The 2005 Tennis-X.com Year End Awards
Posted on December 22, 2005
By Richard Vach, Sean Randall and Tennis-X.com Staff
On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me -- up-to-six no-ad tiebreaker-for-the-third-set new f-ed-up doubles sco-ring!
Five Masters Cup pull-outs,
Four women's slam winners (three of which weren't at the year-end championships),
Three French hotties,
Two 11-title winners,
And doubles players suing the Ayyyyyye-Teeeeeeee-Peeeeeeeeee.
What a year.
Who predicted Rafael Nadal having a break-out 2005, winning the French Open and matching Roger Federer's 11 titles, while former No. 1s Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and the like were left eating dust?
On the women's side, 2005 was an unfortunate repeat of 2004, with virtually all the top players taking numerous injury time-outs throughout the year, and the least injured, Lindsay Davenport, again outlasting the opposition to claim the No. 1 ranking. So devastated were the women's ranks that three slam winners, Serena Williams (Australian Open), Justine Henin-Hardenne (French), and Venus Williams (Wimbledon) failed to collect enough points to qualify for the year-end WTA Championships.
"It's not a coincidence there are this many injuries," former player Tracy Austin told BBC Sport in December. "If the WTA and (CEO) Larry Scott don't take this as a big warning that something needs to be done, then they have got a problem."
No problem Tracy -- for the second consecutive year the WTA CEO says the injuries are a "fluke."
Injuries took the spotlight in 2005 in addition to quickly pregnancies and marriages, screams of "Vamos Chico!", feisty Brit-Scot breakouts, a Russian silence after winning three of the four women's slams last year, an immaculate Swiss reception at the Masters Cup, cracklin' Croatians, and the late in the year announcement of a full-on Martina Hingis comeback in 2006.
Let's just hope, keep our fingers crossed for 2006, that Roger's foot has healed, as well as Rafael's ankle, Andy's back, Lleyton's foot and groin, Nikolay's shoulder, Andre's back, Maria's pectoral muscle, Justine's leg, Mary's multitude of ailments, Venus' abs and leg, Serena's ankle/knee, etc.
Meanwhile sit back and reminisce while we scroll through the highlights and lowlights of 2005, brought to you courtesy of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour and the (Insert sponsor here! Please! We need cash to get players to play Masters Series events!) ATP Tour:
Best Match of the Year Men: Lleyton Hewitt d. Guillermo Coria, Davis Cup Quarterfinals
The Argentine team traveled to the grasscourts of Australia for the Davis Cup quarterfinals in what could definitely not be described as a friendly. Hewitt beat Coria in four sets, with the Aussie at his lawnmower-pulling, fist-pumping, crowd-agitating best, while Coria did his share of crotch-grabbing and arm-waving, making for good theater. "Outside the game is one thing, but inside the court I really feel like killing him," said Coria of Hewitt and his on-court escapades. "And it's not just the Argentinean team (that feel this way), every other international player on the circuit does as well."
Best Match of the Year Women: Venus Williams d. Lindsay Davenport, Wimbledon Final
After a sub-par first half of the year, Venus righted her ship by outlasting the future 2005 year-end No. 1 with a 4-6, 7-6(4), 9-7 win, bringing their career head-to-head to 13-14 in favor of Davenport.
Best Meltdown: Andy Roddick vs. Lleyton Hewitt, Australian Open
The never-say-die Aussie bested Roddick 3-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-1, with Roddick taking the long break between the third and fourth set after losing consecutive tiebreaks, then coming out to melt in the fourth and final set. "I was changing my clothes," said Roddick of his long break. "Then the referee came and started getting on me about changing my clothes, so that was fun. You know, asked him if he wanted to tie one shoe for me, and I could tie the other one, we could just save time. I guess that wasn't a good idea. But, no, I mean, I was just changing my clothes. I told the chair umpire I was going to."
ESPN commentator and U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe on Roddick's mental collapse: "This was a huge match. Going in, we knew at some point his mental toughness would be tested by Hewitt or the crowd. Roddick didn't handle it well. He double-faulted twice in a row. He let Hewitt back in and let the crowd get in. He had chances to win the set in the tiebreak, but they slipped away. Roddick forgot what was working for him. He started to rush and go for shots that weren't there. There was no reason for him to do that. If he'd stuck with his guns off the ground and continued with his variety, he would have been fine. I was disappointed with the way he competed in the fourth set. He mentally lost it and let Hewitt run away with it."
