Friday, January 1, 2010
Wow! I've actually entered my fourth decade of being a tennis fan: Man, how time flies! (I'm actually not that old: I started playing and following tennis back in '88. But still, that's a long time!)
Anyway, it's funny how the Aughts shaped up: The decade started off with my favorite player, Andre Agassi, winning another Australian Open and ended with him making big news for revelations of crystal meth use in his autobiography. Talk about running the gamut! There were plenty of other things going on in between the two headlines. To keep it concise, I'm going to list what I think were the 10 biggest newsy-type deals of the decade:
10. Aussie Rules
Now, I know Australian tennis players didn't exactly dominate the decade, but for a couple of years there, one of them did. Lleyton Hewitt won two Majors and also finished in the top spot two years in a row. I think this gets overlooked: Has there ever been a more successful "scrappy" player in the history of the men's game? Love him or hate him, you've got to respect what he's accomplished.
9. Open and Shut
I wasn't ever a big Pete Sampras fan, with Agassi and Jim Courier being my main dudes back when they were all out there duking it out. But what he pulled off at the 2002 U.S. Open was something to see. I know I thought he was done after having the worst year of his career up to that point. By the time he made his run to the final against Agassi, I was even pulling for him (only a little, he was playing 'Dre after all)! That final ended up being his last match and was a great way to wrap up one of the best careers of all time.
8. Caught in a Vice
Tennis has never been a mainstream sport, but it was sad to see that aside from when Slams were being contested, the only time it made the front page was with some drug- or gambling-related scandal. Compared with what happens in other sports, tennis is clean. Shame it doesn't get recognized for that.
7. U.S. Men's struggles in singles
In 10 years, only two U.S. players managed to crack the top 10 that hadn't been there before: Andy Roddick and James Blake. This is the longest an American male has gone without winning a Grand Slam title as the last one won was Roddick's '03 U.S. Open win. Only two active U.S. men have more than five career singles titles: Roddick and Blake. Soak that in: There's more, but I'm going to stop there!
6. The Comeback Queens
Just when you thought you had seen the last of them, Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport and Kim Clijsters all made successful returns. Whether it was from unfulfilled promise, retirement or motherhood, those four all made big impacts almost like the first time around, or in the case of Capriati, even better.
5. Serbing Notice
I guess you can call Serbia "the little nation that could" because look at what was accomplished by some of its players: two women getting to number one (Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic); a man winning the Australian Open and finishing runner up at the U.S. Open, as well as entrenching himself in the top four (Novak Djokovic); and another man becoming one of the most dominant doubles specialists out there (Nenad Zimonjic). Those are results any country should be proud of.
4. Russian Revolution
Let's see: Players who won Slams? Check. Number-one rankings achieved? Double check. Multiple players in the top 10? You get the idea! Russia was the star nation of the decade with players achieving all those things, as well as winning numerous Davis and Fed cups.
3. Feat of Clay (and Other Surfaces, too)
Rafael Nadal came on the scene like a ton of crushed brick, dominating the French Open and nearly every other clay-court tournament around the world. But proving he was more than a one-surface pony, Rafa also bagged Majors at the Australian and Wimbledon. And after an unprecedented run as the second-ranked player in the world, he finally took over the top spot -- a move that was years in the making.
2. Sister Act
Even though they both made their first big impact on the tour in the late '90s, the '00s are really when the Williams sisters began to shine. From the "Serena Slam" to Venus' dominance at Wimbledon to stints at the top of the rankings to on- and off-court shenanigans, the two were the most captivating forces on tour over the decade. With them, you just never know: That might be the case for the '10s, too!
1. Roger That
I'm not going to list everything that Federer's pulled off, but I will say this and I triple-dare anyone to argue otherwise: Has anyone in any sport EVER made it look so easy? Imagine if Tiger Woods won three Majors a year, or if Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls teams won 75 to 78 of their possible 82 games and swept through the playoffs, or if Lance Armstrong won at least 20 stages of each Tour de France he captured, then that might be close to what Roger Federer did over the course of the decade. 'Nuff said.
(Photo: Getty Images)