2009 will go down as the most surreal year of tennis in recent memory. For most of the year, WTA had to bear a world No. 1 in Dinara Safina who played chicken on the biggest stages in the game; Rafael Nadal lost in the first week of Roland Garros; Serena Williams lost her mind; Andy Roddick fared better in Paris than in New York and only won one title; Ana Ivanovic won none; Roger Federer got everything back he lost last year and then some; Maria Sharapova's best Slam showing was on her worst surface; Richard Gasquet kissed a girl; Svetlana Kuznetsova won another Slam and immediately fell away; Andre Agassi dropped a bombshell; the International Tennis Federation couldn't make up its mind on what to do with two Belgian players, one rising, one fading, both treated like the stars they aren't; and Novak Djokovic remembered how to play tennis.
Players Of The Year: Serena Williams and Roger Federer
Switzerland's Roger Federer, the Men's Singles Champion 2009, poses with the Wimbledon Trophy and US tennis player and Ladies Singles Champion 2009 Serena Williams during the Champions dinner at the Intercontinental Hotel Park Lane, in central London, on July 5, 2009.
Aldo Liguori, head of global public relations for Sony Ericsson and Sony Ericsson WTA Tour CEO Stacey Allaster pose with Serena Williams after she was presented a trophy to commerate finishing the year as number 1 in the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour rankings after the final of the Sony Ericsson WTA Championships at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex on November 1, 2009 in Doha, Qatar.
Two Slam titles in 2009; the year-end No. 1 ranking; record-breaking prize money earned; AP Female Athlete of the Year; Sports Illustrated Female Athlete of the Decade. The accolades are all deserved for an athlete who stood out this year for once again elevating individual athletic competition to an art form.
Roger Federer of Switzerland poses with the ATP World Tour Champion Trophy next to The ATP Executive Charmiman and President Adam Helfant during the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena on November 25, 2009 in London, England. Federer was crowned ATP World Tour Champion for the fifth time, after becoming just the second player in the history of the ATP Rankings to regain the year-end No. 1 ranking. Federer clinched the 2009 ATP World Tour Champion title by beating Andy Murray at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals on November 24.
He seemed to have lost his way in 2008, but with his chief rival nursing an injury, he got it all back and then some. He completed the career Slam in Paris and the Channel Double with his historic win in Wimbledon. He got married and gave birth to twin girls. He didn't finish the year as strongly as he might have liked, but in his own words, winning Roland Garros and getting back his Wimbledon crown were the only things truly worthy of getting up and going to work. Mission accomplished.
Greatest Performances: Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams
Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates defeating Roger Federer of Switzerland during the men's tennis final on day 14 of the Australian Open in Melbourne on early February 2, 2009. Nadal won a classic Australian Open final against Federer 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-2 to secure his first hard-court Grand Slam and stop the Swiss equlling the all-time Majors record.
He was never supposed to be able to win a major on a hard court. He wasn't supposed to have anything left in the tank after his grueling 5-plus hour semifinal over Fernando Verdasco that a few have named best match of the year. The stars were aligned for the Monogrammed Maestro to earn his record-tying 14th Slam title and the tennis stars of old were lined up to witness the history.
They would have to wait a few more months.
Melbourne belonged to the Superman from Mallorca who tamed the field but perhaps gave his best performance when he offered up a shoulder for his defeated victim to cry upon. It was a bizarre trophy ceremony and one of the most surreal moments of the year for this tennis fan. How could Raja steal Rafa's night? many of the Spaniard's fans asked. Was Raja on the verge of a nervous breakdown? After producing glorious tennis over the fortnight and becoming the first player since Mats Wilander to hold Slam titles on three different surfaces and extending his ranking-points lead over the world No. 2, Rafa's generosity of spirit proved his greatest performance of the year. I'll leave you with the words of dylan, a self-professed Federer idolater.
There seems to me to be something in Roger that makes you hope for something perfect. Maybe this is childish, maybe Roger is a little big childish still. Maybe it is just that for a couple years, he did seem perfect, like the game had been solved. This was inspirational.
