Top 10 tennis stories of 2010
Rafael Nadal joined the elite class of players to achieve the career Grand Slam
Serena Williams won two more majors, but played just six events all season long
The Bryan brothers made a serious claim as the greatest doubles team of all time
1. The new sheriff. Was it really 2009 that the last holdout caved, and we reached a rare consensus that Roger Federer was the best player in the modern era? Suddenly it's a race again. After retiring from the Australian Open with a knee injury, Rafael Nadal stormed back to win three straight majors, completing the career Grand Slam and bringing his total to nine -- still seven fewer than Federer, but ahead of his trajectory. If Nadal completes the "Rafa Slam" in Australia, the debate will only intensify. Pick a side, but agree it makes for compelling theater.
2. Tennis Nation got the "full Serena." The younger Williams sister was at her indomitable best, winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles, attaining her 12th and 13th career majors, and, at least in the eyes of some, insinuating herself into the "best ever" conversation. But part of her m.o. is injury and mystery and she didn't disappoint there either. Shortly after Wimbledon, she stepped on a shard of glass at a restaurant in Europe. There was confusion, speculation, obfuscation, conflicting reports. All that ultimately mattered: she didn't play another match the rest of the year and has already pulled out of the 2011 Australian Open.
3. John Isner d. Nicolas Mahut: 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68 at Wimbledon. From the time this epic started until the time it ended two days later, 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. Despite winning more points in a match than any other player in history, Mahut walked off a loser.
4. Doubles vision. The puns and quips began growing mold years ago ("I'm seeing doubles on the doubles court!") In reality, twins Mike and Bob Bryan might be the most accomplished doubles practitioners of all-time. In 2010, they "scaled Mt. Woody," surpassed Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge, breaking the ATP Tour record for doubles championships with the 62nd. They twins also won the U.S. Open, beating the so-called Indo-Pak Express in one of the more spirited, well-attended doubles matches in recent years.
5. Also-rans fail to make gains. For most of the year, there was plenty of opportunity for the WTA's E-suite to get the corner office. Serena Williams played sparingly. Her sister seldom played to her abilities. Justine Henin missed the second half the season. Yet, no one made much of a land grab. Jelena Jankovic and Dinara Safina -- two former No. 1s -- regressed. A third, Ana Ivanovic, finally snapped out of a deep slump but it barely got her back into the top 20. Maria Sharapova seldom looked like her old self.
6. Serbia goes Cup crazy. Anyone distressed by tennis' modest profile wasn't following the event in Belgrade the first week in December. Serbia hosted France for the Davis Cup, a tie played under conditions that make the World Cup matches look tame and leisurely. Trailing 1-2, the Serbs stormed back to win both matches on the final day and win the Cup. The event has been called the single greatest moment in the country's history. Not sports history. History history. And if the Twitter feed of Janko Tipsarevic is any indication, they're still celebrating.
7. Going streaking. Like too much in tennis, it went generally unnoticed by the general sports fan. But Roger Federer's appearance in 23 straight Grand Slam semifinals was simply an absurd streak. That's nearly six years of consistency: different surfaces, different conditions, different opponents, different continents. (Apples and oranges comparison but here goes: Tiger Woods' longest streak of top-four finishes at majors? Four.) All good things, however, must end. And at the French Open, Federer was upended in the quarters by Robin Soderling, the man he'd beaten in the final the previous year. With the streak finally snapped, folks started noticing.
8. Schiavone make most of moment. So often, when tennis furnishes an unexpected Grand Slam finalist, the player arrives with a just-happy-to-be here attitude. They enjoy the day, take the check and then lose to Agassi or Federer or Serena Williams. Not so Francesca Schiavone. The Italian veteran spent her career as something more than a likable, flashy journeywoman but something less than a top-echelon player. Conjuring the best tennis, she reached the French Open. And then she decided to play the best match of her life. Taking bold risks and meeting the moment, she won the title. She was happy to be there. All the more so when she left with the trophy.
9. Dutch delight. If you thought Federer, Nadal and Serena were the most dominating athletes in tennis, think again. Esther Vergeer, a Dutch wheelchair player, Vergeer hasn't lost a match in almost a decade, a string of more than 100 events. Slowly, her story is seeping out to the public at large. When she won her 400th consecutive match last month, it made international news. Look for more from her next year.
10. For a good cause. At the 2010 Australian Open, Roger Federer hastily organized "Hit for Haiti," an impromptu exhibition that represented everything right about tennis. Players on both tours came together, sold out Rod Laver Arena, raised millions and brought immeasurable awareness an issue. When players attempted to replicate this event a few months later in Indian Wells, it went less smoothly. Rekindling a rivalry already inflamed by book passages, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras carried out an uncomfortable feud on the court.