By Peter Dopkin, USTA.com
The USTA’s decision to rename the National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y. after Billie Jean King speaks to the impact and depth the tennis great has had over the past four decades. King’s astonishing accolades while playing professionally pale in comparison to her role as arguably the greatest pioneer ever for women’s athletics. Watch King's Speech: Part 1
- Part 2
Agassi’s Last Stand
The peerless Andre Agassi served up a teary and memorable goodbye at the US Open after his third round loss. Tennis’ biggest star shined brightly for most of the first week with a win over Andrei Pavel and a classic five-set victory over Marcos Baghdatis. Andre’s 21st and final Open came to a close at the hands of German Benjamin Becker. After a five-minute standing ovation, the two-time US Open and 1996 Olympic champion, soaked with his sweat and tears, bid adieu to his legion of loyal followers as arguably the game’s most visible ambassador. Watch: Agassi's Speech
In 2006, tennis found itself under the watchful eye of technology. Electronic line calling and the challenge system were first introduced in Key Biscayne and its place was cemented in tennis by the USTA as integral parts of the US Open Series and US Open. On close calls, this new element offered players instant peace of mind, thus avoiding John McEnroe- or Jimmy Connors-esque tirades. Also, for the first time fans directly impacted the outcome of a match as they helped persuade players to challenge close calls, adding an increased value to the experience for those in attendance.
In 2007, Tennis Australia will follow the USTA’s lead by using electronic line calling at the Australian Open in January.
The proverbial necks of the tennis world continue to stiffen as everyone looks up to Roger Federer, who once again elevated his game in 2006. After four blemishes on his record (three on clay) at the hands of Rafael Nadal, the world No. 1 steamrolled through the second half of the calendar, as he won Wimbledon for the fourth year in a row and the US Open for the third consecutive time. Federer capped off his year with a season-ending Masters Cup title in Shanghai, and finished the year with a 92-5 record. Roger became the first man since Ivan Lendl in 1982 (106-9) to finish the year with more than 90 wins, and took home a record $8.34 million dollars in prize money. Watch: Federer's US Open Speech
Andy Roddick’s game is alive and well. Roddick had an up-and-down first half of 2006 that was highlighted by his 2-0 performance versus Chile in the Davis Cup quarterfinals in Mission Viejo, Calif. However, he had an early third round exit at Wimbledon at the hands of Scotsman Andy Murray.
The post-Wimbledon Roddick was a vastly different player. His reversal of fortune could certainly be attributed to a new strategy and a down-the-line backhand courtesy of new coach Jimmy Connors. Roddick rallied on the U.S. hard courts where he won the Cincinnati Masters, catapulting him to the top of the US Open Series point standings and ultimately the Series title. Roddick cashed in on his US Open Series repeat at the US Open where he picked-up $600,000 for reaching the final and a $500,000 bonus by virtue of his US Open Series win.
Roddick’s improved play landed him in the season-ending championships, and a year-end ranking of No. 6.
The American Dream
In 2005, James Blake was the ATP Comeback Player of the Year, and in ’06 he continued his success as he vaulted his way into the top 5 in the world. Blake methodically rose through the rankings as he captured titles in January (Sydney), March (Las Vegas), July (Indianapolis), September (Bangkok), and October (Stockholm). Blake added a huge win for the Americans on Day 1 of the Davis Cup tie in La Jolla, CA against Romania, propelling the U.S. into the quarterfinals. James reached two Masters Series finals at Indian Wells and the season-ending championships in China, but both times lost to a formidable opponent -- Roger Federer. At No. 4, the 26-year-old Blake is the top-ranked American in the world.
The Wait is Over
The final at the Australian Open set the tone for an interesting year on the WTA Tour. The often-maligned Amelie Mauresmo was in search of her first career Grand Slam title and thus relinquishing herself of the label, “Best Player Never to Win a Major.” With Mauresmo up 6-1, 2-0, Henin-Hardenne did the inconceivable — she retired in the middle of a Grand Slam final. Henin-Hardenne complained of cramps and a stunned Mauresmo accepted her first major trophy.
Six months later the two combatants met again on the grass at the All England Lawn and Tennis Club. The Frenchwoman was looking to silence all her critics who felt that her title in Australia was simply a result of good fortune and not a result of her talent. Mauresmo dropped the first set 2-6 and many believed that she would fall to the Belgian, crushing her hopes of validating her title down under. Uncustomary to her past, Mauresmo battled back and fought through her nerves to capture the Wimbledon title 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. In her on-court post-match interview Mauresmo told BBC tennis anchor Sue Barker, “I don’t want anyone to talk about my nerves anymore.”
In March, Maria Sharapova won her first tournament in more than a year at Indian Wells. With the tournament monkey off her back, the Russian hit the hard courts for the US Open Series looking to gain momentum heading into the US Open. Tennis’ big-dollar diva did just that. She won the Tier I title in San Diego and was just five points shy of winning the US Open Series, but was eclipsed by Ana Ivanovic. A rested Sharapova arrived in Flushing with her sights set on her second Grand Slam title. Sharapova grunted, grinded and powered her way to the title when she defeated Justine Henin-Hardenne 6-4, 6-4, in the final. Watch: Sharapova's US Open Speech
The Ultimate Mudder
In 1977, Guillermo Vilas strung together a remarkable 53 straight wins on clay. For almost 30 years his record stood strong. In April 2005, Rafael Nadal started dominating his opponents on the European clay courts, highlighted by a French Open title. In 2006, the Spaniard provided the same problem for opponents on the surface — he couldn’t be beat. On his road to the clay-court record, Nadal defeated Roger Federer in finals in Monte Carlo, Rome and at Roland Garros for his second consecutive French Open title. Rafa shattered Vilas’ streak and the new record currently sits at 60 matches and counting.
Grand Slam Double Vision
Bob and Mike Bryan captured seven titles, were 3-0 in Davis Cup ties in ’06 and once again sit atop the doubles world. The Bryans won the Australian Open, Wimbledon, two Masters Series events in Canada and Madrid, as well as titles in D.C. and L.A. during the US Open Series.
For the Camarillo, Calif., natives, their victory at Wimbledon marked an achievement that had never before been accomplished by an American duo — the career Grand Slam.