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 kick off our Year in Review we ask … who was the breakthrough player of the year?
CRONIN: Francesca Schiavone. Sadly, unlike in 2009 when young Argentine Juan Martin del Potro won the U.S. Open, or in 2008 when the fresh-faced Serbian Ana Ivanovic won the French Open, there was no young player to make a major breakthrough in 2010. Young Croat Marin Cilic looked like he was ready to stake a claim in the top 10 after reaching the Aussie Open semis, but then he largely flamed out the rest of the year. Russian teenager Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova had a decent season, finishing the year ranked No. 21, but she did little of note at the majors.
So why not give the award to a very deserving veteran like the Italian Schiavone, who appeared to have peaked a few years ago and then finally discovered the depth of her game at Roland Garros and shockingly won her first Grand Slam at the old tennis age of 29? All the elements necessary for Schiavone to triumph came into play: incredible variety, clay court know-how, offense, defense and a tremendous amount of guts.
EVANS: Jurgen Melzer. Until last May, Jurgen Melzer had spent 11 years on the ATP Tour and had never risen above No. 26 in the world. Then the words of wisdom that the former Swedish Davis Cupper Joakim Nystrom had been pouring quietly into his ear since they began working together in 2007 started to penetrate. And with the fitness regime of Jan Velthuis also kicking in, the 29-year-old Austrian left-hander suddenly reached a different level. David Ferrer and No. 3 seed Novak Djokovic were outplayed as Melzer reached his first career Grand Slam semifinal at Roland Garros, where it took Rafael Nadal to stop him.
Then he reached the final at Hamburg and retained his title in Vienna. He finished the year at No. 11, and that was not all. In partnership with Philipp Petzschner, Melzer became a Wimbledon doubles champion and, having already won a title in Zagreb, ended up as the highest-ranking singles player to qualify in doubles for the ATP World Finals in London.
Sometimes talent takes a long time to blossom, but Melzer certainly finished 2010 as a player very different from the journeyman pro who started it.
WEBBER: Vera Zvonareva. For years, Zvonareva was best known for being an extremely volatile player who often was overlooked amid the wave of Eastern European talent on the WTA Tour. The Russian will start 2011 with a career-high ranking of No. 2 in the world because she did a much better job of managing her emotions, while playing cerebral tennis. Zvonareva reached her first Grand Slam singles final at the All England Club and duplicated that feat at the U.S. Open. While Zvonareva is still prone to outbursts on the court, she’s found a way to compartmentalize those feelings and play through her mercurial moments. It’ll be intriguing to see if Zvonareva can remain a mainstay in the top 10 or if she will drift back to the pack next year.
PIERCE: Jack Sock. In a year when the top pros didn’t provide much in the way of a breakthrough star and the topic of America’s bleak tennis future consistently made headlines, Sock provided a spark at the U.S. Open. The then-17-year-old American won the junior title in Flushing Meadows over another American, Denis Kudla. Let’s hope the young man with the catchy name can build on that success in 2011.
RISING: Rafael Nadal. Maybe he’s not a traditional breakthrough player, but Rafa certainly had a breakthrough year. The Spaniard, who boasted six major wins coming into the 2010 season, won three of the four Slam events, including the U.S. Open for the first time, giving Nadal a career Golden Slam (winning all four majors and an Olympic gold medal over his career). This year’s triumphs propelled Nadal’s name into the same sentence as Rod Laver and Don Budge and into conversations about the greatest player of all time. At 24, Nadal has a lot of shelf life left and will try for his fourth straight major win in Melbourne to complete the Rafa Slam.
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.