Issue #2 | LoveGame Top 5 Moments of 2023

Issue #2 | LoveGame Top 5 Moments of 2023

 

As the year comes to a rapid close and we gear up for 2024, I thought I’d take a few minutes to recap a few of my favorite moments from the 2023 season. Overall, it was an interesting year in tennis, we saw familiar faces maintaining their chokeholds on the game (Djokovic), four different Grand Slam winners on the women’s side (Sabalenka, Swiatek, Vondrousova, Gauff), and a gang of titles for black players collectively throughout the year. 

There are a few moments that are noticeably absent from my list that certainly deserve honorable mention. Who could forget the big runs by Ben Shelton and Madison Keys at the U.S. Open, or Chris Eubanks' title run in Mallorca and his epic showing at Wimbledon. Francis Tiafoe took home two titles this year (Stuttgart and Houston) and Felix Auger-Aliassime salvaged a tough year by repeating as champion at Basel towards the end of the season. All great things, all amazing moments for the culture. 

Since I’m only doing top five, not everything made the cut. And let me be clear, these are certainly not THE top five moments of the year in tennis, that’s arguable. These are MY top five, not up for debate. Either love me or leave me alone. That said, let’s go!

#5 - Nous Aimons Miss Parks

Lyon was a special place for a couple of my favorite newcomers on the WTA and ATP tours this year. Alycia Parks, who finished 2022 with a pair of 125 indoor titles (Andorra and Angers), continued her indoor court domination with a great week at the Open 6e Sens Métropole de Lyon in France. Parks knocked out two seeded players (Martic, Kovinic) en route, before earning her first win against a top five player and her first WTA tour level title in a tight two set victory (7-6, 7-5) over the one seed of the tournament, Caroline Garcia.

Throughout the week, Parks relied on her big serve, a solid ground game, unlimited self confidence, and her faith, to get her through a couple of early tough three set challenges (Grabher R1, Martic R2), leading up the clash with Garcia in the final.

The rest of the year would prove to be a bit challenging as Parks would adjust to life on tour with a full schedule. The early title over Garcia certainly put her on the map as a force to be reckoned with. Trust me, don’t nobody want to see Miss Parks’ name next to theirs in the early rounds of a tournament.

Alycia Parks reached a career high (40) during 2023 and slid by year end (85), but I’m excited to watch her improve, especially on outdoor courts, and get it poppin’ in 2024.

#4 - The Color of Sunday

I’m going to go on the record and say that October 22, 2023 was the most colorful Sunday in tennis history. I admittedly I didn’t dive fully into the bowels of tennis history on this, but I’m rolling with it. Before you question my journalistic integrity, I did do some investigation. A couple of detailed search queries had Google stressed out, throwing its hands up, shrugging its shoulders, and shaking its head as if it didn’t know what to tell me. It just started serving up a bunch of photos of James Blake on Sundays, I might have broke the algorithm.

On this colorful Sunday afternoon, there were four black players seeking to bring home titles on the same day. Arthur Fils, looking for his second title of the season, would unfortunately fall to Alexander Bublik at Antwerp, a match I really thought he’d bag. My favorite player, Jasmine Paolini, would also catch an L at the hands of defending champion, Elise Mertens, in straight sets at Monastir (Paolini would go on to win the doubles championship with compatriot Sara Errani). 

However, Ben Shelton and Gael Monfils would carry the day, each bringing home titles, and providing me with all the reason I needed to Doordash a three piece from Popeye’s and pour myself a celebratory shot of Hennesy. Shelton would pick up his first tour level title in Tokyo with a decisive (7-5, 6-1) victory over Aslan Karatsev.
Gael Monfils would defy father time and grind out a grueling three set victory in Stockholm against Pavel Kotov (4-6, 7-6, 6-3). After a year filled with injury and doubt about his future, Monfils picked up his first title since becoming a father and entertained the crowd like only he could.

All in all, the coalition went .500 that day, and I’m not mad at it. I can’t help but be excited for the futures of Shelton and Fils. After a couple of good rookie campaigns, I really expect them to bring the ruckus in 2024. It’s great to see Paolini, now ranked #30, playing the tennis I’ve always known she’s capable of playing, and still with plenty of room for improvement. And I don’t know for sure how much Monfils has left in the tank, I do know he’ll give us all he has, and we need to give him his flowers every chance we get. October 22, 2023 was like one of those fly dreams, I gotta say it was a good day.

#3 - Arthur Fils Kicks Up Dust in Lyon

On the men’s side, one of my absolute favorite players to watch, Arthur Fils of France, would be making plenty of noise of his own in 2023, winning his maiden tour level title on the clay of the Open Parc Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Lyon, as a wild card, and at just a month shy of his nineteenth birthday. Fils would go on to defeat Francisco Cerundolo (6-3, 7-5) in the final to become the youngest champion in the history of the tournament.

Fils made his mark at this tournament with big wins against Felix Auger-Aliassime and Brandon Nakashima on his way to the final, and while he may have been a relative long shot to win this title, you would have never known that. Fils electrified the home crowd every step of the way, playing with confidence and swagger reminiscent of a young Al B. Sure!, but French and with a huge western forehand. On his home soil, Fils knew this was his moment, everyone knew it. He would own every second of it.

It would have really been nice to see him cap the season off with the NextGen title, Fils unfortunately lost his momentum and his composure, dropping the finals after a strong performance by Hamas Medjedovic of Serbia. Fils is currently training with Rafael Nadal, and I’m hoping he's taking away both emotional and physical lessons while under Rafa's tutelage.

Fils ends the year ranked #36 in the world, securing his first ATP title, his bag ($1.2M+ in earnings and a new Lacoste sponsorship) and he’s just getting started. Trust me on this, he’s humble, he’s hungry, and he’s coming in 2024.

#2 - Wimbledon Final for the Ages

Carlos Alcaraz had one job. Well, maybe two. Job one, drink all the pickle juice, eat all the bananas, and take all the electrolytes he needed to avoid a repeat of the French Open semi final where his legs seized up and cost him a shot at his second Grand Slam title. And job two, secure his second Grand Slam title so I wouldn’t have to watch Novak Djokovic’s long, smug head lift the Wimbledon finals trophy. Alcaraz would deliver on both tasks.

It was quite a rollercoaster ride, with more twists than a Cirque du Soleil contortionist, and filled with enough drama and suspense to make Andy Cohen proud. A cakewalk start for Djokovic. An epic twenty-six minute game with thirteen deuces in the fourth set, which seemed like a match within a match in its own right. And an ill-advised drive volley from Djokovic that caught the net early in the fifth set, could have changed the entire trajectory and potentially outcome of the match.

This final was one of the greatest tennis matches I’ve ever seen. Alcaraz and Djokovic delivered the best match of 2023, anything else was a distant second. This clash was a generational battle between tennis royalty and tennis’ future and epitomized the greatness and beauty of the game in all its splendor. It’s matches like this that fuel my love for the sport, how anyone in a healthy state of mind could sit and watch pickleball, and find it at all entertaining compared to this, is beyond me.

In a matter of a few short weeks, Carlos Alcaraz recalibrated his game and adapted to the surface most foreign to him. He showed a Nadalesque demeanor by brushing his shoulders off after a jittery, uncharacteristic first set and in the end, would outlast, outmaneuver, and outshine the greatest (men’s) champion the sport has ever known, and it was absolutely glorious.

#1 - Coco Gauff: Girl On Fire

There were a ton of great moments in the world of tennis in 2023, and Coco Gauff’s stunning comeback victory over Aryna Sabalenka in the U.S. Open, is without a doubt, the best moment in tennis for 2023. In my piece “Coco Gauff: Hot Girl Summer,” I did a quick recap of Gauff’s run through the summer of 2023 which culminated in the first Grand Slam title of the nineteen year old’s career. 

We’ve all been watching Gauff on her journey since she was fifteen. And despite some challenges with the forehand, disappointment at the French Open in 2022, and first round heartbreak at Wimbledon this year, she and her team made some changes (enter Pera Riba and Brad Gilbert) that turned Gauff into the hottest player on the WTA tour this summer. In the U.S. Open final, Gauff would make adjustments in real time, matching Sabalenka shot for shot, despite the pressure, and showcase her mental fortitude and athletic prowess on her way to the title.

Gauff demonstrated maturity and composure beyond her years (as she’s always done), and modeled for all of us the importance of self belief, family, and faith. Beyond the technical brilliance on display, the emotional depth of Gauff's victory was palpable among current fans and likely lured many new fans to the sport. Her infectious enthusiasm, genuine joy, and exquisite play, transcended the boundaries of the sport, and became a celebration of passion, dedication, and the limitless potential of young athletes.

Gauff ends the season ranked #3 in the world, and is the highest paid athlete in all of women’s sports in 2023. We love to see it.





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