Who is the WTA player of the year?
There's no question that in 2010, Rafael Nadal fashioned one of the best seasons ever by a tennis pro; he won seven titles and three of the four Grand Slam events. Incredibly, he won all 21 of his sets in winning a fifth title at Roland Garros. He also won 24 straight matches, 10 more than any other man. Rafa is the youngest man ever to collect the career Grand Slam and, with nine at the age of 24, finds himself in position to challenge Roger Federer's record for all-time majors (16).
On the women's side, however, it was a bewildering three-horse race.
"It's been a confusing season," said Mary Carillo, who works as a tennis analyst for NBC and CBS. "Muddled is probably the appropriate word."
No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki won six titles, but not one of them was a major; she didn't even reach a final. Serena Williams won two Grand Slam events -- the Australian Open and Wimbledon -- but shut it down after Wimbledon when she cut her right foot in a Munich restaurant. Kim Clijsters won five titles, including the U.S. Open and the year-end event in Doha, beating Wozniacki in a terrific final. Francesca Schiavone, who won her first major, perhaps the feel-good story of the season, at Roland Garros, is the fourth player listed on the media's WTA player award ballots. But, despite her crafting of a sparkling 14-3 mark in the majors, a record of 26-19 in the non-Slams isn't good enough to warrant consideration.
So, who is the WTA's player of the year?
"I actually think you can argue for any one of the three -- and against any one of the three," ESPN analyst Pam Shriver said. "I've thought about it, and it's a total dilemma. Maybe they should share it three ways.
"There will be a lot of different opinions."
Wozniacki, still only 20, was a joy to watch and certainly persistent. She played a total of 79 matches -- 50 more than Williams. That's a lot of quantity, but where's the quality? Three of her titles came in Beijing, Montreal and Tokyo, but the other three were in New Haven, Ponte Vedra and Copenhagen. Her only victories this season over players ranked among the top five came against Vera Zvonareva in the last two events of the year.
"If Wozniacki made it to one major final, I'd give it to her," Shriver said. "But I feel that in a couple of majors she crashed and burned horribly. Look at Wimbledon [she won two games in a fourth-round loss to Petra Kvitova]."
Williams? Even though she had the best win-loss percentage (.862) among WTA players, the fact remains that she played in only six events all year. Six. Her ranking slipped from No. 1 to No. 4.
"In some people's eyes," Shriver said, "there is a minimum of tournaments you need to play for consideration, maybe 10 or 12. But the majors mean so much, and she won two. Serena is the best player of this generation and the best player of the first half of the year. Tiger Woods has played half a year and won player of the year; why can't Serena?"
"Clearly," Carillo said, "Wozniacki has done everything she can to be a legitimate champion, but how can you be the best player without a major? Serena? Can you be the player of the half-year? In the end, I think it's Clijsters, but there's not a lot of starch in my answer."
Although the No. 3-ranked Clijsters (40-7) balances her child-rearing duties with tennis, she found time to win her third U.S. Open. And it could be argued that Miami and Doha are next in line among the non-Slams. It should be noted that each of the five times she reached a semifinal, she won the tournament. That's collected wisdom -- combined with killer instinct.
"Clijsters' winning the season-end championship gives her some currency," Shriver said. "I understand that argument. I called the women's final and I thought it was one of the best women's matches of the year. Of course, it was a lean year for great matches."
Carillo, for one, is still trying to figure it out.
"Is Justine Henin coming back?" she said. "After Wimbledon, we didn't see Justine or Serena and not a hell of a lot of Venus [Williams], either. Dinara Safina -- it's hard to know what's going on with her. You just hope everybody starts off 2011 healthy so there's some semblance of order.
"It was a funny year."
Indeed it was. Carillo would like to see the WTA follow the ATP's recent blueprint.
"What I hope for in 2011 is that the top women really commit to playing in the non-majors," she said. "There are so many good stories with the guys: maybe the greatest player of all time [Federer] trying to get better with a new coach. Nadal, well, he improves hourly. [Novak] Djokovic has put together some great matches lately. [Andy] Murray has a winning record against Federer, but he can't win a major.
"Those are the kind of storylines missing from women's tennis. They don't support the tour the way the guys do. All the things I'm seeing from the ATP Tour, I'd love to see on the women's side."
5 Questions With
the Champions Series participants.
The following responses were culled from the players who competed at the recent The Residences at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman Legends Championships. The title was won by Stefan Edberg with a 7-6 (5), 2-6, 10-8 victory over Marat Safin. It was Edberg's first career tournament win on the Champions Series, the global tennis circuit for champion tennis players age 30 and older. Mark Philippoussis finished 2010 as the No. 1 player.
