In 2019, the dominance of the 'Big 3' (Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal) continued on the ATP Tour. Among the women, new champions were crowned in Bianca Andreescu and Ashleigh Barty, the latter feted as the new World No 1. There were plenty of highs, lows and downright 'what did just happen?' in the tennis world. The tough questions are: which were the biggest moments, the biggest improvements across tours and unfortunately, the lowest of lows?
Tennis moment of the year
Musab: Federer-Djokovic at Wimbledon
When Roger Federer reached two championship points against Novak Djokovic at 8-7 in the fifth set of their Wimbledon final, not even the most optimistic of Djokovic fans (or pessimistic of Federer fans) could have imagined that the scenario from eight years ago was going to play out again. For it to have happened once was freaky enough. But for it to happen thrice? That would be straight out of a Stephen King book.
The crowd got wild alright! To go from the knowledge that their favourite son Federer was just one strike away from Slam No 21, to the realization that his Djokovic-shaped scars were destined to get even deeper, was bound to put anyone in a fit of rage.
The decade started with Djokovic defeating Federer after saving two match points. That it would end the same way is something even the most imaginative of script-writers couldn’t have imagined.
Tanuj: Andy Murray's return
Andy Murray had been battling injury issues for quite a while. In Melbourne, he admitted that this may well be his last. The Briton played an emotional five-setter against Roberto Bautista Agut but was beaten. The emotional goodbyes were said in Australia but it was not all over. A hip resurfacing surgery later, he returned to the tennis court at Queen's and won the doubles title with Feliciano Lopez.
Most improved player of the year
Musab: Bianca Andreescu
A year ago, Bianca Andreescu was a name that only the most die-hard of tennis fans had heard of. Andreescu entered the qualifying draw for each of the slams in 2018, but failed. She didn’t play a single WTA tour-level match that year.
By the time she arrived for the 2019 US Open, she was regarded as a threat, one who could win it all. And win it all she did.
An eclectic, attack-first game like Andreescu’s usually takes a lot of time to perfect, which is why the pace of her improvement in 2019 took everyone by surprise. The Canadian went from being an unknown talent to a reliable big-match player and Slam champion in the space of 11 months.
Tanuj: Bianca Andreescu
In 2018 it was Naomi Osaka who had an incredible run on the North American hard courts. This year it was the turn of the Canadian Andreescu. She won titles in Newport, Indian Wells, Canada and topped it off with the US Open. Following the win in New York, she had a 45-4 record and 8-0 against top-10 players in the year. She started the season as World No. 152 and finished as the fourth ranked player.
Match of the year
Musab: Thiem vs Djokovic at ATP World Tour Finals
If you strain your ears hard enough, you can still hear the sound of Dominic Thiem’s bullet groundstrokes echoing around the O2 Arena. On a day when Djokovic was at or close to his best, Thiem found a gear that didn’t seem humanly possible. He repeatedly took the racquet out of the Serb’s hands with the sheer pace of his shots, eliciting an almost non-stop string of gasps from the crowd.
In what was Thiem’s unbridled offense and Djokovic’s unyielding defense, it got only better towards the end. Just when Novak seemed to have defused the Austrian's power to take a 4-1 lead in the final tiebreaker, Thiem came roaring back with a few more missiles to snatch a memorable victory.
Tanuj: Djokovic-Federer at Wimbledon
There have been many great matches this year; but, in terms of the drama, the magnitude of what is at stake and ability to hold nerves, nothing tops the Wimbledon final. Djokovic saved two match points at 8-7, 15-40 and was easily the second-best on the day. But he braved not just the spectacle, the odds against him but also a Centre Court which was heavily supporting the Swiss. The tournament witnessed its first fifth set tiebreak where the Serb triumphed.
Disappointment of the year
Musab: Next Gen at the Slams
Daniil Medvedev’s run to the US Open final might have masked this a little, but the Next Gen were by and large a sorry group of also-rans at the majors in 2019. Alexander Zverev bombed at the Australian Open and by the time Wimbledon came around, he was doing even worse. The others soon caught the underperforming bug, and towards the end of the year the 'Big 3’s stranglehold over the sport looked more unshakable than ever.
Zverev, Borna Coric, Karen Khachanov, Denis Shapovalov and Frances Tiafoe all disappointed big time, and it was left to the unheralded Matteo Berrettini and Andrey Rublev at the year’s last Major to save some face.
Tanuj: Women's semis on outside courts at Roland Garros
Most of the tournaments offer same prize money to men and women in what is a huge step forward. But the equality was undone significantly at Roland Garros when the women's singles semi-final matches were played on the outside courts instead of the main stadiums. Lengthy rain delays forced the organisers into a tough spot. With men's semis (Federer vs Nadal and Djokovic vs Thiem) individually ticketed, the women's matches were shifted. The decision drew criticism from WTA and former French World No 1 Amelie Mauresmo.
Team of the year
Thiem was considered to be a clay court bully and a brainless ball-basher. But ever since he appointed Nicolas Massu as his coach, the effect has been dramatic. Thiem won his first-ever Masters title at Indian Wells, and by the end of the year, turned into a legitimate hardcourt threat. He won five titles this year (three of them on hardcourt) and reached another Roland Garros final – where he took a set off Rafael Nadal.
Massu has helped Thiem add several new kinks to his game, including a biting slice and a devastating willingness to take the ball on the rise. More importantly, he has taught Thiem to stay the course even when things aren’t going his way.
Tanuj: Gael Monfils-Elina Svitolina
Stepping away from the conventional doubles pairing and coach-player relationship, the morale boosters that Elina Svitolina and Gael Monfils sent each other's way were interesting. This year, they spent a long time on practice courts, motivating each other on the sidelines and just overall, using the other's good performances to keep themselves going.
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Updated Date: Dec 16, 2019 19:20:16 IST