It’s time to look ahead to next season and there’s plenty coming our way. Here are five big stories developing for 2022.
Federer and the Williams sisters – the End of a Generation?
Is this the year? The rumour mill has been churning for a while now but 2022 could see three of the sport’s most iconic names hang up their rackets for good. For Roger Federer (40), Venus (41) and Serena Williams (40), it’s not just a question of age, but of injury. Neither Federer or Serena have played since Wimbledon this year and neither will play the upcoming Australian Open – indeed, Federer’s scheduled return isn’t until mid-2022. Venus is on the entry list in Melbourne, but her chances aren’t high, as she won just three out of 12 singles matches in 2021 and is currently down at 312 in the world rankings.
The fact that the trio want to keep going is a testament to their will and durability. To be able to play any matches on the intensively competitive and physical pro tour is an achievement, and to continue fighting against considerable setbacks is yet another indication of the champion mentality that has kept them at the top for so long. If this is finally the year that they bid the sport farewell, we can only hope they go out on their own terms and not on the treatment table.
The labours of the ‘Next Gen’ is one of the longest-running sagas in men’s tennis. Seen as the standard-bearers of a post-Big Three era, the likes of Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev have been Grand Slam champions-in-waiting for what seems like an age, a suspenseful plotline that never arrives at a satisfying conclusion. This year, one of them finally got over the hump.
When Daniil Medvedev beat Novak Djokovic in the 2021 US Open final, he became just the second man born in the 1990s to win a singles Grand Slam after Dominic Thiem. In truth, the fact that Medvedev bettered the Serbian at Flushing Meadows was perhaps the biggest achievement of all. While no Grand Slam is to be sniffed at, there’s no doubt that winning a major tournament in the Big Three era – and ideally against one of them on the court – carries extra prestige, a symbol of the torch being passed and proof of being a worthy successor.
With Djokovic looking almost human at times towards the end of the year, the Next Gen will sense that now is a perfect chance to claim some Major silverware. We may well see new names inscribed on Grand Slam trophies in 2022.
Tennis in China
It was a story that made front-page news. Grand Slam doubles champion and former singles world number 14, Peng Shuai, disappeared without trace in early November after accusing a senior Chinese official of sexual assault on social media platform Weibo. Her accusation was promptly removed from the site, subsequent correspondence alleged to be from Shuai appeared to be falsified and, while the International Olympic Committee reported speaking to her in early December, the full truth of the situation remains buried behind s wall of secrecy.
The tennis world reacted strongly. High-profile players from Federer and Nadal to Osaka and Djokovic, were quick to condemn the disturbing events, while the Women’s Tennis Association and International Tennis Federation have removed all tournaments from the country. With the ATP ordinarily holding a 500 tournament in Beijing and a Masters 1000 in Shanghai (both were cancelled in 2021 due to the pandemic) all eyes will be on the schedule this year to see if these tournaments reappear – and if not, why not.
The rise of Raducanu
It was a story so remarkable that you couldn’t write it as a Hollywood script. At just 18 years old and without a single WTA win under her belt, Great Britain’s Emma Raducanu took home the US Open title and simply smashed the record books away. She was the first qualifier to ever win a Major and did it in the fewest number of Grand Slam appearances. She was the youngest Slam champion since a 17-year-old Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon in 2004. And she did it all without dropping a set.
Eminently marketable and supremely likeable, Raducanu has become an overnight sensation, courted by countless sponsors and turning into one of the most recognisable figures in the game. That US Open Final against fellow teenager Leylah Fernandez sparked increased interest in the women’s game and its future stars, not just in Great Britain, but in the world.
The question for Emma now is, what’s next? With Serena Williams nearing the end of her career, women’s tennis is looking for its next big star. The WTA has famously been an open field in the last few years, with rankings chopping and changing and a stream of one-time Grand Slam champions. Raducanu is far from the first youngster to explode onto the scene and the waters ahead will be perilous, but 2022 will give a good indication as to whether she can stay the course.
The GOAT debate
When Novak Djokovic won his milestone 20th Grand Slam at Wimbledon, he added new fuel to the fire in the argument that never really stops. Who is the best ever – the Serbian, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal? With the three now tied on their Slam count, it’s no easy task for their respective fans to make their case.
There’s no doubt that the three are at very different stages of their careers. Given Federer’s persistent and serious injury problems, it is almost unfair to expect him to win another Major at this point. Nadal has his own fitness issues, but these are seemingly more minor, and it would be a brave person that would rule him out of Roland Garros at the least.
Right now, it’s Djokovic that has the momentum. It says a lot about his dominance over the game that fans expect to him to win every tournament and he is the runaway favourite to take home a 10th Australian Open title in January. If he does, then this never-ending debate will take another interesting turn.