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ATP 2019 season in review: Livetennis.com's editors break down the year

Andrew Hendrie in ATP Tour 28 Nov 2019
  • Livetennis.com's editors review the 2019 ATP season
  • Player of the year, best matches, coach of the year and more chosen by our editorial team
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic (PA Images)

The ATP season in review: Who were the best players of 2019?


ATP tennis for 2019 has drawn to a close, and with just six weeks until a brand new season and decade, we've looked back at some of the most defining moments in men's tennis for the year. Everything from the year's best player to the most improved and from the best matches to the players that disappointed is covered in our extensive season review.

Read on below as Livetennis.com's core team of editors - Hannah Wilks, Andrew Hendrie and 'Leye Aduloju - have their say on the ATP season that was.

Breakthrough player of the year


Aduloju: Quite a few young guns made their moves in 2019, but I've got to go with Felix Auger-Aliassime here. The 19-year-old commanded plenty of attention during his junior career, and expectations around him will only continue to rise following a brilliant 2019. The supremely talented Canadian began the year just outside the top-100, but he finishes at 21st in the world, peaking at No. 17 somewhere in between. Auger-Aliassime reached three tour-level finals- Rio, Lyon and Stuttgart- and made a Masters 1000 semi-final in Miami. He ran out of steam towards the end of the year, and missed the final month of the ATP season with an ankle injury, but that's only a minor blip on a superb breakthrough year. We will be seeing a lot more of him in the coming seasons.

Hendrie: Felix Auger-Aliassime for me. The Canadian put together a superb season, making three ATP Finals and reaching his first Masters 1000 semi-final in Miami. Cracking the top 20 as a teenager is a tremendous achievement in this day and age, and if he keeps progressing at the rate he is, Auger-Aliassime could be challenging for a place at the ATP Finals this time next year.

Special shoutout to Jannik Sinner as well - the Next Gen ATP Finals champion is a Grand Slam champion in the making and I’m very excited to see what he does in 2020. Also, as an Aussie, I have to mention Christopher O’Connell too - he’s gone from cleaning boats and being unranked at the start of 2019 to a year-end mark of No. 121. Watch out for him during the Australian summer and beyond.

Wilks: Honourable mentions to Jannik Sinner, Miomir Kecmanovic and Felix Auger-Aliassime, but I’m going with someone who I think we’re going to hear a lot about over the next few years (albeit not always for the right reasons): Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik, who started 2019 at world no. 162 and finishes it at world no. 57 via three Challenger Tour titles and runs to ATP Tour finals in Newport and Chengdu.

The 22-year-old Bublik has a stunning serve and a wildly unpredictable game, and isn’t averse to courting controversy, throwing in an underarm serve or two. He’s sort of Kazakhstan’s answer to Nick Kyrgios, and has been a lot less hyped than some other youngsters. I’m not sure we’re looking at a future top-10 player but expect the Kazakh to wreak some havoc in draws over the next few years.

Most improved player


Aduloju: A few candidates here- Berrettini, Thiem, Medvedev- but I'll go with Stefanos Tsitsipas. What a season he had, moving from Next Gen ATP Finals champion to Nitto ATP Finals champion in just one year! Tsitsipas has risen so fast that it is sometimes easy to overlook where he started from. This guy was outside the top-90 at the start of 2019, but he's finished comfortably in the top-ten, with a Nitto ATP Finals trophy to boot.

Hendrie: It has to be Daniil Medvedev. I always thought the Russian was criminally underrated when it came to ‘Next Gen’ conversations, but he proved he’s one of the leading contenders to break through and win a slam next season after a stellar 2019, especially his extraordinary run of six straight finals from July to October. Medvedev was on the brink of a major title at the U.S. Open and I can’t wait to see how he performs in Australia - hopefully a 0-3 finish to the season in London doesn’t dampen his spirits…

Matteo Berrettini also deserves a mention - from outside the top 50 to the top 10 and making semi-finals at Grand Slam and Masters 1000 level, along with qualifying for the ATP Finals, is an amazing achievement.

Wilks: Dominic Thiem, who transformed himself from a clay-court specialist to a legitimate threat to even the best in the world on all surfaces in 2019. Although he did not manage to better his career-high ranking of world no. 4, infinitesimal technical adjustments worked wonders for the 26-year-old as he coupled a typically strong clay-court season with becoming a Masters 1000 Series champion and even shone during what is usually the worst part of his year, winning Beijing and Vienna and coming damn close to winning the ATP Finals, beating Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic along the way. Continuing to evolve and improve even when you’re already a top-10, top-5 player is what separates the very best from those who are content to remain with the rest.