Regardless, Nadal is the truth, and there is no denying it.
And yet, it is hard not to feel bad for Roger. What a tragic development for his expectations, and mine.
Instead of perfection, or achievement, I'm now humbled by Nadal's superhuman generosity and real human warmth. It's easy to see larger the implications that these two men represent.
Serena Williams of the U.S. reacts to her win over her sister Venus Williams during their WTA Championships final tennis match in Doha November 1, 2009.
She had so many great performances this year it was difficult to pick one. From her final two matches in Melbourne to her semifinal victory over Venus in Miami or her back-from-the-brink-of-defeat victory over Elena Dementieva in the Wimbledon semifinals and total control over her sister in the Wimbledon final to make history, it was a show-off year for the Athlete of the Decade. But it was her gutsy, determined sweep of the field on one leg at the season ending championships in Dubai that earns Serena this award.
After her USO misstep and all the conflama surrounding it, Serena gritted her teeth and set out to do something she'd never done before: win a round-robin format year-end event. Though she won her first season-ending championship in 2001, it was a single elimination event. Serena isn't fond of the round-robin format and wasn't sure she'd be able to get over the mental block she'd need to get over in order to win one of these inventions of modern tennis. She came close in 2004, but an acute abdominal injury kept her from closing out that final despite being up 4-0 in the final set. In Dubai, no leg injury would keep her from victory. She emerged from the tougher of the two groups battled and bruised, got a virtual walkover in the semifinals when the overplayed and overhyped Caroline Wozniacki decided she had had enough and sat down, and then gave her sister no quarter in another straight-set final victory. Serena the Great delivered.
Best ATP Match: Roger Federer d. Andy Roddick, 5-7, 7-6(8), 7-6(3), 3-6, 16-14, Wimbledon Final
Runner up: Rafael Nadal d. Fernando Verdasco, Australian Open Semifinal
What I wrote after the match: 5 Ending In 3
Best WTA Match: Serena Williams d. Elena Dementieva, 6-7(4), 7-5, 8-6, Wimbledon Semifinal
Runner up: Jelena Dokic d. Alisa Kleybanova, 7-5, 5-7, 8-6, Australian Open Round Of 16
It was the longest Grand Slam semifinal in the Open Era and from the first point, you knew it would be special. As it turned out, it was outrageous.
Worst ATP Match: Andy Murray d. Fabio Fognini 7-6(11), 6-4, Monte-Carlo Second Round
If I recall correctly, the Italian raced out to a 5-0 lead over the Scot and then commenced to choke in gears. By the time he reached the fifth gear, the match had lost all semblance of watchability and the tiebreak had only just begun. I don't remember how many set points he wasted in the tiebreak but given the score, there were a-plenty. Murray simply hung around and pumped his fists, flared his fangs, and barked whenever Fognini missed a sitter. It was enough to score a victory in one of the worst matches I've ever witnessed.
Worst WTA Match: Svetlana Kuznetsova d. Dinara Safina, 6-4, 6-2, Roland Garros Final
How is it even possible for the world No. 1 to ask aloud "Why am I such a chicken?" in the middle of a Grand Slam final on her favorite surface? Surreal and bizarre don't even being to describe it. Pitiful is more like it. For her part, Kuzzy wasn't exactly stellar. When a Grand Slam final wins this award, you know it was a crazy year.
Biggest Performance Breakdown ATP: Tommy Haas to Roger Federer, 7-6(4), 7-5, 4-6, 0-6, 2-6, Roland Garros Round Of 16
He was up two sets to love, 4-3 with a break point to go up 5-3 and serve for the match. Many of the year-end summaries point to Raja's forehand winner to save break point as the shot of the year. It was a routine inside-out forehand passing shot winner that was pretty easy to execute, even under pressure, because Haas' approach lacked depth and bite and he covered the net so half-heartedly. The resurgent German lost his nerve, his serve, his return, his forehand and backhand, and the next 11 games, only winning another two in the match.
