By Ed McGrogan
The Grand Slams, the four most prestigious tournaments on the tennis calendar, always seem to produce unforgettable performances, champions and collapses. This year was no different, as many of these matches will be forever remembered in the annals of tennis history. Let’s take a walk down memory lane:
Player of the Year (Men): Roger Federer
Even if Roger Federer does not go on to win his fourth consecutive US Open title, the supreme Swiss is by far the most deserving of this recognition. Federer entered the Australian Open without playing any warm-up events, going on to win the year’s first Grand Slam without dropping a set. In early June, Roger tried to add the one piece of Grand Slam hardware that has eluded him – the Coupe des Mousquetaires. Although the king of clay, Rafael Nadal, denied Roger at Roland Garros for the third straight year, Federer exacted his revenge on Nadal only a few weeks later at Wimbledon, where he tied Bjorn Borg’s record of five consecutive Gentlemen’s Singles titles.Player of the Year (Women): Justine Henin
Despite not playing in the Australian Open, Justine Henin has still performed the best overall amongst the WTA Tour’s finest by displaying remarkable consistency at the year’s biggest events. Last year, Henin reached the final of every Grand Slam tournament; this year, she’s again made it a habit to get deep into the second week of the majors. Henin defended her Roland Garros title for the second straight year, giving her four wins at the French Open in the last five years. Justine looked to be cruising into the Wimbledon final at the All England Club, but a remarkable collapse to Marion Bartoli denied her the chance to win the career Grand Slam. However, judging by her performance at the US Open (Henin hasn’t dropped a set on her way to the final), she’s looking to avenge that uncharacteristic slip-up.
Dominant Performance of the Year (Men): Fernando Gonzalez def. Tommy Haas, 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 (Australian Open Semifinals)
The Chilean has always been known for his ability to fire winners from any side of the court. Problem is, “Gonzo” is also known for his tendency to rack up errors because of his preference to go for broke all the time. At this year’s Australian Open, everything went right for Gonzalez, going all the way to the final in his best-ever performance at a Slam. His success at Melbourne was typified during his semifinal match against Tommy Haas, who didn’t have a chance from the start. Gonzalez hit 42 winners and only three unforced errors in a match that stunned tennis fans – and Tommy Haas.
Honorable Mention: Roger Federer def. Andy Roddick 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 (Australian Open Semifinals)
After getting whipped by the eventual champion, Andy Roddick was painfully honest in his post-match press conference:
Q. What did Jimmy say to you straight after the game?
ANDY RODDICK: He gave me a beer.
Like Gonzalez, Federer didn’t once allow his opponent to get into the match, winning convincingly in one hour, 23 minutes.
Dominant Performance of the Year (Women): Serena Williams def. Maria Sharapova, 6-1, 6-2 (Australian Open Final)
The final days of the Australian Open saw many one-sided matches, including this anticipated final in the women’s bracket. Serena Williams came into Melbourne without match play since the 2006 US Open, so there were understandably many questions about her stamina, her game and her desire. Williams cast aside all doubters, though, winning the championship in a rout of Maria Sharapova. Serena overwhelmed Sharapova with her strength, her serve and her tenacious brand of tennis. Even more impressive was the fact that Maria was the top seed at the Australian Open, with Williams unseeded. The numbers usually don’t lie, but they did on this day, as Serena was the undisputed No. 1 after her victory.
Honorable Mention: Justine Henin def. Ana Ivanovic, 6-1, 6-2 (French Open Final)
Taking a page from Serena Williams, Justine Henin used her time in the spotlight to show her superiority, crushing Ana Ivanovic to win her third straight Roland Garros title. Ivanovic’s run to the final was the signal that she was an upcoming star, but Henin’s win reaffirmed her status as the brightest star. Comeback of the Year (Men): Richard Gasquet def. Andy Roddick, 4-6, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 8-6 (Wimbledon Quarterfinal)
Andy Roddick and grass go together like peanut butter and jelly. Roddick is a two-time finalist on the Wimbledon lawns, as his lethal serve becomes even more of a threat on the quick and speedy surface. So when he won the first two sets against Richard Gasquet, the third set only seemed to be a formality. Eventually, it went to a tiebreaker, which again is Roddick’s domain. But Gasquet didn’t become another one of Andy’s victims; he instead became Andy’s nightmare. The Frenchman played flawless tennis in the last three sets, winning two tiebreakers against the favored American. By the end of the match, Gasquet had hit an astounding 93 winners, many with his patented one-handed backhand. Roddick could only sit back and watch, falling in five sets.
Honorable Mention: Tommy Haas def. James Blake, 4-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-0, 7-6 (US Open Fourth Round)
James Blake came into Flushing Meadows fresh off of an inspiring US Open Series, looking to reach the quarterfinals of the US Open for the third straight year. It all seemed like that would happen until Tommy Haas revived himself – and his game – after falling down two sets to one. Lambasting Blake in the fourth set, Haas won a final-set tiebreaker to send the American home after such great expectations.
Comeback of the Year (Women): Maria Sharapova def. Patty Schnyder, 3-6, 6-4, 9-7 (French Open Fourth Round)
Faced with a hostile French crowd and facing two match points, Maria Sharapova’s chances at Roland Garros looked bleak against a determined Patty Schnyder. Sharapova got on the bad side of the Parisian patrons after taking too much time between points, and the support quickly shifted to her Swiss opponent. But there were problems on the court, as well, as Sharapova gave Schnyder numerous chances to close this match out. Schnyder’s serve was working in this match, but not in the most crucial moments, giving Maria a glimmer of hope. Sharapova took advantage of this, winning in the extended third set, 9-7. Sharapova was overcome with emotion after the match, still being rained with boos in spite of her victory.
