Smashing stuff delivered in 2018
AUSTRALIAN tennis was boosted in 2018, with John Millman, Alex de Minaur and Ashleigh Barty leading the way, writes SHANE JONES in his top-10 review of the year.
10. The Barty party
ASHLEIGH Barty, Australia's best female player, had a stellar 2018, culminating in her WTA Tour finals win in China at the end of the season.
She also won a title in Nottingham and made the final at the Sydney International. Barty has risen to a career-best world ranking of 15 in singles and maintained her top-10 ranking in doubles.
After years of trying, she finally won her first grand slam doubles title - at the US Open with Coco Vandeweghe. A top-10 ranking in singles beckons next year for Barty and the 22-year-old is increasingly being mentioned as a grand slam contender.
9. Ducks broken
FOR so long, Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki were the bridesmaids without gaining the ultimate glory in tennis at grand slam level. This year it changed.
After making two finals at the US Open, Wozniacki claimed her first grand slam singles title at the Australian Open, beating Halep in three sets. It was a painful loss for Halep, who prevailed in an epic semi-final against Angelique Kerber before having chances to win in the final. Halep was hospitalised after the final, which lasted almost three hours. But her time would come. At the next grand slam, Halep finally got her title, downing Sloane Stephens in the French Open final. Halep moved to No.1 with the win and stayed there for the rest of the season. She is one of the favourites to win the Australian Open next year.
8. Aussie bad boys
THE bad boys of Australian tennis, Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic, had another year that created plenty of fodder for the highlights reel.
The year started well for Kyrgios, who won the Brisbane International before losing to Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round of the Australian Open. Then the issues came. Kyrgios missed the French Open through injury and other events due to an aggravated elbow injury. He then attracted controversy at the US Open for not trying, with umpire Mohamed Lahyani giving the Aussie a pep talk during his second-round clash with Pierre Hugues-Herbert. Kyrgios went on to win and Lahyani was suspended for two tournaments. Whereas Kyrgios ended the year outside the top 30, Tomic was able to slash his ranking during the year. His season started in Melbourne, where he lost in qualifying for the Australian Open before he was dropped into the jungle, literally, for TV show I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here, with his future up in the air. The jungle adventure, which ended when Tomic pulled out, turned his season around. Committed to improving his ranking of No.243, Tomic kickstarted his season with a Challenger win in Mallorca on clay. He would make the semis in s-Hertogenbosch before claiming his fourth ATP title in Chengdu, winning after qualifying for the event. Tomic, now ranked No.83 after rising as high as 76 during the year, and Kyrgios were the only Australian male singles winners in 2018.
7. Cup controversy
ONE of the biggest controversies of the year happened well away from the tennis court.
The Davis Cup changed as we knew it after the ITF and a group led by Spanish football star Gerard Pique proposed a format that was voted in. Under the new format, 18 teams qualify and play in a week-long event at the end of the season. Gone are the nationalistic home-and-away ties, except for qualifying, and the five-set matches that made the format famous. The move attracted plenty of controversy with countries including Australia, the US and France against the proposal. How it plays out is anyone's guess, but Australia will play Bosnia and Herzegovina in Adelaide early next year to try to qualify for the World Group.
6. Alex rises fast
ANOTHER youngster who shone this year was Alex de Minaur. The 19-year-old Aussie, nicknamed 'The Demon', started 2018 outside the top 200 but ended the year at No.31.
His achievements took the tennis world by storm and he put respect back into the game in Australia. It started in Brisbane, where he made the semis, and continued the next week when he made the final in Sydney. He would also make the final in Washington and add a Challenger title in Nottingham. But the best game of his year came at the US Open, where he lost to seventh seed Marin Cilic in the third round. After going two sets to love up, de Minaur looked done at 5-3 down in the fifth set but saved five match points to break back before eventually losing 7-5. It showed the fighting spirit of the Aussie. Expect more of that in 2019. De Minaur wasn't the only Aussie to get into the top 100 this year. Jason Kubler made it after battling numerous knee injuries that almost ended his career. Matt Ebden returned as well too, after injury problems, as did Bernard Tomic. Also in the top 100 are Jordan Thompson, John Millman and Nick Kyrgios.
