Serena Williams recognition as Sportsperson of the Year the best moment in women’s sport for 2015

From the outset, the most significant impact concerning Serena Williams gaining the prestigious honor from Sports Illustrated is that it is no longer the Sportsman or Sportswoman of the Year Award. Instead, it is the Sportsperson of the Year, marking an evolution in the Award’s history. With such change, it is only fitting that Williams represented it, subsequently becoming the first woman in over 30 years to be recognized with the award.

Mary Decker was the last female athlete to gain the recognition by herself, gaining the prestigious honor in 1983. Although other women in sport such as gymnast Mary Lou Retton, speed skater Bonnie Blair and basketball coach Pat Summitt have earned the nod as well, all shared it with men. With regards to tennis, the last female player to receive the honor was Chris Evert, winning in 1976.

Of note, Williams was not the only woman considered for the award. Carli Lloyd, who scored a hat trick in the final of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, bringing the US its first championships since 1999, made her mark as an American sporting hero. Conversation was even augmented over the naming of a winner, even including a Triple Crown winning horse known as American Pharoah.

In a year that saw so many women make their mark in sport, from Janine Weber becoming the first European player to score the Clarkson Cup clinching goal, to Dr.Jen Welter becoming the first female assistant coach in the NFL, it signified a landmark year for women. As a side note, when Williams was the guest editor of the publication Wired in October 2015, she featured Welter in a two-page piece.

Considering that she won 53 of 56 matches, including three of the prestigious Grand Slam events, it was the most dominant sporting performances of the season by any athlete, male or female. The one achievement that Williams has not reached (although it is attainable) is the record of 21 Grand Slam titles, held by Steffi Graf.

Although 2015 saw her add to an incredible sporting legacy, her return to Indian Wells may have been the most significant moment. Considering that the event marked one of the first milestones in her career (defeating Steffi Graf there in 1999), it helped bring closure to a sullen chapter in an otherwise superlative career.

Having last appeared at the event in 2001, it proved to be a difficult moment in her career. With accusations by a player (who later apologized) at the event that her father, Richard, decided matches between Serena and her older sister, Venus, it led to a firestorm of controversy as the two were scheduled to face each other in the semifinals.

After Venus was forced to withdraw from the match due to injury, the crowd booed, resulting in harsh criticism by some in the press. The booing would continue in the finals as Serena faced Kim Clijsters. In the aftermath, she made the visceral yet courageous decision to boycott the event, which displayed a show of support for her older sister, only strengthening an already unbreakable bond.

Throughout her career, she has challenged perceptions and stereotypes about athletes, body image (even appearing nude from behind in the final issue of Jane magazine) and raised the bar for the impact that visible minorities can have in sport as more than just leaders, but individuals capable of making positive change. Along with Venus, they would become the first female African-American owners of an NFL team, purchasing a stake in the Miami Dolphins.

In the process, she has proven to be an empowering role model for women of all sizes, ages and backgrounds, while establishing herself as one of the most famous female athletes (and women) in the world. Despite being 34 years of age, Williams shows no signs of slowing down, possibly setting a new standard on Grand Slam victories before her career reaches its twilight.

French Open win nets Serena Williams 20th major

Although it may have been the most hard-earned major in her sterling career, Serena Williams proved why she is one of the greatest tennis players ever, male or female. Winning the 20th major of her career at the 2015 edition of the French Open, she defeated Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic 6-3 6-7 (2) 6-2. Seeded 13 at the French Open, Safarova was making her first appearance in the finals of a tennis major.

Still showing signs of fatigue from the flu, Williams was unable to capitalize on a 4-1 advantage in the second set. Perhaps more surprising was the fact that she was behind 2-0 in the third.

Her ability to fight back the flu was akin to Michael Jordan, who battled the illness while leading the Chicago Bulls to their sixth league championship. Both sporting heroes added to their legend with such memorable performances.

In the aftermath of a dramatic victory, Williams became only the third woman in the history of tennis to win at least 20 majors. Ahead of Williams is Steffi Graf, who won 22 during the Open Era. Taking into account that Williams (who is also ranked No. 1 in the world) has already won two majors this season, and three straight (dating back to the 2014 US Open), she could finish the season by matching Graf. The fact that Williams won the first two Grand Slams of the season makes her the first since Jennifer Capriati in 2001 to do so.

