by Craig Hickman
The 2010 tennis season is history.
Players of the Year: Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams
Serena Williams of USA and Rafael Nadal of Spain with their winners trophies at the Wimbledon Championships 2010 Winners Ball at the InterContinental Park Lane Hotel on July 4, 2010 in London, England.
Rafael Nadal from Spain celebrates after winning against Novak Djokovic from Serbia in the Men's Singles Final at US Open 2010 match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York September 13, 2010.
Three Slam titles in a row; first player to win Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and US Open back-to-back-to-back since Rod Laver in 1969, making him only the second to achieve the three-some in the Open Era and first to achieve it on three different surfaces; youngest player in the Open Era to complete the Career Slam; second man to complete the Career Golden Slam; won his record-breaking 18th Masters Shield; all on his way to wresting back the year-end No. 1 ranking.
While injury disallowed him from defending his first hard-court Slam championship in January, the year belonged to Rafa. Once he healed, stepped foot on the terra battue, there was no looking back. Folk will debate where his season ranks in historical context, but what a season it was. He's the sole recipient of the Gonad for Greatest Performance of 2010.
Serena Williams, watches as her sister Venus Williams, of the United States returns a shot against Shahar Peer of Israel during her women's singles match on day seven of the 2010 U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 5, 2010 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.
Folk will likely debate my choice of Serena Williams for Player of the Year. After all, her season was cut short with a cut foot and she fell from the top ranking to No. 4 by year's end. But Caroline Wozniacki, the ITF's choice, remains a wannabe (she didn't even advance to a Slam final this year), two-time Slam finalist Vera Zvonareva, improved though she is, remains a head case, and Kim Clijsters, who got the WTA's nod on the strength of winning her third US Open, remains on the losing end of the most stunning Slam upset of the season.
Serena, old as she is with as storied a career as hers, is still achieving personal firsts that deserve accolades, not derision. 2010 was the first time in her career that she defended an Australian Open championship and the first time in her career that she defended two Slams. She was also between the lines for two of the year's best matches, losing one after holding a match point, and beat her nemesis Justin Henin in the first Slam final they've ever contested. (The last time Serena won two Slams in a calendar year, had her season cut short with injury, and was denied Player of the Year by the WTA and the ITF, Henin won the other two Slams and got the nods instead.) And lest we forget, she tied and then surpassed Billie Jean King on the leader board of legends with her 13th singles crown at Wimbledon. What she accomplished in half a year outclassed the field for the remainder.
Best ATP Match: Novak Djokovic d. Roger Federer, 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5, US Open Semifinal
Runnerup: Rafael Nadal d. Andy Murray, 7-6(5), 3-6, 7-6(6), World Tour Finals Semifinal
When two players who don't care much for each other take the court in the late stages of a Slam, two things can happen: 1) One or both can't get out of their own way and the tennis is forgettable; or 2) both players refuse to lose and they play balls to the walls from jump, producing an edge-of-the-seat spectacle that puts all their previous encounters to shame. This fan, who doesn't care much for either player (though, I confess, Djoke is growing on me) was thrilled because we got the second scenario.
I called the match unreal. The shotmaking, the guile, the determination, the atmosphere -- all of it out of this world. That Djoke was able to come up with his most daring tennis to save two consecutive match points surprised not only my eyes, but seems to have caught Raja off-guard as well. A warrior with his back against the wall, Djoke let loose a series of serves and ground strokes that brought some in the crowd to their feet. That Raja would lose a Slam semifinal after holding two consecutive match points against anybody was almost shocking. Unreal indeed.
Beth, who had a birds-eye view, agreed:
... the Djok Fed match was unREAL! The crowd was so into it and I was sitting just a few seats away from some vocal Serbian guys letting it rip with gusto! I was for Djok the whole way and seeing it happen in person.....priceless. He really put himself out there and capitalized on the few chances he was given AND managed to dig himself out of some big holes. I'm elated. I truthfully think, and this is just my pure speculation, that Roger didn't want to face a hungry Nadal in the final and lose to Rafa in a final at the Open where he has reigned so long.
Best WTA Match: Serena Williams d. Petra Kvitova, 7-6(5), 6-2, Wimbledon Semifinal
Savannah doesn't think any women's match this year was worthy of mention. MadProfessah believes my runnerup was the most compelling women's match because of what was at stake. But I went with the match that made the most lasting impression on me this year. The first match that came to mind when getting to this category. Most of us know I love Wimbledon and most of my nods go to matches contested in that hallowed space. This year, I only chose one.
