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Five Things Which Shook the Tennis World in 2022

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2022 was a year like no other in tennis. So many exciting events happened, that it’s hard to pick the top five. Tears of joy, tears of sadness, epic battles on court, new champions crowned, old champions departing forever… There was a little bit of everything.

Here is my list.

Retirement of Serena Williams and Roger Federer

Roger Federer and Serena Williams define the tennis era which I grew up in. I’ve been watching them for decades. Roger turned pro in 1998 and won his first grand slam in 2003 at Wimbledon. Serena turned pro in 1995 and won her first grand slam title in 1999 (US Open). Both Serena’s and Roger’s last grand slam title came at the Australian Open (in 2017 for Serena and in 2018–for Roger).

The tennis world will never be the same without these great champions. New stars will appear in the sky, but it’s hard to imagine that any of them will shine as brightly as these two.

Both Roger and Serena retired at 41 years of age; Roger–with 20 grand slams, Serena–with 23. Given the age and injuries they endured, their retirement didn’t come as a complete surprise. But naturally, fans still hoped they would play for a couple more years. They’ve been around for so long, it’s hard to say good-bye.

Roger Federer

Roger has always been my favorite male player. I appreciate the incredible talent of Novak and Rafa, but I just couldn’t cheer for them in a tournament when Roger was still playing.

Roger went through three knee operations in the recent years. Just a year ago, he was still expecting that he’d be able to return to competition. I was greatly hoping he’d have a chance to play in at least a few more Grand Slams so the fans could say a proper good-bye to him. He deserved this chance. Unfortunately, this wasn’t in the cards.

In a way, I am relieved that Roger has retired because I’m not sure I could continue enduring the terrible stress from his matches. In the last few years, I wanted him to win so badly, but I realized that his best years were behind him and his chances to win were going down more and more every day. Especially when he was playing Djokovic.

Serena Williams

Living in the United States, I was lucky to watch Serena play at many different tournaments. I will forever remember the joy in her face when she won a tough match, and her fight till the last ball.

One thing which always comes to mind is Serena’s rivalry with Maria Sharapova. She truly had Maria’s number…

Till today, I remember their gold medal match at the London Olympics in 2012 which Serena won in slightly more than an hour with a totally devastating score of 6:1 6:0. After the match, Serena was standing at the pedestal with a gold medal and Maria–with a silver one. Both players were amazing champions, but there seemed to be miles between them.

I had always wondered where Serena’s tremendous and consistent success against Maria came from?

Maria reveals the secret in her memoire, Unstoppable: My life So Far. If you’ve also been curious, do check it out.

Oh well, there’s always been some drama when Serena was around. No question about it.

Take her last matches at the 2022 US Open! She wouldn’t retire quietly, would she?

First, she took out Kovinic quite easily. Then came Kontaveit, seeded second, and everyone thought this would be Serena’s last match. But not so fast! This was a rollercoaster of all rollercoasters! Serena up… Serena down… Up again… Serena winning the match… Finally, came the match with Tomljanovich. Plenty of chances to win for Serena, but didn’t work out in the end.

I feel incredibly lucky to have watched Serena’s last matches. They will stay in my memory forever.

Carlos Alcaraz becoming #1 in the world

At age 19, Carlos Alcaraz became the youngest tennis player to claim the #1 world ranking.

The first teenager EVER.

Pretty cool, hah?

Alcaraz was quite impressive in his matches this year, but he is still very new on the tennis scene. I bet very few people expected him to reach the top so quickly. I personally expected him to be in top 10 or top 5…

Of course, it’s an incredible achievement. It’s unlikely it will be surpassed any time soon. However, this success still does not guarantee the spot among the greatest of all time.

Was Rafael Nadal, the holder of the most grand slams to date (22), the youngest # 1 in the world previously?

No, he wasn’t.

As a matter of fact, the previous record was held not by anyone from the Big Four. It was actually the Australian Lleyton Hewitt who claimed the coveted spot at the age of 20 years and 268 days back in 2001. Great player, no question about it, but in the end he only won 2 majors. Marat Safin, John McEnroe and Andy Roddick are the next ones of the list of youngest players to reach the world # 1 in tennis.

Among the Big Four, both Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer claimed the #1 spot at 22 years of age (Rafa was a few months younger than Roger). Novak Djokovic took a bit longer. As you might recall, for a while he was hovering in the top 5. Then in 2011, when he was already 24, he finally claimed this spot, and was unstoppable since. For Andy Murray, the road to world # 1 was incredibly long and thorny. He finally achieved this long-term goal in 2016, when he was almost 30.

Not surprisingly, in the era of the Big Four, claiming the top spot for any other player was nearly impossible. But now the situation is different. The road is a bit more open.

It will be interesting to see if Carlos Alcaraz will be able to stay in the #1 spot in 2023. I sure hope so. It will be great to have a new super star in the tennis world.

Passing of Nick Bollettieri

This December, the tennis world suffered a terrible loss. The celebrity coach Nick Bollettieri, who had shaped the careers of many tennis stars, passed away at the age of 91.

For anyone who’s ever played competitive tennis, Bollettieri was an idol. He pioneered a concept of the boarding school for promising tennis juniors and trained the tennis royalty–Serena and Venus Williams, Jim Courier, Monica Seles, Andre Agassi, Boris Becker, just to name a few. The importance of a tennis coach in a player’s career cannot be underestimated. Without Bollettieri, American tennis would have never been the same.

Tennis was Bollettieri’s true passion and he continued actively working at the IMG academy (formerly the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy) during his final years and even days. This was the place where the dreams of many athletes came true, thanks to this incredible coach. It wasn’t an easy road, however: Bollettieri was known for being tough with his students and making them work very hard.

All in all, Bollettieri has had a profound impact on tennis. He will be greatly missed, but his legacy will live on forever.

Iga Swiatek becoming #1 in the world

In April of this year, Iga Swiatek became the first Polish tennis player to hold the #1 ranking in tennis. It’s an incredible achievement and nobody is more deserving of it than Iga. Not only is she a superbly talented tennis player and a great fighter on court, but she is also a wonderful human being, providing support to Ukrainians during the war. Iga always wears a yellow and blue ribbon on her tennis hat to show her support for Ukraine.

After the retirement of Ash Barty (quite unexpected for many), Iga swiftly took over the No. 1 spot. This turned out an incredible year for the Polish player. She tied the longest winning streak in the women’s tennis at 37 consecutive matches (Martina Hingis had the same streak back in 1997). During this time, she won 6 titles, including one grand slam: Doha, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart, Rome and Roland-Garros. Iga has become a dominant player on tour and held a 21-2 record against top 20 opponents in 2022.

At only 21 years of age, Iga now holds 3 grand slam titles. She won her first Rolland Garros title back in 2020, when she was only 19, prevailing over Sofia Kenin in the final. In 2022, she claimed two more grand slam titles–French Open and US Open.

Wimbledon controversy with excluding Russian players

Russian invasion of Ukraine has devastated Ukraine, but the whole world also felt its consequences through many different channels.

Tennis was no exception.

Wimbledon’s decision not to allow Russian and Belarussian players to compete, due to their countries’ role in the Ukraine crisis, caused a lot of controversy. This wasn’t the first time such a ban was implemented. During the World War II, German and Japanese players were banned. At that time, it seemed to make sense to exclude the players from the aggressor countries. But the reaction about the ban was much more polarized this time around.

Naturally, Ukrainian tennis players and fans and various supporters of Ukraine have wholeheartedly supported and applauded this decision. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused horrible destruction in the country and loss of many lives. Millions of people lost everything and had to flee Ukraine. Russian strikes are now targeting Ukrainian infrastructure, plunging the country into the Stone Age amidst the frosty winter. For the vast majority of Ukrainians, playing tennis is the last thing on their minds. They are just trying to survive another day.

At the same time, many fans around the world questioned this ban, saying that it was discriminatory, that we need to separate sport from politics, and that many Russian players lived overseas and did not support Putin’s policies. 

In the end, the ban didn’t completely work anyway. Elena Rybakina, a player from Russia who changed her nationality to Kazakhstan a few years back, was allowed to compete and eventually won the Wimbledon ladies’ singles trophy. While not a Russian national, she was born in Russia and still lives there.

Will the ban continue next year? I don’t know for sure. What I do hope is that by the time next Wimbledon comes around, Ukraine will win the war. Ukrainian players will proudly play in the next Wimbledon and show the world that the spirit of Ukrainians cannot be broken.

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