The year that was — the best of vintage 2018

The men’s Greatest Gen kept the Next Gen at bay last year, but among the women, parity has become so pronounced that eight different women have divvied up the last eight Grand Slam events, including a trio of first-time champions in 2018.

Novak Djokovic captured Wimbledon, his first major title in more than two years, and the US Open to tie Pete Sampras for third place with 14 Grand Slam titles.   -  AP

If you love one of the Big 3 — and who doesn’t — then watching superstars Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic dominate for yet another year had to cheer you up no matter how much today’s politics may have depressed you. These ageless warriors — 37, 32 and 31, respectively — swept all four majors for the second straight year.

Wielding his racket like a magic wand and gliding for balls like a ballroom dancer, the incomparable Federer won his sixth Australian Open and record-extending 20th Grand Slam title. He capitalised on an easy draw and was further gifted when unseeded Korean Hyeon Chung, a dangerous power hitter, retired after two sets with an injury in the semifinals. After defeating Marin Cilic, another 30-something, in a five-set final, the Swiss maestro exulted, “Winning is an absolute dream come true. The fairy tale continues for us, for me, it’s incredible.”

Nadal proved even more incredible than Federer in 2018. Bashing topspin shots more ferociously than ever, he smashed his own unfathomable and unbreakable records with his 11th titles at Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Roland Garros. He lost just one set in 19 matches. The all-time King of Clay climaxed his conquest of the European circuit by crushing Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in the French Open final. “In my career I achieved more than I could dream, but at the same time I went through tough moments,” injury-prone Nadal reflected afterwards. “I am going to keep playing until my body resists. From the first time since I came here to today is a love story.”

A year after Federer and Nadal authored spectacular career comebacks by winning two majors each, Djokovic fashioned an even more astounding turnaround. But not before Djokovic’s mystifying two-year slump — complicated by elbow problems and coaching changes — worsened with a dismal 6-6 start in 2018. But then, suddenly, shockingly, the speedy Serb exploded to capture his fourth Wimbledon crown.

The title run was highlighted by Djokovic’s razor-thin 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 10-8 semifinal victory over Nadal. In a classic lasting five hours and 15 minutes, both Nadal and Djokovic wound up with 73 winners and 42 unforced errors. Djokovic then predictably polished off a nervous Kevin Anderson 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 in the final. The 6’8” South African had overcome seven-time champion Federer 13-11 in the fifth set in the tournament’s biggest upset, and then surpassed that marathon when he outlasted 6’10” mega-server John Isner 26-24 in the fifth set of their semifinal.

“It has been a long 18 months for me, trying to overcome different obstacles,” Djokovic told the BBC. “There were times of doubt, frustration, disappointment, where you are questioning whether you want to keep going. So, to be where I am now is quite, quite satisfying.”

During his superb 48-6 second-half finish, Djokovic also grabbed two Masters 1000 titles. His Cincinnati triumph made him the first player in history to claim every Masters tournament. With unstoppable momentum, he capped his comeback season by easily taking his third US Open, surrendering only two sets and outclassing Juan Martin del Potro 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 in the final.

Once again, the Greatest Gen slammed the door on the Next Gen. Only Thiem, the French Open runner-up, and Alexander Zverev, the ATP Finals champion, sneaked briefly into the penthouse of the three living legends. At the ATP Finals, the No. 4-ranked Zverev, a 21-year-old German, knocked out No. 1 Djokovic, No. 3 Federer, No. 7 Cilic and No. 10 Isner for his biggest title.

No. 4-ranked Alexander Zverev, a 21-year-old German, knocked out No. 1 Novak Djokovic, No. 3 Roger Federer, No. 7 Marin Cilic and No. 10 John Isner to win the ATP Finals.   -  AFP

 

Two other young Europeans shot up in the rankings in 2018 thanks to breakthrough tournaments. Karen Khachanov, an all-business, 6’6” Russian, overpowered Djokovic, Zverev, Thiem and Isner to capture the Paris Masters and finish No. 11. After Khachanov’s four-set US Open slugfest with Nadal, former champion John McEnroe, said, “Khachanov’s fighting spirit impressed me the most about him. He fought toe to toe with Nadal, the greatest fighter in history, for four hours. I can’t imagine Khachanov not making the top 10, even the top five, in a year or two.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas earned the ATP Most Improved Player of the Year award by zooming from No. 91 to No. 15. A handsome, 6’4” Greek with languid ground strokes and a booming serve, the 20-year-old Tsitsipas became the youngest player to beat four top-10 opponents at a single tournament since the ATP World Tour was established in 1990. At the Rogers Cup, he upset Djokovic, Zverev, Thiem and Anderson. “He’s a complete player,” said Nadal who beat Tsitsipas in the final. “He has passion for the game. He’s not just one thing, he’s got everything.”

The GOAT race became more intriguing as Djokovic surged to 14 Grand Slam titles. Can he catch the often-injured Nadal at 17 or even declining Federer at 20?

Off the court, Djokovic has also taken over the political game as president of the ATP Player Council. He and other power brokers will have to deal with contentious issues, such as a more equitable distribution of prize money and a calendar cluttered with four international team events — the Laver Cup, the Davis Cup, the Hopman Cup and the ATP Cup — in a four-month span. None is more controversial than the prestigious Davis Cup, which has struggled this decade because leading players sometimes skipped it.

Ironically, in an attempt to revitalize 118-year-old annual competition, the International Tennis Federation likely destroyed it. Radically revamped and almost unrecognisable, the new Davis Cup format has transmogrified into an 18-team final with the 12 winners of home-and-away matches moving into the November event. There they will join the four semifinalists from the previous year and two wild cards. The final will be staged at a neutral site (Madrid) with the countries, divided into six groups, playing a downsized round robin consisting of only three matches — two singles and one doubles — and downgraded to only best-of-three sets. Worst of all, without home and away ties (except for the first round), the quintessential Cup passion — roaring, chanting and singing nationalistic crowds — will be lost.

“It’s a recipe for the death of the Davis Cup as we know it,” predicted John Newcombe, Australian Davis Cup captain for six years and five-time champion as a player. Let’s hope against hope that Newcombe and the many other critics are wrong.

New stars outshine Serena in women’s tennis

“In women’s tennis, anything can happen when there is no Serena Williams,” pointed out Timea Babos, after upsetting 10th-seeded CoCo Vandeweghe 7-6, 6-2 in the Australian Open first round. As 2018 proved, anything can happen even when Serena returns to competition.

Parity has become so pronounced that eight different women have divvied up the last eight Grand Slam events. In 2018, the majors honour roll featured a trio of first-time champions — Caroline Wozniacki, Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka. The exception, Angelique Kerber, won her third major.

Whither Serena? In a season filled with intriguing comebacks, none attracted more scrutiny and caused more controversy than that of the woman many cognoscenti consider the GOAT. Other experts, however, pick 1960s-70s great Margaret Court based on her all-time record 24 Grand Slam titles, one more than Serena’s total.

For a decade, Serena has chased that Holy Grail with a fist-pumping, “C’mon!”-shouting fury, but some of her most bitter disappointments came at the US Open. History would repeat itself in 2018 as the combustible former Queen of Tennis once again self-destructed there.

Serena’s comeback started slowly. Life-threatening complications from giving birth to her first child in September 2017 forced her to skip the Australian Open in January. Even so, she managed to reach the Wimbledon and US Open finals.

Although Wozniacki finished both 2010 and 2011 ranked No. 1, her dream of winning a Grand Slam title remained agonisingly elusive — till the 2018 Australian Open.   -  AFP

 

“The year that was” also created new headliners, some of whom will likely reign in the post-Serena era. Although Wozniacki finished both 2010 and 2011 ranked No. 1, her dream of winning a Grand Slam title remained agonisingly elusive. Hampered by periodic injuries, a mediocre serve and a flawed forehand, the Danish veteran plummeted to No. 74 and even contemplated retiring in 2016.

But inspired by the late-career comebacks of Federer and Nadal and recently engaged to former NBA All-Star David Lee (whom she calls her “soulmate”), Wozniacki was primed for her own comeback. At the Australian Open, she displayed a newfound aggressiveness, particularly on her serve and forehand. After surviving two match points and recovering from a 1-5 deficit in the deciding set, Wozniacki overcame No. 119-ranked Jana Fett 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 in a second-round adventure. An easy draw smoothed her ride to the final, where Wozniacki faced world No. 1 Simona Halep, equally hungry to win her first major after two heartbreaking losses in French Open finals.

Despite suffering a painful left ankle injury and right foot plantar fasciitis, Halep had valiantly overcome tenacious Lauren Davis 4-6, 6-4, 15-13, escaping three match points, in the third round. Then, in the most enthralling and outstanding match of the year, Halep belted a career-high 50 winners to conquer Kerber 6-3, 4-6, 9-7 in the semis. And so, with the weakened Halep playing on adrenaline in debilitating 90-degree heat, Wozniacki finally prevailed in a dramatic, superbly contested 7-6, 3-6, 6-4 duel to capture her first Grand Slam title.

“It was an incredible match, an incredible fight,” Wozniacki told the cheering crowd. “I’ve dreamt of this moment for so many years.” Fortune can be fickle, however. Seven months later, the extremely fit Wozniacki revealed she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

As for Halep, rather than being dispirited, the hard-fought setback encouraged her as well as several tennis experts. Former superstar Chris Evert, who also lost her first three major finals, predicted “I have no doubt Halep will win a Grand Slam.”

It came soon enough at Roland Garros on Halep’s favourite surface, clay. After whipping Kerber and 2016 French champion Garbine Muguruza, Halep faced 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens in the final. A year earlier, Halep led Jelena Ostapenko 6-4, 2-0 before faltering and losing the French final.

Could the stylish-stroking Romanian exorcise her demons? Could she control her mood swings when she faced adversity?

Down 6-3, 2-0 to clever counter-puncher Stephens, it looked like déjà vu all over again for the harried Halep. But, sparked by the partisan crowd’s chants of “See-moe-nah! See-moe-nah!”, she reversed the momentum and ultimately came through, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. Afterwards, Halep told the spectators she used her experience in the three previous losing finals to stay positive and focused. “I believed. And I never gave up,” Halep said. “In the last game I felt I cannot breathe any more. It’s amazing what is happening now.”

Committing just five unforced errors — compared to Serena Williams’s 24 — in 101 total points, Angelique Kerber triumphed in the Wimbledon final 6-3, 6-3.   -  AP

 

What happened next at Wimbledon was pretty amazing, too. All top-10 seeds tasted defeat before the quarterfinals for the first time in Wimbledon history. That topsy-turvy upset theme was topped, though, by the feel-good comeback story of Angelique Kerber.

In 2016, the German lefty catapulted from a solid top-10 player to a champion, capturing the Australian and US Opens, reaching the final at Wimbledon and the WTA Finals, and winning an Olympic silver medal. In 2017, however, she couldn’t cope with the fame and expectations. Euphoria turned into disappointment. Kerber won no tournaments and plummeted from No. 1 to No. 21. Her fortune changed yet again in 2018 with new coach Wim Fissette coaxing her to play more aggressively. She won Sydney, made the quarterfinals at the French Open and the semifinals at the Australian Open, Dubai and Eastbourne, a Wimbledon tune-up event on grass.

