As good as 2011 was (and it was criminally good even without Nole), it was also filled with that quaint mix of fallacy, melancholia, scandal and fuglies (on and off-court) that, in a strange way, does its bit towards holding the year together – imbuing it with a sense of well-rounded closure without which it would just be a string of tennis matches – some good, some barely worth mention.
As far as I can tell, there isn’t a year end list recounting this phenomena.
I’ve tried to be chronological. I don’t pretend to think the list complete.
Feel free to weigh in if you think I missed something out.
1) (Jan, Melbourne) FAIL: Henin re-retires from tennis
Well that blows? Except it didn’t….not quite.
For what it’s worth, I rather enjoyed the few modest successes she enjoyed during the first half of of her comeback in 2010 and felt she was rather unlucky with the elbow fracture.
But when she bowed out for the 2nd time in Aus this year, just days after one of the greatest WTA Slam matches of all time, the pervasive disillusionment and ennui seemed to have rather more to do with that suffocating sense of un-retirement déjà vu, than it did with any purported despair at having lost a much loved (and unloved) legend of the game.
Not a good mix.
2) (Jan, Melbourne) FORLORN: Rafa’s not quite GS
To be honest it sorta felt right that Rafa not hold all 4 Slams – as I said at the time, that seemed to represent a level of perfection that ought to remain beyond us…for now.
But it’s not often you see Rafa slumped sobbing into a towel – not all of it stifled.
And it’s still a little eerie to consider that Rafa got within just two matches of pulling off the holy grail of the Open Era (yes I realise Fed’s been there 3 times too).
Can’t help imagining how his season might have turned out if he did.
3) BONUS: Up’n never-quite-comers
Perhaps I’m being harsh. Perhaps I’m not. Hear me out.
Grigor: A star is not born. It never is.
Ernie: Not even sure he qualifies as a young’un any more. But to quote one of the best tweets all year, “First he was up and coming…then he wasn’t”.
Milos: Do we really need another big-serving gangloid? One that seems rather too prone to injury, in that all too familiar way gangloids often are? Wish him well, but really?
Dolgopoloved: He lures you in with his kooky, flamboyant and very sexy dance moves, that leave the charred remains of Soderling, Wawrinka and Tsonga in their wake. It’s a boat load of fun until he reveals himself equally capable of losing in straights to the 133rd player in the world. And I’m not even convinced that Alice-Band is as charming as it once was.
Harrison/Tomic: “Hooning” and outbursts I wish I could term “uncharacteristic” mar what should have otherwise been a breakthrough year.
All of which leaves Donald Young. Yes, he’s an acquired taste, but if he repeats this year’s success after his much-maligned decision to put ‘Mom’ in charge again, I won’t be sorry.
4) (Feb) MELANCHOLIA: Mario Ancic turns his back on tennis.
Now here’s a retirement that really blows.
5) (March, Miami) FUGLY: When 52 = 100
I’m torn between this and this for WTA meltdown of the year.
Ana’s choke (and it was a choke) was truly the fugly-of-fuglies – you’ve got to be very imaginative and very dedicated to put a positive spin on that (many did).
Even so, 52 UFEs from Caro equals over a hundred from anyone else. You’ve got to rewrite Maths itself to make sense of that.
6) (March, Indian Wells) UNSUNG: “When no one remembers your name”
Or even your face.
I’ve mostly given up on Marion ever receiving much of the right kind of press.
It’s true she hasn’t always made life easy for herself (particularly in relation to her compatriots). She’s not everyone’s cup of tea. And she certainly doesn’t feel the need to pander to the media like a trained baboon.
But this year, this phenomenon seemed to me to reach a head when those nice people at Yahoo! Sports didn’t see fit to include even a single pic of the runner up in their widely-viewed photostream (not unless you specifically searched for it). An event some persist in referring to as “the 5th Slam”.
Try and imagine Petko receiving the same treatment.
