The 2001 Baggie AwardsPosted: Friday December 14, 2001 9:36 AM
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim will return Jan. 7. Click here to send a question.
In what might be described as an off year for civilization, the vagaries of tennis felt, at once, more trivial and meaningful than ever in 2001. Who, really, could dwell on the aftermath of the U.S. Open when, two days after the men's final, the Twin Towers crumbled? Who could expend much energy lamenting Pete Sampras' woes when opening the mail suddenly necessitated wearing gloves?
On the other hand, the liquid soap opera of tennis -- with its plot twists, innumerable sideshows and familiar characters -- somehow grew more comforting than ever. That two sisters, raised a million interplanetary miles from the country-club opulence usually associated with the sport, met in the final of a Grand Slam suddenly became fraught with even more significance. Jennifer Capriati's three-set victory over her past became even more life-affirming. When France defeated Australia to win the Davis Cup and 15,000 Australian fans stood to applaud the visiting team and hum along to the French national anthem, it became all the more poignant.
We commemorate 2001 with the -- gulp -- fourth annual awards show. Before doing so, a quick public-service announcement/lapse into sappiness to thank you for your loyalty, your consistently thoughtful and entertaining questions, and, above all, your passion for the sport. Happy holidays. Have a peaceful 2002. And as a courtesy to the players, please turn off your damn cell phones.
Now back to our regularly scheduled cynicism.
Though he has no obvious connection to our fair sport, Nate Newton will be presenting our awards this year. Newton, the former Dallas Cowboys lineman, was busted last month for transporting more than 200 pounds of marijuana in his van. We couldn't think of anyone more fitting to hand out the Baggie Awards ...
MVP (men): Lleyton Hewitt. Size doesn't matter. At least not when you have the biggest heart in tennis.
MVP (women): Venus Williams. Much like 2000, she started slowly and finished with a flourish, defending her Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles. Rankings be damned, she is the best in the biz.
Most Improved (men): Xavier Malisse. According to the Jennifer Capriati hagiography, her comeback didn't begin until her split with Malisse. But the Ex-Man didn't fare poorly post-breakup, either. A Belgian waffler for the first few years of his career, Malisse found his work ethic, kept his head and finished at No. 31, up nearly 100 spots from 2000.
Most Improved (women): Meghann Shaughnessy. Still flying under the radar screen, the hardest worker on the WTA Tour quietly climbed to the fringes of the top 10.
Comeback Player of the Year (men): Guillermo Canas: Owing to an assortment of injuries, the talented Argentinean finished 2000 a lowly 227 in the Champions Race. Of sound body and mind, he returned to close out 2001 at No. 14.
Comeback Player of the Year (women): Sylvia Farina Elia. What Capriati achieved was extraordinary, but not really a comeback, given that she was already an elite player. Farina Elia, on the other hand, missed much of 2000 with an assortment of injuries. She returned to the tour at the wizened age of 29 and qualified for the year-end championship for the first time.
Most Disappointing (men): Pete Sampras. We knew the gilded era had to end eventually, but who would have guessed that a year after setting the record for career Slams, Sampras would fail to win a single tournament, betraying as much interest in (and commitment to) the Lakers as his own game.
Most Disappointing (women): Anna Kournikova. We never expected greatness. But neither did we expect her to fall out of the top 50. The foot injury that required surgery is partially to blame, but so is a psyche that's as fragile as a Faberge egg.
Jeff Tarango Sportsmanship Award: After winning a rain-delayed semifinal match in Houston that went late into the night, Andy Roddick commandeered the courtside microphone and offered to buy the remaining fans tickets to the next day's final.
Justin Gimelstob Quote of the Year Award
1) Upon hearing that his U.S. Open opponent, 5-foot-9 Michael Tabara, spat at him, the 6-5 Gimelstob said: "Unless he grows about another foot by the time I get back in the locker room, he's in trouble."
2) This one actually is from 2000, but we omitted it last year and it's too good to go unrecognized. After winning a marathon five-setter over Carlos Moya at the U.S. Open, Todd Martin was asked, "Where are you physically?" Martin responded: "Physically? I'm right here. Do you want to know where I am metaphysically?"
