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By Raymond Lee | Monday, December 19, 2022


It was a wild, historic, emotional and exceptional season on the ATP Tour. Historian Raymond Lee highlights the magic and momentous moments of 2022.

Photo credit: Getty

It’s December of 2022 and to say the year was different than past years is understating the point.

Of course, the last few years in pro tennis and the world in general have been different due to the restrictions to protect people from COVID-19.

But this year was even more unique in several ways.

The first major of the year was of course the Australian Open.

The defending champion Novak Djokovic wanted to play in the tournament that in recent year he owns, especially which he is healthy which he was not in 2017 and 2018.

Nine-time AO champion Djokovic was not allowed to play due to the fact he was unvaccinated although I know some have argued that since he contracted COVID and recovered that was the equivalent of a vaccination.

Here's a look back at an exceptional—and emotional ATP season. 

The Amazing Adventures of Rafael Nadal

Before the 2022 Australian Open started, there was one remaining member of the Big 3 who entered the tournament.

That was Rafael Nadal, who was recovering from a major injury.

It was thought by some, even Nadal that he may never play again prior to entering the Australian. For Rafael Nadal to possibly win the 2022 Australian seemed to be impossible.

As the tournament progressed and Nadal won a few rounds, you thought perhaps he has an outside chance, but it stilled seemed improbable.

Still Nadal is Nadal and somehow, he reached the final against Daniil Medvedev who was essentially the top seed after Djokovic was not allowed to play.

After getting overwhelmed in the first set, you think to yourself that he has to win the second set in order to win! Rafa led the second set only to lose it in a tiebreaker.

The task now against a younger powerful opponent again seemed impossible.

How can even the great Nadal win three straight set against a top opponent like Medvedev!?

So naturally and in hindsight Nadal of course wins the next two sets. Destiny awaits!

Nadal broke serve at 2 all in the fifth break with his patented down the line topspin forehand winner to lead 3-2!

The announcer said “That was the best shot he has ever hit!” which I thought was a bit of a hyperbole but nevertheless it was a great shot considering the heat of the moment. Nadal has hit thousands of great shots!

Hitting great shots under pressure however is what Rafael Nadal the great player that he is. Nadal held in a long deuce game to lead 4-2 but of course you couldn’t have an easy win in the fifth. Destiny wouldn’t permit it!

Medvedev held to 3-4 and Nadal served to 5-3, one game away from one of his greatest victories! Medvedev held at 30 to reach 4-5. Nadal now served for the match!

Of course, under pressure Medvedev broke at 30 with some great shots to tie the match at 5 all in the fifth!

But you know that with Nadal in the fifth, a true dramatic finish meant that the outcome was inevitable! Or at least it seemed that way.

Nadal broke again to lead 6-5 and held at love to win his second Australian Open 7-5 in the fifth in a tournament he wasn’t even sure he could play to break the tie for the majors record at 21. He was not to be denied!

Sounds like a Hollywood movie but no scriptwriter would write this because the writer could never imagine this happening even in a movie! The story would seem too improbable.

Nadal now moved ahead of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in total majors with 21 to Federer and Djokovic’s 20.

At Roland Garros, Rafa was not considered the overwhelming favorite as he often has been in past years but because he’s Rafa no one ever counts him out, especially at the French Open where he seems to get superhuman powers from the red clay of Roland Garros.

Nadal survived one five set match against the immensely talented Felix Auger-Aliassime and of course the player that Nadal probably feared the most in of course Novak Djokovic. Playing Djokovic seemed to energize Nadal and he won over Djokovic in impressive fashion 7-6 in the fourth.

Alexander Zverev was of course a super dangerous opponent in the semifinal but unfortunately Zverev suffered a horrible foot injury and had to retire in the second.

After that Casper Ruud had the unfortunate pleasure of facing Nadal in the final of the French Open where he had never lost a final. Nadal of course won in straight sets. Nadal was now at 22 majors!

Incidentally despite not being No. 1 in the year-end ATP rankings Nadal was voted the International Tennis Federation’s 2022 World Champions. Congratulations to the Great Nadal.

Wimbledon and Zero ATP Points

Wimbledon generally has been considered the most prestigious tennis tournament. In the past some writers picked the No. 1 player as the one who won Wimbledon.

