Year in Review: Why the 2020 season was the worst (and best) year in recent history

The 2020 tennis season didn’t come without controversy but still came together as one of the better in recent history. Here’s the Lob and Smash Year in Review.

The 2020 tennis season wasn’t perfect. In fact, it could be said that this was the single rockiest season in the sport’s history and definitely so in recent memory. However, some great moments were produced despite the large hurdles that needed to be cleared. Before we dive into the best moments, let’s take a look back at the season as a whole.

The year opened up the same as previous years with a slight twist. The inaugural ATP Cup was played in early January, which kick-started the season with the ever-popular team tennis events. 24 countries from around the world formed teams to compete in a Davis-Cup-esque event that took place over 10 days. World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and Team Serbia took the Cup, defeating World No. 2 Rafael Nadal and his Spanish team.

The Australian Open rolled around shortly thereafter and featured some fantastic tennis. Novak Djokovic remained undefeated on his way to the title but needed a hard-fought five sets to defeat Dominic Thiem, who was making his first Grand Slam final outside of Roland Garros. Djokovic continued on his run, winning his first 19 matches and three titles (ATP Cup, Australian Open, Dubai ATP 500).

Of course, the story of the 2020 season can’t be told without the COVID-19 pandemic that altered the year as we know it. From early March to the first two weeks of August, tennis as we all knew it was gone. In a grueling five months, the sport saw organizations start to crack and players start to revolt. Lower-ranked players fought for a quicker return to sanctioned events in order to stay afloat financially. No one knew the future of the sport but during those trying months, it wasn’t a bright one.

On the other end of the spectrum, however, we saw the beauty and camaraderie of this wonderful sport. Exhibition events like the ever-popular Ultimate Tennis Showdown, the Battle of the Brits, and the Credit One Bank Invitational showed the true power of the players and the lengths they would go for the sake of keeping tennis on the upswing.

It was a time of creativity and imagination in a pandemic-altered tennis world and it was clearly shown that there’s a bright future ahead with ingenuity and promise. Of course, who could forget some of the special off-court moments? The wacky virtual Madrid Open pitted some of the game’s best against each other, swapping their rackets for controllers in the process.

Finally, tennis returned. August saw lower-level events in Palermo and Lexington full of stars looking to get back on the court. Coco Gauff had an outstanding run to the Top Seed Open semis, once again opening our hearts to the teenage phenom. On the men’s side, Djokovic continued his flawless year with yet another title, this time at the Masters 1000 event in ‘Cincinnati’ (held a the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in order to limit player travel).

The US Open was a huge test for the players involved. Some of the world’s best dropped out to stay safe (most notably Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep). This, however, led the way for a historic moment in men’s tennis. With Djokovic’s controversial default in the 4th Round, Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev faced off in a premier look into a post-Big 3 ATP Grand Slam. They played a marathon five-setter, which Thiem ultimately prevailed in to not only win his first Grand Slam title but to also break the streak of 13 consecutive Big 3 Grand Slam titles (dating back to the beginning of 2017).

Naomi Osaka prevailed on the women’s side, capturing her third major title over the resurgent second life of Victoria Azarenka. The two-time Australian Open winner shot up the WTA rankings and into the top fifteen for the first time since 2017 after falling as low as 208th by the end of that year.

The quick turnaround into the clay season wasn’t without its problems. The 2020 French Open had been postponed from its usual late Spring date in favor of an October event, which sparked the debate of why Wimbledon (the fans’ consensus favorite of the two) was canceled but Roland Garros was allowed to go on. It was still allowed to go forward and led to two spectacular events.

On the women’s side, 19-year-old Iga Swiatek absolutely ripped through the draw. She didn’t drop a set on her way to the title. More importantly, of the 14 sets she played, only two of them went to 6-4. Two others went to 6-3, and the remaining 10 finished at either 6-2 or 6-1. She faced top-tier competition along the way. She took down 15th-seeded Marketa Vondrousova, 4th-seeded Sofia Kenin, and top seed Simona Halep en route to a dominating title.

On the men’s side, we’ve come to expect the usual from Rafael Nadal. He added his 13th French Open title to his trophy cabinet, tying Roger Federer for the most Grand Slams won with 20. Djokovic was his opponent in the final but fell victim to a flawless Nadal beatdown. It was the surprise of the year, given that Djokovic hadn’t lost a complete match up to that point.

An underrated great moment from the tournament was Diego Schwartzman’s first major semifinals appearance. The long-time ATP veteran has been a fixture in the top twenty but c=just never broke through at a big event. His defeat of Dominic Thiem on his way to the semis, coupled with his appearance in the Masters 1000 Rome final (where he took down Nadal in the process), gave him his first taste of the top ten and an eventual bid into the ATP Finals.

Jannik Sinner’s quarterfinal trip in Paris was also an incredible moment. As one of the top Challenger Tour players, he finally broke through in his first French Open appearance, defeating David Goffin and Alexander Zverev on his way to the quarters.

The season wrapped up with the ATP Finals in London, the last time the event will be held there after 11 previous years. Quality was high throughout the entire week, most notably from the four remaining semifinalists. After Thiem took down Nadal in the group stage and Medvedev did the same to Djokovic, the NowGen pair would swap opponents and defeat them to advance to the finals. From there, it was all Medvedev, who burst out of the struggle bus the week prior at the Paris Masters and defeated Thiem for the biggest title of his career.

2020 was tumultuous. Chaotic. Unorganized. Controversial. The list can go on, but what can also be said is that it was a year of perseverance. Creativity. Camaraderie. Bonding. Working together. Love. With all of the struggles, the 2020 season was still a fantastic year for tennis, despite the abbreviated second half. The future is arriving and the greats just keep swinging. 2021 is going to be one like no other.