ATP 2022 rewind: Alcaraz’s rapid rise, Federer’s farewell

It’s time to sit back and reflect on another stellar season on the ATP Tour.

Carlos Alcaraz / Trophée n°1 mondial ©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

It’s a cliché which has been frequently used during the prolonged tail end of the ‘Big Four’ era, but 2022 truly represented a changing of the guard.

The usual suspects collected plenty of the major prizes, however, teenage prodigies and Next Gen names established themselves at the top table.

Alcaraz claims the throne

For a couple of seasons the hype and rich excitement surrounding Carlos Alcaraz was simmering. In 2022 it simply exploded.

The Spaniard’s spell-binding rise to the top was inevitable, but very few called it this quickly.

A Miami Masters triumph in March set the tone for big-stage brilliance. His slingshot strokes, relentless defence and bravery in the pivotal moments was capturing the attention of the sporting world.

Over to the clay and Alcaraz clinched the Madrid Masters by overcoming Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, en route to a quarter-final showing at Roland-Garros.

Carlos Alcaraz & Alexander Zverev / Madrid 2022©Antoine Couvercelle / FFT

There was more. At the US Open the teenage sensation had the chance to launch to world No.1. Wow, the human highlight reel exploits came to the party. Alcaraz won several late night turned early morning thrillers to lift his maiden Grand Slam.

In doing so, the 19-year-old became the youngest world No. 1 since the rankings began in 1973.

Records were tumbling everywhere, as the Murcia native ended the ‘Big Four’ reign, the first player other than Nadal, Djokovic, Roger Federer or Andy Murray to finish the season No.1 since Andy Roddick in 2003.

Times are changing in men’s tennis and with Alcaraz at the helm, we are set to be treated to scintillating entertainment.

“For me it’s a dream come true being No. 1 in the world, to be a Grand Slam champion,” said Juan Carlos Ferrero’s protege.

“Everything has come so fast. I didn’t think at the beginning of the year that I’m going to have this year. I always believe in my team and in my work… Everything pays off.”

Carlos Alcaraz & Casper Ruud / US Open 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Nadal defies logic with major silverware

Never giving up, never counted out, Rafael Nadal’s archetypal fighting qualities were emboldened this season.

The 36-year-old was restricted to only one tournament in the final seven months of 2021 due to chronic foot pain and talk of retirement within his camp loomed.

Most players would be justifiably deflated, bemoaning their luck. Nadal is not like most competitors.

Somehow the 2009 champion grew throughout the Australian Open to then reel in Daniil Medvedev from two sets down in the final. The five hour 2-6, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 comeback of all comebacks bottled up everything that makes Nadal one of the all-time greats.

"Without a doubt it is one of the most emotional wins of my career," admitted Nadal, who then suffered stress fracture in his rib shortly after Melbourne.

The ruler of Court Philippe-Chatrier was playing in “extreme conditions” in Paris, having multiple injections in his troublesome left foot in order to compete at Roland-Garros.

Again, the champion instincts kicked in, Nadal overpowering Top 10 rivals Felix Auger-Aliassime, Djokovic and Alexander Zverev, before swatting aside Casper Ruud for a men’s record-extending 22nd Grand Slam trophy and 14th Roland-Garros trophy shoot. 

"It is very difficult to describe the feelings that I have. It's something that I never believed; I would be here at 36, being competitive again, playing in the most important court of my career one more time in a final,” hailed Nadal, finishing in the world’s Top two for a record 13th time.

"It means everything to me. It means a lot of energy to try to keep going.”

Swarm of stars circling top table

The 2022 campaign witnessed the transition for Casper Ruud from emerging talent to major contender.

The humble Norwegian has catapulted up to world No.3 off the back of two Grand Slam runner-up spots at Roland-Garros and the US Open.

Just 23-years-old, this season proved Ruud’s rock-solid game as well as his steely belief has the potential to dismantle most opponents. Get used to seeing the Norwegian in latter stages of major play.

Rafael Nadal, Casper Ruud, trophées, finale, Roland-Garros 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Félix Auger-Aliassime finished 2022 with a flourish, including three titles in as many weeks. That 16 match winning streak enabled the Canadian to crack the Top 10 and take his bow at the ATP Finals. The 22-year-old then galvanised the Canadian squad to grasp Davis Cup glory.

Holger Rune, with a Grand Slam breakout quarter-finals run at Roland-Garros, was seemingly fearless during his year-end winning spree.

Starting 2022 just outside the Top 100, the raw power off the Dane’s racket fired the 19-year-old to four straight finals in the closing stages.

Stockholm and then Rolex Paris Masters silverware success enabled Rune to burst into the Top 10. His Bercy triumph was particularly head-turning having navigated past five Top 10 players in a row, including 7-5 in the decider over Djokovic in the final.

Jack Draper leaped up 223 spots to world No.42, US college star Ben Shelton jumped a staggering 471 positions to finish at an impressive No.97, Brandon Nakashima lifted the Next Gen ATP Finals trophy. Add into the mix comebacks from the likes of Dominic Thiem and Stan Wawrinka, there is serious depth in men’s tennis.

Holger Rune / Rolex Paris Masters 2022©Julien Crosnier / FFT

Djokovic has the final say

Despite plenty of drama and controversy back in January, Novak Djokovic still emerged with his 21st Grand Slam title at Wimbledon to remain in reach of Nadal’s total.

Remarkably, the Serbian’s second half of the season dominance has flown under the radar.

Since ruling SW19 for a seventh time in July, Djokovic compiled a 19-2 record, sending out a signal of intent with a record-equalling (with Federer) sixth ATP Finals crown.

After the most testing season on and off the court, the Djokovic swagger is back.

“I don't know what the future holds, but I know that what I hold in my mind is a huge hunger still to win trophies,” said a defiant Djokovic in Turin.

“Make history of this sport, compete on the highest level all around the world, bring good emotions to sports fans, tennis fans. That's what drives me a lot."

Novak Djokovic / ATP Finals Turin 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Fan favourite Federer calls time

Balletic, ruthless, goofy, the ultimate icon. Roger Federer waved goodbye to professional tennis.

The 20-time major winner called time on his one-of-a-kind career on social media in September.

“This is a bittersweet decision because I will miss everything the Tour has given me. But at the same time, there is so much to celebrate. I consider myself one of the most fortunate people on Earth,” stated the Swiss. “I was given a special talent to play tennis, and I did it at a level that I never imagined, for much longer than I ever thought possible.”

There was one last treat for fans as Federer was joined by his perennial rivals Nadal, Djokovic and Murray on the same team for September’s Laver Cup in London.

Roger Federer & Rafael Nadal / Laver Cup 2022©Antoine Couvercelle / FFT

Just seeing the ‘Big Four’ back together was a ‘had to be there moment,’ as Federer and Nadal were reduced to tears during an on-court presentation, holding hands in an iconic, viral sporting moment of the year.

“Now, moving forward, it's going to be different but good different. I got a taste of it the last few years, so I'll be fine,” joked Federer, referring to recent stints on the sidelines, before reassuring his worldwide supporters; “To the game of tennis: I love you and will never leave you.”

2022 marked the final collective season of the ‘Big Four’. Their unprecedented dominance has spoilt the sporting world, it will never be seen again.

Time to reflect, time to welcome new names on the rolls of honour.