Late Season Success

December 5, 2111

Another tennis season has come and gone. Surprisingly, there were some highly contested matches late in the season, as well as some unexpected winners. Unfortunately, these late-season surges often don’t get the same level of attention that they might get in, say, mid-summer. Why? There is a common sentiment among fans that the tennis season unofficially ends after the U.S. Open. All four Grand Slams have been contested, so really, what’s left to be excited about?

The Asian swing, which immediately follows the U.S. Open, is typically met with as much enthusiasm as giving a dog a bath. For the most part, TV viewing is scarce, and most matches (depending on the time zone) are televised live in the wee hours of the morning. Unless you are one of the lucky ones sitting in the stands at these tournaments, or are willing to watch tennis on TV, or your computer at 3:00am (been there, done that), the post-U.S. Open tournaments are generally an after-thought.

Not so for players. Even though they are exhausted, battered, and bruised, and ready to give up after almost a year traversing the globe, they don’t. The final stretch of the tennis season presents an opportunity for players to chase down some last-minute ranking points, as well as a last-ditch effort for some players to prove to themselves what they couldn’t prove earlier in the season.

Below is a list of eight players who were able to achieve a late-season comeback, or simply got their second wind at a time when the tennis spotlight wasn’t so bright.

The No. 1 ranked player from Japan had a very strong run at the end of this season. Following his two singles wins in Davis Cup, Nishikori reached the semis in Kuala Lumpur (d. Almagro), the semis in Shanghai (d. Tsonga) and made it to the final as a wildcard at the Swiss Indoors Basel, where he defeated Berdych and Djokovic (the biggest win of his career), before advancing to the final, where he lost to Federer. This was Nishikori’s first time playing against Federer, who had home-court advantage, and had previously won the Basel tournament four times.

Nishikori is the first Asian to defeat the No 1 player since Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand, who defeated Lleyton Hewitt in the Tokyo quarterfinal in 2002. Nishikori has the honor of becoming Japan's highest-ever ranked male player. Novak Djokovic has described him as “One of the most improved players this year.”

Nishikori achieved a career high ranking of No. 24 in mid-November, and ended the year at No. 25. He began the season ranked at No. 98.

One of the most underrated players in the women’s game has had one of the best late-season results of any player on the WTA Tour. Radwanska, who had been fighting through a right shoulder injury since winning Carlsbad, continued to play through the rest of the season with a taped shoulder. She went on to win back-to-back titles in Asia (Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo (d. Zvonareva), and the China Open (d. Petkovic). She also snagged the 8th and final spot into the Year End Championships in Istanbul. Radwanska played well, but missed out on a semifinal spot by losing to eventual champion, Petra Kvitova.

Radwanska finished the season ranked 8th in the world with a 46-18 W/L record.

The No. 2 ranked ATP player from Serbia had a phenomenal season, which ended with a serendipitous opportunity to play in the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London. Tipsarevic also won two tournaments late in the season – the Malaysian Open and the Kremlin Cup. His lucky break arrived when Andy Murray pulled out of the World Tour Finals after his first match due to a groin injury. Tipsarevic then replaced Murray in round robin Group A. During the tournament, Tipsarevic scored his first win over a reigning world No 1 and fellow countryman, Novak Djokovic.

Tipsarevic started the year ranked at No. 49, and finished at No. 9, a career-high, with a 54-26 W/L record.

During the Asian swing, Tsonga took his game to a new level. He advanced to the Beijing semifinals, then went onto face Federer in the Paris final. Tsonga’s greatest success came when he qualified for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. Despite being defeated in the first RR match by Federer, he advanced to the semifinal with victories over Fish and Nadal. He defeated Berdych in the semifinal to play Federer. Despite the loss, Tsonga hit 42 aces in London, and had a season-best 825 aces.

He finished the season with a 55-24 W/L record, ranked at No. 6, equaling his career-high ranking from November, 2008.

Arguably one of the best players on the WTA Tour, Petra Kvitova went into a bit of a slump after winning the Wimbledon title. She lost in the first round of the U.S. Open, without winning a set. The six-foot lefty regained her form at the Toray Pan Pacific Open by advancing to the semis, before losing to Zvonareva. She picked up her fifth title of 2011 at the Generali Ladies Linz, defeating Cibulkova. During the Year End Championships in Istanbul, Kvitova solidified her dominance by defeating Vera Zvonareva, Caroline Wozniacki, and Agnieszka Radwansk, and Samantha Stosur en route to her first WTA Championships final, where she defeated Victoria Azarenka. She finished off the season by helping the Czech Republic Fed Cup team win title, and was named WTA Player of the Year.

Kvitova, who is quickly climbing the legend ladder, ended the year ranked at No. 2 – a career high. Not bad, after starting the year ranked at No. 34.

Always on the cusp of greatness, Murray earned back-to-back titles in Bangkok, Tokyo, and Shanghai. He was a "double" winner in Tokyo, taking both the singles and doubles title along with his brother, Jamie. He didn’t end the season on a high note (withdrawing from the World Tour Finals with a groin injury), and had another slam-less season, but his moments of brilliance during the Asian swing could be a sign of what’s to come in 2012. He made the final last year at the Australian Open. With just a bit more brilliance, he’ll be able to raise a Grand Slam trophy.

Murray had a brief stint ranked at No. 3 in November (his career-high is No. 2), but ended the year ranked at No. 4, with a 56/13 W/L record.

Talk about a comeback. Tomas Berdych won the China Open – his first title since winning the BMW Open in 2009, ending a 29-month title drought. He also reached 50-match wins for the first time in a season, and secured a spot at the World Tour Finals in London. In his second consecutive appearance at Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, he reached the semifinals, but was defeated by Tsonga.

Berdych has held a top 10 ranking for the entire 2011 season, ending at No. 7, with a 53-23 W/L record, a career-best.

With more confidence and consistency in her game, Ana Ivanovic soared upwards at the end this season, winning the Commonwealth Bank Tournament Of Champions in Bali as a wildcard. This was her second consecutive title win in Bali, and her first title of 2011. She defeated Anabel Medina Garrigues in the final on her 24th birthday.

Ivanovic ended the season ranked at No. 22.

No comments: