Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Hanging '10
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Hanging '10 11/01/2010 - 1:30 PM

Kc Messy, up and down, briefly brilliant, at times hard to make sense of, at other times totally predictable, and a dogfight throughout, the last match of the women’s season was a microcosm of the WTA year as a whole. Kim Clijsters, having not played at all since the U.S. Open, beat Caroline Wozniacki in three sets to win her third year-end championship. With the win, Clijsters continued the recent WTA trend of an elite player sitting on the sidelines for months at a time yet still pulling it together to win, or nearly win, a big event. Wozniacki’s performance was equally fitting. Weary from her long season and a lot of fall tennis, she nevertheless was steady enough to make her way to the final, survive a 1-4 second-set deficit against Clijsters, and then, when an important title was on the line, lack the firepower to claim it.

Clijsters finished 2010 the way she began it. In Brisbane in January, and again in Key Biscayne in April, she  built early leads against Justine Henin, watched them vanish as quickly as they had appeared, and then bounced back to win both matches anyway. The same scenario unfolded in Doha. The first set was filled with long games, and Clijsters, rushing as always, committed plenty of rash errors. Like any cranky old fan, I like when the pros play quickly, but last night it seemed to me that Clijsters plays too fast. It’s hard to find a viewing rhythm with her. More important, her impatience crossed over to her game. As Pam Shriver pointed out on ESPN, Clijsters has a habit of going for shots—like, say, a backhand crosscourt winner from behind the baseline—that simply aren’t there. At its most extreme, Clijsters’ impatience can turn into something approaching a cold disdain for the match at hand. After blowing the second set, she lost the first game of the third. The next game went to 30-30. Wozniacki served and Clijsters blindly knocked a backhand down the line. She didn’t appear to care where the ball landed, but as it happened, it landed right on the line. She won the point, broke serve, lost the look of disdain, and went on to win the match.

Nevertheless, whatever her emotional ups and downs, Clijsters established herself as the superior ball-striker. She can do more with the return than Wozniacki, she can finish points with her inside-out forehand, she’s more comfortable dictating play, and she’s every bit as good on defense. All of which proved again that the WTA is ruled by a small group of elite athletes who, whatever their preparation, will always rise above the rest and rouse themselves in time to win the significant titles. But while Wozniacki “failed” to back her No. 1 seeding and ranking, her performance was still impressive. She stood toe to toe with Clijsters from the baseline for long stretches, and adjusted her game to her opponent. She had to go for more than normal, and she did it without going haywire with errors. Her backhand down the line, which she pulled the trigger on with more frequency than usual, is hardly the bland defensive shot we’ve been told to expect from Wozniacki. And when Clijsters got tight in the second, she recognized the opening and walked right through it. Wozniacki immediately became more aggressive, even taking over the net on a few key points, and when she got to 5-5 she sent a pointed fist-pump in her opponent's direction. Wozniacki saw an opportunity to take not just the edge in rallies, but the emotional edge as well, and she rode it to a second-set win. It was a savvy piece of competing.

If Wozniacki’s superb but Slamless season makes her a dubious No. 1 in some people’s eyes, there’s no doubt that she was a bright spot in a WTA year that can only be described as a disappointment. There were excellent matches and dramatic moments, but 2010 began with much higher expectations. The Belgians were back. Maria Sharapova was healthy. Serena and Venus were still going strong. The second tier, the Safinas and Jankovics of the world, were going to be put back in their place. And it started out exactly that way. Henin and Serena played a three-set Australian Open final that was worthy of the occasion. Then the injuries began to chip away. Clijsters missed the French, and Henin and Serena didn’t play a match after Wimbledon. By the fall, Sharapova was gone, and the WTA Championships looked pretty, well, second tier. Even more of a bummer is the fact that all of these injuries and illnesses came in the second year of the tour’s revamped roadmap schedule, the purpose of which had been to lessen the playing load for the Top 10, keep them healthier, and get them to face each other more often. As it was, this was the first time that Wozniacki and Clijsters, two Top 5 players, had met all year.

The season ended with WTA chief Stacy Allaster talking not about how to fix the injury issue, but about the need for players to “share” more about their injuries when they do occur. This comment was aimed at Serena Williams, of course, who played just six tournaments all season. The mysterious saga of her cut foot was frustrating because there was so little that could be done about it. Allaster is right, the lack of information left us in the dark about not only her health but also her motivation to play. Equally frustrating was the way so many women either blew off or couldn’t stay healthy for the fall. Even Clijsters, champion in Doha, didn’t seem all that excited about being a professional tennis player. She said after the final that she’ll probably hang up her racquets again in a couple of years. In general, she sounded like she already has one foot out the door. Part-time commitment is hard for a fan to rally around.

So we look for bright spots, or at least points of interest. Ana Ivanovic was certainly committed, and her brief rise from service-toss hell was an inspiring story. But today she announced that she was parting ways with Heinz Gunthardt, the coach who helped get her turned halfway around. Another mentor has come and gone, which, when the new year begins, will leave us wondering about Ivanovic’s future again. Vera Zvonareva's success was more sustained. She reached two major finals and made great mental strides along the way. Sam Stosur gave us a vicious kick serve and a battering-ram forehand, and she finished on a relatively high note. It’s too bad her season will be defined by her upset defeat in the French final, in a tournament where she had beaten both Serena and Justine. On the bright side, Stosur’s loss was out gain. It set the stage for the most indelible moment of the tennis season on either tour, Francesca Schiavone’s joyous roll in the Paris clay. La Leonessa showed, in the midst of a season of general ambivalence, that moments are there to be seized—that they can be seized.