5. We're coming
IF YOU haven't heard of Karen Khachanov, Alexander Zverev or Stefanos Tsitsipas, don't worry, you will in the next month.
After announcing themselves to the world in 2018, the three young players are set to make large strides next year as well. Germany's Zverev, 21, became the first current player under the age of 25 to win an ATP tour final, along with his three other titles this year. He's ranked No.4 in the world, behind Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Khachanov, the world No.11, could join Zverev next year inside the top 10. In a stellar 2018 the 22-year-old Russian won three titles, including the Paris Masters with a win over Djokovic. Tsitsipas, 20, announced his arrival with his first title win in Stockholm and an amazing run in Canada. He lost the final but became the youngest player to defeat four top-10 opponents in a single tournament. He is Greece's next big hope in tennis and it is clear to see why.
4. Novak's comeback
IF SOMEONE had said in May this year that Novak Djokovic would be the world No.1 at the end of the year, you would have doubted it.
The Serb was languishing outside the top 20, had split with coach Andre Agassi in March and failed to make a semi at grand slam level since 2016. He was also struggling to come back to the sport after elbow trouble. But what followed was vintage Djokovic. He made the final at the Queens tournament before beating Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon semis in one of the matches of the season and then prevailing in the final over South Africa's Kevin Anderson. Djokovic's season continued with wins at the US Open and the Cincinatti and Shanghai Masters, which put him back to No.1 in the world. His form makes him the favourite for the Australian Open next year.
3. Roger wins his 20th grand slam
ROGER Federer's Australian Open win earlier this year was historic in more ways than one.
He became the fifth oldest player to win a grand slam singles title and the first man to win 20 of them. Impressively, he didn't lose a set until the final, although he was aided by facing only two seeds along the way. His win over Marin Cilic in the final was tight and tense - and it could also be historic. Federer turns 38 next August and with the return to form of Novak Djokovic and the rise of youngsters, this year's Australian Open may have been the last time Roger says thanks to Rod Laver for the trophy.
2. Serena melts down at Open
THE women's US Open singles final this year won't be remembered for Naomi Osaka's historic win - instead it will be all about Serena Williams' meltdown.
Osaka dominated the final, winning 6-2 6-4, but it was the second set that gained all the attention. Williams was given a code violation for being coached from the sidelines, which she denied but her coach later accepted was true. It then escalated to a point penalty for a second violation after Williams smashed her racket in the fifth game. After that, while down 4-3 in the set, Williams unleashed a tirade of attacks on umpire Carlos Ramos, calling him a thief and a liar. She denied being coaching from the sidelines, saying she had a daughter and would never cheat. Ramos then awarded Osaka the game to virtually end the contest. In the fallout, accusations of sexism were directed at umpires, and Williams was criticised as well. She hasn't played a match since, so it will be interesting to see how the crowds and media handle her in Australia next year.
1. Millman pulls off epic upset
IT WAS the match that made John Millman a household name. His run to the quarter- finals of the US Open with a win over Roger Federer captured the nation.
Millman lost only two sets before his fourth- round clash with Federer but was given no chance of beating the Swiss, who had not dropped a set along the way. The script started well for Federer, who won the first set 6-3 after a sluggish start from Millman. Then the Aussie found his form, using his counterpunching ability in the searing heat to wear Federer down. Millman won the second set 7-5 and the third in a tiebreaker. He then held his nerve in the fourth to win another tiebreaker and secure his biggest win. It was his first win over a top-10 player and his first grand slam quarter-final. Millman's run was ended by eventual winner Novak Djokovic in the semis. In a special year for the Queenslander, he entered the top 40 for the first time, ending the year at No.38, and made his first ATP final in Hungary.