2019, a season to remember and here's why...

 - Alex Sharp

Teenage kicks, the familiar favourites and captivating breakthroughs have punctuated another thrilling campaign on the court this year.

Rafael Nadal crying right after the victory at the US Open 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Just call me Coco

The articulate and engaging teenager became the youngest Wimbledon qualifier in the Open Era, before stating she’d love to face idols Serena or Venus Williams. Well, Cori Gauff’s wish was granted.

A 6-4, 6-4 passage past the five-time champion Venus in the first round ignited ‘Gauff-mania’ across the globe.

©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

From undulating upsets, to ruthless shocks, to composed comebacks, Gauff was laying down her marker. Eventual champion Simona Halep halted her Wimbledon in the last 16, but the resilient, astute tactical play also enabled a third-round showing on home soil at the US Open.

Already a fan favourite, Gauff then gained a maiden WTA title in Linz, catapulting from world No.875 this time last season, to curtail a fairytale 2019 at No.68.

Michelle Obama approved, Hollywood stars tweeted their amazement, well, Gauff has the game and persona to keep on embracing the centre stage.


Big three still the major force

Even though 2019 has welcomed a plethora of names tussling for titles, the ‘big three’ have maintained their Grand Slam grip, which is as strong now as it was at the beginning of the decade.

For Rafael Nadal an injury-blighted season was still a silverware success. The Spaniard assembled a 12th Roland-Garros title triumph, alongside a box office US Open win.

The 19-time Grand Slam champion edged one major behind perennial rival Roger Federer, but Rafa was ready for more.

The fiercely patriotic 33-year-old guided Spain to a sixth Davis Cup crown without dropping a service game.

The tears flowed, the emotions were drained, but somehow the world No.1’s mental and physical resources know no bounds.

Novak Djokovic may have surrendered his top ranking to Nadal, but the Serbian scooped the Australian Open and Wimbledon trophies back into his trophy cabinet.

Djokovic’s gladiatorial spirit was encapsulated in THAT Wimbledon final, staving off two Championship points to prevail 13-12 in the deciding set with Federer.

“It was probably the most demanding, mentally most demanding, match I was ever part of,” revealed the defiant Djokovic.

The majors alluded Federer, but the Swiss kept scribing into the history books with his 100th career title secured in Dubai.

There was nostalgia in Paris as centurion Federer returned to Roland-Garros following a three-year absence and a decade on from his title win on Court Philippe Chatrier.

The ardent support even prompted Federer to tweet a clip of the roaring crowd chanting his name. The people’s champion continues to reign.

Quartet of class

On the women’s side four different players lifted the Grand Slams.

Naomi Osaka in Melbourne, Ashleigh Barty ruled Roland-Garros, Halep at Wimbledon and Bianca Andreescu was a fresh name on the US Open honours board.

All four had a compelling story, playing the game with such variety, conviction, athleticism and bursting passion. The blend of characters on the WTA Tour is translating to the tennis.

Andreescu is such a fierce competitor on the court, combined with an open and genuine persona. Three titles at Indian Wells, Rogers Cup and US Open demonstrates her appetite and ability to perform at the elite level.

In a heart-warming moment, the Canadian comforted Serena after the 23-time major winner was forced to retire from their Rogers Cup final. Meanwhile, Osaka insisted that tearful Gauff joined her on-court interview at the US Open in another viral segment of sportsmanship.

Serena persists in the predictions conversation, falling at the final hurdle in London and New York, but this quartet proves the future of the women’s game is extremely enticing and exciting.

Andy Murray and Serena Williams during Wimbledon 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Melbourne Murray misery erased

The likes of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and 2015 Roland-Garros champion Stan Wawrinka have managed impressive comebacks, however, neither quite harnessed the worldwide adulation of Andy Murray.

The three-time Grand Slam champion wiped away tears as he admitted at the Australian Open it could very well be his last tournament.

Cue a classic Murray concoction of grit, fire and scorching shot-making to narrowly fall 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-7(4), 6-2 against the rock-solid Roberto Bautista Agut in the opening round.

Many thought that was the end, before hip resurfacing surgery rescued the Scot’s tennis dreams. Incrementally the form returned, with Murray combining with Feliciano Lopez for doubles delight at Queen’s Club.

Fast forward to Wimbledon and Murray teamed up with a certain Serena in the mixed doubles.

By October Murray was back in singles contention and won the Antwerp title, his first since March 2017. The emotions poured out as the 32-year-old realised the gravitas of his accomplishments.

Ashleigh Barty and Rod Laver talking together after the 2019 Roland-Garros final©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

The complete competitor joins the greats

Nothing seems to faze world No.1 Ashleigh Barty - the opponents, the crowds, the hype or expectations.

The Australian quit the sport in 2014, but in the past three seasons has rediscovered a glorious, cunning tennis artillery. The chipped shots, booming strikes, curving serves all outfoxed the field in Paris.

Barty became the first Australian to win a singles titles at Roland Garros since 1973 and the 23-year-old was the standout woman on Tour all season with 57 match wins.

Within that total, Barty was also crowned champion in Miami and on singles debut at the WTA Finals, alongside leading the green and gold into the Fed Cup final.

A true role model, who has realised her potential in 2019.

French team posing with the Fed Cup trophy in Perth©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Allez les Bleus!

Speaking of the Fed Cup final, Barty seemed destined to become world champion too, leading out Australia in Perth.

Up stepped France.

Caroline Garcia bounced back from losing 6-0, 6-0 to Australia’s leading charge, joining Kristina Mladenovic in the decisive doubles.

Mladenovic roared back from a set deficit facing Barty in the singles in one of the most spirited performances of the season and was inspired again in the doubles too, as the French duo gifted Julien Benneteau’s side the trophy for the first time since 2003.

Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev at the net at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Medvedev and Tsitsipas stand out

Daniil Medvedev goading the New Yorkers who jeered him at the US Open was one of the most comical and memorable moments of 2019.

Heading to the US Open on a hot streak, the 23-year-old had collected his maiden Masters 1000 title at Cincinnati. The Russian, at the tail end of a scintillating season, became the villain at Flushing Meadows for responding to the crowd. With his tennis doing the talking, Medvedev turned around the public’s perception and earned a debut major final ticket.

It was an instant classic, forcing Nadal to stretch every sinew in a 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 five-hour marathon.

Medvedev, finishing 2019 with a tour-best 59 match victories, can provide a wall of defiance at the baseline, but is also capable of conjuring up effective shots across the confines of the court.

Another player producing captivating all-court tennis and disrupting the established order is Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The Greek outmanoeuvred Federer in Melbourne and from there was an absorbing watch across the campaign.

In 2016 he was a hitting partner at the ATP Finals, 2018 he was champion at the Next Gen Finals in Milan. To compound his rapid rise, Tsitsipas won the last tour match of the decade to be hailed ATP Finals champion.

The way Roland-Garros finalist Dominic Thiem blasted Djokovic and Federer off the court in east London offers plenty of encouragement for his 2020. Into the final, the Austrian gave everything, but Tsitsipas became the youngest season finale titlist since Lleyton Hewitt in 2001.

It was a victory of pure endeavour mixed in with sumptuous shot-making.

The ‘big three’ keep wrestling away the slams, but the Tsitsipas, Medvedev, Thiem triumvirate proved in 2019 that they have the credentials to take over.