So Long, Graduating Seniors
Alberto Berasategui, Jordi Burillo, Filip Dewulf, Jason Stoltenberg, Slava Dosedel, Richard Fromberg, Jaime Oncins, Nathalie Tauziat, Anke Huber, Julie Abe, Sarah Pitkowski, Laurence Courtois, Mariaan DeSwardt, Magnus Gustafsson, the IGA Superthrift Classic in Oklahoma City, Bart McGuire, Pat Rafter (?), the Munich year-end championships (?), Miki Singh.
FINALLY, IN A shameless co-opting of Esquire's Dubious Achievement Awards, here are some of tennis' more memorable moments from 2001.
Sounds like another Australian plot to sabotage my career
A swarm of bees disrupted play at the Brasil Open hard-court event, descending on a second-round match between Jelena Dokic and Iva Majoli, and interrupting play for some 75 minutes. Dokic finally won the match, 6-1, 6-2.
It's obvious, mate: a mutual fondness for bossa nova and spa cuisine
Hewitt claimed he "meant nothing racist" when he pointed first to his U.S. Open opponent, James Blake, and then to line judge Marion Johnson, both African-Americans, and shouted: "Change him! Change him! Look at him and you tell me what the similarity is!"
Are you or are you not a ballboy?
In a Wimbledon match against Sargis Sargisian, Sampras drew the ire of the Centre Court crowd when he jokingly asked the ballboy if he wanted to fetch a ball that had landed in Sampras' shorts.
We prefer to play the percentages
After losing to Monica Seles in the quarterfinals of the San Diego event, Capriati complained that she was affected by Seles' voluble grunting. "It wasn't so much the noise as it was the decimals," Capriati said.
Give or take a few decibels
The inimitable Richard Williams on daughter Serena's comprehensive destruction of top seed Martina Hingis at the U.S. Open: "To be honest with you, I really thought Serena played halfway. If Serena's playing at 65 percent of her game, she's too difficult to beat. But I thought that she was playing over 65 percent. I thought Serena was playing at 71 percent of her game."
The bad news is that you're facing three to five. On the plus side, we hear that Richard Marx is looking for a new lyricist
Croatian-born naval architect Dubravko Rajcevic, 46, was convicted in a Miami-Dade County court of stalking Hingis. At his April trial, he read from a poem he sent to Hingis. "Beautiful sky, music of waves, enjoyable temperature and freshness of air and final the most important words, me with you, will give to you additional inspiration for finding this 10 minutes for full triumph in Key Biscayne."
Lleyton Hewitt, Jennifer Love Hewitt ... what's the difference?
In the fourth set of the dramatic decisive match in the France-Australia Davis Cup finals, the pay-per-view operator pulled a Heidi, cutting off tennis coverage in favor of the movie Heartbreakers.
And besides, my epidermis is showing
After she lost in the first round of the French Open and then went on vacation for three weeks, Amelie Mauresmo pulled out of a Wimbledon tuneup citing "exhaustion."
Yes, but is truth serum an ITF-approved substance?
After losing to Capriati in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon and blaming the loss on an upset stomach, Serena Williams, clearly confused about the definition of the word, explained: "I just think my problem is I'm a hypochondriac. Under hypochondriac they should put Serena Williams."
Guess there's no need to read The Fatal Shore
Asked during the Australian Open what she knew about the host country, Venus Williams responded: "Australia was started as a penal colony in the beginning. They went on to become patriotic Australians, got their own accent, moved away from the British and here we are."
He and my grandmother, both
Verbatim from an ATP newsletter: "Also Monday, Tim Henman took a non-medical trip to The Crocus Trust to visit some of the nation's best bowel and colon surgeons."
It was the inhaled form, no doubt
The site of the Swiss Indoor event was closed for more than an hour when a guard found a letter containing a powder believed to be anthrax. Analysis at a Basel lab revealed the substance to be a couple grams of cocaine.
If I cease getting wild cards, maybe I can find work as a speechwriter for George W.
Alexandra Stevenson, after her first-round Wimbledon win over Tathiana Garbin: "Girls here are pretty strategical."
And while we're at it, we'll have the steak tartare, medium well
From an ATP news press release: "We will continue with the easy-to-follow points race."
Venus Williams on speculation that her father orchestrates results when she plays her sister: "It's not a true opinion at all."
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