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100 memories: Of rallies and battles

12/12/2012

Editor's note: The tennis season now over, it's time to look back. On Dec. 10, Ravi Ubha began unveiling his top 100 memories of the 2012 season. Check back each weekday until Dec. 21 as we count down to No. 1.

70. Tsonga outlasts Raonic at Olympics

Given his success on grass, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was considered an outside contender at the Olympics. He ultimately didn't win a singles medal, but Tsonga took part in extended three-set matches in both singles and doubles.

His encounter with Milos Raonic -- the pick of the second-round tussles -- didn't disappoint, as Tsonga prevailed 6-3, 3-6, 25-23 in 3 hours, 57 minutes.

It was the longest ever three-set singles match, in games, at the Olympics.

"It's good because this is the only way to write my name in history for the moment," Tsonga said. "With Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, and even Andy Murray, it's tough to go through big tournaments."

Tsonga converted on his fourth match point, recovering from a slip at the back of the court.

69. Kleybanova returns

After battling Hodgkin's lymphoma for 10 months, Russia's Alisa Kleybanova was back on the tour.

A remarkable achievement.

Not only did Kleybanova participate at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, she won a round and played a competitive match against Maria Kirilenko in the second round.

Kleybanova didn't contest another tournament in 2012 but told Tennis.com she plans on returning in either February or March.

"I'm completely healthy, but it's not easy to play because I [can't complete] tough training still," she said last month. "I can't train every day yet, but slowly I'm getting better and better."

Take your time, Alisa.

68. Not too classy from Kirilenko

And here we thought Kirilenko and Maria Sharapova were good friends.

But would a good friend do what Kirilenko did when she faced Sharapova in Indian Wells?

With Sharapova about to put away a short backhand at 5-4, 15-30 in the second set -- Kirilenko had won the first -- Kirilenko attempted to throw Sharapova off by striking the court three times with her racket.

Marija Cicak (a very good chair umpire, by the way) immediately stopped play and enforced the hindrance rule.

Kirilenko walked to the chair and, comically, pleaded her case. Cicak was having none of it and Sharapova won in three.

67. Revenge for Rafa in Rome

In 2011 Nadal showed up at the Rome Masters out of sorts. Having been beaten by Djokovic days earlier in the Madrid Masters final, Nadal was in trouble in his opener against Italian wild card Paolo Lorenzi.

He rallied, but Djokovic downed him again in the final.

By the time the pair met in this year's culmination in Rome, Nadal had already defeated Djokovic on clay in Monte Carlo.

He made it two in a row with a 7-5, 6-3 win, though the match was closer than the score indicated. The turning point: Djokovic losing his composure when he got a bad call at 5-4, 30-all in the first set.

66. Tommy's triumph in Halle

Did anyone think Tommy Haas had it in him?

His body ravaged by injury over the years, Haas' ranking at the start of 2012 was 205th. Despite the low ranking, coming off hip surgery and being well past 30, Haas was determined to keep playing.

He played to a high level, too.

The former world No. 2's highlight had to be winning at home in Halle, Germany, beating his pal, Federer, in the final.

"To have that picture with the winning trophy and Roger next to me is something really special," Haas said.

Haas improved to 8-0 in his past eight finals, a streak that ended a month later -- in Hamburg, Germany.

65. Who wants to win?

Even when Li Na led Sharapova 6-4, 4-0 in the final of the Italian Open, you knew it wasn't over. Li has difficulty closing out matches, especially post-Roland Garros 2011, and Sharapova doesn't tank.

So it proved. Sharapova forced a third set and was cruising at 4-1, up two breaks, in gloomy conditions.

Now it was over.

Or was it?

Another momentum shift: Li won four games in succession and had a match point at 6-5. But Sharapova held for a tiebreak, and that's when the rain came, forcing a two-hour delay.

Conditions not ideal, the players returned and Sharapova edged the tiebreak 7-5.

The men's final between Nadal and Djokovic, due to follow Sharapova and Li, was pushed back a day, leading dismayed fans to pelt the court with bottles.

64. The Townsend saga

Last year the USTA rubbed a few the wrong way when it made Alex Bogomolov Jr. repay the governing body for, essentially, past services rendered -- he switched tennis nationalities, from the United States to Russia.

There was more controversy in 2012.

Taylor Townsend, still the world's top-ranked female junior, said the USTA didn't fund her trip to the U.S. Open because it deemed her not fit enough.

Martina Navratilova, never shy to disclose opinions, defended the 16-year-old.

"It's beyond belief they did this to her," she said. "They totally sabotaged her U.S. Open."

The USTA's reply?

"Do you think we're sitting around going, 'How can we screw this up?'" Patrick McEnroe, general manager of player development, was quoted as saying by USA Today. "Our goal is for her long-term development. It has nothing to do with weight, nothing to do with body type. It has to do with overall fitness, overall where her game is."

63. India's Olympic brouhaha

India's own governing body didn't have it easy.

Sania Mirza criticized the All India Tennis Association -- in a lengthy letter -- for its handling of the doubles pairings at the Olympics. She claimed she was being used as "bait" to ease tensions between Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna.

Paes was presumably annoyed that he had to partner unheralded Vishnu Vardhan in men's doubles, with Bopanna and Bhupathi the No. 1 team. According to Mirza, AITA, as a compromise, named her to play with Paes in mixed doubles, even though Mirza and Bhupathi won the mixed title at the French Open in June.

"As an Indian woman belonging to the 21st century, what I find disillusioning is the humiliating manner in which I was put up as bait to try and pacify one of the disgruntled stalwarts of Indian tennis," Mirza wrote.

Mirza and Paes lost in the quarterfinals; both men's doubles teams exited in the second round.

62. Berdych overpowers Roger

Since reaching the Wimbledon final in 2010, Tomas Berdych's Grand Slam results prior to this August went like this: 1R, QF, 1R, 4R, 3R, QF, 4R, 1R.

Not impressive from the Czech.

But playing the week before the U.S. Open, a time when most of the top 10 were in New York practicing, paid dividends. Berdych reached a final in North Carolina.

In form and a winner over Federer on big stages in the past, Berdych toppled the Swiss in four sets in the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows.

"There is no better feeling than to play my first night session against Roger and be able to beat him," Berdych said.

Federer failed to book a spot in the U.S. Open semis for the first time since 2003.

61. A gutsy, exhausting rally

Richard Gasquet left it all on court. Really.

Gasquet and "Baby Fed" Grigor Dimitrov were left exhausted after a nearly 40-stroke rally at the French Open.

Dimitrov collapsed to the clay with leg cramps and had to crawl to a linesperson's chair; Gasquet appeared as if he came down with a leg cramp of his own while hitting a smash to end the rally. Seconds later he vomited on court.

"The banana is still on Suzanne Lenglen," he said. "I was feeling really bad."

Gasquet broke Dimitrov and claimed the second, third and fourth sets.