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Gulbis, Wozniacki lead list of flops

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Richard Evans

Richard Evans has covered tennis since the 1960s, reporting on more than 150 Grand Slams. He is author of 15 books, including the official history of the Davis Cup and the unofficial history of the modern game in "Open Tennis." Follow him on Twitter.

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Welcome to the 2011 Year in Review. Beginning Dec. 20, in a time frame just shy of a fortnight, FOXSports.com's panel of tennis commentators — Richard Evans, Brian Webber, Addie Rising and Tim Blankemeyer — will share their thoughts on the topic of the day. So check back each day to catch one final look back at a memorable year in tennis.

TO CONTINUE OUR YEAR IN REVIEW, WE ASK . . . WHO WAS THE BIGGEST UNDERACHIEVER OF THE YEAR?

 

EVANS: For the second consecutive year, I am afraid that hugely frustrating Latvian Ernests Gulbis wins the unwanted title of underachiever of the year.

I was calling him an underachiever when he finished 2010 ranked No. 24 by the ATP computer. Incomprehensively, Gulbis slumped to a year-end finish of 61. That is shocking for a player of his natural skills.

So, what’s the problem? The answer has to center on attitude. Gulbis is an intelligent young man with a game that should blow away most people. He was recognized as top-10 material in 2008 when he climbed to 38th in August of that year.

But since then he has been erratic at best with his limited moments of success, and often one must question his commitment. The fact that his father is one of the richest men in Latvia shouldn’t be a factor, but it is hard to dismiss it as immaterial. Gulbis has the ability to win big, but if he doesn’t do so in 2012, his career will have been frittered away in truly disappointing fashion.

Sam Querrey also must fall into this category — although injuries that kept him from competing for two months after Wimbledon certainly contributed to an alarming fall in the rankings from 17th on Jan. 31 to 125th on Sept. 12.

The elbow surgery he underwent in the summer likely played a huge part in his fall, and one can presume the elbow issue was a reason he reached just one quarterfinal in the first six months of the year.

It was the loss of ranking points, including his inability to defend the Aegon Championships title at the Queen’s Club just before Wimbledon, that sent his ranking into a free fall. But his recovery at the end of the year was modest, with some success in the California Challengers enabling him to haul himself back into the top hundred, at 93.

His excellent coach, David Nainkin, will know what is required to get Querrey back on track, and presumably a restoration of confidence will be in the mix. Querrey has such a laid-back personality that it is often difficult to gauge the level of effort he is putting into a match. A great deal of it will be required in the coming months to reestablish himself, because there is no way he should be languishing outside the world’s top 30.

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WEBBER: It may seem illogical to describe the world's No. 1 ranked player as an underachiever, but Caroline Wozniacki did not meet expectations in 2011 as another season went by in which the Danish star failed to win her first Grand Slam singles title. Wozniacki was unable to even reach the championship match at a major tournament this year. Her best showing came in Melbourne to start the year, advancing to the semifinals of the Australian Open. By objective standards, Wozniacki had a solid year winning 63 matches and six titles. But until the WTA's top-ranked player makes a major statement by winning a major, that glaring asterisk will remain on her otherwise stellar tennis resume.

BLANKEMEYER: Vociferous Victoria Azarenka did some good things in 2011. She improved her ranking from No. 10 to No. 3, won three events (Miami, Marbella and Luxembourg) and reached her first career Grand Slam semifinal (Wimbledon). That said, in a year in which there was a void at the top of the women’s game — with the Williams sisters and Kim Clijsters all fighting injuries — a player with such a powerful, polished game should have done much, much more.

Considered a threat at each Grand Slam, Azarenka was blitzed by Li Na in Australia (round of 16) and France (quarterfinals), faded in the third set against Petra Kvitova in the Wimbledon semis and went out in straight sets to Serena in the US Open third round. She played well in reaching the final at the season-ending WTA Championships, but again faltered in a third set against Kvitova. The potential is there, but the big result we're all waiting for remains out of reach.

RISING: I will also say Caroline Wozniacki. She's capable of winning, but seems to have a big-fish/small-pond strategy. Wozniacki has clinged to her No. 1 ranking by winning six titles this year in tournaments such as New Haven, Charleston and Copenhagen. Indian Wells was her biggest title of the year, but the second half of 2011 she seemed more content following golfer boyfriend Rory McIlroy around to his tournaments. But hey, he's won a major. Maybe she'll learn something.

Richard Evans is a tennis writer for FOXSports.com. Brian Webber is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com's tennis coverage. Addie Rising and Tim Blankemeyer are tennis editors for FOXSports.com.

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