Sadly tennis enthusiasts, the time has come to bid adieu to the 2007 season, but fear not, the hiatus will be brief. Soon enough, the courts will be ablaze with the shrilling grunts of Maria Sharapova, the artistry of Roger Federer and the mercurial ever-flamboyant fashions of Serena and Venus Williams. Prior to foretelling what 2008 may unwrap, let’s take a moment to reflect on the marquee events which shaped tennis this past year.
On the women’s side, Serena Williams started 2007 in grand fashion by winning the calendar’s first major. Serena, who had been sidelined for most of 2006 by a myriad of injuries, was unseated when the 2007 Australian Open started; consequently, she was the dark horse of the tournament. Serena not only reached the finals, but also comprehensively beat a befuddled Sharapova. Who can forget Oracene Williams’s advice to her daughter “ get out of Melbourne”, referring to the painted sign on the court where Serena had been camping out, pushing her too far off the baseline. Well, Serena followed her mother’s pointer and got out of Melbourne, but not before snatching the coveted Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup. At another prestigious venue, the Ericsson Open, Serena again demonstrated her tenacity coming back from a bagel lost in the first set and fought off two championship points by her opponent to win the tournament against a relentless foe in Justine Henin. Although the year started out with a sizzle, it would end with a fizzle with Serena losing consecutive quarterfinal matches against Henin at each subsequent major tournament. Once more, Serena’s last few months on tour were racked by injuries leading to her withdraw from the season ending tournament in Spain.
After a tumultuous start to her year, with the turmoil in her personal life (the dissolution her marriage) and being forced to skip the Australian Open where she had been a finalist in 2006, Justine Henin had undisputedly her best season on tour. Henin won 10 of 11 finals including her third straight French Open while participating in only 14 events. The sign that Henin is human came at Wimbledon where she lost to a French player in the semifinals, not Amelie Mauresmo, but relatively unknown, Marion Bartoli, whom Venus Williams summarily defeated in the next round to claim the Venus Rosewater dish. Therefore, as Rafa Nadal seems to be Federer’s handicap on the clay in Paris, in 2008, it will be interesting to see if the All England grass and the French women continue to be Henin’s kryptonite.
In a run reminiscent of 2005, Venus worked out the rust in her game to make Wimbledon the highlight of her year. Fit and focused, Venus showed the brilliance that can illuminate her game toppling three top ranked opponents to capture the cup with her namesake. Venus continued to excel the remainder of the season although she had to cede her place at the season ending championship tournament to Sharapova because of illness. The Russian diva took full advantage of the gift by making it to the finals in Madrid where she gave Henin a run for the money prior to falling in a thrilling three setter rescuing a par year plagued by a sleuth of health problems. Thus, it remains to be seen whether in 2008 the Siberian ice queen’s game will continue to heat up or will need to be rescued from the frozen tundra once more.
2007 will be remembered as the year which propelled a small nation called Serbia into the tennis spotlight and one woman in particular Ana Ivanovic. The teenage phenom heralded her arrival with her phenomenal play at the French Open culminating with an appearance in the finals prior to collapsing under the weight of the occasion by losing to Henin. With a blistering forehand, Ivanovic will definitely be a force to be reckoned with in the upcoming season; the question that will need to be answered is whether fellow countrywoman Jelena Jankovic will also be a factor.
A woman’s right to choose saw the exit of a champion and return of another for contrasting reasons. Kim Clijsters decided that after winning one major trophy, she had her fill. For Kim, it was time to move on to marriage and children. While Lindsay Davenport returned to the court after the birth of her son hoping that there is still life in her career. Moreover, the 2007 sports season will be recalled as the year marred by drugs from steroids use in baseball to the career-ending shocker whereby Martina Hingis abruptly retired disputing the outcome of positive cocaine on a drug screen at Wimbledon.
Since this is a locally slanted outlet, I would be remised if I did not mention Ahsha Rolle and her exceptional performance at the U.S. Open. After earning a spot as a wildcard, the 109 ranked Rolle became the buzz of the tournament after her opening round victory over the 17 seeded and talented star Tatiana Golovin. The bee from Miami would have the best showing of her career to date in a major making it to the third round where she was ousted by Danira Safina. I was fortunate enough to attend one of Ahsha’s matches, in my opinion, a major weakness in her game is her one-dimensional backhand; she constantly slices it back. If Rolle is to have continued success on the circuit, she will need to develop more sting and variety to her backhand.
Considering the horde of new comers who impacted the game in 2007 and with so many youngsters doing particularly well at the final major of the year defeating experienced players to make it past the fourth round, the upcoming season promises to be gripping. In my viewpoint, the newcomer to watch will be Agnes Szavay from Hungary. Szavay looked impressive on the hardcourt making it to the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open after being a finalist the previous week in New Haven where she was forced to retire against the #1 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova due to a back injury. With the surface change in Australia to reflect more of a hardcourt feel, I predict that she will be poised for another great run there. Overall, the young guns from the Soviet Union and the former Eastern Block look ready to make an even greater mark on the game this coming year. On the other hand, Henin appears to have taken a liking to the #1 spot; therefore, everyone will be vying to dethrone her. At times, the psychological part of her game has proven to be her weakness, thus, along with skill, mental fortitude will be the key to the opponent’s ability to dismantle her game. A player who does possess these weapons in her arsenal is Lindsay Davenport; I anticipate that with her return Henin and the Williams sisters will be breathing a little tighter.