Top Ten Most Significant Moments in Men’s Tennis 2019
- Daniil Medvedev making the US Open final
Medvedev was no spring chicken in making the US Open final aged 23. He would not even make the top 50 of youngest players in a slam final in the Open era.
But, he was the youngest player since 24 year old Kei Nishikori in the US Open ’14 final and, along with Nishikori and his conqueror Marin Cilic that year, Dominic Thiem at Roland Garros 2018, Milos Raonic at Wimbledon 2016, and Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon 2010, one of only a handful of players aged 25 and under to make a Major final this decade (2010-2019).
Medvedev’s appearance in the US Open final came on the back of a stellar pre-US Open run, making finals in Washington (l. to Kyrgios), Montreal (l. Nadal) and Cincy (d. Goffin).
It was also the climax of an early season warning to the old guard, namely Novak Djokovic, that he was not the player he used to be. Medvedev did not back his words up when he lost to Djokovic in the fourth round of the Australian Open, but he would go on to beat the then world No.1 twice that season, in Monte Carlo and Cincy.
In New York, Medvedev not only gave some fans the young gun breakthrough they had been crying out for, but also gave those wanting some character in the game something to talk about. Medvedev’s post match confrontations with the crowd and in-match non-verbal ones proved to be social media meme gold.
Most importantly, Medvedev gave us a slam final to remember, and the USO needed it, its last compulsive viewing men’s final arguably Murray and Djokovic’s 2012 encounter, if not del Potro’s defeat of Federer in 2009.
Seemingly undone by fatigue and expectation and two sets and a break down, Medvedev fought back to leave the match in the balance all the way to deep in the fifth.
Nadal lifted the trophy; Medvedev lifted the spirits of many a tennis fan.
That Roger Federer was serving with two championship points in hand in the Wimbledon final aged 37 was too good to be true for his fans.
Of course, many still believed he had it in him after his decent start to the year and his position in the field as one its best grass courters, but still, 37 and a point away from slam 21, well, that just seemed too incredible for words.
However, while Federer being in that position was all too true, his winning a 21st Major really was too incredible an achievement even for him.
In a tennis media time dominated by GOAT talk, the loss to Djokovic saw Federer’s nemesis catch up to him (by the end of New York, it would be 20-19-16 for Federer, Nadal and Djokovic Major counts) and much talk that age seemed to be finally doing so, too.
The man himself remains good humored and philosophical on the defeat, even if his fans, myself included, find it hard to do so.
As for the champion, Novak Djokovic won his fifth Wimbledon title (2011, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2019), has now accounted for three of Federer’s four Wimbledon final defeats, and became, after Gaston Gaudio in the 2004 Roland Garros final, the only man to win a Major title saving championship points.
Nadal winning RG has pretty much been a lock unless he’s been injured or finding his way back from injury.
Nadal’s greatest years are set apart by his winning the USO (2010, 2013, 2017, 2019), and his fourth title came in another one of those stellar seasons with the Spaniard making three finals and one semi.
From the get-go in New York, Nadal looked as confident and focused as a champion could be and carried that aura all the way to the title.
4. Federer beating Djokovic in the WTF RR
As the Big 3 get older, the talk of who will prove to be the greatest ramps up and up and up. When all the slams are counted, what’s next is weeks at No.1 and year end No.1 finishes. (Sampras’ all time record of six, and the fact those six years were consecutive, along with the idiosyncrasies of his particular time, arguably still keep him in the running).
In London, Roger Federer, just as he did back in 2015, defeating Djokovic indoors in straight sets, did not exactly get revenge for the Wimbledon loss, that can only be done in a slam final, but he did help his own case for GOAT, and his rival Nadal’s, too, keeping his tie for second place with five year end No.1 finishes with Djokovic intact, and helping Nadal join them, too.
5. Next Gen making the Shanghai semis
In a sport in which overall success is measured in how well you perform at slams, the appearance of Medvedev, Zverev, Tsitsipas and Berrettini in the Shanghai last four, (with Zverev beating Federer and Tsistipas Djokovic to get there) generated sufficient buzz but stopped short of the changing guard being officially trumpeted in.
Baby steps from the game’s youngsters- if they’ll be taking champion’s strides in 2020 is one of the game’s current biggest questions.
6. The first two sets of the RG final
Very few Roland Garros finals can be said to have been genuinely in the balance the last decade and a bit, but in Paris, this year, just who would lift the crown really was in doubt for the first two sets of the men’s championship match.
Thiem ended up second best, but for the first two sets his status as the only player to beat Nadal on Clay each season since 2017 and his being the Paris Heir Apparant made brutal and electrifying sense.
7. Tsitsipas and Thiem in the ATP WTF final
The rankings and the Slam records may show the Big 3 dominating, but there was continual signs of a breakthrough from the Next-in-Line (my name for Thiem and the Next Genners) throughout the year and so it was fitting that this movement reached its crescendo in the championship match in the ATP finals.
Thiem defeated both Federer and Djokovic in the round robin while Tsitsipas had a real tussle with Nadal in their round robin and then defeated Federer in straights in the semis.
Meanwhile, Sascha Zverev deserves an honorable mention for beating Nadal in his round robin opener and thus beating the Big 3 back to back at the World Tour Finals.
The final was about as much as we could hope for- an evenly matched contest only really decided by Tsitsipas being that little bit more unpredictable, an element of his game he said he was working on, and his planned spontaneity was one of the year’s tennis highlights.
Thiem at times looks in danger of being surpassed by the Next Gen much as he has overtaken the generation of Nishikori and co above him. Aged 26, he’s still yet to win a slam or reach the top 3 of the game
Not that Thiem has not tried his best- it’s just he’s playing in an era where his best surface is still dominated by Nadal and where the top 3 have pretty much been there or thereabouts for over a decade and don’t seem to be sliding down the rankings anytime soon.
So, there was a nice element of surprise when Thiem beat Roger Federer in the Indian Wells final. The hard court surface was not where many expected Thiem to win his first ATP 1000, but Thiem is no longer a Clay courter, as he so emphatically announced in the US Open ’18 quarters, his powerful game translating into winners and forced errors from his opponent whatever the conditions.
9. Thiem beating Djokovic in Roland Garros semis.
Thiem continued to challenge the status quo in tennis all season and at Roland Garros he did it in the most controversial and exhilarating of circumstances.
Up against the holder of the last three Majors, Djokovic, Thiem managed to keep his head both down and on despite all manner of distractions and carry on around him.
The match going over two days and being both physically and mentally exhausting did not help Thiem’s championship winning case come the final, but it bodes well for him in the long term. The likes of Djokovic are examples of what it takes to come through a slam the champion and Thiem showed he could not only stand up to them at the business end of a slam, but he could even better them.
10. Jannik Sinner winning Next Gen
In a season which was as good as a breakout one as it gets the last decade for tennis’ next gen, there was a season send off surprise at the end of it- Italian Jannik Sinner, who only turned 18 in August and who started the season ranked 553
and ended it ranked 78, winning the Next Gen title in Milan.
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