Tennis did not lack for drama in 2018. The year started with Roger Federer winning his 20th major in Australia and Caroline Wozniacki winning her first. Then Rafael Nadal dominated Roland Garros—surprise, surprise—and Simona Halep won her maiden Slam. Next up was the resurgence of two all-time greats, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, and the emergence of a star in Naomi Osaka. What will the biggest storylines of 2019 be? Here are the people and trends that will define the 2019 tennis season.
After a two-year dark stretch, Djokovic won Wimbledon last year. And, just like that, the pilot light went back on. He’s been virtually unbeatable since, sits atop the rankings, and has reasserted himself firmly not just at the top of the sport but in tennis’ GOAT conversation.
Osaka “out-Serena-ed” Serena to win the 2018 U.S. Open, prevailing with a combination of superior power and superior poise. The Japanese/Haitian raised mostly in Florida will try to build on that. As the Tokyo Olympics loom, Japan has an athlete it can market and support.
THESE LEGENDS AREN’T FINISHED YET
For years now, eligibility for the senior circuit begins at age 35; such was the lifespan of a tennis player. Roger Federer and Serena Williams both turn 38 in 2019. At some point Cronus will do his inevitable dance. But both GOATs start the year with their usual (and realistic) ambitions of winning Grand Slams.
The bad news for Stephens: after winning the 2017 U.S. Open, she did not win a second major in 2018. The good news: she hardly retreated, reaching the French Open final, winning the high-stakes Miami title and finishing 2018 at No. 6. She’s still only 25 and, while consistency is not—and will never be—her thing, she can win any event she enters.
TEAM COMPETITIONS GALORE
It sounds like a Zen koan: How many cups are too many? In tennis the answer is three. The Laver Cup, the ATP World Cup and the new Davis Cup present an encapsulation of either the sudden demand for team-based international competitions or tennis’ congenital screwed-up-ness. The debut one-week, best-of-three, shoot-em-up Davis Cup in November will be especially revealing.
To innovate, or not to innovate
“Innovation” has become a sports buzzword that, its companion “fan-friendly,” is used so often and reflexively that it has lost its descriptive powers. But tennis continues to innovate, sometimes with success and sometimes not. Proposals on the table include everything from shorter sets to on-court towel racks to mid-match coaching. We’ll see which gain “traction” (another cliché!) and which don’t.
Return of the twins
For a pair of twins separated by a pair of minutes, Bob and Mike Bryan were at remarkably different points in their lives last year. Bob was married, a father, and sidelined with a hip injury. Mike was encumbered by neither injury nor family and, as a result, did the unthinkable and took on a new partner. Mike and Jack Sock—a paired sock, go ahead and make the joke—teamed to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Now, though, Bob is back. And, at age 40, so are the twins, the greatest men’s doubles team ever. Bob is going for his first major in more than four years. Mike goes for his third straight. Speaking of doubles….
New Leadership at the USTA
Patrick Galbraith, once a stalwart doubles player, now plays a single role as the new board chairman and president of the USTA.