Before our writers get hammered at the Tennis-X New Year’s Party, we got them to cough up the best and worst of the Funk/Trunk for 2009. Read it before you start doing the eggnog shots, or during, but before you put the lampshade on your head and start chasing the secretaries around the office. Bad assistant office manager!
Who’s got the FUNK…In January when the Swiss great broke down in tears after choking the fifth set at the Australian Open against his nemesis Rafael Nadal, who he just couldn’t seem to defeat, the Federer Era (and the chance of breaking Sampras’ Slam record) looked over. Many tennis writers wrote him off. Eleven months later, the Aussie Open was just the first of four Slam finals Federer would reach in 2009, winning two of them, including the French Open which gave him the coveted career slam. Boo-ya! It didn’t hurt that Nadal was injured for much of the year, but Federer proved he wasn’t finished, edging out the Spaniard for the year-end top spot again. Oh, and he also got married and had twins. And your mom is in love with him. The anti-Tiger Woods.
2. Kim CLIJSTERS
The former No. 1-ranked Belgian decided to return to tennis after the birth of her first child, playing a few warm-up tournaments before winning a US Open title. Such inspiration contributed to her countrywoman, Justine Henin, announcing that she would also return to tennis in 2010, just roughly a year and a half after she retired. Can Clijsters come out of retirement and almost immediately win a Slam because of her new carefree attitude, or due to the bleak landscape that was women’s tennis in 2009? You make the call.
1. Roger FEDERER
The U.S. has been losing pro events left and right over the last couple years (Las Vegas, San Diego, etc.), and last month the ATP tried to kill another U.S. event, crossing Indianapolis off the map in an effort to shorten the season (then moving an event from the end of the calendar into the Indy slot). But with a good deal of arm-twisting and cajoling, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) got the ATP to sell the tournament sanction to Atlanta, which will now be the first stop on the 2010 US Open Series. That’s a US Open Series event saved, retaining a pro event and a weekend of tennis viewing for U.S. fans. And saving jobs for Robby Ginepri and the rest of the “B” squad of American men and up-and-comers.
4. Larry SCOTT
Sure he ditched the WTA Tour and said Justine Henin would never return to pro tennis, but Larry’s legacy is intact. While with the WTA he secured a number of sponsors, including the huge Sony Ericsson contract. But as that was coming to an end with little hope of renewal, Larry bailed for college basketball. With sponsorships ending and women’s tennis in a weak state (Serena Player of the Year? She only won three titles!), he jumped ship before it started taking in water. Not a bad run for the former ATP player who (allegedly) talked shit with all the other ATP employees when he worked there about what a joke women’s tennis was. Then he became the WTA CEO and moved the sport forward before getting the hell out before the collapse. Oh, and he worked hard to merge the two tours which would have exponentially benefited tennis, but of course the ATP laughed off a merger, believing their product was/is a lot stronger.
5. Andre AGASSI
Whether it was the rumor that certain ex-friends were going to write their own book and expose him or not, you have to hand it to Agassi for throwing it out there and working it as a learning opportunity for others. He did crystal meth, he hated tennis, he didn’t like his first wife, he didn’t like Nick Bollettieri and many others, but the brat became a man and established a number of legacies, including the Andre Agassi Preparatory Academy. Great book. Read it. Learn from it. And never, ever arrive at your wedding reception with your wife on horseback wearing baby blue matching cowboy outfits and hats.
…and who’s in the TRUNK
Nadal’s super-athletic game, based on a ton of movement and chasing down balls and jerking around as compared to Roger Federer’s compact, fluid motion, has taken its toll and his body is breaking down. As we saw this year at the French and Wimbledon, without a healthy Nadal in the picture, Roger Federer is free to be Roger Federer and cruise to titles without being impeded by the man who has become his Kryptonite (when Nadal is 100% heathly). Who else can bring Federer to tears? Here’s hoping there is some new knee transplant technology in the next year for the Spaniard.
5. Rafael NADAL
While the WTA Tour has streamlined their calendar and made a number of changes, the ATP just keeps clunking along, and the top players are ready to revolt. Each year the year-end championships resembles one giant trainer’s room with players being treated for injuries or dropping out of the competition before it starts. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick, the men’s tour’s biggest stars, regularly mouth off to the media, since no one else will listen. The ATP used to be the player’s union, but now it is supposed to represent both the players and the tournaments, which means when an issue comes to a head, the players get the shaft (see: a couple years ago when the ATP tried to kill doubles by using 90% singles players in the draws because the tournament directors wanted to save money (by not paying hotels/food/etc. for doubles-only players). The Bryan brothers among others sued the ATP, which eventually backed down). Also this year they changed their name to ATP World Tour because we guess we didn’t realize it was a world tour? Don’t see the PGA changing their name every five years. And gave the tournaments number designations like 1000, 500 and 250, which we guess pertains to ranking points but casual tennis fans don’t give a shit and just find it confusing. Hey it’s the Delray Beach 250! Wha? Keep up the good work.