Runner-up: Sean Connery, Wimbledon
Sir Sean Connery on more needed Scottish support for Andy Murray, speaking to The Scotsman after watching his countryman lose a thriller to David Nalbandian at Wimbledon: "The way they help people, certainly from Scotland, is zilch in the UK. We lost Peter Nicol, who now plays for England at squash and is now a world champion, and he's Scottish. Why? Because he wasn't funded. Now Andrew isn't funded so much and he's in Barcelona...It was an absolutely extraordinary match, and I have to say that Andrew Murray is as gifted as anybody who's ever played the game. But what was evident was that he is not fit enough to stand up to the ritual. The boy here has played fantastic tennis. I don't think I've seen anything like it; he's won three straight sets, was two up on Nalbandian, who was a Wimbledon finalist. I hope the tennis people get off their arses and do something about it and not hold it against him that he comes from Scotland. If nobody is going to make the move in Westminster then it's certainly not going to happen with the Executive in Scotland, because that's exactly what happened to Peter Nicol. Now, somebody has to get their arse off the ground and help him."
Best Feud: The ATP vs. The ATP Doubles Players
How can an organization feud with itself? When the organization, which was a players union (pre-1990), suddenly runs the whole tour (post-1990) and instead of favoring the players, starts favoring the interests of tournament directors. The majority of tournament directors for a long time have wanted to get rid of some of the money-leeching doubles specialists who are difficult to promote and suck-up free hotel rooms, food and amenities, and in 2005 saw their chance. Through the ATP Board they voted through the scoring changes (no-ad scoring, tiebreak instead of a third set), and 2006 will see if doubles can now get more exposure with more top players participating and increased (as in increased over zero) television coverage, or whether doubles becomes a side-show circus joke.
Martina Navratilova, long an advocate of the four-on-a-court sport, put it eloquently:
"I think they're just trying to get rid of doubles and they're doing it slowly. It started with the mixed doubles third-set tiebreak, which is total 'b.s.' I've been talking to the USTA people about that a couple years ago, and they said, "Oh, the fans like it." That is such bullshit. I have never heard bigger bullshit in my life. Every time there's a third set, people are yelling. "Play it out, play it out." We played a tiebreak two days ago and people were like, "What's the score?" They couldn't figure it out, we were playing a (super) tiebreak (up to 10). Then at 7-5, the guy jumped up because he thought we won the match. People don't understand it. It started with the mixed doubles, now they're doing it with the doubles. I think it's a mistake...I completely agree with the (ATP) players because they had no say in the matter. The players are against it. The fans are against it. They want to see doubles. It's just a very near-sighted decision by the tournament promoters."
Andy Roddick on the ATP changes getting more top players to play doubles: "I don't think I'll play more...My focus is singles, and if I need the extra practice I'll go out on the practice court. I play (doubles) sometimes for fun, but I don't think whatever they're playing -- half sets and no switch-overs and a 5-second shot clock or something -- I don't think I'll play more doubles."
From Matt Cronin on TennisReporters.net on the ATP saying they surveyed the tennis media before making the doubles changes: "...getting real change on a tour with so many competing interests is nearly impossible, unless you're the ATP and can make up survey results and then decide to slash apart a critical part of your tour (doubles) without seriously courting public opinion, (I will say again and as co-president of the International Tennis Writers Association of some 90-plus regular writers -- I have not spoken to one journalist who ever participated in a survey on doubles)."
Runner-up: Injuries vs. Players
Look for more injuries in 2006 as the WTA Tour has announced no plan to attend to their walking wounded after calling the problem a "fluke" in 2004 and 2005, and now the ATP must deal with the problem. The ballistic movement required by today's out-of-control racquet technology resulted in a slew of foot, knee and back injuries that kept more than half the field out of the year-ending Masters Cup, eliciting grumbles from Shanghai organizers who threatened to turn in their receipt for a refund. And no, no word from the ATP either on changing the calendar, or racquet technology, or outlawing during-season exhibition play for injured players (which you think wouldn't be a problem) to address the injury problem.
