Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Decade's Best: Players #1 & #2- "Two for the Ages"

Well, it took ten years worth of tennis action, condensed and spread out over nearly a year's worth of "Decade's Best" special editions of Backspin, to get to this. The best two players of the decade.

Funny thing is, I probably could have just started by talking about these two women back in December and skipped all the other late night posts between then and now and no one would have been any the wiser.

Oh, well. Hindsight, right?

There are a great deal of easy arguments to begin and end when it comes to the other women on this list and where they might rank, but not these two. 100% of 100% of the lists seeking to determine the best players on the WTA tour from 2000-09 would -- or at least should -- begin with them. The only possible question might be which one should be ranked #1.

But is it really?

In the end, while one gets credit for fashioning a remakable career filled with moments of clenched fists and heart-stopping drama, the other, well, is quite possibly the most awesome player the sport has produced. Ever.

So, let's get to it:

#2 - Justine Henin, BEL

"I dedicated this to my mother because when I came here with her eleven years ago I said, 'One day I'll be on that court and maybe I'll win.' And today, I did. - Henin, while addressing the crowd after winning her first Roland Garros crown in 2003, talking about her '92 presence in the stands along with her mother when Monica Seles won her third straight title in Paris. Henin's mother died in 1995. In 2007, Henin won her third straight RG championship.

No one would have ever dared to cast Justine Henin in the role of a dominant figure in the sport during a decade when "Big Babe" tennis came to the forefront. She initially arrived on tour as a slight teenager from the small nation of Belgium, with a varied game highlighted by a thing-of-beauty backhand. A baseliner by trade, she punctuated her style with a natural aggression (and surprising pop off the ground) that served to make up for her physical disadvantages against her sometimes-towering, harder-hitting opponents.

Even though it was plain from the start that she was going to be a player to be reckoned with down the line, no one could have guessed that there lurked inside her a little bull of a competitor that would make her one of the sport's all-time greats and an inspiration to many (Melanie Oudin will likely be only one of many who'll eventually list themselves as an admirer). Of course, when a player has such a larger-than-life heart, and a desire to succeed fueled by a childhood goal and the lingering pain of tragedy, physical stature hardly matters, does it?

No player held the #1 ranking for more weeks than Henin did during the 2000's (117, sixth-most all-time), nor ended as many seasons in the top spot (three times, 2003 and 2006-07, tied with Lindsay Davenport). She won more singles titles (40 of her 41 career championships) than any other woman this decade, as well. Her seven career slam singles wins were surpassed only by Serena Williams' ten over the past ten-year span, and in Henin's final full season on tour she defeated Williams in three straight slams during the '07 season. In early 2004, she was the reigning champion at three of the four slams after winning the Australian Open in January '04. A year-end Top 10er every year from 2001-07, she became the first woman to ever retire from the sport while ranked #1 when she walked away (temporarily, as it's turned out) from the game in the spring of '08.

Over the course of the decade, Henin's evolution came full circle. We saw Henin rise as a player with great promise, but suffer through early (and now largely forgotten) battles with her nerves while trying to create her own breakthrough moment. Her love 3rd set loss to Venus Williams in her first slam final at Wimbledon in 2001 proved to be a learning experience for the then-19 year old. The confidence that she was worthy just wasn't quite there. But grow confident she did.

When we were last blessed with her presence on tour, it'd become fashionable in these parts to say that the only thing that had ever been able to stop Henin was the cytomegalovirus (and she put up a grand fight against that, perhaps pulling off her career-best performance just before the viral illness forced her off the court in late '04) and her own heart, which had not coincidentally lost some of its single-minded desire to pursue her tennis dreams after she reconnected with her previously estranged family during the year before her retirement. With her off-court life having lost some of it's need to prove herself, her champion's "edge" was dulled. The confidence seemed to ebb, just enough to matter. Somewhere along the line during her final months on tour, she began to lose the tight matches she'd once dominated. Not long afterward, she was gone.

Where things changed for the good for Henin on the court, though, is a little easier to pinpoint.

