The year 2019 is almost done as we enter a new decade – and possibly a new era for tennis.
Out with the old and in with the new? Is it time to usher in a new set of young talent – ready to take over from the stars of the past 10-15 years?
Before we do, GST writers Roger Parker, Bill Scott and Peter Rowe have put their heads together to come up with their ‘best’ of 2019…
BEST MEN’S PLAYER
BS: Medvedev with his sprint to six straight finals. Though he faded a bit after his US Open title loss to Nadal and is injured after winning the December Saudi exhibition, a sensible schedule might allow the Russian to do some more damage in 2020.
RP: This has to be Daniil Sergeyevich Medvedev.
The 6ft 5 inch, 23-year-old Muscovite chalked up a remarkable 30-2 winning record in a stunning 32 match streak taking him to six consecutive finals and sending him gate-crashing into the inner sanctum of the ATP top 5.
PR: Attempting to be different (and yes, Medvedev is the real deal) I’m sticking with the old guard for 2019 – Rafa Nadal. The Spaniard claimed four ATP titles in Rome, Roland Garros, Canada and the US Open, reaching at the semi-finals at all four Majors and overcoming Novak Djokovic in the closing stages of the year to grab the fifth year-end No.1.
BEST WOMEN’S PLAYER
BS: Ash Barty. The Queenslander’s rise to a breakthrough No. 1 ranking was backed up by her first grand Slam trophy in Paris as well as major strikes in Miami, Shenzhen and a Wimbledon tune-up title in Birmingham.
RP: In a fluctuating year of WTA no 1’s my vote just goes to Ash Barty. Superb year.
PR: cannot disagree on this one, it has to be Ash Barty. Returning to tennis three years ago, Barty made big steps towards the top of women’s tennis, settling into the top-20 in 2017 and 2018 before making her assault this season. Barty was the most consistent player in 2019, winning titles in Miami, Roland Garros, Birmingham and the WTA Finals where she cemented the player of the year status.
YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR
BS: Stefanos Tsitsipas. The Greek began to pull his game together in 2019, winning the ATP Finals in London over Dominic Thiem and even starting a return to social media with a few thoughtful Twitters quotes Tsitsipas also won minor titles in Marseille and Estoril and defeated Federer in the Australian Open fourth round last January.
RP:15-year-old Coco Gauff hit the tennis scene in 2019 like a hurricane coming ashore in her home state of Florida.
Seemingly nerveless and excitingly brash without being cocky, Coco Gauff first came through the qualifiers and then made a stunning Wimbledon main draw debut, beating one of her heroines Venus Williams in straight sets. She made it into the second week before succumbing to Simona Halep. Interviewed after the event she told the world “My generation has just decided it is time to speak up”.
PR: On this one I am in agreement with Bill Scott. Yes, young Coco Gauff was a media darling in 2019, and is a certainty for tennis stardom, but she is not the finished article, yet. My youngster of the year has to be 21-year-old Tsitsipas. With three titles in 2019, Tsitsipas has had a magnificent season and he showed just why he is the man of the moment, coming from a set down to beat Novak Djokovic this week.
BS: Dubai, ATP +WTA
The back-to-back weeks in the pleasant desert heat of February – far removed from any European chill – produced a Swiss double as Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic lifted the titles, with fans a healthy mix of expats and locals, and with UAE royalty in attendance for the finals.
RP: Undoubtedly Wimbledon, this year and always. The adage “oldest and the best” was never truer. Steeped in tradition, the two finest Men’s Singles Finals ever have been played there, I was lucky enough to be courtside at both.
This year it was Novak Djokovic’s defeat of Roger Federer. The match lasted four hours and 57 minutes, making it the longest singles final in the tournament’s history and the first 12-all tie-break decider.
In 2008, it was Rafa Nadal’s first Wimbledon final win beating Federer 6-4,6-4,6-7,6-7,9-7.
The match finished in gloom, before the roof arrived at Wimbledon and just before the SW19 10pm curfew, It was so dark Hawkeye stopped working. I took one of my favourite tennis pictures to capture the atmosphere at the end.
