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Resurgent Djokovic leads the way as old guard stays on top

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By AFP
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Next Gen poster boy Alexander Zverev’s season-ending Tour Finals triumph served up a glimpse into the future of men’s tennis although 2018 remained a year dominated once more by the usual, yet aging, suspects as a revitalised Novak Djokovic returned to the peak of his powers.

The Serb tumbled out of the top 10 for the first time in a decade and was ranked as lowly as 22nd in June, slumping to a string of uncharacteristic defeats – including an embarrassing loss to Italian journeyman Marco Cecchinato at the French Open – following elbow surgery to fix a lingering injury.

Germany's Alexander Zverev holds up the trophy after beating Serbia's Novak Djokovic in their men's singles final match on day eight of the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament at the O2 Arena in London on November 18, 2018. Alexander Zverev shocked Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-3 to win the ATP Finals on Sunday, denying the Serbian world number one a record-equalling sixth title in London. PHOTO | GLYN KIRK |

Germany’s Alexander Zverev holds up the trophy after beating Serbia’s Novak Djokovic in their men’s singles final match on day eight of the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament at the O2 Arena in London on November 18, 2018. Alexander Zverev shocked Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-3 to win the ATP Finals on Sunday, denying the Serbian world number one a record-equalling sixth title in London. PHOTO | GLYN KIRK |AFP

Over the next few months though Djokovic surged back to his all-conquering best, sweeping to Wimbledon and US Open crowns and completing a historic Masters sweep with an elusive victory in Cincinnati.

“There was always part of me that believed I could make it back and I never thought it was impossible,” Djokovic said of his climb back to world number one.

“It turned to out to be a perfect five months of the year, with two Grand Slam titles.”

Roger Federer continued to defy his advancing years as he defended his Australian Open title and then eclipsed Andre Agassi as the oldest top-ranked player in ATP history, at the age of 36.

Switzerland's Roger Federer holds the winner's trophy after beating Croatia's Marin Cilic in their men's singles final match on day 14 of the Australian Open tournament in Melbourne on January 28, 2018. PHOTO | SAEED KHAN |

Switzerland’s Roger Federer holds the winner’s trophy after beating Croatia’s Marin Cilic in their men’s singles final match on day 14 of the Australian Open tournament in Melbourne on January 28, 2018. PHOTO | SAEED KHAN |AFP

Rafael Nadal dominated in typical fashion on clay, swaggering to an 11th Roland Garros title, but the injury-plagued Spaniard limped out of two other Grand Slams before further fitness problems curtailed his season.

Spain's Rafael Nadal plays a backhand return to Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro during their men's singles semi-final match on day thirteen of The Roland Garros 2018 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on June 8, 2018. PHOTO | ERIC FEFERBERG |

Spain’s Rafael Nadal plays a backhand return to Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro during their men’s singles semi-final match on day thirteen of The Roland Garros 2018 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on June 8, 2018. PHOTO | ERIC FEFERBERG |AFP
He played in just nine tournaments, his fewest since 2002, yet still won five titles and compiled a commanding 45-4 record.

Serena Williams returned to the court after her 14-month maternity leave, battling back from life-saving surgery, but twice fell agonisingly short of landing a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam crown.

She required a series of operations to free her from the risk of blood clots in the wake of giving birth to her daughter in September 2017, a scare that prompted her to sport an eye-catching black catsuit at Roland Garros.

In this handout photo provided by the French Tennis Federation (FFT) Serena Williams of the US gives a press conference as she announces her withdrawal from the French Open through injury, at Rolland Garros tennis complex in Paris on June 4, 2018. PHOTO | PAULINE BALLET |

In this handout photo provided by the French Tennis Federation (FFT) Serena Williams of the US gives a press conference as she announces her withdrawal from the French Open through injury, at Rolland Garros tennis complex in Paris on June 4, 2018. PHOTO | PAULINE BALLET |AFP
She finished runner-up at both Wimbledon and the US Open, but it was the nature of her defeat in New York that will stick in the memory after a meltdown in the final against Japan’s Naomi Osaka.

Williams erupted after a code violation for receiving coaching from her box, and subsequently called chair umpire Carlos Ramos a “liar and a thief” after she incurred a one-point penalty for racquet abuse.

Serena Williams of the US argues with chair umpire Carlos Ramos while playing Naomi Osaka of Japan during their 2018 US Open women's singles final match on September 8, 2018 in New York. PHOTO | KENA BENTACUR |

Serena Williams of the US argues with chair umpire Carlos Ramos while playing Naomi Osaka of Japan during their 2018 US Open women’s singles final match on September 8, 2018 in New York. PHOTO | KENA BENTACUR |AFP
The American later described the decision to then hit her with a game penalty following her tear-filled tirade as “sexist”.

An astonishingly poised Osaka held her nerve to seal victory and become the first Japanese woman to win a Grand Slam singles title, but the 20-year-old was reduced to tears when a pro-Williams crowd booed the trophy ceremony announcers.

Fortunately, Williams gracefully intervened and called for them to show the young champion respect.

In a season of firsts, Simona Halep eased the pain of three previous major finals defeats, to follow in the footsteps of her manager Virginia Ruzici, 40 years on, by claiming the French Open championship.

Simona Halep of Romania celebrates with the trophy after her victory against Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic in their women's singles final match at the WTA Shenzhen Open tournament in Shenzhen in China's southern Guangdong province January 6, 2018. PHOTO | AFP |

Simona Halep of Romania celebrates with the trophy after her victory against Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic in their women’s singles final match at the WTA Shenzhen Open tournament in Shenzhen in China’s southern Guangdong province January 6, 2018. PHOTO | AFP |

Caroline Wozniacki’s patience yielded her maiden Grand Slam triumph too, the Dane taking the Australian Open title to briefly return to world number one.
However, she later revealed her battle with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease which causes swelling of the joints and fatigue, following her diagnosis ahead of the US Open.

Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki celebrates beating Romania's Simona Halep in their women's singles final match on day 13 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 27, 2018. PHOTO | SAEED KHAN | AFP

Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki celebrates beating Romania’s Simona Halep in their women’s singles final match on day 13 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 27, 2018. PHOTO | SAEED KHAN | AFP

Angelique Kerber completed the third leg of a career Grand Slam by battering past Williams to become the first German woman to win Wimbledon since Steffi Graf in 1996.

Germany's Angelique Kerber celebrates after victory over Russia's Maria Sharapova in their women's singles third round match on day six of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 20, 2018. PHOTO | PAUL CROCK |

Germany’s Angelique Kerber celebrates after victory over Russia’s Maria Sharapova in their women’s singles third round match on day six of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 20, 2018. PHOTO | PAUL CROCK |AFP

The season also marked the end of the 118-year Davis Cup in its traditional format, with a revamped version of the competition next November bringing together 18 nations in one place for a week.

Kevin Anderson’s 26-24 defeat of John Isner in the fifth set of this year’s Wimbledon semi-finals prompted another rethink, leading the All England Club to introduce a tie-break to settle matches that reach 12-all in the decider.

“It is bucking tradition but I think a lot of people believe that is not a bad thing,” Isner said in the wake of the rule change.

Similarly, a 10-point tie-break will be used in the final set at the Australian Open, where Federer will eye his 100th career title.

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