Commentary

Federer's supremacy, Davydenko's scandal headline 2007

Where else do you find the Grammy's and Emmy's wrapped up in one? Where else do reports of deliberate food poisoning and rainbow-sherbet polos make headlines? Quite simply -- that was the 2007 tennis season.

Originally Published: December 18, 2007
By Bonnie D. Ford | ESPN.com

Roger FedererTimothy Clary/Getty ImagesRoger Federer heads into '08 with the momentum he hopes will carry him to tennis' Grand Slam record.
Player of the Year: Roger Federer's second consecutive year with three Slam titles gave him an even dozen and put him in position to eclipse Pete Sampras' record of 14 this coming season. He shows no sign of cracking under the weight of his stature, and his excellence continues to stoke the engine of men's tennis, forcing everyone else to try to find another gear. We've come to expect so much of the Swiss maestro that his occasional losses make almost as much news as his big wins. But truly, there was only one defeat that reverberated for Federer this year, and that was his surprisingly flat effort against Rafael Nadal in the French Open final. Winning at Roland Garros is likely the only way Federer can improve on his legacy. The gap between Federer and Nadal might be narrower than it has ever been, and the 2008 campaign will not be a coronation lap. Federer will need to maintain his remarkable health, his energy-conserving ability to close easy matches quickly, and his patient, relentless approach to killing off his top rivals.

Match of the Year: The relief written on Federer's face and the disappointment on Nadal's after their five-set Wimbledon final were worth several thousand words, so we won't add any more.

Non-Federer/Nadal Story line of the Year (feel-good category): Novak Djokovic's ascension to No. 3 in the world was so note-perfect it felt scripted -- except that any script this uplifting would have been rejected as too corny. The brush-cut one has classic form, an engaging personality, a sense of perspective rooted in the recent history of his native Serbia, a salt-of-the-earth family, emotional drive, humility and a deep appreciation of the game.

Non-Federer/Nadal Story line of the Year (not-so-good category): News of betting irregularities in an early August match between Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello popped the trunk on some ugly cargo. Tennis officials were forced to confront the scope of Internet betting and the resulting suspicions cast on the sport. As the still-unresolved Davydenko probe dragged on, other players felt free to describe incidents, some years old, to journalists rather than tennis administrators, and Davydenko was unfairly singled out for lack of effort in a match. In the future, cases like the Russian's need to be investigated more quickly and aggressively; players should report problems in a timely fashion (as they now are required to under a new ATP rule); credentials need to be monitored to keep frauds out of the locker room; and players who bet on tennis have to be sternly disciplined. Might be a good idea, for appearances' sake alone, to quit allowing online betting companies to sponsor tournaments.

Player to Watch: How can you help but watch Croatia's Ivo Karlovic? What he does on the court defies the laws of physics. The 6-10 Karlovic rocketed to No. 22 after starting nearly 100 notches lower, and he had a great year everywhere but the Grand Slam events, where he went 1-4. His mobility is good for a guy his size, and his serve-serve-serve-and-volley game still is improving, although he is 28 years old. Next season should reveal whether he'll become a force at the majors. Honorary mention to Paul-Henri Mathieu, who is gathering steam on all surfaces.

Young Player to Watch: No. 61 Ernests Gulbis, the 19-year-old from Latvia who brims with confidence and backed it up at the U.S. Open by walloping No. 8 Tommy Robredo.

Guillermo Canas
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesCanas ended Roger Federer's three-year title run in Indian Wells, and in the very next tournament, shocked the world No. 1 again.
Comeback of the Year: Argentina's Guillermo Canas faced a dual challenge when he returned to full-time ATP play this season -- bringing his ranking back up from the depths, and dealing with skepticism from fans and fellow players about his integrity after a 15-month suspension, reduced on appeal from two years, the result of a positive test for a diuretic considered a masking agent for performance-enhancing drugs. Whether or not you believe Canas' defense of inadvertent ingestion, he served his time and handled his situation with a lot of dignity. And, by the way, he beat Roger Federer twice.

Player in the most pivotal position: Great Britain's Andy Murray. He ditched coach Brad Gilbert and, with Tim Henman's departure, will become the subject of his country's undivided, obsessive attention. Murray's back and wrist injuries at his age (20) are worrisome; healthy, he's a member of an elite group that has a chance to bump Federer or Nadal out of the Slam parade.

Biggest upset: Then-No. 53 Filippo Volandri's inexplicable mauling of Federer in the round of 16 in Rome.

