Sharapova, match-fixing and the crazy off-court stories of 2016

Tennis' governing bodies had their work cut out at last year's Australian Open with the match-fixing scandal taking center stage. Photo/Rick Rycroft, File

What kind of year was it? The kind in which Nick Kyrgios received a lengthy suspension for tanking a match and didn't make our top 10 off-court stories of 2016.

But here's what did make our list:

1. Maria Sharapova tests positive for banned substance

Sharapova announced back in March that she had tested positive for meldonium, a heart drug she said she had taken for years for medical reasons, but one that was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) at the beginning of the season. The independent International Tennis Federation tribunal didn't buy that excuse, giving her a two-year suspension that was subsequently reduced on appeal by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Throughout the saga, there was some entertaining verbal sparring from Sharapova, the ITF, WADA and other players.

2. Match-fixing takes center stage in Melbourne

The other big controversy of the season began with a media investigation that suggested the sport of tennis was far from immune to match-fixing and has been increasing prominent at lower levels because of inaction from the governing authorities. It became a worldwide story during the Australian Open, prompting a British parliamentary hearing. It led officials to order a thorough look at their policing practices. The Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) has since increased its personnel and is providing more information about its activities, which have included several suspensions of lower-level players and even some umpires. But suspicious betting patterns have persisted as gambling companies have widened the array of competitions on which bets are offered.

3. Indian Wells CEO's remarks draw outrage

Raymond Moore said women's players "ride the coattails of the men" during a news conference before Serena Williams faced Victoria Azarenka in the final at Indian Wells. "In my next life, when I come back, I want to be someone in the WTA because they ride on the coattails of the men," he said. "They don't make any decisions, and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky. If I was a lady player, I'd go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born because they have carried this sport. They really have." Moore, who was a part of the Indian Wells tournament in some capacity for 29 years, resigned a day later.

4. State of the WTA in flux

The WTA is being pulled in various directions. While equal prize money at the Grand Slams now seems established, the same can't be said for the four mandatory WTA Premier events, which award less than ATP Masters events. Some of the issues will be addressed as the WTA implements a new multimillion dollar television rights deal, but this transition is also having other effects. WTA tournaments are increasingly shifting to premium or non-traditional networks, and the tour has also withdrawn from its international streaming deal with no other online arrangement yet announced. All that combined could reduce the visibility of the women's game. But the tour also has plans to increase its own content, and recently announced new partnerships to promote itself and its players.

5. Small tournaments in turmoil

Many smaller events have exited the United States in recent years, and now the exoduses are going international. ATP 250 events in Valencia, Bogota, Nice and Nottingham all relocated, with others, like Bucharest, also looking at moving. The WTA had to call off or postpone its new international event at Louisville because organizers appeared to have financing problems, and WTA CEO Steve Simon has publicly suggested that propping up smaller events might be required. Smaller events are a harder draw for top players, making it more difficult to attract ticket sales and sponsors.

6. Rain, rain go away

There were times in the season when it looked like players might have to learn to play with umbrellas instead of rackets. The French Open was one of the wettest on record, with rain occurring most days and two days with hardly any play at all. The first week of Wimbledon had so many delays it required play on middle Sunday. The Cincinnati event saw its surrounding grounds almost under water, making the journey to the site an adventure. Most of the European clay-court events experienced some rain delays, except for Munich, which had snow.

7. US Open roof a step in the right direction

For a change, rain wasn't the story at the US Open, which unveiled its new roof for the first time. Though the rain landing on the roof it made a surprisingly loud racket, it otherwise worked smoothly and changed conditions in the stadium for the better, reducing the amount of wind that players experience.

8. Coaching consultants become a priority

It's has become quite normal for top players to travel with coaches and consultants now. Milos Raonic worked with current ESPN analyst John McEnroe during the grass-court season, in addition to regular coaches Carlos Moya and Riccardo Piatti, while Stan Wawrinka had coach Magnus Norman and hitting partner Richard Krajicek on his team for Wimbledon.

9. Big names nowhere to be seen

Federer, Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka were sidelined for various reasons, and Serena Williams played a limited schedule. With the lack of star power, attendance was down at top events, such as Indian Wells, Miami and the ATP and WTA Finals. The International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) also saw a drop as budget problems reduced its lineup of top players.

10. Changes to Davis Cup format?

The ITF proposed earlier this year that it is looking to hold the Davis Cup finals at a neutral site, which would be a big change from the current home-and-away format. Novak Djokovic has been one of the more vocal players calling for change, but doesn't believe a neutral finals site is the answer.

"You're taking away from the players the one thing that players love about Davis Cup, which is the home tie, the home crowd. I don't know how the future of Davis Cup will look like, but there is definitely something radically that has to change."

The ITF is set to vote on the proposed changes in August.