Even in a Covid-ridden season, tennis fans were still able to witness three of the four major tournaments, a number of smaller tournaments, and enjoy fun narratives and storylines on the ATP Tour in 2020.
Novak Djokovic had an incredible start to the season when Serbia beat Spain in the inaugural ATP Cup and he inched closer to Roger Federer in Major titles, beating Dominic Thiem in a five-set thrilling Australian Open Final. Dominic Thiem became the first player outside of the big three to win a major since Andy Murray won Wimbledon in 2016. Rafael Nadal tied Roger Federer for the most majors all-time with his twentieth. And recently Daniil Medvedev became the first player to ever beat the world’s top three players at the ATP Finals on his way to winning the title.
Just because we’re turning the page to a new year doesn’t promise we’ll get a full year of the tour in 2021. According to ESPN, the Australian Open is scheduled to start on January 18th, but it could be pushed back a week or two, maybe even further. Even with recent news of vaccines being developed and possibly being put into use before the end of 2020, we’re still not sure when things will be back to “normal”. Which affects the entire tour until further notice. But, we can still assume we will get some type of season considering how things went in the second half of this year.
Regardless of how long the 2021 season will be, here’s three things to look for:
- Jannik Sinner
Janik Sinner won the Next Gen ATP Finals in November of 2019. Just being a part of a Next Gen class puts on notice that a young player has potential. But, what separates Sinner from many of the younger players, and even some veterans, is poise. He’s only 19 and it’s astonishing to see someone at his age play so relaxed and show very little emotion or frustration. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are two players that are known for being so calm and collected on the court, even when they’re down. To carry similar traits to the men who are tied with the most grand slams ever is exciting for Sinner and the rest of the tennis world.
Sinner is coming off of his first Quarter Finals appearance in a Major at Roland Garros and his first ATP title in Sofia. Look for his momentum to carry him into 2021 and make big leaps.
2. Dominic Thiem could have a career year
After losing in three Grand Slam Finals, Dominic Thiem finally got the monkey off his back. He beat Alexander Zverev in September in the U.S. Open Final to win his first Major title. We already knew how good Thiem was on clay and this only adds to his confidence on hard courts. In my mind, Thiem could have his best season of his career in 2021. He has one of the best forehands and one-handed backhands on the tour. He turns 28 in March, and in tennis years that’s young. He’s motivated to get back to the final at Roland Garros, after losing in the Quarter Finals this year to Diego Schwartzman. And, he’s one of the most physically fit players in Men’s Tennis, as he’s no stranger to playing long matches in Majors.
We already knew Thiem was one of the best on the tour, having been a top 10 player for almost five years now, but having won that first major is key to his success going forward. Thiem is set for a big year.
3. We will have a new Grand Slam record holder
You knew this was going to be somewhere on the list. In 2020, Nadal with his 13th title at the French Open tied Roger Federer for number one on the all-time major list with his 20th overall. Many expected Novak Djokovic to keep climbing closer to Nadal and Federer, but after hitting a U.S. Open default due to hitting a linesman with a ball and a loss to Nadal in the Roland Garros Final, Djokovic sits at 17. There’s still a chance Djokovic inches closer to Federer & Nadal, but one thing is for sure: we will have a lone Grand Slam record holder. There may be no greater record in sports than Nadal’s 13 Roland Garros titles, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be the favorite after dominating Djokovic and the rest of the field at this year’s tournament. Another French Open trophy will move Nadal to 21 and pass Federer for the most Majors. As for Federer, he just turned 39 in August and will be coming off of right knee surgery he had earlier this year. It’s hard to completely count out Federer entirely after he won 3 majors following a left knee injury three years ago, but now being close to 40, and losing to Djokovic at Wimbledon last year in the fashion that he did, I’m comfortable with saying he’ll finish with 20 majors.
Featured Image Creds: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji