The 2010 Baggie Awards
Rafael Nadal overcame a foreboding knee ailment in January to dominate in 2010
Kim Clijsters was the WTA's best player, while Ana Ivanovic was most improved
The year's biggest disappointments were Juan Martin del Potro and Dinara Safina
The Wimbledon champion stepped on glass and didn't play another match the rest of the year. The youngest of the WTA's Grand Slam champs was an "unretired" mother and wife. Serbia won the Davis Cup. Two retired legends, both known for their dignity, trashed each other ... at a charity event. The U.S. Open men's final nearly played out on three different American television networks. James Blake and commentator Pam Shriver debated each other DURING a match. This was the same week another Wimbledon encounter finished 70-68 in the fifth set.
Otherwise, it was standard year in tennis. Serena Williams won her two majors. Kim Clijsters bagged another Slam. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal divvied up the four on the men's side. The Bryan brothers set the all-time record for doubles titles. The sport continued to expand globally, land a few sponsors and, as ever, succeed in spite of itself. So it goes.
Because "tennis offseason" might be the biggest oxymoron this side of "team of mavericks" -- apparently the offseason falls on a Tuesday this year -- we only have a few hours to squeeze in this 2010 awards show. First the cut and paste from years past: before dispensing gifts to our winners, a detour into sappiness. 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 '11 and we'll do it again. Maybe even with podcasts thrown in for variety.
So the votes have been certified by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Jack Valenti. The envelopes please ...
Player of the Year, Men
When Rafael Nadal retired midway through an Australian Open match -- an Australian Open match he was losing decisively -- there was an sinking sense that his knees were mounting a full insurrection and his potential would never be realized. Thanks to rest, the miracle of blood-spinning, and perhaps some simple, inexplicable good fortune, he healed. And didn't lose another Grand Slam match. No need to check surreptitiously with Uncle Toni. The 2010 MVP is Nadal. There's no other credible candidate.
Player of the Year, Women
We can have a debate here. But, rankings be damned, you must have won at least one major to qualify, which eliminates top-ranked Caroline Woznaicki. Serena Williams won two of the four big prizes, but she only played in three other WTA events. We'll cast our vote for Kim Clijsters, who won the U.S. Open, the year-end clambake in Doha and gets bonus points for her ambassadorial disposition.
Most Improved, Men
Ernests Gulbis struggled through a miserable 2009, supplementing a string of losses with an embarrassing legal situation. (Fire up "the Google," if you must.) In 2010, he resumed his ascent up the charts, winning early and often and cracking the top 25.
Most Improved, Women
If former champion flameouts ever decided to form their own union, Ana Ivanovic looked like a potential general secretary. The former No. 1 began the year outside the top 50 and struggled simply to win matches. And then suddenly, she looked like a top player, again, cruising through the late summer and fall, winning a title and getting back to within a grunting earshot of where she once belonged.
Comeback Player of the Year, Men
Unfortunately for Mardy Fish, his physical health has never kept pace with his talent. Late in his career -- married and closing in on age 30 -- he's embraced fitness and nutrition and his body has repaid him accordingly. After missing much of 2009 with a variety of owies, Fish played a full season in 2010 and finished in the top 20.
Comeback Player of the Year, Women
Technically she returned in 2009, but we can't vote for anyone other than Kimiko Date Krumm. A top player in the mid-'90s, she took more than a decade off. In 2010, the year she turned 40, she beat a welter of top players, finished in the 50 and provided one of the brighter storylines for the WTA.
Newcomer of the Year, Men
It's always hard to draw lines of demarcation here, as there aren't true "rookie seasons" in tennis. But we'll cast a vote here for Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania, the youngest player in the top100.
Newcomer of the Year, Women
This category is bit shaky, but we'll go with Petra Kvitova. A long, tall Czech who reached the Wimbledon semis and cracked the top 35.
Doubles team of the Year, Men
Much as we'd like to tip the Indo-Pak Express -- a tidy snapshot of all that's right about tennis -- the Mike and Bob Bryan take the prize again. It's troubling to consider the fate of doubles once these guys retire. But for now, be thankful for their dual presence.
Doubles team of the Year, Women
With the Baldwin-Bassinger-like break-up of Cara Black and Liezel Huber, the category is suddenly wide open. Yaroslava Shvedova and Vania King won two titles in 2010: Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Coach of the Year, Men
Forever known as "Uncle Toni," Toni Nadal is becoming the John Wooden of tennis. Thanks to the exploits of his nephew, he added another three Slams to his resume. Now, if only he'd limit his coaching to times outside the match. Choice 1A might be Paul Annacone. Chart Roger Federer's year on a graph. Note when he hired Annacone. Draw your own conclusions.
Coach of the Year, Women
Vera Zvonareva is undeniably talented. She is also undeniably -- how to put this? -- combustible. Though Zvonareva herself deserves most of the credit, her coach Sergey Demekhine played a role in making sure her skills trumped her emotion. Today, Zvonareva is ranked second in the world, a finalist at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. (He gets bonus points for having previously been an Abercrombie & Fitch model.)
Match of the Year, Men
Let's just retire this category. Isner def. Mahut, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68 at Wimbledon. From the time it started until the time it ended, more than 100 other matches had been completed on the grounds, one U.S. general had been fired, six teams had been eliminated from World Cup and Australia changed leaders.
Match of the Year, Women
No obvious choice, but how about the Australian Open final? Serena Williams, the defending champ, faced her nemesis Justine Henin in the latter's first Slam since "unretiring." Serena prevailed in three sets, but it offered a tantalizing glimpse of what could be the next stage in the rivalry.
Highlight of the Year, Men
A real highlight of the event was the success of the Indo-Pak Express, Aisam Qureshi and Rohan Bopanna, a Pakistani and an Indian, who reached the doubles final at the U.S. Open and brought all sorts of attention to their agenda of peace. If you want to contribute, check out http://indopakexpress.com/.
Highlight of the Year, Women
For all the choke jobs we've seen in big events, Francesca Schiavone took a novel to appearing her first major final a few weeks from turning 30. Instead of feeling freighted with pressure, she simply made the decision to enjoy the occasion and swing with abandon. The result? A Grand Slam title.
Disappointment of the Year, Men
Juan Martin del Potro won the final major of 2009. Belting winners with hard, flat strokes, he looked like a contender to break the Federer-Nadal oligopoly. Thanks mostly to a wrist injury, he was a nonfactor in 2010. (Runner-up: Marin Cilic; second runner-up, Grigor Dmitrov, whose results were uneven before this.)
Disappointment of the Year, Women
We probably pick on her too much. But Dinara Safina was the world's top-ranked player 15 months ago. Today, wracked by a back injury, she is ranked No. 63, having failed to win a solitary title in 2010.
Edward R. Murrow award for journalistic excellence
This guy. This isn't cheering in the press box. It's slobbering.
Fashion Statement of the Year
That is the ultimate representation of paternal pride.
Shot of the Year
Keep your tweener. We'll take this gem from Victor Hanescu:
Cheap shot of the Year
So long, farewell
Carlos Moya, Ai Sugiyama, Elena Dementieva, Martin Damm, Guillermo Canas, Taylor Dent, Sebastien Grosjean, Dominik Hrbaty, Alberto Martin, Mariano Puerta, Paradorn Srichaphan, Peter Wessels, Mariano Zabaleta, Shenay Perry, Virginia Ruano Pascual, Mary Carillo on ESPN, tennis in New Haven, the Dusseldorf World Team Cup.
And with a nod to Esquire's Dubious Achievement Awards:
For real"!©? C'Mon, you're kidding.
Litigious Lleyton Hewitt is embroiled in a court battle over trademark rights for the catch phrase: "C'mon!"
"We settled on Klassy."
In anticipation of their third child, Hewitt and his wife Bec, enabled fans to find out the name of the child via text message -- for $2.
Hate for Hittee
During the philanthropic "Hit for Haiti" event, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi renewed their rivalry with one of the most excruciatingly uncomfortable exchanges outside of reality television.
There was this one time at band camp ...
After meeting the Queen of England, Andy Roddick tweeted: "She said she loved me in the American Pie movies."
They'll be here all fortnight and please remember that tips aren't included in the two-drink minimum.
Quipped Roger Federer on meeting the Queen: "She said I should hit more backhands down the line."
As long as it's not on parents' shirts ...
During a postmatch interview at the U.S. Open, Brad Gilbert asked Novak Djokovic: "Do you have that tweener shot between your legs?" Djokovic's response: "I have something else between my legs."
Grist for the Mille
Weeks after sporting a $525,000 Richrd Mille watch -- an endorsement at odds with his Everyman m.o. -- Rafael Nadal lost the timepiece at the Toronto ATP event.
And why are there no Fruit Roll-ups or juice boxes in the players lounge?
After losing to Marin Cilic in the Australian, Bernard Tomic, 17, lashed out at organizers claiming that the match's late starting time kept him up past his bedtime.
A first-round Australian Open match between Donald Young and Christophe Rochus was interrupted when a ballboy wet his pants, soiling the courts.
Or win more often
After winning the Atlanta Championships doubles crown just eight days after his nuptials, former Stanford standout Scott Lipsky remarked, "I should get married more often."
Who's the Boss?
Months after signing a lucrative contract with adidas -- allegedly £15m over five years -- Andy Murray turned up for a photo shoot wearing a distinctive Hugo Boss-branded polo shirt.
How about this: non-Federerian
Robert Dee was unsuccessful in his defamation suit against British papers describing him as the worst professional tennis player in the world. This defeat did not, however, count against his record.
He meant Native American
After Qureshi and Bopanna won their doubles semifinal at the Los Angeles, the emcee offered a disquisition on success of Indians in doubles. Asked to comment, Qureshi responded: "I don't know, I'm Pakistani."
That's Jankovic, with an I
Asked to comment on the game of fellow Serb, Janko Tipsarevic, Jelena Jankovic responded: "Can I please talk about myself?"
On that note, happy holidays and see you in 2011!
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim is co-author of the forthcoming book Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports are Played and Games Are Won now available for pre-order.