Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees had sensational calendar years dominating NFL defenses and Justin Verlander had an amazing year leading the Detroit Tigers to the playoffs and winning both the MVP and Cy Young awards. There were many athletes who had incredible 2011′s, but no one had a year quite as dominant as the man they call The Djoker.
The year in tennis began with Rafael Nadal as the unquestioned top player in the sport and ended with one of the most dominant years in the history of the sport. 2011 started with many doubting Novak Djokovic’s ability to pull through and consistently win tournaments and grand slam events. Then Djokovic took the sport by storm.
It began in Melbourne with Djokovic’s second career Australian Open championship, beating Roger Federer and Andy Murray in straight sets to win it. What he did in the subsequent 10 months was nothing short of historically astounding.
Djokovic took on a gluten free diet, became more precise with his ground strokes, worked on his conditioning and went an unbelievable 70-6 in 2011 and a total of three major titles. The 24-year-old Serbian superstar went 6-0 against Nadal, all in tournament finals, and 4-1 against Federer. He won 10 singles titles, he had won 11 in the last three years combined, and earned nearly $13 million in prize money.
Djokovic didn’t lose his first match until June 5. Think about that for a few seconds and then get back to this article…I’ll wait. He took singles titles in Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami, his native Belgrade, Madrid and Rome. He defeated Nadal in the final to take three of those tournaments and was practically unbeatable for a four month stretch. His streak ended when he met the only major tournament he didn’t win. He fell to Federer in the semifinals of the French Open, ending a 43-match winning streak.
Despite the impressive run, his ability to consistently win major tournaments remained in question. That changed a month later at Wimbledon. Electing to skip the grass court warm-up tournaments for the Championships at the All England Club, Djokovic looked rested and focused, dropping just four sets in the entire tournament. He ousted the talented Frenchman Jo-Wilifried Tsonga in the semifinals before meeting Nadal in yet another final.
Even though Djokovic never won a major tournament outside of Melbourne, Djokovic had a psychological advantage by winning all those previous tournament matches, two of them coming on Nadal’s favored clay surface. Djokovic won the match fairly handily in four sets to win his second major title of the year and took a ton of momentum into the American summer hardcourt season.
Wins in Montreal and Cincinnati in a limited schedule, in order for The Djoker to rest, took him to Flushing Meadows for the U.S. Open. Novak breezed through to the semifinals, where he played the match of the year against Federer under the Saturday night lights in Queens.
Federer took the first two sets from Djokovic and that almost always clinched the match for the all-time great Swiss technician. Federer was 181-1 when winning the first two sets in a Grand Slam match. However, this was Djokovic’s year and Djokovic’s match. Down 5-3 and two match points in the fifth set, Djokovic hit a series of incredible shots to win four straight games and the match. He then slayed Nadal again in the final to win his third major of the year and cap one of the dominant years in the history of the sport.
No player in any sport had a more dominant and successful year, and SprungOnSports congratulates Novak Djokovic for winning this year’s award.
Other Nominees Who Fell Short (ordered alphabetically)
Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee Brewers- The righty slugger won the NL MVP award, led the Brewers to the playoffs and then tested positive for a banned substance, creating widespread controversy in the sport.
Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints- Brees broke Dan Marino’s single season record for passing yards and led New Orleans to an 12-3 season in 2011.
Jimmer Fredette, PG, BYU/Sacramento Kings- JimmerMania spread throughout college basketball this year, with his dazzling individual performances captivating the country despite playing for a non-major school. He was taken in the first round of the NBA Draft in June by the Kings.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor- His accuracy, arm strength, speed and running ability allowed RGIII to become the first player in school history to win the Heisman Trophy. He is slated to become a first round pick in next April’s NFL Draft.
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford- He led the Cardinal to a Pac 12 title and is generally regarded as the best NFL QB prospect since Peyton Manning. He was so great as a QB in college that he inspired a widespread “Suck For Luck” campaign among fans of losing NFL teams. The Indianapolis Colts, the team that drafted and still has Manning at QB, is currently the frontrunners to get the first pick in next April’s draft.
Dirk Nowitzki, PF, Dallas Mavericks- Nowitzki finally won his elusive NBA title in a six-game thriller over the Miami Heat and was named Finals MVP.