Match-up of Williams’ sisters the highlight of 2014 Rogers Cup

Having won the Rogers Cup in 2001, 2011 and 2013, Serena Williams was eager to try for a fourth title. The only obstacle in her way was sister Venus Williams in the semi-finals. Contested at Uniprix Stadium in Montreal, fans were excited at the 25th career match-up between the two.

Taking into account that Serena was ranked first in the event, while Venus had a 26 ranking, younger sister Serena was certainly the favorite. Shockingly, a valiant effort by Venus resulted in a three-set win. While Serena grabbed the first set by a 7-6 margin, Venus would bounce back with scores of 6-2 and 6-3.

Of note, the first set saw Venus enjoy a 3-1 lead before Serena made the comeback. Winning the tie break by a 7-2 mark, Serena successfully held off her sister in 55 minutes.

Despite the momentum, Serena could not contain in the second set as Venus climbed out to a 3-0 advantage. Three double faults plagued Serena as Venus only needed a half hour to force a third and deciding set.

The final set saw Venus force Serena into the corners, as she struggled to get back into the match. Grabbing the set by a 6-3 score, Venus would advance to the final against Agnieszka Radwanska. Neither has ever captured the Rogers Cup in the history of the event, setting the stage for history.

While Serena retains her number one world ranking, Venus jumps back into the Top 20. As a side note, Venus appeared in the 2014 edition of ESPN’s Body Issue, joining her sister, who appeared in the inaugural edition of the Body Issue back in 2009.

At 34 years young, Venus becomes the oldest finalist in the event since Martina Navratilova. At 32, Navratilova faced off against Aranxa Sanchez-Vicario to grab the 1989 edition of the title. While Venus looks to make her own history in the final, Serena holds a 14-11 advantage in match play against her sister, and prepares for the US Open.

Fame may have crushed Eugenie Bouchard in shocking defeat at Rogers Cup

Having risen into the Top 10 worldwide rankings, the expectations for Eugenie Bouchard to excel in the Rogers Cup were extremely high. Competing in her hometown of Montreal, homecourt advantage resulted in an unforeseen second round exit. Her skyrocketing popularity resulted in Rogers Cup ticket sales hitting a new record.

The loss showed that Bouchard was human. With a newfound celebrity status, Bouchard has graced the covers of popular French-Canadian magazines such as Elle Quebec and La Semaine, along with a TV endorsement for food company Pinty’s (endorsements with giants such as Coca-Cola and Nike are looming). The pressure to play in front of friends and family (her twin sister Beatrice also plays tennis), a combination of youth and pressure that comes with growing in the game made for the perfect storm.

While the loss to Shelby Rogers, ranked 113th in the world (6-0, 2-6, 6-0), symbolized growing pains in her career. Considering the talent and promise that Bouchard possesses, this loss should be seen by her as a bump in the road. Her maturity will certainly be tested as this loss is a crossroads that must result in Bouchard learning from it and moving on, rather than the ascent into a downward spiral that has plagued many other tennis prodigies.

Photo credit: John Mahoney, The Montreal Gazette

Photo credit: John Mahoney, The Montreal Gazette

Sadly, Bouchard was heard saying to her coach Nick Saviano that she wanted to get off the court. Of note, Saviano was once the coach of Jennifer Capriati, who burned out as a teenager in tennis. Having also coached Jim Courier, a former grand slam champion, Saviano, who has coached Bouchard since she was 12, knows how to help her bounce back.

At this point, fans and media alike must need to realize that she is still at a tender age in her career and that patience must be shown. Such a rapid rise to success will result in Bouchard becoming a target, forcing her to put her career and approach to winning in perspective.

An emotional adjustment may still be needed in order to absorb everything that has transpired in what has still emerged as a memorable year. Maria Sharapova, who is Bouchard’s idol, won her first Wimbledon event at the age of 17. Being so popular at such a young age, Sharapova endured some tough years before finding her groove and becoming one of the world’s most recognizable athletes.

As the first Canadian (and only WTA player this year) to reach the semifinals of the first three Grand Slam events this year, she has earned more than $2 million in prize money this year alone. Despite such success, there were seven tournaments this year in which she lost her first match at an event.

