On the slide?
Many expected Novak Djokovic to make a flying start to 2014, but that has not been the case. Should the Serbian be worried about his form?
By Alex Williams
Last Updated: 04/03/14 5:07pm
The Serb had finished the previous year on an incredible 24-match winning streak which took in two Masters 1000 events and the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, where he comfortably defeated Rafael Nadal in the final.
Djokovic was a significant favourite to not only win the Australian Open at the start of the year, but also to displace Nadal at the top of the world rankings by the end of the season. Why did he need the extra help?
Well, as the six-time grand slam champion reflects on his semi-final loss to Roger Federer at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, he may well wonder if he will fall short of both objectives.
For all of the talk surrounding Djokovic's stunning streak at the end of 2013, it must also be remembered that he has lost four of the last five grand slam finals he has participated in.
Once a lock to reach the last four of any major tournament, Djokovic saw his run of 14 consecutive grand slam semi-finals come to an end when he was edged out in an epic five-setter by eventual champion Stanislas Wawrinka at the Australian Open.
Perhaps such a loss should be expected given the way Djokovic has pushed his luck when going the five-set distance in the past, but a positively shaky display against Federer in Dubai may be more cause for concern.
"Even though I was the better player and I felt I was in control for the first hour or so, it appears that it's not enough, because a few points can really decide the winner," Djokovic said of the loss.
"He mentally felt more comfortable, he was coming to the net. Me, I backed up, and that resulted in the loss."
It was the first time Djokovic had tasted defeat against the seemingly fading Swiss master since 2012 and will certainly give him and Becker some serious food for thought ahead of the Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami.
In contrast, Federer is riding the crest of a wave and has built on the momentum he garnered from reaching the last four of the Australian Open.
Although he started slowly in both the semi-final with Djokovic and in the final against Tomas Berdych, he showed a great degree of composure and mental resilience to fight back to win on each occasion, attributes which were sorely lacking during his disastrous 2013 campaign.
He already has wins over both Djokovic and Murray this season, something which bodes well heading into the North American tournaments. During the whole of 2013 he only managed two wins against players ranked in the top five.
Although he does not play with the effortless fluency he did during his prime years, he has shown he can still fight it out with the best in the world.
The upcoming Indian Wells BNP Paribas Open in which Federer will be looking to make another statement has the feel of a mini-grand slam, with both men and women competing over two weeks of extended draws.
Federer, Berdych, Grigor Dimitrov and Marin Cilic are some of the form names to watch on the men's side of things, while there are plenty of intriguing storylines to watch out for as far as the women are concerned.
Earlier in the year there were murmurings that Serena Williams may end a 13-year boycott she and her sister Venus have held against the event, but those reports have not come to fruition.
Instead the draw is wide open. Australian Open runner-up Dominika Cibulkova continued her fine start to the year by winning in Acapulco last week, while Victoria Azarenka has slipped down to fourth in the world rankings but is still the favourite ahead of Melbourne champion Li Na and defending champion Maria Sharapova.