Tennis is gaining more popularity and greater media coverage each year and subsequently attracting more fans, both those who actually play the sport and those who don’t. With a culture, especially in the west, where people see their favorite athletes as heroes/heroines and idolize them like gods, it is no wonder that with the berths of such superstars like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, the Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova, tennis will likely become a bigger deal in the sporting world much like how football is to the world. Well, maybe not that soon.
This season was nothing short of exciting and full of headline-making news to say the least. It was a year when the tennis world had witnessed great comebacks, revivals of rivalries, Cinderella stories, national triumphs, ranking controversies, retirements and world record breaking matches just to name a few.
So let’s start off with the one amazing player who made the most news this year.
Rafa dominates. Coming off from a very dismal and un-Nadal-like 11-month title drought, Rafael Nadal finally found his extraordinary form during the clay-court season. Considered by many as the greatest clay-court player ever, the Spaniard won an impressive 3 straight Masters titles before clinching his 5th Roland Garros trophy. It was a just a start of a year-long master-class domination. He eventually won his 2nd Wimbledon crown, usurped Federer as the No. 1 player, completed career Grand Slam by winning first-ever US Open title and ended the year on top of the rankings for the second time.
And although he may have come just one match short of finally winning the only major title missing from his massive trophy cabinet, the Tour Final title, he still had more titles than any other player on tour this year bringing home 7.
An Italian fairytale. Apart from Nadal claiming the French Open title, an inspiring story was brewing in the women’s side. 30-year old Italian darling Francesca Schiavone brought pride to herself and to her nation as she took home the coveted Roland Garros trophy by beating Australian Samantha Stosur 6-4 7-6, who many say did most of the hardwork by eliminating giants Justine Henin and Serena Williams en route to the finals and ‘deserved’ more to win. But should we still argue? The feisty Italian has been playing professionally for 13 years and to finally win her maiden Slam only brought tears of joy. She is only the third Italian player to win a Grand Slam event in singles, after Nicola Pietrangeli and Adriano Panatta.
Another Grand Slam-less World No. 1. The ever controversial ranking system has once again found itself in the middle of another debate as to whether the system should be changed back to the previous one. This year, we saw another player who ascended to the top and ended the year as the No. 1 player without ever winning a Grand Slam title. Does this make sense to you? A top-ranked player who hasn’t won a major title? Today however, it is not a rarity anymore, which is sad and utterly preposterous if you ask me. Although a one-time Slam runner-up, Caroline Wozniacki should be getting a lot of pressure by wanting to prove herself by winning a major title. She better do it as soon as possible because the longer it takes for her to win a Slam, the greater pressure she will face while she hangs on to the top ranking. She wouldn’t want to fall badly like Dinara Safina and Jelena Jankovic now, would she?
Longest tennis match ever recorded. Can you imagine yourself playing tennis for 5 straight hours? How about 11 hours? Are you still with me? I lost you there, didn’t I? That’s what John Isner and Nicolas Mahut did which defied all odds when they stretched themselves to the limit during a first-round match at Wimbledon. The match is now being defined as the endless match. But just like many great and long matches before it, someone’s gotta give. So after 11 hours, 5 minutes of play over three days, the match finished 6–4, 3–6, 6–7(7–9), 7–6(7–3), 70–68 (183 games) with Isner prevailing. Both players however barely made it to the net to shake hands. I don’t know about you guys but I’m already exhausted just hearing about it.
Tennis barbie Dementieva retires. Arguably the best female player who has never won a Grand Slam, Elena Dementieva finally called it quits after her round-robin match loss to Francesca Schiavone at the WTA Tour Championships. In her illustrious career, the Russian has won 16 titles and has been a consistent fixture in Grand Slams having reached at least 3 quarterfinals, 7 semifinals and 2 final appearances. The tennis world will be missing a great and one of the most exciting players ever to walk on court. You will be terribly missed, Elena!
Serena keeps winning Slams; Venus still got it. Both sisters need little preparation for any tournament to win it. In fact, Serena only played a total of 6 tournaments the entire season and yet when it counted most, she won, adding 2 more Grand Slams (Australian Open and Wimbledon). She would have probably won the US Open had she not been sidelined with a foot injury. She now has 13 Slams and she’s keen to keep winning more and would want to knock on the door of the all-time tally of 24.
Although she did not win any Slam this year (gasp!), Venus was consistent, making it at least the 4th round of all the 4 Grand Slams. The older sister has proved that she is still a force to be reckoned with. She entered the US Open tournament without playing any US Open warm-up matches because of a left knee injury but still managed to make it to the semi-finals, only losing to eventual champion Kim Clijsters.
France got Serb-ed! For the first time ever, Serbia has captured the Davis Cup (tennis counterpart of World Cup). It is the second time that an unseeded nation managed to pull such a feat with Croatia back in 2005 being the first. Serbia was up against juggernaut France. A 10-time Davis Cup title holder, France was leading 2-1 in the best-of-five series. But the Serbians were not to be dismissed as they rallied back and finally brought home glory to their nation.
Season ends with a dream final, revives greatest rivalry. Roger Federer began the year by winning the Australian Open and things looked promising for him except that they were not. After a commanding start, the Swiss sort of went downhill despite winning 5 titles. This year has got to be one of his most disappointing years yet. He had had matches where he had several matchpoints in at least 3 tournaments, even a championship point, and failed to close out the game. That is definitely not the Federer we know. Maybe it’s the aging thing? Or is he finally losing his touch?
The Swiss master however wasn’t about to take these doubts lightly and silenced critics by overcoming Rafael Nadal at the season-ending Tour Final showdown, winning emphatically 6-3 3-6 6-1. This was only the 2nd time these two have met at a final this year. It was a fitting end because some sensed that their legendary rivalry was over. I guess we still haven’t seen the last of them yet. Thank God!
A condensed version of this article is also published at The Next Great Generation site.