There’s laziness, there’s wilful obfuscation, and there’s straight-up disrespect. Take your pick - I’d say it’s all of them.
7) (March, Indian Wells) UNNECESSARY: Dinaroshka’s short-lived and not-so-sweet comeback
The absurd, one-sided set of demolitions Dinara endured at the beginning of the year were both callous and uncalled for, and should probably be the subject of a UN inquiry into the use of excessive force.
Bartoli…..Kim…..and then Pova: neither defeat, incidentally, was incurred through any great fault of her own, yet she was allowed a total of just three games over all three matches. That’s just mean.
And then, after just one more month, her (what I guess we’d call chronic) back injury stopped her from playing altogether. Few believe she’s likely to return.
Sometimes it’s not a beautiful sport.
8) (April) CALAMITY: Bepa fired Sergei for some guy named “Karen”
There are people still undergoing therapy for this.
It was like seeing Kate ditch William and shacking up with Tom Jones.
9) (April, Monte Carlo) FAIL: Jurgen Schmergen
Love Jurgen, but his attempts at what I guess we should call “fighting talk” (coming, unsurprisingly, after his defeat of Fed) made me snigger.
Daveed beat him in straights.
10) REDEMPTION: Robin Soderling
Ok, look. I’m glad Robin’s getting the love he is and only now being truly admitted in from the cold with many Rafa fans even now prepared to concede he may have been “misunderstood” (very popular word).
<brusque-haughty-Southern-accent> Just remember there were a bunch of us on this bandwagon first – we’all already took the best seats back when it was unfashionable to do so, and I’m not even remotely sorry that there’s standing room only. </brusque-haughty-Southern-accent>
In order to convince y’all, our guy had to, 1) put an end to two of the greatest streaks in history by two of the best players to have ever played the game, and 2) to then be sidelined by an illness (6 months and counting), one that has a rather nasty habit of putting paid to entire careers.
The uncomfortable parallels with Delpo, where a gruff, suspicious type gains acceptance (salvation?) after sacrificing themselves on the altar of Fedal, are only too evident.
All of which is to say that after a promising start to the year (and two years of laying siege to the top four), Sod was genuinely missed, not just by us hardcore fans, not just by tennis fans, but by tennis itself (and, I’d like to think, his enemies).
Wait, there’s more – he won’t be playing Aus. :S
11) BONUS: “Rafa had a rubbish year”
Sorry, no he didn’t. He won a Slam, reached the finals of two others, won a Masters title, reached the finals of four others, going out in each instance to a guy that only lost seven matches all year.
In other words, the only reason Rafa lost “all those finals” is that it was Rafa making “all those finals”.
You can certainly argue, as many have, that losing to the same guy so many times leaves scar tissue. That’s almost certainly true, but you’ll have a hard time convincing anyone with a functioning cerebral cortex it would have been very different had anyone else made those finals.
12) (May, Paris) GAG: The Ball-Kid that jumped the gun
Remember him? That poor ball-kid who ran out on court before Viktor had finished putting a smash away?
And when Viktor pretended that was the reason he SPECTACULARLY blew a 5-2 fifth set lead to a hobbling Muzz?
Yeah, that was stupid.
13) (May, Paris) FLATULENCE: The wonder that is AbFab
If there’s an unvarying truth about the tennis season it’s that there’ll be at least one hedonistic atrocity during the French Open and that AbFab will be at the centre of it.
14) (June, Paris) SCANDAL: “I wags when I likes – and I likes when I wag”
Oh get over yourself. Not only have we seen other tennis players do this, we’ve seen other sports people do this. STOP PRETENDING HE THREATENED TO DEVOUR YOUR FIRST BORN.
Rafa fist-pumps with a raised knee, Nole beats his chest and merges his grunts into a celebratory roar. Not everyone likes that either. I think we can tolerate the odd, UNHABITUAL finger-wag from Federer.
Your faux-outrage is convincing no one.
