Why Nastia Pav was the Player of the Year in 2021

At Pop of Tennis, we define the player of the year as the person who made the most impact on and off court. The first person we think of when we think of the 2021 tennis season. That’s why there’s really no other choice but to pick Nastia Pavlyuchenkova as our player of the year. Let us explain why: 

She Dominated the Best event of the Year

Nothing in the 2021 tennis season, on the men’s or women’s side, competed with the Olympics Mixed Doubles event. The quality. The drama of 10-point tiebreaks in lieu of third sets. The genuine emotion and nerves that come along with the Olympics. The entire package made every match one to watch.

And Nastia owned the event. She came up clutch match after match when frankly, her partner Andrei Rublev looked nervous and made errors. Her clutch volley to save match point in the gold medal match really says it all.

Watch the entire match tiebreak (and Nastia’s clutch tennis).Nastia was composed as she took body blows from her male and female opponents. She rifled balls back with interest. And more importantly, she was positive throughout, keeping Rublev focused on the prize. 

But that wasn’t the only match point she saved with a winner, she also saved match point in the semifinals with a classic backhand down-the-line.

Her performance across every match went unmatched from anywhere else the entire year. 

French Open Finalist

Most people know the story by now: As a child prodigy, Nastia shot into the spotlight at the age of 14. She won junior slams and got to #1 in the world. As a pro, she won titles and went deep in tournaments, but she was marred by an 0-6 record in major quarterfinals. That winless record in the biggest matches of her career spanned across 10 years. It started to look like her best chances were behind her. 

That was until the 2021 French Open. With each win she became more and more of a sentimental favorite for the title. In a draw that got turned upside down, Pavs pulled out a three-set win of one of the favorites (Aryna Sabalenka), a rising star (Elena Rybakina) and 2-time major champion (Victoria Azarenka). 

In the quarters she played one of the hottest players on tour, and Serena Williams’s conqueror, Elena Rybakina. Rybakina is known for cracking winners and taking the racket out of your hand – like many of the women who she’s lost to in the past. Did she get down on herself or lose confidence? No. She was never resigned to it not being her day, and she pulled out a huge win 9-7 in the third set. After a straight sets win in the semis against Tamara Zidansek, she was into the final. 

Then came one of the most impressive feats: Maria Sharapova tweeted a celebratory tweet with corresponding photo, clearly watching Nastia’s win. Anyone familiar with Maria’s relationship with fellow players knew how big of a deal that tweet was. 

With a heavily strapped leg, Nastia put on another big show in the finals. After dropping the first set, she showed why she’s been a top player for so many years – fighting back to force a decider. She lost 6-1 2-6 6-4 in the end, but it seemed like the entire tennis world was celebrating her accomplishment of making her long-awaited first major final. 

The Fight for Top 10

One of the stats that make you scratch your head is that Nastia has never been inside the top 10 in the world. 12 titles, 7 major quarterfinals and wins over just about every top player? All boxes that have been checked. By the end of the year, “tennis twitter” was abuzz about her chances of reaching the milestone. In the end, she finished the year number 11 with a chance to make up ground in early 2022. 

Billie Jean King Cup

The Russian team capped off the year by winning the Billie Jean King Cup (formerly Fed Cup). Nastia won tight matches over Alize Cornet and Rebecca Marino before sitting out the final with a knee injury. Her match with Cornet was one of the matches of the tournament, and watching Nastia be the leader on the sideline throughout the week was undeniable. The team win capped off a career year for the now 30-year old. 

Social Media and Style Icon 

Sure, her tennis was the best of her career. A Billie Jean King Cup win, Olympic gold medal and French Open final aren’t bad. But Nastia also won social media. While most players stay on brand on their social media accounts, Nastia is one of the most entertaining follows on either tour. Her Instagram is far more fun than the players who feel very corporate.

It seems she’s unable to be anyone but herself, which was only highlighted by her recent interview with sports.ru. The interview, in Russian with English subtitles, shows all sides of the Russian superstar. Watch the entire interview here.

2021 was far from an easy year for people across the globe. So thank you to Nastia for bringing tennis fans so much entertainment, drama and breathtaking tennis all year. 

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