In the '03 Australian Open 4th Round against Lindsay Davenport, Henin experienced one of those epiphanies that often accompany the transition of a young player from a player-to-watch to an actual champion. Suffering through horrendous cramps in the Melbourne heat, Henin found herself flat on her back and in pain on the court. When she managed to rise up and win the match, she could no longer question her ability to compete at the very top levels of the sport. In that instant, she realized that her heart was indeed big enough to keep that promise to her mother, and that confidence boost is the moment that Henin has often pointed to as the moment when everything changed. She lost in the semifinals in that tournament, but she left Australia armed with everything she'd need for the remainder of her career.

By the end of the 2003 season, she'd won her first Roland Garros title and pulled off the most remakable weekend performance in many a year at the U.S. Open, winning a cramp-and-exhaustion inducing marathon with Jennifer Capriati in the semifinals, supposedly being questionable to even play in the final the following day, then coming out the next night and seeming to be the fresher player while taking out countrywoman Kim Clijsters in straight sets. La Petit Taureau was born.

A month later, Henin moved into the #1 ranking for the very first time.

A junior champ there in 1997, Henin's special relationship with Roland Garros never relented throughout her career. Her three consecutive Roland Garros championships from 2005-07 have only been matched in the Open era by Seles' three-peat from 1990-92. In fact, from 2003-07, Henin's only loss during her four-titles-in-five-years stretch in Paris came against Tathiana Garbin in 2004 when the Belgian was suffering through the weakness associated with her illness. After the loss in May, she didn't play again until late in the summer at the Athens Olympics.

There, Henin amazingly gathered whatever energy she had left to put on a gutsy performance that, in retrospect, turned out to be the most remarkable in her career. After erasing a 5-1 3rd set deficit in the semifinals against Anastasia Myskina, she defeated Amelie Mauresmo in the Gold Medal match. After a 4th Round loss at the U.S. Open, she pulled out of all her scheduled tournaments for the rest of the season. A subsequent knee injury delayed the start of her '05 season until the following March. When she returned after a seven-month absence, she ripped through the clay season, going on a 24-match tear, winning four titles, overcoming a match point against Svetlana Kuznetsova in the 4th Round at Roland Garros before winning yet another title in Paris.

Henin's 2006 season was simply historic, and 2007 was even more impressive. In '06, she became the first woman since Steffi Graf in 1993 to reach the finals of all four slams (winning another RG) and the Season-Ending Championships (which she won after having wrapped up the year-end #1 ranking). A year later, she put away another title in Paris, as well as her second U.S. Open (becoming the first player to defeat both Williams sisters in a single slam, then win the title -- a feat matched in NYC by Clijsters in '09), winning ten of the fourteen tournaments she entered, compiling a 63-4 record (the best single-season win percentage since Graf in '89) and ending her second consecutive #1 season on a 25-match winning streak.

It was her last full season this decade. Her retirement came just two weeks before the start of her beloved Roland Garros tournament in '08, as if she couldn't bear going there without the confidence that she could put forth her best effort.

With her return to the tour now set for January 2010, Henin will set about trying to collect the one slam crown that has so far eluded her. Wimbledon. A runner-up there in a pair of three-set finals, in '01 and '06, her last visit to the All-England Club was not a good one. After leading Marion Bartoli in the semifinals by a 6-1/5-3 score, windy conditions put her off her game and she never recovered, losing to the Frenchwoman to end what had been a string of five consecutive appearances in the finals of slams in which she'd participated. With the resurgent Williams sisters now presiding over the lawns of SW19 like they haven't since the early seasons of the decade, Henin's quest won't be an easy one to pull off.

But, of course, when have long odds stopped her in the past?

While Henin's story began with such heartfelt emotion, she often found herself at the center of controversy over the years. Many times seen as being unrelatable and TOO single-minded, especially in comparison to her always-ready-to-please countrywoman Clijsters, who she'd once teamed with to claim Belgium's only Fed Cup championship in '01, Henin was often cast in the black-hatted villain role during her career (even as she ironically always sported a white cap on court, and was one of the most charitable players off it). While Clijsters courted approval, Henin rarely spent much time worrying about how she was perceived, shrugging off the criticism from many corners (including here) when she refused to admit waving off a serve in a match against Serena Williams, and being the focus of many mini-rants about her "unsportsmanlike gamesmanship" that was sometimes "disrepectful to the game" (that one came from Clijsters herself, as Henin has traditionally been one of the few who've been able to bring the Belgian to the edge of being something other than "Nice Kim"). Again, even in announcing her comeback, Henin's timing might have been considered "questionable" by some, seeing that it came just days after Clijsters' comeback victory at this year's U.S. Open, cluttering the headlines of the new champ's success with whispers and rumors, and then actual facts, about her own return to the game next season.