Honorable Mention: Venus Williams def. Jelena Jankovic, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (US Open Quarterfinal)
In one of the best night matches of the tournament, the Wimbledon champion looked to make it to her second Grand Slam final in a row, but she faced a stern test against Serbian star Jelena Jankovic. Williams played well in the opening set, but after losing it, 6-4, she could have let frustration get the best of her. But it would not be so, as Williams played some of her best tennis of the year, especially in the pivotal third-set tiebreaker. Venus fell to Justine Henin in the following round but confirmed her place on tour as a dominant presence with this comeback win.
Upset of the Year: Marion Bartoli def. Justine Henin, 1-6, 7-5, 6-1 (French Open Semifinals)
Looking to win Wimbledon for the first time – which would complete her career Grand Slam – Justine Henin looked extremely focused early on in her semifinal match against 20th-seeded Marion Bartoli. Henin cruised in the first set, winning in only 22 minutes. But in the most improbable reversal of fortune this year, the Frenchwoman Bartoli somehow managed to start playing at Henin’s level. She won the second set, 7-5, and then elevated her play even further in the final set, amazingly winning it with ease. Bartoli hit 86 percent of her first serves in during the match, but an even more astounding number is the final score. Henin looked unbeatable at Wimbledon coming into this match, especially after getting by Serena Williams in the quarterfinals. At the end of this match, Henin looked in stunned disbelief at herself -- and the unlikely Wimbledon finalist Bartoli.
Inspiring Performance of the Year: Tim Henman def. Carlos Moya, 6-3, 1-6, 7-5, 6-2, 13-11 (Wimbledon First Round)
In what would turn out to be Henman’s final Wimbledon, Tim made the British supporters forget about their new hope, Andy Murray, on the opening Monday of the tournament. Well, make that Monday and Tuesday, as this match required two days to complete after darkness halted the match at 5-5 in the fifth set. On Tuesday morning, Tim entered Centre Court with a chance to make one more memory at a tournament, which has become synonymous with Henman highlights. Usually, these have come in the later rounds at the All England Club, but Henmania was in full force in the first round this year. Once again, Henman made the hearts of his supporters stop after coming so close to victory – he lost six match points against Moya – but he eventually prevailed after a Moya double fault on the seventh and decisive match point.
Match of the Year (Men): Roger Federer def. Rafael Nadal, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 2-6, 6-2 (Wimbledon Final)
The rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal has become the predominant theme in tennis during the past few years. Interest in the sport has increased, and fans have been rewarded with compelling performances between the two, most notably at the Rome Masters in 2006. But for all of their accomplishments, Federer and Nadal hadn’t yet played a classic match at a Grand Slam. Nadal has limited Federer’s effectiveness on the clay of Roland Garros so much so that analysts have suggested that Roger played poorly – not usually a word associated with Federer – in the 2006 and 2007 final. At Wimbledon last year, Nadal played well in a surprise run to the final, but Roger emerged somewhat comfortably in four sets. This year, things were different.
Federer’s groundstrokes on the grass have become legendary, but Nadal equaled Roger’s play on a sunny Sunday in London. After splitting the first two sets, Federer won a third-set tiebreaker to gain the upper hand. But instead of running away with the match, it was Rafa who took the fourth set by the reins, breaking Federer in the first game of the set. He did so once again on Federer’s next service game, and when the fourth set ended, the crowd knew they were seeing history in the making.
On a number of occasions in the fifth set, Nadal looked like he would be the player to end king Roger’s reign at SW19. Nadal had double break point in two separate games in the deciding set, but Federer summoned all his strength by saving each of these four break chances. When Federer got a chance to break Nadal, who was holding serve easily throughout the match, he didn’t blink. Roger’s overhand smash on match point ended Nadal’s chances of a Wimbledon title and ended a match forever destined as a classic.
Match of the Year (Women): Serena Williams def. Daniela Hantuchova, 6-2, 6-7, 6-2 (Wimbledon Fourth Round)
Serena Williams was just seven points away from defeating Daniela Hantuchova in the fourth round at Wimbledon. With the end in sight, Williams would normally be on her way to a comfortable two-set victory. The American had dominated her opponents so far in 2007, showing off her tremendous game by winning the Australian Open and Miami. But something was askew with Williams in this match – she was tugging at her calf and walking around with noticeable pain. This wouldn’t be as easy as some of her triumphs this year.
Late in the second set, Serena cried out in pain after collapsing to the court due to the pain in her calf. In what seemed like an eternity, Williams was on the grass being tended to by trainers, asking her if she could continue. It wasn’t a certainty. “I thought about not finishing, but very briefly. I thought I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I hadn’t at least tried,” said Williams.
Serena got up and was helped by a weather delay – something all too common at this year’s Championships. But for once, Williams may have embraced this postponement. When Serena returned to the court, she was still hobbling, but at least she appeared that she could continue playing. “I was definitely saved by the rain,” Williams said.
Hantuchova took advantage of this weakened version of Serena, winning the second set in a tiebreaker. But it was Serena who ultimately took advantage of the situation, coming out firing in the third set with renewed confidence and vigor. Playing with both legs taped, she started to play more aggressively, dictating the play against a surprised Hantuchova. The fans who saw Serena nearly left for dead only moments ago were just as surprised, as Williams took the third set, 6-2, to win a match that you had to see to believe.