• REUTERS

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Novak Djokovic dominated men’s tennis once again, and Emma Raducanu exploded onto the scene on the women’s side at the U.S. Open, but tennis finished 2021 in a standoff with China over the safety of former doubles No. 1 Peng Shuai.

Djokovic started the year by winning a record ninth Australian Open title and the Serbian was standing on the verge of history in the final of the U.S. Open, the fourth and last major of the year. A title at Arthur Ashe Stadium would have made Djokovic the first man to win all four majors in a calendar year since Rod Laver in 1969, and would have also broken the three-way tie for the most men’s Grand Slam titles in history. Dkojovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal each have 20.

Russian Daniil Medvedev created a little bit of history of his own, however, when he clinched his first Grand Slam title by demolishing Djokovic in straight sets to win the U.S. Open crown.

The Serbian did break one tie in 2021, though, surpassing his childhood idol Pete Sampras by clinching the year-end No. 1 ranking for a record seventh time. Djokovic also won his record 37th ATP Masters title and surpassed Federer’s record for most weeks atop the ATP rankings.

Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev — the Tokyo Olympic gold medalist — were worthy challengers in 2021, but Djokovic left no doubt that he is the man to beat.

“I’m really, really tired from this season and this whole year,” said Djokovic after Serbia’s semifinal loss to Croatia in the Davis Cup, adding that he will return hungry for more.

Raducanu enjoyed a spectacular few months on the court that began with a fourth-round appearance at Wimbledon and culminated with the then 18-year-old winning the U.S. Open.

Raducanu entered the hardcourt major as a 150th-ranked qualifier and left as Britain’s first female Grand Slam champion in 44 years.

Raducanu and Canadian runner-up Leylah Fernandez — born two months apart in 2002 — generated frenzied hype during their unlikely runs to the final in New York.

The year, however, ended on a sour note for the sport, with the WTA suspending its 2022 tournaments in China due to concerns over the treatment of Peng, who had accused a former Chinese vice premier of sexual assault.

China has been the epicenter of the WTA’s aggressive expansion in Asia for more than a decade, and the women’s tour hosted nine events in the country in 2019, the last full season before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Unless China takes the steps we have asked for, we cannot put our players and staff at risk by holding events in China,” WTA chief Steve Simon said.

It was a year to forget for Federer and Nadal’s legion of fans, as both tennis greats struggled with injuries. Nadal also relinquished his hold on the French Open title, which Djokovic won.

Serena Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam winner, also struggled. Williams retired from her first-round match at Wimbledon with a right hamstring injury and was sidelined for the remainder of the season.

Naomi Osaka, seen by some as Williams’ heir apparent, missed a couple of Grand Slam events for a different reason.

Osaka began the year by picking up her fourth Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, but the Japanese player stunned the world by pulling out of the French Open after the first round following a row over skipping news conferences.

The 24-year-old revealed she had struggled to cope with depression for a number of years before also opting out of Wimbledon for the sake of her mental well-being.

After opting to stay in Australia for much of last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ash Barty made the most of her six months away from home in 2021 by winning a tour-leading five titles, including her second major at Wimbledon.

She skipped the Billie Jean King Cup and season-ending WTA Finals due to Australia’s border restrictions but had done enough to secure her third straight year-end No. 1 ranking.

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