Friday, December 16, 2016

The Official 2016 TWA Yearbook

I know what you're thinking. You read that post title and think: "Why on earth would I want to remember anything about 2016?"
I'm with you, sister. (Or brother.) Still, 2016 actually was pretty good to the sport of tennis and to some of its stars. Let's take a look back at the best and worst of the year that we shall speak not of after this post.

Head of the Class: Inspired by Serena Williams' recent essay, I am not going to pick a male or female head of the class. But we have male and female co-winners for this category because both of these athletes achieved Sisyphean feats. I'm speaking, of course, about Angelique Kerber and Andy Murray. Kerber started out the year by winning the Australian Open. She won the Australian Open by beating Serena Williams. Despite a slight nosedive in results after that, she rebounded nicely to make the Wimbledon final and then win the U.S. Open. The other interesting thing she did this year was to start the season ranked No. 10 and end it ranked No. 1. Not bad, not bad.
Murray has spent the last several years as the runt of the Big 4 litter. "Is he at the top of game?" "Where at the top of the game?" "Is he ever going to be the Big 3?" "Is he going to get soft after having a kid?" These sorts of questions. Some people don't really dig questions about the value of their successes and they tank under pressure. Andy Murray won Wimbledon, a gold medal at the Olympics, the U.S. Open and the year-end championships. After losing to Novak Djokovic in Australia and France, he came back to exorcise that demon in London last month and became the world No. 1 in the process. Not really how runts act, right?

Most Inspiring Player: Juan Martin del Potro. His is the ultimate rise, fall, and rise again story they make sports movies about. If they made a movie about del Potro's career, non-tennis fans would roll their eyes and say, "Come on, now. Really?" Yes, really. del Potro really shook the tennis world in 2011 when he beat Roger Federer in the final to win the U.S. Open and had been sidelined with injuries ever since. He really did emerge again at the Olympics, beating Novak Djokovic in the first round, and Rafael Nadal to advance to the gold-medal round. Then he just won the Davis Cup for Argentina by winning an epic match, coming back from a 2-set deficit against Marin Cilic. And that was just 2016. So really the only question left is: "Who's gonna play del Potro?"

Most Popular: Maria Sharapova. Very popular these days. She's been all over my Twitter feed lately because SHE'S BACK! WOO!! Despite a drug ban that sidelined her for a year, everyone is so excited for her return. I am not that excited because I think she caught a break for gaming the system, but, hey. That's not a very popular opinion. 

Most Likely to Succeed: I am still putting my paper on Garbine Muguruza, who won the French Open this year, and then sort of lost her way. Like, she left the map. Should she find her way back, though, I think she's a more likely candidate than Karolina Pliskova because she can mix up her game a little better. In June, I might have added Lucas Pouille to this list, but talk about leaving the map. It's harder to make a dent in the men's game with inconsistency, a lesson young Milos Raonic has learned. He managed to clean up his game this season and almost snagged Wimbledon. Even though he lost, he showed that he is capable of kicking up much chaos. The only question I'd have is about his coaching situation. He retains John McEnroe, kicks him to the curb. He retains Carlos Moya, kicks him to the curb. After his best season ever. OK ...

Most Likely to Succeed ... at Something Other than Tennis: We're lookin' at you, Little Nicky Kyrgios. After receiving some behavioral warnings throughout 2016, the ATP placed Krygios on the sideline, but not before giving an interview declaring that he's prefer basketball. Kyrgios is a special talent, no doubt, but it's clear he's not happy on a tennis court. It's pretty unlikely he took the ATP's suggestion of therapy, so that begs the question: How long would you do a job that made you miserable?

Fifth-Year Seniors: One of the biggest questions of 2016 will undoubtedly be "What about Roger and Rafa?" Both are a bit long in the letterman jacket if you understand my meaning, and both are struggling with injuries. Maybe a better question is: "Will the Big 4 involve both of these men in 2017?" I think the answer is no. Top 10 maybe. And maybe just Federer. He's always had the most economical style and even though he's older than Nadal, he's physically the fresher of the two. Now, Nadal's own run at the Olympics shows that he can still be a serious threat. Plus, I feel that his loss of dominance against Murray and especially Djokovic, has messed with his confidence. 

That Student Who Skates Through the School Year, But Aces the Final Exam: Dominika Cibulkova. Yes, I made a category just for her, but come on -- you all know/knew that student. It's almost not fair, is it. Some people put in the hard yards, gain a reputation, come to expect certain things of themselves. And then they play Cibulkova in the year-end championships and she beats you.
Seriously, I hope Cibulkova can win a major next year. It's going to be a lot harder now, though. I mean, she's short, but everyone sees her now.

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