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Thursday, December 4, 2008
Updated: December 5, 9:03 AM ET
2008 tennis season breakdown easy as A-B-C

By Ravi Ubha
Special to ESPN.com

Gustavo Kuerten
We bid farewell to the vivacious three-time French Open champion, Gustavo Kuerten.

Thanks to the holidays and such, December is often a time for reflection.

Who are we to disagree?

A memorable season is over, so we take you through the A-to-Z of tennis in 2008.

A. Alla Kudryavtseva earned a place in Wimbledon history, but upsetting former winner Maria Sharapova in the second round had little to do with it. Kudryavtseva drew laughter in her postmatch press conference and made tabloid headlines when she revealed her motivation for beating Sharapova.

"It's very pleasant to beat Maria," she said. "Why? Well, I don't like her outfit."

B. Maybe Marion Bartoli should make sure Pierce Brosnan shows up to all of her matches. Inspired by 007, Bartoli reached the Wimbledon final in 2007.

Those who thought her performance during the fortnight was a fluke were, well, right. This year the two-hander failed to reach the quarterfinals in a Grand Slam, twice exiting in the first round.

C. The sad tale of Guillermo Coria lingers. Trying to recover from an arm injury that messed him up mentally, Coria went 2-8 at the elite level and is still ranked outside the top 500. He did at least return in the Grand Slams, putting up a good fight against Tommy Robredo at the French Open, where Coria's heartache began in the 2004 final.

D. The ATP ended a drawn-out investigation into possible match fixing involving Nikolay Davydenko, grudgingly clearing him of any wrongdoing in retiring from a match in Poland in August 2007. He lost motivation in the summer, but Davydenko's humor remained, evidenced by this snippet upon losing to Novak Djokovic in the Masters Cup final last month. "[Roger] Federer was not in semifinal, and I was," he began. "Federer didn't win [a Masters] tournament this year. I won one. OK, he won the U.S. Open, but who cares about the U.S. Open?"

E. The can't-miss prospect to emerge from 2008? Possibly Ernests Gulbis.

The baby-faced Latvian, armed with a huge serve and forehand, as well as great touch, threw a scare into Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon and Andy Roddick at the U.S. Open. Wait until he refines his game.

F. Federer uttered one of the phrases of the year in January, after losing to Djokovic in the Australian Open semifinals. It was more symbolic than comedic. "I've created a monster," he said, later adding, "It's not easy coming out every week for sure trying to win."

G. Adios, Guga. Hampered by a hip injury that derailed his career the past three years, the much-loved Gustavo Kuerten emotionally called it quits at Roland Garros, the site of his three Grand Slam titles. "One stage of my career was very successful, and I was able to get all the goals that I could," said the Brazilian. "Then the second part was really tough."

H. He may be in the twilight of his steady career, but Dominik Hrbaty keeps entertaining. A few years after donning a hole-infested shirt at the U.S. Open -- on purpose -- he surprised the masses at Wimbledon by sitting next to old buddy Federer during a late changeover in their first-round clash. "He asked if he could sit next to me," Federer said. "I said, 'Sure, there's no problem. There's an extra seat."'

I. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times for Ana Ivanovic.

The shoe-squeaking, fist-pumping Serb seemed destined for a long stay at No. 1 following her triumph at the French Open. A mental dip and injuries helped contribute to a free fall in the second half. She won't soon forget one Julie Coin.

J. There hasn't been this much excitement in Japan over a men's player since big-serving Shuzo Matsuoka prowled the circuit in the '90s. Kei Nishikori, as combative on the court as he is shy off it, burst onto the scene by winning a title in Delray Beach, Fla., in the spring. The 18-year-old's ranking rose more than 200 spots, to inside the top 65.

K. For the second straight year, gentle giant Ivo Karlovic led the men's tour in aces. No surprise there. What was surprising, though, was that Karlovic failed to hit an ace in a match, against elastic Frenchman Gael Monfils in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters. Almost as surprising? Karlovic dropped his opener at Wimbledon for the fourth straight time.

L. The feel-good story of newish mom Lindsay Davenport wasn't as good as it could have been. Sharapova crushed Davenport early at the Australian Open, and the 32-year-old skipped her second-round match at Wimbledon due to a right knee injury. The same malaise affected her prep for the U.S. Open.

