The 2020 WTA Season Review
Ubitennis.net looks back on the highlights of the WTA season which was heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
2020 saw women’s professional tennis halted at one stage for almost five months due to the COVID-19 pandemic but still there were plenty of success stories.
The Grand Slams saw rising stars Sofia Kenin and Iga Swiatek establish themselves as the next generation of players ready to break out. Simona Halep clinched titles in Dubai, Prague and Rome to become one of only two players to have won three WTA titles this year. The other is Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka. Other notable events that took place included Naomi Osaka’s run to the US Open title whilst highlighting the black lives matter movement and the resurgence of Victoria Azarenkz.
A lot has happened over the past 12 months and here is a review of this year’s WTA award winners.
Best WTA Player of the Year: Sofia Kenin
Sofia Kenin is the only player to reach two Grand Slam finals in 2020. In January she claimed her first Australian Open trophy to become the youngest US player to win a Grand Slam women’s singles title since Serena Williams in 2002. Kenin dropped just a set en route to the final against Coco Gauff in the fourth round. The US player of Russian origin upset world number 1 and 2019 Roland Garros champion Ashleigh Barty in the semifinal before beating two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza in the final.
When the WTA Tour resumed following the pandemic-related break, Kenin reached the fourth round at the US Open before losing to Elise Mertens. She continued her successful Grand Slam season at Roland Garros, where she won four three-set matches during her first five matches before beating two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. Kenin lost to Polish rising star Iga Swiatek in the final. She reached a career-high of world number 4 in the WTA Rankings.
The WTA Rising Star of the season: Iga Swiatek
Polish rising star Iga Swiatek won her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros at the age of 19 to become the first player from her country to win a Grand Slam title. She is the youngest women’s singles champion at the French Open since Monica Seles in 1992.
The teenager, who won the Wimbledon Junior title in 2018, beat Marketa Vondrousova in the opening round and then later in the tournament top seed Simona Halep, who was on a 17-match win streak. Swiatek beat Sofia Kenin in the final to become the lowest ranked French Open champion in the history of the WTA Rankings. She is the first Polish player to reach a Grand Slam final since Agnieszka Radwanska at Wimbledon in 2012.
She didn’t drop a set during the whole French Open tournament and lost just 23 games. The number of games she lost in total during the tournament was tied for the second-lowest among French Open singles champions behind the 20 games Steffi Graf lost in 1988.
Swiatek rose from world number 54 to number 17 in the world after her win in the French Open final.
Swiatek also reached the French Open semifinal in the doubles tournament teaming up with Nicole Melichar.
Iga Swiatek: “I am just proud of myself. I have done a great job in the past two weeks. I wasn’t expecting to win this trophy. It’s obviously amazing for me. It’s a life-changing experience. I never would have thought that I was going to be in the final. It’s crazy. I just kept believing in myself. It’s like a dream come true. Basically I was a little bit overwhelmed”.
Iga’s father Tomasz was an Olympic rower who competed in the quadruple sculls even at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul. Swiatek combines her tennis career with school. Her favourite subject is mathematics. She decided to put off going to the University to focus on her tennis career.
“Right now it’s going to be hard to make a decision to go back to studying because I feel like really I can achieve big things. I just want to focus on that, but I am only 19, so a lot can change during a few years. We are going to see. Maybe I am going to be hungry for knowledge. I am not going to make a decision right now. I want to have two gap years to see how my tennis is going to develop when I don’t have other things in my life. So I just want to fully focus on that. It depends. If I am going to be top 10 and I am going to be fighting for Grand Slams, then for sure I am not going to have time for the university. I am going to work more on my career, but if I am in the top 100 for a few years, then I am going to go the university”.
Matches of the year:
Simona Halep beat Elena Rybakina 3-6 6-3 7-6 (7-5) at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
Former world number 1 Simona Halep clinched her 20th career title at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships after beating Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina in a third-set tie-break in the best WTA Match of the Year.
Halep came back from a break down at 3-1 in the third set to beat Rybakina 3-6 6-3 7-6 (7-5). Halep broke back immediately in the next game and held on her serve before breaking for the second time to take a 6-5 lead. Halep was not able to reach the match point, as she was serving for the match in the next game. Rybakina broke back to force the match to tie-break. Rybakina earned a mini-break to take a 4-3 lead, but Halep got the mini-break back with a forehand winner. Halep earned the only match point after Rybakina hit a backhand wide, and converted it to secure the tie-break 7-5.
