We consider the best and worst players and moments of 2016.
What a year it’s been. A presidential election finished, several celebrities passed away, and another Olympics happened (you tried your best, Rio). It hasn’t been an easy year, with many on the interweb begging for it all to be over. But here at the Sports Quotient, we’ve kind of enjoyed 2016. It’s been an interesting year for tennis at least, and so to show our appreciation for the best (and worst) of the year, we present the SQ Tennis Awards 2016. Happy Holidays, folks.
Best Moment: Juan Martin Del Potro Defeats Novak Djokovic, Olympics 1st Round, 7-6(4), 7-6(2)
Put simply, we doubt there has been a more anticipated first round match in the history of tennis. At the start of 2016, Novak Djokovic’s goals were very apparent — one, win the French Open, and thereby achieve the ‘Djoker’ Slam, and two, win Olympic gold.
With his first struck from the list with considerable aplomb, and Federer’s withdrawal from the tournament (and the year), it looked like Djokovic was set to surpass the Swiss superstar in another milestone (Federer has never won Olympics singles gold). Days before his bid began, however, an interesting speed bump appeared. They called him the Tower of Tandil — Juan Martin del Potro.
Although his career was sidelined for several on-and-off years, del Potro made a stunning return to the tour with an upset victory over Stanislas Wawrinka in the second round of Wimbledon, and was the last player you wanted to see in the early stages of a tournament. Del Potro had stated that earlier in the day, he had been trapped in an elevator for 40 minutes before being rescued by the Argentinian handball team. On the court, however, he needed no help in dispatching Djokovic with blazing forehands that made Djokovic’s normally airtight defense untenable. In two tiebreaks, del Potro upset Djokovic on his road to the finals where he would fall to Andy Murray, in one of the most wildly entertaining starts to any tournament in recent memory.
Worst Moment: Nick Kyrgios Fined For Lack Of Effort, And Subsequently Forced To See A Sports Psychologist
Tennis has long been criticized for lacking an edge. Nick Kyrgios was believed to be an answer for those clamoring for a bit more excitement on the court, but back in October in the Shanghai Masters during a second-round match against Mischa Zverev, the Aussie crossed the line between colorful and deplorable as he put on a showing devoid of any effort, sportsmanship, and love for the game. He was fined $16,500 and received an eight-week ban, which was later reduced, for giving his “lack of best efforts.”
The No. 13 ranked player’s antics significantly compounded his already infamous reputation of not fully committing himself to the sport. His prior comments about how he had wished he had become a professional basketball player and how he did not really even like tennis were considered indications of immaturity, but after this pitiful performance, Kyrgios has solidified himself as a disgrace to the game. His actions went far beyond the cartoonish player you love-to-hate role, and his weak groundstrokes and woefully slow movement were a slap in the face to the legacies of Jimmy Connors and Rafael Nadal, both of whom have defined their careers based on their unfailing ability to put their bodies through the ringer for the sake of the game.
Kyrgios agreed to see an ATP-approved psychologist, and has since won the ATP World Tour 500 series title in Tokyo. Hopefully, it’s a sign that the rising star will put in the time so that he can realize his full potential because there should be no room for lifeless play in 2017.
Match Of The Year: Kei Nishikori Defeats Andy Murray, 1-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5
This match featured one of the most statistically intriguing and emotionally volatile pairings of the 2016 tour. With a 7-1 record heading into the match, Murray was heavily favored to beat the lightning-quick Japanese player. However, a look at the sum of the players’ expected win probabilities, a metric which can be used to gauge how close/long a match will be, reveals that this match was set to be a thriller from the beginning. It delivered on this statistical promise and certainly gave fans their money’s worth.
After going down two sets to one, Nishikori implemented an aggressive serve and volley strategy. This gutsy tactic and almost flawless tennis at the net proved too much for the baseliner Murray to handle. Special Kei won the match in five sets. To boot, Andy, in typical laddish form, made his exasperation apparent, which provided almost as much entertainment as the high-quality tennis itself.
Best Comeback: Roger Federer Against Marin Cilic, Wimbledon Quarter-finals, 6-7(4), 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(9), 6-3
There are times when you watch tennis, especially as a Federer fan, and you want to hide your face in your hands and pray to God that your man or woman pulls out the win by some miracle. It’s times like these that you recall and either get the rush of adrenaline that came from victory or the sour taste of defeat, depending on the result of the match.
