What is the biggest common thread between the 2020 Dubai WTA tournament and the 2020 Dubai ATP Tournament?
You could come up with several reasonable answers.
Awesome tennis players won: Novak Djokovic won the men’s title on Saturday against Stefanos Tsitsipas. One week earlier, Simona Halep won the women’s championship against Elena Rybakina. Both Djokovic and Halep have won multiple majors and are ranked in the top two.
(Obviously, Djokovic exists on a plane far above Halep, but we can simplify and note that both are very good at what they do.)
Another reasonable answer: There were some thrilling matches to be found. Djokovic’s semifinal win over Gael Monfils was a thrill ride. Halep’s wins over Rybakina and Ons Jabeur were pulse-pounders which provided top-notch drama.
Another reasonable answer: Young players reached the final, building optimism for the rest of the season. Rybakina for the WTA, and Tsitsipas for the ATP, have to be encouraged about the road ahead after leaving Dubai with a runner-up check.
Yet, those reasonable answers don’t match the answer I personally elevate above all others: The biggest common thread between Dubai WTA and Dubai ATP in 2020 is that the champions both saved match point.
Halep saved match point against Jabeur earlier in the WTA tournament. Djokovic saved match points, plural, against Monfils.
If tennis seems intent on bashing one lesson through our skulls in 2020, it is that having a match or set point buys you as many snacks or drinks as the number of major championships I have won: zero.
Does a tennis player get a prize money bonus for coming one point away from winning a match? Nope.
Does a tennis player get more endorsements as a result of losing matches after having match point? Nope.
Does a tennis player get a rankings-points boost for losing after having match point or set point? Nope.
It is true that the elite players keep on winning in 2020: Djokovic was joined in the winner’s circle this week by Rafael Nadal in Acapulco. Sofia Kenin (Australia) and Halep (Dubai) were joined by Aryna Sabalenka on the victory stand in Doha at the Qatar Open.
Players with big weapons and first-rate skills are winning tournaments. Other supremely talented players such as Garbine Muguruza and Petra Kvitova (who lost to Sabalenka in the Doha final) are notching the runner-up results on the WTA Tour.
Tsitsipas was the runner-up in Dubai. Dominic Thiem was the runner-up in Australia. This is not 2001, in which an Arnaud Clement (no disrespect intended) makes a major final. Quality players are participating in finals on tour this year, through two months of play.
Yet, none of them transform their careers or receive special recognition for coming one point away from winning a set or match.
We saw this in Australia, where both of the women’s semifinals were won by players who saved set points.
Now, Dubai has given us a men’s and women’s champion who both saved match point en route to a trophy ceremony.
We get the point, Dubai. We really do. It’s the last point you have to explain. No more teaching is necessary.