Q: What is your life like these days?
Stefan Edberg: Tennis is just a small part of my life. This is my third event this year. I didn't really play for 10 or 12 years. I was playing a match or two. I started playing some tournaments in 2008; I played two events, then I played six or seven last year. I haven't been playing a lot. I've got business at home. I work there with rental property and I'm part-owner of a finance company, so I have quite a lot of work at home. I've got two very active kids, too, so that takes time. When I'm at home, I'm so busy, so tennis I try to play two, three times a week just to get away. You have to try to keep the fitness and the game going.
Q: What's your reaction when Roger Federer says you are his idol?
Edberg: It's nice to hear. I saw him the first time when he was 16 as a junior and I said hello to him. And I saw him one time when I was presenting the award to [Rafael] Nadal when he beat Roger in the final. Then I met him last week in Stockholm in a tournament, and he's a great guy. Just talking to him, it seems like you've known him for a long time. He's very smooth and easygoing, so I think he's a great, great, great guy for tennis in general, I think both on and off the court."
Q: What's the atmosphere like on the Champions Series?
Marat Safin: It's a little bit different. Here it's much more relaxed like it was in the good old days when everybody used to hang out together and it was like a family. They would help each other, they would go out together, they would hang out together, they would do things together. Now everything is more separate. Every single player has his own group. Masseuse, coach, fitness coach. So everybody is separated, more like really business-orientated. And here is more like a family. There it is just more like a job. [This is] much more fun, of course.
Q: Will you attempt a Thomas Muster-like comeback on the ATP Tour?
Safin: No, impossible. I am over the tour because two things: First of all, I got injured really badly after the French Open, and I never could recover. I never could come back because of my injury. I became slow, so then I traveled for a couple of years, playing, and I didn't really believe that I would come any closer to top 20. And I made the top 20, but I really couldn't run properly, I couldn't recover the same way as before. And I have things to do in Russia. I've been on the Olympic Committee, Federation, the young guys. I'm pretty busy, so I don't really miss it. What I don't really miss is running.
Q: Who did you have trouble beating during your career?
Aaron Krickstein: The only guy I could never beat. [Jimmy] Connors. I couldn't beat him when he was 39 at the Open at that match. Then, actually I played him six months later, which nobody knows, and he was a little bit older and I ended up losing. But I could beat him right now. I am almost positive. I'm 43; he's 58. He's had two hip replacements. I know I could beat him.
The pool is deep
One thing that is certain: Professional tennis has never been deeper.
This year, 23 of the WTA's top 30 players won tournaments. The seven who didn't manage to come away with a title: No. 13. Shahar Peer, No. 14 Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 15 Nadia Petrova, No. 16 Marion Bartoli, No. 20 Maria Kirilenko, No. 26 Jie Zheng and No. 30 Daniela Hantuchova.
On the men's side, the numbers were extraordinary. When Jurgen Melzer and Gael Monfils won tournaments three weeks ago, it meant that 27 of the top 30 players won at least one title this year. According to the ATP World Tour, the average number for the top 30 for the past decade is 23.2. Now, ATP players have hit 27 twice in the past four years.
"There are a number of guys that on a given day can beat anyone," said Paul Annacone, who formerly coached Pete Sampras and now works with Roger Federer. "There are fewer that can string it together for an entire tournament, but to see that 27 guys of the top 30 have won events says a lot about the current level and depth of the game."
Moreover, although there were five ATP double-bagels last year (players shut out, 0 and 0), there were none in 2010.
"All of those numbers tell me that we've got a lot of parity in the game," Pam Shriver said. "It's certainly true in the women's game. On the men's side, we're seeing guys beyond Roger and Rafa make an impact. Djokovic is certainly a factor, and guys like [Robin] Soderling and Berdych have fought their way into the mix."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
On The Move
Robin Haase: The 23-year-old Dutch player might have had the most dramatic rise, jumping 392 spots, from No. 451 to No. 59. He had terrible luck in the Grand Slams, drawing Tomas Berdych in the first round in Melbourne and, after beating James Blake at Wimbledon, falling to Rafael Nadal. In the end, five victories on the Challenger circuit carried him a long way.
Ana Ivanovic: Took two titles inside a month as the season wound down, in Linz and Bali. The one-time No. 1-ranked player had fallen as far as No. 65 in July. She's now back up to No. 17, ahead of Maria Sharapova. The 2008 French Open champion started the season 12-14 and finished by winning 21 of her last 27 matches.
Tobias Kamke: A spectacular year for the 24-year-old German. He moved 187 spots, to No. 67, going 7-8 in ATP matches. He took home two Challenger titles and won five matches at Wimbledon (including qualifying), losing to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the third round.
