Novak Djokovic dropped Roger Federer in straight sets at the Australian Open to launch his memorable 2011. (David Callow/SI)
The holidays are a time for rest and reflection, and the crew here at Beyond The Baseline is no different. Except the "rest" part. As with the sport of tennis itself, we valiantly trudge on, prognosticating the future and looking back on the year that was. Starting today, we look back at each month in 2011 to pull together the moments we loved, hated and missed during this unpredictable year. Give us your favorite moments we missed in the comments of each post and we'll compile a readers' edition.
If January told us anything, it was to expect the unexpected in 2011. Right out of the gate, Maria Sharapova got bounced by journeywoman Greta Arn in the Auckland quarterfinals; Li Na upset Kim Clijsters in the Sydney final, coming back from 0-5 in the first set; and Petra Kvitova -- yes, that Petra Kvitova -- won Brisbane for only the second title of her career.
By the end of the Australian Open, Sharapova had crashed out in the fourth round; Caroline Wozniacki was still Slam-less; Kvitova blasted Samantha Stosur off the court; and Clijsters finally earned the right to be called "Aussie Kim" for reasons unrelated to who she was dating at the time.
As for the men, Novak Djokovic was hardly a glimmer in the eye of 2011. All the talk surrounded Rafael Nadal and his opportunity for "The Rafa Slam." The reigning French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion had a shot to hold all four trophies with a win at the Australian Open. Instead, he showed up to Melbourne battling a virus that caused him to sweat profusely in his oversized Nike T-shirts, and his body gave out against David Ferrer in the quarterfinals. And thus endeth the Rafa narrative and began the Djokovic domination.
BTB's 10 Memorable Moments From January
10. The Curse of Hisense Arena: Hisense Arena at the Australian Open isn't my favorite court in the world. Even the best seats seem so far away and it's difficult to generate any sort of atmosphere. I deign to say that the only people who dislike Hisense Arena more than I do were the Serbs in 2011. Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Bojana Jovanovksi, Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki all lost in the early rounds on that court. In fact, only the superhuman Djokovic survived his tour of duty on Hisense, and that's only because A) he was playing another Serb, Troicki, B) Troicki retired with a stomach injury, and C) Hisense was thus able to still claim a Serb.
Oh, and if you thought the U.S. Open "bubbly court" drama was weird, how about this "dead spot" on Hisense, which was discovered right before the start of the Sharapova-Julia Goerges match:
9. Nico the Entertainer: If you are a tennis fan with even the slightest of hearts, a little space in that heart is reserved for Nicolas Mahut, who lost that five-set epic to John Isner at Wimbledon in 2010. The Frenchman plays with flair and, as he showed in his stint at Hopman Cup, he's always willing to do whatever it takes to entertain the crowd.
8. Kim Clijsters calls out Todd Woodbridge: Text about Kim's "boobs" at your peril, gentlemen. Also, Rennae Stubbs is the worst secret-keeper ever.
7. Justine Henin retires: Is it just me or is it weird to think that Henin was an active player in 2011? After losing to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the third round of the Australian Open, Henin abruptly retired in the most 21st century of ways: via a post on Facebook. It was a rather forgettable end (again) to a memorable career.
6. Hello, Dolly: Alexander Dolgopolov served notice of his arrival with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 upset of the red-hot Robin Soderling in the Australian Open, snapping the Swede's eight-match winning streak to begin the year. He did so with some tremendous shot-making that seemed to defy the laws of physics and with some crafty shot selection that seemed to drive Soderling absolutely mad. The expectations for Dolgopolov and his game grew after this fourth-round match. He didn't necessarily deliver on a consistent basis, but the 23-year-old from the Ukraine is a crowd favorite when playing well.
5. Introducing Li Na: Her game was scintillating, yes. But Li charmed the world with her frank, blunt, funny quotes, all delivered with a wide grin and a bit of mischief.
Who can forget her heartfelt thanks to her husband after losing the Australian Open final to Clijsters? "It doesn't matter if you are fat or skinny, handsome or ugly. I will always follow you and always love you," she said.
Hallmark couldn't make this up.
Some more Li gems:
On Caroline Wozniacki's defense being a "Danish Wall": "I think Chinese wall more famous."
On being disrupted by her husband's snoring: "Yeah. I mean, I was wake up every hour, so I say, 'Stop. I couldn't sleep.' My husband just like say, 'Relax.' I say, 'How? Tell me how can relax because I couldn't sleep.' So he was like, 'OK,' he just totally forget me. This morning, he was asking, 'How you sleep?' I was like, 'Stop.'"
And, of course, who can forget her utter confusion when she was told it was her anniversary:
4. Rally for Relief: As is always the case during the offseason, we've been stuck watching a lot of footage of some of exhibitions. So it's even more of a welcome relief to look back at an exhibition that doesn't cause second-hand embarrassment or have us cringe at some of the pandering antics of the participants. Rally For Relief was a star-studded gigglefest that was the best of both worlds: It was a truly entertaining exhibition and it raised money for a good cause. With the likes of Nadal, Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Andy Roddick, Ivanovic, Clijsters and Stosur, the event sold out and raised more than $1.8 million for victims of the Queensland floods.
What made it fun was that the players actually used their tennis to entertain. Everyone got to show a bit of personality, and did I mention the failed chest-bump attempt at (9:07 in the last video) by Stosur and Clijsters? Amazing stuff all around.
3. Rafa in tears: Are there onion shavings laid into the court on Rod Laver Arena? Are they constantly airing Toy Story 3 on the big screens there? What is it about that court that regularly makes grown men cry? Upon realizing that his dream of accomplishing the Rafa Slam was over, Nadal sat despondent during a changeover in his quarterfinal loss to Ferrer and let a few tears flow. In that moment, everyone felt for Nadal. Even Pam Shriver put aside the snark while commentating, saying simply, "Oh, bless his heart."
2. This is what they call "foreshadowing": Djokovic's 7-6 (3), 7-5, 6-4 defeat of Federer in the Australian Open semifinals was a memorable display of high-quality tennis and mental fortitude. It was a tight match and every time you thought Djokovic would buckle, he didn't. He was steady, calm and focused. This was the debut of the new Novak -- Novak 2.0 -- who would dominate for most of 2011.
1. Racket Reaction: 11 months later, it still makes me laugh out loud.
*****So what did I miss? What were some of your favorite (or not so favorite) moments in January? Email me your suggestions or chat in the comments and I'll compile them for a later post.