined for a row with a spectator at the US Open.



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