Some WTA stuff mixed in but it's a good read
2003 Tennis-X Awards: The Best and Worst in Pro Tennis
By Richard Vach
It was an amazing year in the world of pro tennis. One year ago would you really have believed that Andy Roddick would finish No. 1? That Venus and Serena would not hit a ball after playing a Wimbledon final? That Lleyton Hewitt would finish outside the Top 15 while Martina Navaratilova would finish Top 10 in doubles? That Anna would be photographed on a park bench with Enrique's hand down her pants? And it goes on and on. It was a year in which the "New(est) Balls," led by Roddick, finally took over as Pete Sampras, Michael Chang and even Martina Hingis officially put the racquets in the bag, and the Belgians asserted immediate control of the women's tour in the Williams' absence. There were new babies, one named Jaz comes to mind, new spliter groups (IMTA), a new Tennis Channel and new leadership in key roles, see WTA and Larry Scott. So it's time to hand out what you have been waiting for: The 2003 Tennis-X Awards, recognizing the best (and the worst) in pro tennis for the year ending two thousand three:
Player of the Year: Andy Roddick
A-Rod, The Kid, Mr. Mandy Moore, the $3.2 million dollar man in 2003, Pay-Rod, whatever you want to call him short of a four-letter word (unless you're Ivan Ljubicic), Andy Roddick was at the forefront of tennis during the second half of the year after catching fire under new coach Brad Gilbert. It began with a grasscourt title at Queen's, and a semifinal effort at Wimbledon (l. to eventual champ Roger Federer). Then a stunning summer hardcourt run, including titles at Indianapolis, the TMS-Canada, TMS-Cincy, and US Open propelled the brash American to the top spot, narrowly edging New Balls foes Federer and Juan Carlos Ferrero. While Ferrero dumped his last six matches of the year to take himself out of the running, Federer almost stole A-Rod's thunder with his first slam title at Wimbledon and a stunning performance at the year-end Masters Cup. But no one in tennis could match the hype and rock-star status granted to Roddick the last five months of the season.
Runners-up: Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne, the women's No. 1 who was a tooth-brushing away from usurping Roddick for the top honor... Kim Clijsters we considered, until we remembered her choking ways, losing an amazing six finals during the year.
Biggest Surprise: Justine Henin-Hardenne
After finishing last year in the middle of the Top 10, no one tagged the diminutive Belgian as the year-end No. 1 player for 2003. The Williams sisters helped out, sitting out the last few months of the year with injuries, but as Henin-Hardenne showed by upending Serena at the French Open, she has the skills to pay the bills. "I think all these players don't like it I'm not so strong and tall and am not the same looking players as them," H-H said. "They don't like to see me running all over the court and having power, too. Mentally, it's hard for them to compete against me." That backhand is a thing of beauty.
Runners-up: Guillermo Coria, dominating on clay and showing a vastly-improved hardcourt game...the Argentine Army...Andy Roddick, who knew it would come so quickly?
Player to Watch: Rafael Nadal
This kid is the real deal, guaranteed Top 10 (maybe in 2004) with a shot at No. 1. Only 17-years-old and possesing cat-like quickness and tenacious groundstrokes, "The Prodigy" was not even in this year's ATP Media Guide, but burst on the scene reaching four Challenger finals (winning one title) before debuting on tour at the TMS-Monte Carlo event where he ousted defending French Open champion Al Costa en route to the third round. He followed that with a win over Carlos Moya at the TMS-Hamburg, a third round effort at Wimbledon, beat Younes El Aynaoui at Bastad, and reached his first tour semifinal at Umag (l. to Moya). Was hampered late in the year with injuries, but keep an eye in 2004 on the lefty, who like most new-generation Spaniards can perform on all surfaces, and if he builds the serve -- watch out.
Runners-up: Feliciano Lopez, the net-savvy Spanish lefty can do it on all surfaces, and 2004 should be his coming-out party...Taylor Dent, if this kid could stay uninjured for more than a month at a time, he would challenge for the Top 10...Maria Sharapova, the grunt alone should get in her into the Top 8.
Best Match: Andy Roddick d. Younes El Aynaoui, Australian Open quarterfinal, 4-6, 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-4, 21-19
For those that can remember this far back, January provided a stellar start to the year at the Australian Open. With both players competing at an incredibly high level, Roddick twice came back from a set down, and in the end the two warriors could barely move, embracing in exhaustion at the net in front of a standing ovation. The five-hour match, which featured the longest fifth set (in games) in Slam history, was played at an incredibly high level throughout but took its toll on the winner, as Roddick got worked in the semifinals by Rainer Schuettler.
