Since the clock is close to running out on 2015, here’s a very quick look back at the players and moments that stood out to me the most this year.
Top of the Charts
Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams certainly had plenty of reasons to keep on dancing in 2015. Each started and ended the year as respective No. 1’s. They also dominated their respective tours by each winning three major titles.
Serena captured the attention of sports watchers and even those that don’t follow tennis when she went in search of the rare calendar Grand Slam this summer after claiming Melbourne, Roland Garros, and Wimbledon. Plenty of people came up to me and said “I don’t watch tennis, but I know Serena is going for the Grand Slam.” That cognizance was due, in some part, to the non-stop and deserved media coverage Serena’s quest generated. All of that coverage, added with the outside and likely self-imposed pressure, to achieve the near-impossible feat ultimately proved too much for Serena. She stumbled, at times literally, against an inspired Roberta Vinci in their US Open semifinal that ended in Williams walking off court in what would be her last match of the season.
But Serena’s season wasn’t just about the Grand Slam. Her remarkable year included a very emotional and cathartic return to the Indian Wells event that she had boycotted for many years. Serena also spoke out through social media and other platforms on multiple social issues, especially in the United States.
The season culminated in Serena being named “Sportsperson of the Year” by Sports Illustrated – the first time a female athlete had earned the honor in over 30 years. The cover image for the issue featured a rather iconic pose from Williams sitting on a throne staring directly into the lens. The cover sparked conversation, but seemed a fitting image that summed up Serena’s ongoing rule, not only of women’s tennis, but also of her place as one of sport’s most enduring stars. Can Serena replicate her incredible 2015 season? Judging by Serena’s gaze on that cover, her response to that question probably would be, “Who is going to stop me?”
Djokovic again proved to be the man to beat all year – and he rarely was despite facing a slew of veteran foes and rising upstarts. And if it wasn’t for a bravura performance by Stan Wawrinka in the Roland Garros final, Djokovic himself might have joined Serena in the quest for the calendar Grand Slam.
That’s not to say he won’t get another chance again. With Djokovic proving he is physically and mentally at the top of his game, the odds are highly in his favor that another potential sweep at the majors is possible. Roland Garros remains the only title missing from his resume and his quest for it may end up being his biggest focus. Whether he does win it next year or not, Djokovic’s historic 2015 season finally made everyone admit that he truly is one of the sport’s all-time greats. And unless someone on the ATP tour steps up and figures out a way to defeat Djokovic week in and week out in the finals of the biggest events, then it’s very likely I’ll be talking about him in this exact same post 12 months from now.
Grand Slam Surprise
The only people not named Novak Djokovic or Serena Williams to win a major title this season did so in surprising, yet well-deserved style.
Stan Wawrinka again proved to be the wildcard player of the ATP Tour with his almost out of nowhere performance to win Roland Garros. I say almost, since Wawrinka, despite reaching the semis in Rome, wasn’t exactly tipped as a huge favorite for the title. Especially with those now famous, or infamous per your fashion taste, shorts he was wearing at the time. Yet Wawrinka, after dismissing Roger Federer and then holding off Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and the French crowd, ripped one-handed backhand after one-handed backhand to deny Djokovic his long-sought after Paris crown. Wawrinka proved to be brilliant and baffling throughout 2015 and I expect him to be the same next year. But count him out for another major title? Hardly.
Few, and probably even Flavia Pennetta herself, expected the Italian veteran to win it all in New York. Especially with Pennetta holding the secret to herself that this would be her last season on tour. But, as they say, good things come to those who wait. The crafty veteran outlasted everyone in a tumultuous women’s event that saw prohibited favorite Serena Williams bow out before the final. That left Pennetta to face her longtime friend Roberta Vinci for the biggest prize of their careers. Pennetta proved the steadier of the two and ended up celebrating with the New York crowd before surprising them, and the tennis world, with her announcement that she would retire at year’s end. Now she walks off into the sunset to start a new life with boyfriend Fabio Fognini. Pennetta certainly deserved to finish her career in true Italian style with a flourish and with grace.
Can He Do It One More Time?
Roger Federer enjoyed another standout season in 2015. The Swiss legend reached two major finals at Wimbledon and New York and came nearly close to winning both had it not been for Novak Djokovic. We asked this year if Federer could win one more major title. And we’ll ask the same question of him again in 2016.
Don’t Call It a Comeback
“This old cat still has some lives yet.” That’s what Venus Williams said just after defeating Camila Giorgi in a three set win at the Australian Open. In many ways, Venus showed that she certainly has more lives to live on the tennis court after enjoying a breakthrough season that included winning two titles, a memorable battle against her sister Serena at the US Open, and a return to the WTA top 10.
Venus continues to redefine her legacy as I wrote about for Tennis Now. What she achieves in 2016 is still to be determined, but she certainly proved this year that when she is finally ready to call time on her remarkable career, it will be on her terms.
Speaking of Venus, let’s not forget this adorable promo video she, along with Svetlana Kuznetsova, shot for the Auckland tournament featuring some of the cutest “ball kids” around.
Best Post-Match Interview
Take it away Roberta.
Best Fan-Made T-Shirt
Best Performance By an Umpire
A long standing ovation for Eva Asderaki-Moore who was the voice of calm and reason in handling that rain-delayed, alcohol-fueled, carnival crowd watching the US Open men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
Best T-Shirt Worn by a Player or Player’s Wife
Tim Smyczek gave Rafael Nadal a do-over on his serve before the end of their thrilling five set battle at the Australian Open. Smyczek lost the match but earned universal praise proving that pro tennis still has a place for sportsmanship.
Martina Hingis keeps proving that there are second acts in tennis. The Hall of Famer joined forces with Sania Mirza and never looked back this season. The pair won two major titles, the year-end championships and finished as year-end No. 1’s.
Lucie Safarova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands teamed up for the first time ever at the Australian Open. They enjoyed playing with each other so much that not only did they win Melbourne but then Roland Garros a few months later.
Brazil’s Marcelo Melo became the first man since 2012 without the last name Bryan to become the individual ATP Doubles No. 1 player.
Kevin Anderson and Lucie Safarova.
Ones to Watch
Belinda Bencic, Garbine Muguruza, Benoit Paire.
Sorry to See You Go
2015 saw several players bid adieu to the sport including Mardy Fish, Robby Ginepri, Michael Russell, Robin Soderling, Jarkko Nieminen and Michael Lammer. The year also saw Stacey Allaster step down from her long-running role as WTA CEO.
Seems like everywhere you turned on tennis social media, somebody was posting brief video of “hot shots” or player reactions. And most of them involving France’s Gael Monfils.
In many ways these pocket size morsels of video content were the perfect way to keep up with all that was happening. WTA Reactions proved to be one of the best accounts to follow and this post-match reaction from Wuhan was my favorite of all this year.
Happy 2016 everyone!