Awards, awards, awards. You’ve read the read, now read the best. World No. 1s Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber are players of the year? Yawn. Thank’s for figuring that one out.
Here’s who took home some of the most coveted year-end awards from the 2016 tennis season:
BEST MATCH — MEN: Rio Gold Medal Match – Andy Murray d Juan Martin del Potro 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5
Andy Murray became the first man to win two Olympic gold medals, and he had to do it the hard way outlasting a very game Juan Martin del Potro in a tense thriller. The Argentine came in on fumes after scrapping out a win over Rafael Nadal a day earlier, but del Potro surprised many by not just hanging with Murray but nearly getting the win.
While Murray called the win his crowning moment of 2016, del Potro’s result proved to be a launching pad to even more success later in the year including a marathon win over Murray in the Davis Cup semifinals.
BEST MATCH — WOMEN: Australian Open Final – Angelique Kerber d Serena Williams 6-4, 3-6, 6-4
What a shock, Angelique Kerber set the storyline for the season stunning Serena Williams to win her first Grand Slam in Melbourne. The unlikely German then closed the Grand Slam year winning the US Open. But that win at the Australian Open where she saved a match point in the opening round got the ball rolling for the lefty. And it sent notice to the rest of the WTA that Serena was suddenly beatable.
BEST COMEBACK: Juan Martin del Potro
The Big Man officially announced his return this past summer at the Rio Olympics where he beat Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal before losing to Andy Murray in the gold medal match.
Del Potro wasn’t done. He followed that run up at the US Open beating David Ferrer and Dominic Thiem to reach the quarterfinals. And later added wins over Murray, John Isner and Grigor Dimitrov.
The Argentine capped the year winning his country’s first Davis Cup. And after starting the year outside the Top 1,000, he finished 2016 at No. 38. Vamos!
BIGGEST SURPRISE — WOMEN: Monica Puig
Virtual unknown (to the casual tennis fan) Monica Puig put herself and Puerto Rico on the tennis map when she won the coveted women’s singles gold medal at the Rio Olympics.
World No. 1 Serena Williams was the favorite, but she bowed out after battling injuries and mentally tightening-up against Elina Svitolina in the third round. The 22-year-old Puig beat soon-to-be world No. 1 Angie Kerber in a dramatic three-set final, earning Puerto Rico’s fist-ever Olympic medal by a woman.
Prior to beating Kerber in the final she took out former Slam winner Petra Kvitova in the semis and former Slam winner Garbine Muguruza in the quarters. “I didn’t lose,” Kerber said. “She beat me. She played close to perfection, made very few mistakes. She was everywhere. It was impressive.”
BIGGEST SURPRISE — MEN: Marcus Willis
The story of this year’s Wimbledon was a 25-year-old No. 772-ranked journeyman and part-time teaching pro who won a pre-qualifying tournament to get into the Wimbledon qualifying event, then qualified to the main draw. Then he won a match before getting taken apart by Roger Federer, but had the time of his life doing it.
You’ll likely never again see Marcus Willis in a top-tier level event, but the man who became a British media darling says he can crack the Top 100 if he can put his somewhat-doughy physique, bad training and poor eating habits behind him.
“You’ve got to dream about it, and I have dreamt about it but I didn’t think it was going to happen this year,” said the lefty with the huge serve and old-school serve-and-volley attack. “I want to keep doing it and keep challenging.”
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT — MEN: Novak Djokovic
The Serb started the year at No. 1 and on fire, but by Wimbledon it was apparent there were problems off the court and in his head, which bled into his on-court performance.
After the US Open it looked like Andy Murray would need a monumental effort to challenge Djokovic for No. 1, and the Brit put just such an effort in, accompanied by time off and some down results from Djokovic. The Serb ended the year by parting with coach Boris Becker and leaning more on a guru/coach/consultant whose main thrust is meditating on love. The year 2017 will see if all Djokovic needs is love.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT — WOMEN: Serena Williams
Another fall from grace and the No. 1 spot, Williams had a tough time fending off age (aka injury) and the mental grind (aka not tightening up during big matches) to hold on to the top spot.
