LONDON (Reuters) - Grand slam titles were shared around like slices of pizza in 2014 but for all the welcome variety Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams ended the year still setting the standard.
For the first time since 1998 the eight grand slam singles trophies on offer were lifted by eight players.
While the four women’s champions were existing members of the elite club, Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka and Croatia’s Marin Cilic marked the biggest shake-up of men’s tennis for a decade with breakthrough victories.
After years spent in the shadow of 17-times grand slam champion and compatriot Roger Federer, Wawrinka came good in Melbourne, beating Djokovic in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open and showing no mercy to injured Spaniard Rafa Nadal in the final.
Nadal rebounded to claim a ninth French Open title, but the year was too prove a worrying one for the injury-prone Mallorcan who suffered a shock defeat by Australian teenager Nick Krygios at Wimbledon before a wrist problem and a grumbling appendix restricted him to only seven more matches.
Federer, 33, claimed five titles but was unable to add to his record collection of grand slams.
He came close though. The Swiss maestro went toe to toe with Djokovic for five sets in an epic Wimbledon final, while a few weeks later in New York he looked favorite for the title before being ambushed by the powerful Cilic in the semi.
The door had been opened invitingly by events earlier on that sweltering New York day when Asian trailblazer Kei Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a grand slam singles final with a stunning defeat of Djokovic.
It meant that, for the first time since 2005 a men’s grand slam final took place without a member of the Fab Four, be it Federer, Nadal, Djokovic or Briton Andy Murray.
Cilic seized his chance in ruthless fashion by destroying Nishikori, completing a stunning comeback from the depths of the previous year when he served a doping ban.
Djokovic, who got married and became a father this year, claimed a chart-leading seven titles and won his last three events, culminating at the ATP World Tour Finals.
“I physically feel very fit,” Djokovic said ominously. “I‘m very motivated to keep on playing on a very high level. I‘m going to try to use these years in front of me to fight for number one in the world and the biggest titles in the sport.”
Like Djokovic, Williams, 33, will start 2015 as the measuring stick for the rest as usual.
The American, now the oldest world number one, overpowered Caroline Wozniacki to win her 18th grand slam title at the U.S. Open, moving level on the all-time list with Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert and only four behind record holder Steffi Graf.
While not as dominant as the year before, she still bagged seven titles and the way she scythed through the draw at Flushing Meadows was awe-inspiring, winning 14 consecutive sets and dropping only 32 games in bagging a sixth U.S. Open crown.
Romania’s Simona Halep, the most improved player on the circuit, and Canadian Eugenie Bouchard both contested their first grand slam finals but the establishment showed they are unwilling to cede the top trophies to the new generation.
Chinese veteran Li Na, who retired in September, won the Australian Open, Maria Sharapova fought off Halep to win the French Open title while Czech Petra Kvitova thrashed Bouchard to win her second Wimbledon title.
Tennis entered the brave new world of the International Premier League in December but a more fitting climax to a memorable year was Federer leading Switzerland to the Davis Cup title to fill one of the final gaps on his CV.
Editing by Mark Meadows