They are the final measure of every great tennis player: by the battles, the wins, and the records.
They span the year from January to September, from southern hemisphere to north, from green grass, to red clay and blue composite. They are invariably hot, frequently rain drenched, always dramatic.
And each brings a unique character, tradition, tone, and challenge to the players.
From Nadal conquering the baking hard courts of Australia to Federer conquering an emotional Paris, from Roddick winning a nation’s heart at Wimbledon to the new face on role of honor at Flushing Meadows, which was your best Slam in 2009?
1. Australian Open
Nominated by Claudia Celestial Girl
Zzzzztahhhhhhthddd. That’s the sound of a moth expiring on the 140 degree Plexicushion surface that constitutes the “field” for this tournament.
He had the game. He had the tricky, feinting strategy that left his opponents perplexed and confused. He was the odds-on favorite. He couldn’t lose.
Was it to be Dinara or Ana or Jelena? They all rotated into the No. 1 position at one time or another during the previous four months.
Wait, what’s that sound again? Who knew moths made so much noise?
Victoria Azarenka threw up and had to retire. (OK, it was 140 degrees out there).
Fitness! You gotta have it, or you are not going to survive the Australian Open.
Novak Djokovic disparaged against Roddick at the previous U.S. Open. Now, against Andy, Novak called the trainer twice, and finally shook Andy’s hand after two sets, while Roddick leaped out of his chair, jogged in place, and wore a nonchalant expression that said “what’s the problem here?”
Likewise Monfils, with a hand injury.
It’s not the sound of moths expiring, it’s the sound of a juggernaut approaching in the distance.
Fernando Verdasco had a lot of talent, so the saying went. Showed a lot of promise. Had a lot of potential. Won the Davis Cup the month before. Bookmakers didn’t give him much of a chance against Murray.
Andy won the first set handily but then, like a tanker in the ocean changing its bearing, Verdasco began to roll with pinpointingly accurate first serves, blistering forehands, and suddenly Andy’s strategic acumen seemed to evaporate like drops of sweat from his forehead.
By the fourth set it was clear the juggernaut was gaining, and (from his facial expression) Andy couldn’t believe he was losing. 2–6, 6–1, 1–6, 6–3, 6–4.
Serena Williams hardly seemed like a juggernaut. She could be dangerous in the Slams, but she was inconsistent. With a lucky moment against Azarenka, who didn’t have the fitness to survive the arena, Serena’s competitive wheels went into high gear as if the Australian Open was a Plexicushion furnace.
Quarterfinals, and it looked like Verdasco was going to meet his match in 2008 A.O. finalist, and one of the hottest players on tour, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Two pounding forehands. Two athletic players. A barn burner of a first set: 7-6(2), 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Semifinals. Verdasco against World No. 1 Nadal, against whom Verdasco had never won a match: against whom Verdasco had lost 1-0-2 in the 2008 French Open.
It’s hard to get beyond 1-0-2. Unless you are a juggernaut with Gilley, and Andre, Darren and Vincente behind you. Belief. Those guys from Las Vegas help the good ones find the center: 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-7(2), 7-6(1), 4-6, the longest match in Australian Open history, lasting 5 hours, 14 minutes.
Characterized by strong serving while cramping (that fitness thing again), and forehands that took the opponent by surprise.
Roger that. Roger dismantled Roddick in straight sets, racking up yet another of his embarrassing 18-2 wins in his head-to-head with the American: wrong footing Andy and making him look like an amateur. The only person in the tournament to look “cool.”
The ladies’ final was over in 59 minutes (shorter than the first set of the men’s final). Serena collected major title number 10.
Then it was time for a classic. Yet another instalment of Roger against Rafa. What nobody expected at the outset. Rafa in the finals of a hard-court major? What was the likelihood that he could actually win? Especially after that scintillating, sizzling semifinal, a once-in-a-20-year match against Verdasco.
“The history books are before me,” said Roger. “It should be interesting.”
Fitness, said the Plexicushion to the flesh and blood. A Roger and Rafa classic will involve fitness. It will involve concentration. It will involve focus. It will involve outrageous gets from outrageous positions.
Forehands around the net-post. Points that should have been won with the first winner, but that come back. A Roger and Rafa classic will involves somebody trying to break the other, and not succeeding. It will involve courage and fortitude, and something extraordinary about the human spirit.
