DINARA SAFINA: "The (Russian) Cat" finally got a nickname after she showed off her many lives during the 2008 Roland Garros, coming back from big deficits -- and two match points -- twice against fellow Hordettes Maria Sharapova (4th Rd.) and Elena Dementieva (QF) en route to her first grand slam singles final.
MONICA SELES: "The American Grand Dame of Yugoslavian Tennis." Seles rose to the top of the game as a Yugoslavian in the early 1990s, then later became an American citizen as her former country went to war and broke up into several individual nations.
THE SERBS: "The Fantastics" (or "Fantastovics"). Originally, I dubbed the Serbian women the "Rakija Girls" after the Serbian language name for fruit brandy, apparently often viewed as the nation's national drink. The Serbian woman have developed much like the Belgian "Waffles." That is, with two top players leading the way over a group of other countrywomen who have yet to make any dent on tour. Without question, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic form the two-headed, one-nation monster that is Serbian women's tennis. After the "Rakija Girls" moniker didn't stick, I tried again with the superhero-themed "Fantastics" or "Fantastovics," to incorporate the common ending of Serbian surnames. Following along the lines of the Marvel Comics superhero group known as the "Fantastic Four," the Fantastic Three Serbians also included Top 10 men's player Novak Djokovic (team member #4 might have been Janko Tipsarevic). The new nickname allows for a great variety of usage in association with the comic book characters, tying them into whatever condition the sometimes moody and inconsistent, but always exciting and fun, Serbian players happen to be on a particular day. Djokovic, of course, assumes the "Mr.Fantastic" role by default, while Jankovic and Ivanovic might be referred to as "The Invisible Girl/Woman" on a day or set when their game just isn't there. All can interchangably inhabit the other team member roles: the unstoppable force that is "The Thing," or the on-fire (and fun-loving) "Human Torch." I called Jankovic and Ivanovic "Laverne & Shirley," after the old ABC television series, during the '08 Roland Garros.
SELIMA SFAR: "The Tunisian Tornado." I don't get many opportunities to use this one, but it's alliterative flair makes me wish I could. Youngster Ons Jabeur could soon inherit the moniker.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: "The Supernova" is probably the queen of all Backspin nicknames, not to mention the most appropriate of the bunch. And it's all because of the Russian's explosion into international superstardom with her Wimbledon title in 2004. While born in Siberia, Sharapova has spent most of her life in the U.S... so, occasionally, she's referred to as an "AmeRussian." In August 2005, she became the first Russian female to be ranked #1 in the WTA singles rankings.
MEGHANN SHAUGHNESSY: "The Stick"/"Shillelagh." The skinny American earned her first nickname on sight alone, but the moniker was upgraded to conform to her Irish heritage (a shillelagh is an Irish walking stick).
VALERIA SOLOVYEVA: "The Pocket Hordette." Hey, the Russian is only five-foot-nothing, so...
SAMANTHA STOSUR: Aussie Stosur rose to career heights in singles and doubles in 2005, and thus earned the "Slingin' Sammy" moniker. It's somewhat of an homage to 1930s/40s American football star "Slingin' Sammy" Baugh of the Washington Redskins, who showed Stosur-like versatility by leading the NFL in passing, punting and defensive interceptions.
AGNES SZAVAY: "The Valkyrie." A little flight of Norse mythology whimsy where the Hungarian is compared to a one of the god Odin's handmaids hovering over the battlefield, picking heroes (her opponents) to be slain (defeated), then conducting their souls to Valhalla (the locker room, without a win).
NICOLE VAIDISOVA: On the leading edge of teenaged "Czech Maidens," Vaidisova's early nicknames ("Darth Vaidisova"/"The Darthette") obviously owed a great deal to the imagination of George Lucas. After tiring of the odd "Star Wars" connection, Vaidisova's penchant for angry outbursts (usually at herself, particularly at the 2005 U.S. Open) led her volcanic personality to help create a "Vesuvius" moniker. Then, at Roland Garros in 2006, Vaidisova's upset win over world #1 Amelie Mauresmo in the Round of 16 -- on the same day that Maria "The Supernova" Sharapova blew a 5-1 3rd set -- finally provided her with a fitful nicknames, as "The Dynamova" was born on the terre battue. She retired from the sport in 2010.