Runners-up: Justine Henin-Hardenne beating Serena Williams in the French Open semis, featuring compelling play and the controversial "talk to the hand" incident ("(Serena) wasn't very happy, but that is sport...that is tennis," Henin-Hardenne said)...Also an under-the-weather Henin-Hardenne beating a choking Jennifer Capriati at the US Open...Arnaud Clement, out of action for part of 2003 with a wrist injury, played an amateur tournament in the south of France LEFT-HANDED and won the event.
Worst Match: Juan Carlos Ferrero d. Martin Verkerk, French Open final, 6-1, 6-3, 6-2
Martin "Berzerk" Verkerk's freak run ends with a pounding at the hands of clay king Juan Carlos Ferrero. How different would things have been if Guillermo Coria didn't get shaken by his racquet-throwing incident in the semis against Verkerk? Coria wins that match, beats J.C. in the final, and you would have had the little Argentinean as the year-end No. 1. Discuss among yourselves.
Runner-Up: Any loss by Yevgeny Kafelnikov -- need we elaborate?
Best Event: Wimbledon
Great storylines with Roger Federer finally becomes a man, putting on a spectacular display of near-pefect tennis against two of the biggest servers in the game in Andy Roddick in the semifinals and Mark Philippoussis in the final. Lleyton Hewitt was bounced in the first round by Lurch-like Ivo Karlovic, the tallest player to ever compete at The Championships. Even Tim Henman gave the Brits reason to cheer playing quality tennis with a quarterfinal run. On the women's side, Serena Williams turns back Venus in another three-set freaky sister affair, while the tabloids went ga-ga over the leggy Maria Sharapova. Strawberries and cream for everyone. Jolly good.
Runners-up: About 80 other tournaments.
Worst Event: WTA Championships
The lack of big stars (out with injury: both Williams sisters, Lindsay, Monica) and lack of big-match tension (the No. 1 and No. 2 Belgians didn't even meet) in the cavernously-empty STAPLES Center made this event the bust of the year. At least they finally adopted the eight-player round robin format instead of the horrible 16-player draw.
2003 Best Comeback in a Match: Lleyton Hewitt
The ostentatious Aussie is best remembered for skipping all his tournaments after the US Open to prepare for the Davis Cup final, but forgotten was his stunning semifinal win against Roger Federer and Switzerland in the semifinals. Hewitt trailed 5-7, 2-6, 3-5, and all but looked lights-out against the confidently cool Federer, who was riding a remarkable streak of 31 consecutive sets won in Davis Cup play. But with his back against the wall, Hewitt pulled out the third set tiebreak 7-6(5), then rolled the Swiss 7-5, 6-1 in the final two sets. The win clinched the tie 3-1, putting Australia into yet another Davis Cup final, which they would go on to win.
Runner-up: Andy Roddick against David Nalbandian at the US Open, coming back from two sets down and a match point, nice choke Argentine.
Biggest Collapse: Alex Corretja
When the former No. 2-ranked player envisioned his 2003 campaign, it probably didn't include 15 first round losses, including a stretch of seven in a row. The Spaniard lost first round at the Australian Open, the French Open, skipped Wimbledon, and lost first round at the US Open, finishing the year outside the Top 100. Nice effort for a nice guy, we'll mail you the plaque.
Biggest Tank: Marat Safin, Barcelona Final
While Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov never hesitated to put on the flippers during a match at the slightest provocation, countryman Marat Safin seemed to reverse the trend back in March when, at the TMS-Indian Wells event, he competed against Robby Ginepri (winning only one game) while suffering from the flu: "I didn't feel good, I didn't have any energy, I couldn't concentrate. Two days ago, I was throwing up and had fever. But you have to play until the end, no matter what." One month later in the best-of-five set Barcelona final, Safin retired against Carlos Moya, trailing 7-5, 2-6, 2-6, 0-3 because he was "tired." "I could not finish the match since I was extremely tired," said Safin, who cited no injury, but ATP staff later referred to a "stomach problem." Thanks for trying Marat.
