The best of vintage 2017

How much longer can Nadal and Federer defy Father Time and hold off their hungry competition, especially Djokovic, Murray, and emerging stars Alexander Zverev, Nick Kyrgios, and Dominic Thiem? Who knows? But bet against these legends at your own peril.

The pendulum swung back to Roger Federer on grass. At Wimbledon, he showcased every shot in his dazzling repertoire and didn’t surrender a set to notch a record eighth crown.   -  Getty Images

After winning the 2012 Wimbledon, pushing his Grand Slam lead over archrival Rafael Nadal to 17-11, Roger Federer observed, “If he does beat my record, it almost doesn’t really matter. Because I did things he can never do. He did things that I can never do.” Federer could have added they both did things — and would likely do more things — no future superstar would ever do.

But by late 2016, even Roger and Rafa had to wonder whether the sun was setting on their incomparable careers. Federer hadn’t lifted a major trophy since that 2012 Wimbledon. Nadal’s last conquest came at the 2014 French Open. Both were sidelined for much of the 2016 season by injuries — back trouble and a surgically repaired left knee for Federer and left wrist pain for Nadal. The GOAT debate appeared over with Fed a 17-14 winner.

Then, abracadabra! At the 2017 Australian Open, the aging warriors, Federer, 35, and Nadal, 30, suddenly morphed into ageless magicians. “This is something we never thought we’d see again,” TV analyst John McEnroe marvelled during the fourth set of their scintillating Melbourne final. “Something they didn’t think they ever see again.” The Mighty Fed prevailed Down Under in a five-set classic, and then whipped Rafa again at Indian Wells and Miami.

In this Year of the Comeback, it was Nadal’s turn to reign on clay. An irresistible force of vicious topspin and ferocious competitiveness, Nadal steamrolled seven straight opponents to claim his 10th French Open, an astounding record. His final victim, 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka, was overwhelmed 6-2, 6-3, 6-1.

The pendulum swung back to Federer on grass. At Wimbledon, he showcased every shot in his dazzling repertoire and didn’t surrender a set to notch a record eighth crown, outclassing Marin Cilic in the 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 final. Afterwards, he confided, “You would have laughed if I told you I was going to win two Slams this year. I also didn’t believe that I was going to win two this year.”

And what about Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, who dominated 2016? Injuries and a surprising lack of motivation hampered them, but their failure to reach a major final was still stunning.

As the U.S. Open approached, suspense mounted. Not only would the No. 1 ranking likely be settled there, but, surprisingly, Roger and Rafa had never clashed at Flushing Meadows during their storied, 14-year rivalry. When Federer was upset by the redoubtable Juan Martin del Potro in the quarterfinals, the path was cleared for Nadal, who had lost to Federer five straight times. The southpaw swinger combined relentless offence with watertight defence to easily defeat two towering but less athletic foes — del Potro 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2 and then Kevin Anderson 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 for his third U.S. title.

The two legends are longtime friends, as well as archrivals, and genuinely admire each other. When the Spaniard was asked what he has in common with the Swiss, he offered, “There are just two things that probably we share — that is passion for what we are doing, passion for tennis, passion for the competition, and the spirit of improvement all the time.”

How much longer can Nadal and Federer defy Father Time and hold off their hungry competition, especially Djokovic, Murray, and emerging stars Alexander Zverev, Nick Kyrgios, and Dominic Thiem?

Who knows? But bet against these legends at your own peril.

THE WOMEN

When the cat’s away, the mice will play.

The Big Cat was last seen whacking shots in earnest at the 2017 Australian Open, where, eight weeks pregnant, she grabbed her Open Era record 23rd major title over her sister Venus. The field was once again left licking their wounds.

The Big Cat then left the Tour and gave birth to a baby girl in September. Soon after, she vowed to return to competition in January, targeting Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24.

In 2017, three young mice played strong, smart, and sassy tennis to fill the vast void at Grand Slam events left by the absence of The Big Cat. The parity was so great that nine different women won the nine biggest events of the season with Elena Vesnina, Johanna Konta, Carolina Garcia, and Simona Halep, taking Premier Mandatory events and Caroline Wozniacki the WTA Finals. Venus Williams, rejuvenated at 37, also shined by reaching two major finals and one semifinal.

But — should The Big Cat Serena not reclaim her throne in 2018 — what could become the New World Order emerged at the French Open. Jelena Ostapenko, a 100-to-1 pre-tournament longshot, shocked the sports world by pulling out five three-set matches to capture her first Grand Slam title two days after turning 20. In an engrossing final, the 47th-ranked Latvian trailed favoured, third-seeded Simona Halep 6-4, 3-0 before blasting a fusillade of winners to turn the tide and eventually prevail 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Ostapenko became the first woman to take her debut title at a major since Barbara Jordan at the 1979 Australian Open and the first unseeded women’s champion at Roland Garros since Margaret Scriven way back in 1933. “I still can’t believe I won here. It’s like a dream,” said the ever-smiling Ostapenko.

“She’s tall, she’s athletic, and she has a big upside,” raved 1980s champion John McEnroe. “You’ve got to think there are multiple Grand Slam titles in her.”

Fans watching Garbine Muguruza at Wimbledon had to be equally bullish about her future. With a bold power game, much like Ostapenko’s, Muguruza dropped only one set, to 2016 finalist Angelique Kerber, before the much-anticipated final against Venus. The sentimental favourite, Venus was enjoying her by far best season since being diagnosed in 2011 with enervating Sjogren’s syndrome. Her mood was dampened, though, by her involvement a month earlier in a fatal traffic accident, which she called “devastating” in a tearful press conference.

Venus’ fairy tale quest for a sixth Wimbledon and eighth Grand Slam title looked quite possible when she led 5-4, 15-40 on Muguruza’s serve. But the 23-year-old Spaniard escaped two set points, the second in a ferocious 19-shot rally, and raced off to an impressive 7-5, 6-0 triumph.

“The way Muguruza turned the match and year around is unbelievable,” enthused all-time great Chris Evert. “She struck the ball with belief and conviction. It’s incredible that two years ago she admitted she didn’t even like to play on grass.”

Muguruza, who upset Serena in the 2016 French final, thus made history as the first player to beat both Serena and Venus, her girlhood role models, in Grand Slam finals.

Seven players entered the U.S. Open with a chance to finish the tournament ranked No. 1. None made it to the final. Instead, two Americans on the comeback trail duelled for the title. Madison Keys, a 22-year-old power hitter, rebounded from wrist surgeries in November 2016 and again this June. Her confidence was buoyed a month later by winning Stanford, where she scored a big victory over Muguruza.

The road back toward the top proved even more arduous and uncertain for 24-year-old Sloane Stephens. She was sidelined for 11 months after foot surgery, and had her foot in a protective boot for 16 weeks. Ranked only No. 957 on July 31, Stephens suddenly surged to the semis at Toronto and Cincinnati.

At Flushing Meadows, in the most improbable comeback of the year, Stephens upset two-time champion Venus in a thrilling, fluctuating 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 semifinal. Then, playing high-percentage tennis, she routed a nervous, erratic Keys 6-3, 6-0 in a disappointing final.

A gobsmacked Stephens exulted, “I should just retire now. I told Maddie I’m never going to be able to top this. I mean, talk about a comeback.”

Before the curtain closes on 2017, three other determined, though less successful, comebacks deserve recognition. Five-time major winner Maria Sharapova returned after a 15-month drug suspension, amidst criticism that her punishment was too lenient and her wild cards were unwarranted, to reach the U.S. Open fourth round.

After giving birth to a baby boy in December 2016, former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka rejoined the Tour in June. Vika reached the Wimbledon fourth round before a custody battle for her son forced her to withdraw from the U.S. Open and prematurely end her season in frustration.

