Despite many top guns not much in the action in the middle, the last 12 months nevertheless have had their share of some of the glorious events in the sport and many of them unlikely to boast of much precedence in tennis history.
So without mincing more words on the introductory, let us leap straight into some ten thumbs-up moments of the bygone season in reverse order by importance.
(10) Unheralded mixed duo wins USO: The unseeded German-Croatian mixed doubles pair of Laura Siegemund and Mate Pavić won the very first major of their career. They never featured in the quarterfinals till this year’s USO in their respective careers in any discipline at a Grand Slam. Tennis romance at its best!
(9) Historic feat by Paes-Hingis duo: This mixed doubles team was a sort of contrast if one goes by the current form. Though Paes had dozens of silverware from his glittering career, his doubles ranking at present isn’t something worthy of the veteran. On the other hand, the Swiss lady was among the best at the moment in the women’s doubles – very much in that pedestal of hers in that late-1990s. However, when they teamed up, they have set the court on fire. Coming from triple triumphs last season, the Indo-Swiss express this time won the coveted French Open mixed title to complete the team Grand Slamand in the process became the second after Margaret Court and Ken Fletcher to achieve the rare feat.
(8) Monica Puig and Puerto Rico’s maiden gold: Time and again, Olympics have thrown up some underdogs to glory and this time it was an unheralded young lady from the central American country – giving her nation its first-ever Olympic gold. Puig did it in a fashion worth remembering – she won six matches in a row beating two Grand Slam winners (Garbine Muguruza and Petra Kvitova) before walking the talk in the final against the Australian champion and Wimbledon finalist Angelique Kerber. The current world no. 32 had just a single WTA title to her credit and is yet to reach the quarters of a Slam.
(7) Muguruza’s French revenge: She lost the final last year to Serena Williams in straight sets. But this year, she didn’t let that slip again in front of the Paris crowd to lift her first major title – overcoming her American rival in straight sets. And with that big trophy under her belt, the Spaniard achieved her career-best ranking of 2, although some unimpressive performances henceforth ended her year at 7th.
(6) Del Potro’s return and Argentina’s Davis Cup triumph: Juan Martin Del Potro is perhaps that one rare player who is not disliked by any tennis lover. The 2009 US Open champion was sidelined from action owing to injuries and subsequent recovery from surgeries till he made a return to the ATP circuit early spring. After a couple of decent outings in his comeback trail, the 28-year old Argentine’s first big moment came with an initial shocking draw at Rio Olympics – his first round opponent being the topseed Novak Djokovic. However, the 2012 bronze-medalist knocked Djokovic out of the tournament before he defeated another titan in the form of Rafael Nadal to reach final.
Though Potro had to settle for a silver behind Andy Murray, the former had a sweet revenge over the Briton in a Davis Cup tie that lasted over 5 hours. Later, he went on to win the Stockholm Open – his first in this season – as a wildcard. Finally, the cherry on the cake came in form of his nation’s maiden Davis Cup victory where their superstar played his part in a crucial victory over Marin Cilic, trailing once by 2 sets.
(5) Wawrinka’s US Open win: He has made it a habit to win when one would least expect him to win. Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka rounded up both former USO champion (Del Potro) and runner-up (Nishikori) in the two rounds prior to the final. In the summit-clash, the Swiss was up against 2-time USO winner Novak Djokovic who has won four of the last five Slams. However, Wawrinka extinguished the Serb in a continuation to the 2015 French Open final – thus bagging his third Grand Slam title with Wimbledon the only major missing in his cupboard.
(4) Serena emulates Graf: “Better late than never” perhaps was what the greatest female tennis-superstar of the century had felt after prevailing in the Wimbledon final over Angelique Kerber. After her agonizing USO semi-final defeat last season that put sand on her converting the Serena-Slam into a calendar Slam, the American faltered twice back-to-back in the finals at the Australian Open (lost to Kerber) and the French Open (lost to Muguruza) to emulate Steffi Graf’s record 22 Grand Slam singles titles. Earlier, she broke Graf’s consecutive stay atop the rankings for 186 weeks. In her long career, the American veteran might surely have felt that it was one of those rare stuck-up points that took her almost a year to ride over it. May she get two more in the coming season to equal Margaret Court.
(3) Djokovic’s career Slam: Much like his female counterpart Serena, the Serbinator too was long awaiting his feat to win at Parisian clay and complete his Grand Slam cabinet. The 12-time Grand Slam winner however had to wait for long – it was on offer since 2012 Roland Garros. Denied thrice by the greatest Roland Garros romance Rafael Nadal (twice in finals), the former world no. 1 was shockingly thwarted by Stan Wawrinka in spite of the former taking care of Nadal in the quarters itself. So after four futile attempts, Novak had his final laugh when he once again put-off the challenge from Murray to notch up the French toast and more so became the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four majors at the same time (in what was dubbed by the media as Novak-Slam) and the first to hold them in three different surfaces.
(2) Kerber’s dream year: She started the year with a bang – defeating Serena Williams in the Australian Open final. She later reached the finals at the Wimbledon, Rio Olympics and Cincinnati Open before winning her maiden US Open. But before her final against Karolina Pliskova, the German had ensured the takeover of the world no. 1 spot from its long-time holder Serena and further, as the American called an early close of her season, Kerber’s mediocre show post-USO proved enough for her to clinch the season-ending no. 1 even before the WTA finals at Singapore. In 2016, the 28-year old became the first German since Steffi Graf to win two Slams in a season.
(1) Murray’s mission impossible: With Djokovic winning almost everything on offer till the French Open, very few have bet against him losing his no. 1 billing anytime soon. And as sports always throw up surprises, the Serb’s slip in the later half of the season proved to be the Briton’s gain. Murray won Wimbledon after a three-year hiatus followed by an unprecedented defending of his Olympic title. It just gave him the momentum to aim for more and the Scot ended his season with a 24-match winning streak that included five trophies – including his win over Djokovic in the final of the London season-ending meet that helped him clinch his first-ever Tour Final title and the year-ending no. 1. Murray clinched the top spot earlier at the Paris Masters to become the oldest first-time no. 1 in four decades – covering a whooping margin of over 9000 ranking points since May.
Photo by Marianne Bevis