Tennishead 2020 awards: “Djokovic was unbeaten until he played Nadal in the French Open final”
At the end of a disrupted and difficult year, we salute the men and women who lit up the 2020 season including Novak Djokovic and Sofia Kenin
PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
If you discount the match in which he was defaulted at the US Open, Novak Djokovic did not suffer an on-court defeat in 2020 until he lost to Rafael Nadal in the French Open final. Djokovic led Serbia to ATP Cup glory, won the Australian Open, added two Masters Series titles and finished year-end world No 1 for a record-equalling sixth time.
Having won her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, where she beat Ashleigh Barty and Garbine Muguruza in her last two matches, Sofia Kenin went on to prove she is no one-hit wonder. She triumphed in Lyon in March and reached her second Grand Slam final of the year in Paris before losing to Iga Swiatek.
COMEBACK PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
When his doubles partnership with Jamie Murray ended in 2019, Bruno Soares might have wondered if his Grand Slam title-winning days were over. However, at the age of 38, having just recovered from Covid-19, the Brazilian and his partner Mate Pavic won the US Open and went on to finish runners-up at Roland Garros.
Victoria Azarenka had struggled in recent years, but when tennis resumed this summer the former world No 1 hit the ground running. The 31-year-old Belarusian won the Western & Southern Open, reached her first Grand Slam final since 2013 in New York before losing to Naomi Osaka, and was runner-up in Ostrava.
NEWCOMERS OF THE YEAR
After winning the Next Gen ATP Finals at the end of last year, Jannik Sinner included Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and David Goffin among his 2020 victims. The Italian, who will turn 20 in August, pushed Rafael Nadal hard in the French Open quarter-finals and ended the year by winning his first title at the Sofia Open.
At 19, Iga Swiatek became the French Open’s first teenage women’s champion for 23 years with a mesmerising brand of creative tennis. The Pole dropped just 28 games in her seven matches (only Steffi Graf, with 20 in 1988, lost fewer) to become the first woman to win the title without losing a set since Justine Henin in 2007.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
Having broken into the world’s top 40 in 2017, Andrey Rublev saw his progress interrupted by injury until he won his second title in Moscow last October. The 23-year-old Russian went on to secure his place in this year’s season-ending Nitto ATP Finals by winning the titles in Doha, Adelaide, Hamburg, St Petersburg and Vienna.
With her beguiling and unpredictable style, Ons Jabeur became the first Arab woman to reach the fourth round of the French Open, with Aryna Sabalenka among those who could not cope with the 26-year-old Tunisian’s clever mix of spins and variations of pace. She rose to a career-high position at No 31 in the world in August.
DOUBLES TEAMS OF THE YEAR
Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares
Before the US Open, Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares were No 28 in the Race for London, which determined the eight teams to play in the Nitto ATP Finals. Ten weeks later they were No 1 after winning in New York and finishing runners-up at Roland Garros and Bercy.
Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic
The Australian Open champions were removed from the US Open because Kristina Mladenovic had been a contact of Benoit Paire, who had tested positive for Covid-19, but bounced back to win at Roland Garros. It was their fourth Grand Slam title in three years.
WHEELCHAIR PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
After failing to win his third successive US Open title, Alfie Hewett beat Belgium’s Joachim Gerard in the singles final at Roland Garros. He also won the Paris doubles with his fellow Briton, Gordon Reid, adding to the titles they won in Melbourne and New York.
Japan’s Yui Kamiji won two Grand Slam singles titles (in Melbourne and Paris) and two doubles titles alongside Britain’s Jordanne Whiley (in Melbourne and New York). She was also runner-up in singles in New York and in doubles in Paris.
COACHES OF THE YEAR
Dominic Thiem was already one of the world’s best clay-court players when Nicolas Massu was appointed his coach early last year, but under the Chilean’s guidance this year’s US Open champion has also become a formidable player on hard courts.
Any coach would like to work with a player of Naomi Osaka’s talent, but Wim Fissette knew how to bring the best out of her. Having been appointed at the end of 2019, he guided Osaka to her second US Open title. Osaka beat Victoria Azarenka in the final.
MATCHES OF THE YEAR
US Open men’s final
Dominic Thiem, who had lost his first three Grand Slam finals, went two sets down in his fourth before launching his comeback. Both Thiem and Alexander Zverev failed to serve out for the title in the final set before the Austrian won 2-6 4-6 6-4 6-3 7-6(6).
Australian Open fourth round
Iga Swiatek would go on to win the French Open, but in the year’s first Grand Slam event she lost 6-7(4) 7-5 7-5 to Anett Kontaveit in a match full of spectacular shot-making and high drama. Swiatek rallied from 5-1 down in the decider before succumbing.
SHOTS OF THE YEAR
Pierre-Hugues Herbert in Marseille
Having pulled Pierre-Hugues Herbert from side to side, Felix Auger-Aliassime hit a smash into the Frenchman’s forehand corner. However, Herbert, anticipating the shot, returned it with interest, thumping a winning forehand down the line.
Ons Jabeur in Dubai
Driven out wide on her forehand by Simona Halep, Ons Jabeur looked certain to lose the point. However, with Halep still on her baseline, Jabeur took her by surprise by slapping a big forehand winner which landed in her opponent’s backhand corner.
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