From Rafael Nadal winning his first hardcourt major in Australia, to Roger Federer completing the career grand slam, to the emergence of a new major star Juan Martin Del Potro at the U.S. Open, 2009 was a year replete with ups and downs on the men’s tour. Here’s a flashback.
At the Australian Open final, despite a marathon semifinal match, Nadal had adequate reserves to stare down Federer in another five setter. With that victory, Nadal seemed well positioned to achieve the calendar grand slam. After sweeping every clay court tournament, Nadal was halted at the Madrid Masters by Federer days prior to the French Open. For many analysts, fatigue may have been deserving of an assist as Federer defeated Nadal in straight sets to capture his initial title of 2009. As such, Nadal was still considered the outright favorite for a fifth consecutive French trophy.
While everyone may have discounted Robin Soderling in the fourth round at the French Open, the Swede who played a contentious match with Nadal at Wimbledon in 2007 had visions of victory dancing in his head. Soderling upstaged the best clay player in circulation, handing Nadal his first defeat at Roland Garros. Soderling rode this euphoric wave all the way to his first final at a major where he was ultimately stopped by Federer. In addition, Soderling was a quarterfinalist at the U.S. Open. At his initial ATP World Tour Finals, Soderling was a semifinalist and with that result jumped to a career best ranking of 8th after commencing 2008 at 17.
Melbourne was the site where Fernando Verdasco at last lived up to his talent. After surprising Andy Murray the hottest player on tour in the fourth round, Verdasco was involved in a dogfight in the semifinals with countryman Nadal. Hands down, the best match of the tournament and one of the most scintillating of the year, the two Spaniards went toe to toe for over five hours. Although Nadal was triumphant, Verdasco’s run in Australia galvanized him the rest of the year. Verdasco reached the quarters at the U.S. Open and was instrumental in Davis Cup play. Verdasco participated in his first ATP World Tour Finals and ended 2009 at number 9.
After an horrendous start to the season, Federer’s year turned around after beating Nadal in Madrid in May. After avoiding a sleuth of pitfalls to get to the French Open final, Federer grabbed the elusive brass ring and tied Pete Sampras’ record of 14 majors. With a knee injury placing Wimbledon defending champ Nadal out of action, the impossibility of a Federer-Nadal duel could have been deflating for the championships. To the contrary, Andy Roddick stepped up to the plate and in facing Federer, the two had a final to rival last year’s epic. Federer had to out ace Roddick, required 95 minutes and 30 games in the fifth set before coming away with the victory and a record setting 15 majors. In July, Federer supplanted Nadal at the top of the ATP’s ranking list. Brimming with confidence, Federer appeared unstoppable and was a shoe-in for a sixth consecutive title in New York.
At the U.S. Open, Federer battled Del Potro in the final. With this being the latter’s maiden major final, jitters were more likely than not to play a pivotal role. In spite of his youth, Del Potro demonstrated that he is a quick study. After a devastating lost to Federer in the French semifinals, down two sets to one, Del Potro carried a tiebreaker and showed up Federer in the fifth set to capture his initial major. Del Potro closed 2009 as the world’s fifth best player and is a definite threat to take over the top spot in 2010.
While Murray shone at the Masters and lower tournaments, he hit a wall at the majors. After a 2008 U.S. Open final appearance, for Murray reaching the round of 16 in Australia and New York, the semis at Wimbledon and quarters at Roland Garros was a let down. Moreover, Murray displaced Nadal at number 2 in August prior to U.S. Open. However, by year’s end, Murray fell back to his designated post of number 4.
Like Murray, Djokovic‘s season can be categorized as ok. The 2008 Australian Open champion had a quarterfinal run in Australia and Wimbledon while getting to the semifinals in New York. Djokovic picked up steam toward the end with titles in Beijing, Basel versus Federer and at the Paris Masters. With the addition of Todd Martin to his coaching team, Djokovic will certainly be a force in the upcoming year.
