Tennis highlights of 2020: Nadal 20, rise of Thiem and Kenin; Osaka makes statement

While Dominic Thiem broke the dominance of the Big Three, young stars Naomi Osaka, Sofia Kenin and Iga Swiatek reigned supreme in the women's tour of 2020.

Rafael Nadal beat Novak Djokovic in the 2020 French Open final to win a record 13th Roland Garros title and equal Roger Federer on 20 Grand Slam titles.

The 2020 tennis season was hit hard since the lockdown in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, with numerous tournaments and schedules being affected.

Despite the year hosting only three of the four Grand Slams, the sport's top stars Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic had their share of highs and lows while young champions emerged on the scene in the women's tour with Sofia Kenin and teenager Iga Swiatek making a mark.

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Here are the top moments from the tennis world in 2020.

January 3 - 12: The inaugural ATP Cup

In the run-up to the Australian Open, the ATP formed the team-based ATP Cup held in Australia. The 24-team draw eventually ended in the clash of the World No.1 Novak Djokovic and Serbia beating the World No.2, Rafael Nadal-led Spain in the final.

January 20 - 12 February: Australian Open

The first Slam in the year of the pandemic had no dearth of action. Here are the top moments from the tournament:

Men’s singles - Relentless Djokovic lifts Slam No.17

Defending champion Djokovic won his eighth Australian Open title and 17th Grand Slam as he beat Dominic Thiem 6–4, 4–6, 2–6, 6–3, 6–4 in the final to return to the World No.1 position by displacing Nadal.

Defending champion Djokovic won his eighth Australian Open title and 17th Grand Slam as he beat Dominic Thiem to return to become the World No. 1.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

- The numbers -

  • Djokovic came back to win in a Grand Slam final after trailing two sets to one for the first time in eight attempts.            
  • Djokovic joined Roger Federer (8 at Wimbledon) and Nadal (13 at  French Open) in winning the same Slam on eight or more occasions.
  • Djokovic also became the first man in the Open Era to win a Slam across three different decades.
  • Thiem, in his bid to a first Slam title, beat Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev in succession to make the final - being the first Austrian player to reach an Australian Open singles final.

- Glimpse of Federer magic before injury layoff -

Before missing most of the truncated 2020 season, Federer displayed glimpses of his very best at the Australian Open. In a nervy third-round win over John Millman, Federer emerged from the brink in a five-set thriller.

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The Swiss maestro became the first man to win 100 matches at the Slam. Federer pulled off another heist in his quarterfinal clash against Tennys Sandgren - defending seven match points on his way to pull off the win. However, Federer was shown the exit door in the semifinal by Djokovic.

Federer soon underwent a knee surgery in February followed by another early June, thereby ruling him out of the entire season.

Women’s singles - Kenin's rise as big names crumble

Sofia Kenin won her first Grand Slam title and became the youngest champion at the Slam since 2008, defeating Garbine Muguruza 4–6, 6–2, 6–2 in the final. Kenin became just the second American woman after Serena Williams to win the Slam since 2002. The final was the instance in the Open Era where both players were from outside the top 10.

Kenin became just the second American woman after Serena Williams to win the Slam since 2002.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

- Stars fall early -

Defending champion Naomi Osaka was ousted in the third round by Coco Gauff.  Osaka was joined by seven-time Australian Open winner,  Serena Williams in crashing out in the third round before her bid to win a Slam in four different decades.

- Awry endings -

Former World No.1 Maria Sharapova’s final Slam appearance ended in a first-round loss and the Russian announced retirement in February.

Former World No.1 Caroline Wozniacki, playing in her final Slam, crashed out in the third round.

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Ons Jabeur became the first Arabian woman to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam. She was beaten by eventual champion Kenin.

Men’s doubles

Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury won their first Grand Slam men’s doubles title, defeating Max Purcell and Luke Saville. Ram was the reigning mixed doubles champion at the Slam, while Salisbury earned his first Slam.

Women’s doubles

Tímea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic won their second Australian Open title after defeating Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strýcová. The pair had earlier shared the Slam win in 2018.

Mixed doubles

Defending champions Barbora Krejcikova and Rajeev Ram did not pair together as Ram skipped the mixed doubles tournament. Krejcikova, however, defended her title after teaming up with Nikola Mektic to beat Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jamie Murray in the final.

June 13 - 5 July: Djokovic’s Adria Tour fiasco

After a shutdown was announced by ATP in March on all major tennis events for nearly six weeks, the sport resumed action during the Adria Tour but held the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

Djokovic’s decision to hold the exhibition tournament drew criticism after it allowed spectators and failed to adhere to COVID-19 norms.

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A string of players involved in the tournament tested positive for the virus. Grigor Dimitrov and Borna Coric were the first to be infected, followed by Victor Troicki and his wife.

Eventually, Djokovic also returned a positive test along with his wife Jelena, and coach Goran Ivanisevic and the tournament was soon abandoned.