At the Big W, the 11th-seeded Kerber’s excellent form continued. She straight-setted No. 18 Naomi Osaka, former top-tenner Belinda Bencic, No. 14 Daria Kasatkina and No. 12 Ostapenko to reach the final. Meanwhile, Serena faced much weaker opponents, including only one seed, No. 13 Julia Goerges, to set up a rematch of the 2016 final, which Serena had taken 7-5, 6-3.

This time, a nervous, error-prone Serena, sans the speed and explosive serve of yesteryear, was easy prey for the high-percentage play of Kerber. Committing just five unforced errors — compared to Serena’s 24 — in 101 total points, Kerber triumphed 6-3, 6-3. After winning championship point, an exultant Kerber fell on her back on the lush grass and covered her eyes with her hands. “When I was a little kid, I always dreamed of winning Wimbledon,” the ecstatic champion told ESPN.

Serena licked her wounds and accentuated the positive despite her dismal defeat. “These two weeks have really showed me that, ‘Okay, I can compete,’” she said. “I can, you know, come out and be a contender to win Grand Slams.”

A contender, yes. But was Serena’s glorious time at the top finally over?

The US Open provided a strong, if not definitive, answer. Once again, a very easy draw — no top-15 opponents aside from No. 8 Karolina Pliskova in the quarters — smoothed Serena’s road to the final. Her surprise opponent, 50-1 pre-tournament long-shot Osaka, edged fast-rising, hard-hitting Aryna Sabakenka 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 in a brilliant quarterfinal that may presage future Grand Slam finals. Osaka was equally impressive in knocking off 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys 6-2, 6-4 in the penultimate round.

The 20-year-old Japanese-Haitian, who grew up in the United States, had long idolized Serena. As a third-grader in Florida, Osaka wrote a report on Williams. “I said, ‘I want to be like her,’” she recalled. “Ever since I was a little kid, I dreamed of playing Serena in a Grand Slam final.”

Osaka’s childhood dream came true, though she could never have imagined the bizarre, controversial and, in some ways, nightmarish denouement. Not intimidated by Serena’s screams or the wildly pro-Serena crowd, Osaka deceptively mixed up her powerful serves, dictated most of the rallies with penetrating ground strokes and defended effectively to outclass an error-prone and occasionally inept Serena 6-2, 6-4.

The second-set psychodrama sadly overshadowed the actual match. An imbroglio started when umpire Carlos Ramos gave Williams a code-violation warning for receiving illegal coaching from her player’s box. When Serena smashed her racket on the hard court, she was issued a second code violation for racket abuse and assessed a point penalty. Enraged and fuming, Serena harangued Ramos on a changeover, calling him “a liar” and “a thief.” The code violation for “verbal abuse” cost Serena a full game.

In the post-final press conference, Osaka explained how she managed to compartmentalise her conflicting emotions towards Williams. “When I step on the court, I feel like a different person,” Osaka said. “I’m not a Serena fan. I’m just a tennis player, playing another tennis player.” Breaking into tears, she added, “But then when I hugged her at the net, I felt like a little kid again.”

Serena was characteristically unapologetic about her transgressions — her third mental meltdown at Flushing Meadows in the past 10 years — which resulted in $17,000 in fines. Instead, she wrongly accused Ramos of sexism.

Like sand flowing inexorably through an hourglass, time is running out for Serena, now 37. Before the fateful US Open final, she confided, “I’m still waiting to get to be the Serena that I was, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be that physically, emotionally, mentally.”

The future appears far more certain for the appealing Osaka, who possesses all the attributes of a superstar. However her career unfolds, she’ll always remember 2018. “It’s been a crazy year,” Osaka said. “For me, it’s just been a lot of new experiences.”

Thanks for the memories, Caroline, Simona, Angelique and especially Naomi.

The best and worst

Let’s look back at this eventful, exciting and often surprising year and see if you agree with how I saw the Bests and Worsts of vintage 2018.

Best men’s player: Spectacular results in the second half of the year gave the resurgent Novak Djokovic a decisive edge over French Open champion Rafael Nadal and Australian Open titlist Roger Federer. Djokovic captured Wimbledon, his first major title in more than two years, and the US Open to tie Pete Sampras for third place with 14 Grand Slam titles. The 31-year-old Serb also became the first player to win all nine ATP Masters 1000 events when he captured Cincinnati.

Best women’s player: No. 1-ranked Simona Halep won three titles — the French Open, Montreal and Shenzhen — and reached three finals at the Australian Open, Rome and Cincinnati. Halep’s 80.7 per cent match-winning percentage (46-11) led the tour in 2018. Angelique Kerber comes in second thanks to winning Wimbledon and Sydney and reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open, Dubai and Eastbourne. Naomi Osaka peaked brilliantly to capture the US Open and Indian Wells to grab third place.

No. 1-ranked Simona Halep won three titles — the French Open, Montreal and Shenzhen — and reached three finals at the Australian Open, Rome and Cincinnati.   -  Getty Images

 

Best Grand Slam men’s match I: Novak Djokovic’s 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9), 3-6, 10-8 epic victory over Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon semifinals treated mesmerised spectators with terrific shot-making and mind-boggling rallies for five hours and 15 minutes. As the long-time rivals walked off Centre Court, both players received a standing ovation. “I’m just overwhelmed,” Djokovic told the BBC afterwards. “These kind of matches you live for, you live for.”

Best Grand Slam Men’s match II: Like two great boxers exchanging heavyweight punches for 12 rounds, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem slugged it out for four hours and 49 minutes as spectators often rose to their feet after the most exciting points. The unforgettable US Open quarterfinals lasted until 2.04am, when Nadal finally prevailed 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5). “I’m sad for him,” said the always-gracious Nadal. “It’s cruel sometimes, tennis, because I think this match didn’t really deserve a loser. But there has to be one.” Chris Evert, a 1970s-80s superstar, called it “the greatest men’s match that I’ve ever seen.”

Best Grand Slam women’s match: “Well, definitely was very tough. I’m shaking now — I’m really emotional,” said Simona Halep, equally overjoyed and relieved after converting her fourth match point against a dogged Angelique Kerber for a 6-3, 4-6, 9-7 victory in the Australian Open semifinals. “I’m really glad that I could resist. I had two match [point] balls, and I lost them. Today I was like a roller coaster — up and down — [but] I had confidence in myself.” Both warriors had chances to serve out the match, and both staved off match points in long, engrossing rallies in the riveting, two-hours-and-20-minutes duel.

Best perseverance: Serena Williams proved she is every bit the fighter off the court as she is on it by her rapid and successful return to the pro tour after a life-threatening childbirth on September 1, 2017, and four surgeries that followed it. After an inevitable slow start due to rustiness — she was sidelined for 12 months — Serena bounced back to reach the Wimbledon and US Open finals. For that perseverance and resilience, Williams was voted The Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year for the fifth time. She finished ahead of American gymnast Simone Biles, who won four golds and six medals overall in the world championships in Qatar.

Best men’s Grand Slam upsets: Four huge upsets stand out. Australian journeyman John Millman upset his “hero” and five-time champion Roger Federer 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (9-7), 7-6 (7-3) at the US Open in Arthur Ashe Stadium. “I’m probably in a little bit of disbelief,” said Millman after his first career win over a top-10 player. World No. 72 Marco Cecchinato, who had never won a Grand Slam match before the French Open, shocked 2016 champion Novak Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (4), 1-6, 7-6 (11) to become the lowest-ranked Roland Garros semifinalist since world No. 100 Andrei Medvedev in 1999. Argentina’s Guido Pella handed 2017 runner-up and third-seeded Marin Cilic a 3-6, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-5 loss in the Wimbledon second round. Pella had never won a main-draw match at Wimbledon until 2018. Tennys Sandgren, who had never defeated a top-10 opponent, stunned Dominic Thiem 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-7(7), 6-3 in the Australian Open fourth round.

Best women’s Grand Slam upsets: Kaia Kanepi, a 33-year-old Estonian, shocked Simona Halep 6-2, 6-4, making it the first time in the Open Era that the No. 1 women’s seed lost in the first round at the US Open. No. 202-ranked Karolina Muchova upset two-time major titlist Garbine Muguruza 3-6, 6-, 6-4 in the US Open second round. Belarus’s Aliaksandra Sasnovich hit 30 winners and stunned two-time champion Petra Kvitova 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 in the Wimbledon first round. Heavily-favoured Kvitova had come into Wimbledon with a 38-7 record, while Sasnovich, who has never advanced past the second round at a major, went on to reach the fourth round before falling to Jelena Ostapenko. Ostapenko was upset 7-5, 6-3 by Kateryna Kozlova, the 66th-ranked Ukrainian, to become first reigning Roland Garros champion to fall in the first round since 2004 champion Anastasia Myskina crashed out of the opening round 13 years ago. Ostapenko was just the second defending champion to exit the French Open first round in 50 years.

Mike Bryan (left) won a career record 18th Grand Slam doubles title when he teamed up with fellow American Jack Sock to crush Lukasz Kubot of Poland and Marcelo Melo of Brazil 6-3, 6-1 in the US Open final.   -  AP

 

Best all-time doubles record: Mike Bryan won a career record 18th Grand Slam doubles title when he teamed up with fellow American Jack Sock to crush Lukasz Kubot of Poland and Marcelo Melo of Brazil 6-3, 6-1 in the US Open final. Bryan had been tied with Australian great John Newcombe for the most Grand Slam career men’s doubles crowns. “This is not just about me,” said a modest Bryan. “There are lot of people behind the scenes working to get this 40-year-old body on the court. This has been a magical run. I am going to soak this one in and enjoy it. It was a lot of fun today. I need to thank Jack. He brought the youth and the big guns to the table today.”

Best women’s doubles team: The Czech Republic’s Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova claimed the WTA World No. 1 doubles ranking on October 22 for the first time in their careers. Krejcikova and Siniakova, both 22 years old, become the 40th and 41st women to sit atop the doubles rankings since WTA Rankings were introduced in 1975. They also become the 14th pair to hold co-World No. 1 status. They are now the fifth and sixth Czech women to reach the top doubles ranking, joining Helena Sukova (1990), Jana Novotna (1990), Kveta Peschke (2011) and Lucie Safarova (2017). They clinched their first two Grand Slam doubles titles at Roland Garros and Wimbledon this year, becoming the first team to lift both trophies in the same year in 15 years (Kim Clijsters and Ai Sugiyama achieved this feat in 2003). Having also won the junior Wimbledon doubles title in 2013, they became the first team to ever win both the girls’ and ladies’ doubles titles at the All England Club.

Best Serena confidential: “Margaret Court has 24, but why would I want to reach for that when there’s more? Eighteen was my first goal because Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova both had 18 Grand Slams each. I had 17 at the time and I was like, ‘I’ve got to get to 18. I’ve got to get to 18. I’ve got to get to 18.’ I put so much pressure on myself that I lost three in a row really, really badly, and I couldn’t play. I talked to my coach and he sat me down and said, ‘Why are you trying to get to 18? This makes no sense. Everyone puts all of this pressure on you. Your goal should be 30 or 40. Eighteen is such a low goal.’” — Serena Williams, recalling her struggle to tie Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova in 2014, in a chat with Barry Ritholtz on the Bloomberg Business radio show “Masters in Business” during the 2018 Australian Open.