Angelique Kerber upped her fitness game and found new belief in 2016 to take No. 1 for the first time in her career. Does Serena have the fire (and physical and mental wherewithal in her mid-30s) to get it back in 2017? Will her recent engagement help?
BEST DOPER — FEMALE: Maria Sharapova
The Russian former No. 1, in a year of Olympic scandal when Russia was vilified as an institutionalized doping nation, was thrown off the tour for the use of meldonium.
The long-known (in Europe) performance-enhancer (that they used to give to Russian super-soldiers before battle) got banned at the end of 2015 but Maria didn’t read her ITF drug-list update (for which she blamed the ITF). Maria took it for ‘heart problems and diabetes,’ none of which she has, taking it as a ‘preventative measure.’ The drug-maker says you take it for 4-6 weeks then stop, but Maria took it all the time. It was part of a cocktail of 30-some pills she was taking daily at one time, according to court records. Her personal doc told her to take more meldonium right before a match (to combat that diabetes from eating all the Sugarpova candy?).
Maria to this day maintains her innocence, even though the long-time Florida resident had to import the drug into the U.S. where it’s banned, and that she NEVER listed it on the required ITF-submitted list of substances she took. In other words, she hid it. Or forgot. What evs!
The ITF drug tribunal concluded, “The manner in which [Meldonium] was taken, its concealment from the anti-doping authorities, her failure to disclose it even to her own team, and the lack of any medical justification must inevitably lead to the conclusion that she took Mildronate for the purpose of enhancing her performance.”
And then mysteriously the ITF gave her a reduced sentence. Sharapova will return to the WTA tour in April 2017, where she will be welcomed back with open arms by her fellow players, who love ice-cold cheaters.
Dominika Cibulkova told Tennis.com she respected the drug tribunal’s decision but, as she told Australia’s News.com, Sharapova is “a totally unlikeable person. Arrogant, conceited and cold.”
Sam Stosur said, “I’ve spoken to a few people and we all seem to have the same idea…We had the same idea beforehand, and now we have the decision. So I wouldn’t imagine there’s a whole lot of support from the playing group.”
BEST DOPER — MALE: The International Tennis Federation (ITF)
Huh? Look at it this way. Maria Sharapova basically threw herself in the lap of the doping police. On the men’s side there was no such luck. So the ITF gets the award for letting so many male players off the hook.
In October an ESPN report showed the ITF catches very few tennis players compared to other sports, and that of 31 players who participated in a confidential survey, 65 percent of them said they know a fellow player or players that use performance enhancing drugs. That should be disturbing.
What is the ITF testing for? “(ESPN’s show) ‘Outside the Lines’ has found that [the] clean reputation [in tennis] is largely due to lax anti-doping efforts by the sport,” ESPN senior writer Mike Fish wrote. In 2014 the ITF caught one player in 985 tests, compared to 1 in 520 for swimming, 1 in 296 for cycling, and 1 in 274 for track and field.
Even Roger Federer late this year said he was surprised more positive tests didn’t come out of testing at the Grand Slams, and that tennis needs to put more money and resources into catching drug cheats. Congrats to the ITF for public relations efforts that frequently sees tennis trumpeted as ‘one of the most-tested and toughest sports on doping,’ but in the end is all bluster and no results.
BEST AWARD FOR RUINING TENNIS — WOMEN: WTA tour’s on-court coaching
The WTA tour has ruined the competitive aspect of women’s tennis with “on-court coaching,” where the players’ (almost-always) male coach can come on the court and save the female player from overtaxing her woman brain by figuring out how to win the match.
Now after getting in bed with data company SAP, in 2017 the WTA will further ruin women’s tennis by supplying coaches with computer tablets containing reams of data on the opponents so they can analyze stroke patterns, tendencies, service placement, etc., to death.
That’s great for off the court. But you wonder why the Slams haven’t adopted on-court coaching? Because it sucks. It’s demoralizing. It takes away from the sport. On court, let’s get back to one player against one player, and may the best player who can figure things out on her own win.