Biggest Performance Breakdown WTA: Vera Zvonareva to Flavia Pennetta, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-0, US Open Round Of 16
Six match points. That's what she had. But Pennetta wasn't going down and I have to say, she saved every single one of them with a winner. It was enough gutsy tennis to drive the fragile one batty. David Waldstein sums it up best:
She tore at the bandage wrapping her left knee and implored the umpire Lynn Welch to allow her to grab a pair of scissors during the first-game changeover and cut the tape off. She was denied because it was a pre-existing injury and it was not a full changeover.
Zvonareva kept pulling off swaths of tape and when she lost her serve and did a split trying to reach a ball, she sat on the court and pounded her right leg four times, imploring the limb to do better. When a piece of the bandage flew onto the court and a ball girl hesitated in retrieving it, Zvonareva scolded her.
And after she fell behind, 0-3, she smacked the net cord with her racket and issued an expletive in perfect English; something about the “rule,” which earned her a code violation.
“She’s always like this,” Pennetta said. “I know her. She can cry on the court and the next point she fights and play good tennis.”
Biggest Upset, ATP: Robin Söderling d. Rafael Nadal, 6-2, 6-7(2), 6-4, 7-6(2), Roland Garros Third Round
This choice was a no-brainer. I called it an earthquake. One writer (I can't remember which right now) opined that now that we know Rafa was injured, it put the upset in perspective and it's no longer quite as stunning. Bullshit. Rafa had never lost at Roland Garros and as far as I was concerned, he could defeat the field on his favorite surface at his "home" court on one leg if need be. But it wasn't to be and the Swede, who had only won a few games against the Spaniard just weeks before, deserves more credit that he's gotten then or since. After all, he dismissed David Ferrer in the previous round, which could have won this award in its own right.
Biggest Upset, WTA: Gisela Dulko d. Maria Sharapova, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, Wimbledon Second Round
Had to think about this one a bit. Melanie Oudin got the best of Jelena Jankovic in the third round of Wimbledon (not to mention Elena Dementieva in the second round of the US Open) and Carla Suarez Navarro (what happened to her in 2009?) took out Venus Williams who had served for the match in the second round of Melbourne. But Jankovic was having a crappy year and Venus hasn't performed well Down Under since 2003, so I let those fall away as honorable mentions. Instead, the battle of the beauties that ended with the Argentinean dismantling the Russian and former Wimbledon champion in a third set after being down a break stands above the rest as the biggest upset of the year. South American Surprise indeed.
In her comeback, Sharapova had made it to the quarterfinals at her worst Slam and claimed to be 100% heading into her favorite. The propagandists, astonishingly, had made her a front-runner for the title. It was as though they didn't notice her serve was nowhere to be found in Paris, despite her guts taking her about as far as they could take her against a field of chokers. I expected Dulko to follow suit but she held her nerve and her serve enough to send Sharapova back to the practice courts and the propagandists back to shoulder excuse after shoulder excuse after shoulder excuse after....
Most Surprising Slam Runs: Melanie Oudin and Robin Soderling
The upstart American took out Russia with victories over Dementieva, Sharapova, and Nadia Petrova to advance to the US Open quarterfinals before falling to the "Great Dane."
Yes, the big Swede can boast the biggest upset of the year (the decade? the Open Era?), but surely he would have had a letdown in his next match, no? No. He played stupendous tennis all the way to the final, blitzing former semifinalist Nikolay Davydenko in straights in the quarters and Fernando Gonzalez in five sets in the semis before falling to the "Greatest Of All Time" in the final. His run almost qualified for Greatest Performance as well, but that award requires a victory on Sunday.
Best Mid-Career Makeovers: Andy Roddick, Robin Söderling, Elena Dementieva and Svetlana Kuznetsova
I still can't believe it took Kuzzy this long to win another Slam, still can't believe Andy almost did but didn't, though his victories over Lleyton Hewitt in five sets and Andy Murray in four tight sets were most impressive and not at all expected. It was great to see Robin's power tennis work so well on clay among the men and Dementieva perform the best she's ever performed in two Slam semifinals before being edged out by the eventual champion both times.
