Awards for the 2013 season; more mail

Wednesday December 11th, 2013

Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams both won two major titles and regained the No. 1 ranking in 2013.
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A few of you, via Twitter, requested a year-end awards list. Here goes:

ATP MVP: Rafael Nadal. Let's save the discussion of Nadal's sinuous year for another time. For now, consider the two Grand Slam titles and the reclaiming of the top ranking. Whether Novak Djokovic can wrest back the crown is, of course, a top-line agenda item heading into 2014. But, for now, Nadal is King.

WTA MVP: Serena Williams. End of discussion.

NGUYEN: Who had the better year -- Nadal or Williams?

ATP Newcomer: Jiri Vesely. It's always hard to draw lines of demarcation, given that players ease into full-time careers and there are seldom the conventional rookie seasons. But I'll go with the 20-year-old Vesely (a pup!), who started the year ranked No. 263 and finished 85th thanks to success on the Challenger circuit.

WTA Newcomer: Madison Keys. The 18-year-old, who jumped from No. 149 to No. 38, will be a top-20 player by this time next year and a top-10 player the year after that.

ATP Breakthrough Player: Jerzy Janowicz. Chris Rock could have been speaking for the ATP Tour when he said, "Avoid the Pole." Yes, Janowicz, 23, had a breakthrough of sorts when he defeated five top-20 players to make the 2012 Paris Masters final as a qualifier, but I'm crediting him here for advancing to the Wimbledon semifinals in his fifth Grand Slam tournament.

WTA Breakthrough Player: Sloane Stephens and Simona Halep. Because we make the rules here, we hereby announce a tie. Stephens made the fourth round or better at all four majors, while Halep ranked second on tour with six titles.

NGUYEN: How Halep emerged as breakout player

ATP Match of the Year: Rafael Nadal def. Novak Djokovic 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 9-7 in the French Open semifinals. Just a weird, arrhythmic, unpredictable, wind-swept knock-down, drag-out fight. You could easily make the case that this determined the Player of the Year.

WTA Match of the Year: Serena Williams def. 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1 in the U.S. Open final. Aesthetically, it was not a classic, the way their previous encounter, Azarenka's victory in the final of the Western & Southern Open, was. But the final in New York was still another example of Williams' peerless competitive instincts. Wait, it's the U.S. Open final? And I just lost the second set? Against my rival? Who beat me the last time we played? Oh, well, guess I'll have to regroup and win 6-1 in the decisive set.

ATP Upset of the Year: Sergiy Stakhovsky def. Roger Federer 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 7-5, 7-6 (5) in the second round of Wimbledon. Given the court, the surface and the weight of the occasion, I think Stakhovsky's stunner trumps Steve Darcis' victory over Nadal in the first round of Wimbledon.

WTA Upset of the Year: Sabine Lisicki def. Serena Williams 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 in the fourth round of Wimbledon. Victoria Duval's 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 win over 2011 champion Sam Stosur in the first round of the U.S. Open was a biggie. But we'll take Lisicki for outserving and out-nerving the defending champion Williams, who had won 34 matches in a row.

ATP Moment of the Year: Andy Murray winning Wimbledon. Enough said.

WTA Moment of the Year: Serena Williams winning the French Open, more than a decade removed from her last title at Roland Garros.

Men's Shot of the Year: Sam Groth. Let's go off the board and give some love to World Team Tennis:

Women's Shot of the Year: Agnieszka Radwanska at the Sony Open. Putting the Wand (and an extra "ad" for the sake of the joke) in Radwandska:

Tantrum of the Year: Jerzy Janowicz at the Australian Open. And "No Fun to Play Like This" is a great album title:

Games(wo)manship of the Year: Anabel Medina Garrigues fluffs up new balls against Serena Williams. Anabel Medina Garrigues is Spanish for "well, technically it could be legal."

ATP Quote of the Year: Bernard Tomic. "It's a very odd situation," Tomic said after his father, John, was accused of assaulted hitting Bernard's partner, Thomas Drouet. You think?

WTA Quote of the Year: Serena Williams.

ATP Comeback Player of the Year: Rafael Nadal. We should retire the distinction in Tommy Haas' honor. But it's hard not to pick Nadal, who started the year with his playing future in alleged jeopardy and finished squarely in the GOAT conversation.

WTA Comeback Player of the Year: Alisa Kleybanova. She's barely ranked in the top 200, but anyone who is winning main-draw matches after battling Hodgkin's lymphoma gets the nod.

Best Development: Roger Federer on Twitter.