15) FALLACY: The Grunting issue that just won’t go away
Not even in the face of the biggest WTA breakthrough since Maria Sharapova in 2004. Not even after almost every player asked about it has said, in one form or another, that they couldn’t care less.
16) BONUS: “Maria had a rubbish year”
Sorry, no she didn’t. She won two Premier-fives (one on her worst surface), reached the finals of Wimbledon, the semis of RG, the finals of Miami and the semis of IW.
You can certainly argue that Pova’s game has habitually deserted her at the moments she’s had most to play for – that’s not even vaguely disputatious. You can also choose to speak that little thing known as “the truth” in relation to the Wimbledon final: that every last bit of it was on Petra’s racquet – no one with an ounce of common sense considers Petra beatable that day.
The heart of this particular fallacy relies on making a fake conflation between Maria’s admittedly untimely, disappointing play (about which many reasonable concerns might be expressed), and the idea that this somehow precludes her from ever winning a Slam (about which many unreasonable and downright salacious things have been said).
The latter may or may not be true. But the fact is that, as of now, the numbers simply don’t back it up.
Maria’s tennis may be in the gutter, but she is clearly looking at the stars.
Assume for a moment that Vika took more than just that one set from Petra (who can still go AWOL) at Wimbledon and made the final. Can you honestly not see Pova winning that?
17) (Sep, New York) FUGLY: “…on the inside”
Wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the few remaining neutrals in the stadium ended up rooting for Stosur after Serena’s little episode of self-destruction – the only truly “ugly” thing on court that night.
What hasn’t perhaps been emphasised enough – and what made it worse for me – was whom she chose to pick on.
Eva Azderaki??? That’s like picking on Little Miss Muffet.
Equally repulsive were the amount of Serena fans who chose to make light of and, in some cases, to defend it – often from the same group that like to crap on Andy Roddick for his “anger management” issues.
Serena is what she is. She has her ugly side like anyone else. She’s unlikely to change very much. She’s gotten enough heat for it. And not all of her run-ins with authority figures have been her fault.
But it seems to me you’ve lost your right to be taken seriously if you made light of this blunder.
18) (Sep, New York) SCARY: The Slap
Not the Aussie novel, but the single most spectacular moment of this and most other years I care to remember. ‘Decisive’ doesn’t quite capture it.
I mostly included it for the sake of completeness. And because it’s flat-out scary.
Understandably, it’s provoked all sorts of reactions, ire and outrage, euphoria and delirium.
People clearly have a lot of very strong (and not always pent up) feelings over it – feelings they mostly don’t know what to do with.
I don’t rightly know whether it’s a good or a bad thing – or whether it’s even meaningful to think in those terms.
To this day, I haven’t even been able to trace where the ball actually landed.
Fed, of course, dismissed it as “luck”, a child-like “slap” – the kind of ‘street tennis’ he wasn’t brought up to play. Novak’s supporters (and many others), of course, marvel at its sheer audacity.
Where you choose to sit on that divide is largely a matter of philosophy. You should be able to see both sides.
In the end, it got Nole what he wanted. And that, I suspect, is all that counts.
19) (June) BLAH: The Gimelstob/Feli bust up
Noteworthy for the revelation that Feli gets hot under the collar.
Non-noteworthy for the revelation that Gimelstob should get anyone hot under the collar.
20) BONUS: “Murray had a rubbish year”
His post-Oz slump was uniquely icky. He continues to have trouble with Fedalovic at the Slams. And people are right to ‘meh’ over his clean-up of the Asian Swing.
But there’s nothing rubbish about 4 Slam SFs. Or, for that matter, the best clay court season of his career. Next.
21) (June) FAIL: Lynn Barber played at being Rafa iconoclast.
I get what she was trying to do. I just don’t think she got what she was trying to do….let alone the matter of actually doing it.
22) (June) HEGEMONY: “Script-Gate”
I’m told there’s an argument that it would be an existential threat to journalists’ livelihoods and credibility if they didn’t get first bite of the players’ press-conference cherry.