John McEnroe on the super-racquet effect on tennis: "These rackets nowadays were meant for the average Joe who goes out there once a while and thinks, 'Hey, I gotta little bit of power.' But at the highest level, such advances have been made since I played (Bjorn) Borg...players are taller, stronger, work harder off the court, eat better. So why give them a racket, in addition to all that, that gives them 30 to 50 percent more power than we had? It doesn't make sense. Take a look at baseball. As kids and all through college, they use graphite or aluminium bats. But when they get to major league level they go back to wood. The New York Yankees hit with wooden bats. Why? Because it's harder. I would advocate the same in tennis."
Retirement of the Year: Simon Larose
The Canadian Larose announced his retirement earlier this year after testing positive for cocaine: "I've been injured for most of the past year and maybe it's a message that it's my time to retire."
Or maybe a message that you shouldn't be doing coke?
Worst Fashion Statement Men: Dominik Hrbaty
At the US Open the Slovak debuted the reverse-bra-looking pink shirt with two bra-cup-sized air vents on the upper back: "No, I wouldn't wear it," Lleyton Hewitt said. "I wouldn't wear it. But it made it a lot easier for me to beat him today."
Worst Fashion Statement Women: Serena Williams
Whatever tournament -- take your pick. As the Sydney Morning Herald said after her Australian Open win this year: "The many who are agog at the tennis outfits that Williams helps design for herself would argue that she needs to work harder on her fashion sensibilities. She is clearly in a rococo phase in terms of her on-court garb with her bold colors, warm-up boots and strips of webbing that emerge from holes in her garments and lead to who knows where."
Most Prophetic Statement of the Year: Brad Gilbert
"Beej" after being sacked by Andy Roddick, going on the record in January: "We'll know in year or two from now when we see what Andy's results are whether he made the right decision. He still has improvements to make and I thought I could help him with those. Whether he makes those with someone else only time will tell."
Least Prophetic Statement: Lleyton Hewitt
The tempestuous Aussie tried to put the voodoo on Roger Federer at the beginning of the season after the Swiss came off an exemplary 2004 season: "He's going to have a lot more pressure on him as well this year to try and back up what an incredible year he had last year," Hewitt said. "That's not going to be an easy thing for him to do."
Seeing that he came within one match of tying John McEnroe's all-time best win-loss mark set in 1984, and won 11 titles including two slams, Fed in the end made it look pretty easy -- again.
(Potentially) Most Embarrassing: Mariano Puerta
First he was banned for nine months extending into last year ("I took medication for asthma, my mistake was not to notify the doctors about this."), then he features in an all-doping quarterfinal at the French against Guillermo Canas ("It is great I'm going to play against Willy, because there will be an Argentine in the semis. We are the only ones. We're going to make sure that Argentina gets as far as possible."), then he gets fingered by a French newspaper that says he has again tested positive by one of the ITF's labs. Puerta was suspended for nine months (beginning Oct. 3, 2003) for testing positive for Clenbuterol, a Class I substance, at 2003 Vina del Mar and returned to the tour in July 2004. An independent Tennis Anti-Doping Program tribunal determined that Puerta was prescribed Clenbuterol by his physician to treat an acute asthma attack and that the use had no performance-enhancing benefits. How odd then that so many bodybuilders use "Clen," and that some of the side effects include increased metabolism, a delay in the onset of fatigue, a fat-burning increase, and reported strength and muscle hyper-development. Hope that asthma clears up Mariano...
Runner-up: The ATP, forcefully lauding the comprehensive accuracy of its drug program before handing it over to the ITF, then having World Anti-Doping Agency head Dick Pound say, "The ATP had an imperfect and botched process."
Dutch player John van Lottum, speaking to BN/DeStem, elaborated: "I wouldn't be surprised if 50 percent of the Top 100 uses. The risk you get caught is really small, if you do it smart. And if it happens you get a small suspension. And the tennis world stays nice for you. Juan Ignacio Chela is a crowd-puller in Amersfoort, Guillermo Coria got a wildcard in Monte Carlo. And adidas signed Chela. A big shame. These guys should be on the front page with a big picture, to make clear they don't play it fair."
