The second quarter of the 2021 ATP Tour season saw long-awaited breakthroughs, streaks of dominance, and destiny fulfilled.
We saw Novak Djokovic tighten his grip on the top of the FedEx ATP Rankings and add two Grand Slam titles to his record-tying haul – putting him one major win away from a historic feat.
Stefanos Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini reached their first Grand Slam finals at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, respectively. The Greek player dominated the clay-court swing, but Rafael Nadal was not to be left behind as he set record after record on the surface. Berrettini went from barely being able to serve, to serving up a major breakthrough on grass courts.
Daniil Medvedev learned that variety is the spice of tennis, while one doubles duo forgot how to lose as they secured a spot into the Nitto ATP Finals before anyone else.
Below, ATPTour.com reflects on a head-turning chapter of the 2021 season.
The Limit Does Not Exist For Djokovic
The sport’s greats work hard to achieve incredible results and accomplish unprecedented feats. But only the best of the best can make it look easy, and even fewer can make victory seem inevitable. That’s exactly what World No. 1 Novak Djokovic managed to do when he took his already historic 2021 season and dialed it up to a legendary level.
After taking a two-month break following his record-extending ninth Australian Open victory, Djokovic returned to action on clay with his sights set on extending his historic streak of most all-time weeks at No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. But as the wins piled up, another goal was now within reach: the calendar-year Grand Slam.
“I will definitely go for the title at Wimbledon, the US Open and any other tournament and any other Slam that I play. I always have the highest ambition and expectations of myself, but I try to be in the present moment,” Djokovic said. “I know that if I do everything in the right way, if I put myself in the right state of mind — my body and soul, so to say — I’m able to win against anybody on any surface.”
Read Tribute: Djokovic, Serial Champion
Djokovic fought through 13-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal and defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas in a dramatic final in Paris to lift his second Coupe des Mousquetaires – becoming the first man in the Open Era to win all the Grand Slams twice. At Wimbledon, he only dropped one set on his way to his sixth Gentlemen’s Singles Trophy (d. Berrettini), an all-time record-tying 20th major title. He is now one major win away from emulating Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969) in winning all four Grand Slam tournaments in a single season.
Nadal Sends A Message In Rome
For years, the ATP Tour’s clay-court season has been synonymous with Nadal season, as the Spaniard has long dominated the red dirt with 62 of his 88 tour-level titles coming on the surface, including a record 13 Roland Garros victories. This year, two of the biggest titles may have eluded him, with Roland Garros going to Djokovic and the ATP Masters 1000 in Madrid to Alexander Zverev. But Nadal sent a message that he’s not ready to relinquish his grip after reaching the quarter-finals or better at all clay-court events he contested, and adding two more titles to his ever-growing haul.
In fact, in the six tournaments that he has played so far in 2021, Nadal has yet to lose before the last eight. After taking a two-month break following the Australian Open (l. to Tsitsipas), he raced out of the gates at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, where he ran up against an inspired Andrey Rublev in the quarter-finals.
He was back in business on the courts of his beloved Barcelona, where he claimed a tournament-record-extending 12th title at the ATP 500 event and lifted the trophy at his namesake court, Pista Rafa Nadal. Nadal backed up a quarter-final run in Madrid by shattering another tournament record in Rome, claiming his 10th Internazionali BNL d’Italia title (d. Djokovic).
“I really wanted this 10th here in Rome… After achieving 10 at Roland Garros, 10 in Monte-Carlo, 10 in Barcelona, I really wanted this one,” he said. “It’s [a] super important tournament for me… I want to win every day and every tournament that I am playing. Something that I know [is] not going to happen. But the passion and the motivation to try is always the same.”
Tsitsipas’ Clay-Court Dominance
It would have been easy for Stefanos Tsitsipas to get down on himself after letting a golden opportunity slip by after the Miami Open presented by Itau, where a wide-open field gave the 22-year-old a chance at his first ATP Masters 1000 event. In the end, he didn’t give doubters very long to question it. Tsitsipas made his long-awaited breakthrough in the very next tournament, tearing through the draw at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters (d. Rublev) without dropping a set.
It would have also been easy to stop there, with Tsitsipas satisfied after his sixth tour-level title and his first above the ATP 250 level. But that’s not his style. Rather than the peak, Tsitsipas’ triumph in Monte-Carlo was just the start of a season of clay-court dominance.
