The 2010s told tales of two competitions in the world of tennis. A dominant triumvirate won the majority of Grand Slam titles in the men’s game, and the individual who could go down as the greatest singles player in history experienced somewhat of a career resurgence as he approached the end of his playing days. The biggest criticism of the ATP over the decade is that the emergence of a preeminent trio eliminated intrigue from tournaments that went unwatched and unnoticed by casual viewers.
On the other hand, the WTA was better than ever during the 2010s. Per ESPN’s Bill Connelly, a combined 19 women, including 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, won Grand Slam tournaments a record amount in the modern era. One doesn’t need to be a tennis insider or a historian to appreciate the best female to ever step foot on a court toppled supposed rival after rival during the decade and cemented her spot on any tennis Mount Rushmore one could build. All should see her as the G.O.A.T. player, but one can’t help but wonder:
Is she the greatest athlete in recorded history?
Born in June 2000, 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu is just one reason why the future of women’s tennis is so bright. Andreescu ended 2019 fifth in the WTA rankings , and she earned the biggest victory of her young career, to date, when she defeated Serena Williams to win the 2019 US Open and, per the Canadian Press, became the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam title. In August 2019, Andreescu became the first Canadian to win the Rogers Cup (formerly the Canadian Open) since 1969, according to the Associated Press (h/t the Detroit News).
As Shailesh Sharma of Tennis Tonic wrote, Grigor Dimitrov has won more money than any other Bulgarian player in history. Dimitrov’s best year of the 2010s was 2017 when he was ranked No. 3 in the world in November of that year after he won the ATP Finals. Per the BBC, Dimitrov was the first male in 19 years to win that season-ending event in his debut appearance.
Karolina Pliskova defeated Serena Williams in a 2016 US Open semifinal, but she was unable to rally in the Final’s third set vs. Angelique Kerber. Nevertheless, Pliskova won four titles over the decade, and she finished November 2019 second in the world behind only Ashleigh Barty. According to The Tennis Channel , she became the first Czech woman since Martina Navratilova to rise to the world No. 1 in July 2017.
The 2010s were a roller coaster ride for American Sloane Stephens. Stephens seemed to be on the path toward superstardom when she upset Serena Williams during the 2013 Australian Open, but inconsistent play and injury setbacks plagued her for the remainder of the decade. In 2017, Stephens became the lowest-ranked player to ever win the US Open, per Ashley Marshall of the tournament’s official website.
In April 2016, Rafael Nadal hailed Alexander Zverev as “a clear possible future No.1,” according to Alex Sharp of Wimbledon.com. Roughly 19 months after those comments, Zverev rose to No. 3 in the world. The 6-foot-6 German, who turned 22 in April, won 11 titles over the decade. He most recently earned his first career win over Nadal at the ATP Finals.
While Marion Bartoli’s prime ended during the first half of the 2010s, the French-born right-hander was in the top 10 of the world rankings each year from 2011 through 2013. As Aimee Lewis of the BBC explained, Bartoli became just the sixth player during the Open era to win the Wimbledon championship without dropping a single set back in 2013. Injuries forced her to retire in the summer of 2013, and her attempted comeback ended before it truly began, in 2018.
As ESPN’s Simon Cambers wrote, Daniil Medvedev appeared in six finals during the summer of the 2019 ATP season. The Russian, who turned 23 in February 2019, sat at fourth in the world during the second half of that same year. While he took Rafael Nadal to five sets in the US Open Final, he ultimately lost that entertaining contest. In September, Medvedev became the first Russian to win the St. Petersburg Open since 2004, per the ATP website.
Some may say that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga peaked in early 2012 when he rose to fifth in the world rankings, but the veteran deserves credit for repeatedly testing champions such as Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. As Reem Abulleil of Sport 360 wrote, Tsonga earned wins over each of tennis’ “Big Four” during the decade. In 2012, Tsonga won a silver medal in men’s doubles at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
A 23-year-old Australian reigned as the best women’s tennis player in the world at the end of the 2010s. As Peter Bodo of ESPN wrote, Ashleigh Barty won seven of 10 matches vs. top-10 opponents from April 2019 through the end of the season, and she made history this year by becoming the first Australian woman in 46 years to win the French Open, as Chris Barrett of the Sydney Morning Herald explained. Not bad for somebody who stepped away from the sport to pursue a cricket career earlier in the decade.
While Li Na began playing professionally two decades ago, she enjoyed her best moments during the 2010s. Per CNN, the Chinese born right-handed star became the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam title when she hoisted the French Open trophy in 2011. In 2014, Na won the Australian Open, an achievement that helped her rise to No. 2 in the world rankings. Unfortunately, lingering knee problems forced her to retire in September of that same year.
