After more than five months away from the ATP Tour, many leading players will make their return to action at the Western & Southern Open in New York this week. But after an extended break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it may prove difficult for fans to predict which players will quickly hit top form.
The first place they could look is to those who got off to hot starts in 2020. Four players — Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem, Andrey Rublev and Roberto Bautista Agut — came out firing this year. ATPTour.com looks at how each of them performed before the suspension of play.
Novak Djokovic (2020 Record: 18-0)
After finishing the 2019 season at No. 2 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, Novak Djokovic opened his 2020 campaign with 18 consecutive victories. That helped the Serbian overtake Rafael Nadal as World No. 1.
Djokovic started the year in style, winning each of his eight matches across singles and doubles at the ATP Cup to capture the team title for his nation. The Belgrade native continued his fine opening to the season at the Australian Open, beating Roger Federer in the semi-finals and Dominic Thiem in the championship match to lift a record-extending eighth trophy in Melbourne. Despite facing three consecutive match points against Gael Monfils in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships semi-finals, Djokovic added a fifth crown to his collection at the ATP 500. He earned a straight-sets victory against reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final.
Dominic Thiem (2020 Record: 9-4)
Following a runner-up finish at the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals (l. to Tsitsipas), Thiem made another hard-court breakthrough this January. The Austrian advanced to his maiden Australian Open final, powering past Nadal in the quarter-finals before earning a four-set victory against Alexander Zverev.
Thiem became the first player to lead Novak Djokovic after three sets of an Australian Open final, before falling to the 17-time Grand Slam champion in five sets. Four weeks later, the Austrian rose to a career-high No. 3 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. Thiem is the first man outside the Big Three of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer to occupy a Top 3 position since Zverev in May 2019.
Andrey Rublev (2020 Record: 15-3)
Andrey Rublev opened the 2020 season with two of the most successful weeks of his career. The Russian began the year with two ATP Tour titles but, by 18 January, he doubled that figure to four trophies.
Rublev did not drop a set at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open and then added a second trophy the following week at the inaugural Adelaide International. In South Australia, Rublev battled through three-set clashes against Daniel Evans and Felix Auger-Aliassime before dominating Lloyd Harris in the championship match. Rublev is the first player since Dominik Hrbaty in 2004 to win back-to-back titles in the opening two weeks of the season.
The Moscow-born star extended his winning run to 10 matches by reaching the Round of 16 at the Australian Open (l. to Zverev) and also reached quarter-finals at ATP 500 events in Rotterdam and Dubai.
Roberto Bautista Agut (2020 Record: 9-3)
Roberto Bautista Agut is known for speedy starts to ATP Tour seasons. From 2016 to 2019, the Spaniard began each year with an ATP Tour title in January. The 32-year-old was unable to keep that streak going this year, but he still dropped only one set in his opening eight matches.
Competing as Spain’s No. 2 singles player at the ATP Cup, Bautista Agut delivered six straight-sets victories for his nation. The 6’0” right-hander put his country one win away from the ATP Cup title, before Djokovic led an inspired comeback from Team Serbia in the championship match. Bautista Agut’s unbeaten start to the year ended in the Australian Open third round, when 2018 runner-up Marin Cilic recorded a five-set triumph after four hours and 10 minutes.