In the second of our End of Year Reviews, our tennis correspondent Billy Cure looks at his best and most memorable moments of 2021.

Best Slam of 2021

Each of the slams provided their own flavour of drama this year, at Wimbledon we saw what might have been Federer’s last run, losing to Hurkacz in the quarter-finals because of a knee injury.

At the US Open we saw a triumphant qualifier defy the odds to win at 18 years of age, and Daniil Medvedev herald the coming of the next generation.

The Australian Open saw a ninth victory for Djokovic, and Naomi Osaka usurping Serena Williams as the queen of hard courts. 

But the slam of the year has to be Roland Garros, the French Open was a delight on all fronts.

Paris 2021. The Mens Final. Photo: Roger Parker International Sports Fotos Ltd

The crowds returned to the stadiums, and got to see five incredible tournaments. The men’s singles saw Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal on Phillipe Chatrier, one of tennis’ hardest feats.

He then went on to show his golden slam intentions by winning the whole tournament for only the second time in his career, after the only five set grand slam final on the 2021 tour against Stefanos Tsitsipas.

And if the men’s tournament wasn’t enough, Barbora Krejcikova pulled off an incredible double victory in the women’s singles and doubles, even more impressive considering she was primarily a doubles player.

The French crowd were treated to home winners Nicolas Mahut and Pierre Hughes Herbert in the men’s doubles.
 
And the mixed doubles were one of Joe Salisbury’s 2021 highlights with Desiree Krawczyk.

Barbora Krejcikova wins the Ladies Singles final. Photo: Roger Parker International Sports Fotos Ltd

Best men’s player of 2021

It would be nice to be a little less obvious with these answers, everyone knows Novak Djokovic is world No.1. Isn’t it someone else’s turn to be the best? Medvedev did beat him in the US Open final, Zverev beat him in the ATP finals and the Olympics.

But no, this year was one of Novak’s best, we may never see another like it in our lives.

Five titles, three grand slams in a row, including a ninth Australian Open, a second French Open during the Nadal era, a sixth Wimbledon, and he didn’t win it, but he did make the US Open final. If slam records weren’t enough, he also won an unprecedented sixth Paris masters title.

Novak may have missed out on his last chance at Olympic gold and the calendar Slam, but in doing so he smashed the competition, leading the rankings from start to finish.

This year he finally dethroned Roger Federer for most weeks at No.1, and put himself on par with Federer and Nadal to become the third man in history to win 20 Grand Slams.

Djokovic was the best player of 2021 in every sense, he wasn’t always unbeatable, but he was always No.1.

Best women’s player of 2021

Ash Barty may be world No.1, and she may have lead the rankings from start to finish this year, but the title of this award is “best women’s player of 2021,” not best women’s singles player.

Barbora Krejcikova is not only world No.5 in the singles rankings, but also world No.2 in the doubles, just behind her partner Siniakova.
 
Krejcikova has played 44 tournaments to Barty’s 16, among those tournaments were her two victories at Roland Garros in the singles and doubles.

Additionally she won the Strasbourg 250 and the Prague 250 in the singles. In the doubles she won the Gippsland 500, Madrid masters, the Olympics, and the ATP finals.

She even had success in the mixed doubles, winning the Australian Open. 
 
She made her best result in all of the singles slams too, and has been one of the more consistent players on the women’s tour at them. She did get a meagre second round run at the Australian Open, but we’ll give her a break as she made both the women’s and mixed doubles finals, winning the latter. 
 
Krejcikova’s WTA 1000 runs could have been better, but overall the best women’s player has to go to the woman who won nine titles (three more than anyone else), and finished in the top five of both rankings, in an age where players are specialising in one discipline.

Barbora Krejcikova lifts coupe Susanne Lenglen trophy. Photo: Roger Parker International Sports Fotos Ltd

Most memorable moment

No contest, you know what it is. It seemed after a last minute television deal, the whole of Britain tuned in to the US Open final, after their more tennis obsessed friends got them up to speed.

Emma Raducanu won the US Open without dropping a set, as a qualifier, in an all teenage final. Every British celebrity you could think of got behind her on twitter. A surprise not soon forgotten.

Emma Raducanu wins the Women’s final at the 2021 US Open.


Most forgettable moment of the year

It would be easy for this category to choose something completely forgettable like a double fault by a player you’ve never heard of in the challengers, but in order to make this somewhat interesting I’ve selected something that should have been memorable, but utterly failed to grab attention or mean anything: The Tokyo Olympics.
 
Aside from having absolutely no British interest, the favourites even failed to make an impression.

Somewhat of note was Novak Djokovic’s disappointing fourth place, Zverev looked like he might finally crack a Grand Slam afterwards, but everywhere else was random and uninteresting.

Zverev didn’t capture the US Open and women’s champion Belinda Bencic faded back into inconsistency. Zverev and Svitolina were the only medallists who made sense. Karen Khachanov got silver? Marketa Vondousova too? And Pablo Carrena Busta with bronze?
 
At least the doubles made sense, Krecjikova and Siniakova thrashed the competition in the women’s, and Pavic and Mektic saw off Dodig and a spike of form from Marin Cilic. The mixed doubles was an all Russian affair ending in a tie breaker. 
 
The problem with the Olympics was not only how nonsensical it was, but how meaningless it was. None of the breakthrough players at the olympics did anything afterwards.

In a year’s time, you’ll have to google who won any of the events, even if you’re a big tennis fan.

Alexander Zverev wins Gold at the Tokyo Olympics.

