2015 VAVEL USA Tennis Award Winners

The 2015 tennis season can only be described in one word: spectacular. From historical pursuits, dominances, unforeseen upsets, surprise champions, breakthroughs and international triumphs, the 2015 tennis season has had it all. For the past week, VAVEL USA readers and writers have been given the opportunity to vote in a variety of categories for the 2015 VAVEL USA Tennis Awards. Today, yours truly will be delivering you the highly-anticipated results.

WTA Player of the Year: Serena Williams

Photo courtesy: Dan Istitene/Getty Images Europe
Photo courtesy: Dan Istitene/Getty Images Europe

Serena Williams had a year to remember, getting named as VAVEL USA’s WTA Player of the Year. We all remember the historic implications of Serena’s season as she three sets away from completing the Grand Slam, and even just falling short of that was still amazing. What Serena’s greatest achievement was this season was her emotional return to Indian Wells, showing that she’s matured from that incident and that no player is greater than the sport itself.” – VAVEL USA Tennis Editor Noel Alberto

ATP Player of the Year: Novak Djokovic

Photo courtesy: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images Europe
Photo courtesy: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images Europe

Novak Djokovic was named VAVEL USA’s ATP Player of the Year for 2015. The Serb dominated this season finishing the season with over 16,000 points. He made all four major finals this year, winning three of them. He also was a finalist in all the Masters and the World Tour Finals, winning six of the Masters and the World Tour Finals.” – VAVEL USA Tennis Editor Noel Alberto

WTA Doubles Team of the Year: Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza

Photo courtesy: Julian Finney/Getty Images Europe
Photo courtesy: Julian Finney/Getty Images Europe

Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza had an incredible season after an underwhelming start to the year with different partners. Two months into the season, Hingis switched partners with Hsieh Su-Wei, consequently partnering up with Mirza in early March. From there, they looked unstoppable. By the time they ended 2015, the Swiss-Indian duo had won 55 of the 62 matches they played, added two Grand Slam championships to their illustrious résumés, and won nine doubles titles altogether.

ATP Doubles Team of the Year: Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau

Photo courtesy: Julian Finney/Getty Images Europe
Photo courtesy: Julian Finney/Getty Images Europe

Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau ended 2015 as the number one men’s doubles team in the world, a fitting end to an incredible year. The Dutch-Romanian duo ended the season with a 57-21 record and three titles to their credit – a championship run at Wimbledon, the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals and the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. On top of this, Rojer and Tecau were extremely consistent; they made the last eight at 19 of the 24 events they participated in this season.

Girls’ Singles Player of the Year: Dalma Galfi

Photo courtesy: Alex Goodlett/Getty Images North America
Photo courtesy: Alex Goodlett/Getty Images North America

2015 was an incredible year for Dalma Galfi, one that really cemented her as one of the WTA Rising Stars to watch out for in the years to come. In the last calendar year, Galfi has rewritten a couple of history books for her native homeland of Hungary. This season, she became the first Hungarian to win a major championship of any kind at the U.S. Open, thus becoming just the third player from her country to win a junior Grand Slam singles title. Shortly after winning the title, Galfi claimed the number one ranking – the same ranking she would end with at the end of this season.

Boys’ Singles Player of the Year: Taylor Harry Fritz

Photo courtesy: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America
Photo courtesy: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America

In a year of many firsts, Taylor Harry Fritz’s achievements at the junior level stood heads and shoulders above the rest of his competitors. In 2015, the 18-year-old reached two junior Grand Slam singles finals, winning the U.S. Open just a few months after capturing the number one ranking. It is no surprise that Fritz was recognized by the International Tennis Federation as the 2015 male ITF Junior World Champion, along with the aforementioned Dalma Galfi.

WTA Rising Star of the Year: Belinda Bencic

Photo courtesy: Dave Sandford/Getty Images North America
Photo courtesy: Dave Sandford/Getty Images North America

2015 is one of the years that Belinda Bencic will not be forgetting anytime soon. After a rough first half of the season, Bencic turned everything around on the grass of Rosmalen, a small city in the Netherlands. That week, the Swiss Miss battled past a number of worthy opponents en route to just her second career WTA singles final. Despite falling in straight sets to Camila Giorgi, that week was a springboard for an incredible second half of 2015. A title in Eastbourne and a fourth round showing at Wimbledon followed suit, and things only got better for the 18-year-old on the North American hard courts. At the Rogers Cup presented by National Bank in Toronto, Bencic had the week of her life. That week, the Swiss number two beat six former Grand Slam finalists, including world number one Serena Williams and world number two Simona Halep, en route to winning her maiden WTA Premier 5 singles title.

