10 Things To Look Forward To In Tennis In 2022

Rafael Nadal's return to form could be one of 10 things to look forward to in tennis in 2022.

Tennis, the sport without an off-season, seems to roll on relentlessly from year to year. But in this breather between seasons that passes for an off-season, it is still possible to take stock of the past year and look forward to the year ahead. Here, then, are 10 things to look forward to in tennis in 2022.

1. Djokovic or Nadal Making it 21 in ’22

There would have been a perfect symmetry to Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal making it “21 Majors in ‘21”, but both fell at their respective final hurdles: Djokovic lost to Daniil Medvedev in the US Open final after winning the three previous Majors; and Nadal lost to Djokovic in the spectacular French Open semifinal that may just have been the best clay-court match ever, before missing most of the second half of the season through injuries.

However, although “21 in ‘22” is not quite as numerically perfect, it would still be a historic achievement, breaking the extraordinary three-way tie at the top of the men’s game and ensuring that whoever does it will be regarded, statistically at least, as the greatest male tennis player ever. Of course, the real shame is that it is increasingly difficult to include Roger Federer, who has not won a Major in four years and who has barely played at all for the past two seasons, in that conversation.

  1. Daniil Medvedev (And Perhaps a Few Others) Trying to Stop Nadal and Djokovic Making it 21

If anyone can stop Djokovic and Nadal making it to “21 in ‘22”, it is surely Daniil Medvedev, the world #2, who finally won his first Major when he stopped Djokovic achieving the Calendar Slam in New York. And Medvedev has been pretty much on a roll since then, reaching the final at both the Paris Masters (where Djokovic gained a modicum of revenge by beating him) and the ATP Finals (where he lost to Alexander Zverev), as well as spearheading Russia’s victory at the Davis Cup, to go alongside their victory in the ATP Cup at the start of the season.

Of course there are others who can possibly defeat Djokovic or Nadal at a Major, especially Stefanos Tsitsipas (assuming he recovers fully from the elbow injury that curtailed his 2021 season) and Dominic Thiem (assuming he can regain his 2020 form after the series of injuries that decimated his 2021 season). However, the biggest opponent that Djokovic and Nadal could face, especially in Melbourne, is Covid, with both of them still uncertain to appear at the Australian Open next month, Djokovic because of his vaccination status (or lack of it) and Nadal because he currently has Covid on top of all his injury problems.

  1. The Continuing Competitiveness of Women’s Tennis

Nearly half a century on from the creation of the Women’s Tennis Association in 1973, women’s tennis has become probably the most competitive major professional sport in the world. In 2021, there were four different Major winners and the two maiden Major winners underlined just how extraordinarily deep the pool of talent in women’s tennis has become: Barbora Krejčíková was a former doubles specialist who stunningly reinvented herself as a Singles Champion by winning at Roland Garros; and Emma Raducanu, aged just 18 and ranked outside the top 100, came from nowhere to win the US Open. Long gone are the days when barely a handful of women could win a Major and the trend seems set to continue in ’22, with Aryna Sabalenka, Paula Badosa and Maria Sakkari among the many women who will believe that they, too, can make the step up and become a Grand Slam Champion.

  1. The Continuing Rise of Carlos Alcaraz

As so many headline writers have already proved, there’s no escape from Alcaraz – he really does look like the next megastar of men’s tennis. He had a wonderful 2021, with late-season highlights including his run to the quarterfinal at the US Open and his utterly convincing victory at the NextGen ATP Finals in Milan, when he looked a cut or two above all of his contemporaries of the same age (and those who are a year or two older than him).

He has already risen to 32nd in the world and it is surely not unrealistic to think that he could make the world’s top 10 by the end of 2022. At his compact but free-swinging best, he appears to combine precious elements of The Big Three: the fabulous flair of Federer; the relentless intensity of Nadal; and the sheer resilience of Djokovic. There are obviously still areas to improve upon, especially on serve, but the likelihood is that Alcaraz will enjoy another hugely impressive year in 2022.

  1. Emma Raducanu’s Return to Form

Of course Emma Raducanu has already achieved what Carlos Alcaraz, who is also aged 18, has not yet done or even come close to doing, namely winning a Major. The problem is that after winning in New York, Raducanu’s form almost completely nose-dived, as she endured a succession of early-tournament thrashings at the end of the season.

In one sense, that is entirely understandable, representing the inevitable comedown after the remarkable – indeed unprecedented – high of winning a Grand Slam as a qualifier, and the situation was perhaps made worse by her split from coach Andrew Richardson, who had been alongside her in New York but whose services were dispensed with almost immediately afterwards. Raducanu has now hired the experienced coach she wanted, Germany’s Torben Beltz, who was so instrumental in Angelique Kerber becoming a multiple Major-winner, and she will hope that he can have the same effect on her.

