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Player of the Year 2007
Our Player of the Year has sometimes been the year's male or female singles champion--i.e., the winner in the year's points race. That was the case, for example, in naming Serena Williams in 2002 and Roger Federer in 2004 and 2006. Often, however, we have recognized narrower achievements that seemed of higher drama or historical significance--unusual success in doubles, perhaps, or in winning a single event in a surpassing fashion, or extreme contributions in Davis Cup or Fed Cup play.
Of the three prime candidates for 2007, two are the year's #1 players--Roger Federer and Justine Henin. Both achieved unusually strong margins of dominance. Our third candidate is from the second category.
DAVIS CUP 07 AND OUR THIRD CANDIDATE
The United States has captured the Davis Cup more often than any other nation in tennis history. But prior to 2007 there had been a 11-year dry spell for the Americans, where six other nations won the crown, five of them twice. The dispersion of Cup success among many nations was essentially healthy for the sport, but a Cup triumph in 2007 for the once-dominant tennis nation seemed overdue.
In recent times, the Americans seemed to have found the right blend of young talent. Under Patrick McEnroe's low-key but energetic leadership Andy Roddick, James Blake, the Bryan brothers, and others of the same tennis generation have been total in their commitment to Cup success. Meanwhile all of them in their behavior and sportsmanship have been exemplary representatives of their country. There had been many winning Cup engagements against various opponents, but in every year matters seemed to conspire against a U.S. triumph. The Yanks did reach the final round in 2004, but a potent Spanish team featuring Moya and newcomer Nadal prevailed on home-nation clay.
Year 2007 seemed different, as the draw protected the Americans against facing the best clay-court nations on their preferred surface. The quest began on indoor clay in Czech Republic in February. There, Blake lost his first-day match to Berdych in four sets, but Andy Roddick captured two singles and the Bryans won the doubles for a comfortable U.S. win. Then in April the Americans faced Spain (without Nadal) on an indoor hard court in Winston-Salem. The American line-up--Blake, Roddick, and the Bryans--consecutively won the first three matches to settle matters quickly.
For their September semi-final the Americans traveled to Gothenburg to face a dangerous Swedish team on a hard, indoor court. (Sweden, whose open championship is played on clay, chose against using that surface.) Again the Yanks overcame a first-day singles loss by Blake with two wins by Roddick and another doubles win by the Bryans. Thus, prior to the December final against Russia, Andy Roddick had won all five of his singles matches, all of them meaningful, and the Bryans too were undefeated.
The opposition in Portland was the fine Russian team, Cup champions the last two years. In the semi-final round the previous year, 2006, the Russians had hosted the Americans on indoor clay and beaten them firmly. In one of the singles matches Mikhail Youzhny had defeated James Blake in four sets, and in another Tursunov had beaten Andy Roddick in five. Remarkably, these two match-ups became the card for the first-day's singles at Portland. The large difference in 2007 was the fast, hard court surface chosen by the host nation, likely to benefit the harder-hitting Americans and, especially, the serving strength of Andy.
Matters unfolded largely as the Americans had hoped. Roddick's potent serve allowed Andy increasingly to dominate Tursunov, giving Andy the edge in short points and allowing him otherwise to stay with conservative shot-making against his sometimes erratic opponent. Blake's all-out attacking strokes then prevailed in four sets over his opponent, the dangerous Youzhny, who again and again seemed ready to turn matters in his favor. James's success in rising to deny the Russian player's late charges led to one of James's finest career victories.
The Saturday doubles settled matters. The Bryans faced in their opponents two superb singles artists, Igor Andreev and Nikolay Davydenko. The Russians played well, typically lingering in back court in receiving serve and in Andreev's serving games, where Andreev's sizzling forehand prowess provided constant threat. But as the twins gradually adjusted to the baseline power of their opponents, matters gradually swung to the favor of the year's doubles #1 pair.
The success at Portland, and indeed the entire U.S. Davis Cup effort in 2007, was first of all a collegial, or "team", victory. There were of course many individual contributions, where Roddick's was certainly the most central. Andy's singles wins (along with the doubles wins of the twins) were of course indispensable. But also important was the extended, indeed multi-year contribution by Andy as the team's leading player in rallying the full commitment of his contemporaries to Captain McEnroe and the overall team cause. In returning the Cup to U.S.A. in 2007 after years of frustration and never-failing commitment, the team's achievement equals any Cup triumph in U.S. tennis history. For Andy's central role as player and team leader in making this happen, we deem him our third Player of Year candidate for 2007.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Andy's other successes in 2007, a year in which he turned 25, were not outstanding. He won the tournament here in Washington, where the opposing field was not strong, where his presence contributed greatly in the event's success. He reached the final four in Australia, lost early at Garros to Andreev, reached the final eight at Wimbledon and U.S. Open, and ended the year sixth in the points race, equalling his lowest finish since reaching #1 in 2003.
Meanwhile Andy's achievements in the winning of the Cup are hard to compare with Roger Federer's as the year's singles champion. To me, the wondrous crowd response at Portland, as in countless Cup engagements during the year throughout the world, again showed the hugely important potential role of Davis Cup play in strengthening the sport's traditions and appeal. Accordingly attaching great importance to Andy's Cup role, we here choose Andy Roddick the leading male candidate for our award, ever so slightly ahead of Federer.
Having narrowed our choices to Roddick on the one hand, and the year's female champion, Henin, on the other, we find a margin just as slender. The consistent successes of Justine throughout the year and especially in the second half against the world's top female superstars in my view requires that she be chosen. Her achievements in winning two Slams and the year-end event are of a dimension rarely seen, especially amid a year of Justine's excellent success elsewhere.
This our selection at Player of Year for 2007 is the women's champion, Justine Henin
. She is the third woman to be thus honored in the award's ten-year history, after Venus Williams in 2002 and Serena in 2004.
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