Tennis in 2020: Djokovic serves headlines in year of upheaval – The Age

Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.

Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin. Credit:AP

DOMINIC THIEM
He didn’t get the chance to try once again to edge Rafael Nadal at the French Open, nor did he triumph over Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open final, when his chance was begging, but the Austrian can point to this year as a time of progress. The world No.3 won the US Open, ending the four-year major-winning streak of either Djokovic, Roger Federer or Nadal. The Austrian’s debut major is not to be sneezed at. It hasn’t quite torn down the wall created by the big three but, in chipping away at their dominance in recent years, Thiem has now removed a chunk.

Dominic Thiem.

Dominic Thiem.Credit:Getty Images

ASHLEIGH BARTY
The Queenslander barely played in 2020 and, through no fault of her own, retains the No.1 world ranking. The 24-year-old has leaned on health considerations when deciding not to go abroad to, firstly, play the US Open and, secondly, not defend her title in Paris. But when she was actually on the court Barty was on her game and in her semi-final exit at Melbourne Park she lost few admirers.

Ashleigh Barty.

Ashleigh Barty. Credit:Getty Images

RAFAEL NADAL
Heck, anyone who wins an event for a 13th time – let alone one of the sport’s priceless majors – is a big winner. But it was also the manner of Nadal’s win over Djokovic in the French Open final that gave it special meaning. The Spaniard destroyed his long-time foe, barely giving him a look in, in romping to a straight sets victory. Symbolically, Nadal joined Federer on 20 grand slam titles and with his Swiss rival now a confirmed absentee at the Australian Open, 34-year-old Nadal has a rosy outlook.

Rafael Nadal.

Rafael Nadal. Credit:AP

THE LOSERS

NOVAK DJOKOVIC
He’s still world No.1 and won an eighth Australian Open, but when you think of the Serb and 2020, it’s hard to look past New York and THAT incident. We’re talking disqualification. It came with countless schadenfreude at the US Open earned him a mention here. Amazingly, Djokovic was sent packing for hitting a linesperson in the throat with a ball. It wasn’t a premeditated action, it wasn’t that forceful, it didn’t occur without subsequent remorse, but, significantly, it DID happen. His critics – and there are plenty – were quick to highlight several previous times when Djokovic’s actions could have resulted in a similar outcome. In this case, the official was laid low by the blow and Djokovic had to leave New York with his tail between his legs.

Novak Djokovic.

Novak Djokovic. Credit:Getty Images

SAM QUERREY
The details of exactly what happened in Russia remain a bit sketchy, but the tall American stood accused in October of leaving the country on a private jet after being put in isolation by authorities over a positive COVID test. According to an AP report, the St Petersburg Open said Querrey and his wife tested positive the day before play started.

“Organisers said Querrey did not open the door for doctors who came to examine the family on Monday, with the player saying his baby son was sleeping. The family then left the hotel before a second scheduled examination the next day.”

The ATP at the time said it was investigating an incident at the tournament, but did not name Querrey.

But overnight it emerged the 2017 Wimbledon semi-finalist had been fined $US20,000 ($26,000), fully suspended, for a breach of COVID-19 protocols, finding “Querrey’s conduct to be contrary to the integrity of the game under the Player Major Offense provision in the ATP code of conduct”.

The ATP said Querrey’s good record and “other mitigating factors” justified the penalty. “The fine is suspended and will be lifted subject to Mr Querrey committing no further breaches of health and safety protocols related to COVID-19 within a probationary six-month period,” it said in a statement.

Sam Querrey.

Sam Querrey. Credit:AP

CONTROVERSY

Djokovic and the linesperson incident at the US Open. Having witnessed the offence, the decision for tennis officialdom was pretty cut and dried: disqualification for the player. The rules offered very little wriggle room. There was more controversy in the aftermath, however, as the person who was completely innocent of any wrongdoing – the linesperson herself – received death threats from Djokovic supporters.

MAN OF THE YEAR: NOVAK DJOKOVIC

It’s oh so tempting to take an unconventional approach and lob for Australian Nick Kyrgios. Almost out of nowhere, the Canberran became the voice of reason in the game. It started when Kyrgios, with heartfelt words and clear emotion on his sleeve, expressed his pain about the predicament his country and his home city were going through during the bushfire crisis in January. By the time the Australian Open came around, as Melbourne Park came under a smoke crisis, Kyrgios not only reflected the overall angst in the country but contributed financially to the recovery. Also this year, Kyrgios regularly called out contemporaries in men’s tennis – Djokovic was a regular target – for various misdemeanours during a pandemic.

Kyrgios earns an honourable mention, but we’ll put more stock in on-court achievements and give the nod to Djokovic. Another Australian Open victory was telling and while Nadal pantsed him in Paris, the Serb probably would have ruled supreme in New York if not for his momentary – and very costly – lapse in concentration.

Special mention: Nick Kyrgios.

Special mention: Nick Kyrgios. Credit:Getty Images

WOMAN OF THE YEAR: VICTORIA AZARENKA

American Kenin rightfully earns player of the year honours but Victoria Azarenka’s achievements earn her special billing. The 31-year-old, on the comeback trail after motherhood, won her first tournament in four years, reached the US Open final and ensconced herself back in the world’s top 20. Naomi Osaka, now with three majors to her name, just quietly, was right in the mix after winning a second US crown at Flushing Meadows. Canadian Bianca Andreescu’s expected return to the tour after injury, Barty back on the court and a teenage major winner in Swiatek make for some strong ingredients for the women’s game.

Victoria Azarenka.

Victoria Azarenka.Credit:AP

VIRAL MOMENTS OF THE YEAR

1. Again, Djokovic just can’t be ignored. The moment when his somewhat-casual hitting out at the ball in New York in a moment of slight frustration is worth revisiting for the sheer drama. It was the latest – and one of the most famous – incidents in tennis history where players have clashed with officials, this time happening in a large stadium bereft of spectators. Just stunning.

2. Let’s go to the Federer files. The 39-year-old actually barely played in 2020, staying in the world’s top five regardless, but came away with a few good memories from Melbourne once again. Firstly, John Millman threw everything at the Swiss in a third round five-setter. But in the days afterwards Federer saved SEVEN match points against American Tennys Sandgren in the quarter-finals. Quite extraordinary really.

3. Time to revisit Nadal versus Djokovic in the French Open final, which was barely a few months ago. The tone was set when Nadal bagel-ed Djokovic in the opening set, going on to win 6-0, 6-2, 7-5. The backdrop to this result was that it was a virtual switching of roles from about 18 months earlier, when Djokovic completely towelled Nadal in the Australian Open final and in one of the most brutal displays seen in a major final for some time.

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QUOTE OF THE YEAR

“I am so deeply sorry our tournament has caused harm. Everything the organisers and I did the past month, we did with a pure heart and sincere intentions.” – Novak Djokovic on Twitter in June, apologising for his Adria Tour where several players tested positive to COVID-19.

CRYSTAL BALL FOR 2021

Expect more uncertainty in the opening half of the season as COVID continues to play havoc with the calendar. The tournament that was the first casualty when the virus struck in March, the Indian Wells event in California, has been officially postponed and officials will be desperate to find another slot somewhere in 2021 to avoid it not being played for two straight years.

On the court, here’s some quick-fire thoughts: Andreescu will make a big impact in the women’s game and Djokovic will make handy inroads in his pursuit to join Federer and Nadal on 20 major titles.

Scott Spits is a sports reporter for The Age

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