Gotcha, Kim.

Of course, the biggest controversy in Henin's career came at the Australian Open in 2006, when she retired due to illness from a match she was losing to Mauresmo in the final, "robbing," in some critic's words, the Frenchwoman of a proper celebratory moment. Some even went so far overboard as to say the moment would "tarnish her career forever" (hmmm, what is it with Pam Shriver and Belgians, anyway?). The charges were that Henin was a sore loser, and that when she realized she was going to lose she effectively "picked up her racket and went home." As I said then, one moment in a career filled with handfuls of others when Henin gave every living ounce of energy she had to win a match, was hardly enough to besmirch anything (just as with Serena's tirade at this year's U.S. Open). And, as predicted, once Henin retired two years later, the moment was but a footnote in her biography. In fact, as soon as the Belgian was no longer around, all that criticism turned to longing for what the game lost when she retired. From all corners of the globe, the "power vacuum" on a Henin-less tour was the pet phrase rolling off everyone's tongue.

I guess people didn't know what they had until it was gone.

One day, they'll write stories about Justine Henin. I guess we should have known from the start, considering she won the very first WTA event she entered as a 16-year old in Antwerp in 1999. But, really, who am I kidding? They've already been writing stories about Henin for centuries.

Tales of an underdog making good, with anything from a slingshot to a tennis racket as a weapon of choice. Inspired by tragedy. Accomplishing goals against all odds and, while maybe not winning the hearts of ALL in the end, winning the respect that was sought from the start.

Where Henin is different is that she not only walked away on top and triumphant, but that she's now set to return to the circle of competition in an attempt to construct a just-as-successful second act to her story.

Ah, but that's a story for "The Decade's Best: 2010-19," isn't it?

Time Capsule: U.S. Open '03/'05 (Henin/Clijsters)
The Best of Henin (2008)
Bring It On (Comeback Announcement)

#1 - Serena Williams, USA

If there is such a thing as a tennis superhero, Serena Williams is it. She wasn't born with a cape, but someone should probably check with Oracene, just to be sure.

Quite simply, Serena is, in full, the most talented, feared, sometimes-controversial, always exciting, enigmatic, fierce, pulse pounding, jump-out-your-seat, shake-your-head-in-astonishment, kick-butt-and-take-names, and leave-'em-wanting-more champion of her time. Oh, and she's the most accomplished player of her generation, too. But, still, even after all we've seen, that some might proclaim that she STILL hasn't fully taken advantage of her gifts over the years, well, that just speaks to how great she truly is. Ever since she first seared her brand into the hide of this sport more than a decade ago, she's been tennis' "Soul Survivor" and the last woman any other tennis player wants to go up against head-to-head when she's wearing that look of determination on her face on the other side of the net.

Yeah, you know the look. It's that unmistakable, "you go ahead and celebrate your win today, but just know, one day, in the not too distant future, I'll be standing over you with my foot placed squarely on your chest while you beg for mercy" expression Serena sometimes gets when she's denied something she wants very much. It's such a powerful predictor that you can occasionally forecast its aftereffects months in advance. And when it's hidden from sight? Haha. Well, THAT'S when she's most dangerous. I mean, just ask all those poor souls she's dumped out of the Australian Open in stomach-turning (for the vanquished) circumstances over the years. Hint: when Serena lets loose with one of those primal howls she's become so fond of in big moments, the end is near.

Oddly enough, when you remember back to the beginning, Serena wasn't supposed to be in the starring role of the story of the Williams sisters. She seemed to be something akin to a nominal DVD extra -- a nice little throw-in for those inclined to delve deeper into the production, but hardly the reason for making a special purchase. Only father Richard knew she was actually the feature attraction, and even while he told us all what he saw in his crystal ball, we didn't really believe him. But then Serena proved him right.

