Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Fan Child's WTA Awards, Part 1

The WTA posted its year-end player awards yesterday, but something about them left me feeling a little disappointed. Well, not disappointed really, but I did feel that more players deserved credit for their remarkable achievements. Depth was truly the calling card of the WTA this year, with three first-time Grand Slam winners and lots of other surprises along the way. Sure, Petra Kvitova is clearly deserving of player of the year, but how about a rule precluding her (or anyone else) from getting more than one award when there are so many other deserving players?

All totaled, Kvitova won four awards, including one voted on by the fans (favorite breakthrough player) and another voted on by peers (Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship). Make no mistake about it, Petra is totally deserving, but I've created The Fan Child's WTA Awards to recognize some of the other great players who've been left off the WTA's official list.

So, here goes:

Most Inspiring: Na Li

First Asian Grand Slam winner in tennis history? Check. Thought by many to be past her prime and not truly elite? Check. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the biggest story in tennis this year, Na Li. Not only did she have 116 million watching her French Open final in China, she also proved that press conferences and on-court interviews can be hilarious episodes of comedic genius too. But seriously, think about it: No matter what happens in Chinese tennis for the next million years, Na Li will always be the one who cracked the code. And she did it against the odds, on a surface that she outwardly disliked, with tons of spunk and nerve to boot. It's true that Li hasn't been the same player since this remarkable triumph, but that does not in any way cast a shadow over Li's truly remarkable performance at Roland Garros. Nothing ever will.

Comeback player of the year: Serena Williams

Sabine Lisicki, who has chosen by the media for the WTA's version of the award, is very deserving, let's make no mistake about that. But is she as deserving as the player who went through a near-death experience, was expected by many to never play again, then rose from the ashes to become the Tour's hottest player of the summer and reach the US Open final? I don't think so. I know the last thing that Serena wants is another meaningless award -- the woman wants Grand Slams titles -- but if there was one comeback player in the WTA this year, it could only be Serena.

Most Pleasant Surprise: Sam Stosur

I actually don't understand why Sam Stosur wasn't voted by her peers for the Sportsmanship award, but because she wasn't I'm going to do her a solid and vote her in for the WTA's most pleasant surprise. Honestly, is there a nicer, more down to earth player on the WTA Tour? Still, as talented as Stosur was, most believed that she'd forever be known as a player who always found a way to not get it done when it counted the most. But lo and behold, there was Sam Stosur, staring down Serena Williams in the US Open final, and playing the best tennis of her career, precisely when it counted the most.

Best Crowd Pleaser: Andrea Petkovic

Ah, the Petko dance, the vids, the indie music, the hilarious, sentient, and self-effacing tweets, the laid back viral video shot on the Indian Wells grassy area with James LaRosa. Is there anybody better suited to deliver the message that WTA players can say more than stuff like "it is what it is" and "I'm just going to try and play my tennis" when the camera is on them? I think not.

Grunter of the Year: Maria Sharapova

This one was very close. I hemmed. I hawed. But in the end, based on the strength of her decibel level and on her Grand Slam final appearance at Wimbledon, I have to give it to Maria. Obviously Vika is a close second, and in a surprising twist, Francesca Schiavone, she of the "Ah-Heeeeee," came in third.

Server of the year: Petra Kvitova

Since I'm not going to do the conventional player of the year thing, I have to give Petra something. Petra used that big swooping lefty serve as the cornerstone of her dynamic game this year, and she's finally proved that someone other than a Williams sister can bring the heat on the serve when it counts. In second place is Sabine Lisicki, who has the chance to enter the top 10 next year, largely on the strength of her serving prowess.

Best Net Player: Francesca Schiavone

In a game ruled by baseline bashers that fear they'll turn into pumpkins if they cross the service line during a point, Francesca Schiavone breaks the mold. Francesca may not have the purest volleying technique, but she more makes up for that in aggression and a willingness to finish points at the net. Schiavone is one of the most exciting players to watch on Tour because she plays tennis in three dimensions, using everything she can to construct winning points.

Is there anybody I've left out? Of course, that is what part 2 is for, so stay tuned for more in the upcoming days.

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