The 2021 season is in the books and it’s time to look ahead to 2022, with the Australian Open starting in less than a month.
But before turning our attention to next season, how about some recognition for those that stood out this year?
From the breakthrough acts to the biggest surprises, we hand out some 2021 tennis awards…
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Breakthrough player

If Carlos Alcaraz can build on this season then he will be a force on the ATP Tour for years to come. The 18-year-old won his first title in Umag and earned top-10 victories over Stefanos Tsitsipas, Berrettini and Jannik Sinner. His forehand is a hugely destructive weapon and the way he demolished his rivals at the Next Gen Finals in Milan suggests he is a class above.
There are plenty of contenders on the women’s side, with Barbora Krejcikova, Paula Badosa and Anett Kontaveit all shooting up the rankings and earning their places at the season-ending WTA Finals. Kontaveit’s success mainly came in the final quarter of 2021, when she went on an incredible winning run, while Krejcikova and Badosa had more consistent campaigns. With apologies again to Krejcikova, it’s Badosa who gets the nod after starting the year at No 70 in the rankings and clinching the first title of her career, winning in Indian Wells and making the semi-finals of the ATP Finals.

'I'm incredibly happy' - Alcaraz on winning ATP Next Gen Finals in Milan

Best match

Naomi Osaka’s fourth-round win over Garbine Muguruza at the Australian Open was hugely entertaining, as was the Indian Wells final between Victoria Azarenka and Paula Badosa.
Stefanos Tsitsipas played in some belters against Novak Djokovic in the French Open final and Andy Murray and Carlos Alcaraz at the US Open.
But the standout match has to be the semi-final clash between Djokovic and Nadal at the French Open.
It didn’t look like it was going to be a classic as Nadal roared into a 5-0 lead in the first set, but when Djokovic got into the match the quality of tennis hit heights that are rarely seen. The second and third sets in particular featured a number of mesmerising rallies as the two greats pulled each other around the court, much to the delight of the crowd on Court Philippe-Chatrier, who were permitted to stay beyond the 11pm curfew due to the “completely exceptional nature of the circumstances”.

Highlights: Djokovic overcomes Nadal in classic battle in Paris

After an incredible 98-minute third set, Nadal led 2-0 in the fourth set, but Djokovic fought back and sealed a remarkable win.
“Definitely the best match that I was part of ever in Roland Garros for me,” he said afterwards. “And top three matches that I ever played in my entire career.”

Biggest surprise

No surprises here, it’s Emma Raducanu.
Coming from nowhere to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon was impressive, but what she did at the US Open was incredible. Raducanu was consistently brilliant in New York, all the way through qualifying to the final (without dropping a set!), and her nerves rarely seemed to show even as the occasion got bigger and bigger. Her hitting was a joy to watch and hopefully there is much more to come from the British No 1.

Biggest disappointment

He’s been unfortunate with injuries, but Dominic Thiem had a season to forget.
He won just nine matches, lost in the first round of his favourite Grand Slam, only made one semi-final, and his best winning run was three matches. At 28 there is still time for the 2020 US Open champion to get back to the top table, but he needs to get fully healthy after suffering a wrist injury in June and then rediscover his best form soon.
In terms of a disappointing occasion, Serena Williams’ first-round injury at Wimbledon stung.

Serena Williams

Image credit: Getty Images

With questions over a few of her rivals’ fitness, Williams seemed to have a decent shot at finally winning her 24th Grand Slam title at the All England Club. But she lasted just 34 minutes against Aliaksandra Sasnovic before slipping on the grass and injuring her ankle, which lead to an emotional exit from Centre Court, possibly for the last time.
It was also disappointing not to see Juan Martin del Porto back on a tennis court, hopefully that changes in 2022 as he continues to recover from yet another surgery. But Thiem, you're the unfortunate recipient of this gong.

Biggest controversy

It’s hard to top the toilet break drama at the US Open involving Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Andy Murray was left incensed by the length of time that Tsitsipas spent off court, accusing him of cheating and saying he lost respect for the Greek. Even the next day Murray was still going, tweeting: “Fact of the day. It takes Stefanos Tsitipas twice as long to go the bathroom as it takes Jeff Bazos to fly into space.”
There was plenty of debate about whether Tsitsipas actually did anything wrong or if it was gamesmanship. Eurosport’s Mats Wilander defended Tsitsipas, saying all the “great players stretch the rules”, while 18-time major champion Chris Evert said the problem was the “vague” rule.
It might be the last we see of the lengthy toilet break as the rules have been changed to restrict how long players are allowed to be off court, which should please Murray. A little.

Comeback player of the year

It had some ups and downs, but Andy Murray had a pretty strong season as he continues to try to get back near the top of the game. Murray was impressive as he beat Sinner, Alcaraz and Hubert Hurkacz to finish the year; he will be hoping for more consistency in 2022.
Xavier Malisse made a shock return at the European Open as he teamed up with Lloyd Harris, who he has been coaching, and won two doubles matches. Malisse is 41 and retired in 2013.
Jack Sock has had a tough few years but seems to be heading in the right direction after some encouraging results.
Carla Suarez Navarro takes the award after her emotional return to the WTA Tour following a battle with cancer. It was fantastic that she got to say farewell at the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open before bowing out at the Billie Jean King Cup finals with Spain.

'It was tough' - Suarez Navarro speaks about journey from cancer treatment to Roland Garros

Shot of the year

Carlos Alcaraz won a stunning point at the Next Gen Finals in Milan, but the award has to go to Diego Schwartzman for his outrageous behind-the-back lob in Paris.

Best quote

Benoit Paire had a few memorable grumbles at the start of the season while Hsieh Su-wei raised smiles throughout the season, and Alexander Bublik calling Jannik Sinner “not human” after their match in Miami was amusing.
However, Djokovic takes the award after being asked yet again about the threat of the Next Gen following his defeat to Rafael Nadal in the Rome final.
“This is probably the 55th time I’ve been asked about the Next Gen this week. We are reinventing the Next Gen: Rafa, myself, and Roger, we are the Next Gen.”
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