And in the feel-good story of the year, Petra Kvitova returned to competition less than six months after she was stabbed in her racquet-playing hand during an attack at home in the Czech Republic. In only her second tournament and with no feeling in one finger, she amazingly won Birmingham. After upsetting third-seeded Muguruza to advance to the U.S. Open quarterfinals, Kvitova confided, “Every moment I am living now is something really special.”

Let’s look back at this memorable and often surprising year. See if you agree with how I saw the Bests and Worsts of vintage 2017.

BEST MEN’S PLAYER — The renaissance of Rafael Nadal peaked when he won a record 10th Roland Garros title and a third U.S. Open crown. He was also a finalist at the Australian Open. The Spanish matador claimed six titles in 2017 and sealed the year-end No. 1 ranking at the Paris Masters, becoming the oldest player to do so since the inception of the ATP rankings in 1973.

The renaissance of Rafael Nadal peaked when he won a record 10th Roland Garros title and a third U.S. Open crown.   -  AFP

 

BEST WOMEN’S PLAYER Garbine Muguruza captured Wimbledon and performed solidly at the other majors, making the quarterfinals at the Aussie Open and the round of 16 at the French and U.S. Opens. The lithe 6-footer also won Cincinnati and made the semifinals in Brisbane, Rome, Birmingham, Stanford, and Tokyo. The International Tennis Federation gave Muguruza its Player of the Year award.

BEST MEN’S DOUBLES TEAM In their first full season together, Lukasz Kubot of Poland and Marcelo Melo of Brazil, clinched the top spot at the ATP Finals. Their memorable year featured six titles, with an undefeated grass-court season culminating in the Wimbledon title. In their fourth five-set match of the fortnight, Kubot and Melo outlasted Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic 5-7, 7-5, 7-6, 3-6, 13-11 in four hours and 40 minutes.

BEST WOMEN’S DOUBLES TEAM Chan Yun-Jan and Martina Hingis also enjoyed an outstanding first and, due to 37-year-old Hingis’ recent retirement, only season together to end 2017 as the No. 1-ranked team. The pair won all nine finals they contested, including winning the U.S. Open without dropping a set. Chan is the first woman from Chinese Taipei to be named ITF World Champion, while Hingis adds to her doubles awards from 1999 and 2015, and singles honours from 1997, 1999, and 2000. “It’s like a real dream come true, like living my dream,” said Chan, who won her first Grand Slam doubles title. A close second were Bethanie Mattek-Sands and longtime partner Lucie Safarova, winners of the Australian Open and French Open.

BEST MEN’S GRAND SLAM MATCH — “Everything we hoped it would be, it was” was how 1980s champion John McEnroe summed up the hugely anticipated, throwback Australian Open final between all-time greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. In a fluctuating, unpredictable showdown, Federer trailed 3-1 in the deciding set. Then, taking the ball early on the fast hard courts, he conjured up dazzling shotmaking from yesteryear to grab the last five games and overcome Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 for his first major title since the 2012 Wimbledon.

BEST ATP MATCH — A Miami Open semifinal duel between the Top Gun and the Young Gun more than lived up to the hype. An epic match full of ebbs and flows and fabulous shots was highlighted by three pulsating tiebreakers, as Roger Federer edged Nick Kyrgios 7-6 (9), 6-7 (9), 7-5 (5). The Aussie’s high-risk, high-reward style kept him dead even with the savvy, stylish Swiss throughout the match. Kyrgios escaped two match points in the second-set tiebreaker. But two untimely and reckless double faults cost him the match: a 123-mph serve at 9-all in the opening set tiebreaker and an even more reckless 128-mph double fault at 5-all in the deciding set.

BEST WOMEN’S MATCH — Venus Williams edged Petra Kvitova 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (2) in a brilliantly played U.S. Open quarterfinal that featured “Big Babe” power tennis. Venus had lost two of their last three matches in deciding set tiebreakers, and the outlook looked bleak again when she trailed 3-1 in the deciding set. With the highly partisan crowd roaring for her, Venus rebounded to force a tiebreaker, which she easily won. “It’s breathtaking that Venus can play at this level at this age,” praised ESPN analyst Mary Joe Fernandez. “Venus loves the pressure. This is what she lives for.”

BEST STATEMENT ABOUT THE HUMAN SPIRIT When asked about champions such as Monica Seles and Petra Kvitova who also overcame adversity during their tennis careers, Venus Williams said: “I think sport is, you know, a little microcosm of life, and it shows the human spirit, just being out there on the court, fighting against all odds. If you’re down, you keep going. Great champions came back from injuries or circumstances they could never have planned for. It’s very encouraging for people to watch. You know, those champions you mentioned helped, changed so many lives, motivated so many people by being their best. You never know whose life you’ll touch just by being your best.”

BEST “TRIUMPH AND DISASTER IN REAL TIME” — As Venus Williams, who lost to her sister Serena in the Australian Open final, eloquently put it, “I think why people love sport so much is because you see everything in a line. In that moment, there is no do-over. There’s no retake. There is no voice-over. It’s triumph and disaster witnessed in real time. This is why people live and die for sport, because you can’t fake it. You can’t. It’s either you do it or you don’t. People relate to the champion. They also relate to the person who didn’t win, because we all have those moments in our life.”

BEST CAREER COMEBACKS — Pro tennis was graced with many inspiring comebacks in 2017. Besides Federer, Nadal, Anderson, Stephens, Keys, Azarenka, Sharapova, and Kvitova, 21-year-old Australian Ashley Barty fared well. Barty, who reached three doubles Grand Slam finals in 2013 with Casey Dellacqua, then lost her passion for tennis and switched to semipro cricket, earning a contract with the Brisbane Heat. She returned to the WTA Tour in January 2016, but started making her mark in singles in 2017. Barty upset Muguruza, Venus, and Kerber, made the final at Birmingham and Wuhan, and finished with a career-high No. 17 singles ranking. She also reached the French Open doubles final with Dellacqua.

BEST MATCH COMEBACK — Suffering from flu-like symptoms and having trouble breathing, Juan Martin del Potro was on the verge of retiring during the second set of his U.S. Open fourth-round match against sixth-seeded Dominic Thiem. The Argentine veteran fought through it to pull off a spectacular 1-6, 2-6, 6-1, 7-6, 6-4 triumph. Darren Cahill, the ESPN analyst, called Del Potro’s gritty victory “the greatest comeback I’ve ever seen.”

Alexander Zverev... both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal feel, the German is the future of men’s tennis.   -  AP

 

BEST “BROMANCE” BETWEEN SUPERSTARS — When Rafael Nadal was asked to describe what he admires most about long-time friend Roger Federer, he cooled the “bromance” with an opening line that elicited laughter in the packed media U.S. Open conference room. “I don’t want to look like I gonna be his boyfriend, no?” said Nadal. “We don’t want to talk these kind of things before important match. We have a lot of respect for each other, no? We played a lot of times. I think we did important things for tennis. We appreciate that. We always had a good relationship. I think he always has been a great ambassador for tennis and for our sport, with good image, of course, and representing good values. One important thing that is a great example for kids, doing unbelievable well and doing it with the right attitude. That’s something I admire as you can admire.”

WORST FALL FROM THE TOP — In 2016, Angelique Kerber won the Australian and U.S. Opens and reached the finals at Wimbledon, the Olympics, and WTA Finals to rank No. 1. In 2017, the 29-year-old German plummeted to No. 21. Lacking shot aggressiveness and mental intensity, Kerber stunningly failed to reach the quarters at a major, didn’t win a tournament, and had only one victory over a top 10 opponent, No. 4 Karolina Pliskova in Tokyo.

WORST DISAPPOINTMENT — “I have had a diabolical year at these Slams,” acknowledged Nick Kyrgios, who won only two matches at the four majors. “It doesn’t surprise me. It’s just the story of my career, really. I will have good weeks; I’ll have bad weeks. It’s just a rollercoaster.” On the plus side, the 22-year-old Aussie defeated Djokovic (twice), Nadal, and Alexander Zverev.

