The year two-thousand ten saw Rafael Nadal rise up above injury to claim the No. 1 ranking; Roger Federer show he is game for a challenge in 2011; Serena Williams flame-out with an mysterious foot accident after what looked to be a record-breaking year; Justine Henin succumb to a season-ending arm ailment; Venus Williams end her season prematurely due to a bum knee…did any of the women’s top players make it through?
Oh yeah, Caroline Wozniacki kept enough balls in play and remained healthy enough to controversially finish No. 1 on the women’s side. Novak Djokovic came up just short at the Slams but stood up tall in Davis Cup to claim Serbia’s first championship. Andy Murray, everyone’s top up-and-comer year after year, again finished slamless. Last year’s US Open winner Juan Martin Del Potro was a bust due to injury. Though France led the “bust” department again with their slew of talented also-rans who never seem to get over that hump: Richard Gasquet, Gael Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, etc.
John Isner and Sam Querrey had solid years on the American men’s side, but no one is yet putting money on them to win a Slam and take the pressure off the aging Andy Roddick. Roddick fought through illnesses and injuries to again finish in the Top 10, joined by surprising entries such as Tomas Berdych, Fernando Verdasco and Mikhail Youzhny. Italy’s Francesca Schiavone had a year to retire on (eventually), winning the French, finishing Top 10 and leading her country to yet another Fed Cup title, for the second straight year blasting a hapless U.S. squad in the final.
Kudos all around, but here are the big winners in the 2010 Tennis-X Year-End Awards:
Player of the Year — Rafael Nadal
After leaving Australia nursing another knee injury, Rafa pounded and rebounded in the very best way possible, winning the next three Slams in head-spinning fashion including the US Open, giving the Spaniard the coveted Career Slam at just 24. What’s next for the Spanish Bull who has it all? Modeling for Armani? Further perfecting that ass-picking motion? Collecting a couple million in an off-season exo tour with Roger Federer. Waking up to his super-hottie girlfriend? Life is good is Mallorca, and probably any place else Rafa is hanging out these days.
Honorable Mention: Roger Federer, Kim Clijsters, Caroline Wozniacki, Serena Williams.
Match of the Year — Wimbledon 1st RD: John Isner d. Nicolas Mahut, 70-68 in Fifth Set
A year ago if we predicted such a scoreline, we’d be sent right to the asylum. Six months later, looking back, it’s still remarkable. Or ridiculous. Or both. Did that, could that, have really happened? In the record-smashing match that lasted three days and 11 hours, 5 minutes, Isner finished with a jaw-dropping 113 aces, and Mahut a “second best” 103. Incredible. Match of the Year? How about Match of history? A match that will never be eclipsed in terms of time and total ace count. Never! Both players were a physical mess for weeks after. And let’s not forget the chair umpire, Mohamed Layani, for “holding it in” all that time. “Well played!” as the British might say.
Honorable Mention: Berdych d. Federer (Miami), Clijsters d. Henin (Brisbane), Djokovic d. Federer (US Open), Serena d. Henin (Australia), Nadal d. Murray (London), Verdasco d. Ferrer (US Open), Fognini d. Monfils (French Open), Tsonga d. Almagro (Australia), Stosur d. Serena (French Open).
Quote of the Year — Hit for Haiti exhibition, Indian Wells, Pete Sampras vs. Andre Agassi, + Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal
So many good ones. Was it when Agassi imitated Sampras, turning his pockets inside-out and saying, “I don’t have any money. No, wait, I’ve got a dollar!” bagging on Sampras’ reputation as a poor tipper? Was it when Federer tried to lighten the mood, interjecting, “This rivalry is intense, man. I mean, Rafa, start. Do something.” Was it when, after Sampras rocketed a ball straight at Agassi, who dodged it, Agassi said, “It’s all right, it’s all right…You know what, it’s better than being a valet driver and you pulling up.” Was it when Sampras then weirdly retorted, “Let’s talk about our baggage. Here we go. I’m a bad tipper. I’m sorry, Barack Obama.” Was it when a still-shocked Sampras later said, “Wow. You got personal. You got personal with me.” Or when Agassi retorted, “Nah, nah nah. Everybody knows that already.” So much good stuff, a goldmine. Thanks Pete and Andre, the award is in the mail. Just don’t toss it in the storage shed.
Honorable Mention: Andy Murray, getting emotional during the trophy ceremony after losing to Roger Federer at the Australian Open: “I can cry like Roger, it’s a shame I can’t play like him.” Yep, echoed by all of Britain.
Comeback of the Year — Justine Henin
In her first Slam in over two years, the diminutive pocket rocket made it all the way to the Australian Open final before losing to Serena Williams in a tough three setter. Unfortunately, the Belgian’s season ended prematurely after taking a tumble on the Wimbledon turf, but her effort in Australia deserves notice. Would she have finished the year No. 1 if she had stayed healthy? About a 90% chance.