Best career comebacks: In this year of uplifting comebacks, Novak Djokovic’s rates No. 1. The Djoker not only snapped his 25-month major drought, but grabbed two majors — Wimbledon and the US Open. Angelique Kerber went from riches in 2016 to rags in 2017 and then to riches again in 2018 by winning her first Wimbledon, over Serena Williams no less in the final. Petra Kvitova, who was stabbed in her playing hand by a home intruder in December 2016, didn’t win a Grand Slam title or even reach a major final. But the popular Czech impressively captured a tour-best five titles. “I cannot imagine having a better comeback,” she said.

Best “What’s it like to play Rafa?” quote: “[Rafael Nadal] was [once] normal like all of us, and he managed to become this beast, this monster that he is today. That’s how you feel when you play against him.” — Stefanos Tsitsipas, after losing 6-2, 7-6 to Nadal in the Rogers Cup final.

Best quote about nerves: “My whole life, I’ve always wanted to play her. So I had nothing to be nervous about,” said Naomi Osaka when she was asked “Were you nervous to play Serena?” after she routed a rusty Serena Williams 6-3, 6-2 in the Miami Open first round.

Like Petra Kvitova in 2011 and 2014, Lucie Safarova in 2012, Karolina Pliskova in 2015 and Barbora Strykova in 2016, the 22-year-old Katerina Siniakova anchored the victory in the final with two critical rubbers to seal the Czech Republic’s sixth Fed Cup title in eight seasons.   -  Getty Images

 

Best Fed Cup heroine: The Czech Republic won its 11th Fed Cup title when a new hero, Katerina Siniakova, sealed a 3-0 final triumph over the US in the most dramatic fashion, saving two match points before finishing up a 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 victory over 19-year-old Fed Cup debutante Sofia Kenin. Like Petra Kvitova in 2011 and 2014, Lucie Safarova in 2012, Karolina Pliskova in 2015 and Barbora Strykova in 2016, the 22-year-old Siniakova anchored the victory in the final with two critical rubbers to seal the nation’s sixth Fed Cup title in eight seasons. She also defeated Alison Riske on the opening day. “It’s amazing, unbelievable,” said Siniakova, installed as the Czech No. 1 player with Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova ruled out by illness and injury. “I cannot imagine a better finish for the season. I’m just really happy.”

Worst WTA statement: After Serena Williams was fined $17,000 for three code violations she received during the US Open women’s final — $10,000 for the “verbal abuse” of umpire Carlos Ramos, $4,000 for the coaching warning and $3,000 for racquet abuse — the Women’s Tennis Association said: “Serena at all times plays with class and makes us proud.”

Best Paes Davis Cup dedication: “What a fabulous motivation. It is great to achieve the world record. I dedicate this record to my father, my parents, my daughter Aiyana, to every single Davis Captain I had had and to every single Davis Cup doubles partner I had and this world record belongs to India. I am so proud of being the son of the soil and playing so long. Many, many hard years of efforts, lots of ups and downs. I had to be very resilient.” — Leander Paes, who, serving at 5-6 in the decisive third set — down 0-30 and two points away from defeat — won four points in a row to keep India alive and, with Rohan Bopanna, eventually clinched the much-needed win over China’s Gong Mao Xin and Zhang Ze, which was Paes’ 43rd, a Davis Cup doubles record, talking about his 28-year pro tennis journey, told PTI.

Best Davis Cup match: “I feel so much emotion. The match that they both played was unbelievable. This is very special for David who we all love. He is one of the greatest people on the circuit and he deserves a match like this. I think both deserved to win. I think Philipp played one of the best matches I have ever seen him play. The match was an incredible level of tennis and incredible intensity.” — Spain’s Davis Cup captain Sergi Bruguera, after 36-year-old David Ferrer outlasted Philipp Kohlschreiber 7-6 (1), 3-6, 7-6, (4), 4-6, 7-5 in the deciding rubber to give Spain a come-from-behind 3-2 victory over Germany in the Davis Cup quarterfinals at the Plaza de Toros in Valencia.

Best Davis Cup redemption: Two years after Croatia’s Marin Cilic blew a two-sets-to-love lead against Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro in the fourth rubber of the Davis Cup final, when Croatia was only a few games away from winning its second title, Cilic redeemed himself. In November, Cilic overpowered world No. 32 Lucas Pouille 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-3 to clinch Croatia’s 3-1 victory over France before 24,144 boisterous spectators in Lille. Cilic defeated French veteran Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 to give Croatia a 2-0 lead on the opening day.

Worst Zverev stat: World No. 4 Alexander Zverev has a horrendous 0-6 career record against top-20 opponents at Grand Slam tournaments.

Best criticism of new Davis Cup format I: “The World Cup of Tennis, in the proposed one-week format, is a horrible idea. If this is being floated by ITF president Dave Haggerty to keep the top players happy, as well as for some financial gain, that’s even worse. The Davis Cup, and tennis, in general, is much bigger than a few legends, which, like the greats before them, will soon be gone. To change a 118-year-old format, so drastically, is such a bad move. The whole charm of the Davis Cup is the home and away matches. In an away tie, you had to contend with adverse conditions, such as extreme cold or searing heat, noisy and sometimes hostile crowds, bands playing, and five-set matches, over three days. You had to fight hard and keep your cool, and somehow try to find a way to win. I did it for 20 years, sometimes under terrible conditions. So, I do know what it takes. In home ties, the opposing team sends their best players, to make sure of a win. That’s why, over the years, the Indian public has been able to see top players like Goran Ivanisevic and John Alexander and, more recently, (Rafael) Nadal and (David) Ferrer. This would certainly not happen if the Davis Cup was played over one week, in some far away city.” — Anand Amritraj, former India Davis Cup captain, talking to PTI.

Best criticism of new Davis Cup format II: “On one hand, ITF president David Haggerty says, ‘We want to popularise the sport and expand it further, bring in more numbers.’ However, on the other hand, he proposes to take away the viewership and hosting possibilities from a majority of nations, in effect limiting its outreach. It will be the death of Davis Cup. I don’t understand why the ITF wants to compete with ATP in every aspect? ITF has a much bigger role and an even bigger responsibility than the ATP, in maintaining the essence of sport. The International Olympic Committee counts the ITF as a stakeholder and not the ATP. So, the current president wants to go opposite to what the Olympic charter says?” — Former national champion Ashutosh Singh, a former member of the Indian Davis Cup squad, telling PTI that he was not supportive of the changes. The International Tennis Federation will put to test a proposal to create a season-ending World Cup of Tennis, featuring 18 nations. The matches will be played over a week, at a single venue, in the traditional week of Davis Cup final in November, abolishing the home and away format for ties in the elite World Group. The wrong-headed idea was barely approved when the ITF voted in August.

Best proposal to reform Davis Cup: “Let’s go back to the 1970s when the world was divided into four zones, the Asian Zone, the American Zone and European Zones A and B. All countries would play in their respective zones, with the four winners playing in the semifinal, followed by the final. That way, the players would not have to travel far, each playing in their own continent, with the top stars possibly coming out only for the semis and final. They would only have to give up two weekends for Davis Cup in their busy calendar. This format worked well for 74 years and was then changed, partly due to the fact that only the four Grand Slam nations had won the Davis Cup. Since then, at least eight other countries, mostly European ones, have taken home the coveted trophy. In my proposal, the home and away ties would be preserved and all nations, big and small, would be part of one competition.” — Anand Amritraj, former India Davis Cup captain, telling PTI that the best solution is to revise the current Davis Cup format rather than abolishing the 118-year-old international team competition. The revamp idea has come after the ITF struck a deal with investment group Kosmos, founded and run by Spanish international and FC Barcelona footballer Gerard Pique. It is expected to generate $3 billion revenue in a 25-year period.

Best praise for Federer: “It’s no secret that Roger Federer is the greatest tennis player ever. As David Foster Wallace wrote, he is ‘one of those rare, preternatural athletes who appear to be exempt, at least in part, from certain physical laws.’ He also seems exempt from the laws of ageing. At 36, he’s still winning Grand Slams with a combination of grace and grit. But not as many fans know about what Roger is doing off the court. Twice I’ve had the thrill of being his doubles partner to help raise money for his foundation, and we’ve become friends in the process.” — Billionaire businessman, philanthropist and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, hailing Roger Federer in an essay in TIME magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of the world.

Best new extreme-heat policy: To ensure that players don’t suffer from the dangerous effects of extreme heat as they have in the past, the 2019 Australian Open will use the “Heat Stress Scale” for the first time at a Grand Slam tournament. Women will have a 10-minute break between the second and third sets in singles matches when a four — on a scale of one to five — is recorded on the HSS prior to or during the first two sets of a match. Men will get a 10-minute break after the third set if a four is reached. If the heat stress scale goes to five, play can be suspended.

Rising star Aryna Sabalenka, a 20-year-old Belarusian, jumped from No. 78 to No. 13 in the rankings in 2018.   -  AFP

 

Best fast-rising star: “Sabalenka is special for so many reasons. Between the ears, how she handles things emotionally, how many ways she can hurt you on the court — forehand, backhand, serve, her movement, her strong second serve. I can’t see a downside at this point,” praised ESPN analyst Pam Shriver about rising star Aryna Sabalenka, a 20-year-old Belarusian who jumped from No. 78 to No. 13 in the rankings.

Best future star: After Canadian wild card Felix Auger-Aliassime, on the eve of his 18th birthday, upset No. 18-ranked Lucas Pouille 6-4, 6-3 at the Rogers Cup in his main-draw debut at the Masters 1000 tournament, Tennis Channel analyst Paul Annacone raved, “I loved the athleticism and decision-making. He looked like he’d been there a thousand times. He was incredibly sound in all aspects of the game. He has such a huge future.”

Worst stupid tweet: “I just don’t know how a country that practices systematic racism elected a black pres, twice.” — What 26-year-old Tennys Sandgren tweeted to retired African-American standout James Blake. Sandgren, ranked No. 97, who was questioned about his political views by a reporter after his Australian Open victory over Dominic Thiem, arguing far-right views clash with his Christian beliefs.

Best “first daughter” tweet: “This is ridiculous. @SerenaWilliams is a formidable athlete (best ever!) and loving new mother. No person should ever be penalized professionally for having a child! The #WTA should change this rule immediately,” tweeted first daughter Ivanka Trump to lambaste the French Tennis Federation’s decision not to seed Serena Williams at the French Open.

Best humanitarian: Rafael Nadal donated €1 million ($1.15 million) to the victims of tragic flash floods that struck the town of St Llorenç in Mallorca, Spain, on October 9. “It is a big help from a very special person, someone who shows his love for our land and its neighbours every day,” said Mateu Puigròs, mayor of Sant Llorenç, according to ATPWorldTour.com. “He shows his love for his homeland wherever he goes and he shows it in all aspects because he is one of us.”

No. 521-ranked Marta Kostyuk won three matches in the Australian Open qualifying rounds to reach the main draw, and then became the youngest woman, at 15, to reach the third round of a Grand Slam in 21 years.   -  AFP

 

Best teen dream run: “I heard a lot of times that I’m talented, and I know that, but I know that only talent will not help me to play. So I can say that I’m working pretty hard,” said No. 521-ranked Marta Kostyuk, who won three matches in the Australian Open qualifying rounds to reach the main draw, and then upset 25th-seeded Peng Shuai, 6-2, 6-2, and another wild card, No. 168 Olivia Rogowska, 6-3, 7-5. Kostyuk became the youngest woman, at 15, to reach the third round of a Grand Slam in 21 years.