BEST INSIGHT ABOUT THE DECLINE OF DJOKOVIC — Andre Agassi, whose revelatory memoir OPEN provided candid confessions about his own rollercoaster career, explained the shocking decline of 12-time major champion and former No. 1 Novak Djokovic. “When you see somebody who has accomplished so much and then somehow to our eyes it overnight changes, it doesn’t have anything to do with tennis, it has to do with reason, inspiration, finding that thing that fuels you,” Agassi observed. “Your heart and mind is a bank account, you’ve got to give it more than you take out of it. When you cross that line, you file for bankruptcy.”

WORST RANKING SYSTEM — The WTA annually wins this dubious award. This year its flawed rankings had Simona Halep No. 1, barely edging the more deserving Garbine Muguruza. Halep capped off the most unimpressive season of any No. 1 player in history by failing to reach the semifinals at the WTA Finals. Most important, Halep failed to win a Grand Slam title. Though she made the French Open final, she lost in the first round at the Australian and U.S. Opens and advanced further only at Wimbledon, making the quarters. So meagre was her resume that she won only one title anywhere, the Mutua Madrid Open.

BEST EARLY-ROUND MATCH — Maria Sharapova’s 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory over No. 2 seed Simona Halep in the U.S. Open first round. After match point, Sharapova fell to her knees in celebration and wept as she looked up towards her coaching team in the Player’s Box. Her agent, Max Eisenbud, was also crying as he embraced Sharapova afterwards. “Behind all these Swarovski crystals and little black dresses, this girl has a lot of grit, and she’s not going anywhere,” Sharapova told the Arthur Ashe Stadium sellout crowd of 23,771. “It’s been a while. It almost seemed like I had no right to win this match today. And I somehow did. I think that is what I’m most proud of.”

Ostapenko became the first woman to take her debut title at a major since Barbara Jordan at the 1979 Australian Open and the first unseeded women’s champion at Roland Garros since Margaret Scriven way back in 1933.   -  Getty Images

BEST DAVIS CUP TEAM — David Goffin beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to take the Davis Cup final to a decisive fifth rubber. But Lucas Pouille came through with an overpowering 6-3, 6-1, 6-0 victory over experienced Steve Darcis to clinch France’s first Davis Cup title since 2001 after being taken the distance by Belgium. France tied Great Britain as No. 3 in the all-time list of winners with 10 titles, behind the United States and Australia.

BEST DAVIS CUP PERFORMANCE — Trailing 2-1 going into the reverse singles, David Goffin pulled Belgium even with a 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Nick Kyrgios. Winning performances by Goffin and Steve Darcis on the final day lifted Belgium over Australia and back to the Davis Cup final for the second time in three years. “It’s incredible,” said the jubilant Goffin. “It was the match of my career in the Davis Cup so far.” The steadily improving Goffin won both his singles rubbers in the final against France to finish the year with an unbeaten 6-0 record in the competition.

BEST ITF JUNIOR BOYS CHAMPION — Axel Geller is the first Argentine boy in 22 years to be named ITF Junior World Champion after a rapid rise up the rankings. The 18-year-old enjoyed Grand Slam success at both Wimbledon, winning the doubles title and reaching the singles final, and at the U.S. Open where he also finished runner-up. His breakthrough season ended with a third-place finish at the ITF Junior Masters and the year-end No. 1 ranking.

BEST ITF JUNIOR GIRLS CHAMPION — Whitney Osuigwe, a super-steady baseliner, became ITF Junior World Champion after climbing from world No. 95 to finish the year at No. 1. The 15-year-old American claimed her first major title at Roland Garros and helped USA to glory in Junior Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, winning all eight rubbers in singles and doubles. She has won a total of five singles and three doubles titles on the ITF Junior Circuit.

BEST GRAND SLAM SHOCKER — Jelena Ostapenko, a go-for-broke Latvian ranked No. 47, shocked the field by winning the French Open for her first tournament title. With a relatively easy draw, she pulled out five three-set matches, edging former finalist Samantha Stosur 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 in the fourth round, former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 in the quarters, No. 30 Tina Bacsinszky 7-6, 3-6, 6-3 in the semis, and No. 3 Simona Halep 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the final. “I mean, when I came here, of course I didn’t expect I would be in the final,” confided Ostapenko after upsetting Bacsinszky.

BEST BBC TENNIS VIEWERSHIP RECORD — A tennis record 7.4 million BBC television fans watched Britain’s Johanna Konta’s 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory over Romania’s Simona Halep as she became the first British woman to reach the Wimbledon semifinals in nearly 40 years. A respectable 6.4 million BBC television fans watched Roger Federer’s 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 victory over Marin Cilic in the Wimbledon final.

BEST MEN’S QUALIFIER — Filip Krajinovic, a 25-year-old Serb qualifier ranked No. 77, upset No. 13 Sam Querrey and No. 14 John Isner and then lost to Jack Sock in the Rolex Paris Master final and climbed to a career-high No. 33 ranking. “This is the best week in my life,” said Krajinovic. “I’ll will never forget this moment in my life, coming from qualies to the final is a dream come true.”

BEST WOMEN’S QUALIFIER — Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi, who ranked a lowly No. 481 after injury problems and had played just 27 matches in two years, became the first qualifier to reach the U.S. Open quarterfinals since 1981 before she lost 6-3, 6-3 to Madison Keys. “I hoped to qualify and keep going, see what happens with my tennis,” confided Kanepi. “Yeah, it’s pretty amazing where I am now compared to where I was few months ago.”

BEST PERFECT PERFORMANCE IN DOUBLES — Elena Vesnina teamed with Russian compatriot Ekaterina Makarova to win the Wimbledon ladies’ doubles final in 54 minutes, crushing Chan Hao-Ching and Monica Niculescu 6-0, 6-0.

WORST SCORING SYSTEM REFORMS Tennis Channel analyst and former world-class player Justin Gimelstob rightly denounced the Fast4 scoring format, which has only four games per set and has been strongly promoted by Tennis Australia. “The mixed doubles used to be a huge part of the identity of the Hopman Cup,” Gimelstob pointed out. “They’ve completely minimised mixed doubles with the Fast4 scoring. It’s a bad idea. It’s ridiculous. It’s like flipping a coin.” Other bad scoring system ideas include replacing entire third sets with a tiebreaker and No-Ad scoring.

The Big Cat Serena Williams was last seen whacking shots in earnest at the 2017 Australian Open, where, eight weeks pregnant, she grabbed her Open Era record 23rd major title over her sister Venus.   -  AP

 

BEST MEN’S UPSET AT A MAJOR I — Novak Djokovic, who had won five of the previous six Australian Opens, lost the 85-minute first set in a tiebreaker, but seemed to be getting the momentum back only for No. 117-ranked wild card Denis Istomin to finish stronger for a shocking 7-6 (8), 5-7, 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 upset win in the second round. “It is unreal,” said the exhausted but exhilarated Istomin. “To beat Novak in five sets, it’s a great win, you know. I’m still feel tired little bit. I didn’t expect what I’m doing now and what I did on the court. I like the way I am playing. I mean, I feel just tired. I don’t think about that I win against No. 2 in the world.”

BEST MEN’S UPSET AT A MAJOR II — No. 1 seed Andy Murray had won 32 of his 33 previous matches and hadn’t lost before the quarterfinals at the Australian Open since 2009, before Mischa Zverev stunned him 7-5, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 in the fourth round. The 29-year-old German journeyman confounded Murray with his aggressive serving and volleying. Zverev, a lefty serve-volleyer, attacked the net 118 times against the top seed, winning 55 percent of those points (65-118), and he also cleverly varied the spin and speed of his groundstrokes to disrupt Murray’s rhythm.

BEST AMERICAN SHOWING — After four American women reached the U.S. Open semifinals for the first time since 1981 — when Chris Evert, Tracy Austin, Barbara Potter, and Martina Navratilova did it — 18-time Grand Slam singles champion Evert told ESPN, “I’m so happy for the American players, they’ve gotten such criticism over the last 10 years. Finally, the influence of Serena and Venus has full effect on all the young ladies, who always mention them when they talk about role models.”

