Will the legendary Big Three fend off the hungry Next Gen for yet another year? Or was the season-ending ATP Finals, won by 21-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas, a harbinger of a revolutionary 2020?
On the women’s side, will Serena Williams finally capture her 24th Grand Slam title to equal Margaret Court’s hallowed career record? Will one of the young stars — Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty or Bianca Andreescu — emerge as a superstar next year? Or will a terrific teenager, like 18-year-old Amanda Anisimova or even 15-year-old Coco Gauff, steal all their thunder?
Let’s peer into the tennis crystal ball. With 20/20 foresight, I see a host of new champions and challengers.
Daniil Medvedev — The rampaging Russian will pick up where he left off last summer and autumn when he reached six straight finals. The most crucial one came at the US Open where he nearly ambushed Rafael Nadal in a five-set thriller.
Medvedev lost that heartbreaker but won over Flushing Meadows fans who had booed him for unruly conduct during his win over Feliciano Lopez. “I’m a human being, I can make mistakes. Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart,” said an apologetic Medvedev, who had morphed from villain to nice guy during the fortnight.
The fastest and most tactical towering (6’6”) player in tennis history, No. 5 Medvedev will become the first Next Genner to win a major title. He’ll dethrone seven-time champion Novak Djokovic in a fluctuating, five-set Australian Open final.
Naomi Osaka — The retired Li Na, a two-time major winner, told SNTV that Osaka “will have no problem winning 10 Grand Slam titles.” That prediction isn’t far fetched because the 22-year-old Japanese-Haitian has the talent, strength and technique to overwhelm opponents, much as Serena once did.
After winning two straight hard court majors at the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open, Osaka explained her success. “Grand Slams to me are like a playground, I have a lot of fun there.” The sensitive Naomi bounced back from mid-season depression by winning in Osaka and Beijing in the fall.
A happy Osaka is very tough to beat, and the coming Aussie Open is nicknamed “The Happy Slam.” She’ll prove Li Na right as she grabs her third major title Down Under, crushing another young power hitter, Aryna Sabalenka.
Dominic Thiem — “The Big Three still took the Grand Slams this year, but I think next year will be the year where there’s a big change,” Thiem predicted after Tsitsipas nipped him in the summit clash of the ATP Finals. The 26-year-old Austrian keeps improving, but, like many rising stars before him, keeps losing to 12-time champion Nadal at the French Open — for the last three years, in fact. Even so, Thiem is now clearly second only to Nadal on clay after outlasting Djokovic in the 2019 Roland Garros semifinals; he’s also defeated Nadal four times on clay in ATP events.
Thiem belatedly, but smartly, diversified his tactics by playing much closer to the baseline and rushing to the net more often. It worked on hard courts when he won Indian Wells and Beijing and also at the ATP Finals. It will work on clay at the French Open. There he will dethrone The King of Clay in the first epic Grand Slam final of the new decade.
Belinda Bencic — A child prodigy, Bencic was tabbed as “the next Martina Hingis.” At 17, she made the 2014 US Open quarters and, at 18, she shot up to world No. 7. But the rapid rise created expectations she couldn’t handle. “It came too soon. I wasn’t prepared for the spotlight. The pressure,” she told Metro.co.uk . Hampered by back and wrist injuries, she plummeted out of the top 300. The Swiss Miss persevered, though, and regained her form in 2019, notching 11 wins over top-10 opponents, including Osaka (thrice), Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova.
Bencic boasts rock-solid strokes, smart shot selection, wonderful anticipation and a feisty competitiveness — all critical assets on clay. The parity in women’s tennis is most pronounced on the terre battue at the French Open with six different champions in the past six years. Bencic will continue this streak and complete her career comeback with a three-set final triumph over 2018 champion Halep.
Stefanos Tsitsipas — When Stefanos was 10, he switched from an easier-to-hit, double-handed backhand to a one-handed backhand because he wanted to play like his idol Roger Federer. After “The Greek Freak” upset the sport’s near-consensus GOAT at the Australian Open, he memorably quipped, “My idol became my rival.”
