Wozniacki, Schiavone benefited in 2010

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.


CRONIN: Francesca Schiavone. On the one hand, it’s difficult to say that Schiavone received the biggest gift in 2010 when I named her my breakthrough player of the year, but on the other hand, no Grand Slam winning player in 2010 received more breaks on her/his way to the title than she did at Roland Garros. Consider this: Kim Clijsters, who surely would have had an impact on the tournament, had to pull out with an injury. Then her draw broke like the red sea. She beat clay-court hater Li Na in the third round, took down a frightened Maria Kirilenko in the fourth round and hit through a hobbled Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals. When she got to the semifinals against a better player, former finalist Elena Dementieva, the Russian had to retire after the first set because of a bad ankle.

But there’s more: In the final, she faced Samantha Stosur, a very good clay-court player but one who feared the occasion. Somewhat conveniently for Schiavone, Stosur had knocked out future Hall of Famers Justine Henin and Serena Williams, who surely wouldn’t have choked in the final. While Schiavone more than deserved the title, her trophy was gift-wrapped with a bright red ribbon.

EVANS: Gifts in 2010 came in all sorts of forms and sizes — players donated points or even matches through their own errors; players literally donated gifts through their own charity work. Some gifts were intentional, others not.

In retrospect, two players, unknowingly, gave the game of tennis a great gift in the form of a publicity splurge that broke the boundaries of the sports pages and sports channels and dumped tennis on the news wires before an unsuspecting public.

John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, by playing for more than 11 hours during three days of relentless combat at Wimbledon, not only broke records but tore them up, trashed them, broke them by such huge margins that people who didn’t know Andy Roddick from Phil Mickelson sat up and took notice.

By the time Isner won that marathon, people all over the world were talking tennis — and still are today. The gentleman who just sold me my Christmas tree didn’t seem to know much about sport and absolutely nothing about tennis — but he knew about “that record that got broken — two guys played a long time . . . or something?”

Yes, they played a long time; played themselves right into the annals of sporting folklore. You can’t plan it or prepare for it. It was a freakish, never-to-be-repeated occurrence. But it sure was a great gift to the game.

WEBBER: The rest of the elite players on the WTA Tour have indirectly benefited from the misfortune of Serena Williams suffering a foot injury because they don’t have to contend with the former world No. 1. When the American cut her foot on glass at a restaurant in Munich, Germany, in July, it seemed to be a freak injury that might cause Williams to miss a few weeks. But Serena was unable to play another match this year. Williams recently announced she will miss the upcoming Australian Open and could be out until April. The absence of Serena means there are plenty of chances for other players to pick up titles and big paychecks. It’s a big liability for tennis not to have a healthy Serena Williams generating interest in the sport, but it’s a major opportunity for competitors such as Caroline Wozniacki, Samantha Stosur, et al., to try and cement their reputations on tour.

RISING: Caroline Wozniacki. Without a doubt, this 20-year-old will be a top-tier player, but to reach the world No. 1 ranking as quickly as she did was more a result of other players’ actions — or lack thereof — rather than her own play. Wozniacki holds the No. 1 ranking with just one 2009 Grand Slam final appearance under her belt. Is she a great player? Of course. But Wozniacki was awarded the tour’s highest spot wrapped up with a big sparkly neon yellow bow.

PIERCE: The U.S. Open women’s field, when Serena Williams withdrew because of a foot injury. Serena has won the title in Flushing Meadows three times in her career, and no one was too upset about that. It most benefitted Kim Clijsters, who won her second straight title without having to face Serena, who might’ve beaten Clijsters the year before if not for her infamous meltdown.

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.