In this A.O., the extraordinary extended even unto the trophy ceremony.
“Are you ready to speak?” Supposedly that’s what Rafa said to Roger, one arm around his shoulders in a gesture of brotherly consolation, when Roger burst into tears during his loser’s speech.
And it was enough to get Roger through the experience—thanking the “legends” for coming out to watch him attempt major title number 14 and tie with the all-time leader, Pete Sampras.
“You will match the 14 of Sampras for sure,” said Rafa, looking over his shoulder at tearful Roger.
And the year was only beginning.
2. French Open
Nominated by Marianne Bevis
There is a certain je ne sais quoi about Roland Garros. A certain class, a certain atmosphere, a certain—how to put it—superiority.
This is tennis as social event, with champagne and canapés, and vibrant conversation that happens to have the most immaculate of tennis arenas as a backdrop.
But this year, French society smelled something special in the air.
A month before, in Madrid, Roger Federer scored only his second win over Rafael Nadal on clay, and took his first ATP title since Basel in 2008.
It gave a glimmer of hope that he would not suffer the same bloodletting of the 2008 final.
The je ne sais quoi acquired a little more certainty. This could be the one.
In the women’s draw, too, a multi-Slam winner was embarking on her quest for a first French title. Venus Williams reached the finals in 2002—where she fell to sister Serena—and had reached the quarterfinals four times since.
Then there was top seed Dinara Safina with something to prove. Could she truly be a world No. 1 without a Slam to her name? She wanted to silence the doubters. Was this her one?
Former finalist, Svetlana Kuznetsova, was showing some old sparkle, too. She hadn’t won a Slam since the U.S. in 2004, but came to Paris with her first win in 18 months, in Stuttgart, three weeks before. She beat Safina. Could this be her second one?
Reigning champion Ana Ivanovic also began to shine, producing effortless wins on her way to the fourth round. As she entered the mix, Venus left it.
The bombshells fell on the last day of May.
Both Ivanovic and Nadal beaten. With his defeat, at the hands of Robin Soderling, Nadal lost his chance to be the first player to win the French Open five times in a row.
Then, as if to anoint Federer’s head, the same fate befell Novak Djokovic.
This definitely might be the one.
The wheels almost came off the Swiss limousine when Tommy Haas nearly beat Federer in straight sets. It turned on a single, line-skimming drive from Federer.
Was the burden of becoming favorite for the title just too much to bear?
Attention swiftly turned to the other top-ten players: Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro, and Gael Monfils.
The quarterfinals were also replete with several “mature” players making their mark in some style.
Fernando Gonzalez, at 29, was playing some of the best clay court tennis of his life. He swept Murray aside in his aggressive march to the semis.
Tommy Robredo, 27, took out Djokovic’s assassin, Philipp Kohlschreiber, but found the towering del Potro too much to handle.
Andy Roddick progressed further than ever before, but lost his cool against home favorite Monfils.
Nikolay Davydenko, back from injury, was taking some notable scalps: Stanislas Wawrinka and Fernando Verdasco. But Davydenko succumbed to the giant-killing Soderling.
Meanwhile, the women’s draw climaxed in an all-Russian affair. The two with the most to prove were the ones.
Safina, the beaten finalist in 2008, had dropped only five games in reaching the quarterfinals and just one set on her way to the final. Kuznetsova, meanwhile, was looking tired after fighting off both Serena Williams and Sam Stosur in long three-setters.
Kuznetsova, however, brushed aside Safina: straight sets, 75 minutes. She had ended Safina’s 16-match winning streak and her own five-year wait for a second Slam.
Order was restored for Federer when he quelled the flamboyant talent of Monfils in straight sets, and strode into his 20th consecutive Slam semifinal.
This had to be the one.
The men’s semifinals, though, were a dramatic affair. Soderling roared into his first Slam final with a heroic 6-3, 7-5, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 victory over Gonzalez.
He led by two sets, was hauled back, and then staged a tour de force of a recovery from 1-4 down in the final set.
Federer faced a brutal onslaught from Del Potro, also needing five sets to win: 3-6, 7-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-4. It was Federer’s 200th Grand Slam match. That seemed to be enough to make him believe this was the one.
By the time the Roland Garros crowd had given the drama of the men’s final its full attention, they had also seen Lukas Dlouhy and Leander Paes win their first men’s doubles Slam together, beating the No. 1 seeds Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimomjic in the semis.