With her 20th career title Halep has tied Victoria Azarenka in sixth place on the list of active title winners behind Serena and Venus Williams, Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova.
Naomi Osaka beat Victoria Azarenka 1-6 6-3 6-3
Japanese star Naomi Osaka claimed her second US Open title and her third Grand Slam trophy beating Victoria Azarenka 1-6 6-3 6-3. Osaka came back from a set and break down by winning ten of the next twelve games. Osaka broke serve in the fourth game of the third set and saved three break points to hold serve for 4-1. Azarenka saved four break points to hold before breaking serve in the seventh game for 3-4. Osaka broke again to open up a 5-3 lead. Azarenka saved a championship point but Osaka sealed the win on her second opportunity after a 13-shot rally.
Osaka is the first woman in 25 years to come back from a set down to win the US Open final. The 22-year-old Asian player becomes the youngest three-time Grand Slam champion since Maria Sharapova.
Naomi Osaka: “For me it was a really an incredible moment. I am really glad I did it. I was thinking about all the times I have watched the great players sort of collapse onto the ground and look up into the sky. In the end all I focus on is what I can control on the tennis court. That’s what I did in 2018 when I won my first US Open. I feel like that’s what I did this time”.
The Most Consistent Players of the Year:
Aryna Sabalenka won three WTA titles this season in Doha, Ostrava and Linz and ended the year in the top ten of the WTA. During her career Sabalenka won five of her eight titles in autumn tournaments.
Sabalenka beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4 6-3 in the semifinal and Petra Kvitova 6-3 6-3 in the final in Doha.
The Belarusian player beat Coco Gauff in the deciding tie-break in the Ostrava first round. She then came back from 0-6 0-4 by winning 12 consecutive games to beat Sara Sorribes Tormo 0-6 6-4 6-0. She went on to beat Jennifer Brady 6-4 6-4 in the semifinal and Victoria Azarenka 6-2 6-2 in the final to claim the seventh WTA title of her career.
Sabalenka also won her fourth career doubles title with Elise Mertens in the Ostrava final beating Gabriela Dabrowski and Luisa Stefani 6-1 6-3.
Sabalenka beat her friend and doubles partner Elise Mertens 7-5 6-2 to win her third title of the season and her eighth career trophy at the season-ending Upper Austria Ladies Open. Sabalenka tied Simona Halep for most titles won this season.
“This is something amazing. This was the perfect end of my season”, said Sabalenka.
Sabalenka achieved her best result at Grand Slam level, where she reached the third round at Roland Garros before losing to Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur.
Reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep came back from one set down to claim the 20th WTA title of her career in Dubai beating Elena Rybakina 3-6 6-3 7-6 in the final. Halep won the Dubai tournament for the second time in her career.
The world number 2 in the world added two more WTA titles in Prague beating Elise Mertens 6-2 7-5 and at the Rome Internazionali BNL d’Italia, where she was leading 6-0 2-1, as her opponent Karolina Pliskova was forced to retire due to an injury problem.
Halep reached the quarter final in Brisbane before losing to Aryna Sabalenka. At the Australian Open the Romanian star beat Elise Mertens in the fourth round before losing to Garbine Muguruza in the semi-final.
The Comeback of the year: Victoria Azarenka
Two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka came back from one set down to beat Serena Williams 1-6 6-3 6-3 to reach the US Final. Azarenka advanced to her first Grand Slam final since Williams beat her in the US Open final in 2013. Azarenka scored her first win over Williams in a Grand Slam match.
Azarenka won the Western and Southern Open title in New York via walkover after Naomi Osaka withdrew from the match due to a hamstring injury. This was Azarenka’s first title since the 2016 Miami Open and since the birth of her son Leo.
The Belarusian player beat Venus Williams and Sofia Kenin at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome before losing to Garbine Muguruza in the quarter finals.
Azarenka lost to Sabalenka 6-2 6-2 in the final of the Ostrava Open.
