PARTAB RAMCHAND | 25 NOVEMBER, 2021
This year was no different from the previous couple of years.
Two pointers could be obtained from the year-ending ATP Tour and WTA Tour finals. In the men’s event the GenNext of players is on the threshold of ending the domination of the Big Three while the women’s event will continue to be an open field with no dominant player around.
While he aims for a record breaking 21st Grand Slam title Novak Djokovic will have his hands full next year as he virtually on his own attempts to stave off the challenge from Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverer, Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas. Roger Federer at 40 is clearly past his prime and furthermore he is now injury prone. Following his latest surgery he aims to make a comeback only towards the middle of 2022. His last Grand Slam triumph was at the Australian Open in 2018. Nadal five years younger, is also no longer the force he was. His last Grand Slam triumph was at his favourite French Open in 2020 and he too has had his share of injuries which have affected his game.
At 34 Djokovic has been relatively free of injuries and continues to be at the peak of his game. That he won three of the four Grand Slams this year and lost in the final of the other while attempting to complete a calendar Grand Slam – a feat not achieved since 1969 – is testimony to this. He is still firmly perched on top of the ATP rankings. But the challenge from the GenNext of players is growing and there was enough that happened in 2021 to suggest that 2022 could well be the year of the big takeover.
It was Medvedev who ended Djokovic’s calendar Grand Slam hopes by defeating him at the US Open. In the semifinals of the Tokyo Olympics Zverev halted Djokovic’s dreams of a Golden Slam. At the ATP Tour finals in Turin Zverev faced the daunting task of playing Djokovic and Medvedev in back to back matches and he passed the test with flying colours becoming only the fourth player in the tournament’s history to earn semifinal and final wins over the world’s top two players and the first to do so since 1990.
Indeed even as the year-ending ranking had Medvedev in second place it was Zverev ranked third who had the most impressive run. His victory at the ATP Tour finals gave the 24-year-old German the most titles of anyone this year (6) and his 59 victories in ATP tournaments were the best on the Tour. The one thing that eluded him was major glory and last year’s US Open finalist has his sights set on changing that next year. Only time will tell if Zverev or Medvedev can hunt down Djokovic for being world No 1 but their chances are looking better than ever. Tsitsipas No 4 in the year-end rankings also is a major challenger even if his Grand Slam record is unimpressive. But Thiem’s rather indifferent form saw last year’s US Open champion slip to No 15 in the rankings one above Federer. It was unusual for Federer to finish the year with such a low ranking as it was for Nadal who is No 6 as the 2021 season ends.
As for the women, the scenario has been pretty much the same over the last couple of years since the palpable decline in Serena Williams’ game. There has been no dominant player with the result that there is a change in the No 1 player in the rankings every now and then, the rankings themselves see a lot of changes every week and the Grand Slams are distributed. For some time now the women’s game has been in the shadow of men’s tennis because of a lack of a player of legendary status which it produced in the 80s, 90s and in the first decade of the new millennium thanks to the presence of giants like Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams.
This year was no different from the previous couple of years. The four Grand Slams were won by different players and the year ending WTA Tour finals by a fifth. Emma Raducanu emerged as a whiff of fresh air with her sensational performance at the US Open where she went from qualifier to winner of the title. She was immediately hailed as the best thing to happen to women’s tennis in a very long time but following that storybook feat she had to endure early defeats in a couple of competitions but managed to make it to the top 20 in the year-end rankings which still makes it quite incredible as she made her WTA Tour debut only in June and as a wild card entry at Wimbledon ranked outside the top 300 she reached the fourth round in her first Major before capping it off with her feat at the US Open. She certainly will garner most attention as the 2022 season commences in what should still be an open field.