Wednesday, November 17, 2010

2010--a year of the unexpected

Every season has its highlights and surprises, and, unfortunately, one of the highlights of the 2010 season was the long list of significant injuries. Not all of them were sustained on the court, either. Kim Clijsters got a nasty infection in her right foot after she had a mole removed, and Serena Williams was in the wrong place at the wrong time when drunk World Cup revelers decided it would be fun to throw bottles inside a German restaurant. After a piece of broken glass cut her foot, Williams had to have two surgical procedures, and she missed the U.S. hard court season and everything after that.

Venus Williams continued to have problems with her knee, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova had a recurring hip injury, and Justine Henin--having already broken her finger during Fed Cup competition--injured her elbow at Wimbledon, and missed the rest of the season. Countrywoman Kim Clijsters injured her left foot in Fed Cup play, and had to withdraw from the French Open. Dinara Safina, who had been assured her back problems were over, once again felt the dreaded back pain, and had to stop playing.

Elena Dementieva was forced to retire during the French Open semifinals because of a calf strain, and she missed Wimbledon. Katarina Srebotnik's shoulder bothered her so much that she retired from singles play. Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez was out for an extended period because of a knee injury, which put and end to her outstanding doubles run with Nuria Llagostera Vives. Agnieszka Radwanska is currently walking around on crutches because of surgery she had to treat a stress fracture in her foot, and she is expected to be out until March of next year.

There were the "usual" injuries, too--ankles, feet, back, etc. that affected a number of players. Zheng Jie was out ill for much of the season, and a stomach virus attacked several players. Maria Sharapova continued her struggle to return to pre-shoulder injury form, Sabine Lisicki tried unsuccessfully to return to pre-injury and -illness form, too. Then there was Victoria Azarenka, who sustained a concussion while running sprints right before the second round of the U.S. Open, and passed out on the court.

Now for some better memories: Li Na became the first Chinese woman in history to crack the WTA top 10, and she and Zheng Jie both reached the semifinals of the Australian Open. Cara Black completed her mixed doubles career slam, but she was in the news more because of the not-so-amicable breakup of the team of Black and Huber. The Williams sisters completed their career doubles slam by winning the French Open, and the great former team of Gigi Fernandez and Natasha Zvereva were inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Last year, Alexandra Dulgheru came out of nowhere and, as a qualifier, won Warsaw; in 2010, she accomplished the unlikely feat of defending that title. Ekaterina Makarova qualified for the main draw of Eastbourne, and won the title. Ana Ivanovic won her first title in two years, leading her fans to hope for better times in 2011. Aravane Rezai had the most dramatic run of all: She won Madrid by taking out Justine Henin, Jelena Jankovic and--in the final--Venus Williams. She was also the second consecutive unseeded player to win a premier tournament.

Kaia Kanepi and Petra Kvitova both reached the semifinals of Wimbledon, and provided quite a bit of surprise entertainment to the proceedings. Anastasia Rodionova won two gold medals and a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games. In Osaka, Tammy Tanasugarn and Kimiko Date Krumm played the "oldest" final in tour history--one was 33 and the other was 40. And in one of the more touching moments of the season, 30-year-old Francesca Schiavone, after she defeated Date Krumm in Tokyo, said of the Japanese comeback star: "To come back and show the people anything is possible is really inspiring."

Jelena Jankovic continued her "Princess and the Pea" decline. Jankovic was bothered by everything from a sprained ankle to a respiratory infection to an eye problem (for which she just had surgery). Having worked so hard to improve her serve, Jankovic should have had a much better season than she did.

Sam Stosur looked like a potential Queen of Clay when she ran over Vera Zvonareva in the Charleston final, but the crown eluded her. Stosur had an exceptional season, nonetheless. Venus Williams had a very fine season, too, though it came to a disappointing end when she lost in the U.S. Open semifinals, and then wound up on crutches because of her knee.

Camille Pin retired from professional tennis, as did doubles specialist Janette Husarova. Unfortunately, the news of the accomplished Husarova's retirement fell on deaf ears.

The tour celebrated the 40th anniversary of its founding, unveiled a new logo that looks like something Don Draper would fire people over, and of course, the "sexy" airbrushing went on as usual, so on the player site, the women all still look pretty much the same--just nothing like themselves.

Though 2010 lacked the drama of 2009, there was plenty to keep us all interested and entertained. Here are my personal top 10 occurrences, in ascending order:

10. Martinez Sanchez wins in Rome
Rome is Jelena Jankovic's sacred ground. Rome is where she found the strength to go on when she thought she might leave professional tennis, and Rome is where she has looked her best on the clay courts. This year was no exception: Jankovic became the first player in history to beat both Williams sisters on clay at the same tournament. The former champion was poised to win her third Italian Open title, but Spanish clay court artist and doubles expert Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez got in the way. As fast as Jankovic is, and as good a mover as she is, she could not escape being sliced and cut to exhaustion by the unseeded Spaniard, who also possesses one of the tour's better serves. Martinez Sanchez spun and dopped the ball so much that she confounded inexperienced fans and even some "experts," who insisted on calling her cleverness and aggression "unorthodox." Mostly, she confounded Jankovic, and defeated her 7-6, 7-5 in one of the year's most entertaining finals.

9. Zvonareva reaches two major finals
Now that the great Russian onslaught has faded a bit, there was still one Russian standing tall in 2010, and that was Vera Zvonareva. Zvonareva, who has had more than her share of bad fortune on the tour, was so steady this year, and played so well in unfavorable conditions, that she reached the finals of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Unfortunately, her performance faded in both matches, but her winning ways earned her an end-of-the-year ranking of number 2 in the world.

8. Wozniacki becomes number 1 in the world
Caroline Wozniacki, the Great Dane, played and played and played in 2010, and she won and won and won. She failed to reach the final of a major, however (she reached two rounds of 16, a quarterfinal, and a semifinal), and she lost the WTA Championships final to Kim Clijsters. Nevertheless, Wozniacki won six titles, and she won the U.S. Open series. She also added a better seve, more power, and more aggression to her game, giving fans more to look forward to in 2011.

7. Italy defends Fed Cup title
The Italian Fed Cup team--Francesca Schiavone, Flavia Pennetta, Sara Errani, and Roberta Vinci--have been in five Fed Cup finals in the past five years, and they have won three of them. Last year, they defeated the USA in the final on clay in Italy, and this year, they did it on a hard court in San Diego. Once again, Flavia Pennetta sealed the deal for the Italians, who achieved a 3-1 victory. Forza!

6. King and Shvedova spring the surprise of the year
Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova had played together only a couple of times when they entered Wimbledon as a doubles team. They had a high old time, smiling a lot on court and inviting strangers in London to watch them play. They won the title, too, and--in doing so--brought about Vera Zvonareva's second big defeat on the last day of the tournament. After Wimbledon, the pair failed to get very far in competition--that is, until the U.S. Open rolled around. And once again, despite having to work really hard and despite all odds being against them, they won the title.

5. Clijsters rules in the final quarter
It was one thing when Kim Clijsters returned to the tour last year and promptly won the U.S. Open. It was quite another when she defended her title this year, and then--for good measure--beat the world number 1 in Doha to win the WTA Championships. Clijsters didn't play a lot this year; she had a lean schedule (which included a win in Miami) to begin with, and then had to deal with two foot injuries. But she was healthy for the U.S. hard court season, and defended her title in Cincinnati. At the U.S. Open, she was just too good, dispensing of Ana Ivanovic, Sam Stosur, Venus Williams, and Vera Zvonareva. Clijsters then topped her season off by defeating world number 1 Caroline Woznacki at the WTA Championships.

4. Dulko and Pennetta ascend to the top of the doubles rankings
Exactly like Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and Nuria Llagostera Vives before them, Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta had played doubles together, on and off, for years, but in 2010, they decided to make a serious go of it. They won eight titles, including the WTA Championships. Dulko, in fact, won nine (one with Elena Gallovits). They are now the top-ranked team in the world, and Dulko is now the number 1 doubles player in the world. The two women have been friends for a long time, and now they are big-time champions together.

3. Serena Williams wins two more majors
The older Serena Williams gets, the more beaten up her body gets, and the better she plays. Go figure. This year, she won the Australian Open and Wimbledon, and she won the latter without dropping a set. That makes 13 major singles titles, and there is every reason to expect that number to increase. Williams' forced leave from the tour the past several months turned everything topsy-turvy, and gave crisp meaning to the term "conspicuous by her absence."