Runner-up II: Greg Rusedski, failing in his minor-league bid to overtake Tim Henman for the year-end British No 1 ranking, falling to Russia's Igor Kunitsyn in the first round at a challenger in the Ukraine. Capital way to end the year Grinning Greg.
2005 Best Quote: Steve Tignor, managing editor for Tennis Magazine (U.S.)
"(Rafael) Nadal will most likely grind his way into the Top 10, but he doesn't have the firepower to be No. 1. Too many players hit a bigger ball."
Runners-up: Serena Williams: "You (media) guys don't realize, but I have a fashion company. I'm working on a really intense line for the fall. I'm an actress. I'm working on animation series, different reality series. I don't really think about other people because I really have to focus on me. You know what I mean?...and..."I've been working on my net play. I have great volleys. It's a shame I haven't been to the net sooner. I'm just really talented at that. I have great volleys."
Mary Carillo, ESPN commentator, on the ATP doubles scoring changes: "As for the ATP doubles debacle, what a colossal error those knuckleheads have made this time. I almost couldn't believe the press release. I thought it had to be a joke. Then I approached both my bosses at ESPN and NBC during Wimbledon, and I asked them if the new format for doubles would get doubles more air time. Both network execs laughed at the notion. The ATP has dropped the ball so many times so many ways, but this could be the stupidest "innovation" of all."
Lleyton Hewitt on what he would be doing the day before the Australian Open men's final: "Probably a 10K run, gym session. I won't be watching the women's final, that's for sure."
Amelie Mauresmo on the French players: "We are close. Very solid. We like to go to a restaurant and talk together. The Russians too, are close -- but in a bigger restaurant."
Jim "Mattress Mac" McIngvale on his ATP Houston event and their troubles getting the red clay right in 2005: "We're going to keep the red clay, and we're going to make them better. We're gonna get them French guys over here, have them drink some wine and get these damn tennis courts the way they ought to be, no doubt about it. That's our tradition. That's what we do."
Best Smack Talk: Marat Safin and Tim Heman
From The Age on the players practicing in Melbourne early for the Australian Open: "Safin and Henman yesterday practiced for more than an hour on Margaret Court Arena in an exchange that included several bouts of light-hearted banter. Safin berated himself several times for building the confidence of an "old man" when Henman won easy points. The 30-year-old Briton fired back when he blasted a forehand winner off a Safin first serve that his sister could have won the point just as easily."
Top Ego 2005: Serena Williams
Serena on her fashion statement at the Australian Open: "It is one of the outfits that I designed. It's a part of the Serena Collection. It's called -- it's about the agents of change because it's all about -- Nike wanted to do something with me since I was able -- you know, they see me as an agent of change. You know, in my sport, I kind of changed the sport."
And Serena after beating Maria Sharapova at the Aussie Open: "I definitely think she's probably looked at me as a reference maybe growing up, which is exciting. I never thought -- I'm so silly. I'd never thought I'd play someone that probably looked up to me."
Runner-up: Another player who can barely complete a sentence, Maria Sharapova on being a global brand: "...I think I am a global brand at this point. I mean, I think I'm mature for my age. I don't think any other 18-year-old -- I mean, there are a lot of actors and actresses, but, you know, I don't think there are a lot in sport that have had the opportunity or have been able to be called, you know, a global brand. Of course, it's an amazing feeling. But what has brought me here is not just a brand, but my tennis."
Best Tank: Gaston Gaudio, French Open
Gaston Gaudio telling opponent Dave Ferrer's coach at one point during their match, "Don't worry, I'm not going to win today."
Gaudio after the match: "Well, I don't know. I could see that I wasn't playing well and there was no way I was going to get out of it playing like that...Well, I feel all right because quite honestly I knew it was going to happen. I didn't think I was going to win it again."