The rising star of the year: Elena Rybakina
Elena Rybakina has led the WTA Tour in finals and match wins during the 2020 season. The Kazakh player reached four finals in her first five tournaments. After losing her first final of the season against Ekaterina Aleksandrova at the Shenzhen Open, Rybakina beat Zhang Shuai to claim her second career WTA title in Hobart. Rybakina reached two more finals, finishing runner-up to Kiki Bertens in St. Petersburg and to Simona Halep in Dubai. Rybakina enjoyed a great Dubai tournament where she beat two top 10 players Sofia Kenin and Karolina Pliskova.
After the tour resumed following the lockdown Rybakina reached her fifth final of the season in Strasbourg, where she was beaten by Elina Svitolina.
Best WTA doubles team of the year: Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic
Timea Babos from Hungary and Kristina Mladenovic from France claimed two Grand Slam doubles titles at the Australian Open and at French Open in 2020. They beat Barbora Strycova and Hsieh Su-Wei 6-2 6-1 in the final of the Australian Open.
Babos and Mladenovic won their second consecutive French Open title beating Alexa Guarachi and Desirae Krawczyk 6-4 7-5.
Timea Babos: “I am really happy to take the US Open title here. It’s somehow very special. I always say it’s special, but this time it’s different. It’s like a weird feeling. It’s even hard to describe. It’s a relief. I am always honest. I think this was the worst match we played in a very long time. I think we need again a little bit of time to really understand what happened”.
The Breakthrough of the Year: Martina Trevisan
Martina Trevisan came through the qualifying round at Roland Garros to set up an all-Italian clash against Camila Giorgi, who retired from the match due to an injury. Trevisan beat Coco Gauff in three sets to reach the Grand Slam third round for the first time. The Italian 27-year-old player came back from losing the first set 1-6 to beat Maria Sakkari to advance to the fourth round. Trevisan upset Kiki Bertens in straight sets before losing to Iga Swiatek in the quarter final.
Trevisan made her Grand Slam debut at the Australian Open after beating former Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard in the qualifying round. She lost to eventual champion Sofia Kenin in the first round.
Trevisan, who is the younger sister of tennis player Matteo Trevisan, reached the semifinals at both the French Open girls’ doubles and the Wimbledon girls’ doubles championships.
Grand Slam Glory Is The Main Goal For America’s Coco Gauff
Coco Gauff has big aspirations and she isn’t afraid to speak openly about them.
Following her second round win over Julia Grabher at the French Open on Thursday, the 19-year-old played down the fixation on her current ranking which is No.6 in the world. Gauff admits that her position is something that doesn’t concern her in the sport unless she is sitting at the top of the world rankings.
“I’m not a ranking person at all. The goal is No.1, and I think that’s when I would care about the ranking,” she stated in her press conference.
“Anything in between two and 10, I mean, I’m going to be honest, it’s not that important to me.”
Gauff first broke into the world’s top 10 in September 2022 and has remained there ever since. At the time she was the youngest top 10 debutant on the WTA Tour since Nicole Vaidisova in 2006. She has been ranked as high as No.4 in the world.
“When I made the top 10, it was a cool accomplishment, but for me it was never about staying there. I only want to go upwards,” she said. “The biggest goal is to win Grand Slams, and I think the ranking will come with Grand Slams.”
It was 12 months ago at Roland Garros where Gauff achieved her best performance at a major by reaching the final before losing in straight sets to Iga Swiatek. The tournament is her best Grand Slam in terms of match wins (13) and is the only one where she has reached the quarter-finals or better on multiple occasions. Gauff also won the French Open girls’ title back in 2018 at the age of just 14.
Five years on from the junior triumph, she has become a regular fixture on the Tour. So much so, that there is already another generation of players on the rise. One of those includes Russia’s Mirra Andreeva who says her ultimate goal in tennis is to break Novak Djokovic’s all-time Grand Slam title record which currently stands at 22. Andreeva, who is only the seventh player under the age of 17 to reach the third round of Roland Garros since 1993, will be Gauff’s next opponent.
“I think she knows the game well, and she’s proved her position to be here and proved in her results in the past, so I don’t think the age thing matters,” Gauff commented on her next opponent.
“I’ve never thought about my age, to be honest. This will be my third time playing someone younger than me.