Best emotion: “I don't know if I will win, but I will take a big love from you,” fifth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro, fighting back tears, told loud-cheering fans at Court Suzanne Lenglen after he beat Marin Cilic to advance to the French Open semifinals for the first time since 2009, when he lost to Roger Federer. “That’s the most important for me. It’s tough to speak now. It has been a long time without good feelings. I had three surgeries on my left wrist. I was close to [quitting]. I have been trying and trying every day to fix my problem in my wrist. And in the end, I got it, and now Im having a great present, looking forward for the future… I think all the tougher moments of my life are completely in the past, and I’m enjoying a lot this present.”

Best philosopher: “Sport is winning. Sport is losing. It is putting your heart out there and having it broken. It is the hard work, it is the tears, the anger, the effort, the sweat. It is giving your 101 per cent and still losing it. It is the courage to continue. It is the fight.” — Barbora Strycova, philosophizing on Instagram, after she lost 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 to sixth-seeded compatriot Karolina Pliskova in the Australian Open fourth round.

Best Khachanov booster: “Khachanov’s fighting spirit impressed me the most about him. He fought toe to toe with Nadal, the greatest fighter in history, for four hours. I can’t imagine Khachanov not making the top 10, even the top five, in a year or two.” — Former superstar John McEnroe, after the 22-year-old Russian Karen Khachanov waged an entertaining, back-and-forth US Open third-round duel with Rafael Nadal before losing 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (3) in four hours, 23 minutes.

Best Korean first: At the Australian Open, Hyeon Chung became the first Korean to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament. En route, Chung upset six-time champion Novak Djokovic and No. 4 seeded Alexander Zverev, and also defeated No. 32-seeded Mischa Zverev, Daniil Medvedev and Tennys Sandgren.

At the Australian Open, Hyeon Chung became the first Korean to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament.   -  Getty Images

 

Best “big point” players: An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on break points in 2018 showed they were the best players on big points, specifically, break points. World No. 1 Nadal also ranked No. 1, as he finished second best on the ATP Tour this year on break points saved (70.46 per cent), and third best on break points converted (45.57 per cent) for a total score of 116.03. World No. 2 Federer also ranked No. 2 with a total score of 110.37. Federer’s score is likely misleading because he didn’t play any tournaments on clay, by far his least successful surface.

Best boyhood motivation: “Pete Sampras is one of the biggest legends ever to play the game. He was my childhood idol. He was someone I was looking up to. The first actual thing I saw related to tennis on the TV was his first or second Wimbledon championship. That inspired me to start playing tennis. There is a lot of significance of me being now shoulder to shoulder in terms of Grand Slam wins with him.” — Novak Djokovic, talking about his childhood idol Pete Sampras, whose 14 Grand Slam titles he equalled by winning his third US Open.

Best analysis of Ostapenko: “The problem with Ostapenko is that she doesn’t have a Plan B. She just hits the ball her hardest and tries her hardest,” pointed out all-time great Martina Navratilova, on the all-or-nothing, high-risk game of 2107 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, who reached the Miami Open final and Wimbledon semifinals in 2018 but dropped from No. 7 to No. 22.

Best profile of Nadal: “As I watch him in Grand Slams, I realise he has turned into a lovely young man. He’s gentle, he’s friendly to people he has met and he’s extremely polite. The aggressive Rafa on the court is completely opposite to what he’s off it. He’s certainly one of the nicest guys you can meet. He wears the mantle of being such a great champion very lightly. He’s extremely focused on what he does. He represents Spain brilliantly. He has a close set of friends. He’s not very much of a public showboat. He’s perhaps a lot more in the mould of Pete Sampras.” — Indian tennis legend Vijay Amritraj, telling the Mirror (UK) that he remembers seeing Nadal for the first time, back then an extremely unassuming boy.

Best analysis of Andy Murray: “That’s something that helped him win in the first place, it would seem to be a no-brainer. But, whether or not he had a hip problem, he should have done that anyway. When he got more aggressive off the return, forehand and going after more backhands, he became more difficult to deal with.” — John McEnroe, stressing that former world No. 1 Andy Murray, who was sidelined for most of 2018 while recovering from hip surgery, has to play more aggressively when he returns to the pro tour.

Best praise for Djokovic: “Novak is a truly great champion. He gets a hard time sometimes from the crowd because he’s not like the two Mr Perfects in Roger Federer and Rafa, but what he does on the court, it’s nothing [improper] really. He was brought up to be brutally honest, as I was, and it turns out a lot of people don’t necessarily like that but, to me, that’s a breath of fresh air.” — Martina Navratilova, praising Novak Djokovic in The Standard (UK).

Best case for best-of-five-set matches: “You know, it’s a battle. It really always feels better when you win these matches at the Grand Slams. It’s a test of so many things like endurance, mental, physical. Best-of-five sets should always stay in the men’s game,” rightly contended rising British standout Kyle Edmund, who played a total of 24 sets over six Australian Open matches, admitting to enjoying testing himself in the best-of-five-set matches, which he rightly said are “a true test of quality and grit.”

Naomi Osaka has not lost a match in which she won the first set since 2016.   -  AFP

 

Best frontrunner: Naomi Osaka boasted a perfect 40-0 match record when winning the first set in 2018. In fact, Osaka has not lost a match in which she won the first set since 2016.

Best ATP record: “Definitely one of the most special moments in my career. Achievements, making history in the sport that I truly love is a great privilege and honour and something that I’ll be very proud of for the rest of my life,” said Novak Djokovic after defeating Roger Federer 6-4, 6-4 to win Cincinnati and become the first player to win all nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments.

Best Nadal “11” records: “I’m very happy for the victory against a very difficult opponent. Tsitsipas has an amazing future. It was a great final for me and the 11th title here means a lot. I enjoyed the whole week and had great support from the crowd. It’s very difficult to describe how to win 11 titles at one tournament. To win 11 Monte Carlos and 11 Barcelonas is something I couldn’t imagine doing. I’m just enjoying every week, and the fact I’m playing in a tournament that I enjoy so much means a lot to me.” — Rafael Nadal, after trouncing 19-year-old Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-2, 6-1 in the Barcelona Open final. Nadal also extended his French Open record by winning his 11th title.

Best record for gap between No. 1 rankings: Caroline Wozniacki, six years after she last held the No. 1 ranking, regained the top spot after she beat Simona Halep in the Australian Open final. “I think it’s very special to be No. 1, but I guess it can be more special [to get it back],” Wozniacki told ESPN.com. “Nobody has ever had such long stints in between. Definitely I think it’s harder, because the first time I was very young, and everything went so fast, and people are still getting used to my game. Now everyone knows me. Everyone knows everything about my game. I definitely think it’s harder second time around.”

Best resilience: “She had tears a lot of nights for months after that with the memory of that and being so close and playing so well, and that one sort of slipping through her fingers. But I give her credit. With all the sorts of kicks in the stomach she’s had, to be able to keep coming out and keep putting herself in positions and keep winning and keep doing what she has done, it shows she has a remarkable strength inside.” — Darren Cahill, Simona Halep’s coach, on the effects of her agonizing 2017 French Open final loss to Jelena Ostapenko after leading 3-1 in the deciding set and losing the last five games, in The New York Times.

Best nickname: “The Demon” is undersized but hyper-competitive Alex De Minaur’s moniker.

Best consoler-in-chief: Roger Federer consoled Alexander Zverev in the locker room following his heart-wrenching five-set Australian Open defeat to Hyeon Chung: “I said, ‘Be patient about it. Don’t put yourself under unnecessary pressure. Learn from these mistakes. Whatever happened, happened. You have to believe in the process you’re in right now. You’re doing the right things. It’s maybe not paying off at the Slam level, but just stay calm, don’t dig yourself in a hole.’ I just thought some nice words would maybe cheer him up, get him over the loss a few more hours earlier than it normally would. It’s supposed to hurt. I’m sure it did. He looked crushed when I saw him. I gave him a tap on the shoulder and said, ‘C’mon, it’s not too bad. It could be worse.’”

Best dream come true: Marco Cecchinato, an Italian journeyman, recalling the four match points it took him to score a shocking 6-3, 7-6 (4), 1-6, 7-6 (11) upset over Novak Djokovic in the French Open quarterfinals: “At the start, I think ‘this is Novak’, in the tiebreaks, every set I think, ‘this is Novak’. But I was very focused on every points. I played very, very good points on match point. On the return, when I saw it [a backhand passing shot winner] on the line, it was the best moment of my life. We shared the moment after my victory. Novak is a very good person and is unbelievable for me. Novak change the court [swapped sides] and he told me, ‘Congrats, man, it is unbelievable for you and good luck.’ Is a dream for me!”

Best prediction: “It’s impossible to always be at your best. And especially when you have injuries, the comebacks are not easy. I know that. We can’t forget he came back from a long injury. Don’t have any doubt that if Novak wants to play, he’ll be back at his best. He’s too good not to be there.” — No. 1 Rafael Nadal, before the Australian Open, saying he was confident Novak Djokovic would return to championship form after a prolonged slump.

Best candid comment about race: “Oh my god. Literally all I tell Alexis is, ‘Well, you know, there’s such a difference between white people and black people.’ He always gets to hear about the injustices that happen; that wouldn’t happen if I were white. It’s interesting. I never thought I would have married a white guy, either, so it just goes to show you that love truly has no colour, and it just really goes to show me the importance of what love is. And my dad absolutely loves Alexis. Ultimately I wanted to be with someone who treated me nice, someone who was able to laugh with me and someone who understood my life and someone that loved me.” — Serena Williams, who had dated black men and white men, on what message her marriage to Alexis Ohanian sent, in The New York Times.

Best mixed doubles debut: Croatia’s Mate Pavic teamed with Canada’s Gabriela Dabrowski to capture the Australian Open mixed doubles title in their first tournament together. Pavic, who also paired with Austria’s Oliver Marach to win the men’s doubles, admitted, “I have to say I did not imagine that I’m able to do that.”

Best candid comment about pressure: “During the match I constantly thought about the fact that I could reach 20. I was nervous the whole day, I thought about what would happen if I lose, if I win. That’s why I broke down during the [post-match] speech.” — Roger Federer told the Swiss TV station SRF about the pressure he faced to win his 20th major title before the 2018 Australian Open final, in which he defeated No. 6 Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.

Worst fax paus: SRF presenter Denise Langenegger, a reporter who hugged Roger Federer after the Australian Open final and then seemingly stroked his chest before she began the interview, admitted she made a mistake. “The spectators in the arena and also the organisers, technicians and TV producers in the backstage area, where the interview took place, were full of joy and emotion,” explained Langenegger. “I was so happy for Roger Federer, that in this extraordinary moment I have reacted more as a person and less as a journalist. It was a live interview situation, in a place where it was loud and intense; I tried to focus on my interview. It was an exceptional situation, thousands of people full of joy and emotions. I lost the journalistic distance for a moment. That was a mistake.”

Elina Svitolina has not lost a final since 2016.   -  Getty Images

 

Best Svitolina stats: Elina Svitolina racked up a superb 12-3 record against top five-ranked opponents during 2017 and 2018. Svitolina was 4-0 in finals in 2018, extending her winning streak in championship matches to nine consecutive finals. She has not lost a final since 2016.

Best Sabalenka stats: Aryna Sabalenka, a rapidly improving, 20-year-old Belarusian, notched eight wins over top-10 players from June 24 to the end of 2018. Sabalenka also had a 16-4 record in three-set matches since June 24.

