Here are the players who made Tennis this year
Many in the tennis world argue that the Olympics hold nowhere near the prestige of the Grand Slams for the sport. But nobody could deny how special the gold medal Monica Puig won for Puerto Rico was this year, the first of any kind for the small nation. On route, she defeated French Open Champion Garbine Muguruza, twice Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and Australian Open champ and eventual world number one Angelique Kerber. Puig found something in her that many athletes find when they are representing their country and not just themselves.
In a 3 hour epic in Wimbledon against Radwanska, Cibulkova’s fighting spirit shone through. Having qualified for the year-end WTA Finals in the last two weeks of the tennis season, the ‘Pocket Rocket’ fought from a two-match loss in the round robin stages to earn a semifinal spot, where she beat the dangerous Kuznetsova in three hard fought sets. Barely 5’2’’, her legs dangled in the air as she sat on the bench. But in the age of power tennis and amazonian women, it was Cibulkova who snatched the title from Angelique Kerber in clinical fashion. She ends 2016 at a career high of No. 5. 2017 may see her in more finals.
Two days after he won his first ATP 500 title at the Japan Open, Nick Kyrgios engaged in a blatant display of match tanking that saw him in the headlines for weeks worldwide. He ends the year at a career-high ranking of No. 13, even as he serves out a ban and proclaims tennis to be something he plays for money, not out of love. The raw talent he displays on the court is outrageous, his improvement is steady, and his disrespect of the game and its institutions is unapologetic. He has brewed up a debate on the mental health of players on a grinding tour and on where the lines should be drawn.
Donned in fuchsia with his index finger pointed to his head, Stan ‘The Man’ broke down in tears just before his US Open Final clash against Djokovic. He had played a phenomenal 18 hours on court, had been match point down in the 2nd round, and was facing a fresher opponent who’d barely played for 9 hours. But the power in his game and his refusal to show emotion paid off, and aesthetic backhand winner after winner, the Swiss number 1 won his third Grand Slam, equating Andy Murray’s number and leaving him a Wimbledon title short of a Career Grand Slam.
In March, Sharapova called a press conference and confirmed she’d failed a drugs test for Meldonium during the Australian Open, a substance that had been added to the ban list on January 1st of this year. Her initial ban of 24 months has now been reduced to 15. A wider scandal on Russian athletes and state sanctioned doping has broken out. Meanwhile, how long meldonium may stay in the body is unclear, and the effectiveness of Tennis’ anti-doping procedures and means of informing athletes has been questioned. Sharapova is looking to come back next year, her reputation and legacy no doubt tainted.
After this year, Williams stands at the pinnacle of women’s tennis. She has joined Graf at 22 grand slam titles and 186 consecutive weeks at number one. This year, she won her 7th Wimbledon title and won a doubles slam with Venus Williams for the first time in four years. The second half of the year has seen her step back more due to injury. She ends the year as world number 2.
In June, Djokovic had won his maiden French Open title after 3 previous final appearances and held all four grand slams at the same time, the first male player to do so since Rod Laver. Seemingly unstoppable, he then lost to big-serving American Sam Querrey at Wimbledon and exited the first round of the Olympics after unluckily drawing a match up with wild card entry Juan Martin Del Potro. Since then there has been talk of burnout, spiritual enlightenment and changing of coaches (Boris Becker, who was with his for three years, has just announced he is leaving). For the first time in years, the world number 2 will go into the 2017 Australian Open as the second favorite.
Before this year, Kerber was just one of many players trailing behind Serena Williams in the rankings. She had worked hard for three years without many prominent results. But match point, down during her first round match at the Australian Open this January, her rise to number one began. She went on to beat Serena Williams in the final to win her first Grand Slam, and then gave Williams the most competitive Wimbledon final she’s had in years. The first match she won as the new world number 1 was the US Open Final. She is the oldest first-time female number 1, and the first german since Steffi Graf.
In the three years between his first and second Wimbledon title, Murray had back surgery, got married, had a child and lost 3 grand slam finals. In 2015, Great Britain won the Davis Cup. And this was all under the dominant shadow of Novak Djokovic, who in June was a cool 8000+ points ahead of him in the rankings. But a phenomenal second half of the year saw Murray winning a second Olympics gold medal, 5 titles in a row and a maiden ATP World Tour Finals title. Winning that final match against Djokovic earned him the number 1 ranking for the first time in his career, making him the oldest man to make the jump, and the first Brit to ever do it.
Juan Martin Del Potro
A few weeks ago, as he lifted the Davis Cup Trophy with his countrymen for the first time in Argentina’s history, it was easy to see why Del Potro’s eyes were welling up with tears. This year, he won an Olympics silver medal in singles, won his first title in 33 months, and came back from two sets and 2-1 down against Croatia to win the Davis Cup. For Argentinians, this has been a long time coming after the heartbreak of losing four finals previously. For fans who’ve been patient since ‘Delpo’ had three wrist surgeries in 2014 and 2015, this has been the year to seal the big man in the history books.
Special mention: Rafa and Roger
In 2016, Nadal won his 9th Monte Carlo and 9th Barcelona title after two years of drought. This year he has won more doubles titles than any year of his career, including an Olympics Gold medal. Meanwhile, Federer made two grand slam semi-finals. But they both ended their seasons early because of injury. The two friends found time in October to open Nadal’s tennis academy. In their absence, they still loomed large over the ATP tour. In 2017, tennis fans will be watching for either a return to form or signs that it is the end of an era.