Dominic Thiem’s breakthrough, Naomi Osaka’s advocacy and Iga Swiatek’s rise spotlight 2020 tennis season

After a yr like no different, we have made it to the tennis offseason. With the coronavirus pandemic shutting down the ATP and WTA excursions for months — together with the cancellation of Wimbledon — and dramatically altering the schedule and circumstances on the occasions that did happen, it’s arduous to know what to make of the yr that was.

Who had probably the most spectacular yr regardless of the circumstances? Who managed to stay targeted and have a breakthrough event or season? And who supplied us with feel-good moments at a time once we so desperately wanted them? It’s time to look again at the very best moments from the 2020 tennis season.

ATP participant of the yr

We all know what you might be considering. You’re weighing the 2020 résumés for Novak Djokovic, the year-end world No. 1 and reigning Australian Open champion, and Rafael Nadal, world No. 2 and the reigning French Open champion who tied Roger Federer with 20 main victories. There are compelling instances to be made for each gamers who will undoubtedly finish their careers as two of the very best ever.

However with neither one dramatically outshining the opposite, it is time to see who’s behind door No. 3: Dominic Thiem!

Thiem had a career-defining yr and eventually won his first major title at the US Open. He additionally performed within the finals on the Australian Open and the ATP Finals. The 27-year-old Austrian ends the yr ranked a career-high No. 3 after changing into the primary male participant born within the Nineties to win a Grand Slam and the primary non-Large Three member since 2016 to win a significant.

Sure, Nadal (and the injured Federer) did not play on the US Open, and Djokovic was disqualified after hitting a line decide with a ball within the fourth spherical. That does not take away from Thiem’s milestone in New York. His outcomes for the remainder of the yr solely added to his case. The actual fact is that this: Nobody else performed in three finals on the greatest tournaments of the yr. Thiem’s capacity to maintain his degree in a difficult and unprecedented season was greater than spectacular and vaulted him previous the remainder of his these within the under-30 class.

If there ever was a yr for the surprising, this was it.

WTA participant of the yr

The ladies’s recreation has seen the rise of a lot of proficient younger gamers over the previous few years however has been plagued with inconsistency.

This season felt acquainted in that regard with two first-time main champions and a number of other new faces pulling off upsets. There was one participant who made her manner close to the highest of the rankings and never solely stayed there however stepped up when it mattered most.

That will be Sofia Kenin, the 2020 Australian Open champion and French Open finalist. The 22-year-old American began the yr ranked No. 14 and ended it at a career-best No. 4.

Kenin soared in Melbourne, dropping just one set en path to the ultimate. She defeated world No. 1 and native favourite Ashleigh Barty within the semifinals earlier than defeating two-time main champion Garbine Muguruza within the last for a three-set victory. Her post-Australia victory tour was lower quick because of the pandemic. As an alternative of adjusting to life as a significant winner and top-10 participant, she was in lockdown at her residence in Florida. Her run in Paris proved simply how resilient she might be. Following a fourth-round run on the US Open and the worst lack of her profession on the lead-up Italian Open (an astounding 6-0, 6-0 loss to Victoria Azarenka), a refocused Kenin arrived at Roland Garros with one thing to show.

Not identified for her dominance on clay, Kenin tailored to the weird circumstances and wild climate of the delayed French Open and located methods to win in opposition to tough opponents. She wanted a deciding set in 4 of her six matches heading into the ultimate however by no means allowed her opponent to take greater than three video games within the last set. She misplaced to a red-hot Iga Swiatek within the title conflict however proved she can be a dominant and steady presence for the foreseeable future.

Most beneficial participant

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All through her run on the US Open, Naomi Osaka wore a masks highlighting a distinct Black sufferer of racial injustice and police brutality.

Thiem and Kenin had been phenomenal on the courtroom, however Naomi Osaka was extraordinary on and off of it. The 23-year-old received the US Open for her third main title in a dramatic comeback over Azarenka, and that wasn’t even probably the most noteworthy a part of her time in New York. Osaka made world headlines for her choice to boycott and forfeit her semifinal match on the Western & Southern Open (the primary event in a two-event bubble in New York) following the police taking pictures of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in hopes of elevating consciousness about racial injustice. She was the primary tennis participant to talk out, and her actions resulted within the event pausing play for the day.

Through the US Open simply days later, Osaka chose to wear a different face mask ahead of each match commemorating victims of police brutality, together with Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Her choice to make use of her voice sparked discussions within the still-predominantly white sport, in addition to with sports activities followers world wide.

Whereas 2020 was undoubtedly a troublesome yr, Osaka proved she is a young leader ready to create positive change for years to return.