M. Oh, Marcos Baghdatis, where art thou? Ranked an unbelievable 98th, that's where. The ridiculously talented Cypriot kept getting injured, cut ties with three more coaches -- including Swede Peter Lundgren -- and also parted company with mentor Patrick Mouratoglou.

"Marcos is unbelievably complex," Mouratoglou said in March.

Ya think?

N. Be honest. How many gave Nadal a shot at winning the fifth set against Federer in their Wimbledon epic after Nadal blew two match points in the fourth and served second in the decider? Nadal somehow prevailed, in one of the finest displays of mental toughness on a court you're sure to see. Mind you, Federer's backhand down the line to save one of those match points was pretty special, too.

O. Not many Americans nowadays enjoy playing on clay. Wayne Odesnik is an exception. The lefty reached the third round at the French Open, hanging in there against Djokovic, and competed in a pair of clay-court challengers in South America about a month ago. He cracked the top 90 in June.

P. Juan Martin del Potro is on the way to living up to his potential. The 20-year-old won four straight tournaments as part of a 23-match winning streak in the summer, displaced the moody David Nalbandian as Argentina's No. 1 and landed a spot at the Masters Cup. More to come.

Q. Sam Querrey's star is shining a little brighter. Winning a first title in Las Vegas was good, but battling Nadal over four sets at the U.S. Open had to be better. Proving the latter was no fluke, the 6-foot-6 Californian extended Nadal to four sets, on clay, in Spain, in the Davis Cup semis about two weeks later.

R. We all know Richard Gasquet doesn't like playing in big tournaments in his native France -- in further examples, he bailed on the French Open and Paris Masters. That, however, paled in comparison to his shenanigans in the Davis Cup quarterfinals against the U.S in North Carolina. Apparently too scared to face Roddick, he only made himself available to captain Guy Forget when the outcome of the series had been decided.

S. Sharapova spent most of the second half injured, so let's focus on her display at the Australian Open. Though not one of the favorites, Sharapova didn't drop a set, bageled Justine Henin and Elena Dementieva and conceded four games in the semis to roadrunner Jelena Jankovic, the current No. 1.

T. Welcome back, Taylor Dent. Out more than two years thanks to a serious back injury that at times left him bedridden or perched on the sofa, the net-rusher from California returned to action in May. "In a time where role models are hard to come by, this guy is definitely someone we can look up to," said mentor Nick Bollettieri.

U. Ugly. Is there a better word to describe Roddick's loss to enigmatic Serb Janko Tipsarevic in the second round at Wimbledon?

Marat Safin
It's nothing we are not accustomed to: Marat Safin was in a belligerent mood after being called for a foot-fault at the U.S. Open.
Roddick went 0-for-8 on break points, including three set points that would have forced a fifth set. On one, given a tame second serve, he replied with an even weaker backhand into the net, prompting much frustration from his support camp. "Any chance I got, I pretty much just choked it," said Roddick, never one to hide.

V. She was supposed to be another Sharapova. Instead, Nicole Vaidisova (aka Radek Stepanek's girlfriend) is fading -- at the geriatric age of 19. Vaidisova lost six in a row early in the campaign, then finished it by going 1-7. Ranked 12th at the end of 2007, she's now outside the top 40.

W. Conspiracy theories linked to Williams versus Williams were finally put to bed. All four of their encounters featured plenty of drama, especially the evening quarterfinal at the U.S. Open. Serena, visibly ticked to lose to Venus in the Wimbledon final, saved 10 set points and won 7-6 (6), 7-6 (7).

X. Never one to bite his tongue, Marat Safin embarked on an X-rated tirade at the U.S. Open because he was upset at being called for a bizarre double fault against veteran Vince Spadea. Safin let loose on chair umpire Carlos Bernardes and wasn't done by the time his postmatch press conference began. "I think it was complete bulls---," he barked.

Y. What is it with Russians? Mikhail Youzhny became a YouTube favorite by thumping himself in the head with his racket three times, drawing a generous serving of blood -- he was ticked at missing a backhand against Spaniard Nicolas Almagro at Miami's Sony Ericsson Open. Youzhny took a medical timeout, then rallied to win in a match notable for some great rallies, too.

Z. It's Agnes Szavay, not "Zavay," but it'll have to do here. (In any case, she's coached by Zoltan Kuharsky.) Picked by a few to reach the top 10 following a breakout 2007, the soon-to-be 20-year-old from Hungary lost in the first round in five of six tournaments starting 2008 and only got past the third round of a major once.

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.