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.
Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic win their sixth title this season in Rome
Croatians Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic claimed their sixth title and their third ATP Masters 1000 of the season after a 6-4 7-6 (7-4) win over Jo Salisbury and Rajeev Ram.
Mektic and Pavic have lifted their titles at the Antalya Open, Murray River Open in Melbourne, ABN AMRO World Tennis Championships in Rotterdam, the Miami Open and the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters. They also finished runner-up at the Madrid Mutua Open.
Mektic and Pavic were not able to convert a break point in the first game, but they broke serve in the fifth game after three consecutive return winners.
The Croatian team served out for the first set in the 10th game. The second set went on serve with no break points en route to the tie-break. Mektic and Pavic raced out to a 6-0 lead, but Salisbury and Ram won four consecutive points to claw their way back to 4-6. Mektic and Pavic won the tie-break on the fourth match point. “It feels great and and we are very happy with the way we played the whole tournament. We did not drop a set, so it showed how well we played throughout the week. It was a tough match. There were only a couple of chances in the first set before it became tighter in the second set from 6-0 to 6-4 in the tie-break. I hope we can keep going. The goal is to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin. I was hoping we’d have good results, but it has surprised me a little bit as we had not played together before this year”, said Pavic.
Andy Murray Skips French Open To Focus On The Grass
The decision has been made after the Brit experienced some ‘discomfort’ during his time in Rome.
Three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray has delayed his return to competitive tennis after deciding to not play any more tournaments on the clay this year.
The former world No.1 has confirmed that he will not be playing at the French Open, according to multiple British media sources. Murray’s decision comes less than a week after he was in Rome training with some of the Tour’s top players. During one of his practice sessions in the Italian capital, he had a hit with world No.1 Novak Djokovic who said afterwards he was impressed by the current form of the Brit.
“I was very happy to see him. I haven’t seen him in a while, and it was great to hit with him. I thought he played very well on the court,” Djokovic told reporters last week.
“He moves well considering it’s clay which is not the best surface for his hips. But considering what he has been through lately, I think it seems like he’s been feeling well on the court. That’s what he’s saying, and that’s what it appears on the court itself.”
It is understood that Murray experienced some discomfort in Rome where he participated in the doubles tournament with Liam Broady after receiving a last-minute entry. It is unclear as to where the pain is located and how serious it is. Although it has been deemed significant enough for him to decline a wildcard into next week’s Geneva Open and pass on the French Open where he would have possibly had to play in the qualifying draw.
Murray will now switch his focus to the grass ahead of Wimbledon. He is currently scheduled to next play at The Queen’s Club where he has a contract to play there for the rest of his career. The tournament will start on June 14th with Murray saying he is looking forward to playing in front of a British crowd again. Under current restrictions, Queen’s will welcome 25% of its 9000-spectator capacity.
“It’s been such a difficult time for everyone and it will be great to play in front of home fans in Britain again,” said five-time champion Murray. “The tournament at Queen’s has always meant a lot to me – it’s where I won my first ATP match, I’ve won the singles at Queen’s more than any other in my career, and I’ll never forget our doubles title in 2019. I can’t wait to get back out there.”
34-year-old Murray has played just 11 Tour matches since winning the European Open in Antwerp back in 2019. He is currently ranked 123rd in the world.
Novak Djokovic battles past Lorenzo Sonego in epic Rome semifinal
Novak Djokovic claimed a 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 6-2 win over Lorenzo Sonego in an epic semifinal to reach his career 10th final at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome.
Djokovic went up a set and a break and held match points in the second set, but Sonego won the tie-break to send the match to the third set. Djokovic avenged his defeat against Sonego, who won their only previous head-to-head match in the Vienna semifinal.
Djokovic set up a 56th clash against Rafael Nadal in a blockbuster final on Sunday.
Earlier today Djokovic came back from a set and a break down to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 4-6 7-5 7-5 in the quarter final match, which was interrupted by rain on Friday.
Djokovic won nine points more than Sonego in the first set. The Serbian player hit a service winner to hold serve at love. Sonego held his serve with a drop-shot winner in the second game before Djokovic held his serve in the third game with a forehand winner.
Djokovic hit a deep return in the fourth game and earned a break after a forehand error from Sonego. The world number 1 player held serve with a drop-shot to consolidate the break in the fifth game. Sonego held serve in the sixth game at love.
Djokovic did not face any break point in his next service games and held serve at 15 to seal the first set 6-3 with a forehand down the line winner after 34 minutes.
Djokovic created eight break points in the 91-minute second set, but the first first ten games went on serve.
Sonego faced a break point from 40-15 in the third game of the second set and fended it off with a service winner. The Italian 26-year-old player fired another service winner to hold serve for 2-1.
Djokovic held serve at 15 in the fourth game and earned three break points at 3-3. Sonego saved the first two break points with smash winners and the third chance with a drop-shot. Djokovic hit an ace down the line to hold serve at love in the eighth game. Sonego saved two break points with his forehands to hold after three deuces for 5-4 in 10-minute marathon game.
Djokovic fended off two set points in the 10th game and held with a service winner to draw level to 5-5 in another 10-minute game. The Serbian star broke serve in the 11th game with two winners at the net earning his chance to serve for the win.
Sonego saved two match points in the 12th game when Djokovic served for the final at 6-5. and converted his second break point with a service winner to force the second set to the tie-break.
Djokovic hit a forehand down the line winner to build up a 4-2 lead in the breaker before hitting a double fault. Sonego hit a backhand down the line winner to take a 5-4 lead. Sonego converted his fourth set point with a service winner to win a hard-fought tie-break 7-5 sending the match to the third set.
Sonego raced to a 0-40 lead in Djokovic’s first service game and earned three break points in the first game of the third set, but he wasted them. Djokovic got the break at 15 in the fourth game to open up a 3-1 lead and consolidated it with a hold at 15 for 4-1.
Djokovic created his second match point with a forehand winner at 5-2 and converted it to seal the win after Sonego sent a forehand into the net.
“I have only myself to blame for not closing the match in two sets. At the end of the day, he is showing why he reached his first ATP Masters 1000 semifinals. He is a quality players. He is a quality player. It is not easy to play against him. Obviously he had the crowd behind him. It was an electric atmosphere out on there on the court”, said Djokovic.
Djokovic will meet Nadal for the ninth time in Rome. Nadal and Djokovic have wn 14 of the past 16 editions of the Rome tournament. Nadal leads 5-3 in his previous Rome clashes against Djokovic.
“I don’t have much time to recover. I played a lot of tennis. Hopefully I will have fresh legs because that’s what I definitely will need. It’s necessary in order to have a chance against Rafa. He also had some tough matches, obviously myself, with rain delays and everything that has happened today. Hopefully I will be fresh and I will give it all”, said Djokovic.
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