That the only way around this is withholding those pressers from the public domain for at least 24 hours, thereby giving them an ample window within which to work on and release their pieces, well before ‘Boris Blogger’ is allowed to get his dirty mits on them.
I’ve only ever been partially convinced with that explanation.
What’s criminally unambiguous is how much this smacks of snobbery and hegemony.
23) (June, Wimbledon) EPIPHANY: Pironokva discovers the existence of ranking points outside of the Slams.
So ends one of the great mysteries of life – how Pironkova manages to move like a fairy whilst razing the competition at Wimbledon, but is unable to otherwise win two matches together all year.
This year she made the QFs at Wimbledon and was one of only two players to take a set off Petra. No one was very surprised.
I’m still not completely sure this wasn’t a hoax. But I kind of want it to be true as it would explain EVERYTHING (and an awful lot besides).
24) (June, Wimbledon) UNSUNG: Domi made the QFs of Wimbledon meaning she’s now reached the R16 or better at every Slam.
QFs or better if you exclude Oz. She also won her (long overdue) first WTA title.
I get that she hasn’t the fanbase others do. I get that it’s unreasonable to expect non-fans and neutrals to undergo the levels of ecstasy experienced by that modest fanbase (of which I’m unashamedly a member). I’m even willing to concede that she hasn’t always helped her cause .
I don’t get why such a WTA milestone barely gets a mention by any of the outlets (mainstream and those that like to think of themselves as “indie”). Try and imagine the euphoric whiplash if and when, say, Kirilenko or Pavlyuchenkova (nothing against either of them) makes that same milestone.
Players have inspired cults for doing far less. Instead, this was deemed more relevant.
25) (July) FAIL: Janko/Nole stage a mock assassination.
Tasteless, yes. Damning? No.
And before anyone brings it up, no it’s not a “cultural thing” either.
No more than humiliating chair umpires is “an American thing”, or punching your racquet strings to the point of drawing blood is “a British thing”.
26) REDEMPTION: Mardy Fish
I never really got why it was considered “trendy” to hate on Mardy Fish. He has his dark side like most of us (and seems to consider being unable to speak French a matter of pride) – still, the reaction has always seemed disproportionate, out of control and, at times, downright ugly.
In any case, at some point early on this year his image seemed to undergo a transition.
Much of it can be traced, of course, to the fact that he began winning. That usually helps. But it’s also a simple matter of practicality: they simply transferred their bile to a new (and easier) target: Ryan Harrison.
And it all went swimmingly well (for a while): those that would once have pointed and laughed, looked on dotingly as Mardy publicly rebuked Ryan for a childish, braggy tweet.
@ryanharrison92 Those are the kinda tweets that get ya unfollowed...— Mardy Fish (@MardyFish) November 7, 2011
It was a fair point, but didn’t in my mind seem like it deserved such public censure – older and more mature players than Ryan have gotten away with far worse.
What was more likely is that they’d simply overcompensated in their appropriation of Mardy; an easy mistake to make in the presence of what they deemed a greater and more obviously obnoxious evil – that would be Ryan, for those still with me.
Either way, there was no doubt about it – Mardy’s stock was up.
The fake-out was revealed for what it was with the “don’t-speak-French-dumbass” episode which is when the illusion was shattered, and all those latent Fish anxieties resurfaced once more.
God only knows what 2012 will bring.
27) (July, Wimbledon) HEARTBREAK: Muzz’s Wimbledon SF loss.
I played the blame game.
Difficult to conceive of this being anywhere near as heartbreaking as the Oz final, which I still maintain had much more to do with his own poor performance.
But the Wimbledon SF seemed to me to underline how far he still has to go when Rafa, Fed or Novak are redlining – or whether he’ll even get there. That’s much worse. Isn’t it?
28) (Aug) ENIGMA: Caro parted ways with Piotr
And then sort of didn’t. And then did, again. Kinda. I dunno.