Worst Federer stat: Roger Federer has an abysmal 1-9 career record in deciding-set tiebreakers in tournament finals after losing 7-6 (6), 5-7, 7-6 (3) in the Paris Masters final to Novak Djokovic.

Best joy of fatherhood: “It feels amazing because for the first time in my life I have someone screaming ‘daddy, daddy,’” said Novak Djokovic after winning the Wimbledon final. “That little guy there. I can’t be happier with him being there, and my wife and my whole team. He was by far in a way the best sparring partner I have had in the last couple of weeks.”

Best patriotic feeling: “It’s amazing. This is what you play tennis for, to play for your country in matches like this. To take the tie in this way makes it so special. It’s unbelievable.” — Anna-Lena Groenefeld, who teamed with Tatjana Maria to win the doubles and lift Germany to a 3-2 Fed Cup first-round win over Belarus.

Worst lack of patriotism: Four of the top five US women in the WTA singles rankings skipped the country’s Fed Cup final against the Czech Republic, including Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys. The decimated US roster included No. 35 Danielle Collins, No. 48 Sofia Kenin and No. 63 Alison Riske in singles, along with Czech-born Nicole Melichar, who is ranked 15th in doubles. The favoured Czech Republic won its sixth title in eight years with a roster minus injured two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova but boasting 2016 US Open runner-up Karolina Pliskova, Katerina Siniakova and Barbora Strycova.

Best fascinating fact I: No. 95-ranked Amanda Anisimova is the youngest player ranked in the WTA top 100 at 17 years, 66 days.

Best role model comment: On being a role model, Naomi Osaka self-deprecatingly opined: “If there’s anyone that looks up to me, I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better so that they can have something to look up to. But the me right now is a little bit immature, and I don’t really know what I’m doing. I’m sort of thinking of this as a process, and if you look up to me right now, I hope you wait so I can mature a bit.”

Best critique of Indian tennis: “We do not have a system in place. If a six-year-old wants to pick up a racket today, he or she doesn’t know how to go about it. It’s a guessing game, it’s trial and error and that’s why we have a champion every 20 years. If we had a system in place, we would maybe have a champion every two years. I think tennis is a lot harder than a lot of other sports, not in terms of the hard work that goes into it but in terms of what all you need to click as a professional tennis player and be really good at it. You need to raise a lot of funds. I am not in any way trying to demean any other sport, just saying that tennis is too global a sport with 200 countries on the world stage every single day. There are 52 tournaments, one every week where you can play so you can think of the competition, especially coming from a place where there is no infrastructure for tennis.” — Sania Mirza, former world No. 1 in doubles, telling Sportstar why India seldom produces tennis champions.

Best recommendations for Indian tennis: “I think everything has to change, right from the grassroots level. First of all, we need to have a base where the players can come and train. A national structure of sorts needs to be set up where we can have travelling coaches and a devoted physiotherapy team to help out. The focus should be on developing a good bunch of 10-15 players at each level. Secondly, we need to conduct frequent tournaments across categories, from the under-14s to the Futures level. Until we have an institution or a structure to ensure this, we’re not going to have players coming through… Ideally, we would like to have 7-10 Challengers a year. There are a lot of players in the 300-700 range who will benefit from this exposure to make a jump in the rankings.” — Yuki Bhambri, telling Sportstar what changes he recommends for Indian tennis.

Petra Kvitova claimed a tour-leading five tournament titles in 2018.   -  Getty Images

 

Best Kvitova resurgence: Petra Kvitova continued her remarkable comeback by beating Garbine Muguruza 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the Qatar Open final in February for her 13th straight win and second consecutive title. The 27-year-old Czech, a two-time Wimbledon champion, returned to the top-10 rankings for the first time since she was the victim of a knife attack in her home in December 2016 that led to a lengthy layoff. Kvitova claimed a tour-leading five tournament titles in 2018.

Best analysis of pro tennis evolution during Open era: “The strength in the racket. It’s just made the court so much bigger. Fabio Fognini serving a kick serve in the ad court, centre court in Rome, hitting the side thing. If there had been a linesman, it would have taken his head off. That’s how far off the court players are. They are hitting ground strokes from places I’ve never been on a tennis court, so far out. The strings and the racquets made hitting the ground strokes a lot easier, but difficult to defend against because you’re in places on the court where you really shouldn’t be. Because of that you have to be so fit and fast to be able to cover much greater distances. It’s more tricky to volley, no doubt about it. Everybody is hitting bigger balls. The spin makes it more tricky. You have to have amazing hand-eye coordination. It’s still doable. If I was playing now, I wouldn’t be chipping-and-charging, I’d be ripping forehands. You have to work the point a little bit differently, but I’d be looking to come in, set it up differently. Chip-and-charging, you’re too much of a sitting duck here with these racquets. It’s doable, just more difficult.” — Martina Navratilova, asked by Tennis Channel what the biggest change has been during the first 50 years of Open Tennis.

Best Federer confidential: “Of course, it is nice to be popular, but I try not to be liked by everyone. I am a strong character myself, and open, and that is not what everybody likes. I know I can’t please everyone, but I try to represent my sport in the best possible way.” — Roger Federer, telling CNN that despite his drawing plaudits from players and pundits and fans, he is not keen on being liked universally.

Best escape artist: Daria Kasatkina, a 20-year-old Russian ranked No. 24, was on the verge of defeat in the second set tiebreaker against Garbine Muguruza. But she escaped three match points and then raced away in the deciding set to a 3-6, 7-6 (11), 6-1 win in the semifinals of the Dubai Tennis Championships. “The fighting spirit made the difference,” said Kasatkina. “I was just trying to fight for every ball because Garbine, she’s playing unbelievable. She’s very tough opponent. She’s hitting so hard, playing so fast. I was just trying to do whatever I could.” Kasatkina's heroics reprised her round-of-16 performance when she saved two match points before beating Johanna Konta.

Worst sexist double standard: “I would be banned for six years and been on every paper and news channel for the next month,” said Nick Kyrgios about what his fate would have been had he thrown his racquet that nearly hit a ball person before slamming into the umpire’s chair, as did fellow Australian Daria Gavrilova. She escaped punishment and went on to beat Madison Brengle 4-6 6-3 6-3 at the Acapulco tournament. “Double standards everywhere,” agreed CoCo Vandeweghe, a leading woman pro.

Worst French Open seeding decision: “This year again, tournament officials will establish the list and ranking of the women’s seeds based on the WTA ranking. Consequently, [the seeds] will reflect this week’s world ranking.” — The French Tennis Federation, in a statement to The Associated Press, announcing on May 21, that it would not give Serena Williams a seeding. While Williams can enter Roland Garros under the WTA’s protected or “special” ranking rule, it’s up to Grand Slam organisers to give her a seed. Although Williams was then ranked No. 453, she was No. 1 when she left the tour to give birth; and on that basis, she clearly deserved to be seeded.

Best case for seeding Serena at Wimbledon: “It’s a tough call, I would like to see that change. I think that would be nice. For a woman to come back on tour, having a child [is great]. It’s just another whole dimension to the travel, to the experiences, to the emotions, to the physicality of every single day. Tennis is such a selfish sport. But I think when there’s a child in your life, you lose a little bit of that because there’s something that’s so much more important.” — Maria Sharapova isn’t a friend of Serena Williams, but she nonetheless made a strong case why Serena deserved to be seeded.

Worst Djokovic low point: “I don’t know if I am going to play on the grass,” replied a heartbroken Novak Djokovic, a three-time Wimbledon champion, asked after losing to unheralded Marco Cecchinato, when he planned to play his first tournament during the grass-court season.

Best tennis books: 1. Arthur Ashe: A Life by Raymond Arsenault (Simon & Schuster); 2. American Colossus: Big Bill Tilden and the Creation of Modern Tennis by Allen M. Hornblum (University of Nebraska Press); 3. US Open: 50 Years of Championship Tennis by Rick Rennert (Abrams Books); 4. Absolute Tennis: The Best and Next Way to Play Tennis by Marty Smith (New Chapter Press); 5. Driven: A Daughter’s Odyssey by Julie Heldman.

Best officiating proposal: “I understand that this may kill officiating, especially because our up-and-coming chair umpires are almost always lines people first. We’re also taking away some of the entertainment value with the challenges because fans like to debate whether they think the call was right or not. But we can replace that by showing close calls on the big screens so the fans can see them as replays at the same time the players and officials are seeing them. As far as the players, they no longer have to worry about bad calls; they can just play the game. And if we have a system out there that’s better, don’t we owe it to our athletes to have access to it?” — Gayle David Bradshaw, the ATP’s executive vice-president for rules and competition, acknowledged that replacing line judges with technology will not only put people out of jobs, but it will also dehumanise the game a little bit, in The New York Times. The ATP World Tour, the governing body of men’s professional tennis, is testing Hawk-Eye Live, an electronic line-calling device that would eliminate the need for line judges.

Best breakthrough tournament: Greek teen Stefanos Tsitsipas became the youngest player to beat four straight top-10 players in an event since the ATP World Tour was established in 1990, when he outlasted fourth-seeded Kevin Anderson 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-6 (7) to reach the Rogers Cup final in Toronto. Tsitsipas also upset seventh-seeded Dominic Thiem, ninth-seeded Novak Djokovic and second-seeded defending champion Alexander Zverev. “Playing in a Masters 1000 final is the best thing that can happen on your birthday,” enthused Tsitsipas, who turned 20 on August 12. “I cannot believe it. I’m capable of doing anything on the court and beating any opponent. I’m secure and I’m aggressive at the same time. It feels like I’m never losing it. I’m always there. It doesn’t matter what the score is.”

Greek teen Stefanos Tsitsipas became the youngest player to beat four straight top-10 players in an event since the ATP World Tour was established in 1990, when he outlasted fourth-seeded Kevin Anderson 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-6 (7) to reach the Rogers Cup final in Toronto.   -  AP

 

Worst admission: Juan Martin del Potro confided “I don’t like to run” before Rafael Nadal ran him ragged 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 in the 2018 French Open semifinals.

Best Djokovic confidential: “Reflecting on what I’ve been through, it’s quite a phenomenal achievement. I’m very, very happy and proud — five months ago if you told me that, I always believe in myself, but it was highly improbable considering my ranking and the way I played and felt on the court.” — Novak Djokovic, who fell to as low as No. 22 this season following elbow surgery, but has since won Wimbledon, the Cincinnati Masters, the US Open and the Shanghai Masters, after he won his 20th straight match to reach the Paris Masters quarterfinals.

Best understatement: “I’m not bad at playing tennis, so why not keep going?” — Venus Williams, then 37, with quite an understatement, after she came from behind for the second day in a row to beat defending champion Johnna Konta 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 to reach the Miami Open quarterfinals.

Best Stephens confidential: “I try to have a short-term memory. I was so sad after the French final, so devastated. But I was like, ‘OK, go home. You have two weeks. It will be fine.’ Then I had a poor Wimbledon [losing in the first round to Donna Vekic]. ‘OK, it will be fine.’ And it was. Now I’m getting ready to play in the US Open. It’s never all bad. It’s nice, fun, gruelling, but at the end of the day, I have a very good life. I play a sport for a living. I’m not a doctor. I’m not saving lives. My role in life is so insignificant. I play a sport on television for entertainment. Enjoying your life is the most important thing.” — What Sloane Stephens told ESPN in Paris where she led Simona Halep 6-3, 2-0 in the final before crumbling to a 3-6 6-4 6-1 defeat — to explain her emotions after such a collapse.