I thoroughly enjoyed the effort by the underdog to dethrone the defending champion. The young Czech brought everything she had to the battle and a few tricks she probably didn't know she possessed. She served and volleyed, sliced and diced, hit the ball harder than her champion opponent, painting lines at will. Serena withstood the barrage and strategized her way to victory. She wielded magic, too. What I wrote after the battle remains. The match left me breathless.
As dapxin wrote:
And my third memorable women Tennis moment, was at Wimbledon watching some lil, apparently new, kidgirl play her lives out against Serena, I think @ the Semis, and there was a huge rally in the final parts of the game where Serena -having won the point - had the little girl stood for an odd 1 or 2 seconds, as though wondering:
"there is nothing more on earth to do to win that point off you aunty Serena, even if I came to try"
She had finally been forced to come to terms with a valiant defeat, in what was a thrilling clash of Tennis competencies...
Biggest Performance Breakdown ATP: Nikolay Davydenko against Roger Federer, Australian Open Quarterfinal
I was going to choose this match anyway, but Randy Burgess nominated it as well:
At the men's quarterfinals at the Aussie Open, Nikolay Davydenko knocks a backhand into the net while leading Roger Federer a set and a break and from that point on seemingly forgets how to play. Worst of all is the look in his eyes as he realizes this is his destiny.
It's what Kolya has done against Raja in every Slam match they've contested. But this breakdown out broke all of them.
Biggest Performance Breakdown WTA: Andrea Petkovic against Svetlana Kuznetsova, Roland Garros Second Round
Four match points. That's what she had. On her own serve, no less. And still, the talented German found a way to lose to a slumping defending champ. Most troubling was that she never even showed emotion during the unraveling. She simply vanished, like crushed brick in a windstorm. It's the kind of breakdown from which a player may never recover.
Biggest Upset ATP: Yen-Hsun Lu d. Andy Roddick, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-7, 9-7, Wimbledon Fourth Round
Roddick was reliving a nightmare. For the second straight year on the lawns of Wimbledon, he found himself staring down the barrel. Needing to hold serve just to stay alive in a battle that went to overtime in the fifth. For the second straight year on the lawns of Wimbledon, Roddick dropped his serve only once in an entire match and lost it. For the second straight year on the lawns of Wimbledon, a dream would be deferred, both for the player and the player's fans. I had no doubt Roddick would falter well before the semifinals. After all, he was reliving a nightmare. But if you'd told me the young man from Taipei without a weapon would be the man on the other side of the net, I'd have told you to see a shrink.
Roddick says he's going to play Davis Cup again next year. I guess if he can't fulfill his four career goals and finally win a Wimbledon championship, another run at a Davis Cup will have to do.
Biggest Upset WTA: Nadia Petrova d. Kim Clijsters 6-0, 6-1, Australian Open Third Round
I didn't watch the match live. I had no desire to see a lopsided affair with the Belgian prevailing. But when I walked past the television and saw the final score, all I could do was shout, "What?!" repeatedly. I mean really. One game, Aussie Kim? Against a woman you practically owned? Clijsters was picked by nearly every pundit on the planet to win her first Australian Open crown and second Slam in a row. But Miss Nadia showed the world why she, as far as I'm concerned, is the most talented Russian playing tennis. She put a full court press on Australia's adopted daughter from the first ball and never relented. This upset faded in the rear-view window as the season unfolded, but I'm putting it back in front of the windshield where it belongs. I don't know that I've ever been as shocked by a result.
Most Surprising Slam Runs: Tomas Berdych and Samantha Stosur
I've chosen these two players because I never thought either of them would advance past their quarterfinal and fourth round opponents, respectively.
Yes, Raja was ripe for the plucking. He almost lost in the first round to another player who choked in the face of the opportunity to take down the defending champion. But the man with the face of an angel, despite a few victories over Federer in best-of-three encounters, had never been able to close the deal in best-of-five. After ending Raja's record of consecutive Slam semifinals appearances, the big Czech with the most effortless ground strokes in tennis tamed Novak Djokovic in the semifinals to make his first Slam final appearance where he fell to the Player of the Year.
Samantha's run to her first Slam final at Roland Garros doesn't seem such a surprise, given her run to the semifinals last year. She won this award for that as well, making her the first recipient of back-to-back Gonads in this category. But she rallied to defeat Justine, fought off a match point to subdue Serena in the quarters, and crushed former semifinalist Jelena Jankovic in the semis. Most expected her to take the title. Many thought she deserved the trophy after beating two former champions back-to-back. But a small woman with stronger ovaries had something else to say about that.