“Honestly, the first two times I didn’t even think about it because when you step on the court, you just see your opponent, and you don’t really think about the personal side of things. You just see forehand, backhand, serve, and all the same.”
Gauff will play Andreeva on Saturday.
Gael Monfils Withdraws From French Open Clash With Rune
After winning a marathon first round clash at the French Open on Tuesday, Gael Monfils has been forced to pull out of the tournament due to a left wrist injury.
The 36-year-old defeated Sebastian Baez in a five-set thriller in his opening match at his home Grand Slam which took place late at night on the Phillip Chatrier Court. Monfils’ win was the first he has recorded on the Tour since returning to action following a foot problem. He suffered a plantar fascia rupture in his right foot last year which sidelined him from competition for seven months.
Now Monfils’ latest injury setback concerns his wrist which he started to feel pain in whilst playing against Baez. He has subsequently been advised to not continue playing to avoid worsening the issue.
“Actually, physically, I’m quite fine. I was quite happy this morning. I woke up quite good, but I had the problem with my wrist that I cannot solve,” Monfils said in a late-night press conference on Wednesday. “Felt it during the match, actually the whole match [yesterday]. And unfortunately even [though] we pushed it ’til tonight, just came back again for another exam, and yes, waited a little bit.
“The doctor said [it] was not good to play with that type of injury. Yesterday was actually very risky, and then today definitely said I should stop.”
Monfils has been diagnosed with a Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex (TFCC) injury. He has undergone an Arthroscan (MRI) which will establish how long he may be sidelined from the sport. The Frenchman is set to find out the results later today.
“I think had it been totally broken it would have been more serious, but it’s partial,” Monfils said. “So I’ll know more about the length of time when I’m off the courts. But the doctor said he hopes I’ll be able to play on grass.”
Due to his withdrawal, Danish sixth seed Holger Rune will move into the third round where he will play either Genaro Alberto Olivieri or Andrea Vavassori who have both come through the qualifying rounds.
As for the schedule of play at Roland Garros, Monfils’ match was set to take place in the evening slot. It has been replaced by Alexander Zverev’s clash with Alex Molcan.
Dissatisfied Aryna Sabalenka Reaches French Open Third Round
Aryna Sabalenka has sealed her place in the last 32 of the French Open for the fourth consecutive year after overcoming a spirited performance from qualifier Iryna Shymanovich.
The world No.2 powered her way to a 7-5, 6-2, win over her compatriot in a match where she at times struggled to maintain consistency in her shot-making. Sabalenka’s powerful hitting produced some stunning shots but also resulted in some costly errors which proved pragmatic at times.
“I’m not really happy with my game today,” said Sabalenka, who hit 23 unforced errors compared to 21 winners. “I’m going to work a little bit tomorrow and make sure I’m ready for the next round a little bit better than I was today.”
The first set was a far-from-perfect performance from the reigning Australian Open champion who produced a total of 17 unforced errors. Sabalenka looked to be on a good footing early after breaking for a 4-2 lead but her inconsistency enabled Shymanovich to claw her way back to level. Nudging ahead to a 6-5 lead, the second seed snatched the opener after prevailing in a marathon seven-deuce service game. Two set points came and went before Sabalenka converted her third with the help of a drop shot from her opponent landing out.
Sabalenka, who is challenging Iga Swiatek for the No.1 spot in Paris, started the second set emphatically by breaking for a 2-0 lead. However, she failed to capitalize on the opportunity as once again Shymanovich broke back. Prompting her to look towards her entourage in the crowd in frustration.
Despite the blip, the 25-year-old bounced back to crush her opponent’s hope of a shock win. Surging to a 5-2 lead, Sabalenka worked her way to three match points with a powerful forehand strike that forced her rival to return the ball out. She prevailed on her second opportunity after a Shymanovich shot crashed into the net.
“It was a tough match,” Sabalenka reflected. “She played really great tennis and I’m happy that no matter what I was able to fight for every point. I’m happy to get this win.”
Sabalenka will next take on either Russia’s Kamilla Rakhimova or Magdalena Frech. Should she win that match, she will achieve her best-ever run at the French Open. Roland Garros is the only Grand Slam where she is yet to reach the semi-final stage.
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