The 2020 French Open was postponed from May until the end of September and early October due to the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Paris in Autumn is a lot different to Paris in the Spring. The famous red clay at the Stade Roland Garros was damper, the temperature colder and the balls heavier with a lower bounce – ideal conditions for Polish teenager Iga Swiatek to excel and dominate the women’s singles, winning her maiden WTA and first Grand Slam singles title, easily defeating Sofia Kenin from the US in straight sets in the final. Her all-court play with a crushing forehand, ability to defend stoutly, ruthless determination and her quick transition onto attack were all characteristics that contributed to her victory.
Eighteen months later, the 20 year-old is now world No 1, after winning the Miami Open final last weekend and the shock retirement of the former top ranked player, Aussie Ash Barty. After winning back-to-back titles at Doha and Indian Wells Iga has now won her past six finals, extending her winning streak to 17 matches. She entered the top 10 last May after winning the Italian Open and any thoughts of becoming the world’s best player was a possibility “in a few years”. It was obviously accelerated by Ash’s decision, but given her form this year, including reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open, she may have very well taken the number one spot anyway.
I drew this quick sketch of Iga, after watching her French Open triumph and sent it to her via the Polish Tennis Federation. It came back signed and dedicated within a fortnight.
It’s been a breathtaking year for the young Russian tennis ace and former World Junior Champion Andrey Rublev, admist the mayhem caused by the global pandemic. In a disjointed season that was partially suspended with a hiatus covering several months, the 23 year-old headed the ATP Tour with a remarkable five titles, ahead of world number 1 Novak Djokovic (4).
He broke into the top 10 for the first time, where he is currently ranked at 8, reached the quarterfinals at both the French and US Grand Slams and as a result make his debut at the season-ending, spectator-less ATP World Tour Finals, which featured the world’s top eight players, at London’s O2 arena. The year started brilliantly for the ‘ hyper-aggressive baseliner’ with a big forehand and dangerous serve, winning back-to-back titles at his first two tournaments – the Qatar Open and the maiden Adelaide International. After the season resumed he won the Hamburg European Open in September followed by victories at St Petersburg and finally the Vienna Open, which included a win over local hero Dominic Thiem and qualified him for the elite London event. Andrey’s seven career titles also includes the Croatia Open (2017) and the Kremlin Cup (2019). He was a member of the Russian team that reached the Davis Cup semis in Spain last year, in which he was undefeated.
The ATP Tour Finals have been staged at the 02 on the Greenwich Peninsula in London for the past twelve years. I have been there for all of them, except, for ‘obvirus’ reasons this year, which is the final time at before moving to Turin for the next five years. The players were all confined to their ‘bubbles’, accommodated at the InterContinental Hotel next door and playing in the vast arena, that usually holds 17,000 spectators, but sadly empty this year. So the usual opportunities to get graphs in person was non-existisant, but I posted my sketch to Andrey at the hotel, and was very pleased to receive it back, signed and dedicated.
The season-ending ATP Finals at London’s O2 Arena gathers the world’s top men’s tennis players in singles and doubles in the final showdown of the year. The top 8 ranked singles players were all present this year plus two alternates in case of injury. They are not always the No. 9 and 10 ranked players, but this year was an exception.
Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut and the flamboyant Frenchman Gael Monfils filed the reserve positions respectively. It can be a thankless task, practicing everyday and staying match fit, but not getting to play a match in the unique arena. At the time of writing with one day to go in the pool play before the weekend’s semis and final, neither alternates have been required. Oh, they do get paid for the week’s work – $US116,000 and if they did get to play and win a match, then an extra $US215,000 is deposited into their bank account.
It’s been a great year for Roberto. At 31 and given the young ages of half the field, he’s almost in the veteran category. The quick counterpuncher with a consistent all-court game with nine ATP tour titles broke into the world’s top 10 for the first time, with an impressive set of results, winning the Qatar Open and reaching the quarters at the Australian Open and the semi-finals at Wimbledon.
He signed my drawing yesterday after arriving at the North Greenwich pier for yet another practice session, resigned to the fact he probably wasn’t going to get a match, but knowing he’s finished the season as the 9th best male player on the planet.
The 23 year-old Italian tennis player Matteo Berrettini was ranked outside the top 50 men’s single players at the beginning of the year, but played his way up the rankings to become world No. 8 and secure the last spot in the singles field at this years ATP Finals at London’s O2.
The tall, all-court player with a strong serve and forehand had his dazzling momentum momentarily stopped during Wimbledon, after making it to the second week, only to meet Roger Federer, who dismantled the young Roman in little over an hour. While congratulating him at the net, Matteo jokingly said to the Swiss maestro, “Thanks for the tennis lesson, how much do I owe you?” He obviously was a good student and learnt fast.
In only his second full year on the ATP Tour he has won three singles and two doubles titles and reached the semis at this years US Open, losing to eventual winner Rafa Nadal.
Matteo signed my sketch outside the O2 Arena before the team photo was taken last Friday.
Rising tennis star Daniil Medvedev is one of four singles players, 23 years of age and under at this year’s season-ending ATP Finals at London’s O2 Arena. The 6′ 6″ Moscow-born right-hander with a double-handed backhand possesses superior lateral movement and excels from the back of the court.
