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Monday, December 11, 2006
Top 10 moments of 2006

In keeping with the spirit of Treading Water Time -- otherwise known as detox month for tennis junkies or, for the players, the offseason -- I've been wandering through the 2006 season, searching out highlights, lowlights and just plain weird stuff. Today, we'll look at the 10 Most Memorable Moments of 2006, in ascending order:

10. Roger Federer goes metrosexual: Surrounded by linespersons dressed like extras from the film "Brideshead Revisited," Federer struts onto Centre Court at Wimbledon dressed in a cream sports jacket, complete with a crest (it depicted his star sign, in addition to icons representing his three consecutive previous Wimbledon titles; no Olive Garden sleeve patch for this dude!). He immediately launches one of the most fun -- and frivolous -- debates we had this year, in any sport.

9. Bob and Mike Bryan complete career double Grand Slam at Wimbledon: This one is for the tennis diehards. We have mixed feelings about doubles and its role on the pro tour, but this is something to crow about in the era of the doubles "specialist." Only two other Open era teams have career Slams: the incomparable Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge, and Jacco Eltingh and Paul Haarhuis.

8. Andy Roddick's match points against Roger Federer in Shanghai: At a time when U.S. tennis is struggling and the rest of the world (with the exception of Rafael Nadal) is falling behind in the "beat Federer" derby, it was nice to see Andy bring a little of Jimmy Connors' mojo to the playing field -- even if Federer did go on to win the match. I wouldn't exactly call this a light at the end of the tunnel for Federer's rivals (it was more like the flare of a match), but you've got to start somewhere.

7. Estoril women's final: For the first time, two Chinese women (Na Li and Zheng Jie) played a main tour final, only to call it quits after they split sets. The official explanation was that Li was suffering from heat exhaustion, but on-site sources reported that the Chinese were on the verge of missing their flight out, and wanted to avoid paying a rebooking penalty. Wonder what old Confucius would say about that one …

6. Francesca Schiavone of Italy defeats France's Amelie Mauresmo in Fed Cup: I'm a sucker for Davis Cup and Fed Cup upsets, which enable journeymen and women to become overnight rock stars on the order of Olympic medalists. (Can you say Apolo Anton Ohno?) Schiavone's tough, tense, three-set win over Mauresmo to put Italy up 2-1 and paved the way for Italy to bag its first Fed Cup. It was a joy to see the Italians team spirit, round-by-round.

5. Maria "Hands of Stone" Sharapova drops the lid of the U.S. Open singles trophy on her head during the presentation ceremony: Combined with the now famous one-banana, two-banana coaching controversy, the fumble encapsulates what we love -- and find amusing -- about Sharapova. She's a hard-working, klultzy, sincere, pretty girl who takes the idea of winning ugly to new heights. But make no mistake -- winning speaks for itself.

4. Jamea Jackson goes to the video: OK, Jackson turned out to be wrong, but she was the first person to challenge a call under the new Hawk-Eye electronic officiating system, which became a runaway hit that subsequently added immeasurable pleasure (not to mention equity) to the tournament playing -- and watching -- experience.

3. Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal, Rome: The only thing wrong with this match was that it wasn't played a few weeks later at Roland Garros. Ranked Nos. 1 (Federer) and 2 in the world, these rivals played for over five hours on the dusty red clay of the Foro Italico before Nadal emerged the winner by virtue of a fifth-set tiebreaker (he won that, 7-5). Both men were left so drained that they simultaneously withdrew from the next tournament, in Hamburg.

2. Mauresmo takes Wimbledon title, defeating Justine Henin-Hardenne: The fact that 2H quit in their Australian Open final and left Mauresmo's long-awaited, first major win somewhat clouded, the pressure was all on Mauresmo when they met in the Wimbledon final. She won it, with authority, erasing all doubt about the formerly choke-prone Mauresmo's legitimacy in the ultimate winner's circle.

1. Andre Agassi's farewell speech at the U.S. Open: The only thing more impressive than Agassi's career-defining second-round win over Marcos Baghdatis was the speech Agassi made after he hobbled through a loss to Benjamin Becker in the third round, and called it quits for good. The speech was a model of economy, heartfelt emotion, and humility; perfect pitch, perfect delivery, perfect exit.