Baggie Awards 2005
The year's best, from Federer to nude men in lockers
Posted: Tuesday December 6, 2005 12:50PM; Updated: Tuesday December 6, 2005 12:50PM
Yes, it's that time of year. Stampedes at Wal-Mart. Yule logs on cable access. Physically exhausted, mentally frazzled tennis players repairing during the offseason by ... traveling across oceans to play exhibitions. And the Baggie Awards.
This was a year that saw Roger Federer lose fewer times than all but a handful of NFL teams. Rafael Nadal won 11 titles -- only to finish a distant second in the rankings. Venus and Serena Williams both added to their Slam haul while, improbably, finishing 10th and 11th respectively. Kim Clijsters broke through. Andre Agassi is still trying to put time in reverse.
The ATP tried to kill doubles and then doubled back. The injuries and ailments afflicting players could fill a season of Scrubs -- one show in which Serena did not appear. At the wizened age of 25, Martina Hingis announced her return to the fray. All of which is to say it was business as usual in the Tennis Republic, a strange, but ultimately, lovable culture that persists in spite of itself.
Before we start dispensing gifts -- and we always open envelopes and read the cards before unwrapping -- I'll take our annual detour from cynicism and snarkiness to say thanks for another fun year. The mantra 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 cold sores -- are read. Think of this as a sincere invitation to belly up to the bar in 2006 and we'll do it again.
That out of our system, herewith the 2005 Baggie Awards:
Clijsters. She won more titles than any other player on tour, including the U.S. Open -- her long awaited Grand Slam breakthrough. That about seals it for us. That she started the year injured and had to shave more than 100 points off her ranking to finish at No. 2 makes it an even easier call.
Newcomer of the Year, men:
Since Nadal, Tom Berdych, Richard Gasquet, etc. are really sophomores, we'll go with Gael Monfils, who, with the help of some key wild cards, made an awfully smooth transition from the juniors to the big league. His game is still carpaccio-raw. But, monsieur, is there a lot of potential there.
Andy Murray. One of the better Scottish exports this side of Trainspotting.
Newcomer of the Year, women:
It's always tough to draw distinctions between freshman and sophomores. But we'll go with Nicole Vaidisova, the hard-hitting Czech who won three events and is ranked No. 16.
Comeback Player (and, lamentably, the field is always rich given the frequency of injury these days), men:
James Blake. The Connecticut Yankee was as low as No. 210 in April. He finished at No .24.
Comeback Player, women
: Clijsters. She was outside the top 100 when she began her charge at Indian Wells. She finished at No. 2.
Coach of the year, men:
Federer. Never mind Papa Roche. For all of Federer's gifts, two underrated ones are his preparation and his ability to make mid-match adjustments.
Coach of the year, women:
David (Hide) Pierce. When family members are coaches the assumption is that they're there for emotional -- not tactical -- support. Sure, Pierce gives his older sister, Mary, a comfort level; but if you've ever seen him warm her up, you know he has some tennis know-how as well.
Match of the year, men:
Australian Open semifinals, Marat Safin defeats Federer 5-7, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6, 9-7. Saved match points. Brilliant shotmaking. High-stakes match. Prime time crowd. As Cliff Drysdale put it: "Tennis can't be played any better than what you're seeing right now."
Nadal defeats Guillermo Coria, Rome final; Agassi defeats Blake, U.S. Open quarterfinals .
Match of the year, women:
Wimbledon final, Venus defeats Lindsay Davenport 4-6, 7-6, 9-7. For two magical weeks, Venus found her game and fighting spirit of old. In this insta-classic she simply refused to accept defeat.
Serena defeats Maria Sharapova, Australian Open semifinals.
Most improved, men:
Nikolay Davydenko. Russian journeyman caught lightning in a bottle and finished year at No. 5. (And he still toils in anonymity.)
Most improved, women:
Sania Mirza. A virtual unknown at the start of the year, the Indian teenager finished at No. 31 and served notice that she'll be a force for years. Bonus points for her thoughtful, outspoken personality; especially in the face of radical opposition.
Irving Thalberg Award, men:
Nadal. Any teenager who wins 11 titles, including the French Open and Masters Series events on three different surfaces, deserves some measure of recognition, even if he finished a distant second in the rankings.
Irving Thalberg Award, women:
Mary Pierce. The queen of the comeback returned marvelously in '05, reaching two Grand Slam finals and, 15 years into her career, finishing fifth in the rankings.
Biggest disappointment, men:
Safin. He played sublime tennis to win the Australian Open and emerged as a credible threat to Federer. Then, Safin being Safin, he went into a tailspin and didn't win another event.
Biggest disappointment, women:
Svetlana Kuznetova. The '04 U.S. Open champ regressed to finish a woeful No. 18. Can she regain confidence for '06?
Doubles team of the year, men:
Bob and Mike Bryan. Bridesmaids at the first three majors, the twins broke through at the U.S. Open. They finished the year at No. 1 and got bonus points for leading the charge against the ATP "enhancements."