BEST LIFE-CHANGER — Ranked No. 143, Denis Shapovalov, an 18-year-old Canadian southpaw, belted 49 winners and saved 9 of 11 break points to upset Rafael Nadal 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (4) and then reached the semifinals at the Montreal Masters. “My whole life has changed in the past five days,” said Shapovalov. “It’s crazy how it is.”

BEST NEXT GEN ACHIEVEMENT Andrey Rublev, a 19-year-old Russian dropped just one set and pounded two Top 15 opponents, Grigor Dimitrov and David Goffin, into straight-set submission at the U.S. Open to achieve something that none of the other 21-and-under men, including Alexander Zverev, has done: reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal. “This is amazing, because we used to joke before about second week, about how good it [would be] to be in the second week,” said Rublev. “Now I’m here. It feels good.”

BEST ITF RULE CHANGES — In November, the International Tennis Federation’s Grand Slam Board announced highly beneficial rule changes for both men and women at its four major events. First, starting in 2019, only 16 singles players will be seeded at Grand Slam tournaments. Second, the 2018 Australian Open will use a 25-second serve clock, but not during main draw matches. Third, a player who is a late withdrawal because of an injury will receive 50 percent of the first-round prize money. Fourth, a player who retires from a first-round match or a player “performs below professional standards” could face a fine as high as the entire prize money due to a loser in that round.

BEST ATP RULE CHANGE EXPERIMENT — At the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals for the world’s best 21-and-under men players in November, the ATP tested several rule change proposals. The most imaginative was the use of Hawk-Eye Live to call all the lines, thus not using human line judges. When a ball landed out, an immediate audio recording played “Out!” and screens around the court flashed “Out!” The automated line-calling was quickly accepted by the Next Gen players. The whole object of officiating is to get every line call right — which Player Challenges failed miserably at. This intriguing innovation would ensure correct line calls every time. But would it dehumanise tennis?

BEST KYRGIOS CONFIDENTIAL — After immensely talented, but troubled, Nick Kyrgios upset No. 2 Novak Djokovic 6-4, 7-6 at Indian Wells, he admitted he carried that mental state into the Australian summer where he felt like public enemy No. 1 at the Aussie Open. Then he got the support he needed by playing Davis Cup under the supportive and empathetic new Australian captain Lleyton Hewitt, a former No. 1 who once was a bad boy of tennis himself. “I was in a pretty dark place,” confided Kyrgios. “Even though I was [ranked] 13 last year [2016], I wasn’t in a good place mentally at all. Towards the end of last year, I was just going to places and dreading going. Just really dreading going to tournaments. Didn’t want to practice. Didn’t really want to do anything. I had a physical trainer for a little bit, but it was tough because my team was motivated, but I wasn’t motivated. It’s only the beginning. The Australian Open was tough as well. Honestly, it felt like the whole of Australia was against me after I lost, even though no other Australian did very well, but I copped it all, I felt. I was in a dark place. I didn’t want to play for a bit. I was honestly going to take a break. I was talking to my team like, ‘I can’t really play anymore.’”

BEST MARATHON MATCH (MEN) Gilles Muller, a 34-year-old lefty from Luxembourg, served and volleyed relentless and effectively to upset fourth-seeded Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 15-13 in the Wimbledon fourth round. “This is definitely the biggest victory since I came back, especially at that stage of a Grand Slam, playing one of the guys who is dominating the tennis this year again. Definitely the biggest win.”

BEST MARATHON MATCH (WOMEN) — “I’m going to be sore,” Shelby Rogers understandably said after beating 25th-seeded Daria Gavrilova 7-6 (6), 4-6, 7-6 (5) in 3 hours, 33 minutes, the longest women’s match in U.S. Open history.

BEST PRIZE MONEY RECORD — By winning $764,000 for reaching the semifinals of the ATP Finals in London to boost his career prize money to $110,617,682, Roger Federer eclipsed the total career prize money record held by golf great Tiger Woods, who has earned $110,061,012.

BEST PREDICTION ABOUT MEN’S TENNIS “My player this year is Roger Federer. He’ll get healthy and manage his schedule [well] and do some pretty special things. He’s 35, but for someone who loves the game so much and is as athletically gifted as he is, and most important, with his style of play, it’s easier for him to play at a really high level than most.” — Tennis Channel analyst Paul Annacone, rightly predicting in early January that Roger Federer would have a great year in 2017.

BEST PREDICTION ABOUT WOMEN’S TENNIS — “You never know how someone will react to something like this. Becoming a mother might cause Serena to say ‘Game, set, match’ and call it a career. Or she could look at her time away as an opportunity, the same way Roger Federer approached his break last year, and view it as a chance to rejuvenate her body and mind after so many years on tour. That’s a challenge that sounds right up her alley to me.” — ESPN analyst Pam Shriver, who had her three children after she retired from tennis, on Serena Williams’ surprise announcement on April 18 that she was 20 weeks pregnant, which meant that she was 8 weeks pregnant when she won the 2017 Australian Open.

WORST PREDICTION — “On the men’s side, only two guys — Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray — can win it,” predicted ESPN analyst and former world No. 4 Brad Gilbert before the 2017 Australian Open.

BEST FOND FAREWELLS — Twenty-five years after Martina Hingis astounded the tennis world by winning the French Open girls’ title at a record-youngest age 12, she announced her retirement during the BNP Paribas WTA Finals, Singapore. The versatile Hingis amassed 25 Grand Slam titles — 5 singles, 13 doubles, and 7 mixed doubles. “Martina Hingis was a savant-like 15-year-old and perhaps an even more astonishing player at 37,” said TV analyst Mary Carillo. “Her bone-deep understanding of tennis and all of its possibilities was on display for decades, and I compare her most to John McEnroe, whose singles game was eventually overpowered, but not his gifts as a doubles artist. Martina’s game was nuanced, playful, deadly. Her game will be sorely missed.” Former top 10 players who retired included Nadia Petrova, Tommy Haas, Daniela Hantuchova, and Kimiko Date, who called it quits at the Japan Women’s Open two weeks before she turned 47.

BEST CRITICISM OF ATP — Doubles star Jamie Murray, the older brother of Andy Murray, told The Times (UK) that the ATP’s promoting the Big Four chiefly is a form of snobbery that he believes to be counter-productive. “The ATP have pushed these four guys [Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal] which means the problem is that anyone not in the top 10 isn’t very good and that’s not true,” pointed out Murray. “Andy lost last week to Jordan Thompson, who [was] 90 in the world, and everyone says it’s the worst loss ever, but the guy winning the U.S. Open golf could be 100th in the world and no one says anything but ‘well played’. When people think of tennis they think of the four players at the top of the game. The sport isn’t promoted, the [four] players are — and that will be a problem when these guys stop playing.”

BEST FUTURE STAR Mona Barthel, a German who ranked No. 23 in 2013, praised Destanee Aiava, a 16-year-old Australian of Somoan descent, after defeating her 6-3 7-6 (7-4). Aiava, who boasted a powerful serve and blistering forehand, showed maturity beyond her years and great fight, saving a match point to force a tiebreaker in the second set. “I think she’s definitely a great player,” said Barthel. “I mean, I wish I had served like that when I was 16. I think she has a great future. It’s always tough to predict, but I think she has great strokes, a lot of power and of course the next years will show how she develops. I think she enjoyed the atmosphere and all of the support she had. She used it in a positive way so I think it was really good.”

BEST ZVEREV BOOSTER “[Alexander Zverev] has a big chance to become the future world No. 1, no? He has all the shots: great serve, great forehand, great backhand, everything. He’s a complete player,” praised Rafael Nadal, after he overcame No. 24 Zverev 4-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-2, in an Australian Open third-round marathon match lasting 4 hours, 6 minutes.

