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What can we expect in tennis in 2020? Will the big three finally be breached?

All tennis eyes will be focused on the build-up to the Australian Open in the next few weeks, which should launch another thrilling year for the sport. 

With Britain’s talent pool growing too, what can we expect on court in 2020?

Assault on the Big Three

They continue to fill the top three spots in the rankings but have a combined age of 103 — so, is this the year we finally see the slide of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer?

Before any anointing of the coming generation can take place, they will have to upset the great trinity in the Grand Slams. 

Novak Djokovic reigned supreme at Wimbledon in 2019, beating Roger Federer in the final

And if anyone gets carried away with that idea, they should consider Nadal still looks impregnable (when fit) at Roland Garros, while Djokovic has won six of the last nine Australian Opens.

So there should be a note of caution when assessing the prospects of the likes of Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The Greek won the ATP Finals, but he will know that when Alex Zverev did the same thing in 2018 it was not the precursor to a spectacular lift off.

Federer will go into the Australian Open without much in the way of matchplay (he is skipping the inaugural ATP Cup).

Djokovic also won the Australian Open for the seventh time and will fancy winning it again

Djokovic also won the Australian Open for the seventh time and will fancy winning it again

He needs a decent run in Melbourne to cushion himself against the potential loss of points from winning Dubai and Miami 12 months before, otherwise his ranking is likely to head south.

The balanced view would be that Federer, 38, will have his best chance of one more major when he plays at Wimbledon.

The sign that he is approaching the end will be when he starts repeatedly losing to inferior players, of course, and there was not much indication of that in 2019.

Rafael Nadal refused to let go his grip on the French Open title in 2019, beating Dominic Thiem

Rafael Nadal refused to let go his grip on the French Open title in 2019, beating Dominic Thiem

If there is to be the first new major champion since Marin Cilic in 2014 it is likely to be one of Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Zverev or Dominic Thiem. Below that, frankly, the quality is not quite what some people crack it up to be.

That said, there is an even younger generation who, while not oven-ready champions, do look tasty. A lot of attention will be focused on the progress of Canada’s Felix Auger Aliassime and the coming Italian teenager, Jannik Sinner.

Federer had to settle for second best at SW19 this year but will no doubt come back again

Federer had to settle for second best at SW19 this year but will no doubt come back again

Serena and the curse of the final

Serena Williams falls into a similar bracket to Roger Federer in 2020 — 38 years old and everyone wondering when her legs might finally start to go.

As usual, nothing was seen of her after the US Open when she fell short in her pursuit of a 24th major yet again.

She is showing some signs of mental scarring thanks to her record of having lost the four Grand Slam finals she has reached since becoming a parent.

Serena Williams' finals curse continued in 2019, including at the US Open in New York

Serena Williams’ finals curse continued in 2019, including at the US Open in New York

The encouraging aspect for her is that, at the US Open, she looked more equipped for victory than she had in the previous three. The window is closing for the great American, but it would be no surprise to see her capture the elusive big one this coming year.

What the women’s game badly needs is a group of top players to establish themselves and start to create the kind of long-term rivalries that the men have basked in.

While there has been the usual merry-go-round of coach changes, we may start to see this take shape in permutations involving Ash Barty, Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu.

Coco Gauff, 15, is a potential ingredient in the mix, too. And if she stays fit, not a given, then Canada’s superbly rounded Andreescu may turn out to be the best of them all.

15-year-old Cori 'Coco' Gauff became a worldwide sensation in the Wimbledon early rounds

15-year-old Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff became a worldwide sensation in the Wimbledon early rounds

An unusual wealth of British men’s talent

When Andy Murray plays at the Australian Open next month it will, whatever happens, be something of a triumph.

As he recalled recently, his famous press conference in Melbourne back in January took on a life of its own: ‘I was so emotional. I didn’t know what I had said. I didn’t think I had said I’m retiring. 

‘I think I said I would like to get to Wimbledon to stop. And at the time, that was my plan. I didn’t want to play any longer than that because I couldn’t do it anymore.’

Now we know that he can and anything he achieves from here will be a bonus. Make no mistake, his peers will hate facing him, especially if he is released from the pressure of winning. 

