Wednesday December 16th, 2009

You can lament the length of the season. You can mourn a confusing ranking system, greedy administrators and tape-delayed broadcasts. You can mourn the corruption of the word "retirement." But say this about tennis: It's never boring. This year's episodes included cocaine kisses, crystal meth cover-ups, unraveling hairpieces, no-fault foot faults, and $9 million payoffs.

But, as always, the sport's steak outlasts the sizzle. This was the year Roger Federer won both the French Open and Wimbledon, thereby setting the career record for majors and effectively ending the "greatest ever" debate. Serena Williams, the best player in the women's game, cut a controversial swatch but won two majors to take a step closer to the Graf-Evert-Navratilova wing. Spain won the Davis Cup and new players from places like Denmark and Argentina suggest that the forces of globalization are still going strong. In this "bounceback" year, when the global economy showed a few signs of recovery, tennis witnessed the returns of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin. Who's next?

Because "tennis offseason" might be the biggest oxymoron this side of "team of mavericks" -- apparently the offseason falls on a Tuesday this year -- we only have a few hours to squeeze in this 2009 awards show. First the cut and paste from years past: before dispensing gifts to our winners, a detour into sappiness. 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 athlete's foot -- are read. Think of this as a sincere invitation to belly up to the bar in '10 and we'll do it again. Maybe even with podcasts thrown in for variety.

So, the votes have been certified by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Jack Valenti. The envelopes please...

Roger Federer got married, became the father of twins and, oh yeah, also reclaimed his mantle as the world's top player, winning that elusive French Open and establishing the all-time Slam record in the process. Otherwise, it was an uneventful season. Federer's unrivalled excellence is old news. But in 2010 we saw a new dimension: his ability to recover. In his first tournament of the year, he not only lost to his rival but was reduced to sobbing on the trophy stand. In the last tournament of the year, he sewed up the No. 1 ranking for the fifth time since 2004.

Even accounting for her behavioral demerit at the U.S. Open, how can you overlook Serena Williams? She won "only" three tournaments, but it was quality over quantity: the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the year-end Championships.

It's never entirely clear where to make the distinctions here. But we'll go with young Thiemo DeBakker of the Netherlands, now firmly in the top 100, who defeated Gael Monfils among others.

Melanie Oudin: She went from obscurity to minor celebrity. She went from the fringes of the top 200 to being a top 50 player. She beat a slew of top caliber opponents in the majors. And she never lost her ability to balance on-court intensity with off-court pleasantness.

In addition to beating Rafael Nadal twice, Robin Soderling more than halved his ranking, from 17 to 8. (But how about John Isner, who started the year at 145 and finished at 35, the third-highest American?)

Though her season was bittersweet -- ending with a highly dubious suspension -- Belgium's Yanina Wickmayer went from the margins to the show courts. A U.S. Open semifinalist, she ended up ranked 16.

A special nod to Lleyton Hewitt, still battling, who finished 2009 in the top 25 after starting outside the top 50. And props to Federer's boyhood friend Marco Chiudinelli, who went from 723 to 56. But that still didn't match the leap of Taylor Dent who started at No. 804 and ended at No. 75.

Kim Clijsters sets the new standard for this award. In her first major tournament after more than a year away from the tour -- during which time she got married and became a mother -- she walked off with the U.S. Open title.

Franco Davin helped to harness the talent of Juan Martin del Potro. And there's a Grand Slam title and a boundless future to show for it.

Oracene Williams: An off-year for Venus but Mom Williams still oversees two of the world's top six players.

The Bryans finished the year at No. 1. But here's a vote for Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic, who won more tournaments, triumphed at Wimbledon, and beat the Bros. in five of their six head-to-head matches.

Venus and Serena Williams: The singles policy applies to doubles. They may not compete often, but when the stakes are highest, they're the best.

Ernest Gulbis, the "next Safin," cracked the top 50 in 2008, ahead of his 20th birthday. He finished 2009 at No. 89, losing more matches than he won.

Eighteen months ago, Ana Ivanovic was the top-ranked player, the charming new face of the WTA. Today she is ranked outside the top 20 and struggling just to put a few wins together.

Federer d. Roddick, 5-7, 7-6. 7-6, 6-3. 16-14 in the Wimbledon final. Suffice to say, if you've held a ticket to the Wimbledon men's final these past few years, you haven't been disappointed.

