By Ros Satar
- The season-ending finales saw the largest and the smallest purses of prize money for the top eight on the men’s and women’s tour
- Finally the new look Davis Cup Finals closed out a congested season
LONDON, UK – Britwatch Sports closed out a busy year with more finals than you can shake a stick at, with the WTA topping the scales with the largest prize purse.
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Rafael Nadal suddenly found himself now within just one Slam title of Roger Federer as he defeated the man of the summer, Daniil Medvedev in the US Open final to join Novak Djokovic in wrapping up all four Slams between them.
Meanwhile the Laver Cup returned for its third edition, straight after the US Open to take us into the final push of the year. The Team Europe v Team World format continued with more importance being put on the later matches, and the highlight for many was Federer giving Alexander Zverev a somewhat forceful pep talk.
Whatever he said, it worked as again it all fell on the German’s shoulders to bring Europe home, and after what had largely been a tough year for the young man, his win instilled a bit of much needed confidence.
Medvedev continued his outstanding form that saw him reach finals in six straight tournaments, winning the Cincinnati Masters, St Petersburg and the Shanghai Masters. Ultimately though this would take its toll on the lanky Russian, but more on that later.
Murray’s Comeback Continues
Since the hip resurfacing operation that has given Andy Murray’s career a new lease of life, the comeback had been more than many would have hoped for. The delight of playing doubles at Queen’s resulting in the title with Feliciano Lopez and then back on the tour proper, he worked his way through some tough fights in Antwerp culminating in a final against a fellow war-horse who has had his own fair share of injury woes.
The show-down with Stan Wawrinka for the title was a match that perhaps a year ago, many would have doubted they would see again.
On the WTA side, Naomi Osaka reigned in Tokyo and Aryna Sabalenka made it back to back titles in Wuhan after what had been an up and down year for her. It would be Osaka’s day again in the China Open in Beijing as the pace ramped up for the WTA elite to head to the first WTA Finals to be held in Shenzhen.
Few could forget the impact that Coco Gauff made in the summer both at Wimbledon and the US Open, and many knew it was only a matter of time before she got her hands on senior silverware.
Linz saw her fight through a tough three setter against Jelena Ostapenko to claim her first senior title – and surely the first of many for the engaging teenager.
Show Me the Money!
There were a few raised eyebrows when the popular location of Singapore had to relinquish its tenure of the location for the WTA Finals after five successful years. Shenzhen actually had a few issues – the purpose-built location was not ready and with ongoing tensions in Hong Kong which actually resulted in the tournament being scrapped this year, it made for a bit of adventure to get over to this year’s final.
However the biggest talking point is the astronomical prize money. For all the kvetching about prize money offered for the pinnacle events in this sport, it is telling that the WTA secured a sponsor willing to front up the biggest prize purse for its champion – by quite some margin.
The court came in for some stick for being… well… sticky! In a tough and long season, injuries soon racked up, but the final was one to savour, between defending champion Elina Svitolina and Ashleigh Barty.
Svitolina had not gained any titles this year, in her usual consistent fashion, but did have her most successful slam campaigns of her career, while Barty had cruised to the Roland Garros title, the world No. 1 and it was all water off a duck’s back for the laid-back Aussie.
Back over the water to the O2, and you would be forgiven for thinking there was nothing but Christmas shopping going on. There was very little fanfare or advertising going on and even the iconic photoshoot looked more like a quick snap after training.
Chris Kermode did promise that the final year would have a bit more of a fanfare but there was plenty of action on the court to keep things moving.
The gruelling hard court summer and Asian swing successes seemed to take its toll on Medvedev who could not advance out of the round-robin stage. Defending champion Zverev played some great tennis, but met his match against good friend Dominic Thiem who really showed how his game had matured to encompass surfaces that are not red clay.
Last year we wondered if finally we were seeing a changing of the guard after Zverev captured the title, but he could not turn that into success on the tour, especially with the bitter spat with his former agent causing him a lot of grief off court.
You had to feel for Thiem who struggled after his first match in London with a cold, and was edged out by Stefanos Tsitsipas who went one better than his win at the NextGen ATP Finals last year to win the senior version.
Now the pressure will be on the young Greek’s shoulders – can he do what Zverev could not quote manage next year?
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Davis Cup Finals
And so Britwatch hot-footed it from London to Madrid to get to the Davis Cup finals, missing the first day of play – one of the many issues surrounding such a congested calendar.
On the whole – the atmosphere in matches where the visiting crowds made the effort was good. The group matches for Great Britain against the Netherlands and in particular Kazakhstan were full of atmosphere, and the LTA dug deep into its pockets to snap up tickets for fans to make the semi-finals after an inspired win for Dan Evans.
The atmosphere in the semi-final was electric as Britain faced the hosts, Spain. It was always going to be an uphill task for Great Britain. But a semi-final showing in the first year of the new format guarantees a spot in next year’s finals.
The real story will be the outpouring of respect and love for Roberto Bautista Agut. Having lost his mother recently, his father fell suddenly ill, leaving him to dash home to be with him for his final moments, before returning to support the team against Britain, and playing in the Finals.
There is a lot that does need to improve with the format and the venue and the Fed Cup gets the same treatment in 2020. Whether the Davis Cup format can sustain its position in the calendar with the advent of the ATP Cup which starts six and a half weeks from the end of the season remains to be seen. Perhaps the prime spot occupied by the Laver Cup will give way to have the Davis Cup Finals and Federer’s brainchild can slot into a post-season tradition – after all Federer and Zverev brought tennis to the masses very successfully during the Davis Cup Finals so there is absolutely no reason why it could not thrive in that position.
And so onto 2020 we go – but be sure to check out the other reviews.
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