Besides Del Potro, Marin Cilic is another youngster who generated a lot of talk. Cilic got to his first quarterfinal at a major at the U.S. Open in ousting Murray and seized two titles. In addition, Cilic was key in Croatia’s run to the semifinals in Davis Cup. Thus, this gigantic Croat will be someone to keep a close eye on in 2010.
Every season, there’s a veteran competitor who rediscovers and dips into the fountain of youth. This year, that person was Tommy Haas. After struggling with injury throughout his career, Haas was one Federer forehand shy of making it to the quarterfinals at the French Open. The German star then excelled on grass, beating Djokovic for his first title on that surface. That momentum carried Haas to his first semifinal at a major since 2007. At Wimbledon, Haas was once more blocked by Federer. At age 31, Haas catapulted from a spot of 82nd to 18 at the closure of 2009.
Dependable Davydenko! For Nikolay Davydenko, that is an applicable label. For the past few years, not only has Davydenko been a workhorse, he’s been consistent. After missing a few weeks early on in the season with a foot injury, Davydenko dropped out of the top ten to 12 for the first time since 2005. Also, in skipping the Australian Open, Davydenko severed his streak of 29 consecutive majors. Still, Davydenko terminated the season with a flurry. After shocking Nadal in the final of the Masters in Shanghai, Davydenko rammed through Federer at the ATP World Tour Finals and brushed aside Del Potro for his most prestigious career trophy. For his hard work, Davydenko was rewarded with number 6 ranking at tournament’s end.
The Frenchmen were in the headlines both on and off the court. Richard Gasquet had to deal with doping charges despite withdrawing from competition at the Sony Ericsson Open. Gasquet was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing but his ranking took a severe blow. Formerly at number 7 in 2008, Gasquet is now 52nd in the world. Jo Wilfried Tsonga failed to capitalize on his 2008 success in Australia, with only a quarterfinal finish in Melbourne and dismal postings at the other majors. On the other hand, Gael Monfils revealed a glimmer of the promise that made him a standout in the juniors. Monfils cracked the top ten for the first time in March and completed the season at 13th. Fabrice Santoro, the magician, who provided so many great moments and gave a new meaning to longevity finally took leave of the game. It will be hard to encounter anyone who can match Santoro’s flair and style.
On the subject of uniqueness, 2000 U.S. Open and 2005 Australian Open champion Marat Safin bid farewell to the sport. A colorful and volatile player, Safin never won another title after Australia and in many people’s eyes failed to fully realize his potential. The game will be a tad less animated with his absence.
The Davis Cup belonged to Spain for the fourth time this decade. Overflowing with aptitude, Spain wrapped up the trophy in two days, as David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez, Verdasco and Nadal crushed the Czech Republic.
The doubles pair of Mike and Bob Bryan struggled most of the year after taking the Australian Open. At Wimbledon, the Bryan brothers were bested by defending champs Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic. The latter spent most of the last half of the season ranked number one and managed a total of nine titles including five Masters series trophy. However, after winning the ATP World Tour Finals title, the Bryan brothers regained the number one ranking after having slipped to number 3. For veteran Leander Paes and partner Lukas Dhouly, 2009 was low volume in terms of titles; yet, the two that this team won were significant since they were the French and U.S. Open. Paes and Dhouly finished the year as the fourth best team in doubles.
Former tennis star Andre Agassi shifted focus from the court to shenanigans occurring off field. In his book ‘Open’, Agassi disclosed his struggles with methamphetamine in 1997 and his deception of the rules committee in testing positive. Agassi also divulged candid details about his first marriage, his love-hate relationship with the sport and his preoccupation with his hair piece which may have been partly responsible for his lost to Andres Gomez at the French Open in 1990.
The last couple of years, Federer and Nadal have had a firm grip on the top two rankings. In 2009, Nadal’s palm was loosen temporarily by Murray. With injury always plaguing the Spaniard and with Federer’s forehand becoming erratic again toward the last part of the season, foretelling of a probable shakedown by Djokovic, Murray or Del Potro at the top in 2010 may not be a hyperbole.