Rust can also be attributed as a factor in her loss. Taking into account that this was her first match since losing to Petra Kvitova in the final of Wimbledon, she was not prepared. As a side note, she played against Rogers when they were training as juniors in Florida, and had lost to her before. Prior to beating Bouchard, Rogers had played in three other matches at the Rogers Cup. A few weeks earlier, she reached the finals of a tournament held in Bad Gastein, Austria.

Stacey Allaster, a Canadian who helps to run the WTA Tour may have put it into perspective best when she stated that it is a marathon and not a sprint. For the 20 year old Bouchard, and her devoted fans known as the Genie Army (who the WTA will fly to Singapore should she qualify for the season closing finals there), her career is certainly still at the marathon point, with many more great moments to come.

Rising sports superstar Eugenie Bouchard covers Sportsnet Magazine

Riding the momentum of the highly celebrated Wimbledon tennis tournament, Eugenie Bouchard earned the rare honor of being featured on the cover of Sportsnet Magazine, one of Canada’s most popular magazines. The nod is certainly testament to Bouchard’s white-hot popularity, sex appeal and her status as one of Canada’s rising sports stars.

In the last year, Bouchard is only the second female athlete to appear on the cover of the periodical. The toher was mountain bike racer Emily Batty, adorned in a bathing suit for the “Beauty of Sport” edition. Although there is no question that Bouchard certainly deserves a chance to appear in a future edition of Beauty of Sport, she is part of a new generation of Canadian female sporting heroes, such as Christine Sinclair (soccer), Tessa Virtue (figure skating) and Natalie Spooner (hockey).

Unfortunately, the periodical did not have a feature story to back up her cover appearance. Highly respected columnist Stephen Brunt wrote a back-page commentary (where he can be found on every issue) about Bouchard’s impact. There was also a brief write-up in the opening section discussing her earnings and the fact that she shares the same coach as Jim Courier and Jennifer Capriati. Sadly, the lack of extensive coverage would seem to indicate there is an opportunity to expand female sporting coverage.

Despite the lack of a feature, Bouchard’s appearance on the cover raises the important question of why there are not more female athletes on the covers of sporting magazines. Besides the growing influence of female athletes as role models for young girls, it would add a much-needed boost of legitimacy that women’s sports are as competitive as their male counterparts.

Based on the year that Bouchard is having, it is highly possible that she could become the first female athlete to appear on the cover twice. This year alone, she has already exceeded $1 million in earnings. In a year, where she faced her childhood hero Maria Sharapova at the French Open, the possibility of becoming the first Canadian female to win a Grand Slam title only adds to the excitement.

Already making a strong case to win the Lou Marsh Trophy, awarded annually to Canada’s athlete of the year, she is certainly emerging as a candidate to be honored as Canada’s newsmaker of the year. All signs that Bouchard’s image may be gracing more magazine covers in her future.

Eugenie Bouchard’s dating question goes viral while overshadowing her career milestone

After a much-improved 2013 saw Eugenie Bouchard emerge as one of the rising stars in tennis, an unforeseen question from the media has made her a viral sensation in January 2014. After becoming the first Canadian tennis player in 30 years to reach the semi-finals of a Grand Slam event (the last was Carling Bassett), her post-game jubilation featured an on-court interview.

In what promises to be one of the most entertaining (and embarrassing) sporting moments of 2014, Bouchard was asked by Samantha Smith of Australia’s Channel 7 which celebrity she would like to go on a date with. The body language clearly indicates that Bouchard was not expecting such a question.

Followed by an awkward pause, Bouchard mentions to the fans in attendance at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena that her choice would be pop-star (and fellow Canadian) Justin Bieber, followed by a nervous giggle. Not helping her own cause, she then looked into the camera and waved, “Justin, if you are watching…heyyyy.”

With a crowd of enthusiastic fans calling themselves The Genie Army, the question may have been prompted by Smith after telling Boucahrd that a lot of the new fans she is gaining are male. With accusations from others in the media of sexism (due to the dating question)

Within a few hours, the interview went viral online, while social media has also engaged in the hysteria. Of note, TMZ Sports has already covered the story, showing its impact in popular culture. Although Bieber has not replied on social media, he did get the opportunity to meet with members of the Canadian national women’s hockey team on a recent trip to Toronto.

From the outset, such a question should never have been asked after a game situation. It certainly would never have been asked to an established star such as Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova. Not only would it have been considered inappropriate, but there would have been calls for the interviewer’s dismissal. Had Bouchard been interviewed on MTV in a non-game situation, that question would certainly have not elicited such a reaction.

