Wednesday December 21st, 2011

Novak Djokovic was pushed by Mardy Fish in Montreal, but prevailed in the final to pick up his fifth Masters 1000 title of the year. (SIPA)

We continue recapping the most memorable moments, good and bad, from each month in 2011. January and February were still about figuring out what the year was going to bring. March saw a rattled Andy Murray, April produced Fed Cup drama and in May, Novak Djokovic thumped Rafael Nadal on clay … twice.  Nadal finally restored order on the red clay of Roland Garros in June, while July produced two first-time Wimbledon winners and the triumphant return of Serena Williams. The U.S. Open Series wrapped in August and we got a look at players' form on hardcourts for the final time before heading to New York.

August was the time for the contenders to find their form right before the last Slam of the year kicked off. Caroline Wozniacki, Andy Murray, and Maria Sharapova were heating up while Petra Kvitova and Li Na cooled. And we just didn't know what to expect from the ATP's Big Three.

10. Bojana Jovanovski gets lost: To quote Saturday Night Live's "Lazy Sunday," "Google Maps is the best." Jovanovski, or perhaps more important, her agent, learned this lesson the hard way. Jovanovski was scheduled to play a WTA premier tournament in Carlsbad, Calif., but her agent ended up booking a flight to Carlsbad, N.M. Jovanovski had to sleep at the airport to await her flight to San Diego, arrived just before her first-round match against Roberta Vinci, and lost.

At least the 19-year-old Serbian was good-humored about it. "[If] I can't be famous for winning the tournament ... I can get some media for this ... hahaha," she posted on Facebook.

9. Radwanska rising: Radwanska's late-season resurgence started in Carlsbad, where she won the biggest title of her career, beating Vera Zvonareva 6-3, 6-4 in the final. She did so not by overpowering the then-No. 3, but by outwitting her, mixing up the pace of shots and setting up points to create openings to finish at the net.

On her way to her first title in more than three years, she also pulled off some quintessentially Radwanskian escapes. She defeated Daniela Hantuchova and Andrea Petkovic in two grueling matches, both 6-4 in the third set. Oddly, she also bageled, or was bageled by, her opponents in every match except the final.

Radwanska would suffer a second-round loss at the U.S. Open to surprise semifinalist Angelique Kerber, but she rediscovered her San Diego form after that to win back-to-back titles in Tokyo and Beijing.

I wonder if she drank her lucky iced mochas for the rest of the season after Carlsbad.

*****

8. Petko cracks the top 10, then runs: With her semifinal showing in San Diego, Andrea Petkovic became the first German since Steffi Graf to crack the top 10. Of course, it didn't happen without some drama. Suffering from food poisoning, Petkovic ran off the court and threw -- no wait, sorry -- through the stands in the middle of a game in order to throw up.

Leave it to Petkovic to lay out her infallible logic after the match. "Is it more embarrassing running off the court like a maniac, or throwing up on the court and being on SportsCenter for the next 25 years?" she said. "I was like, 'Yeah, running off the court is better.' So that's what I did."

*****

7. Wozniacki aces Yale: Caroline Wozniacki cured her summer-long slump by winning her fourth straight title in New Haven, Conn. Wozniacki hadn't won a tournament since before Wimbledon, and hadn't won a set through the summer hard-court swing, losing to Roberta Vinci in Toronto and Christina McHale in Cincinnati. But the Dane loves Yale, and the title seemed to buoy her confidence for the U.S. Open, where she made the semifinals.

So how do you celebrate finding your winning form when you're the No. 1 player in the world? Why, you engage in a very public make-out session with your golfing boyfriend as the Yale football team cheers on. Yup, totally normal.

Rory McIlroy confirmed his new romance with Caroline Wozniacki at the New Haven Open. (Photo: @newhavenopen Twitter)

*****

6. Djokovic fights off Fish: Novak Djokovic, playing his first tournament as world No. 1, began his U.S. Open tuneup by holding off Mardy Fish 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 in the Montreal final. The Serb became the first player to win five Masters tournaments in the same year and improved to 29-0 on hardcourts and 53-1 overall for the year.