Serena Williams d. Elena Dementieva, 6-7 (4), 7-5, 8-6, in the Wimbledon semis. A spellbinding display of concentration that doubled as still another example of Serena's unmatched competitive instincts.

Q: You can get arrested in this country for having Rick Astley on your iPod.

Andy Roddick: You can get arrested in my country for lying under oath.

Mohamed Lahyani was the chair umpire for Dudi Sela's third-round win over Tommy Robredo. At one point Lahyani admonished some of Sela's fans to pipe down. A British reporter noted: "I thought it was rather interesting that when Mohamed held up his hand, the Israelis quieted."

Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin, Kimiko Date, Yayuk Basuki, Alicia Molik, Jeff Tarango, Michael Stich ... Anastasia Myskina (?), Mary Pierce (?), Alice Marble (?) Suzanne Lenglen (?)

Jack Kramer, Randy Snow, Larry Scott, Marat Safin, Fabrice Santoro, Amelie Mauresmo, Younes El Aynaoui, Luis Horna, Thomas Johansson, Hyung-Taik Lee, Andrei Pavel, Kevin Ullyett, Martin Verkerk Tennis Week, Virginia Ruano Pascual, Ai Sugiyama, Roger Gatchalian, Kris Dent, Nathalie Dechy, Emilei Loit, Tzipi Obziler, Mathieu Montecourt, Federico Luzzi, Indianapolis ATP stop.

Let's go to the videotape:

Let's go the videotape:

His agent has been furiously pitching a velcro endorsement ever since

The same week he achieved a career-high ranking of No.22, Sam Querrey fell through a glass table in the Bangkok players' lounge at the Bangkok event while trying to tie his shoe.

He escaped serious injury, as his shoes were tied

After losing at Wimbledon, Querrey tweeted: "on my return home from my close 5 set loss, i was struck, yet again, by a drunk vagrant in Wimbledon village, this time in the gut."

Wait till Roddick gets a load of Semi-Pro

After nearly tattooing Will Ferrell with a 130 mph serve during an exhibition, Roddick joked: "That was payback for Elf."

Killer instinct...

Dinara Safina on playing in front of a partisan crowd: "They kill you ... but not in a bad way."

...but not in a bad way

After informing a line judge "If I could, I'd take this ******* ball and shove it down your ******* throat', " Serena Williams said -- straightfaced -- "I don't know why she would have felt threatened."

It was either that or "I threaten lineswomen"

Serena's outburst following a footfault call coincided with the release of her memoir titled, "On the Line."

Wigging out.

In his candid memoir Open, Andre Agassi reveals that he lost the 1990 French Open final in part because his hairweave was starting to unravel.

Let's hope she doesn't take a golf club to his joystick

According to published reports, Andy Murray was dumped by longtime girlfriend Kim Sears because she couldn't abide his addiction to video games.

And he's no more corrupt than any other New Jersey politician

In an attempt to defend his client, Murray's agent asserted, "He doesn't play computer games more than any other 22-year-old."

Their alibi: they were looking for a Haarhuis

Two players in the Stockholm Open were cited by police for attempting to solicit a prostitute.

Besides the cops were busy with that prostitution sting

Fearing terrorist threats, courageous Swedish officials held the country's Davis Cup tie against Israel in an empty arena.

Farewell my girlfriend

From the "lost in translation" department, Stan Wawrinka announced on his website that his "concubine" was pregnant. He meant his fiancée.

She incested on a retraction

Hewitt's wife, Bec, is suing an Australian publication that alleged she had a "new man in her life...special guy who's always by her side.... the kind of hunk every young mum dreams about." Bec's mum, in particular. The "new man," was revealed to be her brother, Shaun Cartwright.

Blow a la Gasquet

Having failed a drug test, Richard Gasquet was exonerated by a panel who bought the explanation that he had kissed a girl who had been snorting cocaine.

Good thing he's not married to a Miss Universe

Paradorn Srichiphan, a one-time top 10 player from Thailand, lent his name to Magic Iris, a billed as "an herbal Viagra."

The Sharapova unit has soundproof walls

A Mumbai real estate developer has constructed a "U.S. Open themed" apartment building.

Hey, it could have been Dubai World

Alan Stanford, head of the Stanford Financial Group, the official investment advisor of the ATP, was charged with running an $8 billion Ponzi scheme.

Wasn't he a contemporary of that alligator shirt guy?

An intrepid reporter at the U.S. Open got a look at Andy Murray's attire and asked: "Who's Fred Perry?"

Have a great holiday everyone and best for 2010!

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