The Newcombe Medal is anyone’s as Australia’s four leading tennis players vie for the sport’s highest individual honour on Monday night.
Resurgent veteran Casey Dellacqua is a slight favourite ahead of teenager Nick Kyrgios, but long-time standard bearers Lleyton Hewitt and Samantha Stosur could also easily walk away with the gong.
With no strict criteria, the selection panel of Newcombe with advice from Davis Cup captain Pat Rafter and Fed Cup skipper Alicia Molik could mount a winning case for all four after an exceptional year on tour for Australian players.
While there were no grand slam singles spoils, Australia’s on-court aces provided plenty of highlights in 2014.
Dellacqua has serious claims on a first Newcombe Medal after completing a transformation from doubles contender to grand slam singles force in 2014.
After spiralling out of the world’s top 200 following last year’s US Open, Dellacqua went on a tear.
The free-hitting West Australian left-hander surged to a career-high No.26 after charging into the last 16 of two majors – in Melbourne and New York – for the first time in a calendar year.
Her stellar season earned Dellacqua a nomination for the WTA’s most improved player award, the 29-year-old only losing out to Wimbledon runner-up Eugenie Bouchard, who also made the last four at the Australian Open and French Open.
On rankings alone, Stosur would be a worthy winner of the coveted medal for the fourth time after ending 2014 as Australia’s top-rated player at world No.22, seven spots above Dellacqua.
Defying a chronic foot injury, Stosur – the 2010, 2011 and 2012 Newcombe Medallist and nominated for the fifth straight year – ended the year in style with a successful title defence at the Japan Open.
The 30-year-old former US Open champion also won her fifth grand slam doubles crown, enjoying Wimbledon mixed doubles success with Serbian Nenad Zimonjic.
For sheer heroics and potential, Kyrgios would be a popular winner after a headline-filled 2014 campaign highlighted by his run to the Wimbledon quarter-finals.
In addition to conquering Rafael Nadal at the All England Club to be the first teenager to topple a world No.1 at a grand slam since Roger Federer almost a decade ago, Kyrgios reached the last 32 at Flushing Meadows, finished the season on the cusp of the top 50 and helped Australia back into the Davis Cup World Group.
Hewitt, though, could edge out the lot and go back-to-back at Australian tennis’s night of nights after being the only finalist to win two singles titles in 2014 and once again finishing as the country’s top-ranked men’s player.
The 33-year-old former world No.1 wound back the clock to bring down Federer at the Brisbane International before also reigning on the grass of Newport mid-season.
NEWCOMBE MEDAL ROLL OF HONOUR
2010: Samantha Stosur
2011: Samantha Stosur
2012: Samantha Stosur
2013: Lleyton Hewitt