2020, a season to remember and here's why...

 - Alex Sharp

It’s been a difficult year across the globe but the tennis world has helped provide some distraction with special moments and special players.

Rafael Nadal kissing his Roland-Garros 2020 trophy©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Due to the vital six-month delay in play to contend with the Covid-19 pandemic, it would be easy to assume 2020 was a non-event when you compare it with other campaigns.

Not so.

This season served as a welcome distraction away from more pressing and worldwide concerns.

For a start we got to really connect with the tennis stars through social media and a plethora of online chats across the platforms. Who could forget Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal having connection issues on their comical catch-up?

There are too many thrilling matches, comebacks, trophies lifts and moments to fully celebrate. However, here is a selection of reasons why 2020 stands out.

Autumnal Roland-Garros a roaring success

On the face of it, an Autumnal Roland-Garros was going to be a real challenge. With transformed grounds and retractable Court Philippe-Chatrier, Roland-Garros was ready to roll.

The fortnight conjured up a catalogue of storylines and classics culminating in Rafael Nadal taking a customary 13th bite out of the Coupe de Mousquetaires.

His 100th Roland-Garros victory drawing him level at the top of the men’s all-time major leaderboard. It was 20-20 between Roger and Rafa, in 2020. You couldn’t write it…

“To share this record between us, that we had an amazing rivalry for such a long time, is something in some way beautiful I really believe,” stated Nadal, who has been an inspiration for the women’s champion.

Polish teenager Iga Swiatek watched on from the stands to witness her idol dismiss Novak Djokovic in straight sets. In similarly emphatic style, the 19-year-old (the youngest women’s champion in Paris since Monica Seles in 1992) blazed through the Roland-Garros field, surrendering a measly 23 games and zero dropped sets.

A game packed with versatility, boosted by a sports psychologist, Swiatek’s youthful exuberance and unwavering belief swept past the likes of Simona Halep and Sofia Kenin for a maiden Grand Slam.

Kenin on course for major career

Flashback to February and Kenin became the youngest Australian Open champion since Maria Sharapova in 2008, having overpowered home charge and world No.1 Ash Barty along the way in the semi-finals.

“I mean, everything's just happening so fast for me. I'm just still on cloud nine right now.”

The 21-year-old, at the front of a brilliant American contingent (think breakout year for Jennifer Brady), has molded an all-round game ideal for the Grand Slam arena, with a 16-2 major record in 2020.

Aggressive, robust and with a burning desire for success, WTA Player of the Year Kenin is on course for many more major finals.

Djokovic proves he’s top of the pile

Despite Novak Djokovic’s dramatic exit at the US Open and lopsided Roland-Garros final defeat, the Serbian still had a season to remember.

We have taken for granted his consistency. Another mesmerising fortnight in Melbourne clinched an unprecedented eighth Australian Open, his 17th major.

Remember, he was undefeated at the inaugural ATP Cup, Dubai and also took the honours at the Cincinnati Masters to arrive at the US Open 23-0 for the season.

His supreme ability to perform throughout a campaign launched Djokovic to a record-equaling sixth year-end No.1 ranking.

Osaka champion on and off the court

Naomi Osaka led a host of players in the fight for social justice in America with such integrity and purpose. The 23-year-old, was very outspoken and took seven masks to the tournament, each bearing the name of a victim killed as a result of police brutality or racial injustice.

As a player the Japanese youngster was also a force, persisting with a positive demeanour at any scoreline to eventually claim a third Grand Slam (the final against a rejuvenated Victoria Azarenka was a cracker).

Osaka’s actions and activism seemed to empower her tennis.

“I think I just got through it because during quarantine I wanted to set myself up to possibly win this tournament. I felt like I just worked so hard, I wanted to give myself an opportunity. I wanted more people to say more names,” said Osaka, making the sure the conversation continued.

Dominic Thiem looking up at Roland-Garros 2020©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Thiem dents ‘Big Three’ dominance

“I dedicated my whole life until this point to win one of the four majors. Now I did it. That's a great accomplishment for myself and my team.”

On the men’s side at the US Open Dominic Thiem became the first Grand Slam winner outside the ‘Big Three’ since Stan Wawrinka at Flushing Meadows in 2016.

The 27-year-old, with three previous Grand Slam final losses, was desperate to get over the line and his evolution in the clutch moments, his observations of Djokovic in tie-breaks paid dividends as the Austrian compiled a compelling US Open.

The final against Alexander Zverev was as nerve-wrangling and turbulent as possible.

The world No.3 was two sets down before unleashing his explosive armoury and needed a match tie-break (his new expertise) to grasp this ground-breaking Grand Slam.

Daniil Medvedev posing with his Rolex Paris Masters 2020 trophy©Cédric Lecocq/FFT

Medvedev and Rublev ready to rule

The Russian duo Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev certainly left their mark on 2020.

Rublev powered to two titles in the opening fortnight of the season (Doha and Adelaide), lifting a tour-leading five trophies to crack the Top 10. Raw power, raw emotion, the 23-year-old was an essential watch.

Meanwhile, Medvedev defied his doubters at the back end of the year. Aiming to “drive opponents crazy” the world No.4 utilised all his trickery to take home successive silverware at the Rolex Paris Masters and ATP Finals.

Medvedev managed to topple the world No.1 (Djokovic), world No.2 (Nadal) and world No.3 (Thiem) en route to the title, the first player to achieve this triple at the season finale. What a signal for intent for 2021.

Podoroska power of the ‘underdogs’

"It's like a dream come true.”

Prior to Roland-Garros then world No.131 Nadia Podoroska hadn’t won a Grand Slam match or beaten a Top 50 player. How quickly a career can transform.

Roland-Garros witnessed several “feel-good” stories for the underdogs this October, with Podoroska rocketing through qualifying, before dismissing the likes of No.3 seed Elina Svitolina.

The Argentine bowed out in the semi-finals to Swiatek, leaving with her name safely in the history books as the first women’s qualifier to feature in the final four at Roland-Garros. 

Coco Gauff shouting out of joy during the Australian Open 2020©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

An abundance of stars emerging

Due to the nature of the truncated season, there were chances to spring a surprise, to make a name for yourself in 2020.

The list is endless of fledging youngsters who turned heads on the tennis tours.

Elena Rybakina dazzled in Dubai, Ugo Humbert was ripping through the hot shots, Lorenzo Musetti chalked up a series of scalps and we now expect Coco Gauff to progress far at majors.

Over to Paris, Former junior Grand Slam champions Clara Tauson (saving two match points to upset US Open semi-finalist Brady) and Leylah Fernandez (third round) caused a stir at Roland-Garros.

This all goes before Hugo Gaston (ranked No.239) giving us a glimpse into the French future. His effortless and instinctive tennis dispatched 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka, his fairytale debut run ending (despite a mind-boggling 58 dropshots) in a five-set rollercoaster with Thiem. The limited crowd loved it, Gaston soaked up the atmosphere, it was a pure joy to see some fans at live sport.

Gaston was joined by big-hitting Sebastian Korda (qualifier) as the first two players born in 2000 to reach the Roland-Garros second week. Talk about potential.

It’s Jannik Sinner who takes the last mention. The incredibly calm Italian inflicts plenty of damage with his racket. He’s been on a sharp rise for a while, but still shone under the spotlight to become the first man to make the quarter-finals on his Roland-Garros debut since a certain Nadal in 2005.