Best Feud: Lleyton Hewitt vs. ATP
Australian favorite son Lleyton Hewitt sued the ATP for $1.5 million for not dropping a $20,000 fine imposed on him in 2002 for failing to do a television interview with host broadcaster ESPN in Cincinnati. "The appeal lodged on behalf of Lleyton was never about money," said father Glynn Hewitt said. "The ATP does not seem to recognize this...it should be understood that the issue is, and always has been, about clearing Lleyton's name." Since we have to guess, uh, Lleyton's name has always stood for, ummm...being such a great guy?
Runners-up: Billie Jean King vs. Jennifer Capriati for their Fed Cup flap...Masters Cup promotor Jim "Mattress Mac" McIngvale vs. the European players at the Masters Cup...Brent Larkham, the brother and coach of Australian player Todd Larkham, threatening to punch John McEnroe after the former No. 1 criticized Todd's performance against Lleyton Hewitt at the Australian Open.
Biggest Tease Andre Agassi and wife Steffi Graf playing mixed doubles together
Everyone thought that Andre had convinced the Mrs. to come out of retirement and play mixed doubles at either the French or Wimbledon, but that idea was nixed after it was revealed that Steffi would be producing another genetically perfect tennis prodigy.
Runners-up: Roger Federer, After winning Wimbledon, everyone thought the Swiss was a shoe-in for the year-end top spot...The Andy Roddick reality show "The Tour," which was on for 2004, then A-Rod says it is a no-go, then the Associated Press reports it is on again. Who knows?
Best Quote: Bruna Colosio
Who? The little-known Brazilian who beat up on the struggling Anna Kournikova while Anna was slumming it earlier in the year on the minor-league USTA Circuit. Colosio said Kournikova's serve was so weak, "I could almost hit an overhead off of it." Sweet.
Runners-up: Martina Navratilova branded two-time major golf champion Vijay Singh a "wuss" for criticizing Annika Sorenstam's participation on the men's PGA Tour...Bob Bryan focusing on Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the French Open doubles final: "Yevgeny is a great player but he's not the most positive towards his partner, that's the bottom line. We thought if we went to Paul (Haarhuis) and he started missing a few, that Yevgeny would shake his head, roll his eyes and the team would just go down."...James Blake on getting the hang of moving on the red dirt: "I still do that American slide -- slide, hit the ball, slide a little more and then almost lose my balance."...Vince Spadea at the TMS-Miami, where court temperatures were over 100 degrees: "It was very hot. And I'm from Florida, so what I say counts."
2003 Worst Quote: Kim Clijsters
Kim Clijsters on the state of women's tennis: "You know, I know that in a lot of Grand Slams I think, you know, women's tennis, you know, I mean if you watch -- you know, I'm in the committee of the WTA and, you know, we get a lot of the results back from the Grand Slams and stuff. And, you know, women's tennis, at the moment, I think is a little bit more popular I think, if you compare them to, you know, whatever, TV ratings and stuff like that." We didn't make that up.
Runners-up: Serena "Junk in the Trunk" Williams: "I haven't been to the gym in about four weeks. I think my trainer's upset about that. And I had a Snickers the other day. I don't know how I stay so fit."...Kim's dad Leo Clijsters, insinuating that Justine Henin-Hardenne is illegally bulking up: "You want me to tell you why Justine is beating Kim regularly? Because her muscle mass has doubled and she now has an arm like Serena's." Huh?
Most Embarrassing: The American Tennis Masters Cup
Is it any mystery why Americans can't understand why other countries' citizens find them so offensive, case in point, millionaire Masters Cup promoter Jim "Mattress Mac" McIngvale? At the international event celebrating the best in men's tennis, McIngvale drapes the place with American flags, dons an American flag shirt, and openly roots against the non-American players. Money can buy you ATP tournaments, but apparently not class.
Runners-up: That JP Morgan Chase suit calling Justine Henin-Hardenne "Christine" during the trophy presentation at the US Open (thanks for being a fan of the game)...Jennifer Capriati requesting the profane 1999 Outkast song "Bombs Over Baghdad" to be played during her match warm-up at the Nasdaq-100 Open: "I like the song, and I wanted to support the troops."...The ATP, realizing it has been playing dope dealer, announcing that player Bohdan Ulihrach's two-year suspension, fine and loss of ranking points were dismissed, and giving Ulihrach a big back-room settlement...ATP CEO Mark Miles pissing off the ITF and the management companies with boycott talk, and players getting pressure from all sides, including their own clothing companies, to stop a boycott...Michael Chang Farewell Tour...Anna Kournikova's horrible stint as a roving reporter for USA Network at the US Open, quitting after saying she didn't like quizzing fellow players, and was eating too much while roaming around the US Open grounds...Jimmy Connors' name spelled "Jimmy Conners" on the big screen just before a video tribute to him at the US Open (Go USTA!).