BEST PRAISE FOR THIEM — When Roger Federer was asked to assess the future of Roland Garros semifinalist Dominic Thiem, he predicted the Austrian would enjoy a 10-year run in the ATP Top 10. “Sweet guy. Really honest. Lovely to be around with. Super hard working. He goes into the Rafa demographic where between matches, they just go really hard. Yeah, I love his backhand. Played him a few times. Got great power off both wings. He’s going to install himself in the top 10 easily, in my opinion, for the next 10 years. I’m sure he’s going to create a lot of chances to win the biggest tournaments in the game.”

BEST ANALYSIS OF BIG THREE — “Roger is the best one-two striker on the planet, his opening shots in the point are at the next level. Rafa is the best competitor there is, he’s there and on it regardless of the score for each and every point. Novak returns better than anyone I’ve faced, his ability to get behind each ball is scary,” said Nick Kyrgios, in a March interview with journalist Jose Morgado, on the best attributes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic, all of whom Kyrgios beat in his first matches against them.

BEST ANALYSIS OF OSTAPENKO — “She is young and reckless, in a sense. She’s not afraid of anything. She’s a big hitter. She’s a baby, but she’s a beautiful baby…. She’s 20. Not afraid of anything. She doesn’t measure maybe what she’s doing right now. She probably doesn’t care. The best example is the match point. I serve very well wide. She’s hitting as hard as she can down the line from nowhere. It comes that [high] above the net and in the corner. I mean, who tries that? Seriously? I mean, it’s like 1 out of 10. But she does it. So we’ll see if she does it at 28 years old.” — Timea Bacsinszky, after losing 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-3 to Jelena Ostapenko in the French Open semifinals.

WORST FATHERLY LAMENT — “He’s my son, I love him, but I’m ashamed at how he’s approaching his business — it’s not good what he’s doing. I do not support such behaviour, especially at [a] unique Grand Slam like Wimbledon. You have to have respect and follow the rules. You have to work hard. You have to put in 100 per cent and challenge yourself.” — John Tomic told Newscorp that his son Bernie, with career prize money earnings of almost $7 million, had become “a little bit” too comfortable with his “easy life.” Tomic is reportedly ashamed of his son Bernard’s Wimbledon performance. Tomic has lost his racquet sponsor and been fined $US15,000 ($A19,700) for saying he was “a little bit bored” during his 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 loss to Mischa Zverev and that he no longer respected tennis enough or cared how he fared at Grand Slam events.

BEST WIFE — “She’s been there when I had no titles and she’s still here 89 titles later, so she had a big part to play in the win. And that’s why I’m just happy she’s my wife now,” endearingly said Roger Federer, endearingly, when after winning the Australian Open, he credited his wife Mirka for his resurgence.

BEST MATCH COMEBACK No. 3-seeded Simona Halep, whose fighting spirit was questioned because she had a 0-7 record after losing the first set in matches in the quarterfinals or later at Grand Slam events, staved off a match point and overcame a 6-3, 5-1 deficit to defeat No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-0 in the French Open quarterfinals. “The best thing is that I didn’t give up,” said Halep. “She was dominating the match. I just sat down at 5-2, I said that the match is lost. So I did nothing to change something, to change the rhythm, that’s it. It’s over. And then I started to feel more relaxed — maybe because I thought it’s finished — and I changed the rhythm. I put some high balls. I just tried to make her move more, to open the court, and it came. I don’t know how, but it was really good. But I believed that it’s gonna come, it’s gonna turn something around, and that’s it. I just take the fight thing, that I was fighting till the end, and I enjoy.”

BEST WHEELCHAIR TENNIS MEN’S SINGLES CHAMPION Gustavo “El Lobito” Fernandez is the first South American to be named ITF Wheelchair World Champion. The 23-year-old Argentine had an outstanding year in which he reached the final at three of the four Grand Slam tournaments, winning his second Grand Slam title at the Australian Open. Fernandez won a total of seven singles titles to remain at the top of the rankings in the second half of the year.

BEST WHEELCHAIR TENNIS WOMEN’S SINGLES CHAMPION Japan’s Yui Kamiji earns her second ITF Women’s Wheelchair World Champion honour. The 23-year-old was again a dominant force on the UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour, winning three of the four Grand Slam titles, at the Australian Open, Roland Garros and U.S. Open. Kamiji won a total of 14 titles and was a finalist at the NEC Masters in her best year to date.

BEST ARAB FIRST — Ons Jabeur struggled to hold back the tears as she ran over to her team to grab a Tunisian flag which she held over her head after upsetting sixth-seeded Dominika Cibulkova 6-4, 6-3 to become the first Arab woman to reach the third round of a major, and the first lucky loser to do so at Roland Garros in more than two decades. “Well, when I win, I represent the Arab world,” commented Jabeur. “When I lose, I try to be just Ons Jabeur. We are small country. The Arab world is like when you do something good, you’re from Tunisia, and from Morocco, other Arab country, they get interested in you. For me, it’s not only about Tunisia anymore, and it’s all about the Arab country, African continent. It’s amazing, because I feel like my country is getting bigger and bigger.”

BEST FASCINATING FACT — In a February market survey, Swiss tennis great Roger Federer was recognised as the most popular sports figure in Australia.

BEST QUOTE ABOUT MONEY — When asked if winning the U.S. Open, which awarded Sloane Stephens $3.7 million in prize money, makes her hungry for more, she retorted, “Of course, girl! Did you see that cheque that lady handed me? Like, yes. Man, if that doesn’t make you want to play tennis, I don’t know what will.”

At Flushing Meadows, in the most improbable comeback of the year, Sloane Stephens upset two-time champion Venus in a thrilling, fluctuating 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 semifinal. Then, playing high-percentage tennis, she routed a nervous, erratic Madison Keys 6-3, 6-0 in a disappointing final.   -  AFP

 

BEST “DID SHE REALLY SAY THAT?” — “I don’t know what I’m saying, actually,” said Naomi Osaka, after giving a lengthy answer to a press conference question.

BEST REVEALING ANSWER — “My uncle Toni is the most important person in my life,” Rafael Nadal told ESPN analyst Patrick McEnroe.

BEST CANDID COMMENT — “I think that might be a problem!” — Czech veteran Petra Kvitova, after her press conference moderator asked for questions in German.

BEST AMUSING RETORT — “I lost by the way,” replied Rafael Nadal, after his Miami Open final loss to Roger Federer, when he had to endure an excruciating press conference lowlighted by an ignorant reporter who congratulated him on his “win.”

BEST SHORT ANSWER — “I am who I am, and I’m happy with that.” — How Novak Djokovic ended his post-match news conference after overcoming No. 41 Diego Swartzman 5-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 in the French Open third round, wanting no comparison with Rafael Nadal who dropped only one game against Nikoloz Basilashvili.

BEST RUMINATION ABOUT AGE — At Wimbledon, Venus Williams was asked: “Last year you said you felt like you were 26 when you were 36. What does age mean to you?” Venus thoughtfully replied: “I don’t think about the definition of age. It’s beautiful to be at all ages really. That’s my experience so far. I don’t know [what age I feel like now]. I don’t think about it. I feel quite capable, to be honest, and powerful. So whatever age that is, as long as I feel like that, then I know that I can contend for titles every time.”

BEST FASHIONISTA Sports Illustrated, which once again named Roger Federer and Serena Williams to its “Fashionable 60” list, wrote this about Federer: “His timeless style extends to his looks on and off the court, but he really excels in classic pieces, such as blazers and slim suits. Lately, he’s been taking risks with these staples, adding in different fabrics, textures and designs, including a Gucci tuxedo with an embroidered crystal king cobra at the 2017 Met Gala.”

BEST WAWRINKA CONFIDENCE — “It doesn’t matter if people talk about me or not. I know what I can do,” said three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka, when a reporter told him in August that everyone is talking about Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray, but nobody is talking about you.

