February Recap: Novak Djokovic's streak builds, new faces emerge
Petra Kvitova won her second tournament of the year in Paris, defeating Kim Clijsters 6-4, 6-3. (Reau Alexis/SIPA)
Beyond The Baseline continues looking back at each month in 2011, pulling together the moments we loved, hated and missed during this unpredictable year. Yesterday was January's best, which, assuming our calendars aren't lying, means February is up today. Give us your favorite moments from the month in the comments of each post and we’ll compile a readers’ edition at the end of the month.
Some call it "Forgettable February" -- the time for players to take a quick breather after their breakneck preparations for the Australian swing. With the top dogs resting, we're often left with the Best of the Rest for much of the month. But out of that second-tier scramble, some new faces and names emerged.
Petra Kvitova and Milos Raonic signaled their emergence with solid wins over quality opponents, Vera Zvonareva snagged the Doha title by defeating Caroline Wozniacki, and Novak 2.0 returned to the court, defeating Roger Federer handily in the Dubai final and proving that his Aussie Open run was no shot in the dark.
BTB’s 10 Memorable Moments From February
10. Super Mario retires: Mario Ancic, who beat Federer at Wimbledon in 2002 as a lanky, 18-year-old qualifier, called it quits. Ancic's career was always full of hope and promise, modeling his booming serve after his idol, Goran Ivanisevic. But injuries never gave Ancic a chance to unleash his big serve-and-volley game consistently, and the affable Croat walked away at the ripe old age of 26 to start a career in law.
9. Petra takes Paris: Nothing gets you noticed like beating Kim Clijsters in a tournament final. And when Clijsters' defensive skills can't even answer your power, you know you're on to something big. Kvitova's 6-4, 6-3 win over Clijsters, who had wrested the No. 1 ranking from Wozniacki that week (Wozniacki would take it back a week later in Dubai), capped a 16-1 start for Kvitova and set the tone for her undefeated year on indoor hard courts.
8. Picture perfect: Nearly a month after winning in Melbourne, Djokovic returned and picked up right where he left off. The Serb captured his third straight Dubai title, defeating Federer 6-3, 6-3 in the final and improving to 12-0 on the year. Given the way his season ended, it's easy to forget just how off-the-charts Djokovic was in the first half of 2011. This highlight reel from the Dubai final is a pretty good refresher. The movement, the pace, the precision. It's mesmerizing.
7. Tennis heckling goes viral: For better or worse, tennis is a self-policing sport. The unwritten rules are precisely that, unwritten. So how do fans learn? Well, sometimes it's a bit of trial and error, as this unwise fan learned in San Jose. He thought it would be a great idea to yell out while Fernando Verdasco was down match point to Raonic in the SAP Open final. He quickly learned that was not a great idea at all, courtesy of the women behind him. Lesson learned?
6. Verdasco likes a good whine: He gets distracted by a tennis heckler and loses to Raonic in the San Jose final, then loses to the young Canadian for the second time in less than a week in Memphis. Needless to say, the man they call "FeVer" was not feeling the love for Raonic at the end of it all and was looking forward to getting back on clay, his preferred surface. That might explain why he decided to downplay Raonic's success and belittle his game with these comments after his loss in Memphis:
"For me, that's not a real match in tennis. I hope to play soon against him in clay court to show him what it is to play tennis, and play rallies, and run, and not [just] serve."
Sour grapes much, Fernando? Oh, and for those keeping track, Verdasco went on to lose his first match on clay, going down to Tomaz Bellucci 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 in the first round of Acapulco. Real tennis is hard.
5. Dubai debacle: For the third straight year, drama ensued at a tournament in the Middle East for reasons wholly unrelated to a racket hitting a little yellow ball. In 2009, the United Arab Emirates denied Israeli Shahar Peer's visa application, claiming security concerns and thus barring her from playing the Dubai tournament that spring. The highly controversial decision prompted Venus Williams, who won the tournament, to speak out, and Andy Roddick followed suit a week later, boycotting the tournament.
Peer has been allowed to play in Dubai for the past two years after the WTA threatened to drop the event. But both years the Israeli was forced to play under quarantine. She was given a heavily armed security detail and segregated from the rest of the players, only playing on outer courts, which can apparently be more easily secured.
I've said it once and I'll say it again: If a tournament cannot guarantee the safety of the players without confining them to a bunker and surrounding them with heavily armed guards, you probably shouldn't be having a tournament there, let alone one of the bigger tournaments of the year.
4. Biting "The Hand" that feeds you: Less than a month after announcing her retirement (again), Justine Henin gave a lengthy interview to a Belgian TV station that could have doubled for either a long-awaited therapy session or a Catholic confession.
Henin admitted that she had, in fact, held up her hand in the infamous "Hand" incident against Serena Williams at the 2003 French Open. But Henin defended herself, saying that it didn't affect the outcome and, given Serena's intimidating nature, Henin was simply trying to show her that she would not back down. No, please do not ask me to explain that logic. (Note: English subtitles pick up at the 30-second mark.)
In the interview, Henin also admitted to intentionally trying to influence the umpire's decision on a pivotal point against Kim Clijsters in the 2004 Australian Open final, on a ball she knew was in. The psychology behind it all made sense. Henin was always looking for that extra edge against two of her biggest rivals, but her confessions seemed to solidify her reputation for being one of the least sporting women's champions in recent history. It's a disappointing taint on what was otherwise such a great story.
Check out Henin's phantom out call against Clijsters in 2004 at the 2:25 mark.
3. News travels fast: It didn't take long for Serena to hear about Justine's confessional.
Even Lindsay Davenport had to laugh.
Well played, Serena.
2. Canada rising: February was all about our neighbors to the north. Raonic, as noted earlier, edged Verdasco in the San Jose final 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5) for his first ATP title. While Raonic surged on the indoor North American courts, his countrywoman Rebecca Marino was also tasting success. She made her first WTA final in February, but was forced to retire to Magdalena Rybarikova in Memphis.
1. Yeah, but can you do that with your hat on?: Easily the best championship-winning point of the year. No discussion. No debate.
*****What did we miss? Sound off the in the comments and we'll compile a readers' edition at the end of the month.