Best quote of the year
 
There are a few quotes that stand out, particularly around the narrative of old versus young, that seemed to be the theme of the year.
 

  • Andy Murray
    “Competing is why you put in all the hard work. In the last few years I’ve not got to do that as much as I would have liked. So it’s great I’m out here and able to compete again.” – Murray at Queens after years of struggling with injury. 
  • Serena Williams
    “I don’t know, If I ever say farewell I wouldn’t tell anyone. I don’t know, I’m done.” – Williams after the Osaka defeat.
  • Gael Monfils

“I could feel energy. Every day I’m working to be on the big stage like that with a crowd “It was incredible, even if it was not a full crowd, it was enough to make a decent spirit,” 

“As I always say: ‘You give to them, they give back.’ Sometimes it’s them to give to you and you give back to them, it’s an exchange.”

“I’m so happy, I cannot be happier than this.”

“It was special the way I was missing them.” – Monfils after the return of crowds.

  • Daniil Medvedev

“Mamma mia, sante italia.” -Daniil Medvedev lamenting the clay season.

  • Novak Djokovic

The old guys are still not giving up

Djokovic in Rome

“It’s a matter of time before you’re gonna hold a grand slam.” Djokovic after beating Medvedev at the Australian open final.

And ….

There was one quote that really captured the resilience of these athletes, who go through so much and so love what they do. It would be so easy to give up on Andy Murray after the punishment he’s been through, but the man has the heart of a lion and some fight left in him yet. In a US Open five set thriller against world number three, Andy Murray roared this – “I’m not f***ing done, let’s go, LET’S GO!” 

 
Underperformance of the Year (player)

So often a great player will plummet down the rankings due to an injury, but this category must be won by someone who simply faded away without good reason.

Gael Monfils springs to mind, however he did fall that far and still had some good performances. David Goffin had quite a fall down the rankings, as did Fabio Fognini. The doubles duo of Robert Farah and Juan Sebatian Cabal, formerly number one and two have dropped off for seemingly no reason.

The winner of this award is a man who always manages to capture headlines, even without winning matches; Nick Kyrgios.

The Australian has always been a fun competitor to watch, with a mixture of good humour and bad attitude, this year seems to be the one where Kyrgios finally gave up. He had always had a love-hate relationship with tennis, but now he doesn’t even seem to be able to muster hatred of the sport. After numerous talks of retirement, don’t expect to see Kyrgios at the top of the game again.
 

Nick Kyrgios celebrates after beating his Ugo Humbert at the Australian Open in February. Photo: Tennis Australia/ MARK PETERSON

The Come from Nowhere to Amaze Us Award of the year
A surging performance that none expected, there was plenty of that this year. Hubert Hurkacz’s Miami masters win, Cam Norrie winning Indian wells, Casper Ruud’s performance at the ATP finals. And in the women’s; Barbora Krejcikova bursting onto the singles scene with the Roland Garros victory,

Paul Badosa’s triumphant comeback to win Indian Wells, Leylah Fernandez beating numerous favourites to reach the US Open final, even Belinda Bencic winning the olympics fits this category. 

Paula Badosa stunned everyone at Indian Wells.


 
An honourable mention must go to Anett Kontaveit’s miracle run to, and subsequently at the WTA finals, an incredible few tournaments where consistency hasn’t been the word in this year’s WTA tour.
 
However, everybody knows who wins this category; Emma Raducanu. She had one breakthrough at Wimbledon, a fourth round run which she withdrew from.

Then she turns up and qualifies for the US Open, and goes on to win the entire thing without dropping a set. The first and only title of her career is the biggest kind you can win, now that’s coming from nowhere. She leapt up the rankings and now sits inside the top 20.

And finally … One to watch for 2022

2022 is a make or break year for these players, some have a chance to fly or flop, others to resurge or retire. Naturally there are many players that this applies to.

  • Rafael Nadal
  • Roger Federer
  • Alexander Zverev
  • Casper Ruud
  • Hubert Hurkacz
  • Jannik Sinner
  • Cameron Norrie
  • Aslan Karatsev
  • Taylor Fritz
  • Carlos Alcaraz
  • Sebastian Korda
  • Frances Tiafoe
  • Botic Van de Zandschulp
  • Jenson Brooksby
  • Tomas Machac
  • Holger Rune
  • Jack Draper
  • Borna Gojo
     
    All of them have a chance to climb the ranks next year, they have the potential to pull off some great tournament runs. But the player to watch next year is Britain’s own Andy Murray.

At 34 he is running out of time to return to the top of the game, there have been plenty of promising signs this year as well as plenty of inexplicable failures.

2022 will end one of two ways for Murray, he’ll either be sitting near the top of the rankings, or he will retire. Either way, we’re in for a journey with plenty of tense matches, as now it’s all on the line.
 


As for the women, there are fewer resurgent players, but more young talent.

  • Aryna Sabalenka
  • Garbine Muguruza
  • Maria Sakkari
  • Anett Kontaveit
  • Paula Badosa
  • Naomi Osaka
  • Emma Raducanu
  • Cori Gauff
  • Leylah Fernandez
  • Clara Tauson
  • Iga Swiatek takes this one, as the only player to be going about her career the right way, building consistency. The Pole has all the tools she needs to be world number one, as well as the trajectory. Don’t expect her to achieve that in 2022, but she’ll certainly move towards it. One to watch in the clay season especially, but we’re witnessing the early career of one of tennis’s greats.
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