December 21, 2020

The 2020 Tennis Spin Awards: Most Anticipated Comebacks

One of the reasons I had so much trouble coming up with the men who'd staged huge comebacks this year was that so many of the top guys were all but missing from tour in 2020 -- a couple gals too. Whether because of injury or due to COVID-related travel restrictions, we know we didn't get a full picture of what the tennis game should have been like this season.

But luckily we're on the verge of a new year and some of the players we saw precious little of last season have promised to make a return. So let's take a look at them.

Will they be in as great a shape as they were the last time we saw them? Well, it stands to reason it may take a few weeks or months before they return to form. But I sure am willing to wait for it.

The Women

The Winner: Bianca Andreescu

It almost feels like the 20-year-old Canadian was a tornado that blew through the tennis world last year. Ranked out of the top hundred at the start of the season, she stormed through draws at the biggest events, making quick work of the likes of Angelique Kerber, GarbiΓ±e Muguruza, Sofia Kenin, and Serena Wiliams, and picking up titles at Indian Wells, Toronto, and the U.S. Open -- the run made only more remarkable by the fact that it was the first time she'd ever played the main draw of that Major. She ended the year as #5.

But it's been over a year since Bianca Andreescu took the court -- a knee injury at her first WTA Finals forced her out of this year's Australian Open. After a couple false starts -- we thought she'd be back in February and then, after the seven month lockdown, hoped she could try to defend in New York -- she called off her season in September, not that there was much season left at that point.

She's been training hard, though, for her return, practicing in Dubai ahead of the now-delayed Australian Open. It'll be interesting to see if she can have the same success she did pre-injury. After all, her rise was so meteoric it was bound to take a couple opponents by surprise, and whether she can keep it going now that she's a known quantitiy -- well, we'll have to see.

Still, I do have faith -- her game seems strong enough to have some staying power. And whoever's on the other side of the net will surely have to bring their best.

Runner-Up: Ashleigh Barty

Maybe I'm a grump, but was I the only one raising an eyebrow at all posts congratulating the 24-year-old for a second straight year-end #1 ranking? After all, Ashleigh Barty only played three events this year, and none since February. While I respect her decision to stay local during these uncertain times, and her point-retention is less problematic than, say, Marketa Vondrousova, who she beat in the French Open final but lost in the first round in 2020 -- the "best-of" scenario really should only come into play if you were prevented from playing the same event -- it certainly feels like there are others who are more deserving of that honor. Still, Barty had a great season in 2019, also picking up trophies in Miami and at the year-end championship, and made a nice run to the Melbourne semis this year. And I'm excited to see if that performance was a fluke or a sign of something more.

The Men

The Winner: Roger Federer

Okay...deep breath...rumors of the great one's imminent retirement are hopefully greatly exagerrated.

Still, it's not often that we see the GOAT 🐐 contender take so much time off in one season. When back injury caused him to end a streak of 65 straight Grand Slam appearances in 2016, we hardly knew what to do with ourselves.

His respite this year seemed particularly well-timed. After undergoing knee surgery in February, he pulled out of Dubai and was planning to sit out Miami, Indian Wells and the French Open, had any of those events happened as originally scheduled. He officially closed the books on a potential return this year after another surgery in June, making this his quietest season in over two decades.

But Roger Federer is nothing if not a journeyman. An unlikely social media star, he was putting in the work even in his downtime and has indicated his intention to play in Melbourne next year -- and scared everyone with his latest hint of a delayed return.

And he's certainly got plenty of motivation to get back on court. After all, as congratulatory as he might be over Rafael Nadal's tying his record 20 Grand Slam titles, I'm sure he wants to add a couple more wins to his résumé before he calls it quits. And at 39 years young he's running out of time to do it.

Of course, we should know better than to write off Roger Federer. And we should expect when he hits the court next year, he's going to bring all the firepower and grace he's always given us.

Runner-Up: Juan Martin Del Potro

I feel like this is my most anticipated comeback EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. But Juan Martin Del Potro isn't giving up yet, and neither am I. The gentle giant has been dealing with one injury after another over the years, from persistent wrist problems -- once requiring four surgeries in one year -- to most recently a second fracture of his patella at Queen's Club in 2019. That might be enough for most people to call it quits, but the Argentine wants to fight on. And he's climbed out of the depths before -- twice in the past he's fallen out of the top hundred and both times made it back to the top ten. He'll be trying to do it a third time. Earlier this month, DelPo underwent a stem cell treatment and said he's got his sights set on playing the Olympics next year -- remember, he's already got two medals at the Games. I don't know if he'll get there, but if there's anyone who can, it's him.

Honorable Mention: Nick Kyrgios

Unlike Roger and DelPo, who spent the year recouping from injury and surgery, the feisty Australian was MIA from the Tour for entirely 2020 reasons. Like Barty above, Nick Kyrgios took the enviable stance of avoiding travel during the pandemic and became the surprising voice of public health in the sport, loudly calling out those who were less than careful during the ill-fated Adria Tour over the summer. And it's a shame we didn't get to see him on court more -- he started the year with a solid win over Stefanos Tsitsipas at the ATP Cup and stunned a soon-to-be-target in his tirades, Karen Khachanov, at the Australian Open. It looked like his ranking was back on the rise again, and hopefully it will be once again.

We're getting to the end of this year's Tennis Spin Awards. Up next: the matches of the year -- the ones that had us on the edge of our seats and screaming like mad at the television.

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

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