As 2Hander said in his last post it really has been a strange year for tennis.
In a year that saw what many have called the best Wimbledon Final of all time (myself not included, but more on that some other time) we also witnessed the so called 'humanisation' of Federer, the addition of Safina and Murray to the very top of the game and the shocking premature retirement of Justine Henin - to some a confirmation that the William's Sisters' Schedule of Choice was not actually 'disinterested' or 'distracted' at all, but decidedly (though maybe not calculatedly) spot on. We also, just yesterday saw Spain win the Davis Cup Final without Nadal - a feat which most people (myself included) thought beyond them.
I'm not going to do an in depth review of the year, or analyse players and their performances to bits - I think that's already been covered very well by freakyfrites and dootsiez (that's just the first of three parts) in their informed and very entertaining summaries.
I wanted instead to highlight some moments, which for whatever reason this year, just stuck in my mind. Not all of these played their part in defining the year, in fact you might even think of some choices as non-events. The list does include defining moments, but also contains some of the more offbeat and downright bizarre occurrences which made 2008 what it was.
So here's the first in a series of what I hope will be an interesting set of postings on 2008. See what you make of it.
Sharapova winning the Aussie Open
After returning from a shoulder injury the previous year, she changed her service action and gave us the best match of 2007 in the SEC against Henin.
We knew she was back, but I for one didn't anticipate the way she would tear through the opposition in Melbourne - her route to the final included wins over Dementieva, Henin, Jankovic and Ivanovic: and she didn't drop a set. We all have our views on her shrieks and style of play (I'm not a fan) but she belongs at the very top of the game, and with Henin gone I was a little disappointed her shoulder prevented her from making this her year.
(Sharapova image by The Eternity)
Baghdatis v Hewitt - Aussie Open
I don't know what it is about Australia, but it really does produce some epic encounters, Roddick v El-Enyoui (2003), Safin v Federer (2005) to name a few. Something about the mix of the extreme weather conditions (which saw an extreme heat rule brought in) and the atmosphere of night matches produces both gruelling and quality encounters and this one was no different. The match started at around 11:45pm and went on for 4 hrs and 43 mins. Baghdatis left the court in tears at around 5am. Hewitt rather unsurprisingly went out in straight sets to Djokovic in the next round. Broken men. Both of them. To think that this used to be the 'neglected' Slam...
"As a Grand Slam Champion..."
It was around this time that Djokovic fresh from his win in Melbourne began (with the British Media anyway) the annoying practice of prefixing almost every response to a question from the Press with the phrase "As a Grand Slam Champion...". Here was a man who wanted, perhaps too desperately not just to win on court but also to be well liked off of it. I sort of think Jankovic shares the same complex (see Jelena's US Open speech). Is it really necessary to hug every opponent despite their sometimes very evident reluctance? Should it be surprising his player imitations didn't go down well with everyone? The good thing about Djokovic is he's a very quick learner. Over the course of 2008 and as his star waned, he dropped this and other irritating habits, gradually adopting a more thoughtful, mellow outlook and as regular readers may have observed I've become quite a fan.
Roddick wins Dubai
Federer had already gone out in the first round to some Brit named Andy Murray; I would have paid good money to see Federer play A-Rod in this form.
In what must surely be his finest week of the year, he blitzed through Ferrero, Mathieu, Nadal and Djokovic all in straight sets, only dropping a set to Lopez in the final which Roddick eventually won 6-7(8), 6-4, 6-2.
I really hope Stefanki and perhaps a Sports Psychologist can get to grips with the mindset that enabled this performance. It gives me hope he still has it in him to win at least another Masters Title; I would hate to see him go the way Hewitt has.
(Roddick image by KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images under licence)
Federer criticises Murray's style of play
First in my series entitled 'How I wish I'd never said that...' - statements that didn't come back and haunt, so much as bite their promulgators in the rear end...
After his shock first round defeat to Murray in Dubai this year, Federer claimed Murray's game 'had not changed much since Thailand 2005', how he 'tends to wait a lot for the mistake from the opponent' and 'stands way far behind the court..' adding how such play would require much grinding over the next few years.
Sour Grapes? Maybe, but I do think it was an accurate depiction of Murray at the time. I thought of Murray then as a talented player with a great future, but not someone who would be at the very top of the game vying for Slams some 5 months later. He wasn't serving anywhere near his potential and wasn't at all aggressive. Anyway as we'll see Federer wasn't the only one to rue his words.
(Federer image by ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images under licence)
Roddick Settles the Score with Federer in Miami
Nobody beats the A-Rod 12 times in a row. Ok seeing as their head to head is now 15-2 in Federer's favour, maybe 'settles' is a little strong. But I just had to include this in my list: no one else has (ever?) quite so befittingly, stopped the proverbial rot.Roddick went out to Davydenko in the semis, but I think he felt he'd already won...
Davydenko hits a winner - Youznhy hits his head
Two things stood out in Miami: Davydenko's hand skills and blood, quite a lot of it. Let me talk about Davydenko first because its easier to deal with. Up until this watershed performance, Davydenko was for me a first rate player: aggressive, physical, consistent and tenacious. He wasn't at the level of the top three but had proven himself to be worthy of his top 5 position. He had but one failing: he avoided the net like the plague. In a series of matches in Miami and particularly in the final against Nadal, Kolya showed such touch and execution at the net that it led Pete Fleming (commentating for Sky at the time) to exclaim: "WHO IS THIS GUY!?"
I'll return to Youzhny in my next post - stay tuned...