Del Potro confidential: “I think it doesn’t matter the final result in the tournament. I just enjoy playing tennis again. I’m enjoying the crowds. I like the big battles with the other guys. That’s makes me feel alive again. After all my problems, I think it’s time to celebrate these kinds of things. I love this sport. I love the competition. I’m very proud to be here again.” — Juan Martin del Potro, whose career has often been derailed by injuries, after defeating John Isner to reach the US Open semifinals.

Best love of tennis: “I love the game itself. You’re out there alone and it’s all on you. You decide if you’ll go down-the-line, or cross-court, what you’re going to do, reading your opponent, it’s like chess a little bit, that’s what I love.” — Petra Kvitova, telling Sport360.com why she loves tennis.

Best Nick Krygios trivia: Norlaila Kyrgios, the mother of volatile 23-year-old Nick Kyrgios, monitors his email inbox.

Best age trivia: The last 10 men’s singles Grand Slam titles have been won by men aged 30 or older.

Best self-assessment: “Finally. No, I think my forehand is the shot I’m winning the matches with, definitely. Probably the backhand looks nicer. I don’t know that other people see that. But the forehand is my favourite shot since all times, basically. I really love it. It’s the shot where I giving all the opponents most of the troubles.” — Dominic Thiem, comparing his forehand with his backhand.

A sign of the 38-year-old Venus Williams’s decline is that she didn’t defeat any top 10-ranked opponents in 2018.   -  AFP

 

Worst Venus Williams decline: Venus Williams won 20 matches in four Grand Slam events in 2017 but won only four matches in four Grand Slam events in 2018. Another sign of the 38-year-old American’s decline is that she didn’t defeat any top 10-ranked opponents in 2018.

Best fascinating fact II: Eight of the men’s players ranked Nos. 11-20 posted career-best rankings. How many of them will crack the top 10 in 2019?

Best Davis Cup record: India’s 44-year-old Leander Paes set the record for the most doubles wins in Davis Cup competition, 43, when he teamed up with Rohan Bopanna to overcome China’s Gong Mao Xin and Zhang Ze on April 7.

Best role model for a kinder world: “I just want people to know you can be competitive with other girls but still be friends. That’s literally our whole lives. We go out and we play each other and we both want to win this match, but then we come off the court and we know nothing is personal. She can beat me one week, and I can beat her the next week, and we’re exactly the same. Learning how to do that is so necessary because you can be competitive with another girl and still want the best for them… You can be competitive and you can want to beat someone but you can also be positive and help push other girls to be good.” — Madison Keys told WTA Insider in an interview about “Creating a Kinder Girl World with Madison Keys & Fearlessly Girl.” Keys became an ambassador for FearlesslyGirl in 2016, and has since hosted a number of summits focusing on boosting girls' self-esteem and curbing cyber-bullying – including the largest anti-bullying school assembly ever in 2017.

Best fascinating fact III: Daria Kasatkina is the only woman to have beaten the last seven Grand Slam singles champions: Jelena Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki, Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber and Naomi Osaka.

Daria Kasatkina is the only woman to have beaten the last seven Grand Slam singles champions.   -  Getty Images

 

Best perspective about shot clock: “We’ve already seen the shot clock implemented in US Open Series events and thus far there have been no dramatic occurrences. Umpires have been good about not starting the clock too soon after long rallies (it doesn’t start until after the score is called) and it doesn’t appear that the shot clock has changed the tone or tempo of tennis in a meaningful way. But this is most certainly a story to keep an eye on because not all umpires and not all players will react to it the same way. Novak Djokovic likes to bounce the ball a lot between points; so does Marin Cilic. Rafael Nadal also likes to take his time, along with Maria Sharapova. Will these players feel rushed and will the advent of the shot clock inhibit their tennis? What controversy awaits us this summer, as the road to New York crosses through to Canada and back down to Cincinnati, and what will the players be saying?” — Tennis writer Chris Oddo, on Tennis Now, analysing the early reaction to the new 25-second shot clock.

Worst abuse of an umpire: Karolina Pliskova lost her cool over an incorrect line call and bashed a hole into the umpire’s chair with her racket after suffering a 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 defeat to No. 42 Maria Sakkari in the Italian Open second round. Pliskova had argued heatedly with umpire Marta Mrozinska after her smash was incorrectly called out when serving at 30-30 and 5-5 in the final set, and her Greek opponent won the game before serving out the match. The Czech veteran exchanged a brief word with Sakkari at the net. Then she approached Mrozinska with an outstretched hand before withdrawing it and repeatedly smashing the chair with her racket.

Best femininity statement: “You can be feminine and you can say, ‘I really want to beat her. But I don’t want to look like a little monster in the corner.’ I want to take this wall down which says you are one thing or the other. If you are a feminine athlete people say: ‘Oh, she wants to be a model or she’s not concentrating.’ No. We are concentrating. It’s a delicate thing because for some people it’s very hard to allow an athlete to be feminine. For me, it’s easy. I want to fight on court, but I also want to wear something I like. You can be angry and competitive and a fighter, and you can also be nice and wear something by Stella McCartney. I feel good in that and it’s important for your esteem because you’ve got to be resilient. I’m a tennis player, and that’s my priority. I like fashion, but I would never want to be a model. I don’t want to forget what I’m good at because as soon as you do, you’re screwed.” — 2017 Wimbledon champion and world No. 3 Garbine Muguruza, who was invited to the Oscars, is a formidable competitor who is proud she beat Serena and Venus Williams in the finals of the two Grand Slam tournaments she has won so far, in The Guardian (UK).

Worst agony of defeat: “It's going to be stuck in my mind forever. Forever I’m going to remember this match, for sure. But it’s cruel sometimes, tennis, because I think this match didn’t really deserve a loser. But there has to be one,” said Dominic Thiem about his epic 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7(4), 7-6(5) marathon loss to Rafael Nadal in the US Open quarterfinals.

Best defence of Serena’s bodysuit and Cornet’s shirt change: “What was the problem with taking the shirt off or the catsuit? Serena has worn crazier stuff in the past. Guys have worn crazier stuff — for me, it was all a bit of nonsense. I was totally on the women’s side. Leave them alone." — Roger Federer, asked by The Sunday Times (UK) about the on-court attire of women’s players. France's Alize Cornet received a code violation for changing her shirt on the court during the US Open, while French Open officials told Serena Williams she would be banned from wearing her black catsuit at future events.

Best point about perfectionism: “Yes. It’s been a lot of discussion about balance. I try to find perfection, and it can be frustrating when I don’t achieve it, even though, of course, perfection is impossible. The goal is to keep trying for perfection but to be kinder with myself when it doesn’t happen.” — Simona Halep, who has been very open about working with a sports psychologist, talking to SI.com.

Best motivation: “I feel like I need to go back to those days to remind myself why I started playing tennis and to be inspired and get motivation from that source. What I’m getting from my younger self is, ‘Smile and remember why you started playing.’ If this becomes a mechanical thing for me, it’s not good. Nowadays, sport is becoming a little bit too much of a business, in my opinion. Of course, there are days when you feel more like playing and when you feel less like playing. It’s normal, we all go through ups and downs. But going back to that inner child is very essential, at least in my case. He’s there and he’s reminding me to enjoy what I do.” — Novak Djokovic, telling The Times (UK) he is solving his motivational issues by visualising conversations with his younger self.

Kei Nishikori has been unable to live in his homeland Japan because of his popularity, so he currently resides in Florida.   -  AP

 

Worst price of fame: “It has been like this for a lot of time. It’s not easy to live in Japan for me because there is much attention, it’s not easy to go on the street. I live in the United States; there it’s much more simple and relaxing. I used to go thrice a year to Japan when there are Davis Cup ties. I also go two weeks at the end of the season,” said Kei Nishikori, who has been unable to live in his homeland because of his popularity, so he currently resides in Florida.

Best WTA maternity and attire policy changes: On December 17, the Associated Press reported: “The WTA announced that players returning to the tour may use a special ranking for up to three years after the birth of a child, and the exemption can be used for seedings at big events. Players who return from an injury that keeps them out of competition for a year or longer may use a special ranking in 12 tournaments. No player will be bumped from her earned seeded position… The tour also said it will ensure women at WTA tournaments ‘are not penalized or prohibited from wearing leggings or compression shorts without a skirt, dress or shorts over them.’ (Serena) Williams wore a black bodysuit at the French Open, where she pulled out with an injury before the fourth round. Williams said she wore the compression suit because of a history of blood clots, including after childbirth.”

Best statement about parity: Eight different women won major titles in 2017 and 2018. Ever-unpredictable Sloane Stephens captured this great parity when she commented on her chances to win the French Open. “I would say now, and no matter what — anyone, any week can win,” noted Stephens. “Anyone can beat anyone on any day. We play sports, so it’s anything can happen. But I think now it’s up for grabs, and I think whoever takes their opportunity best is the person who is the winner at the end of the week. But if you have that confidence and you’re playing well, anything can happen.”

Best globalism trivia: 108 countries were represented at the 2018 Wimbledon (juniors and seniors), including one from El Salvador (Marcelo Arevalo), Papua New Guinea (Violet Apisah) and Paraguay (Veronica Cepede Royg).

Best newspaper headline: “The hero who came from nowhere” flashed a headline in the Rome newspaper La Repubblica telling the exploits of Marco Cecchinato, a lucky loser who reached the semifinals at Roland Garros by upsetting David Goffin, Pablo Carreno Busta and Novak Djokovic.

Best “in memoriam”: Maria Bueno, the first superstar from South America, passed away June 8 at age 78. Highly talented and stunningly elegant in playing style and attire, the Brazilian beauty won 19 major titles — seven in singles, 11 in women’s doubles and one in mixed doubles. She was the year-end world No. 1 four times (1959, 1960, 1964 and 1966).

Best keys to Djokovic’s success: “I cannot imagine that Djokovic could have won Wimbledon without the return to his box of all those familiar faces. That is the key for me. It is thanks to that that he is a bit calmer while refinding his machine-like style and killer instinct. His coach Marian Vajda coming back is the key. Jelena, his wife, is the key. They are all again reunited behind him, like a kind of cordon sanitaire which protects Novak from everything.” — Mats Wilander, telling The Express (UK) why the return of Vajda as coach and Gerhard Gritsch as fitness trainer were critical to Novak Djokovic’s winning Wimbledon.

Roger Federer signed a $300 million, 10-year clothing deal with Uniqlo.   -  AFP

 

Best endorsement contract: Roger Federer’s $300 million, 10-year clothing deal with Uniqlo.

Best Q&A Q I: The draw, you and Roger, scheduled to meet in the final if you go through. Is that a match you would like to happen again?

Rafael Nadal: If I am in the final, I prefer to face an easier opponent. I am not stupid (smiling).

Best Q&A Q II: McDonald’s?

Hsieh Su-Wei: McDonald? My nephew is really picky. I need to ask my nephew first. Before the afternoon tea, my nephew was like, ‘Afternoon tea, afternoon tea.’ I said, ‘We will go before we play, relax, it’s okay.’ So I need to ask my nephew.

Q: How old is your nephew?

Hsieh Su-Wei: Six years old.

