December 6, 2020

The 2020 Tennis Spin Awards: Best Hot Streaks

In a year that was stop-and-go for so many reasons, it's a miracle anyone was able to find their footing for any stretch at a time. But a couple players managed to show their consistency over long periods in 2020 and have therefore earned themselves this year's Tennis Spin Awards for...

Okay, obviously Novak Djokovic, who won 26 straight matches between January and early September, might be deserving of this honor in many people's books. But I'm choosing to leave him out and instead focus on players whose win streaks may have been more of a surprise -- after all, Nole has gone 41 wins straight in the past. That doesn't necessarily negate his accomplishment this year, but it certainly feels like something we expect from him more than others.

So here's to the standouts who found strength to thrive week after week, even when all the odds seems stacked against them.

The Women

The Winner: Aryna Sabalenka

The Belarusian has had some hot and cold spells over the years, but she really tends to turn things on towards the end of the seasons. Last year, for example, she picked up trophies in the not-yet-under-seige Wuhan -- her second straight title there -- and Zhuhai, and she wrapped up 2020 with an even more impressive run in Europe where she had to pull off some of the most impressive comebacks of the year.

After an early exit at the French Open, Aryna Sabalenka rebounded from a 1-6 set against Coco Gauff in the first round of the inaugural Ostrava Open in the Czech Republic and a round later, was a point away from losing her first eleven games to Sara Sorribes Tormo before winning the next twelve. She went on to win the title -- I should say titles, she picked up doubles too.

In the last event of the year she was on much more solid ground, dropping only one set to take the title in Linz, her third of the year, to give her a nine match win streak she'll bring into 2021. At #10 in the world now, she's just a shade off her career high ranking, but if she keeps her momentum going, she's well in good shape to move even higher.

Runner-Up: Elena Rybakina

I've talked about the phenomenal consistency of the young Kazakh before, and while she didn't quite keep up her pace after the lockdown, well, who can blame her? She played one event after another at the start of the year, taking off only the week after the Australian Open when there was only Fed Cup going on. And, more impressively, she made the final in every event other than that Major and the one in Doha, where she withdrew after winning her second round. After a slow start in the second half of the year, she did finish runner-up in Strasbourg, her fifth final of 2020, and while her only title came in Hobart in January, she's shown she doesn't tire easily and will be willing to do the work to earn even bigger titles down the road.

Honorable Mention: Simona Halep

It's also worth highlighting the impressive hot streak put together by the former world #1 on either side of the lockdown. The winner over Rybakina in the Dubai final in February, Simona Halep chose to skip the U.S. hard court circuit and instead dominated the clay of Europe for some time. After pulling out of Palermo, she claimed titles in Prague and Rome before getting unceremoniously stopped by Iga Swiatek in Paris, where she was the heavy favorite. In total, she'd won sixteen straight matches, a career best for her, and hopefully she'll be well-recovered enough to resume her winning ways in the new year.

The Men

The Winner: Daniil Medvedev

At the end of last season, I wondered if there was anything that would be able to stop Daniil Medvedev from storming through one draw after another and claiming each and every title. He did, after all, put up one hell of a fight against Rafael Nadal in the U.S. Open final and go on to win evens in St. Petersburg and Shanghai right after that.

He wasn't quite so untouchable at the start of 2020, though, losing early in Rotterdam and Marseille after a technical upset by Stan Wawrinka in Australia. He failed to defend a title in Cincinatti and squandered a pretty big opportunity in the New York semifinals before a pretty ugly run in the early fall.

That's when he finally was able to turn things around. At the Paris Masters he ploughed through four top-25 players on his way to his first title of the year, his third at the premier level. And then at his second year-end championships, he turned an 0-3 record from last year fully on its head, winning all his round robin matches -- the only man to do so -- and coming back from a set down in the semis and the title round to claim the title.

Medvedev ends the year at a career-high -- so far -- of #4 in the world, ahead of Roger Federer and not to far behind Dominic Thiem. Will he ride his ten-match win streak to an Australian Open title and push even higher? Well, I'm actually even more sure of his potential now than I was a year ago. And I actually find myself rooting for him this time.

Honorable Mention: Gael Monfils

The veteran Frenchman is one of those players that you can never count out. First in the top ten in 2009, Gael Monfils fell out of the top hundred in 2013, climbed his way back to a career-high #6 in the world in 2016, made the semis at that year's U.S. Open, dropped a bit again, and now stands at #11. So given his longevity, maybe I shouldn't be surprised that he put together an impressive twelve-match win streak before the lockdown. After the Australian Open he picked up titles in Montpelier and Rotterdam before reaching the semis in Dubai. He's been on a bit of a losing streak since the lockdown ended, though, nursing a neck injury in the back half, but my money's on him to come back swinging when he's back on court.

Be sure to come back for more Tennis Spin Awards. Up next: the biggest upsets of the year -- a couple of underdogs that really found a way to shine against the toughest of opponents.

And to see all of the winners this year and in years past, click here.

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