The second half of the 2010s provided a professional wave of emotions for Spanish champion Garbine Muguruza. In June 2016, she surprised many in the tennis world by defeating Serena Williams in the French Open Final to capture her first Grand Slam. Thirteen months later, she became the first player to notch victories over both Williams sisters in Grand Slam Finals when she beat Venus to claim the 2017 Wimbledon crown, per Sandra Harwitt of USA Today. Things quickly went downhill for the former world No. 1 the following season, though, as she dropped out of the top 10 and, ultimately, fell into the 30s by the end of the 2010s.
Tomas Berdych recently announced that he was stepping away from competitive tennis after a lengthy career. Berdych was never able to win a Grand Slam. The closest he came was in 2010 when he dropped the Wimbledon Final to Rafael Nadal. Berdych did, however, rise to fourth in the world rankings in 2015, and he won back-to-back Davis Cup championships in 2012 and 2013 and 13 ATP singles titles.
Another man who retired from playing tennis professionally in 2019, David Ferrer, like Tomas Berdych, couldn’t get over the finish line in a Grand Slam final. Ranked No. 3 in the world in the summer of 2013, Ferrer set a record with the most match victories without a single Slam on his resume, per Veronica Bruno of Tennis World USA. Arguably the greatest male to never win a Slam, Ferrer did tally three Davis Cup championships and an overall Davis Cup record of 28-5.
Juan Martin del Potro seemed on the cusp of becoming one of the world’s elite players after he defeated Roger Federer to win the 2009 US Open, but the Argentinian never broke into the status reserved for the sport’s “Big Four” during the 2010s. Before he turned 30 years old in September 2018, del Potro played in the French Open semifinal and US Open Final, matches he lost. Despite those defeats, he rose to third in the world rankings that year. A knee injury he suffered earlier this year threatened his career, and he ended the season and the decade sidelined.
Similar to Juan Martin del Potro, Caroline Wozniacki appeared headed toward annual Slam titles at the start of the 2010s. Wozniacki fell to Kim Clijsters in the 2009 US Open Final, and the Danish player then lost her form for several years after she earned the top spot in the world rankings. A loss to Serena Williams in the 2014 US Open Final could’ve been the end of Wozniacki’s Slam story, but she instead finished the 2017 season at No. 3 before she won the 2018 Australian Open and rose back to No. 1.
The 2010s were about completing a memorable and historic comeback for Kim Clijsters. Following a two-year sabbatical away from the sport that Clijsters erased from memories by winning the 2009 US Open Final, she repeated as that tournament’s champion the following year. Then she defeated Li Na in the 2011 Australian Open Final. Clijsters rose back to No.1 in February 2011, and she played through September 2012 before announcing her retirement. She planned on attempting another comeback at the start of the 2020s, but a knee injury could spoil things.
Will 2020 be the year when 26-year-old Dominic Thiem wins a Slam? Between 2015 and the end of the decade, the Austrian won 16 singles titles. Five of those came during the 2019 season. Thiem rose to fourth in the world rankings in 2017, and he lost to Rafael Nadal in the 2018 and 2019 French Open Finals. Per Tumaini Carayol of The Guardian, Thiem has won at least 40 matches across four consecutive seasons, and he was the second player to hold at least four wins over Nadal on clay as of November.
From the start of the 2011 campaign through the end of 2014, Petra Kvitova twice won Wimbledon titles, and she was rated the No. 2 player in the world in October 2011. As explained by the BBC, she was the victim of a knife attack in December 2016, but she was able to return to the court in May. She won five titles in 2018, and she played in the 2019 Australian Open Final, a match she lost to Naomi Osaka.
As Kevin Mitchell of The Guardian wrote, Marin Cilic earned his 300th career victory when he knocked off Kei Nishikori to win the 2014 US Open. Between that fateful day and the end of the 2010s, Cilic accumulated 202 additional wins, and he appeared in the 2017 Wimbledon Final and 2018 Australian Open Final, matches he lost to Roger Federer. As pointed out by ESPN, the 31-year-old who rose to third in the world rankings in 2018 is one of only two men outside of the sport’s “Big Four” to win a Slam this decade.
Critics of Maria Sharapova’s tennis legacy will say she’s known for two things: losing to Serena Williams and failing a drug test that, in the eyes of some, tarnished her legacy. The fashion icon ended the 2019 season third among active female players with five Slam titles, and she completed a career Slam by winning the 2012 French Open title. Two years later, Sharapova repeated as champion of that tournament. As Luigi Gatto of Tennis World USA wrote, the Russian spent much of the decade as one of the highest-paid female athletes in the world.
Victoria Azarenka's most important contribution to her sport may come in the 2020s and off a tennis court. In 2012 and 2013, Azarenka won the Australian Open titles and also finished runner-up in the US Open Finals for those seasons. In July 2016, she announced the beginning of her pregnancy hiatus, and she dealt with a nasty and lengthy custody battle through the end of the decade. As Charlie Eccleshare of The Telegraph wrote, the former world No. 1 is actively fighting for female players on the tour to receive paid maternity leave.
