The 2021 tennis season starts this week with plenty of questions over what lies ahead this year.
How will the Grand Slam race between Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic unfold? How will Covid-19 impact the calendar? Will there be any big-name retirements? How will Ashleigh Barty and Bianca Andreescu fare after lengthy breaks?
We look at 21 questions for 2021…
Will Andy Murray win again? It’s been over a year since Murray lifted silverware, and 2020 didn’t raise too much hope that he will be challenging again soon. But there were glimmers which suggested that – if he can get back to full fitness and string some wins together – he might be able to contend in tournaments. His showing at the Battle of the Brits, where he beat Dan Evans and Cameron Norrie, offered more encouragement.
When will Roger Federer return? By the time the 2021 Australian Open starts it will be over a year since Federer played a competitive match. There had been hopes that he would play in Melbourne after knee surgery but it’s now unclear when he will return to the tour. With the ‘r’ word looming for the 39-year-old his priorities in potentially his last year will surely be Wimbledon and the Olympics – but will he be ready to challenge at either or both?
Will Serena Williams win No 24? Williams has been chasing her elusive 24th Grand Slam title for the last three years, losing in four major finals and the semi-finals last year at the US Open. It looks like time is running out and certainly her dominant aura has faded, but if she is 100 per cent healthy there is still a chance she could lift another major in 2021.
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Will Rafael Nadal move ahead of Roger Federer? The Grand Slam race is finely-poised at 20-20 between Nadal and Federer, with Djokovic three behind. It seems unlikely now that Federer will finish as the best of the trio, but how long will it be before Nadal overtakes him?
Will Novak Djokovic dominate again? 2020 looked as though it would be the year of Djokovic as he swept through the first half of the calendar, embarking on a 29-match winning run that saw him win one Grand Slam and two Masters titles. But after his disqualification from the US Open his season petered out with a surprise loss to lucky loser Lorenzo Sonego in Vienna and a semi-final defeat to Dominic Thiem at the ATP Finals. With signs that the chasing pack is getting closer, will Djokovic pull away again?
What will happen with the Professional Tennis Players Association? With the ATP Player Council elected and Novak Djokovic withdrawing, what happens next for the breakaway PTPA? And will it prove to be a distraction for Djokovic?
Will Victoria Azarenka challenge for a Grand Slam? One of the bright spots of 2020 was seeing Azarenka playing at a high level again after so long out. The 31-year-old mother ended the season with her highest ranking since 2016 and came close to winning her second Grand Slam title as she lost in the US Open final – her first major final since 2013. She will be one to watch if she can reproduce the form she showed over the summer.
Will Wimbledon be played this year? It’s unlikely to be a “normal” Wimbledon, but after being the only Grand Slam not played last year, will professional tennis be played at the All England Club again in 2021?
Top shots from 2020 Australian Open
Is this the year for Karolina Pliskova? The Czech is one of the most talented players on the WTA Tour yet to win a major, with her first and only Grand Slam final coming back in 2016. She is hoping that a new partnership with Sascha Bajin – former coach of Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka – will help push her to the top.
Will Andrey Rublev take the next step? The Russian was arguably the ATP player of 2020 as he tied for most wins (41) and led the tour with five titles. But his below-par showings at the Masters events he played and straight-set losses in the quarter-finals of the US Open and French Open raises questions about his ceiling.
What now for Nick Kyrgios? After all his efforts helping the Australia bushfire crisis at the start of 2020, Kyrgios then was out of action from February and hasn’t played since. It will be intriguing to see him return to action in Melbourne, especially if he is fit and firing on all cylinders.
Can Naomi Osaka dominate the women’s game? Osaka has already had a stellar career with three Grand Slam titles, a spell as world No 1 and her statements and actions off the court. But she hasn’t really enjoyed a prolonged spell of success yet, with her three major wins spread over three years and no other runs beyond the fourth round of any of the Grand Slams. The last time she won the US Open – as she did in 2020 – she backed it up by winning the Australian Open, so a repeat would be an excellent way for her to start the year.
Naomi Osaka is a three-time Grand Slam champion
Image credit: Getty Images
Will Bianca Andreescu hit the top again? Andreescu enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2019 with her win at the US Open, but didn’t play last year due to injury. She says she is hoping to “come back stronger” in 2021 and her return will be a fascinating addition to the top 10.
Will Ashleigh Barty remain as No 1? Like Kyrgios, Barty missed almost all of 2020 following the Australian Open, not playing since reaching the semi-finals of Qatar in February. She remains world No 1, though, and will be hopeful of a strong run at the Australian Open again after reaching the semi-finals last year. She is also scheduled to play doubles with American Jennifer Brady in Melbourne.
How many tournaments will be postponed? The difficulties around the Covid-19 pandemic have already been shown this year with Indian Wells postponed and a number of players withdrawing from the Delray Beach Open in Florida to reduce travel ahead of the Australian Open. With no sign of the Covid-19 situation improving immediately it would be surprising if the calendars stay exactly as they are right now, but how badly will the calendar be impacted this year?
Will there be a first-time Slam winner? Daniil Medvedev? Alexander Zverev? There were certainly signs in 2020 that the gap is closing on the 'Big Three' while on the women’s side Iga Swiatek showed that there continues to be plenty of unpredictability.
Who will win Olympic gold? The last few Olympics have produced some superb matches with Tokyo hopefully seeing a wide-open field as most of the world’s top players compete for medals that only come on offer every four (or five) years rather than annually.
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Who will be the top Canadian? Canada have an interesting trio towards the top of the rankings with youngsters Denis Shapovalov (No 12) and Felix Auger-Aliassime (No 21) joined by the more experienced Milos Raonic (No 14). Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime both have the potential to climb up the rankings and challenge for tournament wins while Raonic enjoyed a comeback season.
Will Iga Swiatek back up French Open win? What a year 2020 was for Swiatek, in particular that stunning two-week period at Roland Garros. It’s remarkable that she didn’t enjoy much success elsewhere in the year, and that means she hardly has any ranking points to defend in 2021 outside of Paris, so has the chance to close the gap on the top 10. The 19-year-old will certainly be one to watch this year.
Will Petra Kvitova challenge at a Grand Slam again? Kvitova has already enjoyed an incredible comeback after being stabbed in 2016, returning to the top 10 in the world and reaching the semi-finals and quarter-finals of two Grand Slams last year. On her day she has shown she can still beat the best, and a third major title may not be too far away.
How much will we see of Juan Martin del Potro? After a year-and-a-half out, please let the answer be a lot.