Which players stand to benefit in 2020 after a strong AO?
Which players stand to benefit in 2020 after a strong AO?
As the dust settles on the first major of the year, which players could use their strong showings at Melbourne Park as a launch pad to success for the rest of the year? Here’s our selection of eight players set for a great 2020.
Twenty-one-year-old Sofia Kenin cut a swathe through the women's draw to become the newest major winner with wins over the likes of the more highly hyped Coco Gauff, world No.1 Ashleigh Barty and two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza. The triumph catapults Kenin to world No.7, displacing her idol Serena Williams as the highest-ranked American. After becoming the fifth different major champion in succession, Kenin was a hopeful she would build on her breakthrough to win more majors in 2020. “I would love to, that would be amazing,” she said. “Right now, I mean, I still can't believe what just happened … Hopefully I can just keep going, build up on everything that I've done these past two weeks, just move forward.”
Having lurked and delivered as the most dangerous unseeded floater in the women’s draw, Garbine Muguruza is guaranteed to return to the top 20 following her run to a fourth major final. After an indifferent couple of years, the 26-year-old reunited with coach Conchita Martinez in the off-season and admitted she had enhanced her belief she could add a hard-court major to her haul. A former Roland Garros and Wimbledon champion, Muguruza is a strong chance of adding another Grand Slam title in the season ahead. “I think I'm in a good process. I think I felt my game much better than before,” Muguruza said. “I think I got to keep it that way, keep working physically … I think it's a great start of the year, for sure. It's going to give me a lot of information about where I am right now … I get very motivated also in the Grand Slams because that's where you get very excited.”
It took a less-hyped rising American star – and the eventual women’s champion – Sofia Kenin, to hault 15-year-old Coco Gauff’s remarkable charge in her Australian Open debut. But make no mistake, the wheels are well in motion for the teenager to continue her meteoric rise. After beating seven-time major winner Venus Williams for the second time in three Slams, Gauff went on to dethrone defending champion Naomi Osaka in the third round. Despite sitting on the cusp of cracking the top 50, age restrictions will limit how much of Gauff we see in 2020 but she already has her sights set on deep runs at Indian Wells and Miami and the Slam where she expects she can do the most damage? “For sure French Open,” the former junior runner-up in Paris said.
Despite letting set points slip in both sets of a semifinal upset to eventual champion Sofia Kenin, Ashleigh Barty leaves her home Grand Slam with her head held high. The first Australian woman in 36 years to reach the semifinals in Melbourne, Barty also picked up her first title on home soil in Adelaide leading in. It bodes well for the 23-year-old when her focus shifts to defending her Roland Garros title in three months where she will likely enter as the top seed. She has opened up a hefty 2200-point gap between her and new world No.2 Simona Halep, with a Miami Premier-level title and quarterfinal in Madrid her only real points to defend in the meantime. “If you would have told me three weeks ago that we would have won a tournament in Adelaide, made the semifinals of the Australian Open, I'd take that absolutely every single day of the week,” Barty said.
For the eighth time, the Serb has conquered all before him at Melbourne Park to open his season with the slam spoils. The successful defence of his Australian Open title sees Djokovic displace Nadal as the world No.1. In an Olympic year and as the only member of the Big Three without a gold medal, Tokyo 2020 will be heavily on the 32-year-old’s radar and he has completed step one of five of a potential Golden Grand Slam, something no man has achieved before. "To start off the season with a Grand Slam win significantly boosts your confidence and your expectations are quite high for the rest of the season," Djokovic said. "But whatever happens, this season is already successful."
The gap is closing. Long heralded as the eventual successor to Rafael Nadal on the red clay of Roland Garros, Dominic Thiem has made huge waves in his first foray past the quarterfinals of a major outside Paris. With a first Grand Slam win over top seed Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals and backing it up to beat Alexander Zverev in a match he was expected to win, Thiem pushed Novak Djokovic to five sets over four hours. The Austrian, back up to world No.4, must now be considered a serious threat to breaking Nadal’s dominance at Roland Garros and to making a deep run at the US Open. “I'm very aware and sure now that I can play on a very high level for a full Grand Slam,” Thiem said. “Didn't have any drops. That doesn't make me proud, but it makes me very confident for the next big tournaments which are coming up.”
Five years have now passed since Nick Kyrgios reached two Slam quarterfinals within the space of 12 months. But the mercurial Aussie’s fourth-round run at Melbourne Park this year is arguably his most promising in the time that has elapsed since. Fuelled by the emotions of seeing his country in the grips of widespread bushfires, Kyrgios was valiant in a high-quality defeat to Rafael Nadal, with his efforts drawing praise from the Spaniard. Deep runs at Wimbledon and the US Open still surely represent his best chances outside his home Slam. “I think I'm playing better tennis than I was,” Kyrgios said of his quarterfinal run in 2015. “The trouble for me is being able to actually just produce the same attitude over and over again. Hopefully I can keep doing it. I'm just taking it day by day, trying to be positive, just bring positive vibes.”
A small but significant hoodoo was lifted this Australian Open for the still-only 22-year-old Alexander Zverev. In his 19th major, the German reached just his third quarterfinal before going one better to crack the last four for the first time. Despite falling to good friend Thiem over four sets, it capped an astonishing turnaround, given how low he was on confidence after three straight losses in ATP Cup leading in. It would not be unreasonable to expect Zverev would now play with more freedom, having finally made a deep run at a Slam. “I came to this tournament different,” Zverev said. “I didn't play my best. I went step by step, match by match. Usually I didn't do that in Grand Slams.”