Player I expected more from


Aduloju: Karen Khachanov. After winning three titles in 2018, including the Paris Masters, and ending the season just outside the top-10, Khachanov looked poised to kick on in 2019, but that never happened. Instead, he regressed badly, reaching just two semi-finals all season, and slipping to No. 17 in the year-end rankings.

Hendrie: Alexander Zverev, closely followed by Karen Khachanov. Of course, they’ve both got plenty of time left to achieve so much in the sport, and they both stayed in the top 10 and 20 respectively, but after huge finishes to 2018 (Khachanov winning the Paris Masters and Zverev claiming the ATP Finals title), I expected both of them to really take their games to the next level in 2019, but they each regressed and didn’t make an impact at the majority of meaningful tournaments.

Wilks: Alexander Zverev feels like the obvious pick, but I thought he was about due for a sophomore slump. Ditto Karen Khachanov.

I’ll take a swerve and pick Stan Wawrinka. After multiple knee surgeries in the back half of 2016, it was always going to be a difficult and time-consuming process for the three-time Grand Slam champion to get back to his best, but it feels like we’re still waiting, two years later. True, Wawrinka was only able to play 34 matches in 2018, but he played a fairly full schedule in 2019 and while he worked his way back into the top 20, it felt like every step forwards was followed by a step backwards. We’ve glimpsed the man who once absolutely tore through the Big Three at Grand Slams at times this year – his match against Stefanos Tsitsipas at Roland Garros was a favourite of mine – but I’m starting to wonder if we’ll ever seen him back in full force.

Coach of the Year


Aduloju: Toss-up between Nicolas Massu and Gilles Cervara for me, but I'm going with Massu because of the instant impact he's had on Thiem's career. Up until he began working with Massu, Thiem was widely viewed as clay-court player, and with good reason, but he's developed into a more complete player under the Chilean's guidance. Their first tournament together delivered Thiem's maiden Masters 1000 title, on the hard courts of Indian Wells no less (albeit slow hard courts), and that progress continued throughout the year, culminating in the Austrian's fantastic finish to the season. He won more hard court titles at ATP 500 tournaments in Vienna and Beijing, and fell just short at the Nitto ATP Finals, losing to Tsitsipas in the championship match.

Cervara did a tremendous job with Daniil Medvedev, but I reckon Massu did an even better job with Thiem!

Hendrie: Nicolas Massu. I must admit, I had my doubts when Dominic Thiem parted ways with Gunter Bresnik, but Massu has done a terrific job of improving the Austrian’s hardcourt game considerably, all the while maintaining his fearsome form on clay. Thiem won more titles on hardcourt than clay in 2019 and was agonisingly close to securing the ATP Finals silverware as well - if the pair can continue to make inroads on the surface in 2020, look out…

I’m also looking forward to Mikhail Youzhny and Denis Shapovalov working together in 2020 after the Canadian’s brilliant finish to this season.

Wilks: Gilles Cervara, Daniil Medvedev’s coach, is a tempting pick, but honestly, I’m not sure coaching had much to do with Medvedev’s superb run through the summer and autumn.
I’ll go with Nicolas Massu, who not only contributed some very watchable ride-or-die energy to Thiem’s supporter’s box, but managed to encourage Thiem to make those infinitesimal tactical adjustments which made so much difference on hard courts for the Austrian. Sometimes it’s about being the right voice at the right time for your player to listen.

Most Heartwarming moment


Aduloju: The retirement ceremony for Tomas Berdych, David Ferrer and co during the Nitto ATP Finals. It was great to see those players getting some deserved recognition on the big stage.

Hendrie: Basically every time Andy Murray stepped out onto court in 2019. From his tearful Australian Open exit to his return on the doubles court and his first ATP title since hip surgery in Antwerp, it was certainly a roller-coaster of emotions. I pray he can remain healthy in 2020, because nobody deserves a successful comeback to the sport than the Scot.

Wilks: The new-look Davis Cup Finals provided a few, from Rafael Nadal and Pablo Carreno Busta leaving a space for their absent teammate during a minute’s silence for Roberto Bautista Agut’s father, to the entire Serbia team weeping their way through a heartbroken press conference after the narrowest defeat to Russia.

But nothing beats the emotional arc of Andy Murray’s season. There are a lot of moments from his comeback that I could pick out – his doubles title with Feliciano Lopez at Queen’s Club, his return to the singles court, his Antwerp win – but the moment that truly sticks with me is the applause he received from the crowd when match point down at the Australian Open to Roberto Bautista Agut, in what might well have been the last match of his career. Forget the cheesy (and, as it turned out, premature) retirement video – if that had been Murray’s last match, he would have gone out in true Murray fashion: Kicking, screaming, swearing, clawing for victory, producing moments of utter magic and going down fighting. In its sheer bloody-mindedness, that performance was everything we treasure about Andy Murray and to see him embraced so whole-heartedly by the crowd for it was truly beautiful.