Best Nadal competitive credo: “It is suffering, but at the same time it’s enjoying, because that’s what we do. We practise every day to try to be ready for the action, for the competition, and even more for the big ones.” — Defending champion Rafael Nadal, who has often talked about “suffering” during gruelling matches, before the start of the 2018 US Open.

Best Osaka competitive credo: “I just really want to have fun with every match that I play because tennis is a game. But, like, professional tennis players, sometimes I think we lost sight of that.” — Naomi Osaka, who became the first Japanese player to win Grand Slam singles title, beating Serena Williams in the women’s final at the US Open.

Worst ant attack: “They’re in my mouth and in my hair and everywhere — we need to do something. Is there a spray? I want to be here to focus on tennis, not eating bugs,” complained No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki, who urged the umpire to take action about the flying ants during her surprise three-set loss on Court No. 1 to the Russian Ekaterina Makarova in the Wimbledon second round.

Worst egotist: “That’s what makes me great. I always play everyone at their greatest, so I have to be greater,” absurdly claimed Serena Williams after winning her third-round match at Wimbledon.

Best Tennis Channel trivia: Italy’s most-watched non-soccer sports channel is the Italian Tennis Federation’s TV channel, SuperTennis, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2018.

Best reader comment: “Isn’t it ironic that the 2018 World Cup, which has featured a host of upsets, has been described by many commentators as perhaps the most compelling ever, while the women’s singles at Wimbledon, which has also featured many exciting upsets, is commonly derided for them?” commented Patrick Finley on Tennis.com.

Best evaluation of actual and potential rule changes: “I do not see any reason to change major rules. We had the 1-5-1 at the Australian Open. After heading into the court, we just had one minute until the ball toss, then five minutes to hit and another minute prior to the first point. That’s a little different for us as players, but for the crowd, it’s good to know that you start within five minutes. I like these little changes. However, I would be surprised if, for example, rules like “no-let rule” got introduced. I was very impressed by the Hawk-Eye Live’s Next Gen ATP Finals [which had no linespeople]. But I do not know what would happen if the system did not work. So you have to bring in linesmen. I wish more data and statistics were collected in tennis. If for example, you look at American sports, there are all the statistics. In tennis, we are late, even if improved significantly in the last five years.” — Roger Federer, saying there is no need for any major rule changes in tennis.

Olga Danilovic, a 17-year-old Serbian who beat Anastasia Potapova, a 17-year-old Russian, 7-5, 6-7, 6-4 to win the Moscow River Cup, became the first lucky loser to capture the crown in WTA history, and the first born in the 21st century to be a champion.   -  Getty Images

 

Best first champion born in the 21st century: “There are no words to describe this kind of feeling. Yesterday I said, ‘This is the final, and this is my life, this is the moment that I live for.’ Being able to win, it’s even a better feeling.” — Olga Danilovic, a 17-year-old Serbian who beat Anastasia Potapova, a 17-year-old Russian, 7-5, 6-7, 6-4 to win the Moscow River Cup presented by Ingrad in Moscow, Russia. Danilovic became the first lucky loser to capture the crown in WTA history, and the first born in the 21st century to be a champion.

Best advocate for athlete activism: Caroline Wozniacki urges prominent athletes to use their media platform to transform the world for the better. “We have a huge platform, and I think we need to use it for good,” says Wozniacki. “We are very privileged to be here. We have millions of people watching us play every week, and we’re in the media all the time because our tour is from January through end of October. So use it for good. Use it for your passion and for whatever, you know, you believe in. Yeah, just really use it for good.”

Worst umpire overreach: “I want to help you, I want to help you,” “I’ve seen your matches. You’re great for tennis,” and “I can see that; I know this is not you,” chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani said to encourage the distraught Nick Kyrgios after Lahyani clambered down out of his seat during a break between games, and leaned over with hands on knees. Kyrgios was then losing to Pierre-Hugues Herbert at the US Open, and barely even trying. When the crowd began booing, Lahyani decided to intervene. Kyrgios recovered from what looked like an emotional and physical meltdown after Lahyani’s intervention to win 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-0 in the brutal afternoon heat. The International Tennis Federation “Duties and Procedures for Officials” rulebook states: “Officials must maintain complete impartiality with respect to all players at all times, and must avoid any real or perceived conflicts of interest.”

Best spectator-player repartee: “Just leave! We want Genie,” a US Open heckler yelled at Nick Kyrgios, who was not giving his best effort while down a service break in the second set against Pierre-Hugues Herbert. The heckler was referring to beauteous Eugenie Bouchard, who was set to play next on Court 17. Without missing a beat, Kyrgios quipped back at the heckler, “Well, you’ll never have her.”

Best composure (Osaka): “Ultimately, you never know what you’re made out of until you’re tested. Naomi was thrown in there into deep water today. Got everything thrown at her: big bombs by Serena, the crowd, the drama. She remained with her composure. There are certain things you can train yourself to do; other things you just have, and I believe it’s a gift, what Naomi has.” — Sascha Bajin, Naomi Osaka’s coach since November 2017, on the poise and polish Osaka showed during her controversy-marred 6-2, 6-4 final victory over six-time champion Serena Williams, in The New York Times.

Worst admission of illegal coaching: “Well, I mean, I’m honest, I was coaching. I mean, I don’t think she looked at me, so that’s why she didn’t even think I was.” — Serena Williams’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, admitted to ESPN that he had tried to signal Williams during the US Open final but said he didn’t think she had seen him, which, of course, does not absolve him of breaking the no-coaching rule.

Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’s coach, contended that he thinks every player gets coaching during matches, which, of course, is not true.   -  AFP

 

Worst “everyone does it” defence: “I was like 100 per cent of the coaches on 100 per cent of the matches, so we have to stop this hypocrite thing. Sascha [Bajin, Osaka’s coach,] was coaching every point, too. This chair umpire was the chair umpire of most of the finals of Rafa [Nadal], and Toni’s coaching every single point, and they never gave a warning. I don’t really get it. It’s strange." — Serena Williams’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, contending that he thinks every player gets coaching during matches, which, of course, is not true, and added that he had never been called for a coaching violation — “Not once in my life, and you can check the records, you’ll see” — which is irrelevant.

Worst false accusation of sexism by Serena: “I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things. I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff. For me to say ‘thief,’ and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark. He’s never taken a game from a man because they said ‘thief.’ For me, it blows my mind. But I’m going to continue to fight for women.” — Serena Williams, trying to excuse her US Open behaviour by saying a man would not have been penalised for what she did.

Best refutation of Serena’s charge of sexism: Dave Worsley, the sports columnist for newshub.co.nz, cogently asserted: “Dear Serena, don’t dare use sexism as any sort of excuse or distraction for your loss in the US Open final to Naomi Osaka. In fact, don’t let your ego and pride get in the way of taking responsibility for your actions. Quoting sexism and protesting that male players don’t get treated the same is a desperate attempt to hide your own faults. Male players over the years have definitely felt the wrath of officials. Note that Italian Fabio Fognini was defaulted from the US Open last year for verbal abuse of an official. Nick Kyrgios was told he would face a longer ban than what he already had if he didn’t seek help for his mental frailties. John McEnroe was kicked out of the Australian Open in 1990 and given an ultimatum to buck up his behaviour or he’d be banned for several months. And there are many more cases like these with other male players. Recently, the same umpire — Carlos Ramos — who is widely respected, gave Novak Djokovic a code violation at Wimbledon. He’s done the same to Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Venus Williams, so he fears no one and is a stickler for the rules. The key factor is that none of these other players carried on screaming and gesticulating at the umpire. You won’t win against the umpire — and you’re not going to win against any sports official if you call them a liar or a thief.”

Best criticism of Serena’s misconduct: “The rules are the rules. I don’t see any difference between the men’s rules and women’s rules, and I think the chair umpires are doing just their jobs. I never had any problems with him, or with any umpire. I also got fines, when I had to. It’s normal." — Simona Halep, talking to CNN Sport in Wuhan, China, defending the actions of US Open umpire Carlos Ramos.

Best ecstasy of Davis Cup victory: “This is the most special day of my life, by far, playing here with this crowd... They were into the match. They were loud. They won the match with me. I was playing, but if they were not there, I would have lost in four sets for sure because my head was deep in the water.” — A jubilant Borna Coric, who clinched a 3-2 Davis Cup semifinal victory for Croatia over the United States by stopping Cup debutant Francis Tiafoe 6-7 (0), 6-1, 6-7 (11), 6-1, 6-3 in the final match.

Best perfect player, according to Federer: Roger Federer revealed what the perfect tennis player would be like. “You start with an amazing server like John Isner, Ivo Karlovic or also Pete Sampras when he was under pressure,” said Federer. “For taking the ball early, I would take something who is able to generate energy very quickly. For example Rafael Nadal, Fernando Gonzalez or James Blake. I would pick Novak Djokovic for footwork. As for the return, I think about players who take the ball very early like Andre Agassi or David Nalbandian. Currently, you could also call in Kei Nishikori or David Goffin. Even Djokovic, who gets almost all the balls back, would be an option. On backhand, I take Nalbandian, but also players like Marat Safin and Stan Wawrinka get into the discussion.”

Best tennis TV broadcaster: For her outstanding ability to analyse tennis players, matches and controversies, long-time tennis broadcaster Mary Carillo has no peer. On December 10, Carillo, a Tennis Channel analyst this decade, was inducted into Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame for her role in transforming and revolutionising the business of sports broadcasting. She has also worked for NBC, CBS, ESPN, HBO, PBS, USA Network, TNT, MSG and Turner during her distinguished career.

Best Bertens confidential: “I think it’s just proof to myself that I can beat anyone. I think that’s a really nice feeling. I think before I really had [the feeling] like, ‘Oh, those are great players, and I can never beat them.’ Now, I’m still thinking those are great players, but I have beaten them before, so I can do it, so hopefully I can do it again. I think it helped me a lot with the confidence.” — Kiki Bertens, a 26-year-old Dutchwoman, believes that she is capable of beating anybody after reaching the semifinals of the WTA Finals. Bertens notched a tour-leading 12 victories against top-10 players in an impressive season.

Best concern about the future of men’s tennis: “If Federer and Nadal stop playing tennis, it will hurt a lot. We will have the consequences of it because such a good rivalry doesn’t exist. That’s why you have to enjoy them as long as possible. But our Swiss mentality almost hides the happiness we have for Federer and Wawrinka. Our sport has only four or five big names. We see it here in Basel: when Federer plays, it’s packed. If he does not play, the stadium is half empty. That’s why I am worried when I think about the end of Federer and Nadal’s career. So tennis needs a new generation to win Grand Slams while the Big Four are still playing. Otherwise Zverev and Co. won’t have credibility.” — Former world No. 9 Marc Rosset, telling Blue Win he is worried about the future of men’s tennis.

Best moral question about exhibition match in Saudi Arabia: “You would imagine, then, 38 years on, that Nadal (who, like McEnroe in 1980, does not need the money) and Novak Djokovic (likewise) would come up with a similar response in almost identical circumstances. As of this moment, however — no... So, until they withdraw, this pointless public relations stunt in Jeddah on December 22 goes ahead with their blessing, before they fly out to Australia for the Australian Open. Indeed, central to their defence was the claim that ‘the tournament’ was part of their preparation for the first major of 2019 – as if they would not benefit more from rest (given the repeated complaint that they have too many commitments) or playing in a way more competitive environment than an over-hyped friendly hit in front of royalty in the desert.” — Kevin Mitchell, tennis writer for The Guardian (UK), rightly denouncing the decisions of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic to go ahead with December’s lucrative exhibition match in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, given the global outrage over the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s and subsequent cover-up by Saudi Arabia.

