The 2020 Tennis Season in Review
The old, the new and everything in between, the 2020 tennis season is one we won’t soon forget. Alex Grant rounds up all the action from this unprecedented season of men’s tennis.
Daniil Medvedev became the fifth consecutive first-time winner at the Nitto ATP Finals last Sunday, as he fought back from a set down to defeat Dominic Thiem 4-6 7-6 6-4 to draw the curtain on a tennis season like no other.
The win saw Medvedev complete a perfect week, defeating each of the top three ranked players at some point in the tournament – Novak Djokovic in the group stage, Rafael Nadal in the semi-final and world number three Thiem in the final. These victories assured that the 24-year-old finished the tournament with a perfect 5/0 win/loss record.
Somewhat fittingly is that in the event’s final year at London’s O2 Arena, Medvedev became only the second Russian to have won the event in its 50-year history, with compatriot Nikplay Davydenko winning back in 2009, the competition’s inaugural year at the O2.
That’s how the season ended – let’s take a look back at what happened leading up to this point, starting at the beginning…
How The Season Started
The 2020 season got underway, as ever, down under, as a Djokovic-inspired Serbia became the winners of the inaugural ATP Cup, beating Rafael Nadal’s Spain in the final.
The tour then moved across Australia, from Perth to Melbourne, ready for the first grand slam of the season to get underway. Despite early threat of cancellation as Australia struggled to contain bush fires, the event went ahead without a hitch, with Novak Djokovic once again proving too strong for the rest of the field, as he claimed a record-extending eighth Australian Open crown and the 17th major title of his career.
The Serb defeated Thiem, competing in his third grand slam final, 6-4 4-6 2-6 6-3 6-4.
The tennis calendar then continued, as Djokovic claimed ATP 500 victory in Dubai, in the same week that Rafael Nadal claimed ATP 500 victory in Acapulco. Victory for the Spaniard ensured the continuation of his ongoing Open-era record of 17 straight seasons winning at least one ATP title.
With the tennis season poised to be full of excitement and big clashes between the best in the sport, the widespread panic caused by a new flu-like virus halted the season in its tracks.
As the tour prepared for the traditional first Masters 1000 event in Indian Wells to get underway, the announcement they had been dreading came.
As the Coronavirus pandemic continued to spread worldwide, all tennis was suspended until at least April 20th.
Two further suspensions of the tour followed, as the entirety of the European clay court season was cancelled. Furthermore, the French Open was delayed until October and Wimbledon was called off completely for the first time since the end of the Second World War.
As players began getting used to being stuck at home, they continued to keep fans entertained; Andy Murray sharing a volley challenge with his wife Kim; Djokovic playing indoor tennis with frying pans and Rafael Nadal gave everyone a reason to smile a little, as he struggled to get to grips with technology whilst connecting with long-time rival and friend Roger Federer for an Instagram live discussion.
Adria Tour Fiasco
As tennis geared itself up for a return to action in August, its plans were then thrown into doubt as a charitable event organised by world number one Novak Djokovic, which received heavy criticism for failing to meet any COVID-19 protocols, turned into an unmitigated disaster. The event was later ended prematurely, after a number of players present, including Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Djokovic himself, tested positive for the virus.
Meanwhile, Jamie Murray’s “Battle of the Brits” event went ahead without any such issue. The event itself pitted Britain’s best tennis players against each other, including British number one Dan Evans and three-time grand slam winner Andy Murray. While Djokovic’s event neglected to implement any COVID-19 protocols, Murray made sure that everything ran as safely as possible – matches were played behind closed doors, social distancing was observed and masks were worn away from the court.
As planned, top level tennis returned in August with Novak Djokovic, fully recovered from COVID-19, wasting no time in getting back down to business as he beat Canadian Milos Raonic 1-6 6-3 6-4 to win a record-equalling 35th Masters 1000 crown at the Cincinnati Masters, held within the US Open’s Flushing Meadows grounds in New York due to COVID-19 restrictions.
