FLASHBACK: Top 10 Matches of 2022, No. 7: Upstart FAA challenged an aging all-time great on his home turf, and Rafa responded by lifting his game to a level that no one has ever been able to match on a clay court.

Aryna Sabalenka

Let’s be clear: Aryna Sabalenka was robbed.

It evidently wasn’t enough that the 24-year-old had to sojourn through most of 2022 without the cornerstone of her game, but her ability to overcome that adversity and compile one of the season’s cleanest narrative arcs somehow failed to gain kudos from my colleagues when it came time to name the tour’s Top 5. She instead settles for sixth place in a competition of three or four actual contenders.

It’s one more humiliation but as Sabalenka herself would tell you, she’s been through worse.

“This year I was fighting with myself,” she mused after finishing a second straight season ranked inside the Top 8. “I think this season start as the worst season, but at the end I think it was the best season for me because I learned a lot, and I became even stronger, mentally stronger.”

Sabalenka—and, more specifically, her serve—was one of the biggest stories of 2022. While Iga Swiatek and Ashleigh Barty were amassing unbelievable winning streaks, Sabalenka was audacious in equal and opposite measure, testing the limits of a tennis match’s watchability with painfully errant double faults. But where the yips have caused many to recoil, Sabalenka never lost her sense of humor—or her desire to improve.

She laughingly tallied her woeful serves in between seeking advice from experts like performance coach Gavin Macmillan, who revamped her motion into a more reliable weapon. It all came together in Texas, where she beat the world’s Top 3 to reach the biggest final of her career.

Ever aware of her potential to compete for major titles, Sabalenka is neither afraid to make changes nor cowed by criticism.

“Follow your journey and just don't give a fuck about what people are saying,” she exclaims.

A mantra that ought to ward off further robberies in 2023. — David Kane


Coco Gauff

Coco Gauff went from teen-phenom-in-waiting to Top 10 mainstay over the course of a breakthrough 2022. And although she came up short in key moments, her rise to the top in singles and doubles deserves an honorable mention in our roundup.

The 18-year-old came into her own on and off the court, recording consistent wins despite going without a singles title. Gauff achieved a long-awaited milestone in making her first singles Grand Slam final at Roland Garros, and then overcame the double heartbreak of losing in the singles and doubles finals in Paris to make her WTA Finals debut. Gauff was the youngest woman since Maria Sharapova in 2005 to qualify for the season-ending event—one of a myriad of “youngest since” records she broke throughout the year.

Still, the American’s stock remains high, because while the tennis world has been waiting for a standout result to mark the moment Gauff officially fulfills the expectations that were placed upon her as a teen, she’s already established herself on tour and bucking those expectations altogether.

While experts and pundits have urged her to drop doubles, Gauff stayed committed to the game she enjoys. She racked up titles in Doha, Toronto and San Diego with Jessica Pegula, qualified for Fort Worth in both competitions, and peaked at world No. 1.

Gauff, who reached a career-high No. 4 ranking in singles, took a different approach off the court, too. While her peers’ big-money contracts have landed them on top earners lists, the 18-year-old instead bet on her longevity by dropping her New Balance CG1s—becoming the only active tennis player with a signature shoe.

With the building blocks long in place—and obvious room for improvement in Gauff’s tactical and mental game—it’s clear that we have yet to see her ceiling. But what she’s shown in 2022 proves Gauff is poised for even more in the upcoming seasons. — Stephanie Livaudais


Coco Gauff, Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina each had standout seasons—but they didn't make the cut on's Top 5 WTA Players of 2022 list.

Coco Gauff, Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina each had standout seasons—but they didn't make the cut on's Top 5 WTA Players of 2022 list. 

Elena Rybakina

The 12 words that open Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities, have been cited so often that they threaten to lose their resonance: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

But as events in London and New York demonstrated, they poignantly describe Elena Rybakina’s 2022 tennis year.

London—at least inside the lines—had been glorious. Ranked 23rd as Wimbledon began, over the course of seven matches, Rybakina navigated her way through one tight situation after another. Her first four matches all included at least one set that went past 5-all. Of Rybakina’s next three matches, two went three sets—most notably, a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 win over Ons Jabeur in the finals.

Alas, in response to the All-England Club’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from the tournament, the WTA had opted not to award any ranking points for Wimbledon. This cast a shadow over Rybakina’s triumph—and also hindered her ascent.

By August, Rybakina’s ranking had even dropped to 27. Arriving in New York to play the US Open, Rybakina expressed how it all made her feel. “I think this is the problem of the structure of the tour,” she said. “Honestly, a bit weak leadership because we have so many things going on. It was my dream to win Wimbledon. It's pity. I feel like actually I'm not the Wimbledon champion.”

Seeded 25th in New York, Rybakina’s first round match was played on Court 12. There she lost in straight sets to Clara Burel, a qualifier ranked No. 131.

Rybakina competed vigorously throughout the rest of the year, playing tournaments on three continents. Still, by year’s end, Rybakina’s ranking was 22. One looks forward to seeing how the journey continues in this rare case of a Wimbledon champion impacted by global events and tennis politics. — Joel Drucker