ATP Rising Star of the Year: Dominic Thiem

Photo courtesy: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images Europe

2015 was a breakthrough year for Dominic Thiem. The 22-year-old Austrian broke into the top 20 for the first time, and got up to a career high of number 18 in the world this past August. Thiem won three titles – all at the ATP 250 level – and won more than $1,000,000 in prize money – half of his current prize money total. With wins over Feliciano Lopez and Gael Monfils, Thiem proved he is one to look out for in the years to come.

Most Disappointing WTA Player of the Year: Eugenie Bouchard

Photo courtesy: Emmanuel Wong/Getty Images AsiaPac
Photo courtesy: Emmanuel Wong/Getty Images AsiaPac

“After a Brilliant Bouchard year in 2014, it was more of the Bouchard Blues for Eugenie in 2015, getting named this year’s WTA Disappointing Player of the Year. Since splitting with childhood coach Nick Saviano, Eugenie Bouchard's results and rankings have slipped, literally. It’s come to a point that the main talking point of her season was her lawsuit against the USTA over the locker room incident at Flushing Meadows. The Canadian hopes to get back to the top 10 back in 2016.” – VAVEL USA Tennis Editor Noel Alberto

Most Disappointing ATP Player of the Year: Grigor Dimitrov

Photo courtesy: Rob Carr/Getty Images North America
Photo courtesy: Rob Carr/Getty Images North America

“2015 was downer for Grigor Dimitrov, finishing the year as the Most Disappointing ATP Player of the Year. The Bulgarian burst of success gave hopes to many fans with the monicker Baby Fed, but he played nothing like the man he was nicknamed after. The former world number eight has fallen 20 spots from his career-high because of his disappointing season. His best result this year were two semifinals at ATP 250 events, and this season has been notorious for him choking away matches.” – VAVEL USA Tennis Editor Noel Alberto

Most Improved WTA Player of the Year: Lucie Safarova

Photo courtesy: Getty Images
Photo courtesy: Dan Istitene/Getty Images Europe

Lucie Safarova’s talent was never in question. The 28-year-old was always a great tennis player, but always stood in the shadow of her compatriot Petra Kvitova, and never really made the necessary improvements to perform consistently week in and week out. That was until she partnered up with Canadian tennis coach Rob Steckley, and her game seemed to shift to another gear. 2015 was really the first year when she reached new heights on both a singles and a doubles court. In doubles, she won two Grand Slam doubles titles with Bethanie Mattek-Sands and in singles, she won the prestigious Qatar Total Open and reached her maiden Grand Slam singles final at the French Open.

Most Improved ATP Player of the Year: Benoit Paire

Photo courtesy: Koji Watanabe/Getty Images AsiaPac
Photo courtesy: Koji Watanabe/Getty Images AsiaPac

Benoit Paire had been part of the top 50 of the ATP World Tour singles rankings for a couple of years when a knee injury plagued him throughout 2014, which made his ranking drop from inside the top 50 to outside the top 100. However, beginning 2015 injury-free, it didn’t take long for Paire to get his mojo back. He upset 28th seed Fabio Fognini and the French Open en route to a third round showing at his home Grand Slam, and followed it up with a title in Bastad – his maiden ATP singles title. In doing so, he became the first player since Steve Darcis in 2007 to win an ATP World Tour, an ATP Challenger Tour singles title and an ITF Futures singles title in one season, having been playing the lower tier events to help him regain his confidence. A couple of months later, Paire scored the biggest win of his career at the U.S. Open, taking out 2014 finalist Kei Nishikori in five sets. Despite falling short of his bid for a second career ATP singles title in Tokyo, the Frenchman backed up his impressive win over Nishikori by defeating the Japanese star once again in three sets.

WTA Match of the Year: Victoria Azarenka - Angelique Kerber – U.S. Open

This season’s WTA Match of the Year is the thrilling encounter between Victoria Azarenka and Angelique Kerber at the U.S. Open. In a match with many momentum shifts, it is incredible how the quality of this encounter never suffered, regardless of who was in the ascendancy. From the back of the court, both women fought valiantly for nearly three hours, wowing the Centre Court crowd with their exchanges and stunning shotmaking.

