The tennis year was eventful at the sport’s highest level. But while most fans remember the game’s major happenings, here’s a look at other aspects and angles of the 2019 season.
JANUARY: Bianca Andreescu’s 7-6(1), 6-7(0), 6-3 victory over then-16-year-old Whitney Osuigwe of the U.S. in the first round of the Australian Open was a significant result. After qualifying and reaching the final in Auckland and then winning three qualifying matches at Melbourne Park, it would have been a major blow to exit the Aussie Open in the first round against someone two years younger.
“It was one of the toughest matches I’ve ever played,” said Andreescu, then 18, after an excruciating two hours and 46 minutes on court. She had cramps in her calves in the first set and a back issue in the third. But she persisted in 33 degree heat against an inspired opponent.
Afterward, when told she had broken into the top-100 with the win, Andreescu was thrilled – “no way, oh my gosh. I don’t even know what to say. I’m just so happy.”
In the second round, she lost 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 to No. 12-ranked Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia.
Australian Open Men’s final: Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-3: The one-sided result was a shocker after Nadal had rolled through his previous six opponents, winning 18 sets in a row. Post match the then-32-year-old Spaniard cited the fact that he had not played all fall (including having ankle surgery in November) and just wasn’t prepared enough against someone as challenging as Djokovic, especially in terms of his defensive skills.
“The things that look easy for him become little bit more difficult when you have to do it one more time, one more time,” he said. “I was not able to push him to do it one more, one more every time.”
FEBRUARY: Following his second-round loss to No. 170-ranked Christopher Eubanks of the U.S. (above) in the Australian Open qualifying while dealing with a knee issue, Félix Auger-Aliassime would go on to win the decisive match over Norbert Gombos in a Davis Cup World Group qualifying tie in Bratislava in February. Then, at 18, he reached his first tour final at the ATP 500 event in Rio de Janeiro before losing 6-3, 7-5 to an inspired Laslo Djere of Serbia.
MARCH: For years tennis followers would have been thrilled to have a Canadian reach the quarter-finals of a Masters 1000 event. So it was memorable that both Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov made the final four at the Miami Open. Auger-Aliassime lost 7-6(3), 7-6(4) to defending champion John Isner while Shapovalov was beaten 6-2, 6-4 by eventual winner Roger Federer.
It was also the month of Andreescu’s dramatic breakthrough victory in Indian Wells, but it’s hard not to forget her gritty display the following week in Miami. Concerned about the shoulder that eventually forced her out of tournament, she overcame Romanian veteran Irina-Camelia Begu 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-2 in the first round after trailing 5-1 in the second set and saving a match point. She went on to reach the fourth round before retiring down 6-1, 2-0 against Estonian Anett Kontaveit. That was March 25th and Andreescu would only play one more match – a first round win at the French Open in May – until she began her successful Rogers Cup conquest with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 win over Genie Bouchard on August 6th in Toronto.
APRIL: Without Andreescu, Canada lost a World Group Playoff in Prostejov, Czech Republic, but then-16-year-old Leylah Annie Fernandez was impressive playing Fed Cup for the first time – losing 6-4, 6-1 to No. 47-ranked Marketa Vondrousova, runner-up at the French Open two months later. Fernandez won the Roland Garros junior title in May and ended the year as the second-highest Canadian with a No. 211 WTA ranking – up from No. 434 the previous year.
JUNE: The evolving rivalry between top Canadians Denis Shapovalov and Félix Auger-Aliassime and Stefanos Tsitsipas has been fun to follow. Auger-Aliassime defeated the Greek 7-5, 6-2 in the quarter-finals at Queen’s Club before Wimbledon to move their head-to-head record (including 3-0 in the juniors) to 5-0. A disconsolate Tsitsipas declared, “it’s upsetting obviously that he’s better than me. I have to accept that he’s better than me. I might never beat him. (I) just need to wait, years maybe, for that chance to come.”
The chance came in the fall in Shanghai when Auger-Aliassime was struggling, entering the event 1-5 dating back to Rogers Cup in Montreal. Tsitsipas beat him 7-6(3), 7-6(3) in the second round and then finished the year strongly, culminating with his big win at the ATP Finals in London.