Djokovic's coach, Marian Vajda, told The New York Times: "Right now, you must be Robocop to beat him." Vajda, of course, was completely wrong. Robocop wouldn't stand a chance.

*****

5. Maria vs. Jelena: It's always something when Maria Sharapova and Jelena Jankovic play, and their three-set final in Cincinnati had a little bit of everything. The two have known each other since their young days on the back courts of the Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and you get the sense that neither woman has forgotten those days. The problem with that is their matches tend to be wrought with drama, the kind of drama that gets in the way of their tennis.

It was no different in Cincinnati, where the tennis wasn't great but the spectacle was riveting. Jankovic charged back from 1-4 down in the first to take the set, before Sharapova gritted her teeth and seemed to will herself to a three-set win by frustrating Jankovic to no end. It was an intense final, full of history and histrionics, all of which led to an uneven and medium quality match. But boy, was it entertaining.

*****

4. Serena takes Toronto, hits up Kardashian's wedding: Serena Williams, on the heels of the Stanford title, continued her romp through the Tour, taking Toronto in authoritative fashion. She didn't drop a set in the semifinals or final, downing Victoria Azarenka and Sam Stosur, and ran her season record to 11-0 on hardcourts.

Then, in a curious, though understandable turn of events, Williams showed up to Cincinnati, won her first-round match over Lucie Hradecka and withdrew the next day, citing swelling on her surgically repaired toe. Days later she was in California to attend Kim Kardashian's wedding to Kris Humphries. Whether you choose to connect the dots or not is up to you, but, much like Kardashian's wedding vows, at the end of the day it shouldn't mean much. Serena deserved the break after her stellar summer showing.

3. The ladies take an early hit in New York: It didn't take long for the seeds to start falling at the U.S. Open. By the end of the first day of play, Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova was out, and by the second day, French Open champion Li Na was packing her bags, too. Neither loss should have come as a total shock, as both players had a horrible showing during the summer swing. Still, to go out in the first round without even taking a set? That was surprising.

2. Come on, Irene: You know it's serious when Starbucks is closed on a Saturday. Hurricane Irene battered the East Coast over the last weekend in August, causing Manhattan to shutter its doors and go on lock down. The timing definitely could have been worse for the U.S. Open, but it also could have been better.

With heavy wind and rain expected over the weekend before the tournament was set to start, officials scrambled to finish the qualification tournament, which had already been interrupted by rain throughout the week. Players were barely able to get any practice time before the USTA shut down the tournament site for safety reasons. As the storm came and went, the players used Twitter as their outlet, tweeting pictures of their rations, starting games to keep themselves entertained and basically talking about how bored they were.

https://twitter.com/#!/TipsarevicJanko/status/107420211417841664

While the hurricane caused substantial damage, luckily for the players and the tournament, midtown Manhattan and Queens were relatively spared.

1. Fumbling, stumbling, bumbling into New York: The top men provided ample fodder for bar-room debates on the eve of the U.S. Open. For the first time in what felt like forever, there was no clear-cut favorite.

Djokovic was struggling with shoulder problems and people wondered if he had the physical and emotional strength to endure another grueling Grand Slam tournament. Rafael Nadal suffered a stunning loss to Ivan Dodig in Toronto, and then burned his hand in a freak accident at a restaurant to hinder his preparations. He looked completely out of sorts in Cincinnati, playing one of the worst matches of the year against Fernando Verdasco before losing to Fish in the quarterfinals. Roger Federer still hadn't found the consistency to reclaim his top form, falling to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Montreal and Tomas Berdych in Cincinnati. Andy Murray was the only one who seemed to be peaking at the right time, but, well, he's Andy Murray.

As it turned out, all four would play themselves into form and reach the semifinals in New York. But at the time, the Open seemed, well, wide open. On the second to last day of August, Rafa didn't help matters by winning his first-round match in less-than-commanding fashion, needing a second-set tiebreak to get past Andrey Golubev.

Got something we missed from August? Give us your favorite moments from the month and we'll compile a readers' edition at the end of the month.

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