Honorable Mention: Mardy Fish, Kimiko Date
Heist of the Year — Rafael Nadal’s Watch
With tennis thievery on the rise, this could very well become a permanent category in our yearly wrap-up. Just weeks after signing a mega-lucrative deal with watchmaker Richard Mille, Rafael Nadal lost his prized Tourbillon RM 027 timepiece in a theft in the Toronto locker room. The problem is, the watch was no ordinary watch. The price tag on this uber-bling was in the ballpark of $525,000. That’s like having a mid-range American McMansion wrapped around your wrist, just without the lawn watering, upkeep and nasty neighbors. But stealing a house not so easy. Stealing a watch out of a locker of say a Spanish No. 1? Easy. Police and investigators are on hunt, but the case remains unsolved.
Honorable Mention: Andy Murray (Rotterdam, Dubai for playing poorly and still collecting a hefty appearance fee), Pete Sampras’s stolen trophies from storage, Radek Stepanek steals Nicole Vaidisova off the open market, and the same for Sasha Vujucic for recently taking Maria Sharapova out of circulation.
Coach of the Year — Uncle Toni
Can we already call Toni the greatest uncle ever in pro tennis? This uncle has outwitted, outsmarted and ultimately outcoached tennis’ brainy best once again to put his nephew on top of the tennis world. This guy deserves all the credit in the world and then some. You can say Rafa doesn’t need any coaching, but there is an awful lot of illegal hand signaling going on during matches. This year Rafa even admitted Uncle Toni sometimes signals him where to serve, sheesh. But Uncle T gets all-around high marks for his for leading his nephew to a second No. 1 finish in three years.
Honorable Mention: Joakim Nystrom (Melzer), Magnus Norman (Soderling), Sergey Demekhine (Zvonareva).
Worst Injury of the Year — Serena Williams
Stepping on glass ain’t what is used to be. No that mysterious glass injury will keep Serena off the court at least through Australia and perhaps as long as Miami and into the spring. Too bad the story was so long coming out, and never really probably fully came out what happened in Germany. Party on Serena!
Honorable Mention: Juan Martin Del Potro (wrist), Tommy Haas (hip), Justine Henin (arm).
Surprise Performance of the Year — Francesca Schiavone, French Open
The charismatic Italian captured the hearts and minds of the tennis world who watched her remarkable ascent to the French Open title. The near 30-year-old was a just a journeywomen with a handfull of titles, but somehow Franny channeled the inner strength to work her way through upset after upset to win in Roland Garros. Here’s to crafty players who have the ability to do more than just bash topspin forehands and backhands.
Honorable Mention: Jurgen Melzer (French Open), Tomas Berdych (Wimbledon), Vera Zvonareva (US Open), Ljubicic (Indian Wells), Ernests Gulbis (Rome).
Biggest Disappointment — Juan Martin Del Potro
After such a strong 2009 in which he closed the year reaching the London finals, the Tower of Tandil’s 2010 effectively ended in Australia when he injured his wrist. And with that injury the hopes for a true third rival and perhaps successor to the Federer-Nadal stranglehold at the top will have to wait another year.
Honorable Mention: Andy Murray, Caroline Wozniacki (no Slam finals yet!), Dinara Safina, Justine Henin, Marin Cilic.
Biggest Choke of the Year — Viktor Troicki loss to Novak Djokovic at US Open
Up two sets and a break against your countryman on a steamy, hot day at the US Open with Djokovic almost collapsing from the heat. And what do you do? Let him back in the match and choke it! Choker! The temperature topped 100 degrees, yet Troicki looked fresh while Novak was totally dragging his ass. But when the shadows crept over Arthur Ashe court Djokovic got a reprieve from the heat, he got a second wind while Troicki lost his aggressiveness against his close friend. “Somebody from the stand kept telling me to hang on and that’s exactly what I did,” Djokovic said. “I have to give Victor credit. He served incredibly well. A couple of points turned the match.”
Honorable Mention: Falla loses to Federer at Wimbledon, Federer loses to Baghdatis (Indian Wells).
Newcomer of the Year — Aleksander Dolgopolov
The 22-year-old from the Ukraine finished in the top 50 for 2010 and climbed as high as No. 39 after his first full season on tour. Watch for this kid. This year he Q’d into Masters 1000 events at Monte Carlo and Madrid, reached the third round at the French and beat No. 13-ranked Fernando Gonzalez en route. The kid can play on all surfaces, reaching the semis at the ATP stop in Eastbourne, losing to the eventual champion Michael Llodra, and at Wimbledon he lost to the Top 10er Tsonga 10-8 in the fifth. Nowhere to go but up.
Honorable Mention: Ricardis Berankis, Petra Kvitova, Thiemo de Bakker.
Best In-Match Retirement — Novak Djokovic in Belgrade
Yes, Novak Djokovic really did retire at his very own event. Down a set to upstart Filip Krajinovic, Djokovic decided to retire from the match rather than complete it and give the Serbian teen a true win. It was Djokovic’s tournament, so does he have to give his own appearance money back? Djokovic, for the record, had a cold.
Honorable Mention: Elena Dementieva retires to Francesca Schiavone in the French semis with a torn calf muscle, gifting the Italian a berth in her first Slam final.
Shot of the Year — Francesca Schiavone’s tweener
Hey, women can do it, too, and sometimes better.
Congratulations 2010 to all our Tennis-X winners. Your trophies are in the mail, C.O.D. Happy Holidays everyone.
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