2016 in the tennis world was a year full of change and surprise. Here’s a quick look back at those players and highlights that stood out the most in this most memorable of years.
Top of the Charts
2016 was indeed a year of change including at the top of the tennis rankings. With breakthough, and career changing seasons, Angelique Kerber and Andy Murray closed out the year both as year-end No.1s.
Though Serena Williams, after her incredible 2015 season, was expected to have challengers for her crown again, few exepcted it would be Kerber only after the German struggled to stay inside the top ten last year. Kerber, who famously battled back from match point down in her opening round match against Misaki Doi at the Australian Open, let that momemt fuel her to not only reach the final, but then go on to defeat Williams to win her first ever major title. Kerber’s strong season continued throughout the year. At the US Open, the German went on to clinch the top ranking just before winning her second major in New York.
For Murray, he stayed right on Novak Djokovic’s heels throughout the year including reaching the Australian Open and French Open finals. But it was at Wimbledon where Murray made his move. After Djokovic lost to Sam Querrey in the third round, that opened the door for Murray to eventually win his second Wimbledon title. In the later stages of the season, Murray won an impressive 24 matches in a row in the tail end of the season, including the year-end championships in London where he defeated Djokovic to secure the year-end No. 1 ranking.
While they did lose their top rankings, Djokovic and Williams each both won a major title that once again added to their historic careers.
Djokovic finally won the French Open, the last major title that had eluded him until this year. With that, he completed a career Grand Slam and added to his overall major title count at 12. Ironically, it was after winning the French Open that Djokovic’s season began to go into an unexpected downturn. While he did reach both the US Open final and ATP Finals final, Djokovic didn’t seem to play, at times, with the same intensity and precision, as he had pre-Paris. Now that he has indeed won everything, what will motivate Djokovic to once again find himself back the top? Perhaps a new coach now that he and Boris Becker have ended what was a very successful three-year partnership.
For Williams, another Wimbledon title for her seemed inevitable. But it certainly was a relief to her after she lost in two straight major finals before then. By winning her seventh Wimbledon title, Williams earned her 22nd major title that tied her with Steffi Graf all-time.
Williams, also tied Graf for the most weeks spent at No. 1 at 186 weeks, but couldn’t hold on to her ranking after the US Open to pass Graf for the most ever. (Kerber rise to No. 1 added a bit of irony to that). Williams, as she did last year, shut down her season post-New York citing injury and again needed more time to rest. At age 35, Williams certainly will be a contender again at the majors, but her vice-grip lock on the women’s game for so many seasons may well be loosening up for good now. But another rise to No. 1, even briefly, would certainly not be out of the question next year.
Another season, another surprise major title for Stan Wawrinka. Or should we be surprised at all? His defeat of Novak Djokovic to claim the US Open title earned him his third major title and once again proved he is one of the elites of the game, even if he himself doesn’t feel that way.
Garbine Muguruza finally fulfilled her promise by claiming her maiden Grand Slam title at the French Open. Her defeat of Serena Williams proved she perhaps could well be a future No. 1. While her victory in Paris was well-deserved, the rest of her season after that was a mess of early round losses and a lot of second guessing about her game and her focus. Still, at age 23, it’s expected that Muguruza will sort herself out and once again raise a major trophy soon enough.
A Welcomed Return
The long awaited return of Juan Martin del Potro this season started with uncertainty. After all, Del Potro was returning after having endured yet another wrist surgery and a long recovery period. Despite an early need to hit every backhand with slice instead of topspin, Del Potro showed in his early matches that not only was his thunderous forehand still as a big as ever, but his desire to win was too.
Del Potro shined brightest though when playing for Argentina this season. At the Summer Games, Del Potro defeated Djokovic in the opening round and then later Rafael Nadal in the semifinals in what is regarded as perhaps the best match of the year. Though Del Potro lost in the Olympic final to Andy Murray, Del Potro got his revenge by defeating Murray later in the Davis Cup semifinal against Great Britain.
Del Potro’s Davis Cup heroics were not done yet. In the finals, Del Potro rallied from two sets down against Marin Cilic to win in five sets. It was the first time Del Potro had ever won from two sets down and that result eventually allowed Argentina to win the title 3-2 over Croatia for the country’s first ever Davis Cup.
For the all misgivings leading up to the Summer Games in Rio, and all of the problems the city endured during and after, the tennis event proved to be a surprise hit. Del Potro’s run to the silver medal in singles along with Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig completely unexpected run to the singles gold medal provided compelling watching from start to finish over the two weeks.
Comeback Players of The Year:
Juan Martin del Potro, Svetlana Kuznetsova
Players to Watch:
Elina Svitolina, Daria Kastakina, Alexander Zverev, Lucas Pouille
Sorry to See You Go:
2016 saw several players retire from the sport including Sofia Arvidsson, Nicole Vadisova, Mathilde Johansson, and Rui Marchado.
Hot Shots of the Year:
Have a great 2017!