Biggest Tour Screw-Up: ATP Drug Scandal
The ATP unknowingly hands out illegal substances to players through the ATP trainers, who believe they are giving players untainted "supplements." The ATP then reverses their ban on player Bohdan Ulihrach, and then pay him a likely seven-figure settlement so he won't sue them. Nice drug policy.
Runners-up: Larry Scott -- The new WTA Tour CEO announces, during another heinous WTA Championships at the STAPLES Center in L.A., that the event will be hightailing it out of there after 2004. Problem was, this was news to the big tournament sponsors, who were not amused to be hearing it second-hand. Screw-up, or calculated announcement, as some contend? We lean toward the former...The ATP publicly approaching the ITF with a request for $50 million to help defray tour costs, only to be laughed at.
Biggest Disappearance: Tommy Haas
Everyone thought shoulder surgery would have done the trick, but the German, scheduled to be back in March, was slow to recover and ended up not making an appearance on tour in 2003. From former No. 2 to only hitting balls underwater in Pacific Life commercials. Expected to return in January 2004.
Runners-up: Thomas Johansson, the 2002 Australian Open winner didn't hit a ball in 2003 with shoulder problems; Tommy the J. is expected to be back in January 2004...The International Men's Tennis Association (IMTA) movement, designed to represent players' interests separate from the ATP but has been off the radar since Wimbledon...The quality level at the Tennis Masters Series events, which the top players skip out on regularly now since there is no longer a year-end bonus money penalty...The WTA Tour's "Get In Touch With Your Feminine Side" marketing campaign...Williams sisters decided the season ended after Wimbledon.
Biggest Genius: Brad Gilbert
This hurts to admit, Brad Gilbert back on the scene (as opposed to his garden), taking Andy Roddick under his wing midway through 2003. Now he's like Mastercard, everywhere you don't want him to be, and a coaching legend in guiding Andre Agassi and now Roddick to No. 1.
Runner-up: Roger Federer -- while other players have a few weapons in their arsenal, the Swiss has every tool in the toolbox at his disposal.
Best Press Conference: Ivan Ljubicic, US Open
The Croatian loses to Andy Roddick, then unleashes his fury on the American in the post-match conference: "I mean, generally, I don't like him. I mean, not me, nobody in the locker room like his acting on the court...He doesn't respect the others, that's all what I can say." The ATP subsequently goes into Furious Spin Mode, Ljubicic gives Andy some late-night phone calls in an attempt to patch things up, Ljubicic speaks at a press conference on the issue the next day, and now they're the best of friends. Well, not really.
Most Missed: Venus Williams
Going from No. 1 to "perpetual second banana" behind Serena to "hampered by injury" then "off the tour" was a quick downward spiral for the once-dominating older sister. Stop taking it easy on little sis and get that killer instinct back. As Serena has morphed from likable to annoyingly stuck on herself, Venus morphed from hard-nosed world-beater to philosophical dress-designing softie. You've let Serena have her moment -- come back Venus.
Runners-up: Martina Hingis -- that bitchy little Swiss with the exacting chess-like game would be a nice addition to the current WTA mix...Richard Krajicek -- another exciting serve-and-volley game goes by the wayside...Pete Sampras -- with his personality you may not know that he's gone, but you have to give it up for arguably the greatest player the game has seen, the "Michael Jordan" of tennis...Anna Kournikova -- with all the press she still gets you may not know she is not playing tournaments with the bad back, but the WTA needs the veteran cheesecake back on court to guide the up-and-coming Russian hotties in the ways of Internet branding.
Most Full-of-Self: Serena Williams
Before injury cut short the American's year, Serena was atop the WTA Rankings, and revealed that the only person that could beat her was...well, herself. "Yeah, I think that's definitely a hundred percent accurate. I mean, all the matches I've lost I've pretty much beaten myself. It's not like I went out and did everything I could have done and played great, was just amazing. Whenever I lose, it's not because the girl I lost to just played an outstanding match; it's normally because I'm making 80 errors, just not doing the things I need to do. So I think that's a very accurate statement." Serena also commented on women's tennis with her and sister Venus being injured: "Without us, it's a little dry."
Congratulations to all our winners, the plaques are in the mail, or stop by the main office. See you in 2004.