December 29, 2019

2020 Vision: The Flavors of the Moment

Hey guys, I'm back with some more of my stories to watch in the New Year. I've already talked about some of the players likely to continue their reins for at least a few more years into the decade, as well as those ready to take over

But outside this group of heavyweights and spoilers, a handful of brand new names also came into the forefront in 2019. Okay, fine, they weren't all brand new, but a couple sure seemed to come out of nowhere, and it seemed for a while there was nothing else we could talk about. And their performances in 2020 could shed a lot of light on just how much staying power they'll have.

Let's start with the obvious -- oh-so-young Cori "Coco" Gauff, who captured our hearts with a stunning win over Venus Williams, a woman 24 years her senior, in the first round of Wimbledon. The qualifier proved she was no flash-in-the pan, ultimately reaching the fourth round, where she lost to the eventual champion, Simona Halep. She was front-and-center in New York a few months later, and though this time she only won two matches, she rebounded quickly as a lucky loser in Linz and walked away with the title. She also picked up a couple doubles titles to boot. Now ranked in the top seventy, she's less reined in by qualifying events and more so by play limitations because of her age. Still, she's proven she's got the goods.

The next question is whether she can keep it up under all the pressure. We've seen other talents rise and fall, after all. Some for tragic reasons -- Vicky Duval, a stunner back in 2013, announced a battle with cancer when she was just 19 and is only starting to get back on tour -- others who just didn't live up to the potential -- remember that year Genie Bouchard got to the semis or better at three Grand Slams? Well the positive for Coco is that she appears to handle the spotlight really well -- even when facing defending U.S. Open champ Naomi Osaka on Arthur Ashe in the late August heat, she stayed composed and resilient and showed signs that she's in it for the long haul. The true test, of course, will come when she's at it full time -- whether she can endure the slog and the feeling of being a target rather than just a spoiler. But my money is betting we'll be talking about her for a long time to come.

I probably have less confidence in some of the year's other standouts. Let's start with Matteo Berrettini, who was the surprise semifinalist at this year's U.S. Open. Admittedly I'd never heard the guy's name before that run -- I actually caught a glimpse of his third round match on a (very) outer court in Flushing Meadows and thought he was the underdog to Andrey Rublev -- so imagine my shock when he not only held Rafael Nadal's feet to the fire but, weeks later, also qualified for the ATP Finals! Of course, the Italian is most comfortable on clay, with two of his three titles over the past two years coming on that surface, so it might be a few months until we truly see what he's made of -- and whether the deep runs he's had were just a fluke. If, though, he proves me wrong and shows that he's a real all-surface player, I'd be more than happy to eat my words.

And then there's Ashleigh Barty, who seemed to come out of nowhere this year. Again, I hadn't seen her steady climb up the rankings over the last few years. The 2011 Girls' Wimbledon champ and Fed Cup ingenue, she's been around for a while. She had her breakthrough two years ago in Kuala Lumpur, but really had the spotlight shine on her this year when she not only won the title in Miami but captured her maiden Major at the French Open. And, for good measure she buttoned up her year by taking the year-end championship in Shenzhen.

But the question will be how she follows through after her big break out. Sure she's scored wins over a slew of top-ten players this year -- and her losses have more or less come at the hands of the elite -- but she's also had some good luck. She didn't play a single top ten player on her way to the title at Roland Garros, and she's gone 50-50 against opponents like Elina Svitolina and Petra Kvitova this year. It feels like it's more likely we'll see her share the top ranking with her peers rather than hold on to it for the long haul. I'd be thrilled for her to prove me wrong, but I imagine there will be some others gunning hard for her ranking in the new year.

Remember to check out the rest of my 2020 Vision and keep coming back for more Tennis Spin all year long! Coming up tomorrow: We can't just wait around forever! My list of players who need to go big in the New Year.

No comments: