The WTA and ATP seasons are officially over, and what a year it was on and off the court. With record-setting moments (hello, Novak Djokovic!), maiden major victories and new stars cementing themselves at the top of the game, 2023 was one to remember.
But in a season brimming with memorable moments and achievements, who reigned supreme? Which players had the biggest breakthroughs? Who left it all out there? We look at all those players as we choose our top honors of the tennis season.
Men’s player of the year: Novak Djokovic
There is no debate to be had here. At age 36, and several years (or 16) older than most of his current rivals, Djokovic reached the final at all four majors, winning all but Wimbledon, and ended the year with yet another trophy at the ATP Finals. He earned seven titles overall and reclaimed the world No. 1 ranking. With his victory at the US Open in September, he tied Margaret Court for the all-time record of 24 for the most major singles titles in history.
After losing to Carlos Alcaraz at the All England Club, and leaving some to wonder if his grip atop the sport was slipping, Djokovic quelled all of the doubters and didn’t lose again for five months. And he continued to break more records, securing the year-end No. 1 for the eighth season, earning his seventh Paris Masters title earlier this month for his 40th 1000-level crown, and breaking a tie with Roger Federer for the most ATP Finals titles, with seven.
Djokovic didn’t just make his case for the Player of the Year in 2023, he made it for the best player period.
Women’s player of the year: Iga Swiatek
Leading into the WTA Finals, Aryna Sabalenka might have held the edge for this category but then, well, Iga did Iga things. In Cancun, against the best players in the world, Swiatek was unstoppable: She never dropped a set, and she lost only a combined 20 games in all five of her matches.
She recorded bagel sets over the reigning champions of the US Open (Coco Gauff) and Wimbledon (Marketa Vondrousova) and against Jessica Pegula in the final. With the title — her first at the year-end event — she took back the world No. 1 ranking after an eight-week hiatus.
And that might be what’s most impressive of all. In the eyes of many, Swiatek had a “down” year after winning two majors in 2022, and Sabalenka undoubtedly had the best year of her career. And yet, Swiatek still ended up with the best resume for the season on tour. She won a tour-leading six titles, including her third at the French Open, and her 68 match wins were more than anyone else as well. The 22-year-old Swiatek also played in the most finals and earned the most in prize money. She is now the year-end top-ranked player for the second straight season. While a handful of players found a way to compete against her, on their best days anyway, Swiatek still remains the best there is in women’s tennis.
Breakthrough players of the year: Coco Gauff and Ben Shelton
Let’s preface this by saying there are multiple definitions for what a “breakthrough” is in professional tennis. But regardless of the various interpretations one could have, it would be impossible to argue that Gauff and Shelton didn’t have the biggest years of their (very young) careers, and made a serious statement about their respective places in the sport.
Gauff, 19, has been seen as the future of tennis since her star-making turn at Wimbledon in 2019 — and made herself firmly a superstar of the present this year. After a devastating first-round loss at Wimbledon, Gauff regrouped with her new team and became all but unbeatable on the hardcourt. She went 18-1, as she won the titles at the Citi Open and the Cincinnati Open, before heading to New York and earning the first major title of her career at the US Open. Gauff ends the season at a career-high ranking of No. 3 and will undoubtedly look to build on her success in 2024.
Playing in his first full season on tour, Shelton made it a year to remember. He reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, in just his second Grand Slam appearance, and skyrocketed in the rankings. He was unable to immediately replicate the same success at the French Open or Wimbledon, or at the other tour events, but got back on track — and then some — in New York. Shelton, now 21, enamored the world with his powerful serve and youthful enthusiasm, reaching the US Open semifinals. He then won the first ATP title of his career in Tokyo in October, and reached a new career high ranking of No. 15.
There are comebacks, and then there’s what Svitolina did this season. After missing just over a year on tour for maternity leave, the 29-year-old returned to competition in April — less than six months after giving birth to daughter Skai — and wasted no time in returning to her peak form. She won the title in Strasbourg in May, then went on to reach the quarterfinals at the French Open, and the semifinals at Wimbledon — matching her best-ever result at the tournament and at a major.
While her hardcourt season wasn’t quite as fruitful, Svitolina saw her ranking rise to a season high of 24 and she ends the season at No. 25 — not too shabby for someone who was ranked No. 1344 in April.
It’s hard to know exactly how to categorize Eubanks’ magical performance at Wimbledon but we just know it has to be commemorated here. Entering Mallorca, the last grass lead-in event ahead of Wimbledon, Eubanks was ranked No. 77 and had never won an ATP title, never played in the main draw at the All England Club and never advanced past the second round at a major. That all changed dramatically in the span of three weeks.
The 27-year-old Eubanks won the title at Mallorca, then went on to have one of the most memorable runs in recent history at a Grand Slam. He reached the quarterfinals — thanks to upsets over local favorite Cameron Norrie and the No. 5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas — and won over fans on the grounds and around the world with his determination and on-court joy. He ultimately lost to Daniil Medvedev in the quarters, but he left London with a new career-high ranking that continued to climb in the following weeks.
The rest of the year wasn’t quite as successful, but Eubanks ended the year at No. 34, and he will enter 2024 knowing exactly what he’s capable of.
Karolina Muchova has done it! 🔥
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) June 8, 2023
Best match: Karolina Muchova vs. Aryna Sabalenka, French Open semifinals
This match truly had everything, and somehow the final score of 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 7-5 doesn’t even tell the full story. The unseeded Muchova was looking to reach her first major final, and No. 2 seed Sabalenka, just months removed from winning her maiden major title in Melbourne, was looking to reach her second straight. With the stakes high for both players, neither was short on motivation — and it showed with each and every hard-fought point.
Early in the deciding set, it seemed Sabalenka would have no problems it out, as she raced out to a 5-2 lead. But Muchova dug deep and pulled off one of the most unbelievable comebacks in recent memory. With her grit and icy determination on full display, she saved a match point and then won the next five games to take the win in three hours and 13 minutes.
“I knew it’s the semifinals,” Muchova said after the match. “I play for the final. I was ready to leave it all out there. I did.”
The longtime face of American men’s tennis and the ATP’s all-time ace leader, the 38-year-old Isner decided to call it a career after the US Open — and the tournament made sure he felt the home Slam love, with a ceremony after his first-round victory.
Isner’s 17-year singles career officially came to an end after the second round in a tightly contested loss to fellow American Michael Mmoh 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4, 7-6 (7). The match, which lasted nearly four hours, drew a capacity crowd at Grandstand — and the fans gave Isner a standing ovation that lasted until he had left the court.
“This is why I’ve worked as hard as I have my whole life, to play in atmospheres like this,” Isner said during a tearful interview. “I might not win them all, as we know, just like today. To play in front of this crowd and have the support I’ve had is pretty special.”
While there certainly was a case to be made for other doubles teams, especially US Open and ATP Finals champions Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury, we had to go with Krejcikova and Siniakova, in part because of what they have achieved over the course of their years-long partnership. The duo won the Australian Open in January for their eighth Grand Slam title and went on to win the trophies in Indian Wells and San Diego this season.
It was revealed after the Billie Jean King Cup this month that the pair would be going their separate ways in 2024, so it seems fitting the most successful women’s doubles team in recent years gets this honor.
The changemakers: The players
The 2023 season saw several of the top players come forward and advocate for improvements, including equal pay, scheduling changes, ball consistency and better conditions at events like the WTA Finals. From those on the respective WTA and ATP Player Councils, to those on the executive committee at the Professional Tennis Players Association, to those who simply spoke out on their own behalf, it was a year of unprecedented outspokenness by many of the sport’s biggest names, like Djokovic, Swiatek, Sabalenka, Taylor Fritz, Ons Jabeur, Stan Wawrinka and Marketa Vondrousova.
The ‘Watch out, 2024’ list
Rafael Nadal: He’s baaaaaack. Or at least, depending on who you talk to, he should be back in time for the Australian Open in January. The 22-time major champion hasn’t played since last year’s event in Melbourne due to a hip injury and subsequent surgery, but he’s been working hard to make his return for what he has said will likely be his final year on tour. While it remains unclear what to expect from Nadal, if there’s one thing we do know, it’s that he will leave everything he has on the court for each and every match.
Naomi Osaka: The four-time major champion missed the entirety of the 2023 season for maternity leave. She gave birth to daughter Shai in July and returned to the practice courts not long after. Osaka is slated to make her return to competition in Brisbane at the start of the new year and, with a renewed love for the game after her time away, will look to reclaim her spot atop the sport.
Angelique Kerber: Like Osaka, Kerber — also a former No. 1 and a three-time major champion — is expected to make her return Down Under after giving birth to her daughter Liana in February. Kerber hasn’t played a match since Wimbledon in 2022 but is expected to play for Germany at the year-opening United Cup. In a recent interview with Porsche, Kerber said she was excited for the challenge in returning and said “everything was going to plan” in terms of her preparations.
Carlos Alcaraz: After winning the 2022 US Open, it seemed as if the Carlos Alcaraz Era was officially upon us. But in addition to some injuries, Djokovic had other ideas, and Alcaraz didn’t exactly dominate in the way some seemed to expect. He still had an incredible year — winning six titles, including at Wimbledon, and spending the entire season ranked inside the top 2. But with perhaps slightly lower expectations and hype, some time to regroup before 2024, and the possibility of a doubles partnership with Nadal at the Olympics over the summer, this could be a very, dare we say, golden year for Alcaraz.
Jannik Sinner: The 22-year-old Italian’s talent and potential has never been in doubt, but he proved just how capable he is down the stretch in 2023. Case in point: Sinner lost the first six of his head-to-head meetings against Medvedev, including during two finals early this season, but he found a way to win their last two meetings in the finals at Beijing and Vienna. And he proved his recent surge was no fluke as he snapped Djokovic’s 19-match win streak in group play at the ATP Finals to earn his first career victory over the 24-time major champion. Could 2024 be the year where everything truly comes together for Sinner? Alcaraz certainly thinks so. “I think he’s going to reach No. 1 in 2024 or he’s going to give himself the chance to reach the No. 1,” Alcaraz said at the ATP Finals.
Emma Raducanu: The 2021 US Open champion has been sidelined from competition since April and needed surgery on both hands and her left ankle. She has since returned to training and, despite withdrawing from an exhibition event next month, is expected to return in time for the start of the season. Her ranking has fallen to No. 289, but we all know what happened the last time Raducanu was under the radar.
Tommy Paul: The American had a career-best year on tour, reaching his first major semifinal at the Australian Open, playing in two ATP finals, recording his first victory over a world No. 1 (Alcaraz) at the Canadian Open in August and with perhaps the most devoted fan on tour. He ends the season ranked at No. 13 and poised to build on his season’s success.
Leylah Fernandez: The 21-year-old, who lost to Raducanu in the US Open final two years ago, ended the year with the title in Hong Kong and with her dominant performance at the Billie Jean King Cup, in which she won all four of her singles matches to lead Canada to its first-ever title. Few bring as much momentum as she does into the new season.