Baggie Awards 2006
Baggie Awards 2006Jon Wertheim, SI.com
Yes, it's that time of year. We've readjusted our bandana and tugged at our pirate pants for the last time. We've hit our last forehand and issued our last apology letter for an untimely withdrawal. We've checked with our entourage in the coaches' box -- er, players' box -- and they've given us the go-ahead.
It's time for the annual Baggie Awards.
The Republic of Tennis was up to its usual tricks this year, at once seducing us and infuriating us. Roger Federer
sustained his greatness, coming within a few loose sets of winning tennis' holy grail, the Grand Slam. If he's not king of the hill for all-time, the summit is certainly in sight. Amelie Mauresmo
left her mental demons for road kill when she won the Australian Open to win her first Major. She then backed over them for good measure, playing a gutsy third set to win the Wimbledon final.
One Martina (Hingis) made a graceful return while another (Navratilova) made a graceful exit. Speaking of which, Andre Agassi
didn't win much in his final season but he wrote a nifty final chapter. As for debuts, replay technology was a runaway rookie of the year. Maria Sharapova
looked pretty -- pretty invincible winning the U.S. Open. Andy Roddick
looked pretty smart by hiring Jimmy Connors and, in turn, salvaging a year that was looking ugly.
looked pretty erratic, winning everything on clay and then virtually nothing for the rest of the year. The Williams sisters looked pretty indifferent, showing up everywhere but a tennis court, it sometimes seemed, in 2006. The tours looked pretty oblivious to the 500-pound gorilla: the relentless injuries besetting players. So it goes.
Before dispensing gifts to our winners, a rare detour into mush territory. This is a cut-and-paste from years past but the sentiment holds: If you get half as much pleasure (guilty to be sure) from reading this column as I get from writing it, we're all doing pretty well.
Your questions and observations are, reliably, thoughtful and informed and passionate, and please know that every last one -- even the ones wishing me incurable athlete's foot -- are read. Think of this as a sincere invitation to belly up to the bar in '07 and we'll do it again.
The votes have been certified by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Jack Valenti. The envelopes please. ....
MVP, women: Justine Henin-Hardenne
. The Belgianette only bagged one Slam. But she reached the finals of all four and took the WTA Championships title.
MVP, men: Federer. Let's just skip the justification and go right to the next category.
Best Veteran Breakthrough, men: Gentleman James Blake
played some of the best tennis this side of Federer and finished the year in the top five. Now if he'd just turn it up at the Slams.
Best Veteran Breakthrough, women: Mauresmo. Sometimes the tennis deities get it right.
Match of the year, men: Nadal d. Federer, 6-7, 7-6 (5), 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (5), Rome final. No. 1 vs. No. 2. Breathtaking action. Squandered match points. A fifth set tie-breaker. A dash of bad blood. This one had it all.
Match of the year, women: Mauresmo d. Henin-Hardenne, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, Wimbledon final. No histrionics. No dubious injuries. No eardrum-splitting grunts. No flagrant coaching. (OK, maybe a little.) Just a fine, well-fought match between the most complete players in the women's game. Wish there were more like this.
Coach of the year, men: Federer. Yes, the last thing he needs is another award. But too often the hagiographers overlook this fact: With all due respect to Tony (papa) Roche, Federer is essentially a brain trust of one.
Coach of the year, women: Loic Courtreau, the man whose loyalty to Mauresmo imbued her with confidence. This category, incidentally, will become competitive next year, thanks to the WTA's unfortunate decision to permit mid-match coaching.
Most Improved Award, men: Marcos Baghdatis
. Marooned outside the top 50 when the year started, he reached the Aussie Open final, the Wimbledon semis, fell apart a bit in the fall and still finished No. 12. All the while his smile never deserted him.
Most improved, women: Anna Chekvetadze. Russian sliced her ranking from 33 to 13 and her titles included the Tier I Kremlin Cup. A player to watch in 2007.
Bets moment, men: Check this out.
Best moment, women: After years of watching her considerable talent get trumped by her shaky nerves, Mauresmo took a deep breath and outlasted Henin-Hardenne to win the Wimbledon final. Interviewed courtside, Mauresmo gushed: "I don't want to talk about my nerves any more!"
Best comeback, women: After three years away from the sport, Hingis finished seventh in the rankings, proving there is a place for nuance and guile amid all the heavy hitting.
Best comeback, men: When a French Open fan heckled Blake for questioning a line call, Blake invited the fan to hop over the rail and check the mark for himself. The fan did. Blake was vindicated.
Best analogy: Asked to describe the difference between the U.S. Open and Wimbledon, Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova
remarked: "It's completely like black and blue maybe, or white and black, you know, or red and black, whatever, you know. It's just different. It's like Sprite and Coke, you know."
Best smile in the face of defeat: After getting waxed in a doubles match in Cincinnati, Spain's Feliciano Lopez
grabbed the courtside microphone and jokingly asked the crowd for a donation. "I need to collect some money for lessons, please."
Best newcomer: Even in a notoriously fractious sport, the Hawk-eye technology that enabled players to challenge line calls earned rave reviews across the board. Look for more tournaments to adopt it in 2007.
Biggest disappointment, men: Since Marat Safin
won the decisive Davis Match, we'll tap Richard Gasquet
, whose talent is beyond reproach but his results are beyond maddening. Now that he's in his 20s, it's time to decide whether he's a top five player or simply another Henri Leconte.
