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Beyond the Baseline

Best matches, best Tweeter, biggest bummer: Early-season offbeat awards

Stanislas Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic pushed each other to the limit in their five-set quarterfinal match at the Australian Open. (Getty Images) Stanislas Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic pushed each other to the limit in their five-set quarterfinal match at the Australian Open. (Getty Images)

Before the clay-court season heats up, Beyond The Baseline is taking stock of the year in tennis so far. We've already covered the winners and losers for the ATP and WTA. Here's a look at more highlights and lowlights from the first three months of the season.

Best ATP match: Stanislas Wawrinka d. Novak Djokovic, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 9-7 in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open

Once again at the Australian Open, these two played an unforgettable five-set match, and this year, Wawrinka earned his revenge. Will these guys end up playing the match of the year at the Australian Open for the second season in a row?

Maria Sharapova dumps water on her head while wearing an ice vest to try and stay cool at the Australian Open. (MAL FAIRCLOUGH/AFP/Getty Images) Maria Sharapova dumps water on her head while wearing an ice vest to try and stay cool at the Australian Open. (MAL FAIRCLOUGH/AFP/Getty Images)

Best WTA match: Maria Sharapova d. Karin Knapp, 6-3, 4-6, 10-8 in the second round of the Australian Open

Never say Sharapova is nothing more than a glamour girl. The Russian battled through 112-degree heat, which had already forced play to be stopped on outer courts, to beat an inspired Knapp in three hours and 28 minutes.

Worst ATP match: Jarkko Nieminen d. Bernard Tomic 6-0, 6-1 in the first round of the Sony Open

Nieminen needed just 28 minutes and 20 seconds. to defeat Tomic, who won just 13 points in the quickest match in ATP history.

Worst WTA match: Caroline Wozniacki d. Sloane Stephens 6-1, 6-0 in the third round of the Sony Open

Stephens won just five points in the second set. Five.

Biggest "what if" moment: Lucie Safarova's backhand on match point against Li Na in the third round of the Australian Open

Safarova missed a winner by less than an inch, and Li rallied to win 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3. If Safarova had converted that point and other results held, what would that final have looked like? Dominika Cibulkova over Eugenie Bouchard? Possible.

Davis Cup MVP: Fabio Fognini

Fognini has won five of the six live points Italy has scored to make the semifinals, including two singles and a doubles victory against Argentina in the first round and a must-have win over Great Britain's Andy Murray in the quarterfinals.

Fed Cup MVP: Andrea Petkovic

With Sabine Lisicki ruled out of Germany's tough opening tie in Slovakia in early February, Petkovic stepped in and saved match point to defeat Cibulkova 2-6, 7-5 (6), 6-2. Angelique Kerber did the rest of the heavy lifting by winning her two matches. But that was an unexpectedly clutch performance from Petkovic, given her middling results and shaky form at the time.

Most impressive non-Grand Slam ATP performance: Grigor Dimitrov at the Mexican Open

He defeated Ernests Gulbis, Murray and Kevin Anderson in consecutive three-set matches, including decisive tiebreakers in the latter two, to win his second title.

Most impressive non-Grand Slam WTA performance: Tsvetana Pironkova at the Sydney International

Pironkova became the first woman in three years to win a tournament as a qualifier. Ranked No. 107, she beat three top-10 players -- Sara Errani, Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber -- in straight sets to win her first title.

Most impressive rankings climb: Alexandr Dolgopolov

The Ukrainian rose from No. 57 at start the season to No. 22 -- the biggest jump of any player in the ATP top 50 this season.

Best Davis Cup addition: Roger Federer

Along with Murray, he's kept the buzz around Davis Cup alive at a time when team-competition stalwarts such as Djokovic and Rafael Nadal sat out.

Li-Na-20

Best trophy photo bomb: The Australian Open kid

There's really no competition. (Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Best winner's speech: Petkovic's speech at the Family Circle Cup was what they should use in the textbooks, but Li's Australian Open address won't be beaten this year.

Unless she wins Wimbledon ...

http://youtu.be/7zNIvsce-tc

Biggest bummer: Injuries

The Australian Open featured nine first-round retirements, equaling the record for most retirements or walkovers in a single round of a Grand Slam tournament. Victoria Azarenka has appeared in only three tournaments. Serena Williams and Nadal suffered from back problems in Melbourne. Juan Martin del Potro is out after another wrist surgery. Heck, the men's semifinals at the Sony Open weren't played because of injury or illness.