This year however Wimbledon was penalized by the ATP and players participating in the 2022 Wimbledon were not allowed to have ATP ranking points.

Novak Djokovic was allowed to play Wimbledon despite his lack of covid vaccination. As you would expect Djokovic won the tournament over the super talented Nick Kyrgios in four sets. Djokovic would have won 2000 ATP points in a normal year.

Brilliant Breakthrough of Carlos Alcaraz

Carlos Alcaraz delivered an astounding year in 2022.

The 19-year-old Spanish phenom rose up the ranks to become youngest year-end No. 1 in ATP history.

Some have said he was the best teenage player of all time.

I wouldn’t necessarily go that far.

Players like Bjorn Borg, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad and Nadal were pretty incredible as teens. Nadal as a 19-year-old in 2005 won 11 tournaments (including his first major which was of course his seemingly infinite amount of French Opens) had a 79-10 record and was number two in the world. Nadal also won five Masters 1000 tournaments that year.

Alcaraz in 2022 won 5 tournaments, one major at the US Open, won 2 Masters 1000 tournaments and had a 57-13 record.

Clearly, Nadal’s performance as a 19-year-old was superior. The problem for Nadal was he had Roger Federer at his peak to overtake as number one. Considering Federer was virtually unbeatable in those days, it was a mountain too high for even Nadal at that point to overcome.

The exciting Alcaraz, especially with Nadal injured for much of the season in 2022 and Djokovic unable to play because of COVID restrictions by some countries, took advantage of this and rose to a historic world No. 1 ranking.

Carlos Alcaraz is unbelievable and a rare talent. He has virtually everything including a wonderful drop shot which he uses to augment his powerful groundstrokes and great speed.

Is Casper Ruud the Next No. 1?

With all the raves about Carlos Alcaraz (and deservedly so) often we forget about what a great year Casper Ruud had.

Ruud was in the French Open final only to lose to juggernaut Nadal which is no shame. Ruud was in the US Open final in which he had chances but lost to Alcaraz and he was in the ATP Finals in which he lost to the great Novak Djokovic.

If Ruud had won the US Open final, he probably would have been number one for the year. Still it was a wonderful 2022 for Ruud in winning three tournaments with a 51-22 record.

Predictions of Big 3 Demise Miss the Mark

The End of the Big 3 or Big 2 in this case?

I don’t think so, at least in 2022!

With all the publicity about Alcaraz as world No. 1 and how the Big 3 may be declining we forget the Nadal and Djokovic won three of the four majors this year.

That’s not that bad for two thirtysomething champions often giving up 10 years or more to their opponents.

It’s even more impressive considering Nadal was hurt perhaps most of the year and Djokovic couldn’t play on the tour for a good portion of the year. But then again Nadal and Djokovic aren’t ordinary players!

The previous sentence was a good example of stating the obvious.

One of these days in the next millennium someone will take over from the Big 2.

The Retirement of the Great Roger Federer

The immortal Roger Federer retired this year in 2022.

To write these lines even now is shocking to me! Federer was one of those players who you thought would play forever.

For a few years Federer really had no rivals.

It was Federer towering over all of tennis. It seemed like Federer was automatically seeded into every major final and if you didn’t beat Federer, it really was not a major’s win, or so it seemed at the time. He gave many watching him play the feeling that he was invincible.

Then Rafael Nadal appeared as a great challenger to the throne of King Federer. The duels they had were as they say in the United States, must see TV. Nowadays it would must see since we can watch online.

The matches Nadal and Federer were highly anticipated because for the first time we had a challenger to King Federer who could actually possibly defeat the unbeatable! Can this be true? Can we have a player good enough to beat Federer?

Yes, it was true but it was more than that. It was the great contrast of styles between the two. Federer was a right hander with a one-handed backhand, a great serve and a huge forehand.

Nadal was a lefty with an excellent lefty serve, perhaps more loaded with spin than Federer. Nadal had an excellent two handed backhand but also a great forehand.

