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Welcome to the 31st issue of Tennis inbox. This week: the storylines at the start of 2020, a calendar reshuffle, and Roger Federer probably isn’t going to retire. We’ll take next week off but will return one last time this year on 29th December. Read on to find out more.
What we thought 2020 would have offered
We’re nearly there—this awful year is almost finished. While you’ve probably heard this refrain a few times, I thought it’d be apt to reflect on this year from the perspective of what we were expecting at its start. We can use Open Era Pod’s “Storylines at the start of 2020” as inspiration:
Will Serena win 24?
She tried, but she didn’t. Serena’s been chasing down Margaret Court’s 24 Grand Slams for a little while now, and she’s had plenty of opportunities to tie Court: Williams has lost her last five Grand Slam finals. Fans hoped that this year would be different. But it wasn’t. Williams lost to Wang Qiang in three tight sets at the Australian Open and then the pandemic hit. When tennis restarted, fans held their breath as she worked her way through the US Open draw but her run there was ultimately ended by a resurgent Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals. The French Open seemed like an unlikely venue for Williams to clasp 24—after all, she had only won three of her 23 there (2003, 2013, and 2015). To put a nail in the coffin for her 2020 hopes to tie 24, Williams pulled out the French Open second round citing an injury.
Whether Serena needs to win 24 to be considered the GOAT is highly debatable, with consensus being that she doesn’t. Why? Because while Court’s 24 is impressive, it pales in comparison to Williams’ 23. Williams has had to face a consistently stronger and deeper field to get all her Grand Slams. In this era. That alone should settle the debate.
Will Rafa win 20?
He did, and he did it in style. At the start of the 2020 French Open, with its heavy, wet conditions, many (myself included) thought that the conditions would favor a player with flatter groundstrokes. Someone who could hit through the ball. Someone like Djokovic. Since Nadal has relied on the normally drier conditions at Roland-Garros to help him use his forehand to lift balls out of and above his opponent’s strike zones, I thought that the conditions weren’t ideal for him to walk away with the trophy again.
Nadal proved the doubters wrong, dismantling Novak Djokovic 6–0, 6–2, 7–5 in the final. In doing so he achieved a number of things: 1) he tied Roger Federer for total Grand Slams 2) he won 13 Roland-Garros titles and 3) he went 100–2 at the French Open. All these accomplishments renewed the vigor with which Nadal fans put him forward as the GOAT. If he’s already tied Federer, and he has a winning record over him, surely he’s the GOAT? I tend to avoid the GOAT debate because there are so many ways to assess the Big 3 standings. All I’ll add is that it’s getting more and more difficult to delineate who really is the GOAT and that we’ll only be able to tell in three to five years—once Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic have retired.
Will Novak catch Rafa, Fed?
Speaking of the GOAT debate, Djokovic fans probably thought that it would nearly be settled by the end of this year. That Djokovic would probably walk away with three Grand Slams and then all the Nadal and Federer fanboys would have to concede defeat. Alas, it wasn’t to be! The pandemic hit, and play came to an end. Then we heard that Wimbledon was canceled, reducing one of Djokovic’s opportunities. Then, of course, there was that incident at the US Open and the defeat by Nadal at the French Open that we just covered.
One wonders how Djokovic’s 2020 would have gone if the coronavirus hadn’t spread out of Wuhan and caused the world to shut down for a bit. He was in ominous form at the start of the year. Though he still performed remarkably well—becoming the first man in history to win all nine ATP Masters 1000 titles twice, and finishing the year as #1—he was lacking in the Grand Slam department in 2020. But another shot at getting close to equaling Nadal and Federer is only a few months away. 2021, if the tennis calendar can get up and running, is going to be exciting.
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A calendar reshuffle
Wondering what’s going to happen to the 2021 calendar? Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated has you covered. In his Mailbag column, Wertheim recaps what will likely happen to the 2021 calendar, which tournaments will be moved around to where, and uses his sources on tour to roughly sketch out what we can expect as tennis fans for the 2021 season. Don’t want to read it all? Here are the main takeaways:
- AO qualifying will take place outside of Australia
- There will be multiple events in the first week of February, serving as tune-up events for the AO
- A potential event after the AO, for players who have been knocked out of the Grand Slam
- Indian Wells postponed
- Q2 of 2021 should be better/more stable
ATP Player of the Year, WTA Player of the Year
Both the ATP and the WTA announced their Player of the Year awards recently. Novak Djokovic was the men’s winner, while Sofia Kenin was the women’s. Since we’ve already covered Djokovic to a degree in the earlier story, I’ll focus this one on Kenin’s accomplishments:
- Year-end #4 (though we have to keep in mind that the rankings were calculated differently this year. Ash Barty and Simona Halep were still able to hang on to their 2,000 points for winning the French Open and Wimbledon in 2019, respectively)
- Won one of the three majors she played in and reached the final in two out of the three she played in
- Posted a 16–2 record at Grand Slams
As John Berkok wrote on Tennis.com, “When it comes to 2020 alone, Kenin shone brighter than anyone on the women’s tour.”
A Roger Federer retirement? Probably not
Yes—that’s what the Swiss’ fans have been fearing after hearing Federer’s comments on whether or not he’ll be healthy in time to play the 2021 Australian Open. Federer said in a speech at the Switzerland Sports Awards:
“I hope that in 2021 I will return to the courts. We will see. But if my career had to end here, well it would be incredible to end it with this award.”
These words left many commentators clutching their pearls that it could be the end of Federer’s career. Honestly, though, that’s probably not going to happen. In my view, Federer will move heaven and earth to be back at Wimbledon in 2021. If he could somehow—and the chances are slim—sneak another Grand Slam title, perhaps then he’ll consider walking away. Chalk all the articles you might have read on this topic on the constant need for journalists to produce content… sometimes the premises they base their writing on are pretty thin.
Then again, by commenting on this “story,” am I myself adding to this dynamic? Would it be better to ignore non-stories like this?
Another reason I don’t see Federer retiring yet is because of what he said about the 2021 Australian Open:
“It’s a race against time for the Australian Open, we will see. I’m curious to see whether it will start on February 8. Of course it would help if I had a bit more time. I would have hoped that I would be 100 per cent in October. But I am still not today. It will be tight for the Australian Open.”
This sounds more like he wants to play the AO but is just having a bit of trouble getting his body ready to compete.
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