Kerber started the better of the two, breaking early to go up a 5-2 lead. However, Azarenka began to wake up after a slow start, controlling the majority of the points with her big forehand. The Belarusian recovered the early break and broke once more before successfully serving out the opening set 7-5. Kerber picked up right where she left off prior to Azarenka’s late first set fightback, breaking early to go up another 5-2 lead. This time, the German didn’t let the lead slip, breaking the former world number one right then and there to take the second set 6-2. The third set was perhaps the most thrilling part of the encounter; this time, it was Azarenka who got the early break and despite Kerber’s resistance, the Belarusian held her nerve and serve when it really mattered, holding to seal a 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 victory.

ATP Match of the Year: Stan Wawrinka - Novak Djokovic – French Open

Photo courtesy: Dan Istitene/Getty Images Europe
Photo courtesy: Dan Istitene/Getty Images Europe

“World number one Novak Djokovic came into the final of Roland Garros with wins over Andy Murray, unbeaten on clay this year, and Rafael Nadal, "King of Clay" and nine-time French Open champion. Djokovic was 35-2 on the year and has undoubtedly been playing the best tennis of his life. After finally getting past Rafael Nadal, who was 6-0 against him at the second Grand Slam tournament of the year, the title seemed all but his to lose. It looked like it would finally be the year that Djokovic would complete the Career Grand Slam and win the trophy that he has longed for so many years. 2015 is not the year.” – VAVEL USA Writer Paul Choi

Fed Cup Match of the Year: Maria Sharapova (RUS) - Petra Kvitova (CZE)

Photo courtesy: Matej Divizna/Getty Images Europe
Photo courtesy: Matej Divizna/Getty Images Europe

The VAVEL-voted Fed Cup Match of the Year is Maria Sharapova’s encounter with Petra Kvitova in the Fed Cup Final presented by BNP Paribas. After splitting the first two rubbers, the Czech Republic and Russia were both hoping to edge their way closer to the 2015 Fed Cup title as Petra Kvitova faced off against Maria Sharapova – in a rematch of their clash at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global won by the former.

Kvitova picked up where she left off in Singapore, taking the opening set 6-3 in a power and precision masterclass. However, one must remember to never count out Sharapova, regardless of the score line. With her trademark “come on” and fist pump, Sharapova battled through each and every one of her service games, while trying to break the mighty Kvitova serve and spirit. Eventually, her chance would come in the ninth game of set number two, and the Russian made no mistake, breaking at the first time of asking. Moments later, the five-time Grand Slam champion would serve the set out to love before forcing a decider. In the decider, Kvitova looked like she was running on fumes, and Sharapova made her pay. Breaking in the fifth game of the final set, Sharapova was in the ascendancy. A hold and another break followed suit, before the world number four served out the match to love, giving her teammates a 2-1 advantage.

Unfortunately, the Russians’ good fortunes would come to an abrupt halt as the Czechs won the remaining two rubbers, consequently winning their ninth Fed Cup championship.

Davis Cup Match of the Year: James Ward (GBR) - John Isner (USA)

James Ward - John Isner was the match of the Davis Cup campaign. With the Americans fielding their number one player and world number 20 to face the British number two James Ward ranked at the time 111, this was going to be their “shoe in” match surely. Lightening wouldn't strike twice for the USA facing Britain. Isner took the first set after a titanic effort where a lucky net cord turned the momentum of the tie break. The only break of the Ward serve came in the second set right at the death and USA were two sets up. Jim Courier will know by now, you never discount Ward in Davis Cup. Breaking the American in the third set, the Brit went on to claim set three, set four went to another tiebreak. This time, Ward took it and the match was level. The fifth set, this is what made the match the epic it was and the match of the campaign. Time and again, Isner would save break points, Ward faced hardly any. The Brit had the odd match point but again the American saved them and on we went. 10-10, 11-11, 12-12, 13-13. Ward held his nerve and vitally his serve, 14-13. Ward even lobbed Isner – twice! It would be down to the American to send this match on further. Ward was playing out of his skin and staying with the American, and then it happened, three match points in a row. Isner netted and the Brit had finally won the long match, after very nearly five hours!” – VAVEL USA Writer Glenys Furness

WTA Upset of the Year: Roberta Vinci d. Serena Williams – U.S. Open

Photo courtesy: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images North America
Photo courtesy: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images North America