BEST AWARD FOR RUINING TENNIS — MEN: The ITF
Just rolling in the awards! The ITF this year said it’s going to “fix” the Davis Cup and Fed Cup. And they just might do it to a format that is in need of fixin’.
But doing a “Final Four” at a neutral site and taking out the home crowds? That ain’t going to cut it. The final especially is always huge for the two countries, but doesn’t manage much of a blip on the international news. How will a Final Four change that?
More questions than answers, we know, so…good luck with that. Prove us wrong. Who wouldn’t love to see the two international competitions returned to some of their former glory.
WORST STORY OF 2016 — WOMEN: Petra Kvitova
A home burglar scored $192 in cash and almost ended the career of Czech Grand Slam winner Petra Kvitova during a break-in earlier this month. He forced his way into her home after posing as a utility worker and attacker her with a knife, cutting tendons and ligaments in her playing hand.
The good news is the surgery reportedly went well. She’s looking at possibly returning to the tour in mid-2017.
WORST STORY OF 2016 — MEN: Ray Moore
Former ATP player and now-former Indian Wells CEO Raymond Moore stepped down from his position in March after the 69-year-old said, out loud he realized with reporters present, that he was of the opinion “The WTA…they ride on the coattails of the men. They don’t make any decisions, and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky. If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born because they have carried this sport. They really have.”
Serena Williams and some other “lady players” didn’t take too kindly to Moore’s remarks, and Moore stepped down, or was fired, or however you want to look at it. Moore had also said out loud, to paraphrase, that the WTA also had a lot of hot players so they were in a good position. He ended up writing a formal written apology for his remarks.
The moral of the story? Take it easy on the mimosas when talking to reporters at breakfast functions. “At my morning breakfast with the media, I made comments about the WTA that were in extremely poor taste and erroneous,” he said. “I am truly sorry for those remarks and apologize to all the players and WTA as a whole….Again, I am truly sorry for my remarks.”
BIGGEST NUTBALL — WOMEN: Svetlana Kuznetsova
The two-time Grand Slam champ often saves some zingers for the media after matches, but this year at the WTA Finals she was razor-sharp during a match.
Against Agnieszka Radwanska she was exhausted and trailing in the third set and bothered by her ponytail that kept hitting her in the face. So during a changeover she hacked it off with scissors, prompting a comeback win in the third. “I was just trying to get the best of me…I don’t even know how much I cut there,” she said. “I thought, ‘OK, what’s more important now, my hair, which I can let grow, or the match?’” Obviously, the match, and the win.
BIGGEST NUTBALL — MEN: Nick Kyrgios
Arguably one of the most talented young players on the men’s side, Kyrgios says he has no interest in becoming No. 1, likes to “sledge” opponents (famously telling an opponent during a match that his friend slept with the player’s girlfriend), and when he’s not feeling the mood, likes to tank matches.
In October at the Shanghai Masters, Kyrgios took it up a notch. He tanked his second-round match, losing 6-3, 6-1, including half-hearted serves and walking to his chair for a changeover before the point had ended. When asked afterwards by the media if he owed more to fans, he said, “What does that even mean? I’m good at hitting a tennis ball at the net. Big deal. I don’t owe them anything. If you don’t like it, I didn’t ask you to come watch. Just leave.”
He was subsequently banned for eight weeks by the ATP, to jeers from his detractors and applause to fans who have been waiting for a McEnroe-on-steroids type of personality.
BEST POINT: Novak Djokovic wins first set against Rafael Nadal in Rome
They’ve played many set points, but this was arguably their best as Novak Djokovic fought off Rafael Nadal and took the first set with this terrific point in their Rome quarterfinal.
BEST SHOT: Viktor Troicki net jump in Miami
We’ll leave it to Viktor Troicki to wrap things up in 2016. The combustabable Serb didn’t win the point (or the match) against David Goffin, but he gets high marks for the effort and the creativity.
That’s it for 2016! Onward to the New Year!
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