BEST TV RATINGS — Eurosport’s coverage of the highly anticipated Federer-Nadal Australian Open final reached 20.7 million viewers across Europe, making it the most-watched tennis match of all-time and the second most-watched sporting event in Eurosport’s history.

BEST CHALLENGE FOR MUGURUZA — Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza says she doesn’t look at Facebook or Twitter during Grand Slam tournaments “though it’s quite a challenge.”

BEST SIBLING LOVE — “I didn’t watch [Venus]. Obviously I was really proud, she’s an inspiration, my big sister. She’s my world, my life, she means everything to me. I couldn’t be happier for us both to be in the final. It’s the biggest dream come true for us,” said Serena Williams, after beating her older sister Venus in the Australian Open final.

BEST EMOTION “I just miss my dad, you know? I wish he was following along. I know he is, from upstairs. Just so emotional. It’s hard to describe. I just know he was looking down on me on that last point. And gave me the strength to finish it off.” — Steve Johnson was still grieving over the recent death of his father, when he dropped to his knees and began to cry at the end of his 6-2, 7-6 (8), 3-6, 7-6 (6) victory over Borna Coric at the French Open. Johnson was overcome by emotion during a Tennis Channel TV interview right after the second-round match, wiping away tears as his voice choked on his words. Steve Johnson Sr., a respected tennis coach in California, had passed about three weeks earlier.

BEST QUOTE ABOUT SIBLING RIVALRY “I still don’t know how Serena and Venus have been able to play for major finals all these years and reconcile that and remained the best of friends,” Tennis Channel analyst Mary Carillo noted before Serena defeated her sister Venus 6-4, 6-4 in the 2017 Australian Open final.

BEST QUOTE ABOUT LIFE AT THE TOP — “You always feel like you’re being chased,” revealed Novak Djokovic in Madrid about how hard it was to be on top as well as how “hungry” the young players are.

BEST QUOTE ABOUT WINNING WHEN NOT PLAYING WELL — “I didn’t feel like I played great tennis. It’s a huge step in the right direction. Anyone can win matches when they are playing well. It’s winning when you’re not playing your best [that] is more impressive. If someone had offered me a semi-final spot before the tournament, I would have signed up for that because I was not playing well at all. It’s been really good so far, I want to keep going.” — Andy Murray, after beating Kei Nishikori at the French Open.

BEST WEDDING — After three years of dating, Serena Williams finally tied the knot Nov. 17 with Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian in an intimate ceremony in New Orleans, reports E!Online. Many of the 23-time Grand Slam winner’s BFFs attended the wedding extravaganza. And the most important guest was Alexis Olympia Ohanian, the couples’ first child together, who was born two-and-a-half months ago. Others who were present at the wedding, to see their pal get married were, Kim Kardashian, American actresses Eva Longoria and Jose Bastion, supermodel Selita Ebanks, singer Kelly Rowland and La La Anthony. The editor-in-chief of Vogue Anna Wintour and newly engaged Danish tennis player Caroline Wozniacki also showed up on the special day. (excerpted from sportstar.thehindu.com).

BEST FEDERER CONFIDENTIAL — “I didn’t think I was going to be this successful after beating Pete [Sampras] here [in 2001],” confided Roger Federer after capturing his eighth Wimbledon crown, a record. “I hoped to have a chance maybe one day to be in a Wimbledon finals and have a chance to win the tournament. Winning eight is not something you can ever aim for, in my opinion. If you do, I don’t know, you must have so much talent and parents and the coaches that push you from the age of three on, who think you’re like a project. I was not that kid. I was just really a normal guy growing up in Basel, hoping to make a career on the tennis Tour. I guess I dreamed, I believed, and really hoped that I could actually maybe really do it, you know, to make it real. So I put in a lot of work, and it paid off.”

BEST DJOKOVIC CONFIDENTIAL — “I used to base all my happiness on winning a tennis match. I think many athletes today are doing that. So I try not to do that anymore. Of course, I would love to win every single tennis match I play in, but I don’t try to take that as a very essential, you know, moment in my life which determines my happiness.” — Novak Djokovic, saying in July that he hasn’t lost his desire to win, but rather he has a new perspective on tennis and its role in his life.

WORST ON-COURT INJURY — During a Wimbledon singles match against Sorana Cirstea, Bethanie Mattek-Sands fell awkwardly and suffered an excruciatingly painful right knee injury. “Help me, Sorana! Help me, Sorana!” plaintively cried out Mattek-Sands. “It was heartbreaking to see her that way,” said Cirstea. “Bethanie is my friend. We get along so well. She’s an unbelievably good girl. You don’t even want this to happen to your worst enemy.” From her hospital room, Mattek-Sands said, “I remember I heard a pop in my leg and everything went slow after that. My knee felt really tight, and I knew it was either dislocated or broken. I freaked out. It’s the most painful injury I have ever had.”

BEST QUICK QUIP — “A baby girl? Well, I hope she doesn’t play tennis,” quipped Garbine Muguruza, on learning Serena Williams gave birth to a daughter on Sept. 1.

BEST BREAKTHROUGH TOURNAMENT — “I think we didn’t start off great today, but we kept pushing, kept working hard together, and we finally got through. … For me, it was always a personal goal to win a Slam. And it’s still sinking in, to be honest.” —India’s Rohan Bopanna, after he teamed with Gabriela Dabrowski to win the French Open mixed doubles for his first Grand Slam title by edging Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Robert Farah 2-6, 6-2 [12-10].

WORST U.S. MEN’S DROUGHT — No American man has won a Grand Slam singles title since Andy Roddick captured the 2003 U.S. Open.

BEST CRITICISM OF ON-COURT COACHING “The farce that is on-court coaching not only distorts tennis virtues like problem-solving and independence, but plays a role in the erratic mental performances of so many top women. Discuss. Besides, the optics are terrible. Here are the damsels in distress, emotional and struggling to formulate a plan. But…wait, a coach — more often than not, an older male — is there to calm their nerves and help with strategy. Yuck.” — Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim, pointing out some of what’s bad about on-court coaching, which is allowed on the WTA Tour.

BEST FASCINATING AGE FACTS — The 2017 Australian Open was the only Grand Slam event in history in which all the men’s and women’s singles finalists were over 30. Marin Cilic, at 29, is the youngest active men’s Grand Slam singles titlist.

BEST PAES LOYALTY TO INDIA — Leander Paes emphasised that his love for the sport and the nation remained undiminished and remained optimistic about what the future holds for him after he was dropped by captain Mahesh Bhupathi from the Indian Davis Cup doubles rubber when India played Uzbekistan in an Asia Oceania Group 1 Round Two tie. “My love for the India flag, the country, and the people, is unconditional. Unconditional, no matter what,” Paes stressed. “That is why I took the effort to come all the way here from Mexico, when I could so easily have worked on my ranking and my career. Sometimes you have to take things on the chin, throw your shoulders back, and keep working hard. I would like to play more Davis Cups ties, whether I get the call or not. I will play Challenger and other tournaments which are small when you look at the career that I have had. I will work my way back again, and win like I did last year. I can guarantee that my passion for the sport and my passion to play for India is still within me. It does not get deterred by individuals.”

BEST “YOUNGEST” RECORD — Cori “CoCo” Gauff, a hard-hitting, 5’10” Floridian, became the youngest U.S. Open girls’ finalist since the event began in 1974 at 13 years, 5 months, and 28 days old.

BEST MULTI-SPORT ATHLETE — “When I was growing up I played a lot of different sports. There was a time when I was playing field hockey, tennis and soccer at the same time. I was actually quite good at all of those sports. My field hockey team were German champions, and my football team were Hamburg champions. But quitting the other sports to focus on tennis was my decision.” — Alexander Zverev, saying if there was an inevitability about his becoming a tennis player, he insists his parents never pushed him in that direction. His parents are Russian. He was born and raised in Hamburg, his family having moved there from Russia. Both his parents are tennis coaches. His father was a top 200 player who twice appeared at Wimbledon, losing in the first round on both occasions.