Match of the yr

Throughout such an odd season, there was one thing so comforting a couple of Serena and Venus Williams battle in one of many first tournaments after the coronavirus hiatus.

Regardless of the months-long break from competitors, the legendary sisters did not disappoint in their second-round meeting at the TopSeed Open in Kentucky. Lasting 2 hours, 19 minutes, the sisters battled for each level with classic depth. In the end, Serena rallied from a set down and a 4-2 deficit within the last set to earn the 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory.

When followers wanted one thing to cheer for, the sisters delivered with one of many extra aggressive matches they’ve performed in opposition to one another of their thirty first showdown.

Comeback participant of the yr

The non-public struggles of Azarenka, the previous world No. 1 and two-time main champion, have been nicely documented over the previous few seasons. A custody battle over her son, Leo, prevented her from enjoying a full schedule since his delivery in 2016.

As a result of her incapability to journey, Azarenka’s play suffered. She missed the beginning of the 2020 season and contemplated retirement. Getting into the New York bubble following the coronavirus hiatus, the 31-year-old was ranked exterior of the highest 50 and hadn’t received a aggressive match in over a yr. When critics counted her out, she put together one of the most impressive three-week stretches in latest reminiscence. She received the title on the Western & Southern Open then superior to the ultimate on the US Open earlier than falling to Osaka in three units. She completed the yr with one other last look on the Ostrava Open and is now ranked No. 13.

Honorable point out:

Tsvetana Pironkova: Pironkova, who hadn’t performed a match in over three years following the delivery of her son in 2017, used her protected rating to realize entrance to the US Open. She shocked everybody by advancing to the quarterfinals. It was simply the Cinderella story of the yr.

Vasek Pospisil: The Canadian missed a lot of the 2019 season as a consequence of again surgical procedure, then made the ultimate (his first since 2014) at Montpellier and had a career-best fourth-round run on the US Open with wins over fellow countryman and No. 25 seed Milos Raonic and eighth-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut. Off the courtroom, Pospisil joined Djokovic as co-president of a just lately fashioned Professional Tennis Players Association, a players-only group that almost all resembles a gamers’ union.

Finest comeback second

That is actually the very best revenge second. After enjoying playing cards with Benoit Paire on the US Open, Kristina Mladenovic was forced to withdraw with doubles associate Timea Babos forward of their second-round match after Paire examined optimistic for COVID-19. She was then compelled to quarantine in her resort room for a lot of the length of the event. Understandably, she was lower than thrilled by what transpired and never in prime enjoying form weeks later in the beginning of the French Open.

However the duo — the defending champions in Paris — rolled by means of the event to win their fourth major title together with a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Desirae Krawczyk and Alexa Guarachi.

“Just some weeks after being unjustly disqualified from the US Open, being right here with you and with this trophy is one thing very sturdy,” Mladenovic stated to Babos after the win. “Bodily, mentally, I am exhausted right this moment. You carried me all the best way, I am proud to have you ever as a associate.”

Finest feel-good tales of 2020

Diego Schwartzman, a fan favourite and beloved by his friends, cracked the highest 10 for the primary time in his profession and advanced to his first major semifinal in Paris. The 28-year-old, 5-foot-6 Argentine certified for his first ATP Finals after greater than a decade on tour and performed in his first Masters last on the Italian Open.

Schwartzman’s fellow countrywoman, Nadia Podoroska, additionally made her first main semifinal at Roland Garros in simply her second Grand Slam occasion. Beginning the 2020 season ranked No. 255, the 23-year-old wanted to qualify to get into the principle draw, however then won eight straight matches. She in the end misplaced to Swiatek within the semifinals however almost tripled her profession earnings throughout her Parisian journey. Her personal coach even known as it “unbelievable.” She adopted it up with a quarterfinal run on the Linz Open in Austria.

Martina Trevisan, one other unseeded qualifier on the French Open enjoying in simply her second main, was away from the sport for 4 years as a consequence of an consuming dysfunction. In Paris, the 27-year-old Italian enamored herself to followers together with her story of perseverance and her pleasure on the courtroom. Trevisan upset Kiki Bertens, Maria Sakkari and Coco Gauff en route to the quarterfinals. She additionally fell to Swiatek however cracked the highest 100 for the primary time on the finish of the event.

Breakthrough gamers of the yr

There are breakthroughs after which there’s what Swiatek did in Paris this fall. Ranked No. 54, the 19-year-old, who had by no means superior previous the fourth spherical at a significant, destroyed everybody in her path, together with a 6-1, 6-2 rout over 2018 champion and occasion favourite Simona Halep within the fourth spherical. If Swiatek had any nerves coming into the primary last of her profession, she did not present them, finishing her fortnight with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Kenin.