Whatever. Ricardo-Caro on court-coaching will be one of the early highlights of next year.
29) (Aug, Cincinnati) GROSS-OUT: The worst tie-break of the year
The closing moments of this were probably far worse than even Muzz/Haase. Whereas the latter’s atrocities were at least diffuse, this one seemed to have all the toxins distilled into the final set tie break.
At the end of it all, as if in relief, Dasco squatted down and spat on the court (he might just as well have barfed or blown his nose), an apt way to seal in the EVIL. Nevermore to be mentioned amongst polite society. Or, you know, normal people.
30) (Aug, Canada) NUTTY: Canada did its thing…
And it was WACK.
31) (Sep) BLAH: That familiar sound of itchy fanatics undercutting Noles season.
Whatever took them so long?
32) (Sep, New York) BEATDOWN: Rafa’s 2nd worst loss of the year.
He managed to wangle a set out of it. And perhaps just the faintest scrap of dignity. That was all he wangled out of it.
33) (Sep, New York) FLATULENCE: The worst match of the year
Bar none. WTA included. Challengers/Futures....in fact every ITF match played this year.
What happens in Ashe stays in Ashe.
34) FLAT: Li Na and Sam Stosur
Don’t get me wrong. What they’ve achieved this year is MONUMENTAL, each in its own way. Sam winning the USO, in particular, is perhaps my favourite moment of the year. Vindication, for her many long-suffering fans and of their undying belief in her game.
But if you’re gonna manhandle Caro for not being up to scratch in the Slams, it’s only fair that you do the same for those unable (or unwilling) to perform outside of them.
Both Sam and Li are top ten players whose tennis ability is undisputed amongst even the harshest of critics. Both’s non-Slam record this year has been DISMAL. Neither, as far as I can tell, was injured. In other words, there’s no excuse.
What this also means is you really can’t be that confident of their chances next year (the way you might have been with Fran after RG 2010).
Who would you choose to watch your back in a street fight? Pova would be in most people’s top 3, you might imagine Fran or Marion (who didn’t even make a Slam final) would feature highly too…a few might even pick Caro.
Not many would choose Li or Sam. It’s easy to see why.
35) (Oct, China) FAIL: The journo that dared mention the ‘R’ word. Roddick was having none of it.
And no, this wasn’t a “cultural thing” either. We really need to stop confusing flat-out blunders with culture.
36) (Nov) BLAH: Nole’s season finally caught up with him
He pulled out of Paris for which he was flayed alive, and then bowed out quite timidly in London.
No one was very surprised.
37) (Nov, London) UNDERWHELMED: The ATP WTF photo shoot blew
After the Abbey Road and Downing St., I’m, frankly, kinda outraged a bigger fuss hasn’t been kicked up over how rubbish this was.
38) (Nov, London) OUCH: Rafa’s worst loss of the year
The score was true. Just like the man said.
39) BONUS: “I saw her first…No I did…No me….Me”.
Major, MAJOR peeve. Apologies in advance for going on for so long.
Every time we get a new talent emerging – and especially when they have their breakthrough the way Petra did this year – we seem to get a rush of self-satisfied morons who claim to have been in attendance many years ago when talent-x (then a scraggly looking teen) went out in round two of a Challenger event so obscure it probably doesn’t even exist anymore.
The obscurity is deliberately selected and is in direct proportion to the accolade you are now expected to confer upon them for having “a good eye”, as well as being more generally awesome than you in all other respects. No – it’s actually that infantile.
Think of it as their vicarious version of the rags-to-riches tale. Their moment to bask in the radiance of talent-x’s reflected glory.
They remind me of those knobs that sometimes turn up on the IMDB message boards claiming to be Johnny Depp’s 2nd cousin.
What are you – nine years old?
Firstly, NO ONE CARES that Petra was your, my or anyone else’s “discovery”….like, at all. Whatever brownie points they think they might be accruing with these (not even that fanciful) tales don’t seem worth it somehow. Most of us stopped doing this sort of thing at the age of 10.
