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Men's and Women's Tennis Players of the Decade

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Highly regarded for the heavy spin he generates, Thiem emerged as a premier clay-court player in the back half of the decade. He won 10 titles on the surface, defeating Rafael Nadal four times (all in best-of-three). He ousted Novak Djokovic twice in Paris and reached consecutive French Open finals. As he grew into a Top 10 mainstay, the Austrian showed he isn’t a one-dimensional player, edging Roger Federer for this year’s Indian Wells title.


Arguably the unluckiest player of the past 10 years—with a host of injuries, including three left wrist surgeries—del Potro is an incredible story of resilience. The Tower of Tandil guided Argentina to its maiden Davis Cup in 2016, won two Olympic medals and 15 ATP titles, including Indian Wells. His pure love of the game enabled a US Open final return in 2018, nine years after his major breakthrough


Until he suffered a back injury in 2018, Berdych was a regular fixture in the business end of tournaments. He defeated Federer and Djokovic to advance to the 2010 Wimbledon final, and progressed to six additional Grand Slam semifinals, including at least one final-four showing at each Slam. The Czech helped his country win back-to-back Davis Cup crowns and qualified for the ATP Finals in six straight seasons (2010-15)


Though he retired in 2019 without a major title, Ferrer left everything on the court in a career built on consistency, and forcing opposition to hit through him. During one stretch, the 2013 French Open finalist reached 10 successive Grand Slam quarterfinals, and he ended the first six seasons of the decade inside the Top 10. Overall, he won 21 singles titles, highlighted by his 2012 triumph at Paris-Bercy.


The Croatian began the decade with a semifinal showing in Melbourne, but it took him time to develop consistency at the Slams. It all came together at the 2014 US Open, where Cilic outclassed Federer in a one-sided semifinal before dismissing Kei Nishikori to taste victory. He finished runner-up to the Swiss at Wimbledon in 2017 and Melbourne in 2018, and added a Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati to eventually reach world No. 3.


In an era that saw physical stamina and power reach new heights, Wawrinka met the challenge, breaking away from his compatriot Federer’s shadows to come into his own as a robust competitor. Peaking at No. 3 in the rankings, he picked up three different major trophies (all but Wimbledon), knocking out each member of the Big 3 at least once along the way, including Djokovic during all three title runs.


The first British men’s Grand Slam singles champion in 76 years, at the 2012 US Open, Murray raised his first of two Wimbledon trophies a year later to end a 77-year drought for a male home-grown winner. The torchbearer also led Great Britain to its first Davis Cup in 79 years, won two Olympic gold medals (one at Wimbledon) and prevailed in a winner-take-all ATP Finals title match with Djokovic to finish 2016 at No. 1.


Despite being older than his chief rivals, Federer continued to go toe-to-toe with Djokovic and Nadal. The Swiss added five majors, including three after turning 35, to become the first man to reach the 20-Slam singles mark. With 41 trophies added to his collection this decade, the 38-year-old is within striking distance of surpassing Jimmy Connors for two Open Era records: singles titles (109) and match wins (1,274).


His decade started with a bang, as the Spaniard won three consecutive majors, including the 2010 US Open, to join Andre Agassi as the only men to complete a career Golden Slam. Nadal sustained his remarkable dominance at Roland Garros with a record-extending 12th title in 2019, increased trophy hauls in Monte Carlo and Barcelona to 11, and proved his worth beyond clay with three more US Open conquests.


In winning 15 of his 16 majors—sprung by a 2011 season that saw him begin 41–0— and turning around head-to-head series records against Nadal and Federer, Djokovic rightfully stands on top. In addition to his Grand Slam accolades, Djokovic became the first ATP player to win all nine Masters 1000s, the first to win seven Australian Open crowns, and he finished as the year-end No. 1 five times.


Sharapova became the 10th WTA player to complete a career Grand Slam at the 2012 French Open, added a second Roland Garros title two years later and had five successive seasons inside the Top 4. But in January 2016, she tested positive for meldonium, a substance added to the ITF’s banned list, and served a 15-month suspension as a result. Since resuming play, Sharapova has yet to return to the final round of a major.


Osaka made a splash when she captured her first WTA title at Indian Wells in 2018. Within a year, she was the center of attention after winning consecutive majors at the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open— which enabled the Japanese to become the first Asian, man or woman, to reach No. 1 in singles. While she’s struggled with handling her new status since then, Osaka has plenty of time to manage expectations.


Clijsters hung up her racquet in September 2012—or so we thought—but showed the current cohort, including Serena, that moms can win big, too. The Belgian retained her US Open title in 2010, then won her first major outside of NYC at the 2011 Australian Open. Shortly thereafter, she returned to No. 1, before a string of injuries began to take their toll on the fan favorite. Clijsters since announced that she’ll return in 2020.

7: LI NA

Li’s groundbreaking accomplishments have endured since her retirement in 2014, and extend far beyond the court. Asia’s first Grand Slam singles champion, the 2019 Hall of Fame inductee won the 2011 French Open, claimed the 2014 Australian Open after two runner-up finishes in Melbourne, rose to No. 2 and, most importantly, inspired China’s future generations to pick up a racquet and play on their own terms.


A true workhorse, Wozniacki lifted 24 WTA trophies, including at least one in each season from 2010 to 2018. She also showed detractors that persistence pays off. The yearend No. 1 in 2010 and 2011, the Dane won the 2017 WTA Finals with her unwavering counterpunch style, then got the Grand Slam monkey off her back in Melbourne. She went on to finish 2018 inside the Top 10 for the seventh time in nine years.


At her peak, Azarenka demonstrated a capacity to match Serena’s power and intensity, as the two gave fans gripping battles in and out of the majors. The Belarusian peaked at No. 1, won consecutive Australian Opens, finished second at two US Opens and captured two Olympic medals, including gold in mixed doubles. After taking time off to prioritize a custody battle over her son, Azarenka returned full-time in 2018.


Though uneven at the Slams, Kvitova twice won Wimbledon and triumphed at the 2011 WTA Finals. A Top-10 fixture with dependable results on tour—26 titles— the Czech was a substantial contributor to six Fed Cup crowns. More than that, Kvitova’s heart and resolve shone when she advanced to the 2019 Australian Open final just two years after surviving a home invasion that left her hitting hand badly injured.


Ranked No. 92, the German broke through at the 2011 US Open with a run to the semifinals—a launching pad for the left-hander’s ascendancy to the top, and evolution as one of the sport’s most tenacious athletes. Kerber proved to be one of the few players prepared to challenge Serena, defeating the American in two of her three major championship victories. She raised the bar for athletic counterpunchers.


The year-end No. 1 in 2017 and 2018 (she also finished inside the Top 5 in the three prior years), the Romanian emerged as a consistent force after announcing herself with six WTA titles in 2013. Though she would fall in her first three major finals, Halep kept plugging away to taste victory at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, validating that her game and mental fortitude could withstand bigger ball-strikers and major moments.


With 12 singles majors, 236 weeks at No. 1, an Olympic gold medal and coming within three sets of attaining a calendar-year Grand Slam, she is the clearcut WTA player of the decade. The perennial champion overcame off-court challenges to contest at least one major final in all 10 years. Between the summers of 2012 and 2015, Williams went 8–0 in Grand Slam finals, completing her second Serena Slam in the process.

3 months ago
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