Swiatek did not drop a set or permit an opponent to win greater than 5 video games throughout her run to turn into the youngest champion at Roland Garros since Nadal in 2005. She additionally grew to become the lowest-ranked French Open victor within the historical past of the WTA rankings and the primary Polish participant to win a Grand Slam singles title. To not point out, she additionally superior to the semifinals in doubles with associate Nicole Melichar. Swiatek did not play once more this season, however she completed the yr at No. 17 and is a probable front-runner heading into the 2021 Australian Open.

The lads’s recreation has lengthy been dominated by the Large Three and that did not precisely change in 2020. However Russian Andrey Rublev did his greatest to interrupt the established order.

Rublev, 23, began his 2020 season by profitable back-to-back titles on the Qatar Open and Adelaide Worldwide and by no means slowed down. He received three extra titles, making the quarterfinals in New York and Paris, and cracked the highest 10 to qualify for his first ATP Finals. It is not fairly nearly as good as profitable a significant, but it surely feels as if he is not far off from reaching that, too.

Honorable point out:

Jennifer Brady: The previous UCLA participant received her first WTA title on the Prime Seed Open and made her first major semifinals at the US Open earlier than dropping a thriller to Osaka. The American completed the season with a career-high rating at No. 24.

Sebastian Korda: The 20-year-old American and son of former Australian Open champion Petr Korda (and brother of LPGA stars Jessica and Nelly Korda) made it by means of qualifying in Paris and upset veterans John Isner and Andreas Seppi as he rolled through into the fourth round. He in the end misplaced to Nadal, his idol, however made a dramatic rise within the rankings.

Jannik Sinner: The 19-year-old Italian grew to become the youngest French Open quarterfinalist since Djokovic in 2006 (and the primary to take action in his debut on the occasion since Nadal in 2005), as he knocked off sixth-seeded Alexander Zverev within the fourth spherical. He additionally fell to Nadal however adopted up his Parisian debut by notching his first ATP title at the Sofia Open in November, changing into the youngest to take action since Kei Nishikori in 2008. He ended the yr ranked No. 37 — greater than 40 spots greater than the place he opened the 2020 season.

Gamers to look at in 2021

Bianca Andreescu: The 2019 US Open champion did not play a match in 2020 as she recovered from a knee harm. She saved followers guessing throughout the tennis restart about her standing however in the end determined to not threat enjoying. She guarantees to be again and 100% for the Australian Open.

Matteo Berrettini: After reaching the US Open semifinals and making his first ATP Finals in 2019, the 24-year-old appeared poised for a giant yr. However as an alternative he struggled earlier than and after the restart. His greatest outcome was a fourth-round run on the US Open. Will 2019 Berrettini return in 2021? He has to hope so.

Madison Keys: A staple of the second week at majors over previous a number of years, Keys was missing her regular spark this season. She opened the yr with a last look within the Brisbane Worldwide however did not make it previous the third spherical in any of the opposite 4 occasions she entered.

Federer: Federer, the 20-time main champion, hasn’t performed since dropping within the Australian Open semifinals. He underwent surgical procedure on his proper knee in February and had a follow-up process in June. He additionally plans to be again in time to play in Australia. Now 39, his profession clearly is winding down. Hopefully he has one other high-producing season (or two or three) left in him.

Gauff: After changing into the game’s newest teen phenom following her unimaginable 2019 season, Gauff opened the brand new yr with a fourth-round run in Melbourne, together with a win over defending champion Osaka. However the 16-year-old by no means appeared to search out her rhythm within the restart — dropping within the first spherical on the US Open and within the second spherical at the French Open. She did not fare significantly better in doubles with associate Caty McNally. Gauff is just too proficient and targeted to battle for lengthy and he or she’ll be motivated in 2021.

Serena Williams: The fan-less US Open seemed to be the right state of affairs for Williams to tie Margaret Courtroom’s document of 24 main victories. She was a favourite coming into the occasion. Then she fell to Azarenka within the semifinals and needed to withdraw from the French Open earlier than her second-round match as a consequence of an Achilles’ harm she sustained throughout the Azarenka match. Though Williams received the Brisbane Worldwide, her first event title since getting back from childbirth, the season nonetheless appears like a missed alternative.

If there’s one factor tennis followers can say with certainty, irrespective of how unpredictable every little thing else appears, do not ever depend out Serena. Will 2021 be the yr she makes historical past? We are going to simply have to attend and see.

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