In some case it wasn’t the year-end No. 1 we expected, in some case it wasn’t the year-end No. 1 that the people wanted. Everybody was injured (again), and the WTA Tour struggled (again) without players who could get the ball back enough, or stay uninjured enough to challenge the reign of the ever-present Caroline Wozniacki.
Roger Federer kept cresting the hill (but not quite looking over the hill), Rafael Nadal struggled with injuries and motivation, and Maria Sharapova with her shoulder. Kim Clijsters, just when it looked like she would wrestle No. 1 away again, was sidelined with injury.
The gluten-free Novak Djokovic exploded out in a career year, one of many highlights of 2011, so here we go:
MEN’S PLAYER OF THE YEAR — Novak Djokovic (SRB)
Unbeatable and gluten-free at the start, faded at the end, but no denying one of the greatest years ever. Won 10 titles, three Slams and began the year winning his first 41. If that wasn’t enough, he beat Rafael Nadal like a drum during the season (six times), saved a match point against Roger Federer at the US Open, and overall finished with a 73-6 win-loss. Not bad. Also aged-out of calling the trainer every time he had to blow his nose, and has matured into one of the most entertaining players on the tour and off it.
Honorable mention: No one even worth mentioning
WOMEN’S PLAYER OF THE YEAR — Petra Kvitova (CZE)
Czech it out — Kvitova finished No. 2 in the rankings behind Caroline Wozniacki, but the nod has to go to Kvitova since she won Wimbledon (Woz has still never won a Slam), beat the best to capture the year-end championships, and had four fewer losses than Woz on the season with the same number of wins (60) and titles (6). Won Brisbane in first event of the year, beat Kim Clijsters in the Paris final, won Madrid beating three Top 10ers, and ended the year on a 12-match win streak, winning Linz, the year-end championship and leading the Czechs to the Fed Cup title. Done and doner.
Honorable mention: Your mom and Caroline Wozniacki
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR — Milos Raonic (CAN)
Big year for newcomers, but Milos “Big Baby” Raonic stole the show, playing great at start of the year before injuries made the second half of his year spotty. Likes to utilize his outstanding reach at the net, and height and G.I. Joe-body-on-a-tiny-baby-doll-head set-up allows him to crush the serve and forehand, with a serviceable backhand. The Canadian John Isner. Qualied at the Aussie Open then beat Top 10er Mikael Youzhny en route to the 4th rd., but coming-out party was at San Jose where he beat Top 10er Fernando “Hot Sauce” Verdasco in the final, then the next week narrowly lost to Andy Roddick in the Memphis final.
Honorable mentions: Christina McHale, Ryan Harrison, Bernard Tomic
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR — Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG)
In January DelPo was trying to look ahead, rather than behind at the awful 2010 that saw him play only three tournaments due to a wrist injury that required surgery. Started the year with a couple semis in the first couple months before winning the Delray Beach title, and lost to Nadal in Indian Wells semis. Looked to be back, but wisely took a month off after Miami to get stronger, returning to beat Robin “Mild Sauce” Soderling and Fernando “Hot Sauce” Verdasco en route to the claycourt Estoril crown. Broke back into the Top 20 after Wimbledon, and ended the year by beating Novak Djokovic in the Davis Cup semifinals to lead Argentina into the final where he showed Team Spain just how tough an out he is. Still hungry for titles with many years ahead of him, watch out.
Honorable mentions: Serena Williams, Gilles Simon, Sabine Lisicki
COACH OF THE YEAR — Marian Vajda (CZE)
Novak Djokovic’s coach guided his charge to the top spot in 2011. In the Djokovic camp since 2006, he has dealt with a family some describe as “difficult,” and weathered experiments such as bringing in Todd Martin as a temporary coach and at times has dealt with some disturbing family members. Not an easy task — just ask Brad Gilbert or other coaches how easy it is to establish a long-standing coaching relationship without the player either getting sick of your face or blaming a slump on you. “He is like my second father, and I have much more than a player-coach relationship with him,” Djokovic says. “He’s a very emotional guy, and we have a lot of fun outside of the court, which is important. There is just good spirit on the team, a positive energy.” Vajda also essentially oversees Djokovic’s entourage, keeping it tight and lean and fun.
