2013 BTB Awards: Biggest surprises
The Beyond The Baseline awards are our look back at the best -- and worst -- of the tennis season. Today we offer the biggest surprises of the 2013 season, highlighted by Marion Bartoli's Wimbledon title and successive retirement. Click here for our complete archive of year-end awards.
Marion Bartoli wins Wimbledon, then retires at the Western & Southern Open six weeks later: If the first one didn't shock you, then the second one definitely did. As the 15th seed, Bartoli took advantage of an open field to win her first Grand Slam title, beating Sabine Lisicki 6-1, 6-4 in the final on a picture-perfect Saturday afternoon in London. Six weeks later, after losing to Simona Halep in a near-empty Grandstand court on a quiet Wednesday night in Mason, Ohio, she told a small group of reporters that she had just played her last match. No one saw that coming.
Roger Federer's woes: A year after winning his 17th Grand Slam title and retaking the No. 1 ranking, Federer fiddled with his racket and adjusted his schedule to play two extra clay-court tournaments -- all of which were completely out of character for one of the best players ever. That's how quickly fortunes can change in this sport. In his worst season in more than a decade, Federer won only one title, lost before the quarterfinal of a major twice and was upset by players ranked outside the top 100 twice. Federer recorded only four victories against top-10 players, including two at the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals.
Wimbledon's wacky Wednesday: At the beginning of the third day of Wimbledon, the biggest story was the withdrawal of Steve Darcis, who stunned Rafael Nadal in the first round. By the day's end, that seemed like a distant memory. Federer's streak of 36 Slam quarterfinals ended with a loss to No. 116 Sergiy Stakhovsky. No. 3 seed Maria Sharapova fell to qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal. A record seven players either withdrew or retired with injuries, and seven former No. 1s were elominated. It was the craziest single day at a tournament I've ever covered.
Simona Halep wins more titles than anyone but Serena: The Romanian entered the season with no titles and a 46-55 record. But improved health and an aggressive approach fueled a breakthrough season in which the former French Open junior champion won six titles and finished third on tour with 53 match victories. The cherry on top for Halep? She was the only woman to win titles on all three surfaces.
Serena Williams goes 78-4: It's typical for Williams take a mental break during a season, but this year, she never took her foot off the gas pedal. Williams, who turned 32 in September, put together the most consistently dominant season of her career, winning the French Open for just the second time, the U.S. Open and a personal-best 11 titles. But most surprising was the fact that she kept her cool during her four losses. Twice she fell to No. 2 Victoria Azarenka in close three-set battles; she came up short against an unstoppable Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon, and couldn't overcome her injuries in a strong match against Sloane Stephens at the Australian Open.
Flavia Pennetta reaches the U.S. Open semifinals: The charismatic Italian, 31, came back from wrist surgery to reach a major semifinal for the first time, defeating four seeded players in New York.
Eugenie Bouchard finishes as the WTA's top teenager: Among a young crop that includes Laura Robson, Madison Keys, Kristina Mladenovic and Elina Svitolina, I'm not sure anyone would have picked Bouchard to be the top teen at the end of the season.
Rafael Nadal goes undefeated on North American hard courts: Amid all the concern over how his knee would hold up on the hard courts, Nadal couldn't have performed better. He opened the hard-court season by winning the BNP Paribas Open, the first hard-court tournament of his comeback, and won the Rogers Cup in Montreal and the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati. He capped a 22-0 run on North American hard courts with his second U.S. Open title. Wasn't this surface supposed to be his weakest?
The Williams sisters shut out in doubles: Venus and Serena played the Australian Open, the French Open, the U.S. Open and the China Open together and didn't even make a final. It's the first time since 1998 that the sisters entered more than one tournament and failed to win one.
Success of the American women: While Serena and Stephens hogged the headlines this season, the lesser-known American women seemed to take turns in the spotlight. Bethanie Mattek-Sands' great run through the clay season, Jamie Hampton's surge on clay and grass, Varvara Lepchenko's heroic Fed Cup efforts and Madison Keys' meteoric rise rounded out a strong year.
Maria Kirilenko cracks the top 10 and disappears: Kirilenko finally broke into the top 10 after reaching the quarterfinals at the French Open, and then proceeded to lose before the quarterfinals in eight of her last nine tournaments. She finished her season with a retirement at the Sofia Tournament of Champions, ranked No. 19.
Milos Raonic doesn't cop to touching the net in Montreal: I just never thought he was that guy.
Fernando Verdasco turns into a grass and doubles specialist: The Spaniard's best results have always come on clay and in hard-court singles. He surprised everyone with a run to the Wimbledon quarterfinals, in which he came within a set from ending Andy Murray's triumphant campaign, and by winning the doubles title with David Marrero at the ATP World Tour Finals.
Maria Sharapova's loss to Li Na in the Australian Open semifinals: Sharapova opened the tournament with back-to-back 6-0, 6-0 victories, and lost just nine games through five matches, an Australian Open record. When Serena went down to Stephens in the quarterfinals, she looked like she had one hand on the trophy. And yet she lost so easily (and quickly) to Li in the semifinals, 6-2, 6-2, that it's easy to forget she even made the semifinals at all.
Sabine Lisicki's choke at Wimbledon: After beating Serena and Agnieszka Radwanska to make her first Grand Slam final, Lisicki was oozing confidence going into her showdown with Bartoli. But from the minute she stepped onto Centre Court, she froze. She lost 6-1, 6-4, and was in tears before the match was even over.
The Bryans lose two Davis Cup matches: Bob and Mike Bryan had an unbelievable year, winning three Slams and 11 overall titles. But the sting of their losses to Brazilians Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares in the first round of Davis Cup and to the Serbian team of Ilija Bozoljac and Nenad Zimonjic in the quarterfinals still haunts them. It's the first time the duo has ever lost two Davis Cup matches in a season.
David Ferrer finishes at a career-high No. 3: It didn't always feel like Ferrer was playing his best tennis this season (he lost his last seven finals), but the Spaniard took advantage of his opportunities: He made his first Grand Slam final, at the French Open and reached Masters finals in Miami and Paris to go with his two titles.
Victoria Duval stuns Sam Stosur at the U.S. Open: This match was the upset of the year.
Serena rolls her ankle in Australia, again: She needs to be placed in a full body cast before she steps off the plane Down Under.
Kristina Mladenovic wins six doubles titles with six different partners: The 20-year-old will be high demand as a doubles partner in 2014.
Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua make the final at three of the four Slams: In just their second tournament together as a team, the Aussie duo advanced to the Australian Open final, where they lost in three sets to the No. 1 team of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. They went on to make the final at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Novak Djokovic gets Ana Ivanovic to dance in public: Quite possibly his most difficult feat of the season: