And the 2008 Baggies go to ...
Rafael Nadal and Dinara Safina provided the games best individual years
Roger Federer is back to climbing up Mount Sampras after U.S. Open win
Few folks are likely to describe 2008 as a gilded year. Oh, for the days, when "bailout" was something done to a wayward rowboat, homes were worth more than mortgages, and Iceland was best known as a quirky (and solvent) vacation destination. Fortunately, tennis was there to provide us with diverting entertainment and some welcome escapism. The sport up to its usual tricks this year, serving up jarring plot twists (Justine Henin, the top WTA player, abruptly retiring), relentless melodrama, and enough mutually destructive in-fighting and finger-pointing to shame the post-election McCain and Palin camps.
In the end, though -- and it's ever thus -- order trumped chaos and the year was marked by excellence. Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer in the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played, and finally wrested away the top ranking. Forever answering those pesky questions about his mettle, Federer recovered to win the U.S. Open, salvaging his season and putting his assault on Mt. Sampras back on schedule for 2009. The Williams sisters continued to triumph in their unconventional way, each winning another Major. Tiny Serbia lay claim to three of the world's top ten players.
Because "Tennis off-season" might be the biggest oxymoron this side of "team of mavericks," we only have a few hours to squeeze in this 2008 awards show. (Only two more weeks to the 2009 Chennai Open!) But before dispensing gifts to our winners, a rare detour into sappiness. This is a cut-and-paste from years past but the sentiment holds: If you get half as much pleasure (guilty to be sure) from reading this column as I get from writing it, we're all doing pretty well.
Your questions and observations are, reliably, thoughtful and informed and passionate, and please know that every last one -- even the ones wishing me incurable athlete's foot -- are read. Think of this as a sincere invitation to belly up to the bar in '09 and we'll do it again.
The votes have been certified by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Jack Valenti. The envelopes please for the 2008 Baggies. ....
Player of the Year, Men:
Had Rafael Nadal somehow managed to have won the U.S. Open, he would have compiled the most decorated men's season in the Open Era. As it was, he won the French Open for the fourth straight time, took an Olympic gold in Beijing, beat Roger Federer in the epic Wimbledon final and finished with the top ranking. Vamos, indeed.
Player of the Year, Women:
The top of the WTA resembled nothing so much as a revolving door, what with the incumbent (Justine Henin) quitting, the heiress apparent (Maria Sharapova) unhealthy, and the four Majors providing us with four different winners. The indefatigable (and blessedly candid) Jelena Jankovic deserves much credit for finishing at No.1. But, working on the assumption that the MVP must have won at least one Major, the vote here goes to Venus Williams. She not only won Wimbledon yet again but backed it up by taking the year-end Championships title.
Newcomer of the Year, Men:
Marin Cilic: Croatian Sensation cracks twenty-five before his 20th birthday, thereby edging out Kei Nishikori and Ernests Gulbis.
Newcomer of the Year, Women:
Caroline Wozniacki: A very good Dane -- if not a great Dane -- eighteen-year-old started the season outside the top 50 and finished near the top 10.
Comeback Player of the Year, Men:
Robin Soderling: Swede recovers from wrist injury and finishes season at No. 17.
Comeback Player of the Year, Women:
Anna-Lena Groenefeld: After two years in the abyss, former top 20 player is on the way back to where she once belonged.
Coach of the Year, Men:
Toni Nadal: If his English were better (or, alternatively, our Spanish were better), we'd be calling him the Yoda of Tennis.
Coach of the Year, Women:
Oracene Williams: Another multiple Slam year for Williams mere.
Most Improved, Men:
With a tip of the cap to symmetry, we declare a tie between Juan Martin Del Potro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: They finished 2007 at spots 42 and 43 in the rankings respectively. They finish 2008 at No. 9 and No. 6. (Honorable mention: Andy Murray, up to No. 4.)
Most Improved, Women:
Dinara Safina: No longer "Marat's sister," she finished 2008 as the top Russian. Which is saying something.
Doubles team of the year, Men:
Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic: A pair of Belgrade natives were Grade A in 2008.
Doubles Team of the Year, Women:
Cara Black and Liezel Huber: Who said there were no consistent WTA winners this year?
Edward R. Murrow Journalism Award:
The intrepid reporter at the Indian Wells event who posed this question to Andy Roddick:
"Andy, what is going on, if you don't mind, in the love department? You know, you've got all these pretty little kitty girls in the tennis skirts and they're going to come and oogle and ogle you and give you the little winky."
Match of the Year, Men:
Nadal d. Federer, 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7. Wimbledon final. Enough said.
Match of the Year, Women:
Though the reasons are totally understandable, the Williams-Williams encounters simply lack the required tension to warrant MOY consideration. We'll go with Serena Williams beating Jelena Jankovic, 6-4, 7-5, to win the U.S. Open final.
Quote of the Year, Men:
Roddick on Novak Djokovic's litany of injuries. Let's go the video tape.
Quote of the Year, Women:
Jankovic on losing the Miami final despite the star-studded crowd:
"I had all these actors when I was returning...I was thinking that one of them (Woody Harrelson) was in that movie "White Men Can't Jump." I was feeling when I was playing that match that White Girls Can't Play, you know?"
Agent of the Year:
So long, Farewell:
Justine Henin, Monica Seles, Alicia Molik, Clarisa Fernandez, Lindsay Davenport (?), Gustavo Kurten, Felix Mantilla, Jonas Bjorkman, Etienne deVilliers, Arlen Kantarian, USA's coverage of the U.S. Open, Barry Lorge, Lennart Bergelin, Davide Sanguinetti.