They watched doubles legends Bob Bryan and Liezel Huber stretched to a thrilling 5-7 7-6 10-7 scoreline.
And they saw an awesome display by Anabel Garrigues and Virginia Pascual to win the women’s doubles, 6-1, 6-1. This marked the final French Open appearance by the 10-times-winner, 35-year-old Pascua.
By the final Sunday, the French crowd and Federer would not, could not be denied. The crème de la crème won his record-breaking victory, 6-1, 7-6, 6-4 in appropriately charismatic and emotional style.
It was his fourth consecutive French final. It equalled the Slam record of Pete Sampras. It completed the “set.” It was a fait accompli .
Federer duly became, at the French Open of 2009, the one.
Nominated by JA Allen
Wimbledon remains the piece de resistance when it comes to Grand Slam championships. Players who have won on Centre Court at Wimbledon have achieved a lifelong dream.
It is the oldest tennis tournament of the four Grand Slams and it is steeped in tradition and prestige. Since its beginning in 1877, it is the only remaining Grand Slam held on grass...at the All England Club in the London suburb of Wimbledon.
In attendance are royalty which once required players to bow and curtsy as they entered the court, a practice no longer in force.
Wimbledon is high tea and strawberries and cream. You must wear white and you must observe proper decorum. Boorish behavior is not tolerated. Just ask John McEnroe!
Wimbledon has survived the test of time, withstood the temptations to modernize, and has kept its firmly-held traditions in place, except for a retractable roof over Centre Court that it unveiled during the 2009 tournament.
Currently, William Renshaw and Pete Sampras hold the most men’s titles with seven each. The record for the most consecutive titles won is held by William Renshaw with six. In the modern era Bjorn Borg and Roger Federer hold the record, each securing five consecutive wins on Centre Court.
It is like a page out of the past brought to life and lived for two weeks as summer begins in earnest.
Wimbledon brings fairy tale mystique of the highest magnitude…the stuff dreams are made of in winning the All England crown.
2009 did not disappoint. It lived up to all expectations.
Lleyton Hewitt beat back the hands of time and the anchors of injury to make it to the quarterfinals with his fans chanting and rejoicing to see his old fire ignited and on full display once again.
The Aussie lost in a thrilling five-setter to Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals, sending Roddick into the semifinals to face home town favorite, the pride of the British Isles, Andy Murray.
On the other side of the draw, Tommy Haas, former world No. 2 with the Hollywood looks and a hunger to win, booked his way into the quarters where he would meet the iconic Serb, Novak Djokovic.
Keeping his dream alive, Haas overcame Djokovic just as he did in the finals at Halle, to advance to the semifinals.There he would meet Federer who ended the magnificent run of the giant Ivo Karlovic on the grass of Wimbledon 6-3, 7-5, 7-6.
The Williams sisters were wiping out the field on the ladies side, mowing down the competition in singles and in doubles.
Dinara Safina took care of newcomer Sabine Lisicki 6-7, 6-4, 6-1 in the quarterfinals to advance to the semifinals where she would face Venus Williams, 2008 defending champion.
Venus had defeated Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1, 6-2 to advance into the semifinals.
On the other side Elena Dementieva scooted into the semifinals by winning her match against Francesca Schiavone 6-2, 6-2.
She would meet the younger Williams sister Serena who had overcome Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 6-3 to advance, setting up her meeting with the No. 4 seeded Russian.
The semifinal match between Dementieva and Serena Williams was the ladies match of the tournament, with Dementieva holding match points against Serena Williams before finally losing 6-7, 7-5, 8-6.
In the other semifinal, Venus Williams annihilated Dinara Safina 6-1, 6-0.
The ladies match would be between the two sisters. Venus was hoping for her sixth final win and Serena was hoping for her third.
It turned out to be Serena’s win—her 11th Grand Slam trophy. And, after resting about an hour or so, the sisters took the court again and won the doubles crown as well.
The men’s semifinals rolled out more championship-caliber matches for the crowds assembled to watch as Andy Roddick defeated their man Murray 6-4, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6 in a tightly fought contest sending the American into the final for the first time since 2005.
In the other semifinal, Federer won in straight sets over Haas but the sets were tight and hard fought with Haas succumbing 7-6, 7-5, 6-3.
