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Tennis Said Goodbye to Roger Federer and Hello to Carlos Alcaraz

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Right after Brandon Nakashima won the ATP’s Next Gen Finals — a year-end championship for eight elite players ages 21 and under — in Milan last month, he headed to London for a vacation along with his girlfriend.

Walking through the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, with its holiday lights blazing, Nakashima, 21, realized that he, too, had blazed latest trails in 2022.

“It’s definitely been a really interesting yr,” said Nakashima, who won his first ATP title in his hometown San Diego in September and ended the season ranked in the highest 50 for the primary time. “A yr ago, I used to be playing mostly [low-level] Challenger tournaments and now I’m certainly one of the standout latest players rising as much as challenge the older guys. That’s pretty exciting.”

Interesting. Exciting. Melodramatic. Breathtaking. All apt descriptions of the 2022 men’s and girls’s pro tennis season. With the emergence of Iga Swiatek and Carlos Alcaraz and the teary departures of Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Ashleigh Barty, it’s hard to recollect a yr in the game quite like this one.

When the season began in Australia in January, Covid was still a significant issue. The nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, whose steadfast refusal to be vaccinated for Covid-19 polarized fans worldwide, was detained for hours on the Melbourne Airport after which placed in lockdown at an immigration detention hotel.

He was ultimately sent home just because the tournament was starting.

With Federer in Switzerland nursing his ailing knee, Rafael Nadal, who had not won a significant for the reason that 2020 French Open, beat Daniil Medvedev for the boys’s title and captured his twenty first major championship, breaking a three-way tie with Federer and Djokovic.

Nadal, who turned 36 in June, won his first 21 matches of the yr until finally falling to Taylor Fritz in the ultimate at Indian Wells in March. He then added a twenty second major by winning his 14th French Open.

With much of the early-season drama on the boys’s side, Barty, the world No. 1 and reigning Wimbledon champ, cruised through the ladies’s Australian Open, and have become the primary Aussie woman to win the title since 1978.

Lower than two months later, she announced her retirement, paving the way in which for Swiatek to change into No. 1. Swiatek wasted no time in proving her price, winning 37 consecutive matches from late February to early July and claiming her second French and first United States Opens.

“I had times once I wasn’t that motivated,” Swiatek said through the year-end WTA Finals, where she lost within the semifinals to Aryna Sabalenka, who ended the yr ranked No. 5. “I accept that I don’t must feel at all times one hundred pc motivated. But once I’m happening the court it’s still the identical, I at all times need to win.”

If Swiatek’s rise seemed meteoric, it was nothing compared with that of Alcaraz. Still a young person, Alcaraz began the 2022 season ranked No. 32 and ended it because the youngest year-end No. 1, at age 19. It was the primary time since 2003 that somebody apart from Djokovic, Federer, Nadal or Andy Murray finished the season atop the ATP rankings.

In all, Alcaraz won five titles, including Masters 1000s in Miami and Madrid, where he upset three of the world’s top 4 players: Nadal, Djokovic and Alexander Zverev.

“This was really a head-scratching season,” said the previous world No. 1 Jim Courier by phone last month. “It’s hard to take a look at the 2 No. 1s and never be amazed. Iga grabbed the mantle and didn’t let go. And Alcaraz, who we expected can be great, did it way ahead of schedule.

“There really were three legitimate No. 1s for the boys this yr,” Courier added. “Carlos earned it on points, but Novak was incredible, because regardless of not playing half the yr, he didn’t suffer the emotional strain from being out of the sport. But, in the long run, I judge No. 1 on the majors and considering that Rafa won two of them, I might think most individuals would want his yr most of all.”

There have been loads of other breakout performances. Casper Ruud reached two major finals, losing to Nadal on the French Open and Alcaraz on the U.S. Open. He was also the runner-up to Djokovic on the ATP Finals.

Holger Rune, 19, went from relative obscurity to capturing 19 of his last 21 matches, including a victory over Djokovic in the ultimate of the Paris Masters. Fritz won in Indian Wells and took Nadal to 5 sets within the Wimbledon quarterfinals. Frances Tiafoe beat Nadal and Andrey Rublev before falling in five exuberant sets to Alcaraz within the semifinals of the U.S. Open. And Nick Kyrgios finally reached his first major final at Wimbledon.

Elena Rybakina captured her first major at Wimbledon, while Ons Jabeur delighted fans by reaching back-to-back finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Coco Gauff reached the ultimate on the French Open, which helped her change into, at 18, the youngest woman since 2007 to complete the yr ranked in the highest 10.

Jessica Pegula won the WTA 1000 event in Guadalajara and ended the season ranked No. 3. And Caroline Garcia, who began the yr ranked No. 74 and considering retirement, stormed back, winning 4 titles, including the WTA Finals, and ended up No. 4.

12 months-end rankings might need been different had off-court drama not intervened. Djokovic was barred from two of the 4 majors, yet he still managed to win five of the 11 tournaments he entered. He was 42-7 on the season.

Russian and Belarusian players including Medvedev, Rublev, Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka were barred from all tournaments in the UK due to Russian invasion of Ukraine, prompting each the ATP and the WTA to withdraw rating points from Wimbledon, which skewed the rating system.

Team competitions flourished in 2022. Switzerland, led by Belinda Bencic, Jil Teichmann and Viktorija Golubic, won its first Billie Jean King Cup. And Canada, led by Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov, began the yr by winning the ATP Cup and ended it by winning the country’s first Davis Cup.

There have been ups and downs this yr. Dominic Thiem, the 2020 U.S. Open champion, returned after nearly a yr away due to a wrist injury. Zverev had an ankle injury on the French Open and didn’t play for the remainder of the season. And former No. 1 Simona Halep was suspended after the U.S. Open when she failed a drug test.

There have been tears and cheers when Serena Williams — who announced her retirement after the U.S. Open — won two star-studded night matches there, including a victory over the second-seeded Anett Kontaveit. Williams lost to Ajla Tomljanovic, however the 23-time major winner was already hinting at a possible return before she had left Arthur Ashe Stadium.

But by far probably the most gut-wrenching moment of the yr was reserved for Federer, who played his last pro match on the Laver Cup in London in September alongside Nadal, his longtime rival and friend . With hugs and tears flowing, Federer ended a 24-year profession that included 20 majors:eight at Wimbledon and 6 Australian, five U.S. and one French Opens.

“Someone who I actually have admired, who I actually have rivaled and likewise I actually have shared many beautiful things on and off the court was leaving,” Nadal said of his post-match display of emotion, in an interview with Reuters. “You recognize you’re not going to live that again, and a component of my life left with him. It was also the emotion of claiming goodbye to someone who has been so essential to our sport.”

The long run of the game is now within the youthful hands of Alcaraz, Swiatek, Gauff, Rune and Ruud. But even Nakashima knows there won’t ever be one other Federer.

“I grew up watching him on TV and idolizing him,” Nakashima — who still has posters of Federer and Nadal on his bedroom wall — said by phone last month. “Unfortunately, I never got to satisfy him. But when I did, I might just thank him for all the pieces he’s done for our sport.”

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