Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Updated: December 17, 2:30 PM ET
2009: The year of the trophy ceremony
This is the era of good feelings and open hearts in tennis. The pros battle for five hours and then fall into an embrace at the net. They heap praise on each other in press conferences. They break down in tears at the drop of a hat.
That trend may have reached its peak over the past 12 months. The sport has never had a season quite as soul stirring or sentimental as 2009. It's also never had a season where more memorable moments occurred on Grand Slam trophy stands than on the court during Grand Slam matches.
You probably thought Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal couldn't give us anything more indelible than their 2008 Wimbledon final. But they kicked off 2009 by going that match one better. This year's Australian Open will forever be known for two images: One of Federer breaking down in tears during his runner-up speech, and the other of Nadal walking back, throwing his arm around his opponent, and coaxing a smile from the man he'd just conquered.
Five months later in Paris, Federer let it all out again, this time in a torrent of words rather than tears. After winning his long-awaited first French Open and completing a career Grand Slam, he giggled, rambled and switched from French to English and back in mid-sentence. He even pointed to his new wife, Mirka, and told the world, "My lovely wife, who's pregnant!"
Federer was back in the winner's circle a few weeks later at Wimbledon, where he broke the men's record for most major titles by winning his 15th. But his cheekily self-congratulatory nod to his own achievement -- a golden "15" stitched into the back of his jacket -- was upstaged by the man he had just defeated in heart-breaking fashion, Andy Roddick. Asked about the cruelty of sports, Roddick responded, with stunning stoicism and without a hint of self-pity. "No, I'm one of the lucky few who gets cheered for," he said with a nod to the crowd. "Thanks for that."
Finally, at the U.S. Open, it was the women's turn to warm hearts. That's where Kim Clijsters, who had just won a Slam in the third tournament of her comeback, showed off the champion's trophy along with her 18-month-old daughter, Jada. Coming less than 24 hours after Serena Williams' infamous tirade at a line judge, it was the feel-good moment tennis needed.
Blubbering disappointment, gentlemanly graciousness, babbling joy, gut-wrenching stoicism and a frolicking mother and daughter: What do these moments tell us? That tennis, more than ever, more even than in the fabled days of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, is a sport of passion and personality. Where the wild men of the '70s pushed the game toward the edges of what was acceptable with their behavior, this generation has shown us what it's like to climb the emotional heights and plumb the depths of this mercilessly individual sport. We knew it was an era to remember, but we didn't realize just how memorable it was going to be until 2009. It will be a hard season to top.