WORST HOMOPHOBIC NONSENSE — “You can think, ‘Oh, I’m a boy,’ and it will affect your emotions and feelings and everything else. So, that’s all the devil — that’s what Hitler did and that’s what communism did: got the mind of the children. It’s a whole plot in our nation, and in the nations of the world, to get the minds of the children.” — Margaret Court, speaking to 20Twenty Vision Christian Radio, described tennis as “full of lesbians” who predatorily “took young ones into parties,” and compared the efforts to teach children about gender fluidity to the methods of Nazism and communism.

BEST NAVRATILOVA REPUDIATION OF COURT’S REMARKS “Maybe it’s time to change the name of the Margaret Court Arena then... and I guess Margaret will be taking the boat on her next trip?:),” she tweeted. She added in another tweet: “Thank you Qantas for your support. And Margaret — you have gone too far. Shame on you... #wrongsideofhistory.” — Openly gay Martina Navratilova urging the renaming of Margaret Court Arena following anti-gay marriage stance by the Australian tennis legend and now a church minister who boycotted Quantas airline over its same-sex marriage position.

BEST KYRGIOS TWEET — “Also anyone at rogers cup throughout the week can come on my practice court and chill and hit if u want.” In an August 5 tweet, unpredictable Nick Kyrgios generously offered his services to fans who wanted an opportunity to trade a few balls.

BEST MURRAY TWEET — Mocking Donald Trump’s absurd Nov. 24 tweet — “Time Magazine called to say that I was PROBABLY going to be named “Man (Person) of the Year,” like last year, but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot. I said probably is no good and took a pass. Thanks anyway!”, Andy Murray tweeted: “Bbc just called to say I was PROBABLY going to be named sports personality of the year, but I would have to agree to an interview and a major photo shoot. I said probably is no good and took a pass. Thanks anyway!”

BEST CASE FOR DOUBLES Doubles star Jamie Murray, stressed that tournament organisers should bear in mind that most fans are more likely to play in a foursome and are therefore predisposed to understand it. “It is less easy to relate to Rafa — I mean, I have trouble and I’m playing in the same tournaments as him,” Murray pointed out. “Doubles is exciting. Often, as has been the case at the [ATP World Tour] finals, the doubles has been a lot better than the singles in the past few years. The intricacies have gone out of doubles somewhat, not in the way I play, but nowadays because guys can hit so hard and conditions are much slower, players can compete from the baseline and be successful. I still believe you have to play at the net or you can’t be successful, but it’s not a must-have like it was 20 years ago. Doubles is exciting. Often, as has been the case at the [ATP World Tour] finals, the doubles has been a lot better than the singles in the past few years.”

BEST ECSTASY OF VICTORY — “I don’t think I can find the words to describe my emotions. I didn’t know how this journey would end. It feels great!” said Petra Kvitova, ecstatic after edging pre-tournament favourite Garbine Muguruza 7-6, 6-3 at the U.S. Open.

WORST AGONY OF DEFEAT — Simona Halep, after being upset by unseeded, No. 47-ranked, 20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko in the French Open final, confided, “I’m sad I couldn’t win it, but it was a great experience. Now I want to congratulate Jelena — it’s an amazing thing. Keep it going because you are only a kid. I would like to thank my team, my parents. It’s a tough day, but let’s keep working and let’s believe. I felt sick in the stomach to play in this final, so maybe I wasn’t ready to win it, but maybe next time. Hurts a lot, and I need time just to, I don’t know, to go away.”

BEST NADAL STATISTICS AT FRENCH OPEN — The most games Rafael Nadal lost in any match at the 2017 French Open was 8, when he defeated Robin Haase 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 in the second round. Nadal won 90% of net points (18 of 20) in his 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 French Open final victory over Stan Wawrinka. Nadal hit a forehand for 91% of first shots after his first serve at the French Open, 22% more often than in 2015. Nadal has the best match win percentage for singles, 97.53, at the French Open in the Open Era, followed by Bjorn Borg, 96.07.

BEST HUMILITY — Rafael Nadal, explaining why his daily doubts make him a better tennis player, said “I have doubts every day. The doubts, I think, are good, because they make you work with more intensity, with being more humble, and accepting that you need to keep working hard to improve things. I will have doubts even in a few days, because in tennis every week is a new story and that’s part of the beautiful thing of our sport. Life is not that clear. So if you have no doubts probably is because you are too arrogant. I don’t consider myself arrogant at all.”

BEST QUICK QUIP — American Frances Tiafoe yelled “It can’t be that good” in the direction of two loud lovebirds having sex during his match at the Sarasota Open.

BEST DREAM TRUE — When Sloane Stephens was asked how she is likely to view her success at the US Open years from now,” she enthused, “I think it will be super cool. I think one day I’m going to be able to show my kids that I won the U.SOpen. That’s cool. How many people can say that? Not very many. And they already engraved my name on the locker. Like, hello, this is awesome. It’s probably going to take a couple weeks, months [to sink in]. It’s like so not real. I feel this is a dream. Am I just going to wake up and it didn’t happen? Look at that thing [the trophy]. That’s incredible. I just think it’s very cool. It hasn’t sunk in yet, but hopefully in a little while once I am able to lay down and relax and think about it, I’ll realise that I really am the U.S. Open champion.”

BEST WIMBLEDON SOCIAL MEDIA INNOVATIONS — Alexandra Willis, Wimbledon’s head of communications, content and digital, told The Guardian (UK) that projects such as social media feeds in Chinese, which have 65,000 followers, and introducing a tennis game into the popular Chinese WeChat app enable The Championships to show its youthful and progressive side. “We want to demonstrate we can achieve this strange juxtaposition of tradition and innovation, and that we’re not an organisation that is comfortable just always being the way we’ve always been,” said Willis. “Because we recognise that we can’t do that in the future. And actually there are some brilliant things about this place, and that it’s really appropriate to bring in some humour.”

WORST SERENA-McENROE SPAT — When John McEnroe said that although Serena was the best female player ever, she would rank “like, 700” if men and women were rated together, Serena tweeted that his statement was “not factually based” and asked him to “respect me and my privacy as I’m trying to have a baby.” McEnroe responded to Serena’s protestation to respect her privacy by calling it strange because she had posed naked for the cover of Vanity Fair magazine.

BEST AZARENKA CONFIDENTIAL — “It changed me in so many ways. I started to look at so many things in a different way. Especially if someone is not treating any kid in a good way, I feel really affected by that. I feel like it’s wrong, and I can’t even imagine if someone would treat my child in this way. So some news that I read, I feel really sensitive towards that.” — Two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka, when asked how motherhood has impacted her, gave a heartfelt answer.

BEST STIFF UPPER LIP — “I didn’t think about it. I’d rather not,” insisted No. 6 seed Johanna Konta, after a reporter asked her whether the insects were tasty during her 7-6 (4), 4-6, 10-8 Wimbledon victory over Donna Vekic at Centre Court, after she said, “I definitely have taken home a few — both in my belly and in my bags.” A wave of flying ants across Britain, a migration of sorts that is a result of just the right combination of heat, humidity and wind — especially during the early afternoon on Day 3.

BEST FEMINIST STATEMENT Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian, on Jimmy Kimmel Live, said that because Serena Williams won the Australian Open while pregnant, her fiancee believes their baby will be a girl. “She remarked that she feels like it has to be a girl because everything that little baby went through and handled like a champ, only a woman could be strong enough to take on,” said Ohanian. “If anything, though, it’s really just reinforced how just amazing and strong and powerful and awesome women are.”

BEST TENDULKAR TRIBUTE TO FEDERER — “I’ve always been a big fan of tennis, there’s nowhere better than Wimbledon. I’ve been watching Roger for the last 10 years so here I am again to support him. I think as a sportsman and tennis player he is someone the whole world admires, but I know Roger as a person and I admire him more as a person. I think he’s such a down-to-earth humble man. After having achieved so much in life to be like that it’s always nice to be around him.” — Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, in the Royal Box to cheer on Roger Federer in the Wimbledon semifinals, talking to the Wimbledon Channel.

