Tennis Year in Review – 2017

Normally at the end of each year, I write up a best and worst list of all things tennis. For a lot of reasons, mostly lack of time, I’ve decided to just write a more concise year-end review with my thoughts on the players, matches, and off-court events that stood out the most to me in 2017.

Players of the Year:
Men: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal

I know, I know, you are supposed to pick one player in this category, but truthfully how can anyone say that Federer or Nadal had a better season than the other. Especially when together each man completely dominated (especially at the biggest events) the ATP Tour this year.

Federer and Nadal also played in the best men’s match of the year at the Australian Open final. A final that Federer figured out a way to win in the fifth set after trailing Nadal. That match pretty much set the tone for Federer to truly take control in the early part of the season winning Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back.

Nadal returned with a vengeance on his favorite clay that culminated in him winning his 10th French Open title. Federer shortly won Wimbledon again, for a record eighth time. Nadal, later in the summer, completed the sweep of Grand Slam titles by both men as he claimed his third US Open title en route to eventually finishing the year as World No. 1.

While Federer and Nadal dominated the year, there was also the distinct absence for most of 2017 of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Without those two in the mix, the ATP, at times, felt incomplete, with the rest of the tour, despite their best efforts, unable to halt Federer or Nadal from claiming all four majors this year.

Sure, players like Juan Martin del Potro, Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, even Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov all had their moments, but it never felt like for a minute someone not named Federer or Nadal was going to win one of the majors.

Former two-time Grand Slam champion Marat Safin recently said he felt that there was something wrong with Federer and Nadal, both well into their 30s, dominating the tour like they are. Are Federer and Nadal just that much better than anyone? Yes. But would they have had the same results if Djokovic or Murray had been fully healthy? If each of them return in 2018 to face Federer and Nadal, perhaps we will get the answer to that question.

Women: Venus Williams

How can a woman who did not win a title all season be the player of the year? Because it’s Venus Williams that’s why. When the elder Williams lost to her little sister Serena Williams in the Australian Open final, many thought it would be, perhaps the last time, Venus would appear in a major final. But, of course, Venus was just getting starting.

Williams ended up reaching the Wimbledon final, the U.S. Open semifinals, and the WTA Championships final. Though she came up just short in her efforts, she became the most consistent force, and story, on the women’s tour that week in and week out lacked consistency for multiple reasons.

I’m not saying Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, Jelena Ostapenko, Caroline Wozniacki, or year-end No. 1 Simona Halep did not all merit “best of” accolades, but for me, Venus proved in 2017 that to count her out was simply not part of the story at all this season.

Best Men’s Match:

Federer vs. Nadal – Australian Open Final

Honorable Mention:
del Potro vs. Thiem – U.S. Open Fourth Round

Best Women’s Match:

Simona Halep vs. Maria Sharapova – U.S. Open First Round

Honorable Mention

Garbine Muguruza vs. Angelique Kerber – Wimbledon Fourth Round
Caroline Garcia vs. Elina Svitolina – Beijing Quarterfinals

Certainly the match between Halep and Sharapova in New York felt more like a Grand Slam final than an opening round. Especially when Sharapova won after a bruising three set battle. Plenty of other WTA matches this season were also captivating and of high quality, but this match in particular encapsulated so many storylines for women’s tennis.

When tournament organizers granted Sharapova a wildcard into the main draw, it once again ignited the debate over the Russian star’s recent doping suspension and subsequent entry into tournaments, usually with the help of a wildcard. The French Open denied Sharapova one while Wimbledon didn’t have to bother when Sharapova was unable to play due to injury.

Some felt Sharapova had endured her punishment and that it was time for everyone to move on. Others felt like Sharapova was still being given special treatment due to her star status. Both ended up being valid arguments.

For Halep, she ended up being the unlucky player to draw Sharapova first round. Halep’s part of this matchup was tied to the larger WTA story of the tour still unable to find one player to rule them all after Serena Williams announced her pregnancy.

Halep missed out on winning her first ever major title at the French Open to eventual winner Jelena Ostapenko. That Halep ended up becoming year-end No. 1 without having won a major certainly speaks to her consistency all season. But would it be better to describe Halep as a “first among equals”? After all, when the new season starts in just a few days, there could be yet another new No. 1 and another and another to be crowned. Expect the crown to be passed around more than a few times next year.

Laver Cup and ATP Next Gen Finals

Even non tour events seemed to be defined by or a reaction to or celebration of Federer and Nadal.

The inaugural Laver Cup (which was an exhibition although so many involved kept stressing it wasn’t. If not, what was it then, the Olympics?) turned out to be a bigger success than expected. Nadal and Federer’s participation, especially playing doubles together, had a big part in that success, but it’s fair to say the whole event felt like a real event and not a “hit and giggle”. We’ll see if the event can build on that momentum, as perhaps a rival to the oft-criticized Davis Cup, when it moves to Chicago next year.

Meanwhile, the ATP Next Gen Finals seemed to rely more on fast scoring, shot clocks and other “improvements” in the game as a way to distract the viewer from the realization that this is what the pro tour could be like when Federer and Nadal exit the stage. If this year-end event catches on with fans next year, remains to be seen.

Gone, But Not Forgotten

In 2017, we lost two of all the time greats, both for their accomplishments on the court and in broadcasting.

Hall of Famer Jana Novotna lost her battle to cancer at age 49. Novotna, with her trademark serve and volley game, finally won Wimbledon in 1998 after reaching the finals two times before. Novotna may be most well-known for losing to Steffi Graf in the 1993 final and then crying on the Duchess of Kent’s shoulder afterwards. But Novotna’s sweet victory at Wimbledon proved she was truly one of the all-time greats in the women’s game.

Legendary sports broadcaster Dick Enberg passed away at age 82. Enberg covered tennis for many years, especially on NBC with Bud Collins on “Breakfast at Wimbledon”. Enberg was beloved by so many sports fans and colleagues around the world. His signature “Oh my!” exclamation will never be forgotten.

Wishing everyone a Happy and Healthy 2018!

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