The Imperfect Storm: Nadal's third-round match at Wimbledon against Robin Soderling could have been played on the All England Club's traditional hiatus of Middle Sunday, which was sunny from start to finish. Instead, it was extended three more rainy days -- five in all -- and compressed the rest of Nadal's schedule. Meanwhile, Federer got to chill out. As Andy Roddick put it, "We've been stuck in a locker room for nine hours a day, and he's been chilling out, taking the double-decker bus red thing tour maybe.''

Emmy Award: As Djokovic's stature in the game grew this year, so did his reputation as a hilarious mimic, culminating with his ad-libbed impersonations of Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova on live television at the U.S. Open.

Grammy Award: Nadal, for his rendition of "La Bamba'' on a prematch show at the French Open.

Newcomers of the Year: Jointly awarded to John Isner and Donald Young. Isner made a splash with his mid-summer results and unflappable attitude. Young turned pro three years ago to much fanfare and debate, so he's not technically a newcomer, but this is the year he really arrived. Both might commute between the ATP and Challenger circuits in 2008, which should be a telling year.

[+] EnlargeFabrice Santoro
Sipa/AP ImagesIt doesn't scream GQ, but Fabrice Santoro's attire is at times as unorthodox as his on-court guile.
Wackiest fashion statement: In a world of look-alike Nike and Adidas shirts, we have a soft spot for Fabrice Santoro's rainbow-sherbet striped polo by Lacoste. It screams "recreational player,'' although the 35-year-old Frenchman would more properly be called a wrecking-ball player, given his ability to get into opponents' heads with his animated acrobatics.

Best fashion confession: "Man, here's the deal with golf. Every time I play golf, I got to buy a new set of clubs. It's not relaxing for me. I go mental. The ball's not even moving, and I can't hit it right. I haven't reached the point in my life where I have the patience level it takes to play golf. And I don't have the pants.'' -- Roddick, at Wimbledon.

Persistence award: The U.S. Davis Cup team put it all together this year after a seven-year journey. Roddick and James Blake were there from jump; the Bryan brothers had to wait until 2003 to be selected by Patrick McEnroe. But since then, the U.S. has had the most stable, committed lineup in the tournament.

Dubious milestone: Marat Safin didn't reach an ATP event final for the first time in 10 years.

Jaw-dropper of the year: The since-debunked report that Germany's Tommy Haas might have been deliberately poisoned before a Davis Cup semifinal match against Russia in September. Honorary mention to Safin's withdrawal from that same Davis Cup weekend in favor of a mountain climbing expedition. Not exactly recommended therapy for bum knees.

Good call: After Federer blazed a trail with his Wimbledon blazer last year, we grudgingly opined that he "has earned the right to wear anything he wants.'' Dude took us seriously, reprising the old-timey look in England and unveiling tuxedo-striped shorts and a patent-leather-trimmed man bag for his U.S. Open evening wear. We're looking forward to the Crocodile Dundee hat and safari shirt in Melbourne.

Mishit: Last year at this time, we tabbed Marcos Baghdatis as someone who wasn't going to flame out. Granted, he sank only a few places in the rankings to finish at No. 16. But he didn't show much at the majors, and spent most of the year lollygagging until rousing himself near the end at Paris and Basel. Check his pilot light. We also somehow failed to mention Djokovic -- at all. Yikes.

Quietest hiatus: Nagging elbow problems and arthroscopic surgery sent Slovakian veteran Dominik Hrbaty tumbling from the top 25 to No. 136 as he won only 10 matches, his worst total since his pro debut in 1996.

Author of the Year: Blake, for his autobiography, "Breaking Back,'' which told his terrific story without the saccharin common to athletes' recollections. A bright spot in an otherwise uneven year.

Aspiring author: "My next book is going to be called "Seven Set Points.'' -- Djokovic, after blowing that many against Federer in the U.S. Open final.

Thanks-for-sharing award: Boris Becker presented Djokovic with the runner-up trophy at Indian Wells, prompting a star-struck Djokovic to observe, "When my mother was giving me the milk, I was watching Boris win Wimbledon.''

Off the radar: Gaston Gaudio of Argentina. The one-time top-10 player and 2004 French Open champion has lost all radio contact with his former self, falling to No. 182.

Parting words: "Well, what is success? Who's going to be successful at this tournament? Is there only one guy that's successful? Only the winner? Does that mean there's 127 failures? That's not the way I view it.'' -- Tim Henman, after playing his final match at the U.S. Open.

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at bonniedford@aol.com.

Bonnie D. Ford

Enterprise and Olympic Sports
Bonnie D. Ford is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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