With the Australian Open underway, we take a look at what the 2014 season may have in store for the top four tennis players in the world. With Rafael Nadal back in the No 1 spot and his arch rival Novak Djokovic ending 2013 like a man possessed; combined with the fact that Andy Murray has finally removed the Wimbledon monkey from his back and David Ferrer is in the form of his life, then it promises to be one the greatest ever seasons on the ATP tour. But what will the season bring for the top four players in the world?

Rafael Nadal 2013 was a remarkable year for Rafa Nadal. His return from a seven-month absence due to knee problems surpassed the expectations of even the most optimistic observers. He won a total of 10 titles including two of the three Grand Slams that he entered, and finished the season with 75 victories and just seven defeats, reclaiming the world No 1 spot in the process.

So what will 2014 bring for the Spaniard? He has already started the year in formidable style by winning his 61st title with victory in Doha, taking him to eighth place in the all-time titles list, and if he can stay fit, it would be hard to bet against him securing a ninth French Open title at Roland Garros. He has just one Australian Open title to his name (back in 2009) so victory in Melbourne would send an ominous message to his rivals. He managed to gain a psychological edge over Novak Djokovic last year by beating him in two Grand Slam tournaments (the French and U.S. Opens) and it will be fascinating to see these two battle it out again this season. Nadal will start the season just four major titles short of Roger Federer’s all-time record and there is a real possibility that he could reduce that gap with another Grand Slam or two this season.

Nadal’s main rival in Australia will be Djokovic who finished 2013 in great form and already has four Melbourne titles in the bag. Federer is the only other rival to have won in Australia but his last triumph was back in 2010. Andy Murray has been knocking on the door with three previous final appearances but it would take an incredible effort from the Scotsman to prevail down under after his return from surgery.

Novak Djokovic Djokovic had another solid season in 2013 with an impressive haul of seven titles and an overall record of 74 victories and just four defeats. He started the year well and then finished with a 24-match winning streak culminating in a devastating performance at the ATP World Tour finals. In between he had a slight dip in form by his own high standards and much of that may have been caused by the surprise resurgence of Nadal. Despite a strong season overall, Djokovic still lost the No 1 ranking spot thanks to two Grand Slam defeats to Rafael Nadal – in Paris and New York – and a defeat to Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final. He will enter this season as favourite to win his fourth consecutive Australian Open and will be determined to regain his top spot from his Spanish rival. This will a crucial season for Djokovic as he faces perhaps the toughest season of his career from a psychological point of view with Nadal back to his best and Andy Murray entering his prime. At the end of last season he seemed to have regained the kind of intensity and drive that made him unstoppable in 2011. If he can carry that form into 2014 and kick off the year with a Grand Slam victory in Melbourne then it could be another big year for the Serbian.

David Ferrer may be 31-years-old but he has been in the form of his career over the last two seasons. He finished 2013 with a career-best No 3 ranking – after Andy Murray missed the tail-end of the season with back problems – and reached nine tour finals in the process. A Grand Slam title has always eluded him and still looks unlikely – given his age and the quality of opposition – but he will not give up easily, and will be more determined than ever this season to capitalise on his recent good form. He has reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open twice before (in 2011 and 2013) and will be hoping to get at least that far again this year. He also made the final of at Roland Garros last year where he was beaten by Nadal in three sets. He was devastated to a have lost the Miami Masters 1000 final against Murray last season after holding match point but overall it was a good season for the Spanish grinder. His determination and resilience has earned him a huge amount of admiration from tennis fans around the world but this season could be his last chance to battle his way to that elusive Grand Slam title. If he does manage to win a major it would be one of the great tennis stories of the year.

Andy Murray Last year was perhaps the most important of Andy Murray’s career, not only did he win his second Grand Slam title but became the first British male to win at Wimbledon in 77 years. That title seemed to remove a weight of expectation from the shoulders of the Scotsman and he will be looking to build on that success this year. The other major event for Murray last year was the decision to end his season early and have surgery to resolve his back problems. He sacrificed an appearance at the ATP finals in London but will be hoping that he can enjoy a full pain-free season in 2014. At 26-years-old, Murray is entering his prime and will be hoping to build on his pre-surgery form of last year when he played some of the best tennis of his life. He won 4 titles last year and reached the final in 2 out of the 3 Grand Slams that he entered. He lost to Djokovic in the Australian Open final but got his revenge on the Serbian in that historic final at Wimbledon. If Murray is to win another Grand Slam other than the US or Wimbledon, then the Australian seems the most likely. He has reached three finals previously, but this year’s event may have come too soon after his return from surgery. If he can pace himself well throughout the tournament then he may just have a chance of making another final. Murray will have his eyes set on retaining his Wimbledon title this year and will be entering the tournament without 77 years of pressure on his shoulders. He will also be focusing on regaining the title at his favourite event, the US open.

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