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Beyond the Baseline

2012 BTB Awards: Under the radar

vera Vera Zvonareva played only 20 matches during an injury-plagued season. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The BTB Awards are our look back at the best -- and worst -- of the tennis season. Today we bring to light some of the interesting stories that seemed to fly under the radar. 

2012 IN REVIEW: Report Card | Surprises | Meltdowns | Shots | Best Slam? | Quotes | Photos | Videos | Fashion | Breakthroughs | Feuds

The demise of Russian tennis: Maria Sharapova may have had a year to remember, and Nadia Petrova surged late in the season, but it was a year to forget for most of the rest of the Russian women. The country that once dominated the top-10 rankings continued to fall away. As recently as 2009, Russia began the year with five players in the top 10. But 2013 will mark the first time since 2003 that fewer than two Russians occupied top-10 slots, with Sharapova as the sole representative. Injuries played their part: Vera Zvonareva, who started the year No. 7, tumbled to No. 96, while two-time Grand Slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova slipped to No. 71. Meanwhile, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, of whom much has been expected, continued to stall, ending the year at No. 36.

Ivo Karlovic accuses the All England Club of bias: Karlovic was called for 11 foot faults, with some at crucial moments, in a 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 7-6 (4) loss to Andy Murray in the second round of Wimbledon. Afterward, Karlovic accused the All England Club of conspiring to help Murray win.

"I mean, what is this? Is it Davis Cup or is it Wimbledon?" Karlovic said. "After this match, the whole credibility of this tournament went down for me.

"Right now, I'm angry about it ... because I don't expect it here. Even though it is against an English guy who they always want to win, I don't expect it here."

Well, actually he's Scottish, Ivo.

Introducing Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor: "Who?" Precisely. The 20-year-old Spaniard began the year unranked and never made it to the main draw of a Slam. But by the end of the year, Torro-Flor was inside the top 100 by virtue of a strong season on the ITF circuit, including a 31-match winning streak and five consecutive titles on clay. She didn't lose a single match from mid-April until the U.S. Open in September, where she lost in the first round of qualifying. To go from being unranked to No. 98 in a year -- sandwiched between Kimiko Date-Krumm and Coco Vandeweghe -- is an incredible effort.

Marcel Granollers' grunting: Oh, there was lots of talk about grunting in 2012, that's for sure. But the issue remained confined to the women, as if they were the only ones who made any noise when they played tennis. While Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova remained the lightning rods, there was little acknowledgment that some of the men, such as Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer, don't exactly run silent, either. The common response to calls to make grunting a tennis issue as opposed to a WTA issue was that the shrieking/whooping/howling from the women was more irritating and ultimately driving away fans. That's a loaded response that raises questions about gender norms and sexism, but that's a discussion for another time.

The upshot? Men's grunting and groaning through points was more pleasant to the ears than women screeching through theirs. To them I say two words: Marcel Granollers. The 26-year-old from Barcelona had a career year, cracking the top 20 in July. We got to see him play more this year than we ever have, which led to the discovery of one of the most grating -- and selective -- grunts we've ever heard.

Here are some highlights from his match against Nadal in Rome. As many who have watched Granollers can attest, this isn't even close to him at his worst.

*****

Tennis love story: It all started in 2011, when Jurgen Melzer and Iveta Benesova serendipitously teamed up for mixed doubles at Wimbledon and romped their way to the title. They began dating after that and never looked back. If you followed both on Twitter (@jojomelzer and @ivetabenesova), you watched as their romance blossomed, and they said their "I dos" this year after the U.S. Open in a beautiful ceremony in Laxenberg, Austria.

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