Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 USA tennis second-half awards, Part 1

As we enter the last few hours of 2015, a quick set of awards to commemorate those players and events that moved us in the second half of the USA tennis season.

Part 1: Grades, MVPs, Better Luck Next Years, Get Well Soons, and Farewells.  Stay tuned for Part 2 in the coming days!

Check out the mid-season awards here.


US Men: B+. It was a strong second half for American men. Rajeev Ram and John Isner each won an ATP title during the summer. Things really got good post-US Open, when American men had 33 ATP match wins (the most in that timeframe since 2006), and Jack Sock and Steve Johnson each reached a European indoor final. Americans also dominated the extended fall US challenger circuit; particularly exciting were the youngsters who stepped up in that period: 5 different American teens reached challenger finals in October and November. And an incredible 18 of the top 25 American men reached new career highs in the second half of 2015.  Key figure: Immediately after the French Open, the Top 10 US men had an average ATP ranking of 78.9.  At the end of the season, they had an average ranking of 65.9 -- a remarkable 13 spot jump in six months. 

US Women: B. It's weird to put the women below the men, given that an American woman won a second-half major and as we all know, no American man has done that since the Truman Administration. But we're grading on a bit of a curve here. Would you believe me if I told you American women reached fewer second-half finals than American men did? Well, you shouldn't, because in fact the women reached one more (7 vs 6). But two of those seven were at the $125K level, and I don't think there's consensus that those should count the same as other titles. The highlights that existed were huge: Serena Williams winning Wimbledon, CoCo Vandeweghe and Madison Keys in the Wimbledon quarters, Sloane Stephens getting her maiden title, and Venus Williams' run to the Wuhan and Zhuhai titles. But given talent levels and expectations, it would be fair to say it was a disappointing stretch. Key figure: Top 10 American women's average ranking fell from 36.1 post-French Open to 37.7 at the end of the season.

MVPs ('Merica's Valuablest Players)

1. Serena Williams: Won Wimbledon. Had a globeful of non-tennis fans paying attention to tennis. Won Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year. The most accomplished American tennis player in history. Stunning.

2. Venus Williams: Maybe even more stunning. Again, won Wuhan, Zhuhai, finished the year #7 (she started it at #19). Would have been higher had she not had to face her sister when she did at Wimbledon and the US Open. OH AND SHE'S 35.

3. Taylor Fritz: Won the junior US Open. Then won back-to-back challengers (second-youngest player to accomplish that, ever). Moved up nearly 600 spots in the rankings to inside the Top 200 in just a few months. Most impressive to me was his run to the Champaign Challenger final (most Americans' last tournament of the year). He lost that match (and the Australian Open wild card that would have accompanied it) but showed that the prior successes were anything but a fluke.

4. Jack Sock: He didn't have a great summer, with only a Newport semifinal standing out. His Asian swing was short: 3 wins (over Gabashvili, Haider-Maurer, and Kubot) and 2 losses (to Nadal and Berdych ... it's tough out there). But that European indoor swing! His second career final at the 250 in Stockholm (beat Gasquet) followed by a semifinal at the 500 in Basel (lost to Federer). Brilliant. I put him a hair over Steve Johnson for his two Davis Cup singles wins in Uzbekistan. Those were huge.

5. Steve Johnson: He had a very nice summer, with semifinals at the ATP 500 in Washington, DC, and later at the 250 in Winston-Salem. His Asian swing was short: 2 wins (over Seppi and Tomic) and 2 losses (to Murray and Cilic ... it's tough out there). But that European indoor swing! His first career final at the 500 in Vienna (beat Anderson) followed by a semifinal at the 250 in Valencia. Brilliant. He also had a great doubles half-year with Sam Querrey, featuring a US Open semifinal and a huge Davis Cup win in Uzbekistan.

6. John Isner: Title in Atlanta, final in DC, and a win over Federer in Paris. He finished the year just outside the Top 10 and may be playing the best ball of his career at 30.

7. Sloane Stephens: Title, baby!!!!

8. Rajeev Ram: Behold! Rampras, king of all he surveys (as long as he's only surveying the grounds of the International Tennis Hall of Fame). Second career title (first was 2009, also in Newport). Finished the year at #89, the 7th-ranked American. Surprise!

9. Bethanie Mattek-Sands: The first half of her year was all about doubles (two major titles). The second half was all about singles: beating Ivanovic at Wimbledon, giving Serena a big tussle in the 3rd round of the US Open, a semifinal in Florianopolis, and quarterfinal in Beijing. Upping her ranking from #161 to #60. Oh and some doubles too: US Open final with Sam Querrey and Toronto title with Safarova.

10. Noah Rubin: After the disappointment of losing in the NCAA individual final, he went 15-6 in Futures and then had one of the most impressive runs of the year in Charlottesville, qualifying and then running the table to win the whole thing -- a win that ultimately secured him the USTA's Australian Open wildcard. Upped his ranking from #1050 to #317 in 5 months.

11. Samantha Crawford: Won the USTA's Australian Open wildcard with her first pro title at the $50K in Scottsdale, Arizona. Also reached her first WTA quarterfinal (Quebec) and upped her ranking from #255 to #141.

12. CoCo Vandeweghe: In addition to her Wimbledon QF, a quarterfinal in Wuhan (with back-to-back 3rd set tiebreak wins), a doubles semifinal at the US Open, and one of the best racquet smashes of the year:

Honorable mentions: Louisa Chirico (Limoges $125K final), Nicole Gibbs (Carson $125K final), Sam Querrey (Nottingham final), Donald Young & Denis Kudla (epic runs to 4th rounds of US Open & Wimbledon, respectively), Madison Keys (Wimbledon quarterfinal), Reilly Opelka (Wimbledon junior champion), Tommy Paul (US Open junior finalist, Charlottesville Challenger finalist), Robin Anderson (#900 -> #277), Sekou Bangoura (#573 -> #295), Sofia Kenin (US Open junior finalist), Amanda Anisimova (Alberto Juvinil champion at 14 years old), Clay Thompson (#1153 -> #465), Eric Johnson (#1463 -> #522).

Other Categories
Hoping for a 2016 rebound: Alison Riske, Taylor Townsend, Chase Buchanan, and Grace Min.

Get well soon: Allie Kiick, Melanie Oudin, Bradley Klahn, Brian Baker, Rhyne Williams, and Jarmere Jenkins.

Best post-pro-tennis wishes to: Lisa Raymond, Mardy Fish, Robby Ginepri, Michael Russell, Andre Dome, Ryan Sweeting, and Greg Ouellette.

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