Tennis is now in its annual offseason, but don’t blink, lest you miss it. It says something about this 12-month sport that the 2019 season hasn’t even really ended — it’s been quietly humming along in the background with Challenger (ATP) and 175K WTA Tour events, offering both rankings points, prize money and some familiar names in the draws. The ATP main tour kicks off for 2020 on Jan. 3 in Australia with a new team event, the ATP Cup. The WTA launches three days later with three events.

So, while we’re catching our breath, let’s review the best tennis of 2019.

ATP player of the year

Rafael Nadal: Year-end ranking, No. 1

2019 record: 57-7 with four titles, including two Grand Slams

The player of the year can be the individual who was most successful or the one who had a significant impact on the game in general. Our choice this year qualifies on both counts.

The 2019 season began ominously for the then-32-year-old King of Clay. Nadal missed the entire 2018 fall swing due to ankle surgery, standing idly as Novak Djokovic ran amok. Upon his return in January, a thigh strain curtailed his preparation for the year’s first Grand Slam. He still managed to belt his way to the final, where Djokovic humiliated him in the most lopsided blowout of their historic rivalry, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3.

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“I needed something else,” Nadal said afterward, citing the effect of limited playing time. “Five months without competing, having that big challenge in front of me, That something else — probably today, I don’t have it yet.”

Nadal found that “something else” as he has always at the French Open. He gobbled up the now traditional press room birthday cake along with his 18th major title at Roland Garros. But he suffered yet another tough loss on Wimbledon grass to Roger Federer. Perhaps, as in some years past, Nadal was done with his heavy lifting for the year. Not so.

Nadal had a glorious summer, capped by a blockbuster US Open final win over an on-fire Daniil Medvedev. He’s now within one Grand Slam title of Federer’s 20 — a feat Nadal will probably be a prohibitive favorite to earn in Paris in June.

“I don’t like to look that far ahead,” ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert said. “But sure, if Rafa is healthy, can anyone stop him?”

Of equal historic importance, Nadal played well enough in the fall to lock up the year-end No. 1 ranking for a fifth time, denying hard-charging Djokovic the opportunity to join Pete Sampras as the only six-time year-end No. 1. The Serbian star remains in second place on that list along with Jimmy Connors, Federer and now Nadal. The great GOAT debate just got a whole lot more interesting.

And think, Nadal has suffered more injuries and paid a heavier price in Grand Slam opportunities than any of his Big Four rivals. Sure, everybody deals with injuries, but the numbers don’t lie: Federer has missed two majors on account of injury or surgery. Djokovic has lost out on just one chance. Nadal, by contrast, has missed eight majors outright, and that isn’t even counting majors during which he had to pull out, like last year’s US Open or the 2016 French Open.

“I always find a way to keep going, you know, and to do my route,” Nadal said after he won the French Open in June. “And here I am at the age of 33, enjoying, playing good tennis. Let’s see for how long I am able to manage and to hold this.”

Story of the year

Two words: Coco Gauff.

In the early stages of the year, Andreescu and 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova blossomed, but the most electric WTA thrill was yet to come. It was delivered at Wimbledon by Gauff, who was just 14 and ranked No. 684 at the time of the year’s first major.

A wild card in the Wimbledon qualifying event, Gauff won six matches and made the fourth round in the main draw before she was stopped by the eventual champion Simona Halep. The well-rounded, exuberantly athletic game of the 15-year-old was astonishing, but it was Gauff’s sincerity and open, expressive nature that put her over the top with the public. “Coco-mania” was born in a few short days at Wimbledon.

The adulation and attention, officially in the media and organically among fans, trailed her everywhere. By the time she arrived at the US Open, Gauff was a full-blown phenomenon. Legions pleaded aloud for her attention, long lines of fans waited just to get a glimpse of her on a practice court or in a doubles match with partner Caty McNally.

Gauff came crashing back down to earth at the US Open, where she was soundly thrashed by Osaka in a third-round 6-3, 6-0 blowout that left the youngster in tears — and Osaka consoling her on the sideline.

“I definitely was wanting to leave the court because I’m not the type of person who wants to cry in front of everyone,” Gauff said. “I didn’t want to take that moment away from her, as well.”

It was an unscripted, mature reaction. The tears Gauff cries on court in the future will almost certainly be those of joy.