Honorable mentions: “Uncle” Toni Nadal, David Kotyza (Kvitova coach), David Nainkin (Fish)
SHOT OF THE YEAR — Andy Roddick (USA)
Andy Roddick was all strut and umbrage in the 2011 Memphis final, defending his U.S. turf from a newcomer invader from the north, Milos Raonic. Two tiebreaks and most of a third set later, Roddick was still giving it his all against the unknown Canadian to simply stay in the match. With Raonic serving at 5-6, 30-40, the Canadian approached the net and hit a sharp cross-court volley that appeared to be a winner until Roddick dove for the ball and scoop-forehanded it down the line for a winner. Roddick never ever saw the match point winner, rolling over then slowly getting up, looking around and realizing that the cheering crowd and his opponent approaching the net for the handshake meant the match was over, and he would be a highlight on ESPN SportsCenter.
Honorable Mention: Novak Djokovic’s go-for-broke shot against Roger Federer to save match point at the US Open
BEST INJURY — Fabio Fognini
He’s the ATP version of Jelena Jankovic. Drama King Fabio Fognini loves the spotlight and during a fourth round match against Albert Montanes at the French Open the Italian found himself once again under the brights. Late in the fifth, a visibly cramping Fognini request for immediate treatment was granted. Rules prohibit in-game treatment of cramps without time violations, but Fognini worked his magic arguing he wasn’t cramping. So he got the trainer to patch him up and he somehow – in large part to Montanes choking – won the match. Did he skirt the rules or was he really injured? Who knows. Speculation moved to would he or wouldn’t he play in the quarters against the streaking Novak Djokovic. But the Fabulous One withdrew arguably interrupting the Serb’s mojo. With a full four days off Djokovic lost in the semifinals to Roger Federer. The Fabio Effect?
Honorable mentions: Sabine Lisicki’s full body cramp at French Open, Rafael Nadal’s US Open press conference cramp, Nadal’s burnt fingers
BIGGEST CHOKE — Thiemo de Bakker (NED)
Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker led Gael “Force” Monfils two sets to love and serving 5-3 at the Australian Open when the yips set in — and then some. De Bakker missed an easy volley, hit a super-tight overhead, lost the game for 5-4, then the cavalcade of errors and throat-grasping began. Losing the third set, in the fourth de Bakker inexplicably seemed to start tanking the match, giving minimal effort. He took an injury time-out, then came back and gave even less effort, and eventually started limping and complaining to himself. In the fifth set the Dutchman smashed his drinks next to his chair, losing 16 of the last 19 matches. In the end Monfils accused de Bakker of tanking, and Monfil’s coach Roger Rasheed accused the Dutchman of hitting the “panic button.”
Honorable mentions: Federer-Tsonga (Wimbledon), Nadal-Dodig (Canadian), Berdych-Robert (French Open), Troicki-Murray (French Open), Murray-Djokovic (Rome), Murray-Haase (US Open), Verdasco-Soderling (Rome)
BEST IN-MATCH DINING — Fernando Verdasco (ESP)
Fernando “Hot Sauce” Verdasco is an American food connoisseur. With Spain and the U.S. locked in battle this year in the quarterfinals, David Ferrer vs. Mardy Fish, Hot Sauce while rooting on the sideline took the opportunity to on-the-sly shove a burger in his hole. Unfortunately the Tennis Channel cameras caught him, to the delight of commentators Ted Robinson and Justin Gimelstob. “I said the guy that was helping us, the whole team, to bring one hamburger and some popcorn,” Verdasco explained afterward. “So I enjoy a lot eating all that American way.” Apparently. Nice effort.
Honorable mention: Nadal crushing a whole plate of olives in the Tennis Channel profile? “I love olives.”
