It was an incredibly difficult task to select winners for many of the categories in the Tennismash Awards of 2018, following one of the more open and emotional seasons of professional tennis in recent memory.
There were resounding comebacks, bittersweet farewells, heart-warming breakthroughs, juicy tensions and several matches that captivated global sporting audiences.
The winners of our awards were determined by a judging panel comprising former pro players Todd Woodbridge and Nicole Pratt, Tennismash writers Piers Newbery, Matt Trollope, Leigh Rogers and Bede Briscomb, and freelance contributors Suzi Petkovski and Tumaini Carayol.
Drum roll …
Simona Halep def. Angelique Kerber 6-3 4-6 9-7 – Australian Open semifinals
Four members of our panel selected this as their favourite match of the 2018 season, a compelling encounter spanning two hours and 20 minutes at Rod Laver Arena. “I saw that live,” Pratt said. “It was just so physical and you actually didn’t have a sense of who was going to win.” Newbery agreed that the result was in doubt until the very final point. “The athleticism and quality of shot-making on show from both women was breathtaking,” he noted. Added Petkovski: “Halep never lost her nerve, and kept hitting out, knowing she’d have to win the point five times against Kerber’s miracle retrieving.”
Honourable mention: Novak Djokovic def. Rafael Nadal 6-4 3-6 7-6(9) 3-6 10-8 – Wimbledon semifinals
Several of our panel members picked this as their favourite, a magnificent encounter staged over two days beneath the Centre Court roof. One of them was Woodbridge, who said: “I sat in Centre Court for that one and was just enthralled and was at times gobsmacked by the quality.”
The Swiss star’s around-the-netpost winner during his third-round win over Nick Kyrgios at the US Open was the only shot selected by more than one member of our panel. The reaction from the crowd – and Kyrgios – perhaps says it all.
Marco Cecchinato def. Novak Djokovic 6-3 7-6(4) 1-6 7-6(11) – Roland Garros quarterfinals
In a contest notable for a spectacular fourth-set tiebreak, the little-known Italian – who was ranked No.72 at the time and had until that fortnight never won a Grand Slam main-draw match – played a backhand winner up the line to stun the Serb, who was already starting to show signs of the resurgence that would define the second half of his season. Djokovic graciously embraced Cecchinato after the match, but as Petkovski notes, “was so distraught afterward he talked of bypassing the grass season.”
Honourable mention: Naomi Osaka def. Serena Williams 6-2 6-4 – US Open final
In the most talked about match of the year, Osaka upstaged the legendary Williams for her first major title. Said Pratt: “I was surprised, like really surprised. Serena is Serena and in that type of situation I expected her to rise and then Osaka to potentially not handle the situation. So it was just polar opposites of what I thought would happen.”
Novak Djokovic v Rafael Nadal
The Serb and the Spaniard split their two meetings in 2018, with Djokovic’s victory in their marvellous Wimbledon semifinal extending his narrow lead in their head-to-head series to 27-25. Observed Briscomb: “Given that they finished No.1 and No.2 in the ATP year-end rankings, that memorable Wimbledon five-setter in which Djokovic won the final set 10-8 is all the more epic.”
Novak Djokovic & Marian Vajda
Simona Halep & Darren Cahill
The panel was split on this decision – so we have a joint winners. Many felt the return of Vajda to Djokovic’s entourage in April – and Djokovic’s profound improvement shortly thereafter – was evidence of one of the sport’s more perfect unions. Yet Newbery echoed many others on the panel when he described Halep and Cahill as an “obvious” choice. “Cahill helping the Romanian get across the line to win a first major title was a huge achievement, not to mention guiding her to the year-end No.1 one ranking (late in 2017),” he said.
Serena Williams – US Open
Simona Halep – Australian Open
Again the panel couldn’t determine an outright winner in this category. And so we have two. “Serena’s US Open look was divisive – but I loved it,” Rogers said. “The tutu was dramatic and unique, a look the 23-time Grand Slam champion pulled off perfectly. Her daughter Olympia’s matching outfit was adorable too.” Countered Carayol: “In a world dominated by endorsements and brands, Simona Halep marching to the Australian Open final in a cheap, blank red dress sent to her from a random Chinese website is undefeated.”
Not one member of the panel selected the same quote, but Naomi Osaka’s name was attributed to more nominated quotes than any other player. Here were three of her best:
“This is probably going to be the worst acceptance speech of all time.”
– Osaka was barely able to string together a complete sentence during the trophy presentation after winning the Indian Wells title
“Sometimes she plays matches where she doesn’t say ‘come on’ at all, and then that’s a little bit sad because it’s like ‘do you think she’s trying?’ So yeah I just wanted her to say ‘come on’ once, because I knew then maybe she would be trying a little bit. So yeah, once I heard the first ‘come on’ I was like, yeah (laughter).”
– after beating Serena Williams in the second round of the Miami Open
“She really wanted to have the 24th Grand Slam, right? Everybody knows this. It’s on the commercials, it’s everywhere. When I step onto the court, I’m not a Serena fan. I’m just a tennis player playing another tennis player. But then when I hugged her at the net, I felt like a little kid again.”
– an emotional Osaka discusses her victory over Serena Williams in the US Open final
This year’s tournament at the All England Club was the runaway winner among our panel in this category. “Wimbledon produced Nadal’s classic battles with Del Potro and Djokovic, Isner vs Anderson’s most regrettable match of the year, Serena Williams’ post-natal return to a championship match and the surreal, unheard of exodus of seeds in the women’s draw,” Carayol said. Petkovski noted many of the same things, adding: “defending champ Federer losing from two sets up, on Court 1. There were headlines everywhere.” Woodbridge commented that “Anderson-Isner had everyone talking” while Briscomb had this take on it: “it was the culmination of two incredible career comebacks in Novak Djokovic and Angie Kerber.”
This was a unanimous decision. “Who could have imagined it when the Serb fell to youngster Hyeon Chung at Melbourne Park? No one,” said Petkovski. Added Newbery: “The turnaround in Djokovic’s form within the space of a few months was extraordinary. From seemingly heading to tennis oblivion, he is now back in the chase for GOAT status.” Carayol summed it up concisely: “Two slams, year end No.1 and a 22-match winning streak after surgery and then being out of the top 20 as late as July? A no-brainer.”
This was almost as unanimous a decision as Djokovic. “She was the only player to reach two Slam finals and win one, while she finished more than 1,000 points clear of No.2 Kerber at the top of the rankings. A hugely consistent and gratifying season,” said Trollope. Observed Rogers: “the Romanian finished year-end No.1 for a reason.”
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