Auger-Aliassime, 19, still leads their overall head-to-head 5-1 and Shapovalov, 20, is 4-2 with his 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(3) victory in Miami their only 2019 meeting. Tsitsipas, 21, ended the year at No. 6 (5300 points) while Shapovalov was No. 15 (2050) and Auger-Aliassime (1636).
Canada plays Greece in Brisbane on Friday in the new ATP Cup, so Shapovalov, as the Canadian No. 1, should get a shot at Tsitsipas in his first match of 2020.
JULY: Djokovic defeated Federer 7-6(5), 1-6, 7-6(4), 4-6, 13-12 in a classic Wimbledon final. Much has been made about the two championship points Federer had serving at 8-7 in the final set but people forget Djokovic played an inexplicably poor second set and not that much better in the fourth. But he won all three tiebreaks, committing zero unforced errors in them compared to 11 for Federer. Those numbers suggest the better player won.
AUGUST: Bianca Andeescu beat Genie Bouchard 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 in a marquee first round at Rogers Cup. It was Bouchard’s ninth loss in a row dating back to February – a streak that extended to 13 before she won two matches at a $125K WTA event in Houston in November. Her current No. 215 ranking is not flattering but more than half of her losses (seven of 13) during the streak were 6-3 or closer in the final set.
The picture above shows Bouchard played eventual Auckland winner Julia Goerges way back in January at her first 2019 event before losing the quarter-final 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(6) to the No. 14-ranked German.
As she prepares for 2020, Bouchard shouldn’t forget the 2019 losses when she was very competitive.
SEPTEMBER: At the Laver Cup in Geneva, Alexander Zverev won the deciding match 6-4, 3-6, [10-4] over Milos Raonic after the German got a highly-publicized, salty-language pep talk from Federer and Nadal before the match tiebreak. It ruins a good story, but Raonic subsequently pulled out of Tokyo and Shanghai with a groin injury. So that may have been as much an explanation for Zverev’s victory as those spirited exhortations from Federer and Nadal.
OCTOBER: In Sweden, Shapovalov achieved a high-priority goal by defeating Filip Krajinovic 6-4, 6-4 in the Stockholm Open final to win his first ATP Tour title.
In Beijing, the much-anticipated meeting between the two most recent US Open champions, Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu, in the quarter-finals was a candidate for match of the year. The then-21-year-old Japanese won 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 but knew she had been in a battle, joking afterward, “listen, I don’t want to play her any more. I’m good – one-and-done.”
In her final event of 2019, Andreescu lost to her idol Simona Halep 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-3 in the round-robin phase of the WTA Finals in Shenzhen.
She then had to retire with a knee injury (see above) after dropping the first set 6-3 to Karolina Pliskova.
Andreescu was amazing in 2019 – no wonder she won the Lou Marsh Trophy as ‘Canada’s athlete of the year.’ Her record beginning in March until the end of the year was 27-4 – including winning Indian Wells, Rogers Cup and the US Open. Two of those losses were retirements against Kontaveit in Miami and Pliskova in Shenzhen, so the record is 27-2 in completed matches.
And in those two other losses – Andreescu led each set 3-1 before losing to Osaka in Beijing and had a match point at 6-5 in the second set against Halep in Shenzhen.
Her success resulted in a year-end No. 5 ranking after she reached as high as No. 4 on October 21 – surpassing Genie Bouchard’s Canadian best No. 5 set on October 20, 2014.
NOVEMBER: The neatest off-season story might be Garbine Muguruza climbing Africa’s highest mountain peak (19,341 feet) – Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
During the five-day expedition, she slept in tents and endured sub-zero temperatures as low as minus 12. She posted on her twitter account, “we climbed for six hours. At some point I was crying when my guide told me to not look down at the 300 m free fall.”
Muguruza, a former No. 1 (2017) and two-time Grand Slam champion, has slumped the past two years with her year-end ranking tumbling from No. 2 to No. 18 to No. 36.
Her nerves have not been good but maybe now the experience of Kilimanjaro won’t make facing break points or match points in a tennis match seem quite as scary anymore.
(Feature Photo: Mauricio Paiz)