MARLENE WEINGARTNER: "The Blue Angel" was lovingly applied to the German to link her to German movie great Marlene Dietrich and her most famous film.
THE WILLIAMSES: "The Family"/"The Sisters." Venus & Serena are so linked in tennis history, no one ever first mentions the Maleeva clan when the sport's top familial links are discussed.
SERENA WILLIAMS: "The Catsuit" was temporarily pegged on Serena for her black skin-tight leathery outfit debuted at the U.S. Open in 2003. "Hollywood Wannabe," too, has been used as a Backspin nickname due to Williams' acting ambitions. But, really, when everything is measured up, simply calling her "Serena" is as good as any nickname could ever be. After all, who's in possession of a more singular presence on the WTA tour than this particular Miss Williams? Also, I doubt if I was the first to coin the phrase, but speculating on Serena's potential four consecutive, non-calendar year slam crowns following the 2002 U.S. Open (the third of the four), I dubbed the possible feat the "Serena Slam," taking a cue from the similar feat accomplished in golf with Tiger Woods' "Tiger Slam" just a bit earlier. Over the next few months, the phrase became a part of the overall sport's lexicon (and history books, when Williams won the Australian Open in January '03), much like Steffi Graf's "Golden Slam" (four majors, plus Olympic Gold) in 1988. It was a pretty obvious act to think up "Serena Slam," so it sort of sprang up everywhere at the time... but when I first used it in September 2002, I always like to note that I'd never heard or seen "Serena Slam" used anywhere else.
VENUS WILLIAMS: "Ferris" -- for Venus' amazing ability to come up with a new excuse for every loss she suffers. It comes from the Matthew Broderick character named Ferris Bueller from the movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986), in which he says, after skipping another day of school, "This is my ninth sick day this semester. It's getting hard to think of new excuses. It I go for ten, I'm probably going to have to barf up a lung. " See... there's always at least one more option when Venus can't think of anything realistic on which to blame a defeat. Occasionally, before her comeback slam title at the 2005 Wimbledon, Venus was referred to as "Forever Fragile." Later, she was referred to as "The Grass Queen" due to her afinity and superior play at Wimbledon.
ALEKSANDRA WOZNIAK & CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: "A-Woz" & "C-Woz." A shorthand abbreviation of the similar names of the two players from Canada and Denmark, respectively.
CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: "Princess Charming," "The Princess of Charm," & "The Princess of Harm." With her winning personality, any play on the word "charm" and Wozniacki was a natural fit, but her cramping/crying comebacks to win matches in the '09 SEC in Doha showed she has a bit of "harm" in her, as well. Not a bad combination.
Z-Girls: So many young up-and-comers have names with a "Z" in them that I thought it'd be nice to have a group to round them up in. Hence, the "Z-Girls" for the likes of Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka, Tamira Paszek, Agnes Szavay and others. A case can be made that this is the second generation of "Z-Girls," following in the footsteps of Svetlana Kuznetsova, Anna Chakvetadze, Sania Mirza and many more.
VERA ZVONAREVA: "Queen Z" was a desperate attempt to come up with another nickname for one of the Horde. "Vera the Almost," as it turned out, was made possible by Zvonareva herself as, for so long, she was never quite able to match her fellow countrywomen's on-court exploits... and generally looked like she was about to have an emotional meltdown during a match when things weren't going her way. Starting in 2007, she began to right her game and her own emotional stability, leading to the birth of the "Czarinette." Finally, though, word that Zvonareva was enrolled in diplomat's school in Russia in hopes of one day working at the United Nations, "The Diplomat" moniker finally fit like a glove after so many false starts.