Every year, sports writers say that it was a great year for tennis. And every year is a great year. This year was a poignant year, however. A lot happened. Here is my take on it:
Justine Henin, hands down. Henin is a brilliant tennis player who, despite a number of very thorny obstacles--a debilitating virus, personal problems, short stature--has come into her own in a very big way. Henin's control of every surface is admirable, her mental toughness is virtually unsurpassed, and her shot-making is dazzling.
Svetalana Kuznetsova. Yes, she's number 2 in the world, but she can now be counted on to mess up consistently at big moments, and sometimes in very big ways. She is especially vulnerable to Henin (kind of like Clijsters was), but she is shaky on many important occasions. My runner-up would be Anna Chakvetadze, who went to pieces in the second half of the season
Daniela Hantuchova. One is tempted to grant this designation to Serena Williams, for her brilliant Australian Open performance, but Williams could not keep the momentum going. Hantuchova, on the other hand, continued her long, slow climb back to the top after a major drop-off of several years, and managed to win two tournaments and get to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Championships, where she performed quite well, despite a 1-2 record.
Ana Ivanovic, who added some brain power to her forehand power. And I give a nod to Sania Mirza for doing the same thing.
MOST PROMISING NEWCOMER
This is a tough one, but I'm going to go with Tamira Paszek, with recognition to both Victoria Azarenka and Agnes Szavay.
Jelena Jankovic, who I happen to think is a brilliant player, but who needs to do some serious re-tuning if she is to stay in the top five and win a major. She needs to play less (she says she has taken care of this problem on her 2008 calendar), get a better first serve, get a much better second serve, and beat Henin, in order to get a psychological boost. She has had some surgery to correct her breathing problems, and that will help her, too. But if Jankovic cannot make some changes and win a Grand Slam tournament, she will turn out to be one of the biggest under-achievers in the recent history of women's tennis.
The unfortunate retirement of the great Martina Hingis. Cocaine is not a performance-enhancing drug, so even if she used it, what kind of crazy system punishes her for it like this? Hingis probably would not have stuck around too much longer anyway, but her forced 2007 exit is not the way she should have left us.
The other really bad occurrence was the absence of Amelie Mauresmo because of health problems. First it was the appendicitis, then the resulting injury after she recovered. She says she's in good health now, so we can hope for a great 2008.
BEST TOURNAMENT COVERAGE IN THE U.S.
The Tennis Channel--but the commentary has gotten worse lately, so I'm not exactly endorsing it.
WORST TOURNAMENT COVERAGE IN THE U.S.
The perennial winner--ESPN
Kim Clijsters, who left the tour long before we wanted her to. Clijsters, who left abuptly because of her pregnancy, had already planned to quit this year because of her poor, broken body.
Patty Schnyder honed her serve to make it better than ever, finessesed her way to some more finals, and still didn't win them.
BEST GRAND SLAM WIN
Serena Williams, who came from kind of nowhere and blew everyone away.
MOST ENTERTAINING PERFORMANCE
Marion Bartoli, who--channeling Monica Seles--whacked both Jankovic and Henin to get to the finals of Wimbledon. Winning the whole thing would have been even better, but still, the artless, nonconforming Bartoli gave me my most exciting tennis-watching moments of 2007.