Before this decade began, Serena ended the slam history of the 1990's by providing a preview of what was to come. Truthfully, though, everything was ALREADY there. The amazing court coverage, penetrating and big moment-loving serve (more reliable, and sometimes even as hard, as her sister's... with a second serve that's probably the best the women's game has EVER entertained) and the don't-think-it's-over-because-it-never-is ability to make a sudden u-turn right before a match goes over the cliff to oblivion. At the 1999 U.S. Open, the #7-seeded 18-year old proceeded to steal big sister Venus' thunder, claiming the family's first slam title by defeating a group of players who eventually collected twenty slam singles crowns -- the then-#1 (Martina Hingis), #2 (Lindsay Davenport) and #4 (Monica Seles) players in the world, plus Kim Clijsters (coming back from a 5-3 3rd set deficit in the 3rd Round) and Conchita Martinez. As the first African-American slam singles titlist since Althea Gibson in 1958, from that moment, Williams began her pursuit of the mythical "Greatest of All-Time" (G.O.A.T.) moniker... a "title" she's more than capable of winning even if her final career numbers don't match up to some of the other past champions in the conversation.

After slowly biding her time for a couple of seasons after her early breakthrough, Serena grew into the perfect embodiment of the eventual G.O.A.T. in 2002. Early in the season in Miami, she telegraphed her course, becoming just the second woman to ever defeat the top three-ranked players (Jennifer Capriati, Venus & Hingis) in a single event. At Roland Garros, she met Venus in the final and became the first younger sister to ever defeat her older sibling in a grand slam match. In the Wimbledon final, she did it again. She first rose to the #1 ranking that July, and there she would stay for the next fifty-seven weeks. At the U.S. Open, while defeating Venus in yet another slam final, she grabbed her second title at Flushing Meadows, doing so without dropping a set, just as she had at SW19 (joining Martina Navratilova in '83 as the only other woman to sweep both slams so seamlessly). With three straight slams in her pocket, she headed to Melbourne and, waiting for her in the final yet again, was her sister. One more time, she sent Venus home with second place to win her fourth straight slam title.

The "Serena Slam," dubbed so after coming not long after Tiger Woods' four straight, non-calendar year "Tiger Slam" wins at golf majors, thus entered the sports lexicon.

Williams' streak of grand slam match wins would end at thirty-three at the '03 Roland Garros, but she won a fifth slam in six attempts at Wimbledon later that summer. After that, injuries (specifically a series of knee ailments that led to surgery) and a so-called "lack of focus" (as her off-the-court interests allowed her mind to "wander") allowed her body to slip from its "Serena Slam" peak. After her '03 Wimbledon win, she won only one slam between then and the end of the 2006 season, and missed three slams due to injury. Her knee put her out eight months from the end of the '03 season though the early months of '04, then another six months in '06. In that '06 season, Williams played only four events, saw her ranking dip as low as #140, outside the Top 100 for the first time since 1997, and she ended the year at #95.

But as she has so often done throughout her career, Serena made a slam her immediate salvation. In Melbourne in '07, she entered the Australian Open ranked #81 and unseeded, but exited it with her eighth career slam singles win. After losing three straight times in slams to Henin the remainder of the season, Williams slowly began to rebuild her legacy as the best player in the game. Sure, it helped that the now-dominating presence of Henin disappeared with the Belgian's retirement in mid-'08, but it was Williams' best stretch of good health since her "Serena Slam" days that really restored her previous aura over the last two seasons of the 2000's.

The scramble for #1 on the Henin-less tour led to Serena reclaiming the #1 ranking for the first time since 2003 in September '08. The five-year gap between her top-ranked stints is the longest in WTA history. She stayed atop the rankings for just a month, finishing the year at #2 after winning the U.S. Open (defeating eventual year-end #1 Jelena Jankovic in the final), her first title in NYC since '02. Not surprisingly, it came just a few months after I'd noticed "the look" on Serena's face after she failed to take down Venus in the Wimbledon final in July. But with her honor restored, she was just getting (re)started. Her '09 season turned out to be her best, at least at the year's biggest tournaments, since her "Serena Slam" run.

