Roger Federer won his 17th career Grand Slam title by beating Andy Murray at Wimbledon. (Erick W. Rasco/SI)
After the ATP Finals, we debated the best matches of 2012. Now, The Toss returns this week with another look back at the season as New York Times tennis blogger Ben Rothenberg joins the discussion.
[2012 IN REVIEW: Report Card | Surprises | Meltdowns | Shots]
Today’s Toss: Relative to each other, how did the four Grand Slam tournaments rank this year, taking into consideration the overall experience of each and the the storylines they generated?
Courtney Nguyen: If you've been reading BTB this week, you know that we are in full year-end review mode. I have quite enjoyed the offseason -- you know, that blink of an offseason -- to get out of the weeds and take a more holistic look at the year that was. What the heck happened over the last 11 months, Ben?
Ben Rothenberg: Quite a lot, Courtney. There were an innumerable number of points played, backhands sliced, rackets cracked and fists pumped. But since we're not here to write Infinite Jest, I think we can just stick to the Slams, which tennis has conveniently anointed as the relevant parts of the calendar. But even more than that, which Slam was the fairest of them all in 2012? For me, the answer has to be Wimbledon.
Nguyen: Well, there goes my plan to infest this post with footnotes galore. Thanks for nothing, Rothenberg.
I wish I could disagree with you, Ben, but I can't. Wimbledon was king this year and not just because it had Britain's future king in attendance. The tournament offered historical significance. Roger Federer captured his seventh Wimbledon title to reclaim the No. 1 ranking for the first time in more than two years, and Serena Williams' fortnight turned into a tortuous passion play that culminated in her fifth Wimbledon title and, perhaps more important, her first major since the foot injury/pulmonary embolism she suffered in 2010/2011. While those were the headlines, there were compelling undercards: Lukas Rosol's shocking upset of Rafael Nadal, Brian Baker's Cinderella run to the fourth round and, heck, we even got Yaroslava Shvedova's "Golden Set" over French Open finalist Sara Errani.
But what elevated Wimbledon to No. 1 status for you?
Rothenberg: All of that, pretty much. Rosol and Shvedova were massive first-week stories that surpass the first-week stories from any other Slam, and the late rounds of the tournament were stellar as well. From the quarterfinals on, the last seven matches on the ladies' side were absolutely phenomenal. The quarterfinals were great and very different; Angelique Kerber-Sabine Lisicki, Agnieszka Radwanska-Maria Kirilenko, Serena-Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka-Tamira Paszek were all thoroughly entertaining. The men's final between Federer and Andy Murray is my pick as best Slam final of the year (or at least most rewatchable, which is arguably the same thing) and ended with the year's best emotional moment.
The U.S. Open is the only other Slam even remotely in the conversation. There were some massive outstanding matches, including Serena-Azarenka, Azarenka-Sam Stosur, Maria Sharapova-Marion Bartoli, Janko Tipsarevic-David Ferrer and Novak Djokovic-Juan Martin del Potro. But the quality of matches in New York was much more scattered, and you also had stinkers like Serena-Errani and Errani-Roberta Vinci in late rounds. Wimbledon was all killer, no filler.
So if those we can agree on best, can we also agree that the French Open was the worst?
Nguyen: The first week at Wimbledon had more storylines than that of the U.S Open? I don't know about that. The Open had not one but two retirement stories in Kim Clijsters and Andy Roddick, and they each had their shock value: Clijsters losing to Laura Robson and Roddick's, well, announcement in and of itself. When it came to pure emotional heft, the first week of the U.S. Open wins out for me. But I agree that the second week of Wimbledon was phenomenal, and that definitely puts it at the top of the list. Murray's tearful concession speech is still my favorite moment of the year.
As for the worst, I'm not willing to throw the French Open under the bus. Talk about storylines. Paris provided the most tension-filled and emotional match of the year in Virginie Razzano's first-round upset of Williams. Razzano, who just a year ago lost her fiancé to cancer right before Roland Garros, made for such a compelling figure as the woman who would hand Williams her first opening-round loss at a Slam. In addition, you had Baker's winning his first match at a Slam in almost seven years, and dramatic near-upsets of Djokovic and Federer in the fourth round. And then, to cap it all off, Errani made a miracle run to the finals only to lose to Sharapova, who put to rest all the "cow on ice" jokes to take the title and complete the career Slam. As if that weren't enough, there was the rain-interrupted men's final in which Rafael Nadal finally put to rest the Ghost of Novaks Past to capture his record seventh French Open title. So, no, I'm not sure I'd put the French Open at the bottom of the barrel.
For me, it's the Australian Open. You had a women's final that was virtually unwatchable in Azarenka's 6-3, 6-0 wood-shedding of Sharapova. The men's side was better, with Djokovic's five-set win over Murray in the semifinals, and then that six-hour epic final where he outlasted Rafa. But as we've discussed before, aside from the sadistic pleasure of seeing those two grind for the time it takes to drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles, it wasn't a particularly enjoyable match to watch.
Rothenberg: I acknowledge that there were definitely some big headlines that came out of Paris this year. But except for the Razzano-Williams match, which was incomprehensibly bizarre (and, to a lesser extent, the cluster that was Djokovic-Jo-Wilfried Tsonga), the matches really weren't all that compelling. The finals were both foregone conclusions that barely got complicated, and three of the four semifinals were very dull (and the fourth was a Stosur collapse). And then there were some matches that have to be considered completely unwatchable, like the John Isner-Paul-Henri Mathieu slog and anything that involved Marcel Granollers' cacophonous larynx.
Australia, on the other hand, had some pretty great matches. While not mine or yours, Djokovic-Nadal was clearly a lot of people's cup of tea (or perhaps a gallon jug of tea). I think we can agree, however, that Djokovic-Murray was pretty special, and wound up setting the tone for Murray's year. Bernard Tomic-Alexandr Dolgopolov was some of the most fascinating tennis I've ever seen, and Sharapova's victories against Lisicki and Kvitova were massive. Azarenka turned in the most emphatic Slam final performance by a player not named Serena Williams that we've seen since Federer dropped two bagels on Lleyton Hewitt in 2004 in New York. And don't even get me started on what happened between Clijsters and Li Na.
Also, Tomic and Jelena Jankovic played mixed together. I rest my case.