BEST MELTDOWN — Serena Williams
Would it BE a US Open if Serena didn’t have a meltdown? It’s like an annual event now. Who will she throw a shit-fit at in 2012? Wait and see. This year was another gem from the younger Williams sister, who when the tension got to high when she was being out-Serena-ed by Sam Stosur in the final, melted down. After losing the first set and looking at a break point in the first game of the second set, Serena hit a shot and yelled “Come on!” thinking Stosur had no shot at the ball, but she did. The chair umpire then ruled a hinderance, point to Stosur. “I’m not giving her that game,” Serena barked. “Aren’t you the one who screwed me over last time here? Do you have it out for me? That’s totally not cool.” Things went further downhill from there, with Stosur playing some sparkling power tennis. In typical Serena fashion, after the final she implied that Stosur treed: “She played really, really well. I mean, I don’t think she’s ever played that well. Maybe she has. I haven’t seen her play that well.” Golf clap for Serena for another ugly-American performance.
Honorable mention: Andy Roddick exploding at Brian Early at the US Open for trying to get him on court
MATCH OF THE YEAR — Djokovic d. Nadal in Miami
I guess we are lucky with no consensus for the single great match of the 2011 season. There were so many to choose, and that’s just from the Djokovic-Nadal series! But from the rivalry that set the tone for the year there was the Djokovic win over Nadal in Miami. In the end it went right down to the wire with Djokovic staying perfect 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) and sending a strong message to Nadal and the rest of the field that it was the Serb’s world. Had Nadal won things may have turned out differently on the year, but Djokovic took it to Nadal in that final leaving the proud Spaniard beliwidered and gassed. Two things you just don’t see from Rafa.
Honorable mention: Djokovic v Murray (Rome), Djokovic v Nadal (US Open), Federer v Djokovic (US Open), Montanes v Fognini (French Open), Federer v Djokovic (French Open), Djokovic v Nadal (Rome), Nablabdnain v Hewitt (Australian Open), Schiavone v Kuznetsova (Australian Open), Serena v Zvonareva (Eastbourne), Date-Krumm v Venus Williams (Wimbledon), Radwanska v Petkovic (Beijing), Schiavone v Jankovic (Cincinnati), Sharapova v Dulgerhu (Miami)
QUOTE OF THE YEAR — Fernando Verdasco (ESP)
Hot Sauce keeps raking in the awards, this time for losing to Canadian Milos Raonic twice in the span of a few days. Verdasco lost to Raonic in the San Jose final and then in the opening round at Memphis. Then he said neither match was “real” (because neither was on clay). “For me that’s not a real match in tennis. I hope to play soon against him in claycourt to show him what it is to play tennis, and play rallies, and run, and not [just] serve. I think he was more lucky than me in the tiebreak. He hit the line at 5-5 with a return and when you are at that point in the match and are lucky to put a ball on the line then you have big options to win the match.” Stay classy Hot Sauce. Have another burger.
Honorable mention: Serena Williams speaking to the chair umpire at the 2011 US Open: “If you ever see me walking down the hall look the other way. You’re out of control, you’re out of control, totally out of control, you’re a hater and you’re — you’re unattractive inside. Who would do such a thing? And I never complain. Wow. What a loser.”
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT — Caroline Wozniacki (DEN)
Girl, you gotta win a Slam. And develop a kill shot. Winning all the low-level events and racking-up the titles while everyone is injured is great, but you gotta get that Slam. We love your smile, the blonde hair, the sexy shimmy and the fun attitude, but damn, like your boyfriend Rory McIlroy — WIN A F’ING SLAM. Beat some Top 10 players.
Honorable mention: French Open champ Li Na lying down 6-1, 6-0 to Sam Stosur in the WTA year-end championships round robin, Andy Murray in general, Roger Federer’s first 7/8ths of the season, The 2011 WTA Tour season, Barack Obama’s presidency. Etc.
WORST OUTFITS — Venus Williams (USA)
Sheeeeeeat…this wasn’t even close. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, you been trumped. Venus has gone all-in, starting her own clothing line and dominating the category. From outfits that look like negligee for whores out of the HBO series “Deadwood” to “[pushing] her own boundaries of tackiness with a dress whose top is some yellow net and bottom a blur of undefinable colors” according to one reviewer to dresses where the straps snap, giving tennis fans a shot of boob. Venus is way out front.
Honorable mention: Bethanie Mattek-Sands (now a distant second), Serena Williams
Thanks to all the players for stuffing the ballot boxes. If you didn’t win you can always try again next year. Trophies are in the mail, COD of course.
Happy Holidays to everyone.
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