The Breakthrough Stars of the 2020 Australian Open

Sofia Kenin with 2020 Australian Open Trophy

The courts at Melbourne Park have been covered for 2020 and preparations for the 2021 version of the Australian Open have already begun.

Sofia Kenin and Novak Djokovic were crowned champions of the women’s and men’s singles, respectively. There were surprises galore in the men’s doubles and a predictable women’s doubles final too.

This article will focus on the players who have made a name for themselves in this tournament. They may not have been the eventual winners but they have increased their profile among the tennis public and perhaps hinted at greater success for them in the future. They are the breakthrough stars of the 2020 Australian Open.

The Breakthrough Stars of the 2020 Australian Open

Women’s Singles

Sofia Kenin

The obvious choice, but it fits the brief perfectly. Kenin had never before reached the latter stages of any Grand Slam tournament. She had never breached the top ten ranked players in the world. Yet she was the one who emerged from a quarter that involved Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff, amongst others.

The fact that the 21-year-old American then went on to lift the trophy was an incredible achievement. Whether Kenin proves capable of following up this triumph is yet to be determined but she certainly proved she has the attitude for it.

Ons Jabeur

 

The Tunisian played the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time in Melbourne. In doing so she became not only the first Tunisian to achieve this, but Jabeur was also making history for Arabic women in tennis.

Jabeur’s matches were being displayed in bars in Tunis at 3am, certainly unusual for a country lacking in sporting heritage. She has always had a lot of talent, former top junior like Kenin, but has struggled to break into the top echelon of the WTA. Tunisia and perhaps the whole Arabic world will hope this is just the beginning of a move to the top for Jabeur.

Men’s Singles

Tennys Sandgren

The Tennessee-born big server seems to have something of an affinity for Melbourne Park. Sandgren was a surprise quarterfinalist here in 2018 before losing to Hyeon Chung. On this occasion, victory seemed even more unlikely as he faced up to Swiss legend Roger Federer at the quarterfinal stage.

The truth is that the American should’ve made it through to his first major semifinal. Squandering seven match points in the fourth set is bound to hurt, though it would appear that Sandgren had his own therapeutic response to it according to his Twitter feed.

Marton Fucsovics

The Hungarian cut a swathe through the first week. He wasn’t expected to make it past the first round after being paired with Canadian thirteenth seed and many people’s dark horse for the tournament, Denis Shapovalov.

Fucsovics used his powerful game to brush aside Shapovalov in four sets and from that point he didn’t let up. He didn’t drop a set in round two or three either, and those matches were against two of the top prospects in the men’s game, Jannik Sinner and Tommy Paul. It was an exceptionally impressive first week but it came to an end against Roger Federer. The Hungarian took the first set but was dominated thereafter. Hopefully Fucsovics takes the positives from the first week and can show this type of form for the remainder of the season.

Women’s Doubles

Cori Gauff and Caty McNally

On the Last Word on Tennis podcast at the beginning of the year I predicted that Gauff and McNally might win a Grand Slam title. That prediction almost came true in the first slam of the year. The young American pair made it to the quarterfinals before being defeated by eventual champions Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic.

The difficulty for Gauff and McNally in terms of winning in 2020 is that there are a couple of very strong women’s doubles teams at the moment. The final was contested by the top two seeds, Babos/Mladenovic and Su-Wei Hsieh and Barbora Strycova. It will be difficult for Gauff and McNally to get past those teams but time is on their side and if they stay together they could be a really top doubles pair for many years.

Men’s Doubles

Luke Saville and Max Purcell

The Aussie pair were given a wildcard into the doubles competition and wow did they make the most of it. They took out the seeded pair of Rojer and Tecau early on and carried that momentum through their run all the way to the final.

Though they were defeated in the final by Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury (winning their first Grand Slam) the tennis that they played was certainly good enough to be a regular pair on the ATP Tour. They won numerous Challenger Tour doubles titles in 2019 and are clearly ready for the step up.

Alexander Bublik and Mikhail Kukushkin

When a team of two good singles players from the country gets put together I am often cynical. There are very few teams that become successful at the top level having been put together in this way.

However, the Kazakhs came out at the Australian Open and shocked the third seeds Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies in the opening round. They then continued their great form and were the closest to knocking out Ram and Salisbury when they went a set up in the semifinals. It will be interesting to see if their partnership continues on the tour, it is difficult to marry two top 100 singles players’ programs on the tour but they could be dangerous at Grand Slams.

Girl’s Singles

Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva

There was a huge story in the girl’s singles. The champion of the tournament was a 14-year-old from Andorra, which makes Andorra the smallest country by area and population to have produced a Grand Slam winner of any description.

Jimenez Kasintseva was very tenacious during the tournament. She went a set down in four of her six matches and faced match points against her in the third round. She has the potential to be a big star and I’m sure that she will become a national hero for Andorra. The unseeded Warina Baszek of Poland was the Andorran’s opponent in the final and it will also be interesting to follow her as well.

Boy’s Singles

France

The major takeout from the boy’s singles was the strength of French boys’ tennis. The final was an all-French affair between Harold Mayot and Arnaud Cazaux. Mayot, who was the #1 seed, won comfortably.

France produced three of the four semifinalists. While it’s not uncommon to see France well represented at the junior level, it’s still an impressive achievement.

The next Grand Slam is, obviously, in Paris, so the French public will be keen to see these young stars repeat this level of success on the clay courts of Roland Garros.

 

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