Anna Chakvetadze: From No. 118 to No. 56, plus-62.
Carlos Berlocq: Plus-183 spots, to No. 72.
Andrea Petkovic: From No. 56 to No. 32, plus-24.
Filippo Volandri: From No. 218 to No. 91, plus-127.
Maria Kirilenko: From No. 63 to No. 20, plus-43.
Kevin Anderson: Up exactly 100 spots, to No. 62.
Tamira Paszek: Jumped from No. 151 to No. 92 (plus-59) when she won Quebec City for the second time.
Andrey Golubev: From No. 133 to No. 36 -- 97 spots -- biggest jump in the top 50.
• Rafael Nadal was one of two men to win titles on three different surfaces. Who was the other? Sam Querrey, who won two on hard courts (Los Angeles and Memphis), one on grass (Queen's Club) and one on clay (Belgrade). Querrey saved match points in three matches on the way to those titles; only three other men saved match points, once each, en route to winning a tournament. Querrey helped the United States to a podium finish in the competition among nations for titles. The gold went to Spain, with 20 titles, distributed among eight players, equaling the 1996 total of the U.S, which had nine 2010 titles (four for Querrey, two each for Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish and one for John Isner), while France was third with five.
• A solid effort by the depleted U.S. Fed Cup team a few weeks ago in San Diego in a 3-1 loss to Italy. Veterans Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone handled a young -- Serena and Venus-less -- team of Coco Vandeweghe, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Melanie Oudin. It was Oudin who won the only point for the U.S., dispatching Schiavone in straight sets.
• Congratulations to the winners of the recent 2010 USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships. Tennessee's Rhyne Williams and USC's Maria Sanchez won three-set matches in the finals at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center's Indoor Training Facility.
• John Isner became the fifth player to hit at least 1,000 aces in a season since the ATP started tracking them in 1991. He finished the year with 1,048 -- more than the best documented career season of both Andy Roddick and Pete Sampras. Goran Ivanicevic did it four times, including the record of 1,477 in 1996. Ivo Karlovic (1,318 in 2007) has the second-highest total on record.
• The International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum has been selected as one of three candidates from Rhode Island in the Hampton Save-A-Landmark program, a national campaign to restore historic landmarks in all 50 states. If selected, the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum will receive a cash donation as well as volunteer service from Hampton Hotels employees to work on a restoration project at the property. The winning landmark will be determined by public vote, through the end of the month, on HamptonLandmarks.com.
• John McEnroe recently announced that more than 400 students from the New York area have signed on and are playing at his new academy at the Randall's Island facility in Manhattan. A waiting list is currently being compiled for admission in 2011. Students now enrolled are attending the academy after school, on average two to three times per week, from New York City's five boroughs, and Westchester, Connecticut and New Jersey.
• After losing the past two finals at Roland Garros, Robin Soderling finally won in Paris this past Sunday. He took down Gael Monfils in straight sets in the BNP Paribas Masters final. It was the first Masters title for Soderling, who said he was so nervous he didn't sleep much the night before the match.
• The BNP Paribas Open, the most-attended tennis tournament in the world outside of the four major events, to be held in March at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, will become the first tennis tournament to feature Hawkeye replay technology and video displays on more than three courts when all eight match courts are outfitted for next year's event.
• The Bryan brothers clinched the year-end No. 1 ATP doubles team ranking for a record sixth time on the way to winning the tile in Basel, over Janko Tipsarevic and Yen-Hsun Lu in a 44-minute, straight-sets final. That final was the 11th of the season for Bob and Mike -- and resulted in their 11th title. They are the first team in three decades to win at least 10 titles without losing a single final. They now have won 67 ATP titles, six more than the all-time second-place Woodies, Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde.
• Recreational tennis teams from California, Florida, Hawaii, Minnesota, Missouri, New York and Virginia captured national championship titles at the WTT Rec League National Finals, which concluded a week ago at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. A record 59 tennis teams representing 17 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico competed for national championship titles in 11 divisions during the three-day tournament.
• There were seven 30-something winners on the ATP this year. Juan Carlos Ferrero, 30, won at Buenos Aires, Costa do Sauipe and Umag. Juan Ignacio, who won in Houston and Bucharest, was the oldest -- 31 years, 27 days when he won in Romania.
• Ryan Harrison and U.S. Fed Cup team member Coco Vandeweghe are among the initial players invited to compete at the USTA's 2010 Australian Open wild-card playoffs, which will be held for the second straight year in Atlanta from Dec. 17 through 19. Eight men and eight women will compete in the wild-card playoffs. Harrison and Vandeweghe won last year's events to earn main draw wild cards into the 2010 Australian Open.