Tennis in 2016 can be summed up with a see-saw battle involving two players across the men’s (ATP) and women’s (WTA) sides and as things panned out, they were the ones who ended the year with big titles.
On the men’s side, the year could be split into two halves – pre-grass court season and post-grass court season. In one half one, Novak Djokovic continued his reign at the top before Andy Murray turned things upside down miraculously to not only add trophies to his cabinet but also take the coveted World No. 1 prize.
On the women’s side, the Serena Williams-Angelique Kerber rivalry was the one that entertained fans throughout the year. Kerber – someone who sought Steffi Graf’s advice to improve her game – kept Serena at bay from matching the German’s Grand Slam record in Melbourne but couldn’t prevent it once again at the Wimbledon.
On both sides of the tour, there were two Grand Slam finals involving these players (Murray vs Djokovic and Serena vs Kerber), one surprise finalist (Milos Raonic and Karolina Pliskova) and one familiar name bagging a Slam (Garbine Muguruza and Stan Wawrinka).
It wasn’t the year for the usual suspects – Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as both struggled with injuries. Despite attempts at returning and getting back into the thick of things, neither of the two maestros were able to make much of a mark on the 2016 season. This allowed it to be the year of Murray, Djokovic and the rest.
One could argue who had the better year between Djokovic and Murray but the numbers would solve the debate: Murray won more matches (78 vs 65), more titles (9 vs 7) and more money. Add to that, Murray added yet another Olympic gold medal to his kitty to repeat his feat from London on the make shift hard courts of Rio de Janeiro.
In the pre-grass court period, Djokovic won both the Grand Slams in Melbourne and Paris with Murray at the losing end. He also added Masters series titles in Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid before things turned around for Murray. By winning the French Open, Djokovic also completed a career Grand Slam.
Thereafter, the year belonged to Murray as he swept players aside to go on rampaging runs. It started with Queen’s Club and added Wimbledon, Rio Olympic gold along the way before being stopped in the final of Cincinnati Masters.
At the US Open, Wawrinka came out trumps as Djokovic finished second best with Murray stopped by Kei Nishikori and a controversial gong.
Murray revamped his surging run in October to start by winning the China Open, Shanghai Masters, Vienna ATP 500 event, Paris Masters and rather fittingly, ending the year with the ATP World Tour finals in London by beating none other than Djokovic in the final. Even more fittingly, the final match decided which way the No. 1 ranking would go and as it panned out in a rather straightforward two-setter, the Scot would go on to end the year at the pinnacle of the rankings.
However, the season drew to a close in a dramatic Davis Cup final which saw Argentina – helped by Juan Martin Del Potro – come from behind to beat Croatia 3-2.
On the women’s tour too, there was an exchange in rankings with the perennial holder – Serena – upstaged by Kerber. The German, thanks to her grit, consistency and an incredible counter attacking style of play finished the year with not just the World No. 1 tag but also most tournament finals (8), most prize money ($9.8 million) and second most titles won (3 – right behind Dominika Cibulkova).
Serena entered 2016 with an objective of matching Graf’s Grand Slam record (22 titles) and possibly moving beyond and progressing towards the record 24 titles by Margaret Court. But as 2016 draws to a close, Serena finishes by matching Graf’s record and has more to achieve in 2017.
But 2016 was a year of firsts on the women’s side of things. Kerber won her first Grand Slam in Melbourne to became the first German since Graf (in 1999) to do so. Muguruza would win her first Grand Slam too on the Parisian clay to become the first Spaniard since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (in 1998) to do so.
Pliskova would become the first Czech player since Jana Novotona (in 1998) to make the semis or beyond at the US Open. However, despite doing a double-act over the Williams sister, she wouldn’t be a surprise victor at the Flushing Meadows like Flavia Pennetta in 2015.
Rio Olympics would produce a surprise gold medallist in Monica Puig who would surprise Kerber in the final and win Puerto Rico its first gold medal at the Summer Games.
The season would culminate in a fifth Fed Cup title for the Czechs in six years but no way was it easy with the final in Strasbourg, France going the distance. In the end, though, Czechs would have the last laugh for a tenth Fed Cup title with a 3-2 victory.