Albert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals/Los Angeles Angels- Not only did Pujols have another sensational season for the Redbirds and help lead his team to a World Series title, he also shocked the sporting world by leaving St. Louis for a $254 million contract with the Angels. He scored high grades in the on field and off-the-field/controversial categories.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers- The master of the discount double-check won the Super Bowl MVP award and led his Packers team to a 14-1 record in 2011.
Derrick Rose, PG, Chicago Bulls- The 2011 NBA MVP, Rose improved on his three-point shot and his passing ability to lead Chicago to the Eastern Conference Finals.
David Stern, Commissioner, NBA- Stern not only partially brought the league this year’s NBA lockout, but also rejected the league’s trade of Chris Paul to the Lakers. No commish had a more influential or controversial year.
Tim Tebow, QB, Denver Broncos- He got America and the world to think about faith’s role in sports after a string of wins for his Broncos and inspired his name becoming a verb with his kneeling prayer on the football field.
Tim Thomas, G, Boston Bruins- His incredible goaltending helped Boston win its first Stanley Cup in 39 years while winning the Conn Smythe (playoff MVP) and Vezina (best goalie) trophies.
Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers- He won 24 games, threw a no-hitter, led Detroit to the ALCS and won the Cy Young and MVP in the American League. Not too shabby.
Kemba Walker, PG, UConn/Charlotte Bobcats- Walker led the Huskies to an improbable national title with a dazzling display of skill and ability. He was taken by the Bobcats in the June draft to try to rebuild the franchise.
Familiar Faces Guide Philadelphia To Win At Pittsburgh
Former Penguins Jaromir Jagr and Maxime Talbot both made their first trip back to Pittsburgh since becoming members of the Flyers and both were instrumental in leading Philadelphia to an important 4-2 road win on Thursday.
Jagr’s goal in the second period, his 12th of the season, gave Philadelphia a lead they would hold for the duration of the game. Talbot’s empty-net goal sealed it for the Flyers, who are now two points ahead of Pittsburgh, tied with the Rangers for the Atlantic Division lead and just a point behind Boston for the Eastern Conference lead.
“I felt pretty good but I had so many chances that if I would have scored five goals, nobody would be surprised,” Jagr said after the game.
Claude Giroux added two more assists Thursday and continues to lead the league in points with 46. He said that it was nice for Jagr to get the goal considering how tough the Pittsburgh fans were on him. “I think it was important for not just him but the whole team to get that goal because he got it pretty tough from the fans,” Giroux said. “But I think he kind of liked it a little bit.”
Jets Quietly Soar Into Playoff Picture
A brutal Eastern Conference travel schedule was supposed to mar the Winnipeg Jets’ season and make them an afterthought in the Southeast Division. The travel was such a cause for concern that it was one of the major reasons the league elected to realign the divisions for next season. To everyone’s surprise, the Jets have more points than the Capitals and the Lightning as we leave 2011.
Winnipeg got 31 saves from Steve Mason and an Evander Kane overtime goal to blank Los Angeles 1-0 and take over the seventh spot in the conference. It was the team’s third win in four games and seventh in their last 10. The Jets are in the middle of the pack in virtually every major statistical team category, but the 35-year-old Mason is playing well whenever called on to start in net.
“Every game day is a little bit bigger of an event for me,” Mason said. The former Blues and Predators starter is 5-2 with a 1.91 goals against average and a .927 save percentage in nine games and six starts for the Jets, and has become an admirable backup to Ondrej Pavelec. Head Coach Claude Noel had nothing but praise for Mason after the win.
“He gives you no reason to not play him,” Noel said. “He continues to battle hard, he comes in cold. I mean, there can’t be a tougher job than what he has. He certainly gives a comfort level to your team.”
As Winnipeg gets more comfortable with their new city, new division and new surroundings, it’s becoming more apparent that the Jets are going to hand around in this Eastern Conference playoff race.
Weekend Games To Watch
Friday- There are a few games between playoff teams on a less than busy night in the NHL. Eastern Conference division leaders match up as the Rangers visit the struggling Panthers. The NHL leading Blackhawks have a tough assignment against division rival Detroit, and another Central Division rivalry takes place with St. Louis and Nashville playing as the current sixth and seventh seeds in the conference.
Saturday- A total of 12 games take place on this New Year’s Eve, most notably Detroit and St. Louis, Pittsburgh taking on division rival New Jersey and Toronto and Winnipeg playing on CBC, with playoff spots on the line.
Sunday- Calgary and Nashville is the only game on the schedule as the league gears up for Monday’s Winter Classic. Happy New Year, NHL fans!