The 2020 WTA Season Review - UBITENNIS
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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.

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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

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.

Simona Halep

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.

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Ugo Humbert saves three match points to beat Hubert Hurkacz in Dubai

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Fifth-seed Ugo Humbert came back from one set down to beat Hubert Hurkacz 3-6 7-6 (10-8) 6-3. Humbert had beaten Hurkacz en route to his title in Marseille. 

Hurkacz converted his third break point in the fourth game to win the first set 6-3. Humbert saved three match points in the tie-break of the second set before converting his first set point to force the match to the decider. Humbert broke twice to seal the third set 6-3. 

“It was a great battle. I tried to battle for every point. In the tie-break I saved three match points, tried to do my best and thanks to those French fans for the amazing support”, said Humbert. 

Humbert set up a semifinal match against Danil Medvedev, who beats Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-2 6-3. Humbert leads 2-1 in their head-to-head matches, but Medvedev won their most recent match in three sets at the China Open in their most recent head-to-head match in Beijing last year.

“It’s going to be a great challenge against Danil tomorrow. We had a few great fights. Hopefully I will recover well to be ready for this match”, said Humbert. 

Aleksander Bublik was leading Jiri Lehecka 6-4 4-1 when the Czech player was forced to retire due to an injury. Bublik set up a match against Andrey Rublev, who was leading Sebastian Korda 6-4 4-3  when the Czech player withdrew due to injury. 

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Brazilian Rising Star Joao Fonseca Waives College Eligibility To Turn Pro

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Image via https://twitter.com/RioOpenOficial/

One of Brazil’s most promising young tennis players has made the bold decision to abandon a dream of his to play college tennis in America to turn pro. 

17-year-old Jaoao Fonseca was committed to playing college tennis at the University of Virginia but says professional tennis has called him in a way he couldn’t refuse. The rising star has played just two Tour-level events so far in his career and is currently ranked 343rd in the world. 

At last week’s Rio Open, he became the second-youngest player after Alexander Zverev to reach the quarter-finals of an ATP 500 event since the category was introduced. In his home tournament, the Brazillian beat Arthur Fils and Cristian Garin before losing to Mariano Navone.

“It was an incredibly tough decision for me and my family as I have been dreaming about living a college life in Charlottesville, playing the sport that l love with a wonderful team and coach, but, in the last months, professional tennis called me in a way that I simply couldn’t say no,” Fonseca wrote in a statement published on Instagram
“Although I will not be attending school, I think it is an extremely valuable and viable path for young players in their way to professional careers,” he added.

Fonseca has already enjoyed success on the junior circuit. Last year he was runner-up in the doubles tournament at the Australian Open boy’s event. Then at the US Open, he won his first Grand Slam junior title in singles. He is also a former ITF Junior World No.1 and is currently ranked second in the standings. 

The youngster has already been hailed by compatriot Beatriz Haddad Maia, who is currently ranked 13th on the WTA Tour. Speaking to reporters at the San Diego Open, she has offered her support to Fonseca if he needs it. 

“João is a nice person. He has a great future, if he keeps working hard and keeps doing what he’s doing. I think he has a very aggressive mentality and tennis.” She said.

“We sometimes text each other, but not that much. But I’m always following.. not only him.. but the Brazilians. I’m proud of what he’s doing. He has a long way and he needs to understand that it’s a marathon, it’s not a 100 meter race.’
“Tennis has its ups and downs. I wish him all the best, for sure. I’ll be here whenever he wants. I’m happy with what he’s doing.” 

Fonseca played at the Chile Open this week but lost in the first round to Thiago Agustin Tirante.

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Emma Raducanu Among Trio of Grand Slam Winners Handed Miami Open Wild Cards

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Emma Raducanu - Cincinnati 2022 (foto Twitter @cincytennis)

Emma Raducanu has avoided the possibility of having to go through qualifying at the Miami Open after being awarded a wild card for the event on Thursday. 

The 2021 US Open champion is among four players to have received passes into the main draw of the prestigious event, which is classed as a WTA 1000 for the women and as a Masters 1000 for the men. It will be the third straight year that Raducanu has played in Miami but she is yet to win a match there. In 2022 she lost her opening match to Katerina Siniakova before getting beaten by Bianca Andreescu 12 months later. 

Raducanu has won two out of five Tour-level matches played so far this year. Recently her agent, Max Eisenbud, hit back at those who have criticised the tennis star’s results since winning the US Open. Raducanu also missed a chunk of last season due to injury after undergoing wrist and ankle surgery. 

“The girl did everything backward. She skipped every step. She won the US Open, she went to the next tournament, she didn’t even know where the player lounge was, she didn’t know where the practice courts were,” Eisenbud told the Served With Andy Roddick podcast.
“I don’t think just being tough on her or critical on her like any other player [is wrong]. But she is still figuring it out. I just think that people should not be malicious.”

Other players to have received wild cards into Miami include Venus Williams, who is a three-time champion at the event but hasn’t won the title since 2001. The 43-year-old hasn’t played on the Tour since August and is currently ranked outside the world’s top 400. 

Carolina Wozniacki completes the line-up of former Grand Slam winners being given wild cards. The Dane was a Miami finalist back in 2017 and has made 12 appearances at the tournament. Earlier this week, she suffered a 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, loss to Anna Blinkova in the first round of the San Diego Open. 

As for the men’s tournament, the only confirmed wild card recipient is Kei Nishikori who will be making his first competitive start since July 2023. Recently the injury-stricken Japanese player added Thomas Johansson to his team. 

The Miami Open will get underway on March 17th.

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