Handsome and charismatic, Tsitsipas would later upset Nadal on clay in Madrid and Djokovic on hard courts in Shanghai. He put an exclamation point on his breakthrough year by capturing the ATP Finals, whipping fellow Next Genners Zverev, Medvedev and Thiem, plus Federer again.
The No. 5-ranked Tsitsipas plays like his former idol, only better. His potent forehand and dazzling volleys will propel him to his first Grand Slam title at the Wimbledon Championships. And he’ll do it in style, vanquishing five-time champion Djokovic in the semifinals and eight-time winner Federer in the final.
Ashleigh Barty — When asked whether she was shocked that her game, designed more for hard and grass courts, excelled on clay, the modest French Open champion replied, “Yes, very much so. I’ve been learning every single day.” A super-easy draw — she played no top-10 foes — helped a lot. Be that as it may, Barty is so talented and versatile, she can adjust her tactics to win on any surface.
“Barty has the best volley and [backhand] slice in tennis,” said Martina Navratilova, the nine-time Wimbledon queen. The 23-year-old Australian also possesses grass-court weapons, such as a potent first serve, touch shots, speed and improvisational skills.
At the 2020 Wimbledon, Ash will face a brutal draw. Displaying all her glorious attributes, Barty will dispose of former champions Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber before outclassing a far less athletic Pliskova in the final.
The Olympics — In what is likely their last bona fide chance for the only prestigious singles title they haven’t won, Federer and Djokovic will battle ferociously for an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo. Neither will have captured a 2020 major by August, so that makes this quadrennial prize even more alluring. Once again — recall the 2019 Wimbledon final — Fed has Djoker on the ropes with two championship points. Once again, Fed nervously squanders them with a shanked forehand and a weak approach shot that Djoker rips. Game, set and gold for the Serb.
The fickle Olympic Gods decree that a second straight dark horse will bring home the women’s gold medal. You may remember unheralded Puerto Rican Monica Puig won her country’s first gold medal at the 2016 Rio Games. This summer the unsung champion hails from a powerful tennis nation. Veronika Kudermetova, a hard-hitting, 22-year-old Russian now ranked a modest No. 39, will knock off three seeds to shock the star-studded field.
Felix Auger-Aliassime — The youngest player (14) ever to hold an ATP ranking and the youngest (18) to reach the Miami Open semifinals, Felix Auger-Aliassime, now 19, finished 2019 as the youngest player ranked in the top 25.
Federer, one his biggest boosters, raved about his skills. “I saw right away that he had something special when I trained with him in Dubai [in 2017]. The way he manages to accelerate with the forehand and backhand; his footwork is excellent. This is the new generation; they are less afraid than us. I like his attitude. We saw with Hewitt and Nadal mentally strong young people; we can put Felix in this category.”
Though the 21st-ranked Auger-Aliassime, nicknamed “FAA,” faltered badly at the majors in 2019, he became the youngest three-time tournament finalist since Nadal in 2005 and twice defeated Tsitsipas.
In September, FAA will become the youngest US Open champion since all-time great Pete Sampras in 1990. His superb athleticism will trump the brute power of strapping 6’6” Russian Karen Khachanov in a four-set final.
Bianca Andreescu — The ultra-confident Andreescu told WTA Insider before the 2019 Indian Wells tournament that she believed she could win multiple Grand Slam titles and become world No. 1. Ranked just No. 152 two months earlier, the 18-year-old Canadian wild card mowed down five seeds to take Indian Wells for her first Premier Mandatory title. Despite missing Roland Garros and Wimbledon because of injuries, she quickly rebounded to win Toronto.
The secret to her success? Andreescu practices meditation and visualisation. In the US Open final, these mental techniques helped her deal with the boisterous pro-Serena crowd and thwart Serena’s second-set comeback. “Her biggest weapon is her mind,” said former No. 1 Lindsay Davenport.