3. Serena WILLIAMS
When Serena went into that scary-as-shit ‘I’m going to stuff this fucking ball down your throat!’-mode on that little old Asian woman linesperson at the US Open, that woman probably peed herself, as did half the people behind her in the stands. Serena won the Australian and Wimbledon and the year-end championship, failing to win a regular-season non-Slam event. She was 0-3 on clay entering the French, where she lost in the quarters. But she stepped up when it counted at the Slams and she gave little effort elsewhere, even failing to once represent the U.S. in Fed Cup play. She said she would have to be ‘in a wheelchair’ to miss the final against Italy, which the U.S. lost in a rout. She wasn’t in a wheelchair, but she took as a pass citing ‘exhaustion’ then went on a multi-country tour to promote her new book while Melanie Oudin and Alexa Glatch.
As ESPN’s Bonnie Ford summarized, “For a brief few days, it looked as if world No. 1 Serena Williams would make her first Fed Cup appearance in more than two years and the fourth of her career. She declared last month that she’d play unless she were in a wheelchair. Williams certainly looked able-bodied enough as she went undefeated in five matches at the injury-plagued WTA year-end championship tournament, capped by a straight-sets defeat of her sister Venus…But even before the lights went out at the gala in Doha, Qatar, Williams informed first-year U.S. captain Mary Joe Fernandez that she felt too beat-up to make the trip to Reggio Calabria, Italy, where the two-day, best-of-five Fed Cup final will be held. Monday, Williams reported on her Twitter feed that she was signing copies of her autobiography at the iconic Harrods department store in London.”
She was named the AP Player of the Year, beating out a horse which got the most second-place votes. Serena also added this month that she was ‘right’ at the US Open. Not Person of the Year, but give it up for Player of the Year.
2. Belgian Tennis Federation
You have got to be a stickler for rules for giving two of your own players potential career-ending suspensions for missing the new Draconian anti-doping “whereabouts” rule. Belgian players Yanina Wickmayer and Xavier Malisse were given one-year bans for violating anti-doping rules that require players to make themselves available for out-of-competition testing for one hour a day, any day of the year. Players must give testers three months’ notice of where they can be located for testing. Why not just put a GPS dog collar on the players, wouldn’t that be easier? The best thing was, the Belgian Federation slapped their own players with the suspension then notified the International Tennis Federation (ITF), which was like, ‘Uh, OK, guess we have to follow up on that…’ That’s like the USTA calling up the ITF and telling them that Andy Roddick accepted appearance money and should be suspended. Dumb-ass Belgians!
Bonus History of Dumb-assity: If you remember back in 2005, Belgian Sports Minister Claude Eerdekens announced, during the Australian Open, that Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Dementieva had tested positive for trace amounts of drugs during testing they conducted during a Belgian EXHIBITION TOURNAMENT the previous year. Guess you dumb-ass Belgians aren’t interested in pros ever wanting to return to Belgian to plays exos, eh? The issue was eventually dropped, with WTA CEO Larry Scott saying “Reports of doping tests conducted at the exhibition tournament in Charleroi outside the scope of the WTA’s antidoping program are inaccurate. Neither the WTA nor the organizers of the Australian Open were informed of the details of the case. And at present we have nothing but rumors, on which we consider it improper to comment.” But Eerdekens would not give up, saying “There are problems with Kuznetsova. Traces of ephedrine were discovered in her test. As early as Friday, we sent the appropriate notices to Kuznetsova, who lives in Spain, as well as to the Belgian prosecutor and the Russian Tennis Federation (FTR).” Turned out Kuzy took ephedrine via a over-the-counter cough-and-cold remedy, and ephedrine was not on the list of prohibited drugs if taken in out-of-competition events.
The sports management group purchased Tennis Week magazine following the death of founder/publisher Gene Scott, then quickly ran it into the ground via numerous poor management decisions, including transforming the once-ground-breaking investigative journalistic magazine into a fluffy Cosmo-type PR vehicle for IMG clients like Maria Sharapova. By March of this year IMG had stopped printing and converted to website-only, and by December IMG shuttered the website too. Tennis Week no longer exists. A sad, almost laughably-bad ending to the once-powerful and always-relevant publication Scott founded in 1974. RIP Gene, though probably not likely.
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