Welcome to the 2010 Year in Review. Beginning Dec. 21, in a time frame just shy of a fortnight, FOXSports.com’s panel of tennis commentators — Matt Cronin, Richard Evans, Zack Pierce, Addie Rising and Brian Webber — 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?
CRONIN: Dinara Safina. It’s rare to see a player who was so dominant, achieved the No. 1 ranking in 2009 and then the next year fall so far because of injury and a lack of confidence, but that’s exactly what happened to the Russian, who had the worst season of her career in 2010. Part of that is because she couldn’t shake her back injury, but part of that is because she completely lost her way, parted with her overly intense coach, couldn’t rediscover her relentless pounding game and lost all faith in what got her to the top spot in the first place.
She ended 2010 ranked No. 63 and without a title, after having won seven titles and reaching three Grand Slam finals combined the two years prior. The 24-year-old Safina appears to be too good to be held down for too long, but confidence is a huge part of the game and it’s possible that the emotionally fragile Russian will never re-enter the top 10.
EVANS: Marin Cilic. Big things were expected of this 6-foot-6 Croat even before he started 2010 in the fast lane, winning Chennai and then launching into an impressive assault on the Australian Open. U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro and Andy Roddick were overcome, both in blistering five setters, before a slightly weary Cilic fell to Andy Murray in his first Grand Slam semifinal.
Undaunted, he flew home to retain his native title in Zagreb and found himself ranked No. 9 in the world. Many critics expected him to keep going. Cilic had top 5 written all over him.
But a series of niggling injuries affected his confidence and, despite some of the best advice available from his part-time coach Bob Brett, Cilic’s form fell away so sharply that he was having difficulty winning matches in the second half of the year. He ended the year where he began, at No. 14. Not shabby, by any means, but this impressive 22-year-old could have done so much better.
WEBBER: Juan Martin del Potro. This selection certainly deserves an asterisk because Del Potro was sidelined by a wrist injury for most of the year and saw his ranking tumble from No. 4 to No. 258.
Coming off his victory over Roger Federer to win the 2009 U.S. Open, the Argentine seemed poised for major achievements in 2010. But del Potro was only able to play in the Australian Open before the wrist injury stopped his momentum. When he returned in the fall, del Potro posted uninspired losses to Olivier Rochus in Thailand and Feliciano Lopez in Japan. The big man has huge game and is still only 22 years old.
Del Potro says he’s committed to playing a full schedule next year. Let’s hope for the sake of our sport that one of tennis’ rising stars can stay healthy and shine brightly again in 2011.
PIERCE: Victoria Azarenka. She was last year’s "player to watch" after a couple of impressive Grand Slam runs in 2009. She looked ready to deliver on those expectations in 2010 when she had Serena Williams on the ropes in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, but the intense Melbourne heat got the better of her and her game seemed off most of the rest of the year. She lost before the fourth round in each of the other three Slams.
RISING: Is it un-American to say Andy Roddick? Well, I’m going to do it anyway. After giving fans a glimmer of what could be by winning Brisbane in January and Key Biscayne in March, spring apparently sprung and during the summer months, Roddick fell flat. A case of mono didn’t help anything, and though the highest-ranked American somehow scrambled into the top 8 and qualified for the year-end ATP Finals, he couldn’t deliver once again. In his defense, maybe Roddick didn’t underachieve as he much as he’s been overbilled.
Richard Evans and Matt Cronin are tennis writers for FOXSports.com. Brian Webber is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com’s tennis coverage. Addie Rising and Zack Pierce are tennis editors for FOXSports.com.