Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down: Dec. 23-29

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Despite the much-criticized lack of an off-season in tennis, it appears that you just can’t keep the ATP and WTA pros off the court—or out of the news—as the new year approaches. Honors have been earned, coaches changed, and matches already won—even though it isn’t even January 1. So let’s wrap up 2013 with a final Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down post.

Roger Federer is one of those individuals who can almost appear to be a caricature of. . . himself. The latest example: His decision to hire Stefan Edberg as his coach.

In his salad years on the tour, Edberg sustained a well-deserved reputation as an old-school type of player—one who held tradition in high regard, kept his emotions in check, rejected any comparison of himself with a rock star, and always—but always—demonstrated exemplary sportsmanship. In other words, he was a forebear of Federer himself.

I’ll take a closer look at what Edberg might bring to Federer’s career in a longer post on the subject tomorrow. For now, though, I’ll say this much: It’s hard to imagine two tennis titans who would have a greater understanding of one another.

The Associated Press named Serena Williams its 2013 Female Athlete of the Year for the third time. Only two women have been so named more than three times (golfer Babe Didrickson Zaharis and fellow tennis player Chris Evert) since the inception of the award in 1931. Williams took 55 of 96 (made by news organizations) votes, enough to easily outdistance basketball player Brittney Griner and swimmer Missy Franklin.

Apparently, becoming the first British man to win a Grand Slam singles title in 77 years (and, appropriately enough, it was Wimbledon) isn’t enough to please the pecksniffian types in the British Prime Minister’s office—those who hand out knighthoods in that quaint British ritual known as the New Year Honours. But it may be some consolation to Murray fans that the snub was the result of a truly esoteric (although “absurd” might be a better word) tradition.

Murray was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) this year for winning the singles gold medal in the Olympic games—already a high honor. But the wise heads who decided such things long ago determined that a “decent interval” must pass before further, related honors are heaped upon one individual. I guess that’s alright. Murray isn’t going anywhere soon, and it’s not like the British are going to cough up some other guy who will steal Murray’s thunder by becoming the second man to win Wimbledon in 78 years.

The honor was so fitting that you almost thought someone planned it this way. Kimiko Date-Krumm played the first official WTA tour match of the New Year. The 43-year-old continues to defy age, even at a time when 30-and-over players have stunned the sporting community with their continued excellence.

A Sunday start had Date-Krumm first on in Brisbane, and she whacked Australia’s Olivia Rogowska, 6-3, 7-5. The winner was already playing on tour when the 22-year-old Rogowska was born. The only player who might have been as good a choice as Date-Krumm to open the festivities for 2014 is Serena Williams.

Canada churns out plenty of great athletes, not all of them poised on the thin blades of skates. So it was a double-honor when Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard swept the Canadian Press Athlete-of-the-Year honors on behalf of tennis. The vote wasn’t even very close; both Raonic and Bouchard ran away with their honors. Raonic beat out Calgary Stampeder Jon Cornish and golfer Graham DeLaet, while Bouchard collected more votes than snowboarder Dominique Maltais (and speedskater Christine Nesbitt. Anyone still doubt that Canada is in the throes of a tennis boom?

Pam Manchester, LouAnn Nygaard, and Lisa MacMaster, a trio of Westport (Conn.) ladies who make up the Board of Directors of what is now the Dianne B. Snyder Tennis Complex.

Snyder was a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to be flown into the World Trade Center on 9/11. She died at the age of 42, leaving behind husband John Snyder and their two children, Leland and Blakeslee. Manchester, Diane’s best friend, knew how much her late friend loved to play tennis, and she joined with widower John Snyder, Nygaard, and MacMaster to drive a successful effort to completely renovate and upgrade the public tennis courts where Diane most often played. The new, eponymous tennis center even has a “memory garden” dedicated to Diane.

Manchester, Nygaard, and MacMaster were voted Westport’s “women of the year” by the news outfit

Ana Ivanovic appears to be one of those tennis players who isn’t dying to be something else—a rock musician, movie star, or candy magnate. She revealed in New Zealand the other day that while she had turned down some previous offers from indie movie producers, the makers of one potential Hollywood blockbuster offered her a part so big that she had to. . . turn it down.

“It was a bit more than a cameo, but not a major role,” she told the New Zealand Herald. “It would have suited me because it involved some action. Still. . . it would have taken eight days to film. Unfortunately I wasn’t able, or willing, to sacrifice my training for that long.”

Say what you will about this French Open champion and former No. 1; her fidelity to the game and her career is  beyond reproach.

Tennis fans in New Zealand keep a lonely vigil all year, with scant opportunity to witness live pro tennis. Given that, you’d think Auckland tournament director Karl Budge would do all he can to accommodate the tennis-starved Kiwi multitudes. So why did he keep spectators out of the Auckland venue the other day during qualifying for the WTA event that begins today?

Well, the weather forecast called for rain, so Budge decided to move the matches indoors (where spectators cannot be accommodated). However, it never rained, and the matches went on in what one media outlet described as “glorious sunshine.” Unfortunately, the gates were never opened. As one disgruntled fan who waited around without ever getting in put it: “What does the weather have to do with this decision? If the weather is poor they don’t play and we go home. If the weather’s good they play and we watch.”

Lest you think that 31-year-old David Ferrer would be tempted to slow down after another banner year, or find himself unable to muster his familiar, eager-beaver attitude, check the results from the Abu Dhabi exhibition.

Granted, the exo means nothing in the big picture when it comes to rankings and ATP bragging rights. But you have to admire the way Ferrer started the year off on the right foot with a 6-4, 6-4 win over his friend, nemesis, and world No. 1—Rafael Nadal. Ferrer ultimately was beaten in the final of the six-man exhibition by Novak Djokovic, as the winner’s new coach, Boris Becker, looked on approvingly.

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