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Monday, December 19, 2011
100 memories: Nadal's bizarre season


Editor's note: The tennis season now over, it's time to look back. Novak Djokovic was no doubt the player of the year, but there were many memories to savor. Beginning Dec. 12, Ravi Ubha is unveiling his top 100 memories of the 2011 season. Check back each weekday until Dec. 23 as we count down to No. 1.

40. Rafa's Rome hangover

It was quite apparent just how much Rafael Nadal was affected by his loss to Novak Djokovic in Madrid.

In his next match at the Rome Masters, Nadal was out of it mentally, and had his unheralded opponent -- 148th-ranked wild card Paolo Lorenzi -- not succumbed to nerves, it would have been one of the biggest upsets in tournament history. Nadal, who lost a tiebreaker to a player ranked outside the top 100 for the first time in six years, shanked his forehand, erred on overheads and tumbled on court.

Lorenzi lost his chance to win when he missed a comfortable volley at 4-4, 30-all in the second set. Nadal prevailed 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-0.

"I will play better tomorrow because I cannot play any worse than today," Nadal said.

He did, but guess who stopped him in the final?

39. DY's Twitter rant

The year ended on a high for Donald Young. He reached the fourth round at the U.S. Open, made it to his first final in Bangkok and finished in the top 40.

But Young caused a significant brouhaha with an expletive-filled tweet in April. Upset at the USTA, apparently for not giving him a direct wild card into the French Open (he had to go through a playoff instead), Young tweeted: "F--- USTA! Their full of s---! They have screwed me for the last time!"

The USTA was unimpressed, and Young later apologized.

Oh, he also shut down his Twitter account.

38. Cracking up at the U.S. Open

After men's players revolted at the U.S. Open, unhappy at being made to play on what they felt were slick courts, organizers needed a bit of breathing room.

It never came.

Instead, Andy Roddick and David Ferrer were forced to play most of their fourth-round match on humble Court 13 because of a small crack on Louis Armstrong Stadium.

Talk about embarrassing.

"I didn't think Court 13 was in my future," Roddick quipped.

"It was not nice playing on Court 13, but it was nice when you are a junior, no?" Ferrer added.

37. No mercy for Dinara

When the Australian Open draw was made, there was no debate about the most anticipated first-round match: Kim Clijsters, the tournament favorite, against former No. 1 Dinara Safina.

Unfortunately, Safina's lingering back injury meant she couldn't put up any fight, and the Belgian fed her a double-bagel that was painful to watch.

"I didn't know how to win a point," Safina said. "There was nothing I could do to hurt her. I'm scratching my head thinking what the hell I am doing."

Later in the year, Safina said she wasn't sure if she'd return to the tour. Get well, Dinara.

36. Nadal too much for Fed

It was quite a lopsided affair when Nadal and Roger Federer duked it out for the first of four encounters in 2011.

Nadal prevailed 6-3, 6-2 at the Miami Masters semis. Both players were displaying vastly different form than they are now.

Nadal hadn't been traumatized by a string of defeats to Djokovic, while Federer had recently lost his Australian Open crown to the Serb, making him Slam-less in four consecutive majors. That hadn't happened since 2002-03.

"Sure, it's disappointing losing a [match] like tonight," Federer said. "But those are the matches I work extremely hard for in the offseason. I have many more years left."

Nothing would suggest that won't be the case.

35. Nole's tears

Some said it was another quit job by Djokovic in the Davis Cup. That's harsh.

Give Djokovic credit for trying to play against Juan Martin del Potro on the final day of Serbia's semifinal against Argentina less than a week after his grueling U.S. Open final.

Ultimately, it was too much for Djokovic, who crumpled to the court with a rib injury after hitting a forehand in the second set and subsequently retired. After a good cry in his chair, he left the court.

"I feel disappointed to end this tie this way," Djokovic said.

34. Viktor not so victorious

Viktor Troicki has been close to beating some of the top players before.

Last year at the U.S. Open, he blew a lead of two sets to one plus a break against a wilting Djokovic. A few months later in Bangkok, he couldn't convert match points against Nadal.

But after winning the decisive fifth match against France in last December's Davis Cup final, you thought he'd now be able to eke out those types of encounters.

Nope.

Troicki squandered a two-set advantage against a less-than-100 percent Andy Murray at the French Open, agonizingly choking when he tried to serve it out at 5-3 (and 30-0 up) in the fifth.

"I was a bit nervous and didn't go for my shots at those points," Troicki said. "He took advantage of it."

33. Rafa's loss of motivation

Nadal caused quite a bit of discontent for his legion of fans at the World Tour Finals. And not simply because he was knocked out in the group stage.

Nadal admitted he lost motivation after the U.S. Open, where he was beaten again by Djokovic.

Time to regroup for 2012.

"I know only one way to change the situation, is to work more, think more about tennis, do everything in the right shape, do everything good inside the court, and everything good outside the court," he said. "And that's what I am going to try to do for the next month and for the next 12 months of 2012."

Some telling passages in that quote, no?

32. The Fed streak continues

What streak, you say? The quarterfinal one at majors, of course.

Federer's semifinal streak might have ended last year, but he's reached the last eight at a Grand Slam 30 straight times, extending his record. He broke Jimmy Connors' mark of 27 at the French Open.

"Twenty-eight quarterfinals in a row, that's great," Federer said at Roland Garros. "But that's another opportunity for me to go one step further."

Can't see him losing before the quarterfinals in 2012.

31. Noah turns nasty

Yannick Noah, the flamboyant former French Open champion, earned himself a few enemies last month. Spanish enemies, to be precise.

Noah accused Spanish athletes of doping, which didn't go down well with Nadal, Uncle Toni and David Ferrer, among others. The French Tennis Federation distanced itself from Noah, too.

"What he said is completely stupid," Nadal fired back.

"If he approaches Rafa to say hello, I hope my nephew tells him, in a courteous manner, what he thinks of him," Toni Nadal told Spanish radio.