At the end of each season, its procession of (more or less) old glories hanging up the racquet. Here's five of the most significant of this vintage 2014... complemented each time by a potential candidate to take over the vacant spot. Remember their name.
The most... twice anticipated: Mahesh Bhupathi
At 40, Mahesh Bhupathi has closed a chapter started two decades earlier, in 1994, and rich of 52 doubles titles, including four Grand Slams (Roland Garros and Wimbledon in 1999, the French Open again in 2001 and the US Open in 2002). 52, or at least one ATP tournament won per season between 1997 and 2013. A great name of the doubles event, coupled with a smart businessman since he’s also one of the founders of the International Tennis Premier League... Of which he has been the relentless promoter with his colleagues on the tour during his last two seasons.
Unlike Bhupathi, quickly aware of his individual limits, Henri Kontinen had the potential to make a career in singles. An extremely fragile knee - at 23, he had already had surgery twice - finally forced the former Wimbledon finalist in junior to turn to the doubles, less physically traumatic. The Finns rise in power was progressive but continuous until the second half of 2014, rich of a first title in Kitzbühel and finals in Metz and Basel. Now that his ranking opened him all the tables of the main tour, many other titles should follow.
The most… almost famous: Nikolay Davydenko
A Masters, a Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, three Masters 1000, two semi-finals at Roland Garros, two at the US Open, 21 titles in total and an enviable status of Rafael Nadal's nemesis... Underestimated by the general public Nikolay Davydenko seriously postulated to the title (not so?) honorary of best player never to have played a Grand Slam final. The Russian, world number 3rd in 2006, played his last match at Roland Garros before being entitled to his little farewell ceremony at the end of the year in Moscow. His skills racquet in hand, but also his relationship with the press, conferred spice to a tour that can sometimes be seen as a little boring. Yes, on the court as outside, Nikolay Davydenko will be missed.
The heir :
Can someone really take over Nikolay Dayvdenko, a man with a nature as singular as his tennis? In the game, it's probably Kei Nishikori who is the closest, but the Japanese isn’t strictly speaking a "hope" anymore. Even more difficult to find an heir to the Russian regarding his outspokenness. Failing to do so, we can turn to genetic kinship, keeping an eye on his nephew... Philipp Davydenko, Edward's son, historical coach of his brother. Aged 22 and 390th ATP player, Philipp will never be a world Cador as his uncle, but his results improved greatly since the latter ended his career. Curious? Not really: since Uncle Nikolay has retired, Philipp can now enjoy full-time advice from his father-coach. We look forward to seeing how far it will take him...
The most... tremendously popular: Li Na
In Asia, there will inevitably be a before and an after Li Na. First Chinese to win a Grand Slam title, the champion of Roland Garros 2011 wasn’t the player of a single brilliant stroke and was able to shine specifically in the major tournament benefiting from the best media coverage in Asia: the Australian Open or "the Asia-Pacific Grand Slam" as renamed by its organizers. Finalist in 2011 and 2013, Li Na ended up triumphing in 2014, a handful of months before ending her career at 32. She will remain forever as the one that was able to shed light on the yellow ball in a country that until then was only swearing by... table tennis.
Difficult to imagine the blast caused by Li Na when she won the French Open, rooting to the spot 116 million compatriots in front of their television. In a sport increasingly globalized, there aren't much more big areas that doesn't have a champion anymore: only Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. India is also the next contender to join the procession. Yuki Bhambri, World Junior No. 1 in 2009, Sania Mirza, 27th WTA in 2007, at age 20, won't be the expected hero, but the enthusiasm for tennis is exceptional in this country - the IPTL proved it - and the resources and expertise exist there, evidenced by the traditions of the Krishnan and Amritraj families or doubles champions like Paes and Bhupathi.
The most... quickly worn out: Tiago Fernandes
« Tennis, a stupid sport», once said Richard Gasquet. Stupid, maybe; ungrateful, definitely. A sport where only a small minority of players wins more games than it loses: in almost half a century in the Open era, the ATP lists exactly 270 players above the 50% career wins on the thousands of candidates who tried their luck on the tour. Tennis, a loser’s sport? A sport in any case where you have to live every day with defeat. In a situation of failure among professionals after years of splendour in junior (champion at the Australian Open and World Number 1 in 2010), Tiago Fernandes couldn’t ignore this fact: the Brazilian, coached by Larri Passos, chose to end his career at 21 years old, to start a course of civil engineering. At least in school, a degree can be awarded to several applicants.
Since the mid-2000s, the rankings of Junior Grand Slam tournaments are full of young people who have not exceeded the status of hope. The four winners of 2010, Agustin Velotti (Roland Garros) and Marton Fucsovics (Wimbledon) are doing a little better than Tiago Fernandes. Remains the fourth lad, Jack Sock. The winner of the 2010 US Open has never been Number 1 in junior (22nd at his best), but he has been on the US college tour. Above all, his career has clearly taken off in 2014, at 22. Not only he is World 42nd in singles, but he mostly won the most beautiful trophies of all in doubles: Wimbledon. He might not be the new Sampras, but he’s the best that American tennis has to offer these days.
The most... small in size, giant in talent: Olivier Rochus
How huge could Olivier Rochus career had been if he had been over than 5 ft. 5? Not one to indulge in frustration, the Belgian himself preferred to stop asking the question. Still, his technique and his skills with a racquet were worthy of the greatest, one to force the admiration of Roger Federer for example, beaten regularly by the Walloon through adolescence... before growth played him a very shabby trick. The former Belgian No. 1, 24th in the world at his best, has won two ATP titles and a great doubles victory at the French Open in 2004 with his friend Xavier Malisse. In the last 16 of three Grand Slams out of four, he's been a poison for his opponents on the grass of Wimbledon, where he defeated Marat Safin, Guillermo Coria and Magnus Norman during their best years.
Are we ever going to see a player under 5 ft. 5 at the gates of the World Top 20? The evolution of modern tennis is not going in this direction, and the "little ones" of the current elite today are all around six feet. The smallest man in the Top 100 these days is Diego Schwartzman, from Argentina, 22 and 61st in the world thanks to his victory at the Masters Challengers. Peaking at 5 ft. 7, he's the one that takes up the torch of the minnows in the ATP forest. If he doesn't have Olivier Rochus' talent, they at least share the same grinta.