Very quickly Federer found himself down two sets to love, facing Cilic in a form not unlike his 2013 US Open championship run. There were many jaw-dropping moments in the match, including a 110 mph second serve ace from Federer to save match point, Federer reeling off five straight points down 0-40, 3-all in the third to stay on serve, and a 20-point tiebreak that saw Cilic save four set points before Federer edged it.
Eventually, Federer would push through to complete his 10th comeback from two-sets-to-love-down in his career and become the oldest man in the Open Era to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals since Ken Rosewall (at 34 years and 336 days).
After the match, Federer would say, “I just remember being in trouble the whole time”. Us too, Rog. Us too.
Player Of The Year: Andy Murray
Interestingly, bitter defeat at the hands of Special Kei spurred Murray to unprecedented excellence. Though he had been playing solid tennis all year, the four months of 2016 after the US Open saw Andy explode to World #1 by winning China, Shanghai, Vienna, Paris, and the World Tour Finals. Of course, at the World Tour Finals, Murray took out Novak Djokovic to secure his spot as World #1.
The numbers behind Murray’s meteoric rise are staggering and speak for themselves. He won an ATP-best nine Tour titles (a new career high) from 13 finals, including his second Wimbledon and second consecutive Olympic gold medal. He became the first man to win singles titles at a Slam, the Olympics, a Masters 1000 event, and the ATP World Tour Finals in the same calendar year. As familial icing on the cake, Andy and his brother, Jamie, became the first brothers to finish a year ranked No. 1 in singles and doubles. Finally, Andy took home the most prize money on tour, banking a cool $16.3 million in winnings.
Worst Player: Grigor Dimitrov
After starting the year at 28 in the world, Grigor Dimitrov dropped all the way to 40 by July. After reaching a career high of eight in 2014, he has been in decline ever since.
Though he was able to climb back to #17 by the end of the year, Dimitrov can still be labeled the worst player of the year. He did not win a single title and had nine first-round losses. Additionally, his meltdown against Diego Schwartzman in the Istanbul finals was one of the most unsportsmanlike moments of the year. After being up 7-6 5-2, he proceeded to lose his lead and his mind. Dimitrov broke three rackets over the course of the match and then defaulted down 0-5, just two points from losing the match.
To improve next year, he needs to improve his play and his attitude.
Best Tournament: Wimbledon
The 2016 Wimbledon Championships had a little bit of everything: David slaying Goliath, an improbable comeback, the rebirth of a star whose flame was believed to have burned out, and the triumph of the home-country hero who added to his growing legacy. The level of intrigue matched the high quality of tennis, and fans undoubtedly found it difficult to divert their attention from the drama, despite the torrential downpour that failed to ruin what was both an entertaining and important two weeks of tennis.
Juan Martin Del Potro kicked off the proceedings when he upended the No. 4 seed Stan Wawrinka in the second round. It was a welcome sight for his fans, as the Argentine and former U.S. Open Champion arose from the abyss after a wrist injury forced him outside the top 1,000. His massive forehand allowed him to close out his multi-slam-winning opponent in four sets and reintroduce himself to the tennis world. Deploy would fall in the next round, but his brief showing would prove to be a foreshadowing of a hugely successful season.
Meanwhile, the King of Grass, Roger Federer, looked destined to once again steal the show, as he looked to shake off his rust with a deep run at All-England Club. Federer, while not the tourney’s trophy hoister, put on two match-of-the-year candidates, first erasing a 2-0 deficit and fighting off three match points to defeat Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals, and then falling short in another five-set thriller in the semifinals versus Milos Raonic.
It was a missed opportunity for Federer, especially with the shocking defeat of Novak Djokovic at the hands of Sam Querrey, the most important American tennis match in quite some time. But it showed he could still make people ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ even in a semi-fragile state of health and at the ripe age of 34. Furthermore, his defeat brought on the emergence of another star in Raonic, who used his monster serve to earn a runner-up finish.
Murray won his second Wimbledon title, proving his first was not a fluke, and that he is capable of sustaining the level of play worthy of labeling him an era-defining player. The sight of the crowd favorite going for glory always raises the stakes, and with the addition of Djokovic’s early exit, the resurrection of del Potro and the rise of Raonic, the 2016 Championships may go long way in mapping out the landscape for the immediate future of tennis, with the top of the mountain more crowded and uncertain than it has been in years.
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- Novak Djokovic
- Andy Murray
- Kei Nishikori
- Stanislas Wawrinka