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Thiem, Gauff, Sinner, Serena-Federer: Our predictions for 2021 – Match Points #21

After a unique year in the tennis calendar, the Match Points panel look back to pick out their stars of the season and their ones to watch next year – as well as making predictions as Serena Williams and Roger Federer seek record-breaking Grand Slam wins.

December 9, 2020
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The figures

Jannik Sinner is the young player to watch next season, and Serena Williams is more likely than Roger Federer to win a record-breaking Grand Slam title. That’s the verdict of the Match Points panel, which was put on the spot by host Josh Cohen in the last edition of the 2020 season.

Italian Sinner was lauded by all three panelists, with journalist Ben Rothenberg declaring, “His talent is huge.”

And they also tipped two young Americans as possible successes on the women’s tour: Caty McNally and Coco Gauff.

“I’m curious to see if Gauff can progress in the way we are hoping for,” said her compatriot and fellow player Noah Rubin.

Thiem going for the number two spot

US Open champion Dominic Thiem picked up plenty of praise, and the panelists expect him to do even better in 2021.

“Dominic Thiem has solidified his spot, being the third-best player in the world right now and looking to possibly take the number two spot somehow,” said Rubin.

2013 Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli agreed, saying:

“He will challenge those guys [the Big Three] to win more Grand Slams. Now that he has his first, he’s going to take more.”

DominicThiem - Cropped

Journalist Ben Rothenberg backed Naomi Osaka as the potential star of 2021.

“She was super, super impressive in Cincinnati and New York. Assuming we get an Australian Open, she is the player to watch there.”

Barty and Andreescu under pressure

Two former Grand Slam champions on the women’s side could have a tougher time.

Rubin wondered whether world No 1 Ashleigh Barty will be in form when she returns to action after spending most of 2020 in her native Australia and unable to travel to tournaments.

“I want to see what a player like that does after so much time off the court — is she excited to go out there and play?” he asked.

And Bartoli will have an eye on Canada’s Bianca Andreescu, who is returning from injury.

“She has a lot of points to defend,” said the Frenchwoman. “She didn’t play much in 2019, but every time she was playing she was winning huge titles…that could be very tricky for her. It could be very difficult to maintain and sustain her ranking in the top eight.”

Uncharted territory

When it comes to two great champions in the twilight of their careers, the Match Points panel was divided.

“Serena and Roger are in uncharted territory,” said Rothenberg. “Both played a pretty small schedule [in 2020]; they both have had time to rest and heal this year. I think 2021 is probably a last great shot for them to win a 24th Grand Slam for Serena and a 21st Grand Slam for Roger.”

Ultimately, he expects to see Federer lift a slam trophy ahead of Serena, explaining that her near-misses since returning from maternity leave could work against her: “She doesn’t trust herself in the final as much as Roger would.”

But Rubin and Bartoli both disagreed.

“The physicality is just a little bit extra on the men’s side, especially with best-of-five,” said Rubin.

And Bartoli added:

“She has been in so many Grand Slam finals after her comeback from pregnancy; at some point she will be able to win that extra match and she will be able to get that title.”

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