BEST TRIVIA — Three tennis players were featured in Sports Illustrated’s 2017 swimsuit issue: Serena Williams, Eugenie Bouchard, and Caroline Wozniacki.

BEST SHARAPOVA STORY — When Maria Sharapova was asked by The New York Times when she first got the idea to write her new memoir, Unstoppable, she replied: “From the moment I won Wimbledon, at age 17, my career has been documented. But it was as if someone just put me inside a television screen and handed me the Wimbledon plate. I seemed to have come out of nowhere. When the questions started pouring in about how I got there, when I began telling the story of what brought me to that moment of victory, no one believed it. Your mother was pregnant with you when the Chernobyl reactor blew up, only 30 kilometres away? You were spotted by Martina Navratilova at age 6? Your father convinced a U.S. immigration officer to give him a visa to bring his 6-1/2 year-old daughter to the United States to become a tennis player? I would tell journalists these stories, but no one really believed them, because it was such a crazy tale. So I decided to write about it.”

BEST POINTS ABOUT LAVER CUP AND DAVIS CUP Inside Tennis magazine praised the inaugural Laver Cup but rightly questioned how the Davis Cup, a great traditional and international event which started in 1900, will respond to the challenge: “Should tennis, as McEnroe suggested, have more events like the Laver Cup or should the promoters beware of overkill and, like the Ryder Cup, hold it only every two years? Will women get involved? In three sold-out days, the Laver Cup drew 82,273 fans. Next September it will become the first big thing to rock pro tennis in Chicago in 25 years. Federer loves the heritage of the game. That’s why he decided to honour the game’s legends. But how ironic — the man who so celebrates tradition has just upset tennis’ applecart with an out-of-nowhere, asymmetrical jolt. Now tennis asks, how will the grand and ancient (but at times staid and overcooked) Davis Cup respond? Its ratings are dipping, top players are yawning and it’s run by federations and committees. Yes, it has history on its side. Then again — the game’s shiny new thing has Roger and presumably Rafa.”

BEST FASCINATING FACT — Some courtside seats for the Federer-Nadal final at the 2017 Australian Open sold for $26,000.

BEST JACK SOCK FIRSTS — Jack Sock, rattling off all his personal firsts this year after he overcame qualifier Filip Krajinovic 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 in the Bercy final to become the first American to qualify for the ATP’s season-ending championship since 2011 and the first to win a Masters event since Andy Roddick did it at the Miami Open in 2010. Sock was down 1-5 in the third set to Kyle Edmund in the first, and had received treatment for an injury on court. Then he scored wins over Lucas Pouille, Fernando Verdasco, Julien Benneteau, and Krajinovic. “There have been a lot of firsts,” said Sock. “It started at the French Open [in 2016] with my first fourth round at a Slam, now I’ve won my first Masters 1000 in Paris, this will be my first time in the Top 10, and this will be my first time making the year-end finals. So there’s a lot going on right now emotionally, and I can’t wait to enjoy it all with my team.”

BEST WEDDING VOWS — “My whole life I didn’t even realise it, but I was waiting for this moment. And everything that I have done, everything that I am so proud of in my career, and in my life, for the last 34 years, pales in comparison to what we’re doing today. And I am so grateful, and I am so in love.” — What Alexis Ohanian said during his vows to Serena Williams during their November wedding in New Orleans. Among the celebs, singers, and athletes attending were her sister Venus, Beyonce, Kim Kardashian West, Anna Wintour, and Caroline Wozniacki.

BEST DJOKOVIC PLEDGE TO REBOUND STRONGLY IN 2018 — “All the doctors I’ve consulted, and all the specialists I have visited, in Serbia and all over the world, have agreed that this injury requires rest. A prolonged break from the sport is inevitable. I’ll do whatever it takes to recover. I will use the upcoming period to strengthen my body and also to improve certain tennis elements that I have not been able to work on over the past years, due to a demanding schedule. Five months may seem long from this point, but I’m sure they will pass quickly because there is so much I want to do. Another important moment is coming, we will become parents for a second time. My wife Jelena and I are expecting our second child, and we are preparing to welcome a new family member. These are things that fill me with greatest happiness and delight. I’m confident I will be ready for start of the new season.” — Novak Djokovic, announcing on July 26, that he will sit out the rest of this season because of an injured right elbow, meaning he will miss the U.S. Open and end his streak of participating in 51 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments. The world No. 4 made the announcement on a press conference in Belgrade, when he explained that he is forced to take a break from playing and skip all tournaments until the end of the season, including the U.S. Open, the Asian swing, indoor Masters events and the Davis Cup semi-final tie. Aiming to return to full health, Novak will give his elbow and body the proper time to recover to come back strong and in the best shape in 2018.

BEST FUTURE WOMEN STARS ANALYSED BY AUSTIN Tennis Channel’s Tracy Austin, talked about the battle of youth for the Volvo Car Open final before Russia’s Daria Kasatkina defeated Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 6-1 to capture her first WTA title. “These two are also the future of women’s tennis,” asserted Austin. “I think that they really have great talent, and they have great drive, and you can see that they have a lot of weapons. They’re learning quickly, and these are very exciting times for these two young ladies.”

BEST FUTURE MEN STARS ANALYSED BY FEDERER In November, Roger Federer, assessed the future stars of men’s tennis, giving special praise for Alexander Zverev. “Now, the future? The thing is, it seems like they need a bit more time, the young guys in general, to break through these days even though I’m really happy to see that there is the likes of (Denis) Shapovalov or Nick (Kyrgios), now also Zverev, making the move early, like what Rafa and Andy did, Novak, Lleyton (Hewitt), all these guys. They were such great teenagers. I do see a great upside from all these three guys. What I like about Zverev is he’s got the full package. He’s already three in the world. I think he’s going to leave the World Tour Finals, regardless if he qualifies for the semis or not, with a lot of information. I think the last six months of the season gave him everything he needs to work forward to. Then, of course, he’s only going to get stronger from here. That should be very encouraging for him and his team.”

BEST PROJECT TO HELP DISADVANTAGED KIDS — On www.playersvoice.com.au, Nick Kyrgios announced that in 2018, he planned to fulfill his dream was “to build a facility for disadvantaged and underprivileged kids where they could hang out, be safe and feel like they were part of a family. There’d be tennis courts and basketball courts and a gym and an oval to kick the footy. There’d be things to eat and beds to sleep in.” Collaborating with Kyrgios on this new facility are his Malaysian-born mother Norlaila and his brother Cristos. The sports complex will be located in a lower socio-economic area in Melbourne so kids can easily get there. “I don’t reckon there can be anything better in life than giving kids a chance when they otherwise wouldn’t have had one,” enthused Kyrgios, who plans to be hands-on there whenever he’s home. “If my vision is realised, it’s my hope that I’ll be remembered for this more than anything I have done or will do on the tennis court.”

BEST GIRLFRIEND QUIP When a journalist asked world No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov if he feels like a citizen of the world after listing all the places he has lived and that he had a girlfriend who lived in Los Angeles, the handsome Bulgarian quipped, “You mentioned only one girlfriend in there? Man, c’mon!”

BEST CRITICISM OF INDIAN TENNIS — “Just look at the facts and we have to be worried,” Vijay Amritraj, the former Indian star who was a member of the Davis Cup team that made the final in 1974 and 1987, said. “We have not won any medals in Rio, we have not made the World Group stage in Davis Cup in Fed Cup. So the question: Is there a system available to be able to provide that? Like Sania [Mirza, former No. 1 in doubles] in today’s environment, is difficult to emulate by today’s boys and girls. Eventually, we need a system in place, like what Australia and Spain do, if we want to compete outside. We are fine if we are competing only at domestic level. But we truly need a system if we want to compete outside.”