Phenomenon most likely to become an M. Night Shyamalan project: The Federer Curse.

The last eight players to beat Federer at a Grand Slam have failed to win their next match, and this year that trend of losses/misfortune has continued outside the majors too. Lleyton Hewitt beat Federer in the Brisbane International final, but lost his next match, the first round of the Australian Open. Nadal beat Federer in the Australian Open semifinals, but lost to Wawrinka in the final. Kei Nishikori beat Federer in the Sony Open quarterfinals but withdrew from the semifinals with a groin injury. Bottom line: Unless you're Novak Djokovic, don't bother trying to beat Federer. Nothing good will come of it. (You know, other than beating one of the greatest players of all time.)

Best ATP coach: Roger Rasheed

Huge props to Magnus Norman and what he's done to transform Wawrinka into a Slam champion. If we're looking at only the first three months of this year, though, my pick is Rasheed. He's turned his new charge, Dimitrov, into a gamer, a fighter and a man of belief, and the performances and results have followed.

Best WTA coach: Carlos Rodriguez

Not just for helping Li get back to the Australian Open final and win, but also for keeping her motivated and calm afterward so as to avoid the slump she endured after winning the 2011 French Open. She posted career-best results in Indian Wells (semifinals, tied for her deepest run there) and Miami (final). Compare that to her post-Roland Garros results in 2011, when she didn't win back-to-back matches for two and a half months and didn't make another final for nearly a year.

Most surprising coaching split: Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl

It stunned the British press, and that's enough for me.

Least surprising coaching split: Caroline Wozniacki and Thomas Hogstedt

It was such a promising pairing, yet Wozniacki didn't give it a chance. She fired Hogstedt after just three months, then had a short-lived partnership with Michael Mortensen.

Jerzy Janowicz

Best photo of Jerzy Janowicz looking insane: The one above, obviously. (Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)

The "Are you not entertained!?!" award: Gilles Simon

The Frenchman injured his right ankle a few days before the Australian Open and was spotted on crutches, prompting reports that he would likely withdraw. Instead, he not only played but also won back-to-back five-set matches, against Daniel Brands and Marin Cilic. Ridiculous effort, especially given what Cilic has gone on to accomplish this season.

Luckiest Loser: Stephane Robert

Ranked No. 119, the 33-year-old Frenchman lost in the final round of qualifying for the Australian Open, a result worth $12,845. But he got into the main draw after Philipp Kohlschreiber withdrew, and Robert took advantage by reaching the fourth round to earn $120,422, the biggest payday of his career. He's won one main-draw match since.

Worst advertisement for Australian medical advice: Dr. Tim Wood

The biggest PR misstep at the Australian Open came from the tournament's own doctor, who dismissed any concerns about elite athletes playing in 110-degree heat by equating tennis and cricket and citing evolution. “We evolved on the high plains of Africa chasing antelope for eight hours under these conditions,” he said. “There will be some players who complain and no one is saying it is terribly comfortable to play out there, but, from a medical perspective, we know that man is well adapted to exercising in the heat. Whether it is humane or not is a whole other issue.”

Best Tweeter: Andy Murray

Whether it was punking the British media or letting his sarcastic sense of humor fly, Murray's return to Twitter was great.

https://twitter.com/andy_murray/status/450935870317948928

Biggest fizzle: International Premier Tennis League

After all of the PR buildup over the last year, the league failed to land Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova and Li Na, and it went from touting six teams to having just four.

Best Taiwanese tennis animation: The Australian Open heat wave

http://youtu.be/AriW_uir258

Best GIF: Dancing Grigor

Best omen for the future: The WTA's Generation Next

Bouchard, Garbine Muguruza and Elina Svitolina have all had fine starts to the season. Add in promising performances from the likes of Belinda Bencic, Ajla Tomljanovic, Madison Keys and Donna Vekic, and the fact that we still haven't seen the best from Stephens or an injured Laura Robson, and there's plenty of intriguing youngsters to keep an eye on for the rest of this year and beyond.
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