Best sportsmanship: The Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova received the Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award for the sixth successive year and seventh time overall.

Worst hearsay claim: Serena Williams referred to Maria Sharapova’s 2017 autobiography Unstoppable, which included a lot about Williams, as “100 per cent hearsay.”

Marat Safin, a two-time major winner and hot-headed Russian, told L’Equipe he is not impressed with the recent lack of on-court spats in tennis.   -  AFP

 

Best criticism of goody-goody behaviour: “Today it’s different. When you start speaking badly to an opponent, he starts crying and calls the chair umpire. Everyone has become super well-behaved like high-society people.” — Marat Safin, a two-time major winner and hot-headed Russian, telling L’Equipe he is not impressed with the recent lack of on-court spats in the sport.

Best Open Era “golden oldie” record: The 2018 Wimbledon was only time in the Open Era that all four male semifinalists at a major were older than 30. They were Rafael Nadal (32), John Isner (33), Kevin Anderson (31) and Novak Djokovic (31).

Best fond farewells: Former world No. 2 Agnieszka Radwanska, the 2012 Wimbledon finalist, announced her retirement at age 29 “due to problems with my foot, a general weakness of my body and many other issues.” David Ferrer, who made the 2013 French Open final, won 27 singles titles and ranked a career-high No. 3, retired at age 36 after a 17-year career. Roberta Vinci, who scored a shocking upset over Serena Williams to reach the 2015 US Open final, bid her fans an emotional farewell ceremony following the final match of her career at the Italian Open. Former world No. 2 and Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Haas retired, as did Daniel Nestor after a 25-year career as a doubles standout. And Lucie Safarova, the 2014 French Open finalist who peaked at No. 5, will retire after the Australian Open in January due to health concerns.

Best Djokovic warning about Federer: After Roger Federer’s 2018 season ended with a straight-sets loss to eventual champion Alexander Zverev in the semifinals of the ATP Finals, Novak Djokovic told the media not to count him out in 2019. “Regarding Roger’s form, look, when Roger is playing, you always expect him to win,” said Djokovic. “That’s why it’s strange for you guys that he doesn’t win a big title since January this year. A lot of people have signed him out, put him into retirement already many, many times before in the last five years. He’s proven everybody wrong by winning additional three, four slams in the last couple years. Do not count him out, that’s all I can say.”

Best plea for a shorter season: “The issue is that our season is way too long. That’s the issue. But I’ve said it before. We play for 11 months a year. That’s ridiculous. No other professional sport does that,” rightly contended Alexander Zverev about the long tennis season after losing 6-4, 6-1 to Novak Djokovic in the round-robin segment of the 2018 ATP Finals.

Best mother’s advice: When 5’7” Diego Schwartzman, an Argentine ranked No. 17 in the world, was a short 12-year-old, he was depressed after a physician told him he wasn’t going to get any taller. His mother told him, “You were meant to do special things.” Happily, Diego has.

Best Serena motherhood statement: “Sometimes I get really down and feel like, man, I can’t do this. No one talks about the low moments — the pressure you feel, the incredible letdown every time you hear the baby cry. I’ve broken down I don’t know how many times. Or I’ll get angry about the crying, then sad about being angry, and then guilty, like, ‘Why do I feel so sad when I have a beautiful baby?’ The emotions are insane.” — Serena Williams, in Vogue magazine in January.

Worst barb (Pliskova): Kristyna Pliskova fired off this inane and insensitive barb about Serena Williams’s black catsuit, which she wore because of health concerns (a history of blood clots) at the French Open: “It didn’t work. I was wondering if it was even within the rules. I don’t even know what it was. Like, neoprene?… But she’s supposed to follow the rules… Otherwise, let her play naked.”

It’s been 17 years since Australian men last populated the ATP’s top 50 in such numbers. In 2018, Alex de Minaur (above) ranked No. 31, Nick Kyrgios No. 35, John Millman No. 38 and Matt Ebden No. 46.   -  AP

 

Best Australian Men’s resurgence: It’s been 17 years since Australian men last populated the ATP’s top 50 in such numbers. Then Australia boasted former No. 1s Lleyton Hewitt and Pat Rafter, who each ended with two major titles from four finals, and former No. 8 Mark Philippoussis earned US Open and Wimbledon runners-up plates, along with Andrew Ilie, the shirt-ripping cult figure who peaked at No. 38. In 2018, Alex de Minaur ranked No. 31, Nick Kyrgios No. 35, John Millman No. 38 and Matt Ebden No. 46.

Best fascinating fact IV: The fastest female serves at the 2018 Wimbledon were 125 mph by Serena Williams, 123 mph by Venus Williams and 120 mph by 14-year-old Coco Gauff in the junior event.

Best ATP video review experiment: Video review for certain judgement calls, such as whether a ball bounces twice, was available for the first time in men’s professional tennis at the Next Gen ATP Finals for the top 21-and-under players. The tour announced on October 26 that players at the November 6-10 event in Milan can request that chair umpires watch replays to decide whether rulings should be upheld or overruled. There will be no limit to these sorts of challenges, unlike the three available per set for electronic line-calling replays used currently at many tournaments. “When you see an obvious (double bounce) that wasn’t called, and television is showing a replay from all angles, and it’s obvious, it doesn’t do anybody any good to say, ‘If we have the technology, why don’t we use it?’” rightly said Gayle David Bradshaw, ATP executive vice-president for rules and competition. “It’s not taking away the human element. It’s adding a new level to it.”

Best US Open first: The first time that every match at a Grand Slam tournament had electronic line-calling was at the 2018 US Open — the major that introduced the technology in 2006.

Best fascinating fact V: Naomi Osaka’s father Leonard Francois was motivated to create a tennis champion by watching Serena and Venus Williams win the 1999 French Open doubles title.

Best scoring system reforms: On December 21, the Australian Open announced that, starting in 2019, it will play a 10-point tiebreaker in deciding sets, joining Wimbledon and the US Open in using tiebreakers to avoid marathon matches. Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley told the AP, “We asked the players — both past and present, commentators, agents and TV analysts — whether they wanted to play an advantage final set or not, and went from there. We went with a 10-point tiebreak at six-games-all in the final set to ensure the fans still get a special finale to these often epic contests, with the longer tiebreak still then allowing for that one final twist or change of momentum in the contest. This longer tiebreak also can lessen some of the serving dominance that can prevail in the shorter tiebreak.” This scoring reform means that the four Grand Slam events now have four different scoring systems. Wimbledon announced in October that in 2019 it will have a standard first-to-seven-points tiebreaker when the deciding set reaches 12-12. The US Open was the first Grand Slam tournament to introduce final-set tiebreakers, with a first-to-seven-points game at 6-6. The French Open is the only remaining Grand Slam event with a final set not decided with a tiebreaker.

Best quote about competitiveness (Kasatkina): “Anybody can play when they have a good day, when they’re happy to be on court,” Daria Kasatkina pointed out after losing to Angelique Kerber at Wimbledon. “[But] you have to be able to compete even if you are dead, you don’t want to be there, you’re throwing up from tennis.”

Best junior tennis innovation: Players were required to shake hands before each match started at the junior events at the 2018 US Open.

Best Stephens story: Sloane Stephens once got stuck in the freezer with dead bodies in the funeral home owned by her family.

Worst shortage of women in tennis positions of power: Only one women is a director of any of the 14 combined ATP-WTA tournaments — Keely O’Brien, director of the Citi Open in Washington. There are only five women among the 46 people who have been voted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame as Contributors.

Best tattoo: The tiger tattoo Elina Svitolina sports on her thigh. Perhaps it will inspire her to become a predator at the majors in 2019.

Best wheelchair tennis champion (men): Shingo Kunieda, the Roger Federer of wheelchair tennis, was named ITF World Champion in the men’s wheelchair category for the eighth time, having first been honoured with the accolade in 2007. The Japanese 34-year-old dominated the UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour, winning his record ninth Australian Open and seventh Roland Garros to extend his all-time major record to 22 titles.

Diede de Groot, the 21-year-old Dutchwoman, grabbed three women's wheelchair Grand Slam crowns at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open, all without dropping a set.   -  Getty Images

 

Best wheelchair tennis champion (women): Diede de Groot was named women’s wheelchair ITF World Champion for the first time after she ruled the UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour by capturing eight of the 12 singles tournaments she contested. The 21-year-old Dutchwoman grabbed three Grand Slam crowns at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open, all without dropping a set. The versatile de Groot also won major doubles titles at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open.

Best clue about the 2019 men’s season: The three defeats Novak Djokovic suffered since June were to rising stars Alexander Zverev, 21, Karen Khachanov, 22, and Stefanos Tsitsipas, 20.

Worst Hall Of Fame decision: For the first time in its history, the International Tennis Hall of Fame decided to allow tennis fans worldwide to vote for candidates for induction. The ITHOF candidate who receives the most fan votes adds 3 per cent to the percentage he received from the The ITHF Voting Group, which is comprised of 123 tennis journalists, historians, former players, broadcasters, Hall of Famers and other experts. The candidate with second-most fan votes adds 2 per cent, and the candidate finishing third in fan votes adds 1 per cent. Thus, fans can actually determine who is elected. Because most fans lack sufficient tennis knowledge, the requisite expertise and objectivity, the well-intentioned but misguided Hall of Fame blundered. Lamentably, in coming years, undeserving candidates will join the pantheon of immortals.

Best reasons analytics will revolutionise tennis: When asked if analytics will revolutionize tennis, Leo Levin, director of sports analytics at SportsMEDIA Technology, a company that provides custom technology solutions for sporting events, predicted, “Absolutely! Because the game is always changing. The technology around tennis and all sports keeps changing. Analytics is going to make the athletes better. It’s going to provide them with insights about how they can be at their peak for the key matches. It will help them train better, prepare better, execute shots better under pressure. All those pieces and parts will be available for athletes. And all of their nutritional, sleep and training regimens will also help tennis players to perform better.”

Best sibling loyalty: “Bob’s got first dibs,” replied Mike Bryan, when asked at the US Open whom he’ll team with in 2019. Mike’s choice to resume playing doubles with his twin brother Bob, who was sidelined with a hip injury since May, sounded easy. But consider this: the 40-year-old brothers haven’t won a Grand Slam title since the 2014 US Open, their record 16th major. On the other hand, in 2018 Mike and new partner, 26-year-old Jack Sock, were spectacularly successful, winning Wimbledon, the US Open and the ATP Finals during their four-month partnership. Blood trumps titles!

In his Wimbledon quarterfinal against Juan Martin del Potro, Rafael Nadal sprinted toward the stands to try to retrieve a faraway smash, wound up vaulting the courtside barrier and landing on a lady in the first row. The Spanish gentleman gallantly kissed her hand, and she gazed up at him with adoring eyes.   -  AP

 

Best chivalry: Chivalry is alive and well. In his five-set Wimbledon quarterfinal against Juan Martin del Potro, tough-as-nails competitor Rafael Nadal sprinted toward the stands to try to retrieve a faraway smash. Rafa wound up vaulting the courtside barrier and landing on a lady in the first row. The Spanish gentleman gallantly kissed her hand, and she gazed up at him with adoring eyes.