After winning her fourth straight "odd-year" Australian Open crown ('03/'05/'07/'09), she went on to win her first Wimbledon title since '03 (defeating Venus in the final, just like old times), her eleventh slam overall. At that point, she was the reigning champion at three of the four slams, her best standing since her four-straight run in 2002-03. She went on to claim her second Season-Ending Championships title (her first since '01) and finish with her first year-end #1 ranking in seven seasons. By the end of this year, she'll have occupied the spot for eighty-three weeks in her career, good for eighth-best all-time. The only real demerits in her season were her unfortunate mocking of then-#1 Dinara Safina's top ranking in spite of her grand slam collapses (even if Serena's points were accurate, she probably wasn't the one who should have been making them), and her now-infamous blow-up at a U.S. Open linesperson after a foot-fault call during a semifinal match with Kim Clijsters (a second "game misconduct" from Williams in the match, for verbal abuse, was penalized with a lost point, and since it came on match point due to the foot-fault on a second serve, the Belgian advanced to the final without playing another point).

Of course, lost in all the uproar about her behavior on that inglorious night, little was said about how Serena actually managed to cheat herself, for she more than any other player might have been able to serve her way out of her seemingly unwinnable position against Clijsters (she was down 6-4/6-5) by reeling off a string of aces. She might not have, but if she had no one would have been shocked. Such is the awe of Serena on a roll... especially the sort that no one sees coming until it's too late. And Williams surely has a slew of them in her history.

Here are just a few of her "escapes" before eventually claiming one of her eleven slam titles:

2003 Australian Open: Clijsters led 5-1 in the 3rd set in the SF, and held two match points
2005 Australian Open: Maria Sharapova had three match points in the SF
2007 Australian Open: Nadia Petrova (3rd Rd.) and Shahar Peer (QF) served for the match
2009 Australian Open: Svetlana Kuznetsova served for the match in the QF
2009 Wimbledon: Elena Dementieva had a match point in the SF

In all, Serena won thirty singles titles in the 2000's (of her 35 career crowns), ten of them slams. Her eleven career major titles are eighth on the all-time list. One of nine women who've won all four slams, she has multiple titles at three (four Australian Open, one Roland Garros, three Wimbledon, three U.S. Open). The only players who have ever defeated Serena in a slam final are her sister Venus and Sharapova, and only Venus ('08 Wimbledon) has done so since Serena was shocked in the '04 SW19 final by the Russian. Williams finished in the Top 10 eight times this decade, and has held a Top 20 rank every season but '06 since she was a 17-year old in 1998.

All that, and Serena is part of maybe the most lethal doubles team ever, as well. Thus far, she and Venus have combined to win ten slam titles (eight this decade), half-way to a tour record, and two Olympic Golds. Serena also won two Mixed Doubles slams with Max Mirnyi in 1998, bringing her career slam titles total to twenty-three, tied with Steffi Graf for the highest number behind Martina Navratilova's tour-best run-up to fifty-nine since Billie Jean King's final slam Doubles title in 1980. Serena is currently one of six women with career slams in both singles and doubles (Navratilova, King, Margaret Smith-Court, Doris Hart & Shirley Fry), and is just Mixed titles at the Australian Open and Roland Garros from becoming the fifth to achieve career slams in all three tennis disciplines.

A lightning rod over the years, Serena has likely been the subject of more conversations than any other tennis player since her arrival on the scene. Whether it be about her tennis, her on-court attire (from the early flying hair beads to the catsuit to the superhero boots... hmmm, maybe the notion of the cape WASN'T so far-fetched), her being "called out" by no less than Chris Evert a few years ago for not upholding her "responsibility" to the sport to be the (maybe all-time) best that she could be, or her recent naked cover shot for ESPN the Magazine. Even her passion has often been used against Serena at times, making one wonder if her's is sometimes TOO strong a force of personality -- female personality, especially -- in some corners of Madison Avenue and the like. This year's U.S. Open incident falls into this category, too, as it's easy to question whether the same hullabaloo would have occurred had a male player "threatened" a linesperson, with the moment possibly quickly forgotten and passed off as simply a case of a champion "blowing off steam" on a bad night.

