’08 tennis stories: The changing of the guard

Jeremy Stone
Yahoo! SportsDecember 30, 2008

Only one player won more than one major title in 2008, and it wasn't Roger Federer.

That alone made 2008 a year to remember in tennis. Federer and Rafael Nadal and maybe Novak Djokovic are poised for a spirited battle over the men's No. 1 ranking in 2009. On the women's side, the top spot has been a revolving door, and nobody seems likely to emerge in the next year to slam it shut.

Gustavo Kuerten retired. Monica Seles finally retired. Justine Henin suddenly retired. Lindsay Davenport may retire next, now that she is pregnant for a second time. Martina Hingis already had retired, but she was banned two years anyway for testing positive for cocaine use.

Fortunately, there was more to 2008 than rankings and retirements. Here are our top 10 tennis stories of the year.

10. Del Potro wins 23 straight: After a second-round loss at Wimbledon, Juan Martin Del Potro was 12-9 on the year, ranked 65th and on nobody's watch list. Then he went on a two-month winning spree, capturing the next four tourneys he entered and reaching the U.S. Open quarterfinals. Del Potro ended the year ranked ninth.

9. Djokovic, Tsonga emerge Down Under: Novak Djokovic kept Roger Federer out of a Grand Slam final for the first time since 2005 – and he was practically upstaged by the previously unknown Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The unseeded Frenchman made it all the way to the final, roaring past Rafael Nadal in the process. But Djokovic won the title, sparking a big year for Serbian tennis.

8. Ivanovic wins big, then loses big: Jelena Jankovic ended the year No. 1, but Ana Ivanovic put Serbia in the winner's circle at a women's Grand Slam, winning the French Open to ascend to the top ranking. But Ivanovic crumbled after that, losing to someone named Julie Coin to become the first top seed of the Open era to fall in the second round at Flushing Meadows.

7. Federer gets his gold – and his slam: Roger Federer lost in Melbourne, battled mononucleosis, bombed in the French final, lost to Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon, lost short of the medal round in Beijing and was destined to lose his No. 1 ranking. A down year, for sure. But he hopped for joy when he finally captured Olympic gold as he and Stanislas Wawrinka won the doubles championship, and then he won a fifth straight U.S. Open, without having to face Nadal. Next month in Melbourne, Federer gets his first chance to match Pete Sampras' 14 career Grand Slam titles.

6. Venus wins Wimbledon again: Every time Venus Williams is too old or too uninspired or too whatever to win anymore, she shows she isn't finished. Seeded seventh at Wimbledon, Williams never lost a set in defending her title, edging her sister Serena 7-5, 6-4 in the first all-Williams Grand Slam final in five years.

5. Davydenko cleared in betting probe: Allegations of match fixing – or at least that a lot of scoundrels are trying to convince players to throw matches – hounded the sport all year. In the highest-profile case, Nikolay Davydenko was cleared of wrongdoing after a yearlong ATP investigation into betting patterns on his surprising loss to Martin Vassallo Arguello in August 2007. But the larger controversy hasn't gone away.

4. Serena back at No. 1: After losing to Venus Williams in the Wimbledon final, the sisters somehow faced each other in the U.S. Open quarterfinals. Serena overcame 3-5 deficits in both sets, saving 10 set points in all to win maybe the best all-Williams match ever. A win in the final lifted her to the top ranking for the first time in five years.

3. Finally, a new No. 1: Roger Federer had been No. 1 for a year and a half longer than anyone ever had. But his 237-week run at the top finally ended on Aug. 18, when he switched spots with Rafael Nadal after the Spaniard's record three-year run at No. 2. Federer enters 2009 just 10 points ahead of No. 3 Novak Djokovic.

2. Henin retires: She had been No. 1 for 61 weeks in a row and was a heavy favorite to win a fourth straight French Open. But Justine Henin never made it to Paris. The 25-year-old shocked everyone by suddenly retiring on May 14, saying she was "young in life, but starting to get old on the tour." She won seven Grand Slam titles. Australian Open champ Maria Sharapova returned to No. 1 but held the top spot for only three weeks, then hurt her shoulder in July and missed the rest of the year.

1. Best match ever?: It lasted 4 hours, 48 minutes, not counting the rain delay at the start and the two interruptions during the match. It ended at 9:16 p.m. local time. It featured Roger Federer rallying from two sets down, fending off two championship points in the fourth set (before the last rain delay). It snapped Federer's 41-match winning streak at Wimbledon and made Rafael Nadal the first man since Bjorn Borg to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year. The 2008 men's Wimbledon final will be remembered as the greatest match of the era, if not ever.