World No 1 Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Naomi Osaka and Andy Murray all make the list for the most unforgettable tennis moments of 2020.
Novak’s moment of madness
There’s only one place to start.
Djokovic was in imperious form. He had won all his previous 26 matches in 2020 – despite the long break in professional tennis due to the coronavirus pandemic.
His superior form combined with the absence of both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer saw him as overwhelming favourite to claim an 18th Grand Slam, which would have moved him just one behind Nadal’s 19 and Federer’s record haul of 20.
The world No 1 was untouchable as far as most observers were concerned, both on and off the court, that was until one impetuous act turned his fortunes upside down.
Playing a fourth-round match against Spanish 20th seed Pablo Carreno Busta behind closed doors on Arthur Ashe Stadium, the Serbian was a frustrated figure after just losing his service game, falling 6-5 down in the first set. Then came a moment of madness as Djokovic took a swing at the ball on his way to the chair and it hit a female line judge in the throat.
He immediately went to apologise, but the damage had been done. During a lengthy discussion involving Djokovic, US Open tournament referee Soeren Friemel, Grand Slam supervisor Andreas Egli and chair umpire Aurelie Tourte, Djokovic tried to plead his case, but after 10 minutes of back and forth the verdict had been reached. The favourite had been defaulted from the tournament in a shocking turn of events.
This whole situation has left me really sad and empty. I checked on the lines person and the tournament told me that thank God she is feeling ok. I‘m extremely sorry to have caused her such stress. So unintended. So… https://t.co/UL4hWEirWL
Djokovic fled Flushing Meadows and left all the questions for others to answer.
“I think it was not intentional. I don’t think anyone of us do this intentionally. It’s just the moment. It was bad luck,” said his opponent, Carreno Busta.
In an Instagram message Djokovic posted just hours later, he said the incident had left him “sad and empty” and “extremely sorry”.
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And the new…
Men’s tennis was guaranteed a new Grand Slam champion crowned for the first time since Marin Cilic’s surprise victory at the 2014 US Open, and a first major winner born outside the 1980s.
Step forward Austria’s Dominic Thiem. He had already suffered Grand Slam heartbreak, losing the French Open twice before finishing as runner-up to Djokovic at the Australian Open earlier in the year.
But this was to be his moment as he won an epic encounter against Alexander Zverev 2-6 4-6 6-4 6-3 7-6 (8-6) to claim the biggest title of his career.
Osaka making a difference
Naomi Osaka won her third Grand Slam title at Flushing Meadows with a brilliant comeback victory over Victoria Azarenka, but her success will be remembered as much for her impact off the court as on it.
The 22-year-old, who is of mixed Japanese and Haitian heritage, used her platform to draw attention to racial injustice, wearing a different facemask for each match bearing the name of a black victim of violence.
It was fitting that she lifted the trophy in the arena named after Arthur Ashe, a pioneer and activist who was the first black man to win Wimbledon.
By winning her third major title, Osaka joined Serena and Venus Williams, Kim Clijsters and Angelique Kerber as the only active female players to have won at least three.
“She’s been one of my good friends. She gets it, she just gets it and always seems like a step ahead. Having done the things she’s done, she’s a superstar there’s no question about it and she’s not afraid to speak her mind. I applaud that. You’re obviously going to get backlash and she doesn’t care, that’s how she feels and she wants to be heard, and deserves to be. She bought seven masks to the US Open and said ‘I plan to use all seven’, what do you say to that? Special. Asked what the magic of all those masks was, she said ‘what did it mean to you?’ She just gets it, I’m a fan and can’t wait to see what she has in store for us in the future.
Frances Tiafoe on Naomi Osaka
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Tennis‘ newest superstar
Iga Swiatek announced herself on the big stage by winning the women’s French Open title.
The 19-year-old from Poland shocked Australian Open champion and WTA player of the year Sofia Kenin in the final, winning all her matches at the tournament without dropping a set.
Swiatek’s father, Tomasz, was an Olympic rower who competed in the quadruple sculls event at the 1988 Games in Seoul. Her initial foray in sport came in swimming, but Swiatek said: “I was scared of water so tennis was much better for me.”
The AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses fan, who won the 2018 Wimbledon girls’ junior title, is unusual in not just using a sports psychologist but travelling with one. She’ll be one to watch in 2021.
Rafa’s Grand Slam mission
There are now two GOATs in men’s tennis after Rafael Nadal equalled Roger Federer’s all-time Grand Slam record of 20 majors after winning his 13th French Open title in early October.
It’s been a very tough year, but to win here means everything to me. Today, I don’t think about the 20th or equalling Roger on this great number, for me today is just a Roland Garros victory. Roland Garros means everything; I have had most of the most-important moments of my tennis career here. Thank you very, very much to everybody, to all of the organisation and to the crowd. Just playing here is a pure inspiration and the love I have with this city and this court is unforgettable.
Rafael Nadal on winning the French Open
He skipped the US Open, lost in Rome and there were doubts he could play in autumnal conditions with the slower Wilson tennis balls. But he quickly dispelled those rumours by flying through the field before destroying Djokovic for the loss of just seven games in a one-sided final.
He took his record to an incredible 100-2 in Paris as he continued to re-write the history books.
Murray Mania is back!
Great Scot! Andy Murray returned to Grand Slam singles action at the US Open with a clean bill of health after two hip surgeries and three years of on-and-off rehab. The relief to see him back on court was there for all to see.
He returned in vintage fashion too after battling back from the brink of defeat to win a five-set epic against Yoshihito Nishioka.
Three weeks later, the former world No 1 won just six games in what was the joint heaviest Grand Slam defeat of his career when he was knocked out of the French Open by Stan Wawrinka.
The 33-year-old will begin the 2021 season at the Delray Beach Open after accepting a wildcard for the ATP 250 tournament before making his return for February’s Australian Open.
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