As usual, though, Serena will prevail in the end. She'll rise above it all, both on the court and off. And she seems to be no where near finished winning major titles, either.

She recently announced her goal of winning an Olympic singles Gold, the only major championship she's never claimed. Thus far, only Graf has won all four slams, the SEC and Olympic singles Gold. Additionally, Serena is just one more RG singles title from joining Smith-Court, Evert, Navratilova and Graf as the only women with multiple championships at all four slams. Who knows what Williams' numbers will be by the end of her career, but no matter how close to the all-time records they are they'll be close enough for her to legitimately be declared the "best of the best" by many.

The only sticking point might be that Serena's talent level is SO high that no number will be looked upon as "enough" for some. Those middle years of the past decade in which her slam totals slipped just a tad might be forever used against her in the G.O.A.T. debate. They shouldn't be, though, for anyone who attempts to look down on Williams' career in any way is asking for too much. Serena has played out her career and lived her life up to this point as she's seen fit, even if it's sometimes meant nearly relegating her tennis to a part-time avocation. Truthfully, when an athlete is as superior as Serena, with so many important titles and starring roles on big stages, our's is not to wonder why she hasn't won even more major titles, it's to marvel at how many she's actually won. I mean, do people harp on Michael Jordan leaving basketball for a time to pursue the dream of a baseball career? No, because he earned the right to make that decision by winning everything there was to win. Serena's in the same category.

Much like Jordan, Serena's occasional flights of fancy in acting and reality television, though maybe best left alone in a perfect world, can be seen as Williams doing whatever she can to keep her mind fresh. If she hadn't allowed herself to go off on such tangents, she might not still have the seeming reservoir of desire for many more years in tennis that she now does. Graf played on and on with a single-minded purpose, eventually wearing herself out and leaving the game two months after turning 30. Such an exit, barring a severe recurrence of her knee injury, isn't likely in the cards for Serena.

Thank goodness.

Years ago, it was easy to wish for a little something different in the game besides the Williams vs. Williams dominance that developed at the start of this decade. But after those glory years for the family temporarily dried up in the mid-2000's, it was just as easy to welcome back the sisters' resurgence in the last two years with open arms. We didn't know what we'd been missing until we got it back. Now, hopefully, we'll be able to witness the remarkable ride of both at least until the mid-way point of the 2010's. After all, there'll never be another story like their's, and it'll have been a true privilege to see the entire tale play out.

With apologies to Navratilova's now-unfortunately-anachronistic serve-and-volley game, Graf's overwhelming force, Seles' all-too-brief angles-loving attack and Henin's underdog-turned-pit bull rise to power, Serena is the one who has it ALL. While others might have won more titles, dominated unfailingly for longer periods of time, run over opponents with merciless abandon or managed to steal away moments of the dominance from under the noses of fellow all-time greats, Williams is the most awesome tennis force that I'VE ever seen. And not just in the 2000's, either.

From here, Serena isn't in the running for that "Greatest of All-Time" crown. She's ALREADY CLAIMED IT.

And, with that, I'd say that that's as good a spot to wraps things up as any.

Serena Slam: Coming Soon to a Court Near You (U.S. Open '02)
Serena Slam-Slam-Slamming Away (Australian Open '03)
Grasscourt Awards 2003
Melbourne's Soul Survivor (Australian Open '05)
The Demolition Heard 'round the World (Australian Open '07)
Destiny's Child (U.S. Open '08)
The Theory of Serenativity (Australian Open '09)
The Power of One (Wimbledon '09)

Aha, hold on a moment! There's one final list of honors left to toss out there. Let's hope it finds a nice place to land.

Serena Williams' "Serena Slam" (2002-03)

Justine Henin-Hardenne, 2004 Athens Olympics
Justine Henin, 2003 U.S. Open (SF-def. Capriati, Final-def. Clijsters)
Russia wins four Fed Cup titles (2004-05, 2007-08)
Russians sweep Beijing '08 Olympics Medal stand (Dementieva-Safina-Zvonareva)

1. Serena Williams/Venus Williams, USA
2. Virginia Ruano Pascual/Paola Suarez, ESP/ARG
3. Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/RSA-USA
HM- Lisa Raymond/Rennae Stubbs, USA/AUS

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
Maria Sharapova wins Wimbledon (2004)
Jennifer Capriati (2001)
[Adopted Technology]
Instant Replay review

2001 Roland Garros Final - Capriati def. Clijsters
So what if it was the only three-set RG final this decade. It was the most dramatic, historic match. Period.
2003 U.S. Open SF - Henin def. Capriati
The legend of La Petit Taureau is born.

