Enough already with the "best of" 2011, and with the "highlights of 2011." It's high time we acknowledged the "lowlights" of 2011, starting with the fifth-most disappointing and working up to the worst moment of the ATP or WTA tennis year:
You have to go all the way back to 2008 to find a more lopsided score in the history between these two players (Nadal leads the head-to-head, 7-3), but that's not the main reason this was such a discouraging match for U.S. tennis fans.
That Roddick was unable to put up more resistance on what is basically his home court, and the one on which he won his long Grand Slam title, could be taken as an omen that Roddick, 29, just doesn't have enough left in the tank to keep his familiar place in the top 10. And that's bad news for U.S. tennis, despite the way Mardy Fish recently has picked up some of the slack.
Sure it's great that Asia finally has a Grand Slam champ in Li, who not only won the French Open but came awfully close to winning the first major of the year as well. And though we know Li tends to have a major letdown after big tournaments, she was in with a shot to qualify for the knockout semifinals of the prestigious year-end championships when she met Stosur in the third round of the round robin. That Li caved so thoroughly at the last event of the year, on an indoor hard surface that suits her game, and got just one measly game off Stosur was a real downer.
This was the beginning of the end of one of the great stories in all of the Open era. It began with Djokovic's early-season winning streak, continued with his mastery of Nadal on the Spanish then-No. 1's beloved clay and hit a peak at the U.S. Open, where new No. 1 Djokovic won his third major of the year and positioned himself to threaten John McEnroe's record winning percentage (.965 on an 82-3 mark in 1984).
But just a week after the Open, Djokovic had to quit (lower-back injury), and defending champ Serbia was knocked out of the Davis Cup by del Potro and his Argentine teammates. Djokovic was not the same for the remainder of the year and ended up a still brilliant but woozy 70-6 on the year.
2. Rafael Nadal d. Roger Federer, Miami Masters semifinal, 6-3, 6-2.
It was early in the year, and while Djokovic had won the Australian Open and the Indian Wells Masters, the Federer-Nadal rivalry was still the major story in men's tennis. Thus it was that much more surprising when, in an electric atmosphere on a sultry night in Miami, the fans packed into the stadium at Crandon Park got to witness nothing more exciting than a mercy killing. Federer simply didn't have his A-game. Or his B-game. Or his C-game. He had nothing.
However, it would be remiss of me not to mention that Federer basically turned the tables on Nadal some seven months later, when he crushed Nadal at the ATP World Tour Finals, 6-3, 6-0. That's how it is with these two guys.
1. Sam Stosur d. Serena Williams, U.S. Open final, 6-2, 6-3
Although this is a legitimate highlight of the year, not to mention a career high point for first-time Grand Slam champion Stosur, that controversy over the chair umpire's decision to punish Williams for screaming during a point, and Williams' subsequent meltdown, dominated the news and ruined what ought to have been a celebration of the surprising skill and will that Stosur brought to the match.
It was a jarring, discordant way to end the WTA Grand Slam year. The prohibitive and popular favorite Williams played mediocre tennis, got ugly and crashed out and thus failed to win a Grand Slam title for the first time in five years. It left a bad taste in the mouth of everyone but Stosur, who was content to know that when it really counted, she finally delivered against the formidable Serena.