Saturday, December 31, 2011

Serena, bizarre incidents highlight 2011 Slammy awards

   It has been an eventful year featuring doubles excellence, a surreal experience, gratifying comebacks, stirring matches, bizarre incidents and even a wacky hairstyle.
   Presenting the first annual Slammys, highlighting 2011 in Northern California tennis:
   He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother Award (Male Players of the Year) -- Former Stanford All-Americans Bob and Mike Bryan continued to build a case as the greatest men's doubles team ever.
   The 33-year-old identical twin sons of Sacramento Capitals coach Wayne Bryan won the Australian Open and Wimbledon to give them 11 Grand Slam titles, tying them with International Tennis Hall of Famers Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde for the Open Era record.
   The Bryans won eight titles overall to boost their record total to 75. They also broke John McEnroe's record of 270 weeks at No. 1 and ended the year on top for a record seventh time.
   Yogi Berra "It's Like Deja Vu All Over Again" Award -- While we're on the subject of twins, Jacqueline Cako faced the Faceys back to back in singles qualifying at the Redding Challenger.
   Cako (pronounced KAY-ko), a sophomore at Arizona State seeded first in qualifying, beat the 18-year-old fraternal twins from the Sacramento suburb of Cameron Park by almost identical scores to advance to the main draw. Alexandra lost 6-2, 6-0 in the first round, and Kat fell 6-2, 6-2 the next day in the second round.
   "It was pretty funny," the 5-foot-10 Cako cackled. "It's never happened to me. I played on the same court, I warmed up with the same person, and I was following the same person as the day before. It was like the day before all over again."
   Still Not Too Shabby Award (Female Player of the Year) -- After winning the Wimbledon and the U.S. Open women's doubles titles in 2010, Vania King of the Capitals and Yaroslava Shvedova came up empty in Grand Slam tournaments this year.
   Not that they didn't come close, falling to fourth-seeded Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3) in the final at Flushing Meadows, N.Y. Shvedova, a Moscow native who plays for Kazakhstan, served for the match at 5-4 in the second set and at 5-4 in the second-set tiebreaker.
  King, a 22-year-old Long Beach product, and Shvedova did win two titles (Cincinnati and Moscow) and reached the semifinals of the French Open. The 5-foot-5 King dropped two spots to sixth in the year-end world doubles rankings and improved 10 places to 76th in singles, reaching the third round of the French Open and U.S. Open and recording her first victory over a top-10 player (No. 10 Marion Bartoli in the second round at Seoul).
   King, by the way, recently launched a new Web site at www.vania-king.com. 
   Tim Tebow Award (Comeback Players of the Year) -- Serena Williams won the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in only the third tournament of her comeback after an 11-month layoff caused by health problems. It was her first crown in the tournament, first outside of Grand Slam or season-ending tournaments in more than three years and first on the U.S. summer circuit since 2000.
   Shortly after winning Wimbledon last year for her 13th Grand Slam singles title, Williams stepped on broken glass at a restaurant and had surgery twice. Then she suffered life-threatening blood clots.
   Jimmy Wang, a former top-100 singles player from Taiwan who trains with Dmitry Tursunov in the Sacramento suburb of Granite Bay, soared from No. 797 to No. 274 in the year-end rankings after missing three years because of two operations on his right (playing) wrist. When asked how he hurt his wrist, the 26-year-old Wang mused, "I wish I knew."
   Honorable mention: Tursunov. The longtime Sacramento-area resident from Moscow continued his comeback from two operations on his left ankle and one on his left foot. He won his first singles title in two years at Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, and jumped from No. 197 to No. 40 in the year-end rankings.
   Tursunov, who turns 30 next December, will try to stay healthy and surpass his 2006 career high of No. 20.
   Stephen King Award (Most Suspenseful Match) -- It seemed nothing could top Daniel Nguyen's 7-5, 0-6, 6-4 victory over Sanam Singh in the deciding match to give USC a 4-3 victory over Virginia at Stanford for the Trojans' third consecutive NCAA Division I men's team title.
   But the battle between sophomores Lauren Embree of Florida and Mallory Burdette of Stanford later that day did. With the teams tied 3-3 in the NCAA women's final and Burdette leading 4-0 in the third set, it appeared certain that the Cardinal would win the title and earn its 185th consecutive home victory spanning 12 years. But Embree rallied to win 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (6), prevailing on her fifth match point.
   "I don't know what it looked like on TV or in the stands, but that took about 10 years off my life," Florida coach Roland Thornqvist said.
   Jeff Tarango "I'm Outta Here" Award --Senior Michael Shabaz of Virginia walked off the court in disgust during his NCAA men's singles semifinal at Stanford. Shabaz, ranked fifth nationally and a two-time NCAA doubles champion, trailed top-ranked Steve Johnson of USC 6-7 (4), 2-4 when he quit in protest of the officiating.
   "I'm in shock," Virginia coach Brian Boland confessed afterward. "I consider this the lowest point of my 15 years as a collegiate head coach. I've known Michael four years, and he's never quit on a match or walked off the court."
   Rumor has it that Shabaz recently quit a Monopoly game when his opponent landed on Boardwalk..
   John McEnroe "You Cannot Be Serious" Award -- Speaking of bizarre incidents, Daniel Kosakowski netted a volley on match point for him in the semifinals of the Sacramento Futures but won the point.    
    How is that possible? Chair umpire Brad Taylor ruled that opponent Antoine Benneteau had distracted Kosakowski during their exchange at the net by saying "No" when Benneteau thought Kosakowski had double-hit the ball. Therefore, Taylor awarded Kosakowski the point. Benneteau argued at the time but later said it was the right call.
   (I'd Rather Not) Meet the Press Award -- OK, one more wild occurrence.
   Forgive Lauren Davis if she's a little nervous around television cameras. It's not that the promising 18-year-old American is shy. Rather, in one of the strangest accidents in sports history, she suffered a concussion while filming a commercial at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, S.C., in April. The wind knocked over the camera, which fell on the 5-foot-2, 120-pound Davis' head. 
   "I blacked out for five or 10 seconds," the sixth-seeded Davis said after demolishing Katie Ruckert 6-0, 6-0 in 62 minutes in the first round of the Redding Challenger in September. "I didn't think it was too severe, but the pain was excruciating the next day. I got really nervous then. I felt like my head was g oing to explode. I had headaches for two months straight, but it was never that severe again."
   Don Henley/Glenn Frey "New Kid in Town" Award (Newcomer of the Year) -- Unseeded Milos Raonic, then 20, stunned top seed and defending champion Fernando Verdasco 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5) to win the SAP Open in San Jose. Raonic, 6-5, became the first player born in the 1990s to win an ATP World Tour singles title and first Canadian to capture an ATP title since Greg Rusedski in Seoul in 1995.
   Runner-up: Jack Sock. Three weeks after his stunning U.S. Open mixed doubles title with fellow American Melanie Oudin, the 19-year-old Sock reached the singles quarterfinals and doubles final of the $100,000 Sacramento Challenger.
   "He's a great player," veteran James Blake, a former top-five player, said after eliminating Sock in singles. "He has a lot of talent. He would have beaten the pants off me at 19. He has a lot to learn, for sure, but he's already done a lot at 19. I can see him being a completely different player next year at this time."
   Kim Clijsters Nice Guy Award --Sam Querrey, a San Francisco native trying to return to the top 20 after undergoing surgery on his right (playing) elbow in June, hit with ballboys and ballgirls after his matches in the Sacramento and Tiburon Challengers.
   After Blake was thanked for interviews during the Sacramento tournament, he invariably said, "My pleasure." The last time I heard an athlete say that was ... never.
   To learn more about Blake, a class act in the mold of Arthur Ashe, read his 2007 autobiography, "Breaking Back." You won't regret it.
  Odd Couple Award -- Croatia's Ivo Karlovic, the tallest player in the Sacramento Challenger at 6-10, beat Dominican Victor Estrella, the shortest at 5-8, in the second round 6-3, 6-2. Karlovic, who missed the last six months of 2010 after undergoing Achilles' tendon-related surgery, went on to win the title and repeat the following week in the Tiburon Challenger.
   Elle Woods Award -- With power and quickness, 6-2 Blake Strode appears to have a bright future in professional tennis. But don't feel too bad for him if he doesn't make it. The 24-year-old St. Louis product has deferred his acceptance to Harvard Law School, which Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) attended in the hilarious movie "Legally Blonde."    
   Emergency Medical Technician Award -- Former Capitals owner Ramey Osborne came to the rescue when the team appeared to be on its death bed. He repurchased World TeamTennis' longest-tenured franchise (26 years), assuring it would stay in Sacramento, after owner Bob Cook declared bankruptcy.
   Brian Wilson Incognito Award -- Doubles specialist John Paul Fruttero, a former All-American at Cal, showed up at the Sacramento Challenger in October with blue and gold spiked hair.
   "It started in April on my 30th birthday," he explained. "In the tennis world, that's pretty old. It's safe to say I was having a mid-life crisis. I lost in the first round four times in a row. I told the stylist in Tampa (Fla.) to do something crazy, change things up. ... It was light brown in Tampa, pretty tame. I asked for gray in China and got platinum blond."
   Fruttero switched to blue and gold in honor of his alma mater the week before the Sacramento tournament while he was at home in San Jose.
  "I'm very loyal to my school, and there are a lot of Cal supporters here," he said. "You can't wear a (school) logo in your matches, so why not do something different?"
   It worked. Fruttero skyrocketed from No. 359 in the world to a career-high No. 117 in 2011.
   All in all, it has been a hair-raising year.            

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