Top tennis players and moments in 2022

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The 2022 WTA and ATP seasons are officially over, and neither will soon be forgotten. With farewells to some of the sport’s biggest names and the emerging dominance of a group of bright young stars, this year was one for the history books.

But in a season chock full of incredible moments and achievements, who reigned supreme? Which players had the biggest breakthroughs? Who went from middle-of-the-road to contender? We look at all those players — and more — as we name our top honors of the 2022 tennis season.

Women’s player of the year: Iga Swiatek

This category was not up for debate. Did anyone have a better, more dominant year than Swiatek? The answer is a resounding no and it’s hard to even know where to begin. The 21-year-old won the French Open (her second time taking the title in Paris), the US Open, and six other titles, including three at the 1000-level.

From February until June, she recorded a mind-blowing 37-match win streak — the longest such mark by a woman in 32 years. Swiatek took over the No. 1 ranking in April, following the surprising retirement of Ashleigh Barty, and has held onto the position firmly ever since.

Ending the season at 11,085, she has more than double the points of No. 2-ranked Ons Jabeur. For years, women’s tennis has been searching for the heir apparent to eventually replace Serena Williams atop the game, and it appears we’ve finally found her.

Men’s player of the year: Rafael Nadal

Unlike the women’s honor, this was slightly trickier and Carlos Alcaraz made a pretty convincing case for the title. But not only did Nadal win two majors this season, he also twice broke the record for most Grand Slam titles by a men’s player. His current mark of 22 is now just one behind Serena Williams for most in the Open Era. It’s kind of hard to argue with that level of history.

Entering the season following a long injury layoff and a scary bout with COVID, the now-36-year-old had many doubters. But he responded convincingly. Nadal won the first three tournaments of the year, including an amazing comeback victory in the Australian Open final over Daniil Medvedev, and didn’t record a loss until the Indian Wells final in March where he revealed he had been playing with a stress fracture in his rib.

Despite the setback, he made it back in time for clay season and won his 14th(!) title at Roland Garros. The second half of the season hasn’t been anywhere near as successful: An abdominal injury forced him to withdraw from Wimbledon ahead of the semifinals, he was dealt an upset loss by Frances Tiafoe at the US Open in the fourth round and he went 1-3 following that defeat. But don’t let recency bias fool you. It was an historic year for Rafa.

Breakthrough players of the year: Carlos Alcaraz and Ons Jabeur

Since Alcaraz made his professional debut in 2020, it seemed clear he was destined for greatness. He only furthered that belief when he reached the quarterfinals at the US Open in 2021 and then won the title at the 1000-level Miami Open in March of this year. But in the top-heavy world of the ATP, in which three men have long ruled when it comes to Grand Slams, it remained to be seen when he would hoist his first major trophy.

Alcaraz, 19, didn’t make us wait long. At the US Open, he coasted in the early rounds and then showed the confidence and experience of a seasoned veteran as he dug deep in three consecutive five-setters to punch his ticket to the final. It wasn’t nearly as close during the title match against Casper Ruud and when it was over, and Alcaraz fell to the ground in celebration, it felt as if we had just witnessed a monumental shift in the sport.

With the victory, Alcaraz became the youngest man in tennis history to take over the world No. 1 ranking. His season ended early with injury, but we have no doubt he’ll be at full health in time for the start of 2023 and looking to prove he’s capable of even more.

While Alcaraz was a no-brainer for this honor, the women’s winner wasn’t quite as obvious, and several players were in the conversation. But ultimately it goes to Jabeur, who entered the season having never advanced past the quarterfinals at a major. She ended the year as the world No. 2 and a legitimate contender on every surface. The 28-year-old reached the final at Wimbledon and the US Open, won two titles, including the biggest one of her career at the 1000-level Madrid Open, and earned a slew of “firsts” for Tunisian, Arab and African tennis.

The losses on two of the sport’s biggest stages stung — expect the disappointment to fuel Jabeur even more in the new year.

Going forward, we should probably just call this “the Caroline Garcia Award” because of what she managed to do this year. After an impressive early start to her career — who could forget Andy Murray predicting she would one day be the No. 1 player in the world during her match against Maria Sharapova at the 2011 French Open — she climbed her way into the top five in 2018. But Garcia began to struggle shortly after, and achieved largely forgettable results. Entering the 2022 season, she was ranked No. 74 and not exactly considered much of a threat for titles.

But Garcia, 29, was determined to turn it around — and did she ever. She won the French Open doubles title with Kristina Mladenovic, notched her first singles title in three years at the Bad Homburg Open in June, then followed that up with a victory at the Poland Open (beating hometown favorite Swiatek along the way) the following month. And on the hardcourt, she really shined. Garcia won the 1000-level Cincinnati Open, reached the first major semifinals of her career at the US Open and then won the year-end WTA Finals. She ends the year at No. 4 and absolutely brimming with momentum and having reclaimed her spot amongst the best in the game.

Best performance in a limited series: Novak Djokovic

Yes, we just stole a Golden Globe category here, but it seemed like the perfect way to describe what Djokovic did in 2022. He didn’t play at the Australian Open, where he was the defending champion, after the 35-year-old was denied entry into the country because he failed to meet the requirements for an exemption to COVID-19 vaccination rules.

Because of his unvaccinated status he was barred entry into the U.S. for the BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open in March, and he was unable to play consistently until the European clay-court season began in April.

He was able to play at the French Open, but lost the title to Nadal at Roland Garros, before winning at Wimbledon, earning his 21st major title.

