Friday December 23rd, 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 before an eventful U.S. Open in September. In October, Janko Tipsarevic broke through, Murray went on a tear and Petra Kvitova capped her year in style.

BTB’s 10 Memorable Moments From October

10. Roddick's retirement advice: The quick-witted and ever-quotable Andy Roddick struck again in Beijing. Asked after his first-round loss to Kevin Anderson at the China Open whether he planned to retire anytime soon, the 30-year-old Roddick responded, "I think that you should retire." And thus endeth a rather uncomfortable press conference for all parties involved.

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9. Big brother's big mouth: If Roddick is the King of Quips, Marat Safin is the King of the Overshare. During a press conference in Beijing, Safin effectively announced his younger sister Dinara Safina's retirement. Discussing the severe back injury that has sidelined her for much of the year, Safin said the 25-year-old "will play no more. ... She will make an official statement herself, but as her brother, I believe that there is no chance of return." A few days later, Safina, a former world No. 1, tweeted that she hadn't made a decision yet about her playing future. I'm all for Safin being in the spotlight, but in this case, let's let your sister decide when, where and how she chooses to leave the game.

8. Tennis returns to Tokyo: Questions swirled in the spring about whether Tokyo would be prepared to host both the ATP and WTA in the fall after the devastating earthquake and tsunami. Kim Clijsters, for one, said she wouldn't play the Pan Pacific Open because of radiation concerns from the natural disasters in March.

As it turned out, Japan was ready to go and put together two fine tournaments, with the WTA event featuring Caroline Wozniacki, Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova and the ATP's Japan Open being led by Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal.

"The commitment the players have shown is incredible," Sharapova told reporters during the Pan Pacific Open. "With nearly a full draw, I think the players have shown their dedication."

7. Andy Murray's a strange cat: The players seemed to let their guard down a bit while in Asia, surely a reaction to the fact that they weren't being interrogated by the same media that had followed them around Europe and North America for much of the year. So leave it to Murray to unleash his dehydrated sense of humor in this quirky interview with local reporters in Shanghai. Let's face it, any video that captures the Scot unleashing a hearty laugh is pretty newsworthy.

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6. Radwanska rolls: Agnieszka Radwanska's unexpected 11-0 run to collect back-to-back titles in Tokyo and Beijing was more than just impressive on paper; it was impressive to watch, too. The Pole's game, built on variety and guile, was in full flight for most of October, as she beat the likes of Victoria Azarenka, Vera Zvonareva and Andrea Petkovic. The late-season surge pushed Radwanska's ranking from 13th to eighth, and she ended up earning the last spot for the WTA Championships in Istanbul.

The highlight of Radwanska's month would be her win over Petkovic in the Beijing final. Radwanksa's 7-5, 0-6, 6-4 victory was everything you want in a tennis match. The fiery German vs. the implacable Pole, power baseliner vs. variety, hitter vs. grinder, both going at it for two and a half hours. And if the match alone wasn't enough, there was dancing, too.

With the time difference in China, not many people Stateside were able to watch the match live. So take a few minutes to check out the highlight reels below. I think it's one of the most underrated matches of the year.

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Petkovic shed a bucket of tears after the loss. But that didn't stop her from honoring a request for the world-famous Petko Dance, this time with a side of Aga.

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5. Tipsy tallies: Janko Tipsarevic entered the month as the highest-ranked player (No. 17) without a career title. By late October, he had two career titles, after winning in Malaysia and Moscow, victories that would lift him to a career-high No. 9. The 27-year-old Serb later secured a berth as an alternate at the ATP World Tour Finals (where he wound up playing two matches after Murray's withdrawal) -- quite an accomplishment for Tipsarevic, so long a talented journeyman capable of the occasional big upset but incapable of a sustained run of excellence.

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4. Woz gets offensive: Credit Wozniacki for putting the grunting debate back in the spotlight. In an interview with The Guardian before the start of the WTA Championships, Wozniacki said some players grunt "on purpose" and that Tour officials "could definitely cut it."

With that, grunting took center stage in Istanbul, where other players echoed Wozniacki's stance (though not as explicitly) and Azarenka, one of the game's loudest grunters, insisted that she wouldn't change.

“I’m the way I play since I was actually 8 years old, and it’s become a part of my movement, part of my game,” Azarenka said. “So I cannot change it and I’m not going to.”

When asked how she would react if players complained to officials about her grunting, Azarenka smirked and wouldn't back down. “I would just say, Mind your own business, I guess. I hope you can beat me. That’s it.”

3. Player of the Year: Kvitova ended the Player of the Year debate with two titles in October, her fifth and sixth of 2011. The Czech dropped only one set in five matches in Linz, and then went undefeated (5-0) at the WTA Championships to finish the year a mere 115 points behind Wozniacki at No. 2.

This one is the future of the WTA. No doubt about it.

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2. Mr. October: While Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer rested during the Asian swing, Murray put the pedal to the metal and went on a point spree, going undefeated in October with consecutive titles in Bangkok, Tokyo and Shanghai. As a result, Murray snatched the No. 3 ranking from Federer and was finally playing at a level that -- outside of the Slams -- had been missing for most of the year.

Most impressive was his 3-6, 6-2, 6-0 win over Rafael Nadal in the Tokyo final, a performance that left one wondering why Murray can't play like that more consistently. For all the talk of Murray's being too passive and preferring to outwit as opposed to outhit, the Scot stood toe to toe against Nadal, stepping in to use his backhand as a weapon and actually striking his forehand flatter and sharper than he typically does. It just goes to show how fine the line is between odd man out and world beater. Djokovic crossed that line this year. Matches like this one in Tokyo made you believe that Murray wasn't that far off either.

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1. Three cheers for Turkey: Many were skeptical when the WTA announced that Istanbul would host the year-end championships. Sure, Turkey had the resources to fund the endeavor, but would this be a redux of Doha, where the stadium was 90 percent empty for most of the tournament?

Those concerns were put to rest immediately. The Sinan Erdem Dome was packed to see the top-eight women battle it out throughout the week. The WTA said the tournament registered its highest attendance in 12 years, with more than 70,000 fans for the six days, or almost 12,000 per session. The Tour was happy, the players were happy and, most important, the fans were happy.

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