Few would question that with the all the tribulations this past year, the 2021 tennis season overcame a lot to produce a memorable campaign.
From a global pandemic that created travel restrictions to newfound mandates to ensure safety, it was a new world to navigate for everyone.
Still, the matches went on, the trophies piled up and the players produced their share of profound excerpts and verbal volleys.
It was perhaps Simona Halep, who put it in perspective better than anyone following a fourth-round loss against Elina Svitolina at the US Open.
"[My] life is much better with tennis, what tennis gave me," she said in press.
She spoke of her passion for the game despite the frustration it can elicit, often on a weekly basis. It was a poignant moment that reminded us to step back and see the bigger picture.
What other quotes stood out to us in 2021? Here are a few of our favorites:
“I would not be able to go function without my 3-year-old around. I think I would be in a depression. We’ve been together every day of her life. -- Serena Williams at this year’s Australian Open
Serena Williams has never been one to back down from a challenge. Three-year-olds, most tennis mothers – if not all – would agree, are consistently more challenging than anything they’ve faced on the court.
Kudos to Serena, then, for making her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., named for her father, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, the first priority in her life.
“Is that healthy? Not at all,” Serena said when elaborating on the amount of time she spends with her daughter. “Not even close. But every single day I just want to be around her. It’s great.”
The memorable images of Kim Clijsters celebrating her 2009 and 2010 US Open titles with daughter Jada still resonate more than a decade later. Victoria Azarenka (hello, there, Leo), former doubles World No.1 Sania Mirza and Vera Zvonareva are among a dozen or so WTA moms who attempt to balance their pursuit of athletic excellence with parenting. Olympia is already a dominant force on Instagram, with her own account and a fixture in her mother’s as well. The same is true of her doll, Qai Qai.
When Serena won her last major title, the 2017 Australian Open, sister Venus was one of the few who knew she was pregnant. So, in a sense, Olympia was on hand to celebrate that 23rd Grand Slam singles title. Since then, Serena’s own brand of separation anxiety has kept them close.
In Melbourne, a question about Tom Brady’s preference for quiet when he was involved in game preparation prompted these comments:
“Everyone’s different,” Serena said. “I can totally understand why he would banish because if I had the strength to do it, I would, too. I could see it’s definitely a distraction, especially every year that I’ve played except for the past few months, I finally am starting to get better at it.
“The first two and a half years was very difficult. I wasn’t strong enough to do the banishment.”
Serena says her idea of heroes has changed.
“After having a child,” she said, “my heroes are moms because moms are superheroes.” – Greg Garber
“I know that New York has suffered a lot the past years when [9/11] did happen. I just wanted to let them know that they're so strong, they're so resilient. They're just incredible. Just having them here happy, lively, just going back to the way they were, having my back during these tough moments, has made me stronger and has made me believe in myself a lot more.” -- Leylah Fernandez, US Open
The 2021 season stands out as a year in which many of the WTA’s athletes demonstrated great poise and sportsmanship after challenging finals, win or lose. A prime example of this was Leylah Fernandez’s tribute to New York City on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, when her breakthrough US Open run ended in the championship match.
Despite being born after the events of 9/11, and despite suffering a loss in the biggest match of her career to a fellow teenager with even less experience at tour level, Fernandez encapsulated the moment, both during the trophy ceremony and in post-match press, with composure well beyond her years.
Fernandez learned during the fortnight in Queens that she is best served in her matches by being outgoing rather than relying on stoicism. Engaging with the excited crowds in Flushing Meadows propelled her to that lesson on the back of six straight wins. Since the US Open crowds supported her for two weeks, she made sure to let them know, with grace and preternatural wisdom, that the support was mutual. -- Jason Juzwiak
"I was joking before, every time I lost to her, I can't be mad because she's such a nice person. It's like, 'Man, she just kicked my butt.' Then it's like, 'Oh, you're going to find it one day.' She's always encouraging to everybody around her. She brings up the energy wherever she goes. I can't say how much respect I have for her and what a great representative she is for women's tennis. -- Shelby Rogers after coming from a double-break down to defeat Ashleigh Barty in the third round of the US Open
In a US Open that featured a host of dramatic night matches on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Shelby Rogers scored one of the biggest wins of her career, rallying from 5-2 down in the final set to beat No.1 Ashleigh Barty 6-2, 1-6, 7-6(5) in front of a raucous partisan crowd.
The ebullient Charleston native had every reason to soak in the spotlight of a career victory. Only three points away from a spot in the Round of 16 to face Emma Raducanu, no one could have blamed Barty if she were in the mood to sulk after an opportunity missed.
Instead, Rogers and Barty went out of their way to celebrate each other and share the spotlight, reveling in the collective experience they shared on court. It was a wonderful display of sportsmanship and friendship that resonated with fans all over the world.
"I want to speak to what she's done this season," Rogers said. "I think a lot of people are taking it for granted. She hasn't been able to go home since February, you guys. That's insane. I mean, she's resetting on the road. She's worked through some injuries on the road. She's won five titles. She's remained No.1. I mean, this girl is everything every player wants to be, you know?" -- Courtney Nguyen
"Me personally, I kind of like planet Earth. I hope we as society will take better care of it before moving to another planet. That's kind of where I stand." -- Victoria Azarenka, Indian Wells
Victoria Azarenka has never been one to mince her words.
While playing some spectacular tennis to reach her biggest final of the season, she expounded thoughtfully on mental health and tactics in her press conferences. My favourite moment, though, was her characteristically blunt response to a softball question about Star Trek actor William Shatner's journey into space. It didn't impress Azarenka much, and she refused to join in with the press adulation for egotistical billionaire vanity projects.
When the mood takes her, the former World No.1 is capable of an excellent mic-drop quote. A few weeks before the US Open, she swatted a clean winner against anti-vaxxer ideologues: "I respect everybody's opinion as long as it's not conspiracy theory. You know, if you actually have decent knowledge and looked into research and have your facts and stats and research, that's a different conversation." -- Alex Macpherson
Honorable mention: "We are not turtles." -- Marjan Cuk