Photo : Martin Sidorjak
2022 was a year unlike any other on the ATP Tour.
The entire season was a clash of generations, with two of the old guard bookending the year with wins, while a new upstart took over the tour in the middle. Even though two of the Big Three are still hanging around, their number was reduced and a changing of the guard has begun.
The year-end Top 10 probably did not look much like many people might have expected at the beginning of January. And even results that on paper looked run of the mill were anything but.
And at one point everyone was glued to Australian immigration court.
As we prepare to close to the book on 2022 and move on to 2023, it’s time to take one more look back on a wild year in the world of men’s tennis.
Rafa’s Historic Start
It seems like the Rafael Nadal retirement watch has been going on since 2009. Given the Spaniard’s aggressive style of play and an injury history that would require an encyclopedia to record, fans and pundits seem to live in a constant state of expecting his retirement any day now.
But after a foot injury ended his season in August 2021 and surgery had him on crutches in November, there was plenty of reason to believe that 2022 might be the end. Throw in a severe case of COVID-19 in late December and expectations were as low as they have ever been for the Spaniard coming into the Australian swing to start the season.
One would think that after all these years, the tennis world would have learned to stop doubting Rafael Nadal.
Even after a victory at the ATP 250 event in Melbourne, a second Australian Open title seemed unlikely.
It looked especially unlikely when he trailed reigning US Open champion Daniil Medvedev by two sets to love and down 2-3, love-40 in the third set.
But what followed was arguably the greatest comeback in tennis history. The Spaniard held serve in that game, which ultimately proved to be the turning point as he somehow managed to win the next three sets to get his hands on the most improbable of trophies.
In the process, he moved ahead of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic on the all-time men’s Grand Slam singles title list with a 21st victory, taking sole possession of the lead for the first time. He also became the second man in the Open Era along with Djokovic to win all four major titles twice.
Nadal carried that momentum into the spring, adding a title in Acapulco and then reaching the Indian Wells final, when a stress fracture in his rib finally slowed him down enough to lose his first match of the year to Taylor Fritz. His 20 consecutive wins to start the season was a career-best.
The rib injury appeared to stunt his season and he arrived at Roland-Garros without a clay court title to his name for the first time in his career (with the exception of the abbreviated 2020 season). Doubts were particularly strong after he appeared visibly hobbled in his third-round loss in Rome to Denis Shapovalov.
Throughout the fortnight in Paris, Nadal refused to speak about the foot injury. Instead, he let his tennis do the talking. He survived just his third five-setter at Roland-Garros in round four against Félix Auger-Aliassime and then made statements with a four-set win over Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals and crushed Casper Ruud in the final to claim his 14th Roland-Garros title and extend his overall major title lead with a 22nd.
After the event, Nadal revealed that he had had treatment on his bothersome foot that numbed it throughout the event, leading to the popular saying that he had won the French Open on one foot.
Despite playing just five more tournaments in 2022, he still finished the season at No. 2 and added a huge chapter to his already epic legacy.
Felix’s Fantastic Finish
If a roller coaster starts at its highest point and then goes up and down between some lower peaks and valleys, Félix Auger-Aliassime’s 2022 season was a roller coaster in reverse.
The Canadian got off to a strong start in 2022, leading to Canada to victory at the ATP Cup in the first week of the season and then reaching his third straight Grand Slam quarter-final at the Australian Open, even being a point away from the semis in a match-of-the-year-candidate quarter-final against the eventual runner-up Daniil Medvedev.
In his next event, he finally won his first career title in his ninth finals appearance, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets, the Canadian’s first two sets won in a final, to grab the trophy in Rotterdam.
With a start like that, it seemed like Auger-Aliassime was primed to take over the tour in 2022.
But the next few months did not go according to plan, as the Canadian struggled to find consistency and suffered disappointing results all over the tour, including early losses at Wimbledon and the US Open.
Then everything changed with a colossal upset win over newly crowned US Open champion Carlos Alcaraz in the Spaniard’s first match as the world No. 1 at the Davis Cup group stage in Valencia.
The rest is history for the Canadians at the Davis Cup.
Auger-Aliassime touched down in Florence, Italy, back on his beloved indoor hard courts and found a new level. For the next three weeks, he was untouchable, blowing away all challengers with a dominant serve and crushing ground game.
Three tournaments resulted in three more trophies for the Canadian as he claimed the titles in Florence, Antwerp, and Basel to bring his season total to four and put himself on the cusp of a first qualification for the ATP Finals, something that looked unthinkable after the US Open. During the Basel run, he added another win over Alcaraz for good measure.
While the year-end Championships did not go well for the Canadian, he did score a first win over Rafael Nadal in the round robin. And the best was still yet to come.
