All we talk about in 2020 is the pandemic, and how it has affected our lives. Put that aside, and you’ll see that within the darkness, a light appeared. The next generation. Whether it was leading the charge for justice, or voting a new party in office, everyone that called them the future didn’t realize that young people are the present as well. As sports fans, we still had a pretty good year for sports, adjustments and all. We also saw flashes of tennis genius from two players in the WTA and the ATP tours. Both of these young and talented players won the most improved player of the year, and it’s easy to see why. Let’s shine the spotlight on Iga Swiatek and Andrey Rublev, your breakout stars of 2020.
Iga Swiatek: Teenage Sensation
Up first, 19 year old Iga Swiatek. Swiatek’s 2020 season was not as unexpected as you might think. Her first WTA Title just happened to be a Grand Slam, but this was no lucky fluke. At the French Open, the young teenager didn’t drop a single set during the entire tournament. Swiatek even blew past former Roland-Garros champion, Simona Halep, only dropping 3 games, stunning both Halep and the viewers. Halep had been on a 3 tournament winning streak, succeeding in Dubai, Prague, and Rome. Many had Halep favored to win the French Open, but Iga Swiatek had other plans in mind.
Iga Swiatek had her fair share of tests, and she passed them all with flying colors.
A lot of Swiatek’s ability to gain momentum and not let her opponents steal a set relied on her making smart shots and testing their stamina. In this clip of highlights from the semifinals against Podoroska, you can see how Swiatek reacts and adapts to what her opponent gives her. Swiatek uses her powerful forehand to force Podoroska into the far right corner, so that she has to run all the way to the other side to receive the ball when Swiatek easily changes the pace. This gives Swiatek high balls on the return and sets up for a powerful winner.
The accuracy of her shots showed how much preparation went into Swiatek’s tennis routine. This ultimately prepared her for the final against Sofia Kenin, another young star. Kenin was already a Grand Slam champion, having won the Australian Open for the first time in early 2020, before world isolation.
The French Open Final was between a 21 year old and a 19 year old, one of the youngest set matchups ever. Kenin herself said that she hoped 19 year old Iga Swiatek was a little bit nervous. However nervous Swiatek may have been, it did not show. The teenager beat Sofia Kenin 6-4 6-1.
Iga Swiatek took the tennis scene by storm after sweeping the French Open, and she isn’t going anywhere in the meantime. She deserves the Most Improved Player of the Year Award 100 percent- and her performance speaks for itself. Here are the highlights from Iga Swiatek’s maiden Grand Slam:
Andrey Rublev: Second-Best to Novak Djokovic
I bet you read that headline and went- wait, what? But it’s true, in 2020, Andrey Rublev was tied with Novak Djokovic in wins, at 41. Djokovic inched into first place by 5 less losses, showing just how impressive Rublev’s season was. Rublev was the only one who could keep up with Djokovic, winning 5 ATP titles this year, and even qualifying for the ATP Finals.
In the video above, you can see some of his best points from the US Open in 2020. His style is play is very smart. The key to Rublev’s game is knowing your opponent, and testing their limits. Similar to Iga Swiatek, Andrey Rublev likes to place the ball in various sides of the court, expanding the distance that their opponent has to cover to get each ball.
Andrey Rublev has stepped up his level this season. It seems that the time of the “next-gen” is now. The 23 year old leads a strong team of tennis talent, including Canadians Felix-Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov, as well as many more. Tsitipas, Thiem, Medvedev, you name it. The future is now, and it looks bright.
What a Time to be a Tennis Fan
The age of domination by the same few players in the WTA and ATP tours seems to be ending, as there is such a diverse selection of young players that are approaching greatness. Players like Serena Williams or Novak Djokovic can be challenged, and they aren’t afraid to shake it up. Iga Swiatek and Andrey Rublev both proved their worth for the Most Improved Player of the Year Award in a year that propelled us into a new way of life. We should look forward to watching them break open the tennis scene, as these are very exciting times for this sport.
Congratulations to Iga Swiatek and Andrey Rublev, your 2020 WTA and ATP Players of the Year!