Why Murray, Rublev, Tsonga & Wawrinka Are The 2019 Comeback Nominees
The Comeback Player of the Year award in the 2019 ATP Awards goes to the player who has overcome injury in re-establishing himself as one of the top players on the ATP Tour. This year's nominees are Andy Murray, Andrey Rublev, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Stan Wawrinka. The winner, as selected by the players, will be announced later this month.
In 2019 (difference)
|Andy Murray||No. 1||No. 503||No. 125 (+378)|
|Andrey Rublev||No. 31||No. 115||No. 22 (+93)|
|Jo-Wilfried Tsonga||No. 5||No. 239||No. 29 (+210)|
|Stan Wawrinka||No. 3||No. 68||No. 16 (+52)|
The former World No. 1 had missed the second half of the 2017 season and been limited to six tournaments in 2018 due to chronic hip problems. By the Australian Open, an emotional Andy Murray admitted he wasn’t sure whether he could continue on.
“I’ve been in a lot of pain for probably about 20 months now… I told [my team] I can’t keep doing this. That I needed to have an end point because I was just playing with no idea of when the pain was going to stop,” said Murray. He hoped to make it through to Wimbledon, but said following a memorable fight-back against Roberto Bautista Agut in Melbourne, “If today was my last match, look, it was a brilliant way to finish.”
Two weeks later, Murray underwent hip resurfacing surgery. Five months following the procedure, which he called “brilliant, completely life-changing for me”, he was back in tour-level action and teamed up with Feliciano Lopez to clinch the doubles title at The Queen’s Club. He made another step forward in his comeback as he made his singles return in August at the Western & Southern Open (l. to Gasquet), and continued to gain confidence by winning matches at the ATP Challenger Tour event in Mallorca and at each of his three stops during the Asian swing, including a quarter-final run at the China Open (l. to Thiem).
To cap off his 2019 ATP Tour campaign, he triumphed over Stan Wawrinka 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 at the European Open in Antwerp to win his first singles title since 2017 in Dubai. “It means a lot. The past few years have been extremely difficult… I think it was a great match,” Murray said on court after his victory. “I didn't expect to be in this position at all, so I'm very happy.”
Andy Murray (@andy_murray) November 29, 2019
The future seemed bright for Andrey Rublev in early 2018. He began the season by reaching the Doha final (l. to Monfils) and reached a career-high ATP Ranking of No. 31 by February. Two months later though, he was at home, spending three hours a day at a clinic doing magnetotherapy for a lower back stress fracture, eating lunch and sitting on the sofa.
When he returned to action, he reached the semi-finals at the Citi Open and later at the Next Gen ATP Finals, but he still felt lost. “I felt like I wasn’t there,” he said. “I was feeling like I was in the past when I was playing well before the injury. To recover this mental part of being here in this moment took me a couple of months.”
By January 2019, Rublev had dropped outside of the Top 100. He began making his way back up the ATP Rankings during the March Masters, when he reached the third round as a qualifier in both Indian Wells and Miami, but his best tennis came in the second half of the year. He upset World No. 4 Dominic Thiem en route to the ATP 500 final at the Hamburg European Open (l. to Basilashvili), and then earned the biggest win of his young career a month later at the Western & Southern Open, knocking out seven-time champion Roger Federer in straight sets to reach the Masters 1000 quarter-final.
Back inside the Top 50, Rublev continued his climb with quarter-final runs in Winston-Salem and St. Petersburg and a fourth-round showing at the US Open, where he opened with another win over a Top 10 player, Stefanos Tsitsipas. On his 22nd birthday, the Russian celebrated with his hometown title at the VTB Kremlin Cup in Moscow. The next day, he rose to a career-high World No. 22. “I’m at a loss. I can’t find the right words for what it means to me to win here,” he said.
Andrey Rublev (@AndreyRublev97) August 16, 2019
Former World No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had fallen to No. 262 by November 2018, his lowest ATP Ranking in 12 years. He had managed to play in only two tournaments early in the 2018 season after struggling with various injuries and ultimately underwent left knee surgery in April. Upon his return in September, he managed to win just one of his six matches, but on a more promising note, five of those clashes went to a deciding set.
In 2019, Tsonga proved he was still a contender in the opening week of the season. He reached the semi-finals at the Brisbane International (l. to Medvedev), including wins over Australians Thanasi Kokkinakis and Alex de Minaur. In February, he returned to the winners’ circle for the first time in 15 months as he defeated Pierre-Hugues Herbert in an all-French final at the Open Sud de France. “It was an amazing moment for me to win here in Montpellier... I have made many efforts to come back [here], so for me it is a good reward and I hope I will be able to continue playing at this level,” he said.
Tsonga also benefitted from his return to the ATP Challenger Tour for the first time since 2007. “Playing in Challenger tournaments helped me find the reasons why I was playing tennis again,” said the Frenchman, whose quarter-final run in May at Bordeaux helped lift him back into the Top 100. “The conditions are always more difficult. There's always a battle.”
In September, the 34-year-old won 13 straight matches, including titles at the Cassis Challenger and at the Moselle Open in Metz, before his streak came to an end in the semi-finals of the Orleans Challenger. He continued to shine on home soil, reaching the quarter-finals at the Rolex Paris Masters (l. to Nadal), securing his return to the Top 30 and another 30+ win season.
Since my injury last year, I’ve worked a lot to come back at my best level ... 💪🏽— Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (@tsonga7) November 28, 2019
Very happy and proud of this nomination ! 😅
Thank you all for your great support everyday, it means a lot to me ! 🙏🏽
Let’s do it even better in #2020 ! 👊🏽😉#ATPTour #ATPAwards #TsongaTeam pic.twitter.com/2TvgTDNpPQ
After undergoing two surgeries in August 2017 to treat a knee cartilage injury, Stan Wawrinka managed to climb from No. 263 to No. 66 in the ATP Rankings last season. But the former World No. 3 knew there was more to come, saying repeatedly that he believed he would eventually find his best tennis.
His patience and optimism were rewarded in 2019. The 34-year-old Swiss reached two ATP Tour finals, two Grand Slam quarter-finals and finished the season back inside the Top 20, at No. 16 in the ATP Rankings.
Wawrinka ended a 20-month final drought in February at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam (l. to Monfils), where he reached his first championship match since Roland Garros in 2017. “This is a big relief for me,” said Wawrinka. “It’s my first final since the surgery, so to show I can still play at this level against the top players is very important for me.” In October, he again played for an ATP Tour title, only to come up short against fellow Comeback Player of the Year nominee Murray in Antwerp.
He compiled a 4-6 record against Top 10 players in 2018, including a victory over then-No. 1 Novak Djokovic en route to the US Open quarter-finals. At Roland Garros, he defeated No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas to reach the last eight. Wawrinka also celebrated a big milestone at the clay-court major, becoming just the ninth active player to record 500 match wins. “I’m not done yet,” he told ATPTour.com. “Let’s keep working hard and start the road to 600!”