The story of Andy Murray's return to the court after hip surgery has been a feelgood one

The story of Andy Murray’s return to the court after hip surgery has been a feelgood one

You suspect that the biggest worry is that parts of his body other than the hip may cause problems as he makes compensations. He is, after all, a high mileage 32-year-old.

All being well on the physical side, there is no reason why Murray cannot get back into the top 20 and make the second week of Grand Slams.

In fact there is the distinct possibility that Britain may have four men inside the world’s top 50: Dan Evans is already there, Cam Norrie is on the cusp and it is where Kyle Edmund and Murray belong.

Kyle Edmund, seen in the Davis Cup last month, will be hoping to climb back into the top 50

Kyle Edmund, seen in the Davis Cup last month, will be hoping to climb back into the top 50

Edmund finished a deflating year strongly, and was the outstanding player in the Davis Cup. Due to the slightly absurd qualifying system, he cannot play for GB in the ATP Cup and will start off the year in Doha and Adelaide.

There may be extra cheer if Surrey teenager Jack Draper is not blown off course from his promising ascent and Paul Jubb builds on his American college success.

A better year for the Brit women?

With one or two exceptions things can only improve in 2020 for Britain’s female contingent, among whom Jo Konta remains a lone beacon of excellence.

Having suffered a prolonged dip after making Wimbledon’s last four in 2017 she hit it off with French coach Dmitri Zavialoff to make a deep impression at three of the four Slams.

Very visible defeats at Roland Garros and Wimbledon when glory appeared tantalisingly within range should not obscure an excellent campaign that saw her finish 12th in the rankings.

Jo Konta continues to lead the British charge in the women's game entering 2020

Jo Konta continues to lead the British charge in the women’s game entering 2020

The question for Konta is whether she can take one further step in what looks an increasingly competitive top 10.

The overall British effort was not helped by Katie Boulter badly injuring her back in the Fed Cup tie at London’s Copper Box. With an injury-protected ranking, Boulter will be able to play in the biggest events, despite sinking below 300.

We live in hope that Heather Watson will become the player she once promised to be, while Kent teenager Emma Raducanu looks a rare prospect.

They could all look to Konta’s professionalism for the way forward. It can look like a few of them are more preoccupied with growing their social media following than shrinking their ranking.

Katie Boulter badly injured her back during a Fed Cup tie in London back in April

Katie Boulter badly injured her back during a Fed Cup tie in London back in April

Don’t forget the Doubles

There is no doubt Britain has an unusual plethora of male specialists. There are seven in the world’s top 60 and that excludes Andy Murray.

While Joe Salisbury established himself as a high class performer by reaching the ATP Finals, the partnership of Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski got better and better after a slow start.

FOUR BRITISH MEN FOR THE TOP 50? 

Andy Murray 

Age: 32, Rank: 125

Above all, he needs a clean bill of health that could stretch his career towards his mid-thirties. During his remarkable triumph in Antwerp he showed that class is permanent and also that there are things he can still improve upon, providing his body lets him. Smart scheduling and training regimes will be important, but he knows all about that now.

Dan Evans

Age: 29, Rank: 39

This year’s great redemption story, Evans will find himself more of a marked man in the coming season as players become more familiar with the threat he poses. While he will always have physical limitations, his unusual talent and playing style — and competitiveness — should continue to win him matches.

Dan Evans celebrates winning the Nature Valley Open on the Challenger Tour back in June

Dan Evans celebrates winning the Nature Valley Open on the Challenger Tour back in June

Cam Norrie

Age: 24, Rank: 53

The slightly unconventional southpaw is now two years into his full professional career, after standout performances in college, and he’s looking more the part. Needs to keep trying to add

heft to his game, especially on the forehand. But ought to be moving back towards the low 40s, where he was in May.

Kyle Edmund

Age: 24, Rank: 69

Looked much more his old self late in the season and should be optimistic about climbing back towards the top 20. Needs to gel with his highly-regarded new coach Franco Davin, stay physically and mentally robust and not be too introspective — in other words, different to much of 2019.

 

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