Doubles team of the year, women:
Lisa Raymond and Sam Stosur. After years of domination by the baseline-bound team of Paolo Suarez and Virginia Ruano Pascual, Raymond and Stosur played textbook, get-to-the-net-early-and-often doubles.
So long, farewell:
Scott Draper, Karol Kucera, Todd Woodbridge, Rick Leach, Marc Rosset, Sargis Sargsian, Els Callens, Fabiola Zuluaga, Maggie Maleeva, Randy Walker, Mark Miles, David Newman, Chris Wallace, Darrel Fry.
With little prodding from agents, handlers and other toadies during the U.S. Open, the tennis community distinguished itself for a quick and generous response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
Gary Bergman. Who? Read this. It's worth it. I promise.
Storylines to follow in '06
Will the USS Agassi finally come into port? Will instant replay fulfill its promise as a real innovation? Will either tour take meaningful steps to curtail injury-o-rama (and the embarrassing festival of withdrawals it occasions)? Or will tennis remain a caveat emptor enterprise?
Will Andy Roddick -- all together now -- find his ... well, you know ... his bliss? Will the Williams sisters devote themselves more fully to tennis? Which former incarnation will the new Hingis more closely resemble: the imaginative strategist who won majors or the undersized also-ran who was often in danger of being out-hit?
Will we see more anti-doping now that the ITF has taken over testing from the ATP? Will Sharapova's body cooperate with her iron will? Will anyone make inroads against Federer? Will Clijsters continue the tear she's been on for the better part a year?
Lighter moments served up in '05
•Did you hear the one about the elderly seamstress who couldn't mend straight?
Nicolas Almagro took the court for a U.S. Open match with his sponsor patch embroidered upside down.
•"Very well, mullahs. Next order of business: Do supertiebreaks cheapen the integrity of doubles?"
Owing to her "indecent" tennis skirts, Indian star Mirza was slapped with a fatwah by Muslim leaders demanding that she cover up when she played.
•But the money helped him offset the ATP fines from his failure to give interviews.
Lleyton Hewitt sold media rights to his wedding for $500,000.
•Had the business dealings been in Greece, he would have been defaulted.
Nadal's first-round match at the China Open was delayed a day because, according to tournament organizers, his opponent, Wang Yeu-Tzuoo, was conducting "private business" in Turkey.
•Racket? Check. Shoes? Check. Socks? Check. Keys? Wallet? ID? What am I forgetting?
Romania's top-ranked tennis player, Andrei Pavel, forgot to enter the Romanian Open. Organizers lavished him with a last-minute wild card.
•That and the unforced errors.
After losing 6-0, 6-1 to Sharapova in the second round at Wimbledon, 15-year-old Sesil Karatantcheva remarked: "Today something didn't feel right. I guess it's the puberty's fault."
•On the plus side, my grammar has never been better.
Characterizing the state of her tennis, Justine Henin-Hardenne told reporters at the French Open: "My game is better than it's never been."
•My ability to count, however, has never been better.
Asked about her second serve, Davenport remarked: "I don't feel edgy. Probably the best word is: not confident any more."
•Upon hearing this, the embarrassed Swede turned into scarlet Johansson.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph at Wimbledon, Judy Murray, the endearingly guileless mum of Andy, explained that she was happy her son got to share a practice court with Joachim Johansson because he is "very easy on the eye."
•And could you tweeze your eyebrows and style your hair a bit, while you're at it.
Russian tennis chief Shamil Tarpishchev asserted that the national federation would not hold a ceremony honoring Yevgeny Kafelnikov until the former player lost weight. "To have a proper farewell he needs to trim down," said Tarpishchev.
•Now if The Bold and the Beautiful calls, I'm all ears.
Sharapova, on spurning an offer to be on Desperate Housewives. "First of all, I'm not desperate and [second] I'm not a wife."
•In the wake of this, Miroslava Vavrinec took out a restraining order.
Ivan Ljubicic opened his locker in the Key Biscayne event to find Michael Llodra crouched inside. Naked. "I'm trying to get positive energy from you. You're winning a lot of matches this year,''' Llodra explained to Ljubicic, who started the year by reaching four tournament finals.
•And that's before taxes!
Asked about how she chose her sponsors, Sharapova remarked: "If some stupid company offers you millions of dollars, but wants you to work 30 days a year, that's nonsense."
•And she still only conceded playing at 40 percent.
Asked after a routine win, "Was anything not working for you today?" Serena Williams responded: "I was having a hard time getting a cell signal in the stadium this morning. "
During the French Open women's semifinal between Pierce and Elena Likhovtseva, Pam Shriver informed viewers that Pierce was suffering from a cut on her hand that occurred while shaving. "She shaves her hands?" Mary Carillo asked from the booth. No, Shriver explained, Pierce shaves her arms. Only in tennis.
We leave you with this, your Moment of Zen for 2005.
Happy holidays and best for '06, everyone!
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim covers tennis for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com.