A dynamic topspin forehand, strong first serve, angles and touch shots, along with her superior athleticism, are the other formidable weapons that will carry Andreescu to a second straight US Open title. In an eagerly awaited New Gen final, her versatile game will confound hard-hitting Anisimova in two tiebreakers.
Jannik Sinner — If you haven’t heard of the 18-year-old Italian, you will soon enough. Sinner skyrocketed last season from No. 763 to No. 78, the biggest ranking jump of any top 100 player. He upset No. 13 Gael Monfils at the European Open and blitzed No. 19 Alex De Minaur to win the Next Gen ATP Finals.
Sinner’s smooth, sound strokes and slender, 6’2”, 167-pound physique most resemble that of Djokovic. His coach, Riccardo Piatti, who also worked with Djokovic, insists Sinner is better than the superstar was at 18.
Their on-court demeanour is much different, though. Sinner believes his best quality is staying calm. “In all matches, the head is the only thing you can control,” he said. “Many times you do not control your shots or the opponent, but the head is always with you.” Sinner looks like a surefire winner and will crack the top 20 by the end of 2020.
Cori Gauff — Who doesn’t know about the tennis whiz kid everyone calls Coco? The 15-year-old Floridian lived up to the massive hype when she bounced her idol and five-time champ Venus Williams out of Wimbledon in a 6-4, 6-4 first-round shocker and then reached the fourth round.
With a 120-mph serve and the athleticism to cover court like a sprinter (which she previously was), Gauff reached the US Open third round where Osaka gave her a lesson and then comforted the sobbing youngster. To climax her breakthrough season, Coco captured the Linz tournament with major wins over No. 8 Kiki Bertens and 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.
Gauff will pull out a series of three-set matches to make the Wimbledon and US Open quarterfinals. Along her media-hyped road toward the top, Gauff will captivate us with riveting performances and charm us with precocious quotes.
Serena Williams — Serena no longer intimidates opponents either with her shots or her fierce demeanour. Sofia Kenin, a 20-year-old American, shrugged off what she called “death stares” and upset Williams 6-2, 7-5 at the French Open.
Ironically, Serena now gets rattled herself. “It was a little bit deer in the headlights for me,” she confided after Halep drubbed her 6-2, 6-2 in the 2019 Wimbledon final. When 19-year-old upstart Andreescu upset her 6-3, 7-5 in the 2019 US Open final, Serena lamented, “I don’t think Serena showed up. I have to figure out how to get her to show up in Grand Slam finals.” Tellingly, Williams lost her last four major finals since winning the 2017 Australian Open while eight weeks pregnant.
This year, the fading 38-year-old American will not even reach a major or Olympic final in her 24th and probably last season. Though Serena won’t equal Court’s record, the cognoscenti will nonetheless accord her the unofficial GOAT accolade.
When the curtain falls on the 2020 season, the biggest surprise will be that Federer, Nadal and Djokovic all fail to win a Grand Slam title. The 39-year-old Federer will announce his retirement after losing every match in the ATP Finals. Injuries once again plague Nadal, who will reach just one major final. Djokovic, also frustrated at the majors, at least will salvage the year with a coveted Olympic gold medal.
In November 2019, Federer tried to comfort passionate but concerned fans of the incomparable Big Three by accentuating the virtues of the Next Gen. “They’ll carry the sport when we’re long gone, and we’ll be sitting on the couch watching those guys slug it out,’ said Federer. “They’ll be a joy to watch because not only are they great, great players, but they’re good people, too.”
For women’s tennis aficionados, the New World Order will have replaced the Reign of Serena when the new decade begins. Not to worry there either. Women’s tennis is in good hands with its own new and exciting Big Three: Osaka, Barty and Andreescu. And this trio is already challenged by ambitious comers Anisimova and Gauff. Watching them all closely is a 13-year-old American prodigy named Clervie Ngounoue.
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