Click here for more year-in-review coverage from's Beyond The Baseline. Now, a few questions:

I have a favor to ask of you. Please retire the phrase "played in the wrong era" to refer to players who have come up short during the Roger Federer/Rafael Nadal/Novak Djokovic/Andy Murray era. The likes of Andy Roddick, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych did not play in the wrong era; they simply weren't as good. The 1990s had players such as Michael Chang, Petr Korda, Richard Krajicek, Todd Martin and Michael Stich. None of them played in the wrong era either. They simply weren't as good as Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier. Every era has great players ... and good players. But there is no such thing as a player who played in the wrong era.
-- Alex , Bristol, Conn.

• Point taken. But in the continuum of all sports, not just tennis, we see soft spots. For instance, here's a list of the men's Grand Slam winners in 2002: Thomas Johansson, Albert Costa, Lleyton Hewitt and Pete Sampras in his final tournament. Then, of course, came Federer, then Nadal and then Djokovic, Surely players on the order of Berdych and Tsonga sometimes think, "Gee, if my folks had gone to Ibiza for that wild night in, say, 1979, not 1985, might my career have turned out quite differently?"

Is there any tennis Hot Stove talk? Seems like the sport just disappears in December.
-- Pat O., Brooklyn, N.Y.

• I remember talking about this once with Andy Roddick. He made the valid point that the sport doesn't leave you long enough for you to miss it. You need a few months of offseason chatter to stoke the flames and give us some storylines (Robinson Cano in Seattle!? Jacoby Ellsbury in pinstripes!) to anticipate. Just look at the World Cup draw. Not in tennis. The Hopman Cup starts on Dec. 28, and the Brisbane, Chennai and Doha events start one or two days later. So tennis can't even wait till next year to start next year.

As for Hot Stove, it's been a big offseason for Maria Sharapova. She'll be in Sochi for NBC's Winter Olympics coverage and -- after missing the U.S. Open and the fall swing with a shoulder injury -- she'll begin next season with a new coach, Sven Groeneveld.

I know you (and others) have lamented how few tournaments there are in the United States these days. What city would you most like to see have a tournament?
-- John, Indianapolis

• I would quibble with the word "lament." I get that tennis is a global business and -- like Willie Sutton and his thoughts about where to rob banks -- you go where the money is. Hey, if there are sponsors and government funds and facilities in Brazil and China and Dubai that don't exist in, you know, Indianapolis, well, you gotta do what you gotta do.

I do, though, think the sport suffers from its diminishing presence in the United States. The world isn't entirely flat. At least not yet. And the fact remains -- for the moment, anyway -- that the U.S. is a leading market. There are a lot of underserved markets. Chicago. Philadelphia. Phoenix. I guess above all, I'd like to see an event in the Pacific Northwest.

A couple of weeks ago, you were lamenting the state of American men's tennis. You focused on John Isner and Sam Querrey (who seemed to be stalled) and Ryan Harrison (who seems to be regressing and/or not living up to earlier hype). How about another American man who has been quietly moving up into the top 100 without much fanfare: Bradley Klahn? He has taken a different road than Harrison/Jack Sock in that he had a very successful college career, and he should probably get some props for being a second-generation college tennis player (his mom played at Iowa). In the one interview I read, he came across as very articulate and well-grounded. Any thoughts?
-- J. Diersing, San Diego

• Again, with the lamenting. I have no real dog in this fight, no horse in this race. If I worked for the USTA, I'd be lamenting the state of the men's game. In the media, we are -- ideally, anyway -- results agnostic.

For all the storm clouds hovering over the U.S. men, there are various slivers of silver lining. More players are making the transition from college to the ATP, a la the 23-year-old Klahn, who turned pro with a Stanford education to fall back on. Denis Kudla is a nice, scrappy player, a downmarket Lleyton Hewitt. Speaking of Hewitt, Michael Russell is still getting it done, deep into his 30s. Tim Smyczek is making the Midwest proud. Tennys Sandgren is doing his name proud. Sock has struggled with injuries, but there's still lots of potential there.

Hey, if you can't have a top-10 rep, at least we have rich narratives. (And you thought Nadal could impart spin.)

Shots, miscellany

• Rewind the clock, say, 30 years. Then ask what John McEnroe would have said about a former player who made suggestions like this.

• Remember, McEnroe is supposed to team with his brother, Patrick, to play Bob and Mike Bryan at the BNP Paribas Showdown in New York in March. Just saying.

• Kei Nishikori has added Michael Chang to his coaching team.

• Sharapova appeared in The Ellen DeGeneres Show this week. Clips available here and here.

Take the tennis quiz.

• Andre Silva is leaving his posts as ATP chief player officer and ATP World Tour Finals tournament director to join the firm of Federer's manager, Tony Godsick.

• Not to be outdone, the WTA is losing chief marketing officer Andrew Walker and VP of communications Chris Wallace. Rough offseason on the personnel side.

Radwanska's highlighest reel for 2013.

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