Read More: Tsitsipas Reveals ‘What I’m Fighting For’
The Greek player racked up a 22-4 record on the surface, adding to his tour-leading 39 matches won (39-10 on the season). Tsitsipas reached the Barcelona final – holding match points against Nadal – and went on a 10-match winning streak that took him to another title in Lyon title and his first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros (l. to Djokovic).
As a result Tsitsipas led the field in the FedEx ATP Race to Turin and occupied the first position for most of Q2, before being overtaken by Djokovic. But don’t expect the Greek to be satisfied with second place for long.
“That’s what I’m fighting for; that’s where most of my attention is right now,” Tsitsipas said. “It’s a priority and I’m trying to gain as many points in the Race To Turin this year. It’s going well so far. I’ve been playing good tennis. I’ve been consistent and that has helped me be where I am right now. I have a goal of achieving 7,000 or 8,000 points this year. I think it’s a good goal and with this consistency, I see no reason not to get there.”
Berrettini Bounces Back In A Big Way
After sitting out most of the first half of the season with an abdominal injury, it would have been understandable if Matteo Berrettini needed a few tournaments to find his feet again on clay courts and kept expectations low.
Instead, Berrettini blew expectations out of the water as he claimed his fourth tour-level title in his second tournament back in action, cooling the red-hot Aslan Karatsev in the Serbia Open final. He made it eight wins in a row as he powered his way to his first ATP Masters 1000 final at the Mutua Madrid Open (l. to Zverev). Not bad, considering that just a few weeks earlier he was struggling to even land a serve.
Read More: Berrettini’s Road From Painful Sneezing To Madrid Final
“It’s crazy because after three days [when] I got injured, I could do a crunch with my abs, but I couldn’t turn. When I was getting in the car, when I took flights, I was struggling. I was feeling it. When I was sneezing, I was feeling it… I couldn’t serve for a long time.” he described in Madrid.
But the best was yet to come, as the Italian reached an even higher level on the lawns of London. Berrettini took down five-time Queen’s Club champion Andy Murray en route to his first ATP 500 title at the cinch Championships (d. Norrie). At Wimbledon, a tournament where he had never been past the fourth round, Berrettini made his biggest move yet. Only Djokovic was able to halt the big-serving Berrettini and snap his 11-match winning streak as he powered his way into his first Grand Slam final.
Medvedev Masters All The Surfaces
With two Grand Slam finals and 10-tour level titles, there’s no question that Daniil Medvedev has been one of the top hard-court players of the past few years. But after rising to World No. 2 and having next to no FedEx ATP Ranking points to defend between April and August 2021, the Russian seized the opportunity to challenge himself on clay and grass courts.
In Madrid (0-2), Rome (0-2) and Roland Garros (0-4), the goal was simple: win at least one match. He did that and more. After breaking his duck with his first win in Madrid and the falling at the first hurdle in Rome, Medvedev defied the odds with a run to his first Grand Slam quarter-final away from hard-courts at Roland Garros. After years of being vocal with his dislike for clay courts, the Russian was starting to change his tune.
“The clay at Roland Garros feels great this year,” said Medvedev. “Now I know that to beat me here, the guys have to play well.”
He continued to thrive outside of his comfort zone as the tour turned to grass, a surface that he historically enjoys playing on but where he had not achieved professional success. He translated a run to the title at the Mallorca Championships (d. Querrey), his 11th tour-level title and his first away from hard courts, into his best Wimbledon result, reaching the fourth round (l. to Hurkacz) with a victory over former finalist Marin Cilic along the way.
Mektic/Pavic Book Their Nitto ATP Finals Ticket
In singles, no one has dominated the 2021 season more than Djokovic. In doubles, that title goes to the unstoppable Croatian duo of Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, whose incredible streak of success has earned them the first spot into the Nitto ATP Finals.
The No. 1 and No. 2 players in the FedEx ATP Doubles Rankings teamed up at the start of the year, and everything their partnership touched has turned to gold. They reached four consecutive ATP Masters 1000 finals, and won three of those in Miami, Monte-Carlo and Rome.
After being bested by Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos in Madrid, Mektic and Pavic claimed their revenge a few weeks later on grass. They won 10 matches in a row to lift the trophy at Eastbourne, and then triumphed at Wimbledon (d. Granollers/Zeballos) for their first Grand Slam title as a team.