  1. A Make or Break Season for Andy Murray

In addition to Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, Andy Murray surely faces a crucial, even make-or-break, season in 2022. Unlike Nadal or even Federer, Murray has struggled with persistent injury problems for a very long time now, effectively ever since he rose to world #1 right at the end of 2016. There were some encouraging signs in 2021, notably his amazing matches late in the season against Stefanos Tsitsipas at the US Open (which he lost) and against Frances Tiafoe at the Antwerp Open (which he won).

They showed that at his very best Murray can still compete against, and even beat, anyone, including the best young players on the tour. However, his failure to progress deep into tournaments became a recurring pattern, which he will be anxious to break. Having won Wimbledon twice, as well as the US Open, not to mention winning two Olympic Gold Singles medals and leading Britain to a first Davis Cup victory in over 70 years, Murray’s place in the British tennis pantheon is secure. However, being the ultra-competitive player that he is, he will want to go out on his own terms and ideally after one last attempt at winning a Major or at the very least a Masters 1000.

  1. Night Sessions at Roland Garros

The first ever official night-time sessions at Roland Garros this year were a damp squib, as Covid curfews in Paris meant that they took place without any fans present, much to the disgruntlement of Daniil Medvedev and others who were forced to play in front of empty stands. However, the idea is still a good one. Night-time sessions in Melbourne and New York have become iconic and it is to be hoped that those at Roland Garros will follow suit. Alas, it seems unlikely that there will ever be official night-time sessions at Wimbledon, because of opposition from its wealthy local residents, but the prospect of tennis under lights in the City of Light, and in front of frenzied French tennis fans, is an utterly beguiling one.

  1. The Continuing Rise of Jannik Sinner (and Italian Tennis in General)

Italy enjoyed a great sporting 2021, with its men’s football team winning the delayed Euro 2020 and Lamont Marcell Jacobs (a naturalised American) winning the men’s 100 metres at the delayed Tokyo Olympics. Italian tennis players could not quite make it a sporting hat-trick by winning a Major, but Matteo Berrettini came close at Wimbledon, where he reached the men’s singles final and even won the first set before Novak Djokovic regrouped to win the next three sets.

Of course, Berrettini (ranked #7) is not the only Italian man in the world’s top 10, with Jannik Sinner (ranked #10) earmarked as arguably an even greater long-term prospect. It says everything about Carlos Alcaraz’s astonishing 2021 that he rather overshadowed Sinner in the last 12 months, but the young Italian still made it all the way to the ATP Finals (albeit as an alternate for the injured Berrettini).

And of course he is not the only young Italian man who wields a tennis racket like a wand, as Lorenzo Musetti possibly possesses even more imagination and dexterity, even if he may lack Sinner’s consistency and power, especially on serve. Either way, Italian men’s tennis looks set to prosper in 2022, with Berrettini and Sinner challenging for Majors and leading the charge at the two men’s team tennis events, the ATP Cup and Davis Cup.

  1. The Return – or Swansong – of Serena Williams

Five years after winning her last Major in Melbourne, Serena Williams will not even be present at the 2022 Australian Open after withdrawing because of continuing injury problems. When she won Down Under in 2017, it would have seemed inconceivable that half a decade later she had not won another Major. Equally, when she triumphed in Melbourne in 2017, it was not public knowledge that she was already pregnant and nor could it have been anticipated how giving birth, and experiencing life-threatening complications while doing so, would affect her.

With the benefit of hindsight, it now appears obvious that it has had a profound effect upon her, necessarily reducing her laser-like focus on tennis, which itself was something that she only acquired relatively late in her career after dabbling with fashion, film and many other non-tennis activities before fully committing to the sport.

Even if it remains unlikely that Williams will win a Major in 2022, which would bring her level with Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Major victories, it can only be hoped that she will at least compete at the year’s other three Majors, so that tennis fans can hail and possibly say farewell to the woman who, whatever the statistics may say, is almost certainly the greatest female tennis player of all time.

  1. The 50th Anniversary of the Wimbledon Final Between Smith and Nastase

This may be of most interest to tennis historians. Nevertheless, even non-tennis historians should celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Wimbledon men’s singles final between Stan Smith and Ilie Nastase. It was a genuine five-set epic, which Smith eventually won 4–6, 6–3, 6–3, 4–6, 7–5. Even more importantly, it was arguably the match that really launched the Open Era in tennis (which had formally begun four years earlier), a colour-TV classic that is perhaps comparable to the 1970 World Cup in football for its impact upon a sport. It also set the template for the “Grand Final” between wildly contrasting personalities – the statesmanlike Smith and the controversial “Mr Nasty” – that has been played out ever since, in the form of Borg-McEnroe and even Federer-Nadal. As such, it is completely deserving of celebration by anyone with an interest in tennis.

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