McEnroe, who was commenting on the match claimed it to be “The greatest match I’ve ever seen” and Bjorn Borg, watching from the Royal Box said: “That’s the best tennis match I’ve ever seen in my life. I was just happy to be there, to be part of that final. You cannot see a better tennis match.”
PR: Each Grand Slam has its own uniqueness, Wimbledon and the grass, Paris and red dust, the Big apple and those late, late nights, but for me I have fallen in love with Indian Wells and the tournament in the desert. It has grown into a truly international event thanks to owner Larry Ellison and continues to lay claim to being the fifth Slam. It’s on again in 2020 from March 9 with over $9 million inn prize money on offer.
BEST STORY OF THE YEAR
BS: Andy Murray’s comeback battle. The Scot, who has had to work thard o catch the tennis public’s attention in the Federer-Nadal era, showed a fighting spirit and helped to set the template for injury comebacks.
RP: Having witnessed at first hand Andy Murray’s tearful press conference, and a first round defeat, albeit a battling five setter against Roberto Bautista Agut and watching a post-match “farewell tribute” hastily put together by the ATP in Melbourne in January before opting to have a second bout of surgery on his troublesome hip, it was difficult to see any way back for the Scot.
But Andy Murray lived up to his “Braveheart” billing and fought his way back by the end of the year, against all the odds, and his own expectations by winning his first ATP tour event since 2017 in Antwerp.
Again the tears flowed on court, this time tears of joy.This was all the more remarkable as his wife Kim, back at their Surrey home was about to deliver their third child.
His dogged fightback from a potentially career ending surgery and rehabilitation was captured for posterity in a remarkable fly on the wall documentary by Amazon Prime entitled “Resurfacing”.
PR: The Andy Murray comeback has been the best ‘feel good’ story of the year but with far bigger ramifications the BBC’s expose on an Armenian betting scandal that threatens to rock the very foundations of the sport is my story of the year. GST also exposed how coaches and lower ranked players have been targeted and the absurdity of the ITF’s deal that allowed a live score online system that clearly exposed many to corruption.
The ITF has recently announced it had amended its online procedures, but not before over 100 players were allegedly exposed by German media. This is a story that will run well into 2020.
FUNNIEST MOMENT OF THE YEAR
“Marmite” or as he’s an Aussie “Vegemite” love him or hate him Nick Kyrgios always entertains, one way or the other. Usually the other.
The eccentric 24-year-old’s first round win at Wimbledon in five sets came at the expense of compatriot Jordan Thompson. It was a trademark theatrical display, firing shots between his legs, serving underarm, slumping on the net as if having a heart attack and joking with fans.
In the midst of his many torrid interactions with spectators leading up to Wimbledon, and picking up eye watering record fines from the ATP on the way, Nick put a first serve into the net and chastised himself out loud “Nick you can’t even buy a first serve today” He followed that up with a wildly long second serve and a wag in the crowd yelled out loud “Nick, you can’t buy a second serve either!” to which turned round and laughed – you’re right there mate!”
ONE TO WATCH OUT FOR IN 2020
RP: I have a feeling 2020 could be a break out year for 20-year-old Aussie Alex de Minaur. Grand slam legend Rod Laver thinks “Demon” has what it takes to be “one of the best players in the world” so who am I to argue with the great man?
With compatriot Ash Barty establishing herself as WTA Number 1 he may well benefit from being dragged along in her slipstream.
BS: Jannik Sinner. With Italy seemingly taking over tennis with the top pair of ATP officials now both from the country, the teenaged Sinner seems destined for a major breakthrough.The 18-year-old winner of the NextGen Finals in Milan, changed his sporting emphasis from the slopes to the court half a decade ago in what now looks like an extremely wise move.
PR: Nick Kyrgios – if someone can sort out this amazing talent and get him focussed. Even John McEnroe , the original brat, believes Kyrgios could be top ten or better if the right coach can get him mentally organised.