A different kind of trophy ceremony?


One of the byproducts of the stability on the tennis tour is the job of the trophy-engraving guy.

He hasn't exactly had to branch out in recent years. Especially on the men's side, where the same three names have won 32 of the past 35 Grand Slam championships. And as for the women, "Williams" certainly isn't a spelling bee backbreaker. Sure, you have an occasional "Bartoli" or "Stosur" who lands a title, and "Azarenka" is now a common handle, but for the most part, the players are eminently familiar.

Well, it seems like Trophy Guy might have to buckle down, because 2014 looks like it could finally be the year of change in tennis. Enter in Dominika Cibulkova, Eugenie Bouchard, Agnieszka Radwanska, Tomas Berdych and Stanislas Wawrinka. Any one of them could walk away from the Aussie Open with a maiden championship.

Yes, it seems like uncertainty has woken up from years of dormancy.

"Well, I think the older players are excited to see kind of a new group of players," Canada's Bouchard told reporters after advancing to the semifinals. "But for us young ones, it's still tough because they are still playing well. Serena is still dominating, you know, at however old she is. It's still tough for us.

"But I think it makes it really interesting. We've seen in this tournament, there have been some upsets. I think some players can still lose on any given day and it still makes it extremely interesting."

And though anarchy invariably sneaks its way into Slams, the chain of events at this season's first major have been head-spinning.

It started on Saturday, when the Williams sisters dropped out of doubles. The next day, Serena was stunned by Ana Ivanovic. On Monday, Maria Sharapova and the Bryan brothers, who won three Grand Slams in 2013, lost. Then on Tuesday, it was Novak Djokovic's turn to join the family of the fallen. Finally, two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka was escorted out of the Aussie thanks to Radwanska's stellar play.

For all the potential interlopers, no one is more deserving than Wawrinka, who went from being the centerpiece of marathon dejection to pulling off the most significant match of his career in a four-hour, five-set win over Djokovic.

"Well, I think for sure it's a really, really strong generation," Wawrinka told reporters after his nail-biting quarterfinal win. "The top four guys, Roger, Novak, Rafa, Andy -- they have been winning every Grand Slam since many, many years.

"They are just better player than us, than all the rest. They are just amazing fighter, amazing player. That's why they always won everything.

"You have to deal with that. You have to fight. I know that the only thing I can control is what I'm doing off the court: my practice, how I do my schedule. I always try to improve. I always try to find solution to change my game a little bit, to improve, to find solution when I play against the top player."

You have to go back more than a decade ago to find as much ambiguity on the men's tour as we could potentially have now. In 2003, four different players won the Slams: Andre Agassi (Australia), Juan Carlos Ferrer (French), Roger Federer (Wimbledon) and Andy Roddick (U.S.). And that's when any semblance of conjecture ended.

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