| By Robbie Werdiger
Photo courtesy of USTA/Brad Penner

 

This story first appeared in the January/February 2020 edition of Long Island Tennis Magazine. Click Here to read the full digital edition


The “Big Three”

As the calendar flips to a new decade, three familiar names still remain atop the ATP World Tour rankings. The three greatest players of all-time playing in the same era is remarkable, and something that has captivated the sports world and has elevated the popularity of tennis. Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have combined for 55 Grand Slam titles and counting, and the tennis world is wondering if 2020 will be the year a new star emerges.

Nadal storms into the Australian Open fresh off a Davis Cup victory for Spain, and currently holds the top ranking in the world. After a solid run to the finals last year, he is hoping to capture his second Australian Open title. However, throughout his career, the Spaniard has had his worst major results in Australia, and the rest of the field is not going to make winning a title easy.

Djokovic travels to the “Land Down Under” as a slight favorite. The defending champion had some spectacular moments in 2019, winning two major titles, but seemed to return down to Earth towards the end of the season and lost the number one ranking. Djokovic is known for his ups and downs, but when things get tight on the biggest stages, the Serbian always seems to come through.

Federer, at the age of 38, is looking to capture his seventh Aussie Open title. Very few people expected the “Swiss Maestro” to raise the trophy two years ago, and this year is no different. After suffering a heartbreaking loss in the Wimbledon final, Federer is eager to capture another Grand Slam and extend his tally. If his body holds up, Federer’s brilliance can help him get past anyone.

 


Kevin Anderson


 

Kevin Anderson is a dangerous floater in the Aussie Open Draw after spending the second half of 2019 sidelined with a knee injury. Anderson, who is a two-time grand slam finalist and former world number five, has returned to action and shown no signs of rust. The 6’8” South African pushed Djokovic to the brink in a tight 7-6, 7-6 battle, and emerged victorious against Benoit Paire and Christian Garin at the ATP Cup. Heading into Australia with confidence, Anderson is a dangerous opponent who has the talent to take out any player in the top 10. He will use his protected ranking to gain entrance into the main draw, but will not be seeded, which can result in some exciting early-round matchups.

 



Young stars Bencic and Vekic … how will they follow up their US Open run?


 

The US Open was a breakout tournament for many players on the women’s side beyond its champion Bianca Andreescu. This included Belinda Bencic and Donna Vekic, both of whom were pegged to be stars when they were teenagers, and are now tapping into that potential. Still both extremely young at 22- and 23-years-old respectively, Bencic and Vekic compiled their best Grand Slam runs of their careers in Queens. Vekic reached the quarterfinals, while Bencic reached the semifinals, and both should be ready to make a deep run in the first Grand Slam of 2020.

 


The Aussies

 

As is usually the case, and even more so being in his home country, all eyes will be on Nick Kyrgios. The crowd favorite will likely put on the usual show, with a mixture of trick shots and theatrics. Despite winning multiple ATP 500 titles, last season was a bit of disappointment for Kyrgios.

At the Australian Open, Kyrgios will not even be the highest-seeded Australian in the draw. Fellow countryman Alex de Minaur is currently ranked 18th in the world, and the 25-year-old is coached by Australian legend Lleyton Hewitt. With a strong mind and an explosive game, de Minaur has higher expectations than Kyrgios heading into this year’s tournament.

 



Young stars in the top 10

 

A group of breakout stars in their early 20’s have climbed the rankings and are threatening to topple the reign of the Big Three.

Dominic Thiem beat Federer, Nadal and Djokovic in 2019 en route to a career-best year and hopes to do the same as the fourth-seed at the Aussie Open.

Daniil Medvedev went on a magical run last season, winning the most matches of anyone on tour, including reaching the US Open finals. After a few tough losses at the end of the season, Medvedev is rested and ready to capture his first major title.

Stefanos Tsitsipas won the biggest title of his career at the Nitto ATP Finals and is looking to build off his semifinal run in Australia last year to become the first Greek male ever to win a Grand Slam.