June 29 - 12 July -  Wimbledon cancelled

The 134th edition of Wimbledon was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the first time the tournament was cancelled since 1945 during World War II.

August 26: Super twins bid adieu

The most prolific pair in men’s doubles history, brother Bob and Mike Bryan announced their retirement, just days short of the US Open.

The Bryans hold the Open Era record of 119 trophies in 22-season careers, including all four Grand Slams, an Olympic gold medal, all nine ATP Masters 1000s and four ATP Finals titles.

The Bryans hold the Open Era record of 119 trophies in their 22-season careers, including all four Grand Slams, an Olympic gold medal, all nine ATP Masters 1000 titles and four ATP Finals titles.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

The pair recorded the only "Career Golden Masters" having won all nine Masters 1000 events and also held the Career Golden Slam.

The duo also holds the all-time team records for Grand Slam titles having won 16 from 30 finals appearances. Their 39 ATP Masters 1000 titles from 59 finals also remain as an unprecedented record.

While Mike holds the all-time record for most Grand Slam doubles won (18), Bryan has won more mixed doubles Grand Slam titles with seven.

August 31 - 13 September: US Open

Men’s singles: Thiem finally ends Slam drought in the absence of Big 3

With top-flight tennis finally returning post the COVID-19 lockdown at the US Open, three-time Grand Slam finalist Thiem won his first title in an epic five-set win over Alexander Zverev in the final.

Thiem became the first male player born in the 1990s to win a Grand Slam singles title and ended the dominance of the Big Three by becoming the first new champion at the Slam since Marin Cilic in 2014.   -  TWITTER

 

- The numbers -

  • Thiem became the first player in the Open Era to win from two sets down in a US Open final and also became the first Austrian to win a Slam since 1995.
  • The final was decided by a fifth-set tiebreaker. It was the first instance in history when the US Open final was decided by a fifth-set tie-break, 50 years since its introduction in 1970.
  • Thiem became the first male player born in the 1990s to win a Grand Slam singles title and ended the dominance of the Big 3 by becoming the first new champion at the Slam since Marin Cilic in 2014.

Defending champion Nadal chose to skip the tournament over COVID-19 concerns, while recovery from injury kept Federer away. This marked the first Slam since the 1999 US Open when both the players did not feature in a Slam.

Undefeated throughout the year, World No. 1, Novak Djokovic was expelled from the tournament during his fourth-round match against Spaniard Pablo Carreño Busta. Djokovic was defaulted from the tournament after he hit a lineswoman with a ball during the match which ended his unbeaten 26-match streak in 2020. The Serbian’s exit also meant that the Slam was the first since 2004 to not have either of the Big 3 competing in the semi-finals.

Women’s singles: Osaka delivers on and off the court

In her run to the title, Naomi Osaka made headlines by donning seven different masks, each bearing the name of a victim of racism and showing her support to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Osaka won her second US Open title by defeating Victoria Azarenka in the final. Coming from a set down to win the final, Osaka became the first woman to do so since 1994 at the US Open. She also became the first Asian player to win three Grand Slam singles titles.

 

With a first round win, Serena Williams surpassed Chris Evert to have most wins at the US Open. Serena also became the first player to reach a Slam semifinal in four decades but fell short of an elusive 24th Slam in the semifinal against Azarenka.

The US Open quarterfinals marked the first instance in Grand Slam history featuring three mothers - Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Tsvetana Pironkova.

Men’s and Women’s doubles - Unseeded pairs recreate history

The unseeded pair of Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares defeated no. 8 seeds Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic in the final, being the first unseeded pair in 20 years to win the US Open. Pavic earned his second Slam title, while Soares notched up his third Slam win.

The unseeded pair of Laura Siegemund and Vera Zvonareva beat Nicole Melichar and Xu Yifan in the final, 6–4, 6–4 and became the first unseeded pair in 14 years to win the title. It was Zvonareva's third Grand Slam title in women's doubles, Siegemund earned her first Slam win.

Mixed Doubles

Owing to the pandemic, all qualifiers and the mixed doubles were cancelled at the US Open.

September 27 - 11 October: French Open

Nadal owned the Paris clay again, while Polish player Iga Swiatek, 19, rose steeply through the ranks.

Nadal and Swiatek’s supreme run witnessed history as it was the first time in the Open Era that both the men’s and women’s champions did not drop a set throughout the tournament.

Nadal and Swiatek’s supreme run witnessed history as it was the first time in the Open Era that both the men’s and women’s champions did not drop a set throughout the tournament.   -  TWITTER

 

Men’s singles: Rafa levels Roger with 20th Slam

Nadal defeated World No.1 Djokovic in the final and scripted history by equalling Federer’s Slam tally of 20 while lifting his 13th Roland Garros title.

Nadal also became the first player to win 100 matches at the Slam. He is the second male player, after Federer at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, to win 100 matches at a single Grand Slam tournament.