It was the perfect warm-up for Djokovic, who entered the year’s second major as the overwhelming favourite in the absence of long-time rivals Rafael Nadal, who decided to stay back on the clay courts of his academy to prepare for the French Open, and Roger Federer, who would miss the rest of the season following knee surgery.
The US Open did not go as planned for the top seed, however, as after falling a break behind at 6-5 in the first set of his fourth round encounter with Spaniard Pablo Carreño Busta, the Serb critically lost his temper.
Djokovic, firing off a ball in anger towards the back of the court, struck a line judge in the throat. The line judge in question collapsed in a heap gasping for air. Having broken the strict grand slam rulebook, Djokovic was then, after a lengthy discussion, unceremoniously defaulted out of the US Open in one of the most extraordinary incidents in recent grand slam memory.
It guaranteed that a new grand slam champion would be crowned and taking full advantage of the Big Three’s absence, Dominic Thiem finally claimed grand slam final victory at the fourth time of asking.
In a topsy-turvy contest, the Austrian fought back from two sets to love behind to defeat young-gun Sascha Zverev 2-6 4-6 6-4 6-3 7-6, in a memorable US Open Final.
In claiming victory, the 27-year-old became the first man outside of tennis’ Big Three of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer to win a grand slam title since Stan Wawrinka at the 2016 US Open.
With little time to rest and recover, the tour soon converged on Rome, ready for the delayed Rome Masters and Novak Djokovic wasted no time in putting his US Open demons behind him by racing through the field to claim a record-breaking 36th Masters 1000 crown, beating Argentine Diego Schwartzman 7-5 6-3 in the final.
Then came time for the delayed French Open, which would round out the year’s altered three slam calendar. As the tour moved to Paris, attention as ever turned to Rafael Nadal, who knew that victory at his most successful event would draw him level with Federer on 20 grand slam titles, the most in the history of the men’s game.
This was to be a very different Roland Garros to any that had come before, however. The colder, heavier conditions, coupled with a change to the official tournament balls suggested that this year’s French Open could well see the stage set for an upset.
However, Nadal – as he so often does – had other ideas. The Spaniard blitzed through the field lay before him like a man on a mission, not dropping a single set on his way to the final. In said final, he claimed victory in a rather lopsided contest against Djokovic, defeating the Serb by a resounding 6-0 6-2 7-5 scoreline and lifting the Coupe des Mousquetaires for a staggering 13th time.
How the Season Ended
Following the much later conclusion of the French Open, the tour began to wrap up for the year, with Djokovic travelling to Vienna. Despite not claiming the title, his two victories in the tournament were enough to secure the year-end number one spot for a record-equalling sixth time, drawing level with the great Pete Sampras.
Nadal meanwhile returned to Paris to play on the indoor hard courts of the Paris Bercy Masters, but was unable to claim a maiden title at the event, losing in the semi-finals to eventual runner-up Sascha Zverev.
Daniil Medvedev claimed a hard fought 5-7 6-4 6-1 victory over the German in the Paris Bercy final – his third Masters 1000 crown – before continuing that form onto the season ending World Tour Finals in London, where he raced through the field to claim the biggest title of his career so far.
The Russian will now hope to continue that form into 2021, when he will hope to finally achieve grand slam glory.
Elsewhere, the big three of Djokovic, Nadal and the returning Roger Federer will continue on their quest to further rewrite the tennis history books, whilst Dominic Thiem will be hoping to add to his US Open crown.
Meanwhile Britain’s Andy Murray will hope to continue making progress on his stop-start return from hip surgery.
It is hoped that a more normal tennis schedule will be able to go ahead in 2021 with increasing talk of a vaccine, boosting confidence that fans will soon be able to return to stadiums. Currently, it seems likely that the Australian Open will be delayed from its usual mid-January start by a few weeks, as the Australian government
Although it appears likely that the Australian Open will be delayed by a few weeks, from its usual mid-January start, as the Australian government continue to discuss potential player quarantines upon arrival in the country.