By Ravi Ubha, ESPN.com
This year's Grand Slams are in the books, and talk about eventful. For the
fifth time since 2004, a men's player won three majors in a campaign -- but
it wasn't Rafa or Roger. The women produced three first-time winners, none
of whom was, bizarrely, Caroline Wozniacki.
The end of the Slam season means it's time for our Grand Slam awards.
Men's player of the year: Novak Djokovic
For a few years, Djokovic drifted. He was one of those players who seemed
destined to go deep at majors and beat the top two here and there, but not
deliver at crunch time.
That all changed.
Winning the Davis Cup last year whetted his appetite; he said bye to gluten,
and the serve became a useful weapon. Along with his already-***
baseline game, this proved to be a perfect mix.
The result was emphatic victories at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and U.S.
Let's hope the back injury he aggravated over the weekend doesn't keep him
out long term.
Women's player of the year: Li Na
That Li won a major wasn't a shock. The surprise was that she won at the
French Open, the only Slam where she hadn't reached the quarterfinals prior
But it was no fluke. Li downed two in-form players (Petra Kvitova and
Victoria Azarenka) before topping the defending champ, Francesca Schiavone,
to become China's first Grand Slam winner.
And she was the only women's major winner of 2011 to get to at least the
semis at two Slams, landing in the finale in Melbourne.
Most disappointing men's player: Andy Murray
Murray had his best Grand Slam year, reaching a final and three semis. But
he still can't get over the hump.
Will he ever?
Murray failed to win a set in the Australian Open final, making it three
straight-set losses in all three of his Slam finals.
Until he tinkers with his game and plays aggressive in all of his matches,
his best chance of ending the drought comes from the unlikely scenario he
doesn't have to face at least two of the big three.
Most disappointing women's player: Caroline Wozniacki
Wozniacki proved to be a memorable figure at Slams. She concocted a tale
revolving around a kangaroo and orchestrated her own press conference in
Melbourne. In New York, her relationship with Rory McIlroy and the identity
of her new coach were hot topics of discussion.
Unfortunately for the Dane, no one was talking about her snapping out of a
much-maligned Grand Slam drought. A more defensive player than even Murray,
she was out-powered by Li, Daniela Hantuchova, Dominika Cibulkova and Serena
Williams at the majors.
The good news for Wozniacki: She's younger than Murray and doesn't have to
deal with anything that closely resembles the big three on the women's tour.
Best men's match: Roger Federer-Novak Djokovic, U.S. Open
This award was a toss-up between their meetings in Paris and New York. The
French Open was a higher-quality affair, and forceful chants of "Roger,
Roger" from the crowd made for a Davis Cup atmosphere. The Fed prevailed,
ending Djokovic's unbeaten start to 2011.
But that semi didn't go five and feature perhaps the shot of the year:
Djokovic slapping a cross-court forehand return to save a match point.
The most punishing match of the year? Djokovic's slugfest versus Rafael
Nadal two days later.
Best women's match: Svetlana Kuznetsova-Francesca Schiavone, Australian Open
The lion-hearted Schiavone backed up her breakthrough 2010 by reaching
another French Open final and progressing to the quarterfinals in Melbourne.
She went deep Down Under the hard way, saving six match points against
Kuznetsova in 4 hours, 44 minutes, the longest women's match in Grand Slam
history. The final set ended 16-14.
"At some stage I was like, 'What's the score?'" Kuznetsova said. "'Who's
serving?' I had no clue sometimes. I was like, 'Who is up, she or me?'"
Best comeback: Serena Williams
Like her or not, Williams deserves much respect for playing at Wimbledon in
the aftermath of a life-threatening illness. And once there, she didn't
disgrace herself, losing a tight match to Marion Bartoli in the fourth
Williams, with her discernible desire, was the heavy favorite in New York,
coasting to the final before succumbing to Samantha Stosur.
You wonder if the result would have been different had Williams' toe been
100 percent and if she were afforded a more generous turnaround time after
Biggest breakthrough: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
Pavlyuchenkova had long lived with the tag of highest-ranking *** in the
top 100. But she hadn't yet made any noise at Grand Slams.
That changed at the French Open, where the flat-hitting, tenacious
Pavlyuchenkova upset Vera Zvonareva to advance to a first quarterfinal.
Then, blowing a hefty lead against Schiavone, Pavlyuchenkova turned the
tables and rallied against the Italian in New York to reach yet another Slam
Most memorable Slam: U.S. Open
The Australian Open, where Nadal sought to complete the "Rafa Slam"
(remember that?) featured ample drama.
Player power, rain delays, banged up courts and retirements -- plus the
exciting matches -- gave the edge to the U.S. Open, however.
Bring on Australia.