He is currently ranked No. 4 in the world, reaching six consecutive tournament finals this year, winning 29 of his past 34 matches including his first two ATP Masters 1000 titles in Cincinnati and Shanghai, a crown on his home soil in St Petersburg and a maiden Grand Slam Final at the US Open, losing to Rafa Nadal in five sets.
Daniil signed my sketch last Friday after the team photo was taken outside the O2 Arena.
Half the singles players in this years ATP Finals at London’s O2 Arena are under the age of 23. The youngest is 21 year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas from Greece, who is currently ranked No. 6 in the world. The tall, aggressive baseliner won his opening pool match yesterday against fellow Finals debutant and even taller Daniil Medvedev, the first time he has beaten the Russian in six match-ups.
Born into a tennis family in Athens, Stefanos started taking lessons at the age of six, becoming the worlds No. 1 junior. In 2016 he won the Wimbledon Championships Boys’ Doubles title with Estonia’s Kenneth Raisma. Last year he won the Next Gen ATP Finals and reached three tour-level finals, winning his first title at the Stockholm Open. This year he reached the semi-finals at the Australian Open and reached No. 5 in the ATP world rankings.
Stefanos signed my sketch after a practice session last Thursday at the O2 Arena.
The season-ending ATP Finals are underway at London’s O2 Arena. It’s the 50th edition of the singles tournament with the top 8 ranked men’s players participating. The one and only Roger Federer holds the record for the most appearances. He has made 17 consecutively since 2002, winning a record six.
The thirty-eight year-old, often nicknamed G.O.A.T – Greatest of all-time – holds the third highest number of Guinness world records within one discipline with 30, 18 performance based, including 20 grand Slam titles. Eight of those are Wimbledon Championships, winning his last in 2017 with a victory over Marin Cilic in yet another record-breaking 11th appearance in a men’s singles Final, surpassing the seven won by Pete Sampras and William Renshaw. His sponsors at the time, Nike, designed a commemorative logo incorporating the numeral 8 into his christian name.
Jimmy Conners is quoted, “In an era of specialists, you’re either a clay court specialist, a grass court specialist or a hard court specialist… or you’re Roger Federer.”
Roger signed my sketch last Friday before a photo call and media sessions at the O2 Arena.
While his doubles partner Sir Andy Murray was grabbing the headlines for a successful return to competitive tennis after career-saving surgery five months ago, Feliciano Lopez completed a remarkable double winning both titles at the prestigious Queen’s Club in London on Sunday. Initially ranked outside the top 100 in the ATP rankings, the 37 year old Spaniard became the first wild card entry to lift the singles trophy since Pete Sampras in 1999 and the first player to claim the Queen’s ‘double’ since Mark Philippoussis in 1977.
As a consequence he has leapfrogged a massive 60 places to #53 in the world. He would have also become the oldest player ever to win a grass court event in the open era, but a certain Roger Federer, who is one month older secured his tenth Halle title earlier in the day. Given the inclement English weather earlier in the week, the disrupted schedule meant playing catch-up and multiple games in the same day. In Feliciano’s case it was a remarkable act of endurance.
On Saturday he played five-hours of gruelling tennis to reach the two finals. After beating rising star Felix Auger-Aliassime in the singles semi, he took a 12 minute shower and was back on court with Andy to wrap up their suspended quarter finals doubles clash against British pair Dan Evans and Ken Skupski, before taking on the highly-fancied Henri Kontinen and John Peers, which needed a championship tie-break to decide it. The following day, Feliciano beat Gilles Simon in the singles and completed Sir Andy’s fairytale comeback, beating Joe Salisbury and Rajeev Ram in another tie-breaker to enter the history books.
Feliciano kindly signed this drawing for me when he arrived at the club on Saturday morning. I didn’t need to state the obvious and mention it was going to be a very busy day for him…but I did.
Despite losing the ATP World Tour Finals – a title he has won on five previous occasions – in London on Sunday, Novak Djokovic ended the year as the world’s number one men’s tennis player for the fifth time. It was a remarkable return to form for the Serbian after elbow surgery threatened to curtail his career.
He dropped to number 22 in June. After reuniting with long time coach Marian Vajda, Novak gradually returned to form, reaching the Queens Tournament final, narrowly loosing to Marin Cilic. He headed to Wimbledon as the 12th seed, beating Kevin Anderson in the final after an epic five set semifinal victory over Rafael Nadal and followed that with his 14th major title, beating Juan Martin del Porto in the US Open final. When Rafa withdrew from the Paris Masters, Novak returned to the top ranking.
I caught up with him at the North Greenwich pier during the ATP Finals at London’s O2 as he was leaving via clipper. He was happy to sign my sketch and even took a quick video and commentary on his phone of the both of us with the drawing.
Ivan Lendl joined Sascha Zverev’s team in August this year with immediate results. The young German stunned World #1 Novak Djokovic to win the biggest title of his career, the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 in London on Sunday.
The 58 year old Czech-American, who retired from playing in 1994 after winning eight major and seven year-ending championships was World #1 for 270 weeks during the 1980s, finishing with 94 singles titles. During his time coaching Britain’s Andy Murray, the Scot won three majors, two Olympic gold medals, an ATP Tour Finals title, (also defeating Novak) and reached World #1 in November 2016.
Ivan signed this drawing for me when he arrived at the O2 on Saturday before Sascha beat Roger Federer in the semifinal.