Image by PaulCrock AP Getty

Image by PaulCrock AP Getty

Considering that she is only 19 years old, the transition to tennis star is still very new to her. Having now become a global celebrity, this is compounded by the fact that she was booed by several fans in attendance after her choice of Bieber. Such a controversial interview could have an effect on how she handles interviews in the future. To be fair, those boos were attributed to a spray-painting incident at a Gold Coast hotel by the pop star.

While her sparkling play at the Australian Open has certainly earned new fans (Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki has raved about her on Twitter), the dramatic rise in media attention shall prove to be a test of her mental toughness heading into the semifinals.

Her defeat of Serbian tennis star and former Number 1 ranked player Ana Ivanovic in the quarters was a huge step forward in her budding career. Her three-set win by scores of 5-7, 7-5 and 6-2 took two hours and 22 minutes. Ironically, she did not appear nervous once during the victory, compared to her appearance in the post-game interview.

In learning to deal with becoming a star athlete, Bouchard must also learn how to deal with media. This was certainly a baptism of fire for the teenaged competitor from Westmount, Quebec. Fans can only hope that unlike Bieber’s career at the moment, it is not going to descend into a downward spiral. While she faces Li Na in the semi-finals, a victory over her would only add to her historic run. No Canadian tennis player, male or female, has ever reached the finals of the Australian Open.

Eugenie Bouchard looks to build on breakthrough season in WTA

Only 19 years old, Eugenie Bouchard has a limitless future in the WTA. After becoming the first Canadian ever to win a Grand Slam title in 2012 (a win over Elina Svitolina at the junior Wimbledon), she followed up with her best-ever WTA ranking in 2013, as she climbed to 32.

A member of Tennis Canada’s National Training Centre in Montreal, she also had a world junior ranking of No.2 following her Wimbledon victory. While it seems like she is an overnight sensation, she has paid her dues in the sport since 2005. At the tender age of 15, she captured her first Canadian indoor Under-18 title along with a Pan American Closed ITF championship victory.

PHOTO OLIVIER PONTBRIAND, LA PRESSE

PHOTO OLIVIER PONTBRIAND, LA PRESSE

Her landmark 2013 reached new heights when she was named the WTA Newcomer of the Year. Only the second Canadian to win the award (Carling Bassett was the first in 1983), she would experience a landmark year. Beginning the year with a world ranking of 144, the native of Westmount, Quebec had a series of strong performances. Including a finals appearance at Osaka and a match at Roland-Garros against Maria Sharapova, she would also post her best performance at Wimbledon, defeating former world no.1 Ana Ivanoic in straight sets on Centre Court.

Also beating Jelena Jankovic, another former number 1, it resulted in an epic season that saw the prodigy make a remarkable climb in the rankings. Moving up an astounding 112 spots, her ranking of 32 makes her Canada’s most remarkable female athlete this year.
Past winners of the award included Martina Hingis, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams.

Of note, a victory over world-ranked No. 42 Laura Robson at the Family Circle Cup marked her first Top 50 win. Her confidence would only increase with a win over former US Open champion Samantha Stosur.

Sitting on 32, it makes her the world’s highest ranked tonnage players. Careening on the court with a remarkable confidence, she would push Serena Williams to three-sets in a match in Cincinnati before losing. After a strong showing, she made it to the first WTA Singles final event of her career at the HP Open. Stosur would avenge her previous loss by besting her in the final.

Eugenie Bouchard and Madison Keys pose with the Billie Jean King trophy at the WTA 40 Love Celebration during Middle Sunday of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 30, 2013 in London, England. (June 29, 2013 - Source: Julian Finney/Getty Images Europe)

Eugenie Bouchard and Madison Keys pose with the Billie Jean King trophy at the WTA 40 Love Celebration during Middle Sunday of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 30, 2013 in London, England.
(June 29, 2013 – Source: Julian Finney/Getty Images Europe)

Known affectionately as Genie, fans are hoping there is a lot more magic from this tennis prodigy to come in 2014. With strong poise and tremendous confidence for a player who has not yet reached her 20th birthday, she has the potential to become the catalyst towards inspiring more young Canadian women to take up tennis. As Canada has underachieved globally in tennis, Bouchard’s promising career presents hope that Canada can begin a golden era of dominance on the world stage.