ADELAIDE MATCH POINT: Sakkari sent packing by Rogers

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WTA: Maria Sakkari

An optimist would look at Sakkari’s season and note just how high her ceiling can be: the Greek star defied expectations to reach two Grand Slam semifinals, and made it within a point of the French Open final in June.

A pessimist would counter that her ceiling, however high, very much exists: Sakkari went just 1–7 in semifinals; after her lone victory, in Ostrava, she lost the title match.

Most glaring was her final-four stumble at the US Open. Far more experienced than opposing semifinalist Emma Raducanu—and fresh off a merciless win over former world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova—the 26-year-old never looked close to a breakthrough against the determined Brit, potentially revealing a lack of an “X” factor that could send her tumbling back down the rankings in 2022.

In Sakkari’s favor is her supreme fitness: she is the best athlete in the WTA, bar none, and can compete with anyone when her game is clicking. In 2020 she played Serena Williams in a pair of thrilling three-setters at Flushing Meadows, winning one at the relocated Western & Southern Open before the 23-time major champion avenged the defeat at the US Open proper. She’s just 26—right in her prime—and will be highly seeded at most tournaments.

It all comes down to which view Sakkari takes on her season: will she see the opportunity to climb higher, or will she rue those she’s already lost? If it’s the latter, she could find herself in trouble against hungry opposition.

In 2021, the hunter became the hunted. How Sakkari responds to that change of status will tell the tale of her 2022.

In 2021, the hunter became the hunted. How Sakkari responds to that change of status will tell the tale of her 2022.

ATP: Andrey Rublev

Rublev had plenty to celebrate in 2021: he won Olympic gold in mixed doubles with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, made his Top 5 debut, and reached his first Australian Open quarterfinal. He also played peak tennis to topple Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo, shaking off a second set hiccup to thwart the 11-time champion and reach his first Masters 1000 final. A quarterfinalist at Roland Garros the previous fall, Rublev looked ready to leapfrog compatriot Daniil Medvedev and challenge for Grand Slam glory.

Instead, Rublev bottomed out in the opening round to Jan-Lennard Struff, and with the exception of his run to the Cincinnati Masters final, didn’t look the same since. A dense spring and summer schedule seemingly kept Rublev from rebounding; the Russian headed into his second ATP Finals having lost four of his last five matches, and he went just 1–2 in Turin.

Playing his best tennis at the start of the season makes 2022 an even greater challenge for the reeling 24-year-old, who will need to find his form fast, or else lose points that comprise the bulk of his ranking.

What could inspire a renaissance from the amiable youngster? A powerful ground game and laidback off-court attitude may help shield Rublev from mounting pressures. But the greatest motivator could be growing competition from fellow Russians like Medvedev, Aslan Karatsev and Olympic silver medalist Karen Khachanov.