Hot on the heels of Brandon Nakashima winning the ATP Next Gen Finals – a year-end championship for eight elite players aged 21 and under – in Milan last month, he traveled to London to vacation with his girlfriend.
Strolling through Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland, with its blazing holiday lights, 21-year-old Nakashima realized that he too had blazed new trails in 2022.
“It’s really been a very interesting year,” said Nakashima, who won his first ATP title in his hometown of San Diego in September and finished the season in the top 50 for the first time. “A year ago, I mainly played [low-level] Challenger tournaments and now I’m one of the hottest new players rising up to challenge the older guys. It’s quite exciting.
Interesting. Exciting. Melodramatic. Amazing. All apt descriptions of the 2022 men’s and women’s professional tennis season. With the emergence of Iga Swiatek and Carlos Alcaraz and the tearful departures of Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Ashleigh Barty, it’s hard to remember a year in sports like this.
When the season started in Australia in January, Covid was still a major issue. Nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, whose steadfast refusal to get vaccinated for polarized Covid-19 fans around the world, was detained for hours at Melbourne airport and then placed in detention in a migrant detention hotel.
He was eventually sent home just as the tournament began.
While Federer in Switzerland treated his ailing knee, Rafael Nadal, who hadn’t won a major tournament since the 2020 French Open, beat Daniil Medvedev for the men’s title and won his 21st major championship, breaking a tie at three with Federer and Djokovic.
Nadal, who turned 36 in June, won his first 21 games of the year before finally falling to Taylor Fritz in the Indian Wells final in March. He then added a 22nd major by winning his 14th French Open.
With much of the early-season drama on the men’s side, Barty, the world No. 1 and reigning Wimbledon champion, sailed through the Australian Women’s Open and became the first Australian woman to win the title since 1978. .
Less than two months later, she announced her retirement, paving the way for Swiatek to become No. 1. Swiatek wasted no time in proving her worth, winning 37 straight games from late February to early July and winning her second French and first American. Open.
“I had times when I wasn’t as motivated,” Swiatek said at the year-end WTA Finals, where she lost in the semis to Aryna Sabalenka, who ended the year at the 5th rank. must always feel 100% motivated. But when I go on the court, it’s always the same, I always want to win.
If Swiatek’s rise seemed meteoric, it was nothing compared to that of Alcaraz. Still a teenager, Alcaraz started the 2022 season ranked 32nd and finished it as the youngest year-end No.1, at 19. It was the first time since 2003 that anyone other than Djokovic, Federer, Nadal or Andy Murray finished the season atop the ATP rankings.
In all, Alcaraz has won five titles, including the Masters 1000 in Miami and Madrid, where he surprised three of the world’s top four players: Nadal, Djokovic and Alexander Zverev.
“It was truly an amazing season,” former world number one Jim Courier said by phone last month. “It’s hard to watch the two No. 1s and not be surprised. Iga grabbed the coat and didn’t let go. And Alcaraz, which we expected to be great, did it way ahead of schedule.
“There were really three legitimate No. 1s in the men’s this year,” Courier added. “Carlos deserved it on points but Novak was amazing because although he didn’t play half the year he didn’t suffer from the emotional strain of being out of the game. But , in the end I judge the No. 1 on the majors and given that Rafa has won two of them, I think most people would want his year above all else.
There were many other performances in small groups. Casper Ruud has reached two major finals, losing to Nadal at the French Open and Alcaraz at the US Open. He was also Djokovic’s runner-up in the ATP Finals.
Holger Rune, 19, has gone from relative obscurity to capturing 19 of his last 21 matches, including a win over Djokovic in the Paris Masters final. Fritz won at Indian Wells and led Nadal to five sets in the Wimbledon quarter-finals. Frances Tiafoe beat Nadal and Andrey Rublev before falling in an exuberant five sets to Alcaraz in the US Open semi-final. And Nick Kyrgios has finally reached his first grand final at Wimbledon.
Elena Rybakina won her first major at Wimbledon, while Ons Jabeur delighted fans by reaching back-to-back finals at Wimbledon and the US Open. Coco Gauff reached the French Open final, which helped her become, at 18, the youngest woman since 2007 to finish the year in the top 10.
Jessica Pegula won the WTA 1000 event in Guadalajara and finished the season ranked 3rd. And Caroline Garcia, who started the year ranked No. 74 and was considering retirement, stormed through, winning four titles, including the WTA Finals, and finding herself No. 4.
The year-end standings could have been different had the off-court drama not intervened. Djokovic was kicked out of two of the four major tournaments, but he still managed to win five of the 11 tournaments he took part in. He was 42-7 this season.
Russian and Belarusian players including Medvedev, Rublev, Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka have been barred from all tournaments in the UK due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, prompting the ATP and WTA to taking away ranking points at Wimbledon, which skewed the ranking system.
Team competitions flourished in 2022. Switzerland, led by Belinda Bencic, Jil Teichmann and Viktorija Golubic, won their first Billie Jean King Cup. And Canada, led by Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov, started the year by winning the ATP Cup and ended it by winning the country’s first Davis Cup.
There have been ups and downs this year. Dominic Thiem, the 2020 US Open champion, has returned after almost a year out with a wrist injury. Zverev suffered an ankle injury at Roland-Garros and did not play for the rest of the season. And former No. 1 Simona Halep was suspended after the US Open after failing a drug test.
There were tears and cheers when Serena Williams – who announced her retirement after the US Open – won two star-studded night matches there, including a victory over second seed Anett Kontaveit. Williams lost to Ajla Tomljanovic, but the 23-time winner was already hinting at a possible comeback before leaving the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
But by far the most heartbreaking moment of the year was reserved for Federer, who played his last professional match at the Laver Cup in London in September alongside longtime rival and friend Nadal. With hugs and tears flowing, Federer ended a 24-year career that included 20 major tournaments: eight at Wimbledon and six in Australia, five in the United States and one at Roland Garros.
“Someone who I admired, competed with and shared many beautiful things on and off the pitch was leaving,” Nadal said of his post-match emotion, in a interview with Reuters. “You know you won’t go through that again, and part of my life is gone with him. It was also the emotion of saying goodbye to someone who has been so important to our sport.”
The future of sport is now in the hands of the youth of Alcaraz, Swiatek, Gauff, Rune and Ruud. But even Nakashima knows there will never be another 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 met him. But if I did, I would just thank him for everything he has done for our sport.