Djokovic was barred from playing in the US Open, or any of the lead-in events in the US and Canada, he still managed to win five titles on the year, including Wimbledon and the year-ending ATP Finals, and reached seven title matches. So, yeah, for playing such a restricted schedule, that seems award-worthy.

Best match: Alcaraz vs. Jannik Sinner, US Open quarterfinals

In a year full of amazing matches, this one is in a category all its own. Featuring two of the most talented young stars in the sport, and with a first major semifinal berth on the line for both players, this match had all the makings of a monumental showdown — and it delivered.

Lasting an astounding five hours and 15 minutes and ending just before 3 a.m. on Arthur Ashe, Alcaraz and Sinner battled as if every single point was for the match, with each shot somehow more impressive than the last.

Despite the 21-year-old Sinner’s best efforts, there ultimately had to be a winner and Alcaraz walked, or maybe crawled in exhaustion, away with a 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-7 (0), 7-5, 6-3 victory. It seemed clear, though, that this is just the beginning of an epic rivalry between these two, and a matchup we’ll likely see many times in Grand Slam finals over the next decade-plus.

Best moment: Serena’s farewell

Okay, so technically we understand a week might not be the dictionary definition of a “moment” but if anyone warrants an exception, it’s Serena Williams. In August, the 23-time major champion announced she would be “evolving” away from tennis following the US Open and the reveal made every match she played must-see viewing.

Despite having only played four matches this year entering the tournament, Williams found some of her signature magic and gave fans one of the most memorable and electric weeks in sports history.

In front of star-studded, sold-out crowds, Williams reached the third round with wins over Danka Kovinic and No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit. There was a palpable buzz on the grounds throughout the week and even her practice sessions drew thousands. Williams ultimately lost in the third round to Ajla Tomljanovic in a three-set thriller that became the most-viewed tennis match in ESPN history, but even when defeat seemed imminent, she kept fighting. Tomljanovic needed six match points to close it out.

There was a hardly a dry eye in the house when it was over, and Williams tearfully thanked her family and twirled on the court one final time. Since then, Williams has hinted that maybe she isn’t quite done yet, but even if she were to return, it doesn’t change how special that week in New York was.

Other memorable farewells

Of course, Williams wasn’t the only legend to retire in 2022. Roger Federer concluded his incredible career at the Laver Cup – an event he co-founded – by playing doubles alongside his longtime rival Nadal. Unlike Williams, he knew it would be his final match, regardless of the outcome, and it made every point feel all that more significant. The duo ultimately lost to Tiafoe and Jack Sock, but it was their joint tears during the post-match ceremony that will live forever rent-free in our minds.

And, we can’t forget about Ashleigh Barty. As the No. 1 player in the world and the reigning Wimbledon champion, Barty became the first Australian player to win her home Slam since 1978 — and then called it a career. Barty didn’t play in another match and made her announcement several weeks later ahead of the Miami Open. At just 25 years old at the time, her reveal was unexpected to say the least. But in retrospect, a literal walk-off Grand Slam might just be the most perfect way to retire.

The “Watch out, 2023” list

While no one in this group won a major this year (or has ever), some of them came pretty close — and all of them look to have a legitimate shot to do that next season. Here’s who’s got next:

Coco Gauff: Gauff has consistently improved since her major debut at Wimbledon in 2019, and reached the first Grand Slam final of her career this year at Roland Garros. She also reached the top five for the first time in October and even claimed the world No. 1 doubles ranking briefly over the summer. Alongside Pegula, she won three doubles titles and played in the French Open final in that draw as well. Did we mention she’s still only 18? The future is oh-so-bright for Gauff.

Frances Tiafoe: In addition to making two finals this year, the 24-year-old reached the first major semifinal of his career following the upset victory over Nadal in the fourth round of the US Open and a straight-set thrashing of Andrey Rublev in the quarters. After losing to Alcaraz in a heartbreaker in the semis, Tiafoe told the court, “I’m going to come back and I will win this thing one day. After watching his run in New York, that sentiment seems hard to argue with.

Jessica Pegula: With the exception of Swiatek, no one was more consistent this year on the WTA tour than 28-year-old Pegula. She reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, the French Open and the US Open, the final at the Madrid Open, and won the trophy at the 1000-level Guadalajara Open. Her ranking continued to climb, in singles and doubles, and she ended the year at a career-high of No. 3.

Holger Rune: While there were mostly early-round exits during the first months of the season, 19-year-old Rune won the first title of his career at the Bavarian International and then, just weeks later, reached the quarterfinals in his debut at the French Open. And this autumn alone, Rune reached four finals — winning two, including defeating Djokovic in three sets for the Paris Masters title. Rune, who started the season ranked at No. 103, reached the top 10 with the victory and ends the year at No. 11.

Qinwen Zheng: Making her debut this season in all four major main draws, the 20-year-old reached the fourth round at the French Open (where she pushed eventual champion Swiatek to three sets), and the third round at Wimbledon and the US Open. She made the quarterfinals at the Canadian Open and the first final of her career at the Japan Open in September. Starting 2022 at No. 143, she enters the new year with a career-high mark of No. 25.

Felix Auger Aliassime: Entering the season, the now-22-year-old had an 0-8 record in ATP finals, but he ends the year with four titles, including three he won consecutively in October. The Canadian, who brings a new career-high ranking of No. 6 to the offseason, will look to bring his red-hot momentum into 2023.

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