Now that the men’s year-end championship has concluded from Shanghai, we can look back and hopefully savor the year in our sport and find those moments that held special appeal for us. This is not to suggest that they are all pure moments of wonderful tennis, but rather events that tugged at our memories as we look back over the year. We’ll start with Number 10 and count down to the favorite moment.
Roger Federer takes the Australian Open. The year commenced with Federer’s first of three Grand Slam titles, this one down under over a field that unhappily was not as strong as it could have been. Nadal was made for this surface so people said, but he had a foot injury and did not play. Fortunately, Roger was as strong as he needed to be, beating new kid on the block Marcos Baghdatis in four sets.
“I challenge” was the new call heard on tennis courts around the world when summer started, as both tours introduced the new Hawkeye electronic line calling system. What took you guys so long? So far it has gone well, adding some soothing calm to the furrowed brows we were seeing after so many bad calls. Finally an innovation we all could applaud, and did. And we’ll overlook the fact that it took them forever to get this system up and going.
Andre Agassi retires. So much was made of this when the day finally arrived for Andre at the US Open, and then it seemed the waters closed over him just as quickly and it was all gone. We wanted him to have a deeper run, I personally wished he had done this a year ago, at the Open, when he was still reasonably healthy and could go out on a higher note. But the body was too far gone this season and it was not to be. Fortunately in terms of this column, the man who beat him, Benjamin Becker, was “discovered” by my co-writer playing the challenger events earlier in the year, so we are both quite happy to see him having an excellent first year on tour.
Nikolay Davydenko of the Ukraine gets our Worker Bee Award. The guy won a ton of matches everywhere on all surfaces, so we should probably add The Healthiest Player Award along with The Most Consistent Player of the year.
Roger Federer tries to play back to back Master Series events (Toronto and Cincinnati) but gets his bell rung in the second round of Cincy against Andy Murray. Unfortunately Murray probably can’t clutch this win too proudly to his chest, his play over the year varied from God awful lackluster performances to smooth and polished ones. Let’s term this upset a prime sample of how even the mighty grow weary.
Blake over Nadal in straight sets in Shanghai. Rafael Nadal has three good reasons now to avoid James Blake, Blake rang his bell on all three occasions they met this season. The last time was at the year-end championships, where Blake made an impressive run including this beautiful two-set masterpiece which we thought was the best highlight for American men’s tennis this year.
The brilliance of Rafael Nadal on clay. A blitzkrieg run through the spring, taking out Federer in Monte Carlo, Rome and then at Roland Garros. Roger no doubt was seeing red in his dreams after that season, and we all thought, “Finally, here is the lad to challenge Roger.” Well, didn’t quite work out that way, but Nadal broke a venerated record, Vilas’ 53 winning streak on clay, with his own 62 match wins.
Roger Federer takes his fourth Wimbledon in a row. That Swiss guy again, and with some particularly sweet revenge over his springtime nemesis Nadal. No one expected Nadal to even be there in the final, and he acquitted himself very well. But it was a strange match, and even though Roger won in four, it left us with a feeling of things being unsettled between Number One and Number Two in the world.
The Rivalry That Sputtered. The second half of the season basically saw Roger riding off into the sunset. He would not meet Nadal again until the last event of the year, even though they played several tournaments together. Nadal became spotty in his play, losing to an odd assortment of players and none of them named Roger. The first half of the year the raging debate among tennis aficionados was, Is Nadal In Roger’s Head? The second half became, Is Nadal Afraid of Roger?
A screaming forehand cross court winner. The shot of the year from somewhere near the front row seats. It’s that Federer lad again, this time in Shanghai. Against Nadal and on match point. Roger basically kissed the field goodbye with that shot, capping one of the most impressive years ever in men’s tennis. Three slam wins, the final of the fourth, the year-end title and a sprinkling of Masters Series wins along the way. Nadal never knew what hit him, frankly neither did we. An awesome point that encapsulated Federer’s year perfectly, and probably has the rest of the field wondering if they should even bother showing up in ’07. We hope they do. But it probably won’t matter.
Read more about Benjamin Becker here