Biggest Disappointments: Juan Martin del Potro's absence and the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour
Argentina's Juan Martin Del Potro reacts after a missed shot during his first round match against Spain's Feliciano Lopez at the Japan Open tennis tournament in Tokyo on October 4, 2010. Lopez beat Del Potro 6-3, 6-0.
Just when the giant Argentine was poised to insert himself in the mix at the top of tennis, he undergoes wrist surgery and drops into the abyss. Who knows if we'll ever see him in the champion's circle again.
There's really nothing left to say about the WTA.
Most Transcendent Match: John Isner d. Nicolas Mahut, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7(7), 7-6(3), 70-68, Wimbledon First Round
Why recreate the wheel? I'll go with MadProfessah's take:
A match for the ages. A tennis match that transcends tennis, and possibly sport itself. Two relatively unheralded players played a match which lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes, by far the longest match ever. The final set itself is a marvel, shattering the record for the longest match--in terms of time (8 hours,11 minutes) and number of games (138) played. The list of records broken is a litany of exceptionalism which is unlikely ever to be matched. When the rest of the tennis of 2010 is long-forgotten Isner-Mahut will still be referred to. What was most remarkable that despite playing so long, there was still brilliant tennis for vast portions of the match. This was truly an example of the cliche where it is sad that in every game there has to be a winner.
Best Mid-Career Makeover: Vera Zvonareva
As I said, she remains a headcase, but she composed herself and played enough disciplined and smart tennis to outthink her opponents to advance to not one, but two Slam finals this year. Back-to-back, no less. She finishes the year at a career-high No. 2 ranking. If she's to win a major, she'll need a better serve.
Honorable mentions: Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova. That two Slam champions/stars deserve mention here tells you a lot about the current woes of the WTA.
Most Improved Gonads: Petra Kvitova and Tomas Berdych
Their previous awards are a testament to their improved fortitude on the biggest stages of tennis. Both regressed in the latter months of the year, but you can't take away Vera's Wimbledon and US Open runnerup plates or Berdy's Wimbledon runnerup plate.
Coaches Of The Year: Toni Nadal and Sergey Demekhine
Actor Bradley James (L) and Rafael Nadal's coach Toni Nadal watches the Rafael Nadal and Tomas Berdych men's singles match against during the ATP World Tour Finals at O2 Arena on November 26, 2010 in London, England.
Toni Nadal rivals the Williams' parents as the best coach of a family member in the Open Era. What his charge achieved this year has already been heralded.
Something tells me that if this was my coach... well. Anyway. Vera probably looks forward to all her sessions. (Blame Savannah for the photo.)
Best Farewells: Elena Dementieva and Carlos Moya
Elena Dementieva receives an award from the president of Russia, December 30, 2010.
In some ways, Elena Dementieva was the WTA incarnation of Marat Safin. Not just because both are Russian, but because you have to search long and hard to find a fan of tennis who doesn't like her. Sure, we made fun of her horrendous serve. But so did she. Which is one of the reasons we liked her as much as we did. We liked her more, though, because she troubled the best of the best with her speed, tenacity, and forehand, fighting her way to two Slam singles finals, falling short both times. The best player of her generation never to have won a Slam will remain so. But she doesn't care. Her biggest dream was to win an Olympic Gold Medal in singles. Check.
Carlos Moya of Spain poses during a ceremony for his retirement during the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at O2 Arena on November 21, 2010 in London, England.
He struggled with injuries over the last few seasons. One of the humblest champions on tour, his presence will be missed.
We also said farewell to Nicolas Kiefer, Taylor Dent, just a season after he won Best Comeback, Paradorn Srichaphan, and Guillermo Cañas,
Biggest Balls: Viktor Troicki
Yes, it's a team event. But, with conviction, Viktor won the final rubber against a fried Michael Llodra to give his nation its first Davis Cup title. Striking remarkable returns of serve and viciously dipping passing shots that simply defied logic, the unheralded Serbian displayed balls of steel in capturing victory.
Strongest Ovaries: Francesca Schiavone
She dropped one set in her first Roland Garros match and that was that. Given ElenaD's retirement after the first set in her semifinal, Franny played 14 sets of tennis to win her maiden Slam title. Almost like winning a Slam without dropping a set. Almost. The 29-year-old plowed through the bottom half of the draw totally under the radar. But her tennis was sublime. For a woman contesting her first Slam final, she gave daring new definition.
Stosur was favored. She has a better serve, survived a tougher draw. But as one of the fittest women on tour, if not the fittest, fatigue was never a factor. Certainly not after her own waltz through the semifinals.