The Williams Sisters
[Unlikely Tennis Power]

*Ms. Backspin of the 2000's*
THE Serena Williams

And, now... time to take a breath.

1. Serena Williams, USA
2. Justine Henin, BEL
3. Maria Sharapova, RUS
4. Venus Williams, USA
5. Kim Clijsters, BEL
6. Jennifer Capriati, USA
7. Lindsay Davenport, USA
8. Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
9. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
10. Cara Black, ZIM
11. Lisa Raymond, USA
12t. Virginia Ruano Pascual, ESP
12t. Paola Suarez, ARG
14. Rennae Stubbs, AUS
15. Elena Dementieva, RUS
16. Martina Hingis, SUI
17. Liezel Huber, RSA/USA
18. Mary Pierce, FRA
19. Dinara Safina, RUS
20. Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
21. Ana Ivanovic, SRB
22. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
23. Ai Sugiyama, JPN
24. Anastasia Myskina, RUS
25. Patty Schnyder, SUI
HONORABLE MENTION- Martina Navratilova, USA

*BACKSPIN'S 2000-09 HONOR ROLL, #27-116*
Nicole Arendt
Shinobu Asagoe
Victoria Azarenka
Sybille Bammer
Marion Bartoli
Daja Bedanova
Alona Bondarenko
Kateryna Bondarenko
Kristie Boogert
Elena Bovina
Severine Bremond-Beltrame
Els Callens
Anna Chakvetadze
Chan Yung-Jan
Chuang Chia-Jung
Dominika Cibulkova
Sorana Cirstea
Amanda Coetzer
Eleni Daniilidou
Nathalie Dechy
Casey Dellacqua
Mariaan de Swardt
Jelena Dokic
Silvia Farina Elia
Clarisa Fernandez
Tatiana Golovin
Anna-Lena Groenefeld
Carly Gullickson
Julie Halard-Decugis
Hsieh Su-Wei
Anke Huber
Janette Husarova
Kaia Kanepi
Sesil Karatantcheva
Vania King
Anna Kournikova
Michaella Krajicek
Lina Krasnoroutskaya
Li Na
Li Ting
Elena Likhovtseva
Sabine Lisicki
Nuria Llagostera-Vives
Petra Mandula
Marta Marrero
Conchita Martinez
Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez
Anabel Medina-Garrigues
Sania Mirza
Alicia Molik
Corina Morariu
Miriam Oremans
Melanie Oudin
Shahar Peer
Flavia Pennetta
Tatiana Perebiynis
Kveta Peschke
Nadia Petrova
Kimberly Po-Messerli
Agnieszka Radwanska
Anastasia Rodionova
Chanda Rubin
Lucie Safarova
Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario
Mara Santangelo
Barbara Schett
Francesca Schiavone
Monica Seles
Magui Serna
Antonella Serra-Zanetti
Meghann Shaughnessy
Anna Smashnova
Karolina Sprem
Katarina Srebnotnik
Samantha Stosur
Carla Suarez-Navarro
Sun Tiantian
Agnes Szavay
Tamarine Tanasugarn
Patricia Tarabini
Nathalie Tauziat
Nicole Vaidisova
Dominique van Roost
Elena Vesnina
Yanina Wickmayer
Caroline Wozniacki
Yan Zi
Zheng Jie
Fabiola Zuluaga
Vera Zvonareva

All for now.

...Players of the 2000's: Nomination List, Australian Open 2000-09, Roland Garros 2000-09, Wimbledon 2000-09, U.S. Open 2000-09, Players #21-25, Players #16-20, Players #11-15, Players #6-10, Decade's Best: Player #5- "Splitting Hairs", Decade's Best: Player #4- "LeaVes of Grass", Decade's Best: Player #3- "Supernovic Aspirations"


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