The final between Federer and Roddick remains a classic. Roddick's serve was never broken in 37 service games—the only break of serve occurred in the 38th game and it cost Roddick the match.
It was the mark of the champion that Federer endured and swept up his sixth Wimbledon crown and his 15th grand slam victory surpassing the record set by Pete Sampras.
Federer defeated Roddick, 5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 16-14. It was the longest and most watched Wimbledon final in the long history of the tournament.
Watching the match unwind in the Royal Box were former champions Pete Sampras, Borg and Rod Laver.
With record-setting crowds, scintillating matches, and the rise of Federer to set a new record, winning his 15th grand slam, Wimbledon 2009 was the best Slam of the year.
4. U.S. Open
Nominated by AntiMatter
The tennis year starts closing its curtains after the last Grand Slam of the year. And this year’s U.S. Open took out that much from the fans and the players and made it an easy thing to start unwinding for the year, despite being the most exciting thing of the year.
The Slam with the "X-Factor" on the entertainment side had not only excitement within matches, it had also story-lines and trends woven throughout its temporal existence—fairy tales on the women's side, anticipation of the legendary becoming even more so, crowning of a new prince, and the deposing of the previous pretender to the throne, it was scripted to request.
Roger Federer started as the defending champion and clear favourite on the men's side, and except for showing a few glitches here and there, he was alright, which in his terms would mean, he would send back anyone with the wave of a hand except perhaps someone named Rafael Nadal.
Andy Roddick lived up to his reputation of losing even when having more breaks of serve in separate sets.
The man he lost to, Sam Querrey, left the Americans with mixed feelings, but mostly anger towards the sky-scraper.
Soderling continued his fabulous run in Slams but lived true to the trend he had set previously—lose to Federer, but not before improving his performance.
Monfils was effervescent but burnt out again this time to Nadal. He probably played the most exciting hour and half in the tournament.
Murray again lost to a first-striker, though it could be said that the reason he was meek could be his wrist-injury.
People started noticing the loose-limbed tree of a man more. Cilic played some wonderful tennis, but he came against a similar but better player in Juan Martin Del Potro and lost in four sets.
Djokovic meanwhile was going strong, but not as consistent as he probably could be. He was taken against his improved version from the past, Federer, in a tight semi-finals, which also probably had Federer's "best shot ever" to take him to match point.
Nadal was coming out of his injury and was improving alarmingly—his match against Kiefer showing a lot of variety, and against Monfils showing a lot of endurance, fighting spirit and, well, "Nadal." He won against the sledge-hammer forehand in straight sets.
But then he came across an even bigger forehand in the semifinals, perhaps the biggest forehand of 'em all. His woes were compounded by a torn abdominal muscle.
And he lost his worst loss: 6-2 6-2 6-2.
But Federer was not worried. He was the Slam Machine. He would probably mix it up well and put his opponent out of contention. And he looked well on his way for that winning the first and serving for the second. But a line-call-dispute had him all angry and perhaps a tad out of focus.
That was enough for Del Potro, who from then on, played like he had never before. Firing 100 MPH forehands fearlessly at the man who has arguably the best ever forehand: "Ok you have the best, but this is the most powerful. How does that taste?" He held his mind together, slowed down his serve deliberately, which blunted Federer's returns and won his first Grand Slam final, defeating both Nadal and Federer on his way.
On the women's side, Melanie Oudin with a fairy tale success seemed to be the personification of the American Dream. Many a time she found herself down in a match and almost every single time she dug herself out of trouble with her never-say-die attitude complementing the insurmountable counter-punching game.
Kim Clijsters had returned to the tour, now a mother, more mature, and less awed by the occasion.
Playing some of the best tennis of her life, she reached the finals beating Serena Williams in an eventful semifinals where the winner won on a penalty point at match point. The act that cost Serena her match also cost her a lot of money.
Caroline Wozniacki had been for sometime loitering around the waiting room of the Slam finals. She finally got the nod when she took out Oudin.
It was a match where a counter-puncher met another more experienced version of herself, and perhaps better.
Clijsters' consistency, variety, and athleticism got the better of the Danish lass in straight sets. She now stands the only other woman after Evonne Goolagong to win a Slam a mother.
The U.S. Open was marred by weather that added to the uncertainty of the match-ups where fitness would be an issue.
Thus ended the last Grand Slam of the year, crowing a new prince and re-crowning the returned queen.