It’s the end of the year, which means a variety of best and worst lists are being published on any number of subjects right now. Tennis had its fair share of highlights and lowlights and we might as well get the rough stuff out of the way first. Below are my picks for the moments that I found to be deplorable, disappointing or just downright dumb in the sport for 2011.
Justine Henin Retires. Again. (January)
Though some still take issue with the timing of Henin’s retirement announcement on the eve of the Australian Open Women’s Semifinals, the real disappointment remains that Henin had to make the announcement at all. Despite making the finals of Melbourne in 2010, Henin’s brief comeback was filled with more downs than ups. Despite her shaky return to the tour, many hoped Henin could provide a stabilizing presence especially with Serena Williams still out of action due to injury and the continued widespread disapproval of Caroline Wozniacki as the current No.1.
But as she walked off of the court after her final match against Svetlana Kuznetsova, many still believed Henin could return to the very top and openly wondered how far she could extend her legacy in the sport. With her abrupt and unfortunate retirement, this time for good, many of us are still left wondering just how much more Henin might have achieved had her body not let her down.
They’re Just Not Hungry Enough. (May)
When the news broke that the U.S. did not have a top ten player in either the men’s or women’s rankings for the first time since a computer starting cranking out the numbers back in the mid 1970’s, you would have thought it was the end of days with the amount of handwringing that went on within sports media in America. Acknowledgment was made about the increasing depth of talent from all over the world, but most of the talk ended up blaming various players, coaches and anyone else associated with the sport in the States, with the complaint of “they’re just not hungry enough” decided by many as the official cause of the problem.
Thank goodness, the crisis was brought to a swift resolution with Mardy’s Fish stellar season that saw him enter the top ten for the first time in his career. But what would have happened if Fish hadn’t done so well and the year ended without an American in the top ten? Would Congress have passed a resolution requiring the ATP and WTA tours to ensure it never happens again? I shudder to think.
Isner/Mahut: Season Two: Episode One. (July)
Through a strange twist of fate that allowed John Isner & Nicolas Mahut’s names to be paired side by side once again during the first round of Wimbledon a year after their lengthy multi-day, almost zombie-like duel, tennis fans were subjected to an unnecessary amount of speculation about the sequel of a moment in tennis history that resembled more a freak reality show than a scintillating match.
Media hype went on overload from everything to which court the match should be played on at the All-England Club, including the ridiculous suggestion it be scheduled on Centre Court simply because both men “had earned it”, to who the umpire would be with many calling for a return of Mohamed Lahyani to the chair since he’d become something of a cult hero for enduring last year’s match without taking a toilet break during one of its marathon days. (He didn’t get the call this time).
The match ended up being a one-sided straight set victory for Isner and quickly faded from memory as the rest of the tournament progressed. Hopefully Isner will be seeded next year at Wimbledon making the likelihood of a third installment in “Mahut” impossible, an installment I’m sure both men, now friends, hope never comes to pass.
The Fiasco in Cincinnati. (August)
The worst match of the year by far was the nearly four-hour error-filled slog fest between Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco that kept sucking in fans to watch it despite the fact the bulk of the match just plain sucked. For the few who saved four hours of their lives by doing something else more productive but who still want a summary of the trainwreck, be sure to read the always eloquent Steve Tignor and his take on “Nadalasco”.
The 2011 U.S. Open. (August/September)
Speaking of fiascos, what didn’t go wrong at Flushing Meadows this year? Okay, so the USTA had no control over Hurricane Irene, but after the debris was swept off of the courts, it all went downhill for the tournament as poor scheduling in the first week of play caused a neverending circle of confusion and nearly a player revolt due to poor court conditions and the truly bonehead decision to place the Angelique Kerber/Sam Stosur semi on the Grandstand all in the name of keeping a television network happy.
What’s more depressing is that it now appears a Monday Men’s Final will become the standard for years to come until the USTA divests itself of its contract with CBS and its insistence on the outdated and overbloated “Super Saturday” format. “Shambolic” was a word used often to describe the Open during its dismal two weeks and though it’s a good one, the word “shame” feels more appropriate.
But Do You Feel Unattractive Inside? (September)
Serena Williams’s outburst at umpire Eva Asderaki during the U.S. Open Women’s Finals probably didn’t earn Serena any new fans and she likely lost a few after the afternoon was over. To her credit, Serena did issue an apology, sort of, a few days later on her Twitter account, but her emotional tirade added an unnecessary stain to what until then had been one of the best comeback stories in all of sports for quite some time.
Serena may have admitted that the moment of being in her 17th Major final made her too intense, but it doesn’t excuse her from not knowing the rules of play on court. She’s been in the game far too long for that.
Marat’s Word is Not Law. Yet. (October)
Marat Safin may have his little sister Dinara’s best interests at heart, but that didn’t excuse him from making comments that Dinara had decided to retire from the sport nor did it excuse a majority of the tennis media from jumping on the “story” and citing it as fact simply because Marat said so. No wonder Dinara herself had to use her Twitter account to deny the whole thing. It’s still unclear if or when Dinara might return to the game or not. But it’s her decision to make and announce when she’s ready. Not her brother’s or the media.
Margaret Court’s Gay Slam. (December)
Margaret Court is one of those names that probably many younger tennis fans don’t know much about other than the fact that they see or hear her mentioned as still being the all-time leading Grand Slam women’s singles title holder with 24 Majors to her name. Court’s been making more news off the court lately, with her recent comments in a newspaper describing gay marriage as a threat to Australian families. Court’s opinion and comments against gays are nothing new as she’s been a hellraising, holy roller since the early 1970’s when she converted to being a Pentecostal and later when she became an ordained minister and formed her own church in Perth.
The recent backlash against her from the tennis community included an inspired piece by Tennis Channel’s James LaRosa that featured the thoughts of Court’s former rivals Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova. Court’s place in tennis history is assured, but her legacy will continued to be tarnished if she continues to express her extreme opinion, that, although it’s one she is entitled too, is for many as outdated as the serve and volley game itself.
So those are the moments from 2011 that would make any tennis fan spit on the court in disgust. But don’t worry, Highlights and Winners – The Best of Tennis 2011 will be posted in a few days to put us all in a good mood for the holiday season.