From the anguished cry of Venus Williams after she injured herself in her early round match in Melbourne that a few hours later saw her emerge victorious to the surprise of almost everyone watching, including her opponent Sandra Zahlavova, to the truly inspiring sounds of both Argentine and Spanish fans singing, chanting, and yelling their hearts out during every point of the Davis Cup finals in Seville, 2011 was a year where what we heard on the court said almost as much, if not more, than what we saw. Here’s a quick look back at some of the best moments of the year.
ATP Match of the Year: Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray. Rome Masters – Semifinals.
What other superlative can one give about Djokovic’s near perfect season that saw him win three Majors and claim the No. 1 ranking that hasn’t already been said? His name shows up in multiple ‘best of’ matches, including the semis of Roland Garros and the finals of the U.S. Open. But the one that really stands out is his victory over Murray in Rome when it seemed Nole’s winning streak, impressive up to that point, was finally coming to an expected end.
It wasn’t just the way that he snatched victory out of the hands of the Scot at the last minute, but it was Djokovic’s primal roar after the match concluded that really made everyone take notice. His howl of defiance announced to the tennis world that his run wasn’t just a winning streak – it was the new dominion.
WTA Match of the Year: Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Francesca Schiavone. Australian Open Fourth Round.
Before “Franlana” became etched in the history books as the longest women’s match ever contested at a Major, women’s tennis was perceived to be in a downward spiral. Many felt the WTA lacked widespread interest compared to the current “golden age” being experienced on the men’s tour.
But once the third set of this epic started and then kept going and going and going with “Sveta” pounding her chest and crying out after a winning point along with Fran’s trademark “ahh-hee” after every shot and constant monologuing, no one in Hisense Arena or viewing worldwide could look away. Not even Roger Federer who stuck around after his interview with ESPN to watch a few more minutes of the drama unfolding before him.
After Schiavone won that battle 6-4, 1-6, 16-14, many thought she’d have no chance against Caroline Wozniacki the next day. But for a set and a half, Schiavone’s inspired effort, despite being completely exhausted, had the whole tennis world admiring her fight and sheer will to win. Schiavone eventually succumbed in three sets, but her and Kuznetsova’s efforts remains the most talked about moment at Melbourne this year.
That’s what Petra Kvitova kept yelling out all year long after hitting one of many winning shots that helped her claim five tour titles including the biggest prize of all – Wimbledon. Kvitova started 2011 as a player to watch for sure, but few would have predicted she’d earn player of the year honors, especially since despite all of the Czech’s shotmaking ability, she wasn’t known as a pillar of consistency on the court. If she can add to her trophy chest next year and also claim the No. 1 ranking is what many fans are wondering while Kvitova’s opponents will be hoping that they can find a way to keep the loud cry of “Podj!” from ringing in their ears all through 2012.
The Summer of Serena.
During Serena’s recovery from a near fatal hematoma, we weren’t sure if we would ever see her back on a tennis court again. But as she’s done so many times in her career, Serena defied the odds and produced one of the great comebacks in the sport. She made her return at Eastbourne and then Wimbledon, but it wasn’t until Stanford where she routinely rolled over some the tour’s best players that we knew the 13-time Major champion was back. Seeing her back on court was a welcome sight, but hearing Serena’s trademark grunt as she pounded down winner after winner on her way to the Stanford title was indeed music to our ears.
More audible moments of glory from this year include Li Na’s hysterical on-court interviews in Melbourne, the roar of disbelief from the crowd in Memphis after watching Andy Roddick hit “that shot” to claim his 30th tour title, the soft-spoken charm of Mardy Fish as he talked about his impressive climb to the top ten, the return of Juan Martin Del Potro and his deep-gutteral growl just before he hits his massive forehand, Gael Monfils’s squeaking sneakers as he streaked across a court to hit some ridiculous winner that only he would attempt, Sam Stosur trying to put into words what it felt like to finally win her first Major title in New York, and the constant chanting of Roger Federer’s name by the 15,000 plus on hand in the O2 Arena as they watched him claim his sixth ATP Tour Finals title in London.
For all the amazing shots and compelling matches we watched this year, it might be the loud and clear sounds, grunts, cries and tones that often defied definition or translation that could best describe the year in tennis for 2011. And on this sonic note, what better way to close out the year than with this singing holiday card from the ladies of the WTA.