Monday, December 14, 2009
Updated: December 16, 9:17 AM ET
Doling out our 2009 ATP awards
By Bonnie D. Ford
The most dynamic year on the men's circuit in recent memory again saw three different players win Grand Slam event titles. A fourth, veteran Russian Nikolay Davydenko, captured the year-end championships. There were new faces in the Top 10 and in the boardroom, as reserved ex-Nike executive Adam Helfant took charge at the ATP. Although 2009 ended with a familiar name at the top of the rankings, the sands are shifting and the generation led by Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and the even younger Juan Martin del Potro -- who won his first major in New York -- is primed to assert itself.
Player of the Year
Roger Federer (SUI)
This honor looked unlikely after the Australian Open final, when Federer sobbed in frustration after collapsing in the fifth set against Rafael Nadal. But it's a funny game. A mere six months later, Federer, 28, had captured a record 15th Grand Slam title, reclaiming supremacy at Wimbledon after breaking through to win his first French Open. Meanwhile, he and longtime girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec married and became the parents of twin daughters, and Federer picked up more blue-chip sponsors. It won't get any easier for the five-time year-end No. 1 from here on out, athletically or psychologically, but he deserves all the credit in the world for perseverance in arguably his most dramatic season. By the way, Federer is at 22 straight Grand Slam semifinal appearances and counting.
Match of the Year
Roger Federer (SUI) d. Andy Roddick (USA), 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14, Wimbledon final
What could top the Federer-Nadal epic at Wimbledon the previous year? For stakes and sheer emotion, we'll take this one. Federer obviously smelled the finish line of his long quest to pass Pete Sampras for major titles, but Andy Roddick, in search of a second Slam, also had been working toward this moment for years. Down 6-2 in the second-set tiebreaker, Federer battled back but couldn't break Roddick's spirit. The American's motivation was as powerful as his serve, which he held until the 30th and final game of the fifth set. Federer got the trophy, while Roddick had to settle for a less tangible reward: Long-overdue respect and credit for his consistency and desire.
Robin Soderling (SWE) d. Rafael Nadal (ESP), 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 7-6 (2), French Open fourth round
There were a few smoke signals indicating that Nadal was vulnerable, not only physically but emotionally, as he alluded to personal issues later revealed to be related to his parents' breakup. But few would have fingered the laconic Swede as the one who would dethrone the four-time Roland Garros winner. Soderling played the match of his life, handling everything Nadal sent his way and swinging freely but intelligently from those coat-hanger shoulders. Soderling didn't lose steam but made it all the way to the final against Federer and continued to build on the unlikely turning point all year.
Comeback of the Year
Taylor Dent (USA)
The big serve-and-volleyer started the season at No. 865 and had no idea if his rebuilt back would hold up under the stress of elite play. Dent finished at No. 76, with a couple of lower-tier Challenger event titles under his belt and a gladiatorial five-set win in the second round of the U.S. Open that gave the Grandstand crowd collective goose bumps. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
Young Player to Watch
Ryan Harrison (USA)
The 17-year-old from Texas won two Futures events this season and earned a wild-card slot in the Australian Open main draw by winning a U.S. Tennis Association playoff this month.
Pair of aces
Bob and Mike Bryan led the fight to save doubles a few years ago, but on the north side of 30, with a new scoring system that made matches less predictable and with more top teams in the competitive mix, it was fair to ask if they'd be able to stick around long enough to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Yet the irrepressible twins roll on, ending this season at No. 1 thanks to clutch play at the ATP year-end championships.They now own 56 titles -- just five short of tying the career record held by Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge of Australia that was once thought to be unassailable.
Towering Croatian Ivo Karlovic slugged 78 aces in a Davis Cup semifinals match against the Czech Republic's Radek Stepanek but still lost the five-set match that took 5 hours, 59 minutes to complete.
Literary event of the year
The big early reveal for Andre Agassi's autobiography, "Open" -- the fact that he had used the dangerous recreational drug crystal meth during a low point in his career, lied to the ATP after a positive drug test and got away with it -- turned out to be only the second-biggest surprise in a book that now tops the New York Times best-seller list. Fans will long debate how Agassi could have had such a stellar career while simultaneously hating what he was doing for a living. Questions linger about the ATP's handling of Agassi's 1997 drug test, and some players said he should pay a higher price for his subterfuge, but Agassi's legacy probably will emerge largely unscathed.
Please get well soon, Mario Ancic.
Chile's Fernando Gonzalez expressed his displeasure with a line call during his French Open semifinal against Soderling by sitting down on the mark and rubbing it out with his posterior.
In an incident that could have been much scarier, a Spanish soccer fan jumped onto center court during the French Open final and tried to put a hat on the startled Federer, actually making physical contact
before security guards reached him and dragged him off.
France's Fabrice Santoro considered retiring after the 2008 season but stuck around for his 21st campaign, delighting fans, if not always his opponents, with his chips and moonballs. Over the course of a remarkable career, "The Magician" played against 20 of the 24 men who have held the No. 1 ranking since the modern system was implemented in 1973.
"I'm ambitious. I want to achieve some things. I'm different from another person who want to lay back and do nothing for rest of the life and talk nonsense on ESPN, talk about my [2000 U.S. Open final] match against [Pete] Sampras. I will not do that.'' -- Marat Safin, after playing his last match at Flushing Meadows.
Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.