With a near 12-month journey around the globe, the tennis season offers little downtime. But in those rare windows of rest, it is important to reflect and appreciate the narratives that materialized on a weekly basis.
To say the 2021 season was a unique one is an understatement. The year began in Australia, where three 500-level events were played simultaneously. And just last week, Guadalajara hosted the WTA Finals for the first time in front of an enthusiastic crowd.
And in between ... so much more. So what on-court moments stood out? To narrow our favorites down to just a handful is a tough ask, but we gave it a whirl anyway.
The lighthearted Kontaveit-Li trophy-sharing moment
Melbourne pulled off a massive undertaking at the start of the year, hosting five separate events around and including the Australian Open to give athletes numerous opportunities for match play. One of those five events, the Grampians Trophy, was assembled in a manner of days to give players subject to “hard quarantine” match-practice before the year’s first Grand Slam.
Left standing at the end of that event were Anett Kontaveit and Ann Li, but the Australian Open would start imminently, so the championship match would not be played. Nevertheless, the two finalists came onto court to playfully jockey with the winner’s trophy, in an amusing display which is still memorable nearly a year later.
Kontaveit and Li taking the court for the light-hearted occasion was a charming stand-in for the final. It epitomized the esprit de corps that helped kickstart the tour through a resurgent season, which lingered among the players throughout the rest of 2021.
“Of course I would have liked to have played the final, but it is what it is,” Kontaveit said afterward. “Definitely nice to sort of share the trophy, and [Li] was lovely as well on court. So it was a nice moment.”
It almost felt like recompense when, more than eight months later, Kontaveit and Li picked up singles titles on the same day. On Oct. 24, Kontaveit triumphed in Moscow during her tremendous season-ending run, while Li concurrently won her first WTA singles title in Tenerife. -- -- Jason Juzwiak
Krejcikova's speech after winning the doubles title at WTA Finals
When Barbora Krejcikova turned to face the camera after winning the longest Roland Garros semifinal in history and said, "I always wanted to play a match like that," it was clear she was as capable of owning the mic. Her finest statement would come at the end of the season, after winning the WTA Finals doubles trophy alongside Katerina Siniakova for the first time.
It was the 32nd anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, the day on which mass protests across the former Czechoslovakia in the face of police repression would topple the government. As Krejcikova gave the Guadalajara crowd and TV audiences worldwide a history lesson, behind her, Martina Navratilova - who had been forced to defect from the regime in 1975 and for whom Krejcikova's trophy was named - visibly welled up at the unexpected subject of the speech.
Sports and politics are inextricably intertwined and cannot be separated. Leading WTA stars such as Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff have reminded us in recent years that athletes are also human beings living in a political society. Krejcikova superbly articulated the link between street protest against a non-democratic regime in 1989, and her freedom to pursue a career that had led to her position on the WTA Finals in 2021. Players using their voices and platforms in this manner truly do the sport proud. -- Alex Macpherson
The Wimbledon trophy ceremony
We talk a lot about full-circle moments in tennis, moments where a narrative seems to close a loop for a player, an event, or a moment. The emotional 2021 Wimbledon trophy ceremony, which featured indelible moments for two historically unflappable players, felt like it closed two significant loops.
For Ashleigh Barty, winning on the 50th anniversary of her friend and mentor Evonne Goolagong Cawley's first Wimbledon title, while wearing a tribute to Goolagong Cawley's iconic scalloped dress, spoke for itself. The feat, accomplished during Australia's NAIDOC week, closed an important chapter in the 25-year-old Australian's tennis journey.
Asked about Goolagong Cawley on court, in a rare show of emotion, Barty choked back tears. "I hope I made Evonne proud."
But before Barty spoke, it was runner-up Karolina Pliskova and the Centre Court crowd who put their stamp on the closing ceremonies. Pliskova had gone down, but she had gone down fighting, and the boisterous crowd showered their appreciation on the Czech as she was called to the microphone.
As Pliskova has often said, she isn't one for outward displays of emotion, let alone tears. But as the typically stoic Czech looked to the rafters and soaked in the moment, she was moved to tears. After 12 months of playing to empty stadiums and sporadic fan attendance due to COVID, Wimbledon reminded everyone how much we lost. And it signaled toward what, hopefully, we have to look forward to. -- Courtney Nguyen