Biggest disappointment, women: Venus and Serena Williams
. For all their protestations -- tennis is their priority, they're ready to return to the top -- both sisters were, sadly, non-entities. Will we ever even see them back in the late rounds of a major?
Best swan song, men: In his final U.S. Open, Andre Agassi fired something up for the memory banks, beating rising star Baghdatis in five-setter that took on the dimensions of a 12-rounder.
Best swan song, women: In her final U.S. Open (or so she says), Navratilova, weeks from turning 50, teamed with Bob Bryan
to win the mixed doubles title.
Best doubles team, men: Though their results tailed off in the second half of the year, Bob and Mike Bryan
finished No. 1 and added two more majors to their joint mantle.
Best doubles team, women: Lisa Raymond
and Sam Stosur are similar players, yet they complement -- not replicate -- each other on the doubles court.
So long, farewell: Agassi, Shinobu Asagoe
, Steve Bellamy, Alex Corretja
, Al Costa, Mariana Diaz-Oliva
, David Higdon, Thomas Enqvist
, Nicolas Escude
, Felix Mantilla
, Sarge Sargsian.
Five storylines to follow in '07
• Can any candidate mount a serious threat to King Roger?
• Can Sharapova take the WTA by the reigns?
• Can the tours' scheduling changes curtail the rampant injuries?
• Can Roddick and Connors continue working in harmony?
• Can tennis' leaders come together and formulate a business model that takes advantage of the sport's relentless internationalization?
Finally, with a nod to Esquire's Dubious Achievement Awards
• Let's play hardball! I mean, cornball. At the press conference following his Masters Cup loss to Blake, Nadal was asked the following "question:"
"You still have so many fans here. Yesterday I was talking with my friends about your perfect muscles. Has anyone told you that you have the muscles which look like popcorn?"
• Oh, and it's off the record, too. Asked about Henin-Hardenne's perceived gamesmanship during their U.S. Open semifinal match, Jelena Jankovic
"I don't know what she was doing, but she was acting like she had pain in her back, and she was, like, trying to get start me thinking or something, you know. Because I was looking at her, and she was, Oh, I have pain in my back, or whatever she was doing, I don't know. That's the time when she was losing. Then when she was winning. All of a sudden she's hitting the biggest serves ever and all that. I'm like, 'Now your back doesn't hurt?' Actually, I was the one who couldn't even tie my shoes the other day, two days ago. I was the one who was ... No comment."
• And while I'm spouting wisdom, let me give a shout-out to my sponsors! Asked to discuss the key to his success, the soft-spoken Russian, third-ranked Nikolay Davydenko
, remarked, "The important thing is serving and returning well."
• And the weird thing is, she was only 16. The Townsville (Australia) Bulletin reported that a local woman was so excited watching her favorite player, Federer, win Wimbledon, that she inadvertently threw away her false teeth.
• Alas, the snake was not wearing false teeth. Val Makin, a 78-year-old grandmother, was watching the Australian Open on television when she was bitten by a 3-foot snake. (She was taken to hospital, where she was treated for a scratch to the forearm. Fortunately, none of the venom entered her bloodstream.)
• A ripping good time, as the Brits would say. Reportedly more than 60 Wimbledon line judges complained that their tournament-issued trousers tore open while they were squatting down to make line calls. The supplier was hastily summoned to double-stitch every pair.
• If you think that's bad, playing Federer is like swimming to the shores of Iowa. After being soundly defeated by Nadal at the French Open, Kevin Kim
remarked: "Playing against him, it felt like you're in the Sahara and you just see the hills and there's no ending."
• As compensation, the chair umpire was then scheduled to work the Kim Po -- Li Na match. Abilene Christian (Texas) women's tennis player Aina Rafolomanantsiatosika and Kamini Murugooboopathy of Francis Marion (S.C.) are both top-50 Division II players.
• Which explains why Lil Wayne was rhyming angrily about the fast court surface at Stuttgart Indoor. During the Nasdaq event in Key Biscayne, Fla., while Vince Spadea slept, robbers broke into his hotel room and stole his laptop, which included many of his recent rap lyrics.
• Unfortunately the thieves arrived too late to make off with this metaphor. In Spadea's '06 book, Break Point, he describes his play in a match against Tommy Haas
. "My body was colder than the North Pacific, my legs chillier than Alaskan king crabs legs waiting to be dipped into tartar sauce and consumed by a hungry German."
• His chest is pretty shapely too, come to think of it. Blake on the incessant griping of Chilean Davis Cup captain Hans Gildermeister: "I've had girlfriends that complained a lot, but he took it to a whole new level."
• When he cracks the top 10, it's time for the miniseries. Last summer, British player Andy Murray, then 19 and ranked outside the top 20, released an as-told-to biography: Andy Murray: The Story So Far.
• Some might say we share something in common. During the Australian Open trophy presentation, ESPN2 forgot to turn off the studio microphones. When the president of KIA Motors spoke on court, viewers were able to overhear Brad Gilbert exclaiming: "That guy can barely speak English!"
• Unless I get sloppy drunk and go vice versa. Baghdatis on what he would do following his Australia Open semifinal victory: "I will consult with my coach and sleep with my girlfriend."
Happy holidays and a peaceful 2007 to all of you