Alexander Zverev was the first Next Gen player thought to be able to contend with the Big Three. He’s played well in tournaments with a two-out-of-three set format, but at the Grand Slams, Zverev has yet to get past the quarterfinals and, therefore, remains on upset alert.

Matteo Berrettini emerged out of nowhere and has stunned the odds-makers as he fought his way to the semifinals of the US Open. Having lost in the first round last year at the Australian Open, Berrettini is likely to build off his newfound confidence and make a mark in the draw this year.

 


Can Osaka defend her title?


 

Last year at the Australian Open, Naomi Osaka capped off a remarkable six-month run that began towards the end of 2018. After winning the US Open, she parlayed that into an Australian Open title, becoming the first woman to win back-to-back majors since Serena Williams in 2015. Osaka’s season peaked then, as the young star failed to reach the semifinals of any event until the Toray Pan Pacific Open in mid-September. A new year could mean a fresh start for Osaka, and the 22-year-old will be ready to defend her title in Melbourne.

 


The young star you may not know: Jannik Sinner

You may not have heard of Jannik Sinner before he won the Next Gen ATP Finals late last year, and you may still not know his name. But you will soon. The 18-year-old Italian prodigy is ranked 78th in the world and has earned his ranking mostly through tournaments on the Futures and Challengers Tour.

He has beaten Monfils, as well as de Minaur, and won a set off Wawrinka at the US Open. The year 2020 is time for Sinner to break into the top 50, and there is no better place to start the season than on a high note at the Australian Open.

 


Wozniacki’s last ride


 

Towards the end of 2019, Caroline Wozniacki, one of the greatest players of this generation, announced that she will be retiring from professional tennis. But before she officially calls it quits, Wozniacki will play the 2020 Australian Open, a tournament she won two years ago for her maiden Grand Slam title. Still just 29-years-old, Wozniacki said she has more to accomplish in life away from tennis, and lingering injuries, including rheumatoid arthritis, have made it difficult for her to practice and compete over the last couple of years. Wozniacki has long been a fan-favorite, and she will try to go out on top in her final career tournament.

 


Elina Svitolina


 

Could this be the year that Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina breaks through and hoists her first Grand Slam title? Svitolina has been a mainstay inside the top 10 and is capable of beating any player on tour. In 2019, she compiled some of her best results at the four majors, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals for the second time in her career, and powering into the semifinals of both Wimbledon and the US Open, her first two Grand Slam semifinal appearances. This season could be the best of her career, and Svitolina will look to get out of the gates early with a good run in Melbourne.

 


The American women


 

Last year, we saw a number of American women achieve their best results at a Grand Slam, setting them up to improve on those showings as we enter 2020. That begins at the Australian Open.

In Melbourne a year ago, Danielle Collins, the 26-year-old former University of Virginia standout, powered her way into the semifinals before falling to eventual runner-up Petra Kvitova. That was followed up by three Americans reaching the quarterfinals of the French Open, Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens and Amanda Anisimova, which included the latter, just 18-years-old, reaching the semifinals. And at Wimbledon, Alison Riske took on Serena Williams in a three-set match for a spot in the semifinals. In the year’s final major, Serena was the lone American into the semifinals, although the Round of 16 featured four players from the United States. This is a good sign heading into the New Year, with a number of American women, besides Serena, having experienced deep runs into the Grand Slams. Expect them to be a factor at the calendar’s first Grand Slam in 2020.

 

 

Robbie Werdiger

Robbie Werdiger is a rising senior at Horace Mann School in New York City. As a captain on his high school tennis team, Robbie has received team MVP and has been awarded the First Team all Ivy award two times at the first and second singles positions. Individually, Robbie has competed on the national junior stage and has achieved USTA rankings of top 25 in the eastern section in numerous age groups. Additionally, Robbie has represented team USA at the world Maccabiah Games in Israel in 2017, the third largest international sporting event in the world.