In the biggest upset of the year, if not the century, Roberta Vinci’s shock semi final victory over Serena Williams at the U.S. Open had all sorts of consequences, for both the victor and the defeated. For the defeated, a chance of rewriting history by becoming the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988 to complete the Calendar Grand Slam had diminished. Coming in, Williams was the heavy favourite to go all the way in 2015, but Roberta Vinci had other ideas. En route to her last four encounter with the world number one, Vinci was having the tournament of her life. For someone who has won multiple Grand Slam doubles titles but never attained anywhere close to the same success on a singles court, the Italian’s run was a magical one, but no one could have expected what followed suit. After losing the opening set 6-2, Vinci’s chances and hopes of beating the world number one were slim, and Williams was just beginning to find her range after a slow start. However, as Vinci said in her on-court post-match interview with ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi, she tried “to put all the balls on the court, don’t think about Serena on the other court and run”, and it seemed to work. Captivating the crowd with her fearless determination and slice backhand that was giving Williams all sorts of trouble, Vinci clawed her way back, winning the next two sets 6-4 to cap off the biggest win of her career. Battling nerves and all sorts of tension inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, the Italian served out the match to love and later let all of the emotions pour out of her while endearing the crowd with her down-to-earth personality.

ATP Upset of the Year: Fabio Fognini d. Rafael Nadal – U.S. Open

Photo courtesy: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America
Photo courtesy: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America

Sometimes players just have your number. This was the case for Rafael Nadal as he was upset by Fabio Fognini in a late-night thriller at the U.S. Open. Coming into this match, Fognini had won two of his last three meetings against Nadal, but the latter won the pair’s last meeting. Judging by the way he played in the first two sets, Nadal was aiming to repeat the result of his last meeting with Fognini, in order to restore parity in their 2015 head-to-head record.

After going up a break in the third after winning the first two sets 6-3 and 6-4, the 14-time Grand Slam champion was well on his way to a routine straight sets victory. However, his Italian counterpart was not prepared to go down without a fight. With some superb shotmaking, Fognini recovered the early break and would go on to break once more to take the third set 6-4. It was a similar story in the fourth; Fognini went down an early break but recovered, and broke once more before holding to win the set 6-3. As the clock ticked past midnight, this third round encounter would have to go the distance, and the Centre Court crowd was loving it. The final set was a titanic battle in which neither man seemed to be capable of consolidating a break of serve. In the end, it was just a case of who was able to hold serve first and surprisingly, it was Fognini who was able to hold his serve when serving for the match, thus sealing a 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Rafael Nadal.

Come From Behind WTA Win of the Year: Serena Williams d. Heather Watson – Wimbledon

Photo courtesy: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images Europe
Photo courtesy: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images Europe

Let’s set the scene. July 3rd, 2015. A warm, beautiful summer day in London, where British number one Heather Watson squared off against Serena Williams, in one of the best matches of the entire fortnight. Given the difference in ranking and form coming into this match, many expected this to be a routine victory for Williams. For the first set and a half, it was. Williams was overpowering Watson from the back of the court, and looked at her clinical best. However, a crucial break at 4-4 in the second set gave the Brit a chance to force a decider. Much to the delight of a roaring Centre Court crowd, Watson fought off nerves and Williams’ late resurgence to successfully serve out the set, consequently forcing a third set. Everything seemed to be going right for Watson – within minutes, she went a break up on the world number one. Shortly after that, she consolidated the break of serve before breaking for a second time. The crowd was going wild. They could not believe what they were seeing.

However, Williams, who is no stranger to slow starts, turned the match around on a dime. Raising her level when it really mattered, the American reeled off four games in a row, thus recovering both breaks of serve against her. Unfazed by the world number one’s fightback, Watson played some inspired tennis to restore parity at four-games-all. From there, the Brit capitalized on a couple of nervous-looking unforced errors from Williams to break to love in emphatic style. Moments later, she was serving for the match. Nevertheless, Williams had other ideas. Coming just two points away from defeat, the American raised her level once again, breaking straight back before consolidating the break to edge her nose in front. Despite Watson’s best efforts, the Brit’s resistance was finally broken as Williams broke at the third time of asking, thereby securing a 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 victory.

Come From Behind ATP Win of the Year: Jeremy Chardy d. John Isner – Montreal

Photo courtesy: Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images North America
Photo courtesy: Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images North America

Jeremy Chardy’s come back win over John Isner at the Coupe Rogers présentée par Banque Nationale in Montreal has been named the 2015 VAVEL USA Come From Behind ATP Win of the Year. Since there were only two breaks of serve, three tiebreaks were used to decide the outcome of the match. Isner, with his big serve, is no stranger to these seven point shootouts, and took the first one 11-9 to win the opening set. Chardy was having all sorts of trouble when trying to return the bombs that Isner threw at him, which made it even harder for him to break serve. After exchanging breaks early in the second set, the American and Frenchman were forced to play another tiebreak to determine the victor of the seven point shootout. In one of the most dramatic tiebreaks in recent memory, Chardy saved seven match points before taking his fourth set point to win the second set tiebreak 15-13, consequently forcing a final set. Once again, the final set went down to the wire in a tiebreak. But this time, Chardy had a little bit more left in the tank than his American counterpart, and won it 7-4 to complete a roller coaster 6-7(9), 7-6(13), 7-6(4) victory.

