Time for the WTA!
I hope you’ve all read the Biggest Questions – ATP Version, and are all set for round two! If you haven’t, don’t worry. Order does not matter with these posts, and you can always check it out later.
I can’t say sorry enough for the delay in posting this. I came back from holiday today, where there was neither a convenient device nor sufficient internet access with which to post this. Thanks for your patience, and for the support already shown! It’s really appreciated!
Same rules as last time: A good look at the top five players in the rankings, plus five swifter questions for five more players of choice.
Here we go!
THE TOP FIVE
1. Serena Williams Age: 33 Nationality: American
Highlight of 2014: Winning her 18th Grand Slam at the US Open, which tied her for second-most Slams in the Open Era, alongside Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. She also won the WTA finals for the third year in a row.
Notability During Season: 9.5/10
She’s been the force of the tour for at least a couple of years now. THE one to beat (or attempt to, anyway.) And whether the WTA like it or not (you sometimes get the feeling they don’t, although things have improved nowadays), she’s the player that ropes in tons of worldwide attention – whether she’s playing at 100%, or having an uncharacteristic bad run.
Surprisingly, the latter was the case for the first third of the year. Serena, the favourite for… well, everything, fought her way to her season-launching Brisbane title, in a manner that made me wonder if – with years rolling by – she was passing over annihilations in favour of preserving energy.
It seems I was wrong. Injury struck again in Australia, and Serena’s hopes were dashed in the quarter finals. A shock loss to Alize Cornet followed in February – her first straight sets loss since 2012! True, she picked up the coveted Miami title the month afterward. But for Serena, it’s all about the Slams these days, and fourth round, second round and third round singles showings (closely followed in the Wimbledon doubles by the most crazy and scary circumstances on a tennis court in recent times) were nowhere near enough.
People were already talking her season down, given her enormously high standards. Serena, herself, was less than impressed – likely more than she let on. But a fully lost season is not an option for the woman who retained world number one all year round. Among the seven titles she gathered were her 18th Slam and several masters – despite illness and injury shutting her door on the entire Asian swing.
The WTA Finals were also a highlight. Here, she came back from a Round Robin thrashing by Simona Halep to thrash the same woman back in the final.
And even after those first months of misery, she was still the first player to qualify for Singapore. I don’t know what that says about the rest of the tour. It can certainly suggest that Serena’s 50% matches their 100…
BIGGEST QUESTION FOR 2015: Can Serena make it to the 20s in Slams?
I’m not asking about 19, plainly because of the enormity of her determination. Serena has made it no secret that her eyes are on Steffi Graf’s Open Era record haul of 22 majors. And a determined Serena is a foreboding figure.
Watch this space.
2. Maria Sharapova Age: 27 Nationality: Russian
Highlight of 2014: Winning her fifth Slam title at the French Open, thus ending a career of winning each major just once (and thus terminating my argument that this proved her inconsistent.)
Notability During Season: 7.5/10
Sharapova entered the season having missed several months at the back end of 2013 due to shoulder problems. She reached the Brisbane semis on her return to competition, falling to (you guessed it!) Serena Williams. Making no real impact at the Australian Open, she fell in the fourth round to Dominika Cibulkova.
Then – shock horror! She decided to take several weeks off to get involved with the Winter Olympics, which had hit her home place of Sochi! All the talk was of this hindering her still further. However, after a poor hard court season, she pretty much owned the competition on clay – most notably squeaking out the French Open final against in-form Simona Halep.
The rest of her season was forgettable, including quarter final showings at Wimbledon and the US Open. She fell to Kerber and Wozniacki respectively. The final section of her season was average, and she got pulled apart in the – possibly – easier section of the Round Robin at the WTA Finals. She didn’t make it out of the group.
BIGGEST QUESTION FOR 2015: Can Sharapova improve any parts of her game this year?
I personally feel that Maria has plateaued over the last year or two. No component of her game (except her performance on clay) seems to have been improved, and it’s beyond me why she doesn’t seem to spend much time working on her serve – especially at her height of 6 foot 2 inches. Her double fault count in 2014 was twice the amount of the next player on the list.
If you haven’t beaten Serena in ten years, then surely you have to make some changes. Waiting for her demise is not enough.
3. Simona Halep Age: 23 Nationality: Romanian
Highlight of 2014: Reaching her first Slam final at the French Open, and making the final of the WTA Finals on her debut.
Notability During Season: 8.5/10
2013, in which she won her first six WTA titles during the back end of the year, was only the springboard for Simona’s arrival to stardom.
She may not have been given the coverage and attention she deserved, but despite it all, Simona still worked her way to the top in a way that captured the hearts of her nation – and those further afield. Her first Slam quarter final at the Aussie Open ended with shaking knees to Cibulkova, yet she took on board what she needed to from the experience.
And perhaps that’s what set her up so well for her real breakthrough season. A season after which the term ‘Rising Star’ should be as far away from her name as the north pole is from the south (I’m looking at you, WTA!)
Her wobbles were minor, and she visibly learned from each one, including an early exit at the US Open as she faced her first major as world number two. Right at the beginning of the year, she won her first Premier level event, propelling her into Big Time and announcing herself as a force, not a fade-away. Self-admittedly, injury was all the prevented her from following up her maiden Slam final with another at Wimbledon
She nurtured consistency at both the big and small tournaments alike, an ability which many of the players her age are lacking. And why should a 6-3, 6-0 drubbing by Serena to end your season be humiliating, when you beat her better several days before?
It was the WTA fan votes which really showed up how she’d wowed the crowds throughout 2014. Among other notabilities, she placed first in the Most Clicked On player of the year.
I have to say, I’m thankful that the general public seem look beyond the media.
BIGGEST QUESTION FOR 2015: Can Simona win her first Grand Slam?
Last year, despite her growing profile, I felt that Simona wouldn’t win a major yet. I didn’t feel that her game and confidence were quite there. It pleasantly surprised me to see her so almost squeeze the French out of Sharapova’s grasp.
But this year is different. And I think what makes that difference is her mammoth win over Serena, on top of everything else. A fair few players beat Serena on big stages last year. But Simona did it on top of her other building blocks. On a steady foundation she’d worked away at. Yes, Serena played poorly. Her own efforts are always a factor in every result she exists in. However, Simona was still the only top ten player to beat her last year. She’s shown she can beat the best players, at the best places.
That maiden Slam could well be nearby…
4. Petra Kvitova Age: 25 Nationality: Czech
Highlight of 2014: Winning Wimbledon for the second time. Out of the blue.
Notability During Season: 5/10
It strange, really. Here you almost have the female version of Stanislas Wawrinka. She even shares his current ranking.
Yet they are two players you would never associate with each other.
Yes, I had to think about it before I did.
Petra’s opening to the season was nothing short of abysmal. She went out early at Slams, choked against low-ranked opponents, and blah blah blah. I’m not even going to pretend to remember everything about it, because it’s just so unmemorable! I’m pretty sure that if it wasn’t for her off-court involvement with Radek Stepanek (a thing of the past), most of the tennis world would have, in turn, forgotten her (Sorry, Petra fans! Sometimes the truth hurts.)
The infuriating thing about Petra is that, like Stan, she has the ability to play what’s popularly known as ‘lights out’ tennis. Basically, she can take you and pound you and dispose of you before you even have time to blink. She’ll leave you Petra-fied.
(How funny am I?)
And that’s just what she did at Wimbledon. Now, please note, I do not refer to all of Wimbledon. At the beginning of the tournament she was still trapped up in Petra Kvitova’s realm of I Can’t Find My Killer Game. But when the draw miraculously open up for the second straight year, she wasn’t about to choke again. Speeding up, she ended with a glorious 55 minutes dismantle of Eugenie Bouchard, dancing over the Canadian’s remains to collect the Venus Rosewater DIsh.
Well not literally, but you get the picture.
After that redemption of her season, Kvitova flitted back to her up and down ways. She wasn’t a figure you wanted standing in your way, but the idea of beating her was far from unrealistic.
BIGGEST QUESTION FOR 2015: Can Petra put together a consistently good season?
Because the world number 954 could put together a consistently bad one.
5. Ana Ivanovic Age: 28 Nationality: Serbian
(Note: While Ivanovic is now listed at world number seven, she was previously year-end number five.)
Highlight of 2014: A steady resurgence that saw her post several major victories and qualify for the WTA Finals, ending the year in the top five.
Notability During Season: 7.5/10
Ana Ivanovic the Beauty Queen doesn’t find attention hard to come by. She could have a dour season and still make contact with the public eye. It’s the sort of thing that usually becomes extremely irritating, but the fact is, Ana isn’t in the least conceited about it.
Plus, last year she had the results to back up the attention.
It’s easy to forget that Ana was briefly ranked world number one, and has even won a Slam. However, in 2014, she showed us why all this was possible. Beating Venus Williams to win the first tournament she played, she went on to overpower her victim’s hampered younger sister en route to the Australian Open quarters. There, Ivanovic herself was hampered as she lost to Bouchard in three sets.
Although there were some results that she would rather forget, Ana can surely be proud of her season on the whole – more as a building block on the way to greater things that having reached the summit, though. Despite the fact that self-inflicted pressure at the Slams culminated in tough losses, she was always a firm threat at lower-level tournaments, reaching many semi-finals and finals, and knocking off big names along the way.
A 2-1 record in the WTA Finals Round Robin stage still wasn’t enough for a semi-final spot. However, with her welcome resurgence evident – possibly more in her physical game than in her results – Ana was lodged firmly in the spotlight.
BIGGEST QUESTION FOR 2015: Can Ana keep climbing?
She’s stated her desire to win another Slam, but I think a better question to ask first of all is whether Ivanovic can keep heading in the right direction. So many players in her position have started falling back – most recently her compatriot Jelena Jankovic.
Anything could happen. But I think Ana has found solid ground. I’d be very surprised if her name wasn’t listed in the year end’s top ten.
QUICKLY – FIVE MORE!
Once again, thanks for taking the time to read this far! Our next five players will consist of a lesser-detailed observation.
7. Eugenie Bouchard Age: 20 Nationality: Canadian
BIGGEST QUESTION FOR 2015: Can Genie avoid Sloane Stephens fate?
I really didn’t want to to give Eugenie a spot here. I strongly feel that she gets too much attention everywhere else. But I also feel that everyone else is asking the wrong question regarding her.
They’re saying, Can she win a Grand Slam this year?
I’m saying, Can she keep her place at the top?
Right from the word Go, with her path to the Aussie Open semis, all I was seeing in Bouchard was a carbon copy of Sloane Stephens. Right down to the age and similar ranking, they both benefited from kind draws on the way to notability. Sloane was a force at the Slams and nowhere else. Same with Bouchard, bar one straightforward title on the Spring clay courts.
Sometimes, once you’ve been given a few kindly ladders to the top, you can sit there comfortably, and learn the way forward without falling. Other times, if you’re really not all that people thought, you can slip back to world number 35.
If Eugenie’s fortunate, she might just be allowed to take the first path.
8. Caroline Wozniacki Age: 24 Nationality: Dane
BIGGEST QUESTION FOR 2015: Can Caro get back to the very top?
The top three, perhaps? Or maybe the top two? It looks highly possible.
When Caroline Wozniacki fell, Slamless, from her occupation of world number one, I saiD that she’d never get there again.
But now, playing better than she ever has in her career, there’s every chance that she might prove me wrong.
After a second half of the season in which she was motivated, hungry and dialled in, Caroline made her second Grand Slam final. She pushed Serena to her limits, clawed her way back to the world’s elite, and repeatedly beat Maria Sharapova among other notable names. Looking at this, it’s quite hard to understand why she isn’t ranked higher than she is.
Until you realise that, during the first half of the year, she was pretty much a non-event.
Now that she’s fierce and fighting, there’s a waterfall of ranking points just waiting for Caro to reach out and embrace. She just needs to keep up the momentum. And if she does, she’ll be closer to her buddy Serena than ever.
19. Venus Williams Age: 34 Nationality: American
BIGGEST QUESTION FOR 2015: Can Venus become a challenger at the latter end of Slams once more?
I’m not sure if you’ve had it drummed into you enough, but the enormity of what Venus Williams has achieved in the last few years is simply staggering.
Learning to cope with her terminal, energy-sapping illness, Venus has kicked and clawed and fought and heaved her way back up the ranks, despite people on all sides telling her to quit. She’s denied the bad days and flown with the good ones, and it’s landed her back in the world’s top 20. She had phenomenal runs during the last season that showed her former, Slam-winning self return. She contended for Premier level events, and won one. She beat her younger sister.
Oh, and did I forget to mention that this woman has been on tour for twenty years now? TWENTY YEARS!
The only real problem for Venus last year came at the Grand Slams. While the rest-a-day, play-a-day format should suit her needs, she found herself bounced out in week one every time.
However, the way she went toe-to-toe with Kvitova at Wimbledon – coming within two points of victory – there’s no saying that she couldn’t have won the tournament, had she won the match.
And now, with a seeding that will protect her in the early rounds, Venus could well be in major contention for the biggest prizes very soon.
30. Madison Keys Age: 19 Nationality: American
BIGGEST QUESTION FOR 2015: Can Maddy’s coaching situation take her to the next level?
There are few styles in the women’s game that I enjoy watching more than Madison Keys’ right now. It’s raw power. She can thwack that ball so accurately and at such a speed, it’s a pure pleasure to watch.
But maybe the reason that Keys hasn’t made a mighty move up the rankings yet is to do with her proneness to crumble during a match. To get too frustrated with herself, and to let that seep into her game.
So when she partnered up with Lindsay Davenport, I immediately felt excited. Many high profile coaching arrangements have made headlines over the off-season, and while you feel that some of them are just for the sake of having a big name, this Davenport/Keys match-up surely can’t be. Lindsay is a former player who has been in the same position as Madison: A highly-touted young American girl with solid, powerful groundstrokes, looking to make it to the top. If any kind of guidance can help Madison reach the summit, then it could well be found here.
???. Laura Robson Age: 20 Nationality: British
BIGGEST QUESTION FOR 2015: Can Laura hit the courts in time to climb back up this year?
Once upon a few years ago, Laura Robson was the most reputed female player of her age range, and on a quest to the top of the game.
Skip forward a few years, and Robson has been an absolute giant killer, has stumbled at the smaller hurdles, and has spent a year sidelined from her sport after a wrist operation.
And now she’s confirmed she can’t play Australia. Which will make it exactly a year, for her, of no competition.
Rather than a ‘Can she get back to the Top 50’ query, this simply has to be a ‘How soon can she start competing again?’ question.
Because until Laura can start going out there at 100%, tennis will be forgetting about one of it’s brightest and most promising prospects more and more.
THANKS FOR READING!!
Thank you for taking the time to read once more… I do believe this is even longer than the ATP post! I am sorry about the delay in posting, I got it up as soon as I could.
Please feel free to comment and share any opinions you have on this. And if you have any more questions regarding any of the others WTA players, then by all means, share them as well!
Keep a look out for new posts in the coming days, and remember you can follow The Tennis Obsessed on twitter @tennisobsessed_.