Best Writing: Martin Johnson, The Telegraph
The always-entertaining Johnson on Patty Schnyder's love life and current coach/husband: "Patty ran off with a middle-aged therapist when she was 19, and informed her parents that -- among his many other talents -- he had discovered a cure for cancer and AIDS. Mr. and Mrs. Schnyder were unconvinced, especially when the therapist turned Patty into a vegan, instructed her to drink three litres of orange juice every day and got her warmed up for matches with a routine that involved applications of hot wax and a rolling pin studded with needles. The parents then employed the services of a private eye to delve a bit deeper into his background, and their delight at learning she'd finally ditched the therapist lasted only as long as the revelation that she'd swapped him for the private eye. They eventually got married, after a short delay while he finished off a jail sentence for fraud, and he's now her personal coach. His qualifications are pretty impressive, having won several small trophies for his prowess as a billiards player. Patty herself is in no doubt that he's the man to take her to the top. "He has never played tennis, but he was really good at billiards and he knows how to help me cope with the big points." With that experience for Patty to call upon, (Nathalie) Dechy shouldn't have had a chance, but somehow Schnyder lost in three sets, 5-7, 6-1, 7-5. Whether or not she was suffering from an overdose of vitamin C, or had simply forgotten her coach's advice to chalk her racket between shots, no one really knows."
Best Comeback Men: Mariano Puerta
According to L'Equipe he is on the clem, but if he beats the rap, the Argentine had one hell of a comeback in 2005, beginning the year outside the Top 250 yet reaching the French Open final and appearing at the year-end Masters Cup.
Best Comeback Women: Venus Williams
Venus essentially began and ended her year with injuries, but in between announced that she will remain a contender while healthy with a win at Wimbledon, rebuking critics such as Martina Hingis ("People ask me about a comeback, but look at Venus. I don't want to end up like that even if I was healthy. The train is moving fast. Venus hasn't shown anything right now.") and the ever-lovable Jelena Dokic ("Even Venus has been very beatable. That story is over.").
Most Missed Men: Mark Philippoussis
After being linked to everyone from Paris Hilton to Tara Reid, the Scud dropped out of the spotlight on and off the court in 2005 after an engagement to teen heiress/model Alexis Barbara. One of the most physical and explosively-talented players on tour, the oft-injured Aussie recorded a 9-10 win-loss record this year, failing to reach a tournament final.
Most Missed Women: Justine Henin-Hardenne
Many are of the opinion that were she healthy in 2004-2005, the Belgian would have easily finished both years as the No. 1 player. Instead H-H was again hit by injuries and illnesses throughout the year, not making her debut until April in Miami, where she lost in the quarters to Maria Sharapova. She then won her next four tournaments including the French Open, but played only four more on the year, succumbing to a leg injury.
Most Improved Men: Rafael Nadal
Not a bad year with 11 titles, four of which were Masters Series events and one slam win at the French Open, for a guy who finished 2004 barely inside the Top 50. Scarier yet was his overlooked 11-1 record in finals in 2005, losing his only championship match at the MS-Miami after leading Roger Federer two sets to none. Best year ever for a player not finishing No. 1.
Most Improved Women: Nicole Vaidisova
The gangly Sharapova-like 16-year-old Czech capitalized on her two titles in 2004, winning three this year and finishing at No. 15 on the year-end WTA Rankings, making her a good bet for a breakthrough Top 10 standing in 2006.
Player of the Year Men: Roger Federer
Follows up a big 2004 (three slams) with an arguably even-bigger 2005, winning (only!) two slams but coming within one match of evening John McEnroe's 82-3 win-loss record set in 1984. Also sucks it up with a foot injury to participate at the year-end Masters Cup when many of his contemporaries failed to make the trip, losing the spectacular five-set final to David Nalbandian. All the while the Swiss held off the impressive charge of break-out 19-year-old Rafael Nadal, who also collected 11 titles but saw his post-US Open season marred by injury.
Player of the Year Women: Lindsay Davenport
The four slams in 2004 were won by four women hit hard enough by injury that they could not complete a full year of play -- and again Davenport, who hasn't won a slam since 2000, steals the year-end No. 1 ranking. And she did it after skipping the entire European claycourt run-up to the French Open. Davenport was supposed to retire at the end of last year with a foot injury, but when the foot healed and she found herself still playing at the top of her game..."There's going to be a void in my life when (tennis is) gone," said Davenport, who plans a full campaign again in 2006. "I've never been one to sit around. I tried it once and after three days, it was like, 'This sucks, I'm so bored, I have no purpose.' I do know, number one, that I want to start a family and have kids. So, as far as having another career, I think that would be tough to do right away."
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from the Tennis-X staff, see you in 2006.