Best Three Matches


Aduloju: I have a strong feeling that we will all go for the same trio here...

1) Roger Federer vs Novak Djokovic 7-6 1-6 7-6 4-6 13-12

Two of the greatest players of all time delivered one of the greatest Grand Slam finals at Wimbledon, as Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic served up an absolute epic at the All England Club.

The skill level was off the charts, only matched by the dramatic conclusion. Federer had two match points at 8-7 40-15 in the final set, but Djokovic was typically unyielding, fighting back to claim the title in a deciding set tie break after almost five hours of battle.

That final was the first ever match at Wimbledon to be decided by a tie break at 12-12 in the final set. That it was contested by two of the sport's greatest champions in an epic final made a significant occasion even more special.

2) Rafael Nadal bt. Daniil Medvedev 7-5 6-3 5-7 4-6 6-4

Federer vs Djokovic at Wimbledon will take some beating as Match of the Year, but Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev put forward a strong case with their sensational US Open final. This one looked to be over as a contest when Nadal lead by two sets and a break, but back came Medvedev, playing with uncharacteristic aggression to completely turn the match on its head. The Russian evened the match at two-sets all, and with momentum on his side and a rattled opponent at the other end, he was arguably the favourite going into the final set.

However, Nadal is not regarded as the greatest competitor in the sport for nothing. The Spaniard regained control and built up a double break 5-2 lead in the decider, but back came Medvedev again, getting one of the breaks back, saving match points, and earning another break point as Nadal served for the match.

With all of New York losing its mind- and all of the world in truth- Nadal somehow managed to keep his cool, winning a gripping contest to claim his 19th Grand Slam title.

3) Dominic Thiem vs Novak Djokovic 6-7 6-3 7-6

Dominic Thiem's remarkable improvement on hard courts has been one of the major talking points of 2019, and this new-found hard-court brilliance was none more evident than in his superb victory over Novak Djokovic at the Nitto ATP Finals.

Refusing to retreat on the baseline, and taking the ball very early, a super aggressive Thiem blasted 50 winners past the famous Djokovic defence, battling back from set down, and from 4-0 down in the final set tie break to pull off a magnificent victory.

Hendrie: So hard to pick just three as there were countless high-quality matches this year, but here’s my selections:

1. US Open final: Rafael Nadal def. Daniil Medvedev 7-5 6-3 5-7 4-6 6-4

Extraordinary match. Medvedev was down and out, but somehow, someway, he managed to stage a remarkable comeback and had all the momentum in the early stages of the fifth, but Nadal demonstrated why he’s the most relentless competitor this sport has ever seen, stepping it up and seizing back control and ultimately closing it out for a 19th major crown.

2. ATP Finals Group Stage: Dominic Thiem def. Novak Djokovic 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-6(5)

Outside of the slams, this was the best match of the season for me. Thiem was absolutely bludgeoning the ball from the baseline, firing over 50 winners with some fearless tennis, while Djokovic only made two unforced errors in the first set and still lost the match. Thrilling final set tiebreak as well, with Thiem coming back from 1-4 down as he rode that momentum all the way to the title match, ironically losing in a deciding set breaker to Tsitsipas.

3. Wimbledon final: Novak Djokovic def. Roger Federer 7-6(5) 1-6 7-6(4) 4-6 13-12(3)

In terms of pure drama and what was on the line, I can’t leave this out of the top three. What a time for the first 12-12 tiebreak to happen, with two legends squaring off in a gripping final showdown. In the end, it was Djokovic who became the first man in 71 years to win the Wimbledon title after saving match points in the final. With Nadal winning the U.S. Open, this match might end up having huge implications when the race for most major titles between Federer, Nadal and Djokovic comes to an end.

Honourable mentions:

Australian Open R1: Roberto Bautista Agut def. Andy Murray 6-4 6-4 6-7 6-7 6-2
Australian Open R16: Kei Nishikori def. Pablo Carreno Busta 6-7(8) 4-6 7-6(4) 6-4 7-6(10-8)
Acapulco R2: Nick Kyrgios def. Rafael Nadal 3-6 7-6(2) 7-6(6)
Indian Wells R2: Stan Wawrinka def. Marton Fucsovics 6-4 6-7 7-5

Wilks:

1. Stan Wawrinka d. Stefanos Tsitsipas, French Open, 7-6(6), 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 8-6

Losing this match really threw Tsitsipas for a couple of months, and it’s easy to see why. He threw absolutely everything at Wawrinka and came close to beating him, only to be ultimately subdued by the battering, brutal baseline power of the 2015 French Open champion. When I said above that we saw glimpses of Wawrinka at his absolute best in 2019, this was the match, above all others, where he truly turned back time … for a while.

