Peter Bodo continues his year-end awards—12 in all, for 2012—with the Tournaments of the Year. You can see rest of his selections as well as the upcoming awards at the end of this article.
Men: Olympic Games
This year’s Olympic tennis event was a rousing, riveting success, marred only by the absence of defending gold medalist Rafael Nadal.
In the past, Olympic results often have been, shall we say. . . unreliable? Nicolas Massu and Marc Rosset were fine players in their own right, but neither of those gold medalists even came close to winning a Grand Slam event. Because the Olympics aren’t part of the regular pro tennis tour, the rule of thumb in the past had been that you can throw the form chart out the window and expect some wild and unpredictable results. That was often fun, but not entirely convincing. And it kept alive the question, “Does pro tennis, which already has a loaded, 11-month calendar, really belong in the Olympics?”
That question seems much less relevant after London, where the competition had so much energy and credibility that it was the closest thing you could have to a fifth Grand Slam, despite the compressed, eight-day, best-of-three-set format.
A lot of the credit for its success goes to the venue, the All England Club. Holding the competition there, despite the risks posed by having to re-sod so many of the courts right after the end of the annual Wimbledon tournament, cloaked the event in ready-made prestige. The players and spectators answered the call.
At the outset, it looked like the familiar Olympics unpredictability would kick in again. World No. 6 Tomas Berdych was beaten in the first round by Steve Darcis, and Fernando Verdasco lost to Dennis Istomin. But that was it for noteworthy upsets. The draw quickly stabilized, and in the blink of an eye we were down to a quarterfinal squadron consisting of all the usual suspects—seeded players, among whom the lowest ranked was No. 15 Kei Nishikori. And he had truly earned his spot there, with a resonant upset of No. 4 seed David Ferrer.
Whatever else happened, it was pretty clear by then that nobody was going to write off this event as a fluke. And the story lines were rich: None of the contenders had ever bagged a singles gold medal, including top-seeded Roger Federer and the UK’s Andy Murray, who had met just weeks earlier on the same Centre Court to play the Wimbledon final (won by Federer).
Federer survived the expected fusillade of John Isner serves in the quarters, and then tip-toed back from the brink of defeat against Juan Martin del Potro in one of the all-time great matches, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 19-17. At 4:26, it became the longest three-set match of the Open era.
However, the win probably depleted the (then) 30-year-old, all-time Grand Slam singles champion’s reserves. He was swept away in the best-of-five-set final by Murray, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4.
But don’t put all the blame for that rubout on Federer’s mental or physical fatigue. Murray was riding sky high after having beaten Novak Djokovic in the semis, 7-5, 7-5, and subsequent events (the U.S. Open) would show that the Scot’s time to cross the threshold between the excellent and the great had come.
Del Potro then kept a dispirited Djokovic off the medal platform with an unexpected 7-5, 6-4 win in the bronze medal match. Given that Djokovic had declared that winning Olympic gold was one of his two objectives for 2012, he clearly was one of the very few people leaving London disappointed after the Olympic Games.
Honorable Mention: Davis Cup Final
Although Nadal was MIA, Spain visited Prague with two Top 15 players and a doubles team fresh off a huge win at the ATP World Tour Finals. But the hero turned out to be 33-year-old, oft-injured, world No. 31 Radek Stepanek, who clinched the tie for the Czechs with a final-rubber win over Nicolas Almagro.
Honorable Mention: Australian Open
At 5:53, the final between Nadal and Djokovic was the longest in Grand Slam history, but that made it easy to forget that the Big Four also produced two terrific, competitive semis: The top-seeded Serb’s 7-5 in-the-fifth triumph over Murray, and Rafa’s four-set, two-tiebreaker win over Federer.
Women’s: WTA Championships
The year-end championships of the WTA have frequently suffered due to a lack of drama and/or a paucity of fan and media interest. And while Istanbul, where the Championships were played in 2012, can hardly be considered a media or tennis capital, the tournament was enthusiastically embraced and generated plenty of hype. It was a great example of the idea behind a year-end shootout among the Top 8 women.
The No. 1 ranking was decided there, when front-running Victoria Azarenka knocked off Li Na to clinch a place in the semifinals. And consider this: All four Grand Slam finals were replayed in Istanbul, the loser in each major offered another shot at retribution. But the only player who was able to reverse the Grand Slam outcome was Maria Sharapova, who avenged her Australian Open final loss to Azarenka in the semis.
In a replay of the French Open final, Sharapova once again dominated Sara Errani, this time in the round-robin portion of the event. Serena Williams then won her rematch of the Wimbledon final against Agnieszka Radwanska in the semis, not before knocking off Azarenka, her opponent in that close U.S. Open final, in the round-robin stage.
Although the semis and finals were straight-set affairs, the round-robin produced four three-setters, three of them of very high quality, including Azarenka’s cliff-hanger over Angelique Kerber. The final score in that round-robin pairing was 6-7 (11), 7-6 (2), 6-4. The most entertaining of the see-saw battles, at least in terms of variety and clever tactical and strategic ploys, probably was Radwanska’s win over Errani: 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-4.
All in all, it brought a tumultuous WTA year to a fitting conclusion.
Honorable Mention: U.S. Open
After 16 years of two-set finals, the WTA ladies finally came up with a tense and exciting three-setter, spoiled only slightly by the uneven patches of play in the first two sets. Serena’s nail-biting win over Azarenka was a fitting end to a tournament full of close matches and a few real shockers—as in, Marion Bartoli beating Petra Kvitova, 1-6, 6-2, 6-0.
12 for '12: Year-End Awards
- Wednesday, November 28: Coaches of the Year
- Thursday, November 29: Doubles Performances of the Year
- Friday, November 30: Tournaments of the Year
- Saturday, December 1: Upsets of the Year
- Sunday, December 2: Quotes of the Year
- Monday, December 3: Feuds of the Year
- Tuesday, December 4: Newcomers of the Year
- Wednesday, December 5: Most Improved Players
- Thursday, December 6: Biggest Disappointments
- Friday, December 7: Comebacks of the Year
- Saturday, December 8: Runner-Ups of the Year
- Sunday, December 9: Stories of the Year