Franny was not to be denied. It was clear she approached the final as though it was hers to lose. As though her place in history as the first Italian woman to win a Slam was already etched in granite. She served as well as she's ever served and played the forecourt with the expertise of most of the old school Italian players who've performed well over the years on grass and clay. But most of all, in the face of victory, she seized the moment without an ounce of trepidation.
Again, I yield the floor to dapxin:
I thought the Francesca match transcended Tennis in a sense that is somewhat intractable.
The story of the match, and the leading to it, should be used as material towards defining, dare.
And her speechmaking remains the most memorable feeling that I got, ever, since I watching this sport.
You get the feeling, she outdid herself in the latter stages of the match and I remember one particularly beautiful lob shot...joy!
It was arguably the most inspiring performance of the year.
Quote For The Year: Venus Williams
“Thankfully [Serena and I] won't be walking into the sunset too soon. Hopefully that will give some bumper time. It's just definitely strange because of the unbelievable tradition we've had with tennis for Americans since the beginning. I think that's what makes it so odd.
"But I've got hope. There are a lot of players who are very good, but getting to that level isn't easy for anyone. So hopefully there will be someone coming along soon with the tools and the traits and who will build that in their game to get there."--Venus Williams on the state of women's tennis at home
Comment Of The Year: from peytonallen:
A couple thoughts before I talk about Rafa.
Novak just won over a lot of hearts this weekend, maybe even Craig's (as cold as it is). The old Joker would have folded up shop against Fed and then on numerous occasions against Rafa tonight. He fought. He made Nadal earn his dinner and has nothing to feel bad about. He will win another major and if this was the beginning of Djoke/Nadal bring it on.
Despite the media song of the big boy tennis taking over the game all 4 majors were STILL won by two men. Some will still consider it a weak era here and there but this is an arms race we've not seen the likes of since US/Russia. Even though they may never play another major final against the other, this is Martina/Chrissy for the ATP. You will read books written about the rivalry, you will see movies. Amazing.
I don't see Nadal getting to 16. Fed had a couple years with no serious competition from his age-peers while Rafa was building his all-surface game. 7 more slams is a Hall of Fame career in itself. But he will get to 11-14 major titles.
How does he become the greatest of his era? He's already got the h2h advantage. He has a Gold Medal (which should count as a major.) He's done something only Laver has done before him with three in a row, Rafa's being on three different surfaces.
To make his case bullet proof he needs 2 of everything. Which means one more on each hard court. But, the big one comes in January when he'll go for the Rafa Slam.
If Rafael Nadal can win the Australian Open and hold all four major titles, its case closed. No, it wouldn't be a Grand Slam, but it'd be damn close.
Where does Nadal's season rank? There was a column on ESPN debating this. Obviously Laver's GS is #1, but from there it's debatable. Fed in '04 barely lost. He was locked in EVERY MATCH. 4 major finals only loss to Rafa.
Jimmy Connors in '74. Won all three slams he played lost 4 matches and wasn't allowed to play the French due to signing a contract to play World Team Tennis.
And Rafa in '10. I think Nadal winning on three different surfaces in a row in majors is a slight edge over Fed's year especially when considering the year he came back from. The injury/mental lay off. Who saw this coming? Oh, we all saw the French Title but really who saw this?
Novak said it was disheartening that Nadal keeps getting better, seemingly every time they play. The fact that he could walk away from a summer and fall of ass kickings and say "yeah I need to improve to win, no?" and then do so after already being so accomplished is amazing.
Nadal's 4th set tonight may be the best set of the year by one performer. 50+ straight points with no UFE. Get out. And the kid was hitting the crap out of the ball.
How does the sport's greatest defensive player become one of the best offensive players?
Fed said it best after the '07 Wimbledon final, "I have to win now before he wins them all."
Great match tonight. By both men. Maybe for drama's sake and being a 5th set the Fed/Joker match was better, but much cleaner ball striking by both men tonight. Both men moved with grace and power. Very good final.
How fitting that Rafa tries for the 'Slam' in Australia? In Rod Laver Arena.
Faces Of The Year
A ball boy watches Australia's Samantha Stosur in action during her women's semi-final match against Serbia's Jelena Jankovic in the French Open tennis championship at the Roland Garros stadium, on June 3, 2010, in Paris. Stosur won 6-1, 6-2.
Serena Williams of USA receives a kiss from Rafael Nadal of Spain as he arrives at the Wimbledon Championships 2010 Winners Ball at the InterContinental Park Lane Hotel on July 4, 2010 in London, England.