ATP Racquet Smash of the Year: Grigor Dimitrov – Australian Open

Grigor Dimitrov is racking up the awards, but not necessarily ones he likes. After being named ATP’s Disappointing Player of the Year, he also won ATP’s Racket Smash of the Year. The setting was at the fourth round of the Australian Open. Dimitrov had squandered a 5-2 fourth set lead and was serving 0-40 down. Andy Murray broke him with a backhand return winner and promoted the world number 28 to chuck his racket at the court as hard as he can, snapping the handle from the head.” – VAVEL USA Tennis Editor Noel Alberto

WTA Racquet Smash of the Year: CoCo Vandeweghe – U.S. Open

Coco Vandeweghe is the winner of WTA’s Racket Smash of the Year. Unlike Dimitrov, Vandeweghe went with the classic racket smash approach of beating it down multiple times. After losing five straight games in her U.S. Open match to Bethanie Mattek-Sands, she smashed her racket on the chair before taking a seat and bashing a few more times. The crowd was loving it so she stood up and gave her racket one more smash for good measure for the fans.” – VAVEL USA Tennis Editor Noel Alberto

WTA Shot of the Year: Agnieszka Radwanska – WTA Finals

Agnieszka Radwanska has always been nicknamed “The Magician” or “Ninja” because of her ability to pull of superb, and seemingly improbable shots at ease. Throughout her career, Radwanska has hit nearly every shot you can think of besides the basic fundamentals: the drop shot (from all parts of the court), the tweener, the skyhook smash, the backhand smash, the drop volley, the running forehand, and many more! You name it, she’s probably hit it. This year, VAVEL USA readers and writers have voted this drop volley winner hit by Radwanska during the WTA Finals championship match as the WTA Shot of the Year. After taking the opening set in her maiden WTA Finals championship match, Radwanska seemed to lose her mojo, losing the second set before going down an early break in the decider to Petra Kvitova. In a long, draw out rally, the Pole made a splitsecond decision to come to the net on a short ball, and hit a stunning drop volley winner on the stretch just moments later, thus winning the point – a point that seemed to turn the match upside down. Radwanska would go on to break back before clinching two extra breaks to seal the prestigious title, the first of her career.

ATP Shot of the Year: Benoit Paire – Paris

“NO WAY,” said ATP-renowned commentator Robbie Koenig. That is all one really can say when they see this hot shot from Frenchman Benoit Paire (hit during the BNP Paribas Paris Masters). Serving for the set, Paire unleashed a 201 km/h (125 mph) bomb out wide and decided to follow it up by rushing to the net. To his surprise, his opponent, compatriot Gilles Simon, hit a short backhand cross court that dipped at Paire’s feet, forcing the Frenchman to make a last second adjustment after nearly running past the ball. Sliding his racquet under the ball in an attempt to make a last second volley, Paire was able to generate an incredible amount of backspin. As a result, the ball was able to bounce approximately a foot away from the net on Simon’s side, before bouncing backwards and hitting the net, thus winning Paire the point.

WTA Best Dressed Player of the Year (On-Court): Maria Sharapova – French Open

Photo courtesy: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe
Photo courtesy: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe

“Always the fashionista, Sharapova dressed to impress at Roland Garros this year. With a nautical themed navy and white striped kit from Nike, Sharapova wowed spectators with both her court and fashion sense. Always setting the standard for fashion in the tennis world, the queen of the clay and style has taken the cake in 2015.” – VAVEL USA Writer Paul Choi

ATP Best Dressed Player of the Year (On-Court): Roger Federer – Cincinnati

Photo courtesy: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America
Photo courtesy: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America

The stylish Swiss maestro made a winning return to the ATP World Tour after missing out on a Wimbledon title for the second year in a row in more ways than one. En route to winning his seventh Western and Southern Open title, Federer wore a striking vivid pink and white Premier RF Henley Shirt, completed with a pair of squadron blue Gladiator Premier 7’’ shorts. This combination seemed to work well in both the humid and brisk temperatures of the Buckeye State, while continuing address comfort with style.

That concludes the 2015 VAVEL USA Tennis Awards ceremony. Thank you for reading and happy new year from all of us here at VAVEL USA!

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