- A long day’s play -

  • Lorenzo Giustino defeated Corentin Moutet in an epic five-setter which was the second longest French Open singles match, while also being the fourth longest ever at any Grand Slam, lasting 6 hours and five minutes.
  • Taylor Fritz and Lorenzo Sonego played the longest tie-break in French Open history in a third-round meeting. Sonego, however, emerged victorious in the third set tie-break 19–17 to win the match in straight sets: 7–6(7–5), 6–3, 7–6(19–17).

Jannik Sinner became the first male player to reach the quarterfinals of Roland Garros in his maiden appearance since Nadal in 2005. At 19 years and 56 days, the Italian also became the youngest quarterfinalist since Djokovic in 2006.

Spain's Fernando Verdasco questioned the French Open's COVID-19 testing protocols after being forced to withdraw from the tournament due to a positive result, which he deemed to be false.

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World No.239 Hugo Gaston became the lowest-ranked man to reach the fourth round of Roland Garros since 2002 when he beat Stan Wawrinka.

Women’s Singles - Swiatek’s steep rise

Swiatek beat the reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in the final and broke numerous records.

  • This was Swiatek’s first WTA singles title, making her the second woman behind Jeļena Ostapenko to win a Grand Slam as their maiden singles title. Ranked world No. 54, Swiatek became the lowest-ranked player to win the French Open.
  • Swiatek also became the first Polish player to win a Grand Slam singles title. She did not drop a set throughout the tournament, becoming the first player since Justine Henin in 2007 to win the French Open without dropping a set.

Defending champion Ash Barty pulled out of the tournament owing to COVID-19 concerns. Simona Halep failed to regain the World No.1 ranking from Barty after falling in the fourth round. Serena Williams failed to bid for the 24th Slam after withdrawing in the second round due to an injury.

Men’s doubles and Women’s doubles - defending champs continue march

Defending champions Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies successfully defended  their title. The pair defeated the US Open champions Mate Pavić and Bruno Soares in the final.

Tímea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic successfully completed their title defense, beating Alexa Guarachi and Desirae Krawczyk in the final.

Mixed doubles

The mixed doubles were not held due to the pandemic.

November 15-22: ATP Finals - Medvedev finally lives up to the promise

After a relatively poor run through most of 2020, Medvedev made a massive turnaround at the season-ending ATP Finals. He beat the top 3 players on tour - Djokovic, Nadal and Thiem - becoming the first person to beat the top-3 at the ATP Finals, and the fourth at any tournament.

Medvedev beat the top three players on tour - Djokovic, Nadal and Thiem - becoming the first person to beat the top-3 at the ATP Finals, and the fourth at any tournament.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

Other notable moments

Andrey Rublev’s incredible year

After a modest 2019, Rublev made an immense turnaround in 2020 as he broke into the top 10 (from 23 to 8) while earning 5 ATP titles  - the most on tour in the year. Rublev had the joint-most wins in 2020 with 41 alongside Novak Djokovic. Nadal and Rublev were the only male players to win two different titles without dropping a set throughout the year.

Barty continue No.1 reign despite 2020 sabbatical; Federer remains in top-5

Australia’s Ash Barty continued her reign at the top of the WTA rankings despite missing out on most of the 2020 season including the US Open and the French Open Slams. However, owing to the revised WTA ranking system due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the rolling 52-weeks system was replaced by a best-of-16 tournament method calculated from March 2019. The modified system helped Barty to maintain a comfortable lead at the top.

In a similar development by ATP, the rankings were frozen from March 16 until its return at the US Open in August. The ATP modified its best-of-18 results over a 52-week period, to extend the period to 22 months between March 2019 and December 2020. Consequently, Federer placed in the Top 5 despite not featuring on tour since the Australian Open.

Indian Tennis

Sumit Nagal became the first Indian male player in seven years to win a Grand Slam match. Nagal defeated USA’s Bradley Klahn 6-1, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 but went down to eventual champion Thiem in the second round.

Sumit Nagal (India) returns a shot against Dominic Thiem (Austria) during the second round of the US Open in New York on Thursday.   -  AP

 

Prajnesh Gunneswaran ended the year with successive runners-up trophy in the ATP Cary Challenger and ATP Orlando Challenger. He will move into 2021 as the highest ranked Indian men’s singles player at No. 129, with Nagal at 136.

Ankita Raina achieved the highest doubles ranking in her career, being at World No.117. She won three titles over the year — ITF Nonthaburi, ITF Jodhpur and the Al Habtoor Challenge. Raina also helped India advance to the Billie Jean King Cup World Group 2 playoffs for the first time in history in April 2020 in Dubai, along with Sania Mirza, Rutuja Bhosale, Riya Bhatia and Sowjanya Bavisetti.

Rankings - men’s

Andrey Rublev (8), Diego Schwartzman (9) and Denis Shapovalov (currently 12) made their top-10 entries for the first time in their career in 2020 in men’s singles.

Rankings - women’s

Sofia Kenin and Belinda Bencic (currently 12) made their top-10 entries for the first time in their career in 2020 in women’s singles.