2. Dementieva retires
At the end of the season, Elena Dementieva became the first of the great post-Morozova Russians to leave the tour. And though the Russians (with the exception of Zvonareva) no longer display their former brightness, their ascent brought about a major change in women's tennis. Dementieva had a long career, in which she managed to somehow manifest intelligence, athleticism, wit, class, and gut-wrenching frustration--all at the same time. It was fun to watch her, and easy to cheer for her, even though you knew that--half the time--you would wind up shaking your head and murmuring "Oh, Elena...." She never won a major, though she was a second-week regular and played some memorable matches. She did win a gold medal at the Olympic Games, and she won 16 singles titles, as well as six doubles titles. Hers was a great career, despite its disappointments, and it will probably take us all a long time to adjust to her absence. I already miss her.

1. Schiavone wins the French Open
The good-natured and impressively athletic Francesca Schiavone has long given us her hilarious heartfelt wisdom--often spoken in her delightful broken English--but until this year, fans had to search for her press conferences. Schiavone's career, until a few years ago, involved a lot of consistent play, but also a lot of choking in finals. She lost eight finals in a row before she finally figured out how to win one. After that, she became better on all surfaces, even reaching the quarterfinals of Wimbledon last year. Schiavone and her friend, Flavia Pennetta, have been Fed Cup stars for several years, and--inspired by Fed Cup victories--Schiavone did something smart and creative this spring: She hired Italian Fed Cup captain Corrado Barazzutti to be her coach for the French Open. In other words, she went to Paris to win.

Schiavone's opponent in the final was Samantha Stosur, who had shocked Vera Zvonareva in the Charleston final, and had already taken out Justine Henin, Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic in Paris. Stosur was expected to win the French Open, and to perhaps even become the new queen of clay. But 17th seed Schiavone, who upset Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals, hadn't received the memo that she was supposed to be the runner-up. We will probably never know what Barazzutti whispered in the Italian's ear, or exactly what transpired within her head, but--briefly stated--Schiavone took it to Stosur. From the first moment of the final, Schiavone was in charge, and nothing much that Stosur did seemed to bother her. It wasn't that Stosur played badly; she was just never given the chance to play really well.

Schiavone served very well, she gave Stosur repeated doses of her own heavy topspin, and she volleyed with grace and accuracy. Perhaps most important, she never appeared to doubt herself. Schiavone's 6-4, 7-6 victory, attained just a month shy of her 30th birthday, made her the first Italian woman to win a major title. It was a victory for Italy, a victory for older players on the tour, and a victory for the power of perseverance. "I couldn't stop it," the French Open champion said of her increasing confidence and energy as the second set tiebreak progressed. "I really felt that that one was my moment. I took it. I didn't lose the chance. I didn't care about nothing. I want to take that point and play my tennis. It was the moment."


van said...

Nice post! There were definitely some great and unexpected moments over the year. Who saw Vera Z. making two Slam finals?

(just wanted to mention: The headline has "2009" instead of '10)

Diane said...

Oops. Thanks, Van. (I guess I'm living in the past.)

Sunny nine said...

So many things to say but not enough time but thanks Diane for taking your time to write a great post. My year has been like some of the injured players so I can sympathize.
As far as who took charge, it was Clijsters. She basically hit for the cycle (a baseball reference.) She won an international, then what many call the highest mandatory premium-Miami, one of the premium 5-Cincinnati, just under the majors-the Tour Championships and of course a major-the US Open. That is some year! She would have been #1 if she wasn't injured or if she chose to play more. Or in contention with Serena if she wasn't injured.
Dementieva-I will certainly miss her athleticism, the fact that she was never an easy out-could always possibly beat the other player and just her class-and how she overcame her serve problems with a great return game. I've watched her since she has been on the tour.
Vera-I think it was great that she was able to pick herself up from her injury and have a great season.
Schiavone-Roland Garros was just great fun!
I probably missed some things.

Diane said...

Thanks, Sunny. And thanks for mentioning Kim's Miami win; somehow, it got lost in the last draft that was published, so I put it back in.

I was injured this year, too :(

The question now is: Can Kim win something big that isn't played on a hard court?

Overhead Spin said...

Hello everyone. Not posting much these days as hard at work. Nice recap Diane, but one correction. Schiavone beat Wozniacki in the quarters of the FO. Dementieva retired against her in the semis.

Diane said...

I hadn't even noticed that, Karen. Thanks for the catch, and I'm glad you enjoyed the read.

I've had some type of virus for a week, and am surprised the post is as lucid as it is.

esta web said...

Pretty effective data, thanks so much for your article.

Unknown said...

Is this true? BTW, if anyone needs an injury form, I found a blank form here