Thursday December 22nd, 2011

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. In September, as with many other years, a rain-plagued U.S. Open sparked the perennial schedule debate, and Andy Roddick and Serena Williams got heated at officials.

BTB's 10 Memorable Moments From September

10. Musical chairs: Months later, this still cracks me up. Andy Roddick forgets where he's supposed to sit on a changeover during his third-round match against Julian Benneteau at the U.S. Open. (Warning: There is an s-bomb in the video.)


9. A death to the "Death of American Tennis" story: Well, at least for a few months. It was finally a U.S. Open that the Americans could be proud of. Roddick and John Isner made the quarterfinals. Donald Young's run to the Round of 16 injected some excitement. And Mardy Fish was a set away from joining Roddick and Isner in the quarters before falling to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

The women held their own as well, with Christina McHale, Sloane Stephens and Irina Falconi all scoring upset wins to make the third round. Cap it all off with Grace Min's junior girls' title and it was undoubtedly a very good fortnight for the States.

Go ahead and brush your shoulders off, America.


8. Follow me to freedom: Roddick has had plenty of personality-defining (and revealing) moments on the tennis court, but this one might be my favorite. Having been called to Louis Armstrong to play his fourth-round match against David Ferrer, only to discover the court surface bubbling from moisture, Roddick decided he'd had enough.

Upon hearing that Court 13 wasn't currently in use, he grabbed his racket and Ferrer (not necessarily in that order) and marched off to the tiny outside court. Roddick became the Pied Piper of the U.S. Open, as throngs of fans followed him to pack out the court. It was a surreal scene, as Court 13 quickly became standing room only, with fans climbing fences in order to catch a glimpse of the action. It was all quite a scene -- and a successful one for Roddick, who beat the Spaniard in four sets.


7. Venus finally gets a diagnosis: Venus Williams' withdrawal from the U.S. Open was bad enough. But her announcement that she had been diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease, left a very somber mood on the first week of the Open. If one were to look for a silver lining, however, Williams' diagnosis put the spotlight on the disease, which affects a disproportionate amount of women (nine of 10 people who have Sjogren's are women).

If it wasn't already clear what an ambassador to the game she has been, read some of these player reactions to her diagnosis.

6. The heart is willing, but the body is not: As Novak Djokovic's year stretched on, everyone wondered how long he could physically keep it up. Every piece of tape, every medical timeout, every wince was given the CSI treatment as we looked for signs that "NoleTron" was finally, inevitably, breaking down.

Well, it finally happened, rather tragically and poetically, at Belgrade Arena during Davis Cup, the very venue and competition that a year ago seemed to set the stage for Djokovic's remarkable 2011. Less than a week after he defeated Rafael Nadal in the U.S. Open final, Djokovic was lying flat on his back and crying out in anguish, as his body finally said, "No mas." Djokovic suffered from a partial rupture of a back muscle and promptly retired from his match against Juan Martin del Potro, allowing Argentina to advance to the Davis Cup final.


5. A nervous reconciliation: I don't know if Jelena Dokic was nervous about her reconciliation with her estranged father, Damir, but the rest of the tennis world surely was. This was, after all, a man who was banned by the WTA from attending tournaments and served almost a year in jail for threatening the Australian ambassador to Serbia with a hand grenade in 2009. Had Damir changed since his imprisonment or had Jelena relented, putting aside the past in hopes of reuniting her family? Jelena's comments seemed to indicate it was more the latter, which didn't do much to alleviate the public's concern.

4. Letdown for Sharapova: The fall season was shaping up to be a shootout for the WTA's No. 1 ranking, with Maria Sharapova having an outside shot if she could finish strong. But her chances (and her season) effectively ended when she sprained her ankle and was forced to retire against Petra Kvitova in Tokyo.

The injury not only deprived fans of the juicy rematch of the Wimbledon final, but it also all but ruled out one of the major players in the game from the end of the season. The Russian scrambled to heal up for the WTA Championships a month later, but she could've used more time and wound up withdrawing after two losses in Istanbul. The ordeal seemed to sum up Sharapova's season: Just when she was on the verge, something (or someone, as the case was for most of the year) got in her way.


