Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Stellar 2012 Season Had a Few Low Points

By Mert Ertunga

2012 will go down as one of the best tennis seasons in the history of the game. On the men's side, we witnessed the confirmation of what many have accurately predicted back at the end of the previous decade: the next Golden Age of Men's Tennis is here. With Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal, four players from four different countries, at the top, knocking each other off, tennis fans can take comfort in knowing that men's tennis is not short of great rivalries.

While Bjorn Borg/John McEnroe rivalry with (Jimmy Connors as the side-kick) of the late-'70s and early-'80s captured the world's attention and went down in history as the first Golden Age of Men's tennis, this current crop of players exceed in quality of tennis played and, well … okay, I will say it: in behavior.

This group's high-level tennis is the sole responsible of the rising popularity of tennis around the world in the last few years, whereas the former Golden Age did have the support of McEnroe and Connors' boorish behaviors making the headlines. But that is another discussion. Suffice it to say that four players at the top provide multiple rivalries, and fans can expect high-level excitement every time two of these players walk on the court to face each other. Each won one Slam this year and the finals of each Slam were terrific matches.

The women's tour also had a comeback year following the previous few dismal seasons. Serena Williams is back on top of her game; Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova are consistently performing well. Most importantly, tennis fans are getting familiar with some of the faces on the WTA Tour after few years of then-unknown players winning titles, because some of those players have maintained their high level of performance. We may not have a Martina Navratilova/Chris Evert type of rivalry for the ages, but we can rest assured that we will witness some wonderful tennis in 2013.

In team competition, Czechs swept both Fed Cup and Davis Cup. The Davis Cup especially final provided some thrilling moments. With the unlikely hero of the weekend being 34-year-old Radek Stepanek and the tie going to the decisive fifth rubber match, it exceeded all expectations. Stepanek went down as one of the legends of Davis Cup, certainly as a legend — period — in Czech Republic, by playing three three-out-of-five sets matches in three days, playing the leading role in his team's doubles match win on Saturday with Tomas Berdych and against one of the best doubles team in the world, and defeating Nicolas Almagro of Spain in the fifth and deciding match as an underdog.

Despite the Lance Armstrong fall-out in the sports world, and media's best efforts to use that in favor of their ratings by reporting that "allegedly" or "according to unidentified sources" (fill in the blank) tennis player is suspected of doping or match-fixing, tennis remained clean and continues to be one of the cleaner sports.

That being said, just like the old-saying "nothing is perfect" reminds us, 2012 did not remain completely free of a few low moments.

Rafael Nadal's season-ending injury stopped us from having a full season with all four players fighting for the No. 1 position. One can hope that Rafa's recovery will be quick. He has started practicing again, so we know that he will be back. Whether he can regain his previous top-level form and stay free from injuries in the long term will be for everyone to see, but I cannot deny that it makes me nervous to see him battle serious injuries more than once in the last few years.

Another low occurred in the finals of the Olympic Games on the men's side. It was anti-climactic to see Andy Murray's three-set, one-sided, routine win over Roger Federer, considering that we just saw the day before two semifinals that left our mouths watering for a stellar final. In the semis, Andy Murray overwhelmed Novak Djokovic in a tight match and Roger Federer defeated Juan Martin Del Potro in one of the best matches of the year, including a marathon 18-16 third set.

Bernard Tomic's tennis career is definitely on a low point, but tennis was not the only staggering factor in 2012 for the 20-year-old Australian. He had an embarrassing court procedure that recently ended with him being found guilty of failing to stop for police while driving recklessly his high-powered $150,000 BMW in Queensland, Australia. Sadly, this is not his only run-in with the law. There were two other incidents this year and I will not write the details here since they can be found on the web for those interested. But it's enough to say that during one of those incidents Tomic apparently resorted to the "do you know who I am?" line when questioned by an officer.

2013 will probably go down as a year that French tennis fans may want to forget due to the contentious court battle involving the well-known coach Régis de Camaret and several ex-female students of Camaret who were accusing him of rape and sexual harassment when they were minors in a training center in Saint-Tropez in the '80s and '90s.

The bitter trial just ended last week with Camaret found guilty and sentenced to eight years in prison. It was an emotional and exhausting trial for all involved and scarred the French Tennis Federation (FFT) because one of its high-profile figures, ex-champion and Wimbledon finalist Nathalie Tauziat, who was coached by Camaret for most of her career, defended Camaret until the end and appeared as a star witness for the defendant.

Perhaps the real low occurred when FFT announced immediately after that they would no longer have Tauziat as their Committee Director. Tauziat was a witness, asked to testify during trial, and testified under oath what she knew. Since when this qualifies for dismissal from one's job, that is a question asked by many angry French tennis followers as I write this article.

Despite these few lows, tennis fans leave behind a superb 2012 campaign, and have no reason to believe that 2013 promises any less. Until then, have a great holiday season, everyone!

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