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For Pliskova, Zverev and others, the Grand Slam countdown starts now
Several prominent players in both tours will be vying for a long-awaited major breakthrough in 2020.
Published Dec 01, 2019
For professional tennis players, the dream is to triumph at the most prestigious events in the sport, the Grand Slams. This goes for players with multiple major wins, and for those who have yet to experience such excellence.
In 2020, several of the sport's most talented players will be out to at last add their names to Grand Slam champion's rolls for the first time. Here’s a closer look at them, and their prospects for a long-awaited major title in the year ahead.
The Czech is running away with the distinction of “best active player to never win a Slam.” The 2016 US Open finalist, who defeated both Venus and Serena Williams on her way to that championship match, is coming off one of her best seasons. Pliskova took home four titles on three different surfaces and finished the year ranked No. 2 in the world—right between Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka, two younger players who captured major titles in 2019. Pliskova’s powerful game works best on faster surfaces, but she’s also won prestigious titles on clay over the past two years, making the former No. 1 a threat at all of the Slams. She’s made a big move on the coaching front for 2020 by bringing in Daniel Vallverdu, who helped guide Andy Murray to his first two Grand Slam championships, as she looks to shed her status as among the Slamless.
One Year, Two Minutes: Karolina Pliskova
Given what he’s accomplished so far, it's easy to forget that Zverev is just 22 years old. Where the ATP’s Big Four had a stranglehold on the Masters 1000 events for more than a decade, the German broke through by winning three of them in a two-year span—and triumphed at the 2018 ATP Finals, as well. However, he hasn’t been able to make an impact at the Grand Slams, with consecutive quarterfinal showings at the French Open in 2018 and ’19 his best finishes. Last year, off-court issues hampered his results, but a solid finish after the Laver Cup helped him to qualify for the ATP Finals. He’s surely hoping that momentum carries over into the new year—particularly at the majors.
Over the past several seasons, Thiem has established himself as the second-best clay-courter on the men’s tour after Rafael Nadal. But in 2019, Thiem showed he was much more than that, winning Indian Wells for his first Masters 1000 title. Still, his best opportunity for a Grand Slam remains at the French Open, where he’s reached the final the past two years, losing to Nadal on both occasions. Should they meet again at that stage, perhaps the third time would be the charm.
After winning nine titles between 2017 and ’18, including last year’s WTA Finals, a Grand Slam victory was expected for Svitolina this season. Injuries affected her for a good portion of the year, though, and she failed to win a title of any sort. While she was unable to add any first-place prizes to her trophy cabinet, the Ukrainian did experience a breakthrough by reaching the first two Grand Slam semifinals of her career, at Wimbledon and the US Open. The run in New York helped her match her career-high No. 3 ranking, and she managed to finish the season on a high note by advancing to the final at the WTA Finals. Provided she’s healthy, that expected Slam title might yet be around the corner.
This year was a mix of highs and lows for the American: She had trouble stringing together wins at multiple tournaments, but when she did, she took advantage of her opportunities. Keys captured her first clay-court title in Charleston, and won her first Premier 5 event in Cincinnati. Keys’ best showing at the four majors came at the French Open, where she advanced to the quarterfinals, and she bookended her Grand Slam season with fourth-round finishes in Melbourne and New York. The 2017 US Open finalist, only 24, has long been considered a future Slam winner. She’ll be out to make the expectations a reality in 2020.