Worst Luck: Jelena Dokic and Andy Roddick
Acute injuries broke their momentum just as they were on the verge of great things. If it wasn't for bad luck, no luck at all.
Most Surreal Moment: Serena's US Open Tirade
Nothing more to say about it except to give it a proper award here.
Most Unbecoming Scene Stealer: Roger Federer's Australian Open Trophy Ceremony Breakdown
Most Spoiled Brat: Victoria Azarenka
She's going nowhere fast.
Biggest Drama Queen: Caroline Wozniacki
She snatches the wig off Jelena Jankovic what with all that acting on display at the year-ending championships.
Biggest Disappointments: Ana Ivanovic and Ernests Gulbis
Most Improved Gonads: Juan Martín del Potro and Flavia Pennetta
The Tower of Tandil improved so quickly he went from enduring one of the most humiliating performances of the year to raising the US Open trophy after defeating the guy who humiliated him 8 months prior.
Flavia earned her place in history as the first female player from Italy to make the Top 10 after an outstanding summer. And then there were all those gonads on full display to save all those match points against Bepa at the US Open.
Both players ended the year strong with del Potro backing up his US Open defeat of Raja with another and finishing runner-up in London and Pennetta raising the Fed Cup with Team Italy.
Outstanding Newcomers: Melanie Oudin and Sergiy Stakhovsky
More on Miss Melanie later but Stakhovsky, not exactly a newcomer but I couldn't think of anyone else, will be most famous for ending Marat Safin's tennis career in Russia.
Best Comebacks: Kimiko Date-Krumm and Taylor Dent
Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan holds winner's trophy after she defeated Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain in the women's singles final, during a ceremony at the Hansol Korea Open Tennis Championships in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2009.
Jelena Dokic began the year as the front runner for this award but ended up taking Worst Luck. Kim Clijsters would seem a shoo-in for her US Open victory, but she's won this before and this category calls for winners without repeats. But for me, the 39-year-old Japanese player who was off the tour longer than I've been following tennis this go around came back and actually won a title.
As Matt informed us, she is the second oldest player (Billie Jean King was the oldest) to ever win a title on the WTA. Nice work if you can get it. And she got it after being off the tour for 12 years. 12 years.
“Yeah, of course, very happy. I realized one more time after this game that we don’t know about tennis unless we actually play it.
“Above all, my husband’s love was a big help for my win.
“I think I won’t have any problem in my physical strength over the next five years. But I’m married … have to have kids and have a lot of things to do. I think I can play tennis for the next two years.”
Go on with your bad self.
Basically, he had his back ripped apart and rebuilt twice over two years and he wasn't sure he'd ever play tennis again. But he returned to the tour and participated in one of the best matches of the year, striking 121 winners to defeat Ivan Navarro 6-4, 5-7, 6-7(1), 7-5, 7-6(9) in the second round of the US Open. His grabbing the microphone from the chair umpire at the end of the match and telling the crowd how much he loved them was one of the most poignant moments of the year.
When he defeated Feliciano Lopez in four sets in the previous match, Dent howled as though expelling all his disappointment in one sound. It had been four years since he won a main draw match at the US Open.
Where does he go from here? He told tennis.com:
"I'm not looking too far ahead. But I've had a lot of small highs and a lot of silver linings to some of the losses, and my progress in general. It all culminated at the U.S. Open. I didn't feel I was playing that well going into the event, but I was able to compete at a pretty high level thanks to my fitness and a lot of hard work. That win over Navarro was great for me, even though Murray beat me in the next round. I followed up that tournament with wins in Tulsa and Knoxville (Challenger events), and a final in Champaign (Ill.). That was gratifying."
Best Farewell: Marat Safin
Marat Safin of Russia holds the key of the Bercy stadium, a farewell trophy to mark the end of his career, during BNP Masters indoor tennis tournament in Paris, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009. Safin ended his career with style with a 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 defeat by Juan Martín del Potro in the second round of the Paris Masters. The 29-year-old Safin, a two-time Grand Slam title winner, put on a great performance on center court Wednesday against the U.S. Open champion but was unable to extend his career for at least one more day.
Tennis champions and former champions pose together for a picture on November 11, 2009 in Paris during a ceremony to mark the last professional match of Safin at the ATP Paris Indoor Master tournament. LtoR, top: Spanish Albert Costa and Tommy Robredo, Portugese Federico Gil, Swiss Marc Rosset, Russian Marat Safin, Moroccan Younes El Aynaoui, Croatian Ivo Karlovic, bottom : Argentinian Juan Martín del Potro, Serbian Novak Djokovic and Frenchman Gilles Simon.
Signing balls and autographs to fans after an homage marking his last professional match, during the ATP Paris Indoor Master tournament, on November 11, 2009 in Paris.
The Mercurial One hung up his racquet this year. He announced his departure early enough so that he could receive proper accolades from the fans at each of his final performances at events throughout the year. As I wrote, it was pure poetry for him to bow out to a man who considered him a childhood idol.
Worst Farewell: Amélie Mauresmo
She announced her retirement in a press conference long after she played her last match of the season and while no one was surprised, it was anti-climactic and didn't allow fans and organizers to pay their proper respect to a career worthy of much.
Best Spouses: Irina Davydenko and Brooklyn Roddick
Nikolay credits his wife with his recent successes and Roddick credits his for bringing him back from the brink of retirement between the 2008 and 2009 seasons. When the camera manages to find these two beautiful women in the stands watching their husbands battle before them, they always appear strong and calm. Obvious is their impact on their husbands' tennis and on-court demeanor.
Coaches Of The Year: Magnus Norman, Larry Stefanki, and Kim Clijsters
The men are credited with two of the best Mid-Career Makeovers of the year and Clijsters took out the sisters back-to-back en route to her second US Open title to become the first unranked woman to win a Slam in the Open Era.
Best Dressed: Tommy Robredo and Flavia Pennetta
Tommy Robredo of Spain returns a ball to Fernando Verdasco of Spain during their Valencia Open tennis match in Valencia November 6, 2009.
Flavia Pennetta of Italy celebrates a victory with her flag after the Final of the Fed Cup World Group between Italy and the USA at Circolo Tennis Rocco Polimeni on November 8, 2009 in Reggio Calabria, Italy.
Best Tribute: Pancho Gonzalez US Open
Tennis player Richard Alonzo "Pancho" Gonzalez resting in chair courtside between matches during a tournament in Los Angeles on November 17, 1949. Photo by Allan Grant.
The US Open knows how to do a tribute. If you didn't catch it on your local broadcast, too bad. Here's how the USTA promoted it:
On Saturday night, Sept. 5, special guests, including actor Benjamin Bratt, will host a tribute to former U.S. National Champion Pancho Gonzalez on-court in Arthur Ashe Stadium. The tribute will celebrate Gonzalez on the 60th anniversary of his second consecutive victory at the U.S. Championships and will include a video presentation highlighting Gonzalez’ life and tennis career. Gonzalez family members, as well as a number of former players and Hispanic community leaders, will be in attendance.
With actors Jimmy Smits, right, and Benjamin Bratt at the side, Danny Gonzales, son of tennis great Pancho Gonzales, speaks at a tribute to his father at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009.
Biggest Controversies: Richard Gasquet kisses a girl, Andre Agassi spits on the ATP, and the International Tennis Federation exhibits impotence
Each one deserves a long essay that I won't take the time to write. What they have in common is doping, favoritism, incompetence and hubris.
Most Egregious Decision: Doha Denies Visa To Shahar Pe'er
A picture taken on February 20, 2008 shows Israel's Shahar Pe'er during her tennis match against France's Virginie Razzano on the third day of the Qatar Open WTA tournament in Doha. The future of the Dubai Open may be at risk after Peer was prevented from competing in the event which started on February 15, 2009. The world number 48 from Israel has been denied a visa into the Gulf state, bringing a strongly worded statement from the Women's Tennis Association. The blocking is a surprise because Pe'er was given a visa to play in the Qatar Open last year, a visit which was a considerable success both in tennis and diplomatic terms.