One of Federer great shots and a bread and butter shot was the inside out forehand that went to Nadal’s great topspin lefty forehand. In other worlds, Federer’s legendary forehand who many call the greatest forehand of all time attacked Nadal’s legendary forehand who many also call the greatest forehand of all time. Two great shots going at each other were bound to have interesting results.

Both had great court coverage and were awesome offensively and defensively. The rallies were incredible!

To paraphrase a quote from someone describing why the Rod Laver versus Ken Rosewall rivalry was so magical. That person said, “It’s not just the shots, it’s the shots off the shots!”

That’s a description that easily describes the Nadal versus Federer rivalry.

This was top level tennis and I’m sure many experts thought that only those two could reach that level.

So of course, in 2011 Novak Djokovic became almost unbeatable and overtook both of them! Djokovic won three majors that year losing only to Federer in the semifinals of the French. Since 2011 Djokovic has been the best player in tennis overall during that period.

And we must remember that Andy Murray who is a super gifted talent and a great player was a part of the Big Four and was number one in 2016.

I cannot think of a time in tennis history in which there were four players of this great talent and performance.

All of these players have had fabulous duels with Federer, but I would still say that the Nadal versus Federer matches were the most fun to watch for me.

Yes, I know Federer played Djokovic more but the rallies did not seem as spectacular to me as Nadal versus Federer.

Novak Djokovic and What If!

Tennis fans know about the trials and tribulations of Novak Djokovic in 2022.

After totally dominating tennis in 2021 in almost winning the Grand Slam, he was not allowed to play many tournaments in 2022 because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Djokovic was ready to play the Australian Open in which he would be probably an overwhelming favorite to win however he wasn’t allowed to play.

Djokovic played quite well in Paris, but he ran into his greatest opponent on clay (perhaps greatest opponent overall) Rafael Nadal and lost.

As the heavy Wimbledon favorite, Djokovic played dynamic tennis to take the title.

However, unfortunately the normal 2,000 points that he would have earned for winning Wimbledon did not count this year because Wimbledon allowed the Russian players to play. The ATP penalized Wimbledon by depriving them of the ATP points given to the players for playing the tournament.

Incidentally, year-end No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz did play Wimbledon and lost in the fourth round, which I believe would have given him 180 ATP points.

So for arguments sake, let’s say Wimbledon counted as 2,000-point major in 2022. That would mean Djokovic would have had 6,820 points for only playing 14 tournaments for the year.

Alcaraz had officially 6820 points for the year 2022 but if Wimbledon counted, he would have had 7,000 points which would have put Djokovic up to this scenario as No. 2 in the World just 180 points behind Alcaraz.

But there is more.

If Djokovic were permitted to play the Australian, the US Open and the four Masters level 1000 tournaments that he probably would have played in, I would tend to bet on the odds and think Djokovic, assuming decent health would have easily gotten more than 180 ATP points over these six huge tournaments. Most likely Djokovic would have easily gotten more than 180 ATP points if he played either the Australian or the US Open.

So, in a weird year in which Djokovic was not allowed to play many tournaments he won Wimbledon and the ATP Finals. I think a lot of Hall of Famers would love to have that as a bad year.

So officially Novak Djokovic was not No. 1 for the year 2022 but was he the best player overall when he played?


And course to add to the weirdness, Rafael Nadal, winner of two majors was voted the International Tennis Federation World Champion despite being world No. 2 in the rankings. However, I can see this as quite reasonable in 2022 although you could make a case either way.

This is in some ways similar to some years in the early Open Era. For example John Newcombe or Ken Rosewall were regarded as No. 1 at the time in 1970, but by today’s system Rod Laver would probably be by FAR No. 1 in the world by the ATP point system. In this case Laver would, in my opinion, deserve to be No. 1 considering his dominance and that there were other tournaments that Laver won that in the new Open Era were perhaps as important and in some cases more important than some traditional majors.

It was an interesting tennis year in 2022 but let’s hope this upcoming year 2023 all the top players are allowed to play all the tournaments.

Raymond Lee is a Tennis Now contributing writer and tennis historian who lives in New York. He has written about tennis for decades serving as a contributing writer for Tennis Week Magazine and Check out Raymond Lee's Article: Holy Grail: Why Winning the Calendar Grand Slam is Toughest Task in Sport.


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