3. Riot Boys: "What do we want? Lots of things! When do we want them? NOW!" Many, many things hit the fan over the course of three days at U.S. Open, where the Billie Jean King Tennis Center suddenly resembled Berkeley circa 1968. As does much of the calamity that besets the tournament every year, it all started with a little rainfall.

While Novak Djokovic's and Roger Federer's half of the draw made the quarterfinals on Monday of the second week, rain delayed play for two days, meaning the other half, featuring Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Roddick, didn't reach the quarterfinals until Thursday. As tournament officials tried desperately to get the schedule back on track, players were forced out on court under less-than-ideal conditions (understatement?), with damp courts, bubbling courts and short bursts of play squeezed in between rain showers.

And with that, the ITF and ATP had a mutiny on their hands. The top players stormed tournament referee Brian Earley's office to express their displeasure and grabbed any microphone they could to vent to the public. The debacle pushed the issues of scheduling and length of season to the fore -- topics that would be debated heavily for the rest of the year. All because of a little rain.


2. Tirade 2.0: Ugh. Why did this have to happen? If Serena Williams loses to Sam Stosur in the U.S. Open final without engaging in yet another case of verbal disgust, I would argue that she should be in serious consideration for all these athlete of the year awards. To go from being bedridden in May to dominating the WTA Tour for almost three months starting in July, Serena let her racket do the talking and returned to the game a model citizen. She earned even the cynic's sympathy throughout her runs at Stanford and Toronto, and her winning the U.S. Open would have been the feel-good story of the summer.

Unfortunately, because of a three-minute lapse in judgment, no one remembers what Serena accomplished this year. They'll only remember what she said. And what she said was ugly on all sides:

"Aren't you the one that screwed me over last time here?" Serena asked after umpire Eva Asderaki invoked the hindrance rule against her, which called for the point to be replayed. "Yeah, you are. Seriously, you have it out for me? I promise you, that's not cool. That's totally not cool. I truly despise you."

"If you ever see me walking down the hall," Williams continued on the changeover, "look the other way because you're out of control, you're out of control. You're totally out of control. You're a hater and you're just unattractive inside. Who would do such a thing? And I never complain. Wow. What a loser. You get a code violation because I express who I am. We're in America last I checked. Can I get a water? Or am I going to get violated for a water? Really, don't even look at me. I promise you don't look at me because I am not ... Don't look my way."

The rant didn't just destroy any good will Williams had rightfully earned since her illness; it also overshadowed what was a masterful performance by Stosur to win her first major title. For the second time in three years, Serena Williams became the story of the tournament, and not in the way that anyone would want.


1. The tale of two forehands:  I've seen the video dozens of times and I still laugh at how ridiculous "That Forehand" is from Djokovic down match point against Federer in the U.S. Open semifinals. This moment has topped every "Best Of" list that's been compiled so far this year and for good reason. To have the audacity (or stupidity, as Federer might say) to go for that shot with so much on the line on tennis' biggest stage, you almost have to chalk it up to pure insanity.

I don't know if we'll ever learn what Djokovic was really thinking when he hit that shot. But for all the stick Federer received for implying it was an ill-advised shot, Djokovic's reaction before and after seems to imply that a part of him, ever so small, did in fact give up. With the crowd firmly behind Federer, Djokovic has the air of a man who, in his mind, is riding a fine line between annoyance and acceptance. The nodding, the frowning, the resigned body language as he prepares to return serve, the huge forehand cut on the ball, and then, as the crowd erupts, Djokovic raises his hands in the air and shakes his head, as if to say, "Really? That is what I have to do to get you to cheer for me?"

The Serb was practically laughing as he steps in to save yet another match point (people seem to forget that Federer did have one more), which a shaken Federer relinquished with a forehand error. It's a tale of two men of very different temperaments, two opposite reactions to pressure, all resulting in two forehands with very different results.

Got something we missed from September? Sound off in the comments with your best moments from the month and we'll compile a readers' edition.

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