Raise your hand if the aforementioned controversies almost made you forget about this international insult? In several threads, this readership discussed the drama with an intelligence and civility here, here, here, here, and here that left me humbled. Yes, it got hot sometimes. We were discussing religion, politics, and tennis, after all. But at the end of the day, it was one of the best discussions of the controversy I'd read anywhere. And I have no bias, of course. Give yourselves a big round of applause.
Biggest Tennis Powerhouse: Spain Still Reigns
Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain pose for a photo with their winners trophies and Spanish musicians after their three set victory against Cara Black of Zimbabwe and Liezel Huber of the USA in the Womens doubles final during the Sony Ericsson Championships at the Khalifa Tennis and Squash Complex on November 1, 2009 in Doha, Qatar.
Team Spain attended a cocktail party celebrating their Davis Cup victory on December 6, 2009 in Barcelona, Spain.
Strongest Ovaries: Melanie Oudin
US tennis player Melanie Oudin celebrates after winning against Russia's Nadia Petrova during day eight of the 2009 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, in New York, September 7, 2009. Oudin qualified for the quarterfinals winning 1-6, 7-6, 6-3.
It may seem like overkill, but the little woman who could went all out on all surfaces at all events to show the bigger and better players that guts should never be underestimated.
She played clutch tennis to get Team USA into the Fed Cup semifinals. Her run through qualifying and past Jelena Jankovic into the second week of Wimbledon feels like a lifetime ago already. The hype around her remarkable US Open run was hard to resist. She did the best she could in the Fed Cup final and though she lost both her rubbers, she made the Italians put out to take the title. Whatever her future holds, 2009 was a year she'll never forget.
Biggest Balls: Juan Martín del Potro
Juan Martín Del Potro from Argentina after defeating Roger Federer from Switzerland during the Men's Final US Open match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center September 14, 2009 in New York.
He gets more glory as well. After all, he defeated the "Greatest Of All Time" in a Grand Slam final in a fifth set to win his first major title. It don't get no ballsier than that.
Comment Of The Year
Right now, for me, Federer is one of the greats. But he's going through a rough patch right now and this will define whether people argue him as just another great or THE greatest.
He had everything. A loving, dedicated girlfriend; he would go weeks, nay, months not losing a match; he was adored the world over, unlike his predecessors; Sampras, Borg, McEnroe, all of them had their "haters".
And the media loved him. He was never the most handsome fellow, but on becoming a major winner and potential great, he cut his hair, controlled his temper, redefined his image and became - in most person's eyes - not only the perfect tennis player, but the perfect gentlemen.
He was the combination of Andre Agassi and Sampras, the success and the fan base all in one.
And now, his empire is crumbling. Do I feel sorry for him? Of course I do. I felt sorry when Jordan embarrassed himself with the Wizards, I felt sorry when Zidane made an ass of himself in the World Cup finals of all places. I feel sorry for everyone, which is tough, because someone has to lose, so obviously I feel sorry a lot.
But I feel no more sorry for Roger Federer than I do for Rafael Nadal when he lost his first Wimbledon final and I saw the tears in his eyes and the desolation in his body language.
Champions will always rise to the top. But the truest champions are capable of rising from the ashes. If Roger Federer rises again and goes on to win another 3, 4 majors, then in my mind, he's the greatest. He limps out of the sport and breaks down, then he's just another great player in the conversation.
It's up to him to prove himself.
Post: Quote For The Day II (Updated)
Quote For The Year
"From what I have been looking at and reading, it doesn't seem like Venus and Serena are in any hurry to go anywhere. Everyone is always looking for the next big thing. Well, the present, as far as the women's game goes, is pretty good. It feels like [people] will only really appreciate that once they are gone."--Andy Roddick, responding with sarcasm when asked about how everyone is waiting for the "American girl" to come along
Face Of The Year
French player Mathieu Montcourt rests during a break of his French Open tennis second round match against Czech player Radek Stepanek on May 27, 2009 at Roland Garros stadium in Paris.
Mathieu Montcourt (March 4, 1985 - July 6, 2009)
Rest in peace.