Secondly, most people I know make it a rule to disregard anything not immediately verifiable – the outlandish and the not so outlandish. So even in the unlikely event that their little unmagical fairy tale turns out to be true, it’ll be treated as guff. And it’ll be entirely proper that it be treated as guff. Most of us learnt this lesson early on in life.
The most frightening aspect of this pre-school behaviour is that it’s exhibited by relatively mature people of a certain age – people that seem well grounded in all other respects, but who then suddenly, mysteriously, take leave of their senses.
Takeout: Pics (and preferably links), or it didn’t happen. And I doubt anyone will care even after that.
40) (December) CLOAK AND DAGGER: Why exactly did it take so long to appoint an ATP boss?
This one had all the political intrigue and mystery of a bestselling spy novel.
Ian Ritchie was wikileaked before any official announcement – that kinda scuppered things.
Krajicek was deemed short on business experience by Federer. But what role did the discovery that he follows the unsavoury Islamophobe Geert Wilders on Twitter have to play?
Then, with only 9 days of this year left, we suddenly hear someone called Brad Drewett has been appointed.
He seems, from what I can tell, to have the right blend of business and tennis experience. Which kinda begs the question, where’s he been all this time?
It seems, to put it charitably, like something they cobbled together at the 11th hour. Or, to put it less charitably, an appointment of last resort.
41) FUGLY: Fed 2nd only to Nelson Mandela
Not that I have any trouble accepting that Federer (or any one below him on the list) should be “liked” or “respected”.
All the same, this made me hurl. And I make no apologies for it.
It would be no different if it were Rafa, Novak or any of the other top 10 most "liked, respected, admired and trusted" world leaders juxtaposed alongside a lifelong activist who forsook all the pleasures of life most of us take for granted in favour of a struggle for freedom and equality that cost him almost 30 of the best years of his life.
But perhaps that's the fault of the survey and iffy sounding metrics like "liked" and "admired".
In any case, the survey also uncovered that older respondents tend to be more critical (not surprising), as do Latin Americans (really?); women tend to be drawn to corporate figures (although also more critical of the female ones) whilst men favour sports stars. World leaders don't fair particularly well at all.
Not to be a spoilsport, but all of that seems far more compelling.
42) FOLIE DE-GRANDEUR: Trial by Noah
Every year an ex-player (not always a legend) makes a tired bid to make themselves relevant again.
This is mostly harmless (if a little embarrassing) and usually takes the form of making the most outrageous picks and forecasts imaginable. It’s something of an annual pageant.
”Fed will never win a Slam again”, “Rafa’s washed up”, “Novak has peaked”, “Murray will win multiple Slams”…that sorta thing.
This year that role was filled by Yannick Noah, who chose to crap not just on Rafa, not even just on Spanish tennis….but on all of Spanish Sport.
It was, to put it mildly, in a class of its own.
There’s kangaroo courts. There’s the many layers of hideous-kinky that lie below that. And then (and only then), do we get to the lowest depths of farce and ego-mania that is the ‘Trial by Noah’.
43) FOLIE DE GRANDEUR: Martina Hingis and the (incessant whiny) tale of the on-again-off-again Olympics mixed-doubles partnership.
First it was “leaked” that Fed’s people had approached her. Then she denied any such thing had happened. Then it seemed to be on-again. And then it didn’t.
By now, most had lost interest and were willing and wishing it would remain “off-again”. Permanently.
The same might be said of all those insufferable “teasers” that would seem to indicate she may be persuaded to compete in Oz. Singles, doubles, I really don’t care.
Only Mc-Wozil-Roy, inspire more tepid and vacuous thoughts. And sometimes, I’m not even sure of that.
The moral of the tale must surely be how it’s possible to kill what might have once been a credible story by running it again, and again, AND AGAIN, through the rumour mill.
And if there’s a “story” here at all, it’s that this was THE MOST BORING NON STORY OF THE YEAR.