Per the official US Open website, Simona Halep spent a combined 64 weeks atop the world rankings during the second half of the 2010s. In 2013, Halep won six of her 19 career titles, and she won two of three Slam Finals during the decade’s last two seasons. She fell to Caroline Wozniacki in the 2018 Australian Open Final but later stood tall during her third Roland Garros Final. In 2019, she easily defeated Serena Williams in the Wimbledon Final for her second Slam.
Stan Wawrinka can hold his head high as the only male outside of the “Big Four” to win three Grand Slam titles during the 2010s. Wawrinka defeated Rafael Nadal in the 2014 Australian Open Final. He became a king of clay when he earned an upset win over Novak Djokovic at the 2015 French Open Final, and he again stunned the world No. 1 the following summer in New York City. Unlike the men ahead of him in such lists, though, Wawrinka never rose to No. 1 in the world rankings during the decade, so he comes up just short of creating a “Big Five.”
Only two women won more than two Slams during the 2010s: Angelique Kerber and the greatest to ever play the sport. Kerber rose to world No. 1, a ranking she held for 34 weeks, according to The Mirror, late in the 2016 season after she won that year’s Australian Open and US Open Finals. Following a down 2017 campaign, Kerber returned to the spotlight when she beat Serena Williams in the 2018 Wimbledon Final. Per ESPN, that achievement made Kerber the first German woman to win tennis’ most famous title since the legendary Steffi Graf.
Consider this both a prediction of potential things to come and a final ranking for the 2010s. Naomi Osaka turned 22 years old in October, a year during which she spent time as the world’s No. 1 after she won the Australian Open, the second Slam of her relatively young career. The 2016 WTA Newcomer of the Year and the first Japanese woman to reach and win a Grand Slam singles Final, per Paul Newman of the Evening Standard, Osaka finished the 2019 season No. 3 in the WTA rankings.
Andy Murray will never break into the tier reserved for the three greatest male players of the 2010s, but he is fondly remembered for providing fans with some of the sport’s more emotional moments of the decade. Murray won gold at the 2012 London Olympics while representing Great Britain, and he became the first player to repeat as Olympic singles champion four years later. The first of the “Big Four” spotlighted in this piece, Murray won the 2012 US Open, and he’s a two-time Wimbledon champion. The former world No. 1 also lost five Australian Open Finals between 2010 and 2016.
Before and during the 2010s, hot takes, think pieces and columns emerged claiming Roger Federer was washed up, past his prime and in decline. All Federer accomplished during the decade was win five Slams to take him to a record 20, per Tennis.com. He reached the 12th Wimbledon Final of his historic career in 2019. He set a record for most weeks at No. 1 with 310, as explained by Reuters (h/t New York Times). Not bad for an old guy. We’re not in denial regarding Federer’s physical state. He’ll be 39 before the end of the 2020 season. He also finished second to only Rafael Nadal in the 2019 ATP Win/Loss Index.
In June 2018, ESPN’s Andre Snellings dared to ask: Is Rafael Nadal the greatest men’s player in history? That was before Nadal improved his French Open Finals record to a ridiculous 12-0 in 2019 and before he won his 13th Slam of the 2010s, according to ESPN and Hindustan Times, at the US Open. Nadal finished the 2019 season atop the ATP Win/Loss Index and only one career Slam behind Roger Federer for the men’s record. He’ll turn 34 years old during the 2020 French Open.
Rafael Nadal closed the gap before the 2019 holiday season, but Novak Djokovic shall forever reign as the king of the 2010s. Djokovic won 15 of his 16 career Grand Slams during the decade, and he spent 275 weeks as the world No. 1. According to Reuters (h/t New York Times ), only Roger Federer (310) and Pete Sampras (286) accumulated more total time atop the world rankings before the start of 2020. Per Mikael McKenzie of The Daily Express, Djokovic admitted in the fall of 2019 he feels “no obligation to play” but is also “still motivated and inspired to play this beautiful sport” during an appearance on French program “Do not touch my TV.” If Djokovic ultimately decided 2019 was his last pro season, his name would be mentioned in any G.O.A.T. conversations.
Essays and books will be written about how and why Serena Williams, who won 12 Slams during the 2010s, per ESPN, distanced herself from male competitors over the decade. For this piece, we’ll focus just on her 2017 campaign. As explained by ESPN Stats & Information , Williams made history when she defeated sister Venus Williams in that year’s Australian Open Final and tallied an Open-era record 23rd Slam. We later learned she did so while pregnant, something men such as Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal never have to worry about during their playing days. Williams not only returned to the court, but she also finished runner-up in the 2018 and 2019 Wimbledon and US Open Finals.
Zac Wassink is a football and futbol aficionado who is a PFWA member and is probably yelling about Tottenham Hotspur at the moment. Erik Lamela and Eli Manning apologist. Chanted for Matt Harvey to start the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2015 World Series at Citi Field. Whoops. You can find him on Twitter at @ZacWassink.
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