Finishing off his season at the Davis Cup knockout stage, Auger-Aliassime finished strong.
With the weight of the nation on his shoulders, he delivered the first Davis Cup crown for Canada.
Auger-Aliassime finished 2022 with four titles, trailing only Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic, and 60 match wins, only one back of Stefanos Tsitsipas for the most on the ATP Tour. He led the tour in match wins (31, 10 more than second place Rune) and titles indoors. His year-end ranking was a career-high of No. 6.
There was a baby boom at the ATP Tour this year, with three top players all become fathers at roughly the same time.
First, Rafael Nadal became the last member of the Big Four to become a father when his son, also named Rafael, was born on October 8th.
Daniil Medvedev surprised the tennis world when he announced the birth of his daughter on October 14th. Unlike Nadal and Gael Monfils, Medvedev has not previously publicised that he and his wife were expecting, so the news came as a surprise to the public.
A day later, Monfils and his wife, WTA player Elina Svitolina, welcomed their daughter Skai.
End of an Era
2022 was full of goodbyes.
Grand Slam finalists Kevin Anderson and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga both retired, as did the tallest man ever to play the game Ivo Karlovic.
Other notable names who called it a career include Gilles Simon, Sam Querrey, Tommy Robredo, and Nenad Zimonjic among many others.
But one player’s retirement stands out above the rest.
Throughout 2022, Roger Federer teased a potential comeback. He committed to playing the Laver Cup and his hometown tournament in Basel. During a ceremony at Wimbledon, he said he hoped to be able to play the 2023 edition of the Championships.
But that’s not what fate had ordained.
Federer’s rehab for the knee injury that had sidelined him since his 2021 fourth-round loss at Wimbledon did not go as planned and he decided that the Laver Cup would serve as his farewell.
In the most fitting fashion, Federer took to the court for his final match alongside long-time rival and friend Rafael Nadal. Instead of standing on opposite sides of the net, they teamed up for Team Europe in the doubles match on day one of the Laver Cup.
Despite holding a match point, Federer was unable to get the fairy-tale finish as he and Nadal were beaten by Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe. However, a touching ceremony followed where players and fans alike paid tribute to one of the greatest players of all-time.
Nadal’s reaction in particularly become swiftly iconic, as the Spaniard could not hold back in tears during the post-match festivities. At one point, cameras even captured the two historic rivals holding hands on the bench as they both cried together.
Age of Alcaraz Begins
Even losing Federer, and with Rafael Nadal’s days seemingly numbered, the tennis world is still in good hands.
Coming into the season, there was a lot of buzz around Spanish teen Carlos Alcaraz.
Alcaraz had won his first title in 2021, upset Stefanos Tsitsipas to reach the fourth round of the US Open at just 18, and had won the ATP NextGen Finals. With his remarkable combination of speed and power, expectations were high coming into 2022.
He did not waste much time living up to those expectations, going on an early 10-match winning streak in February/March that saw him win the title in Rio and reach his first Masters 1000 semifinal in Indian Wells, where it took a superhuman effort from Nadal to stop him.
But Alcaraz was just getting started. He turned around and won his first Masters 1000 title later that month in Miami. He then picked up two more titles on clay in Barcelona and Madrid, at the latter becoming the first man in history to defeat both Nadal and Novak Djokovic at the same event on clay.
He came into Roland-Garros with an incredible 28-3 record on the season and was considered by many to be a title favourite, although he was beaten by Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals.
Alcaraz started to slow down during the summer, losing in the fourth round of Wimbledon and falling in consecutive finals in Umag and Hamburg. After losing his opening match in Montreal, where he was the second seed, the teen admitted to feeling the pressure of his new-found stardom.
However, when the lights were at their brightest in New York at the US Open, he did not blink.
By no means were things easy for Alcaraz. He needed five sets in the fourth round, quarter-finals, and semifinals, but the Spaniard ran the gauntlet to reach his first Grand Slam singles final, which was also a battle for the No. 1 ranking with Casper Ruud.
A four-set win put the crown on Alcaraz’s head, becoming the youngest major winner since Nadal in 2005 and the youngest man ever to be ranked No. 1 in the world.
To put just how good and consistent Alcaraz was in 2022 into context, his first-round loss in Astana to David Goffin was the first match of the year where he failed to win at least one set. That was his 63rd match of the year.
While injuries derailed his finish to the year, the Spaniard still managed to end the season at No. 1 in the world, the youngest man ever to do so.
He will begin 2023 still a teenager and No. 1 in the world. As long as he stays healthy, tennis fans should get used to the name Carlos Alcaraz.