2. David Goffin d. Daniil Medvedev, Wimbledon, 4-6, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5

For connoisseurs of sheer bloody-mindedness (as I outed myself to be above when talking about Andy Murray), this was a beauty. Two wily, fleet-footed players trying to out-maneouvre each other for three and a half hours before Goffin – who played with impressive, improved aggression at times this season – came back from 1-4 down in the fifth set, closing out a Medvedev who by the end was speechless with rage and frustration with two incredible points.

3. Dominic Thiem d. Novak Djokovic, ATP Finals, 6-7(5) 6-3 7-6(5)

Recency bias may be coming into this one, as well as the slight novelty value of seeing a match this competitive and high-quality at the season-ending championships. But the credulity-defying, high-risk shot-making that Thiem produced consistently throughout this match – ball-striking which managed to puncture, and at times shatter, even Djokovic’s supreme defense – was a sight to be savoured, and the twists and turns of the final set alone made it must-watch TV.

Player of the Year


Aduloju: This is a tough one! Who do I pick? Nadal? Djokovic? Thiem? Medvedev? Tsitsipas?

All of these players have reasonable arguments in their favour- Nadal and Djokovic each won two Grand Slam titles, and finished the year as No. 1 and No. 2 respectively; Thiem improved his game significantly and won five titles; Tsitsipas launched an incredible rise into the top ten, but I'm going for Medvedev, mainly because of that spectacular run of results through the North American and Asian swings, when he reached six straight finals, and won three titles, including Cincinnati and Shanghai- his first at Masters 1000 level. Medvedev's season was not just about that six-final surge, as he also had a good first half, winning Sofia and reaching finals in Brisbane and Barcelona.

Hendrie: Toss up between Nadal and Djokovic. They shared the slams with two apiece, but Nadal finished as No. 1 with a stronger second half of the season, winning 33 of his last 35 matches. For all the talk of a ‘Next Gen’ takeover, these guys are still at another level when it matters most at the slams.

Wilks: How can you see past Rafael Nadal for this, especially after Djokovic faded down the stretch? I would simply not have believed that Nadal, at this point in his career and with all the wear and tear on his body, would be able to play like he has for a full 11 months, and a fifth year-end world no. 1 finish is the icing on the cake. How the man who was on the verge of throwing in the towel after defeats in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, tired of being in constant pain, managed to transform once again into the absolute competitive beast who outlasted Medvedev’s comeback attempt in the US Open final, I’ll never know.

Player I'm most excited to see in 2020


Aduloju: It will be interesting to see how Tsitsipas, Medvedev and Thiem build on their successes from 2019, but the player I'm most looking forward to seeing is Denis Shapovalov. He's no longer the relatively unknown teenager from 2017, as he's had a couple of full seasons on the tour now, and I think the time has come for him to step up and do greater justice to his amazing talents.

Now that he's got that first title and got the monkey off his back, can he find the consistency needed to make a push for the top ten, and claim bigger titles next season?

Hendrie: Medvedev. If he can continue to make progress from his stunning 2019, then men’s tennis will only be better for it. Also, as I mentioned earlier, I’m really looking forward to see what Sinner can do in his first full year on the main tour, while Shapovalov has positioned himself nicely for a deep run at a slam and to break into the top 10. I’m excited for Tsitsipas as well after his ATP Finals triumph.

Wilks: Daniil Medvedev (with an honourable mention for Andrey Rublev), because I honestly do not know what to expect from him, but I’m fairly sure it’s going to involve many more matches lost that should have been won and vice versa. And tantrums. So many tantrums and sarcastic thumbs-up.

Predicted 2020 Nitto ATP Finals Line-Up


Aduloju:

1. Novak Djokovic
2. Rafael Nadal
3. Roger Federer
4. Dominic Thiem
5. Stefanos Tsitsipas
6. Daniil Medvedev
7. David Goffin
8. Denis Shapovalov

Hendrie:

1. Novak Djokovic
2. Rafael Nadal
3. Stefanos Tsitsipas
4. Daniil Medvedev
5. Dominic Thiem
6. Alexander Zverev
7. Roger Federer
8. Denis Shapovalov

Wilks:

1. Novak Djokovic
2. Dominic Thiem
3. Rafael Nadal
4. Roger Federer
5. Alexander Zverev
6. Andrey Rublev
7. Marin Cilic
8. Stefanos Tsitsipas


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ATP 2019 season in review: Livetennis.com's editors break down the year

ATP tennis for 2019 has drawn to a close, and with just six weeks until a brand new season and decade, we've looked back at some of the most defining moments in men's tennis for the year. Everything from the year's best player to the most improved and from the best matches to the players that disappointed is covered in our extensive season review.

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