But even if Serena owned the Slams, even if Clijsters should be crowned Player of the Year, even if Stosur was the most improved, and even if the most memorable performance belongs to Schiavone, it was Wozniacki who I enjoyed watching most in 2010. Will she be the next Kim Clijsters, a Slam-less No. 1 who eventually becomes a Slam winner? Or will she be the next Jelena Jankovic, an accidental top dog who isn’t physical enough to handle the two-week events? I don’t know. What matters today is that Wozniacki was the player who made the most of her 2010, who remained committed throughout, and who kept her matches interesting—more interesting than she was given credit for—simply by finding ways to win them. That’s about as entertaining as we can ask a tennis player to be.

***

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45
Comments
 

Posted by Sunny 11/01/2010 at 02:03 PM

1st

Posted by Jon 11/01/2010 at 02:08 PM

"[I]t was Wozniacki who I enjoyed watching most in 2010."

Aside from the fact that she *played* the most, pray tell, how does one do that?

Posted by Ananth 11/01/2010 at 02:57 PM

Was this tournament really played in Doha. Every shot of the crowd showed only westerners. Where were the locals. Aside from the money, was there any interest from the local population. The stands were either empty or had a western (possibly expat) audience.

Posted by Yolita 11/01/2010 at 02:59 PM

"What matters today is that Wozniacki was the player who made the most of her 2010, who remained committed throughout, and who kept her matches interesting—more interesting than she was given credit for—simply by finding ways to win them. That’s about as entertaining as we can ask a tennis player to be."

In a nutshell. She did remain committed throughout, such a rarity in the WTA.

Posted by Syd 11/01/2010 at 03:04 PM

Gee, Cljisters is disdainful for the match at hand and doesn't even care where the ball lands yet wins the tournament? Dang. How’d she do that? She’s sly too, kissing the trophy that way. Trying to trick us into believing that she cares, no doubt. BTW kinda reflects poorly on Wozniacki losing to such a sloppy and disdainful player, no?

Posted by ChaCha 11/01/2010 at 03:18 PM

".... it was Wozniacki who I enjoyed watching most in 2010. Will she be the next Kim Clijsters, a Slam-less No. 1 who eventually becomes a Slam winner? Or will she be the next Jelena Jankovic, an accidental top dog who isn’t physical enough to handle the two-week events? I don’t know."

Steve, I can't wait for the day when Jelena Jankovic wins a grand slam. That day, I would like you to remember me.
JJ and Caroline getting the number one spot is no accident. It is a result of hard effort and a ranking system that rewards playing tournaments outside of grandslams. I think JJ and Caroline and Safina have earned their place fair and square - no accident.

Posted by Northernboy 11/01/2010 at 03:22 PM

A decent column Steve but your cynicism towards Clijsters play & attitude in the final is a little disheartening/disconcerting.

It's just the way Kim is - we say it in 3 big matches this year an almost identical pattern - mid set checkout. Had some bad losses to Petrova (though credit must be given to Petrova, who was on fire that day) and Zvonereva at Wimbledon, but who knows what goes on in her head in a match. I like that she's becoming more fiesty/testy and will give a fist pump or two.

The woman is 8-0 against Serena, Venus and Justine since her return, and 6-0 in finals. Doesn't sound to me like someone who doesn't care where the balls lands.

Posted by Jenna 11/01/2010 at 03:38 PM

Maybe this attitude from Kim is why she is winning more big titles now compared to first time around.

Posted by Tennisfan1 11/01/2010 at 03:45 PM

I respeckt Kim, and always like too see her play, but i think, she knowa, what she are doing! She play a wonderfull game, but when Caro at last make a rythme, i think it is with her head, that she go fore every shoot, so Caro looses her found rythme, and then she is back on top, yeah Kim is smart!

Posted by Jankofan 11/01/2010 at 04:05 PM

Well spoken ChaCha!

Posted by k-woman 11/01/2010 at 04:07 PM

I have to agree with Northernboy's assessment of Kim. Every time I have heard the tennis pundits analyzing the WTA, they refer to Serena, Venus and Justine in the same breath. Kim has beaten all of these women since her return. She has huge groundies, great volleys and she works the points extremely well. Is she not an elite player??

I think she may do even better now that she has planned to retire again after the 2012 Olympics. Motherhood has made her focus. The best part for her is that when she is playing poorly, she has something really great waiting for her off the court.

Posted by lilscot 11/01/2010 at 04:25 PM

I'm sorry Steve, but this piece just doesn't feel right. I mean, you spend most of it extolling how amazing Caroline is, and sort of criticizing the "elite athletes," who don't play as much, but still come out and win the big titles.

It just doesn't make sense to me to consider someone who is now #1 and not only has not won a GS, but hasn't even made it to the final of a GS this year, a more compelling figure on the women's side over Serena or Kim. Maybe some of the others you mentioned, but certainly not those two. So what is your point? That you can win the big titles and play the big matches better than the rest, but you're not really worthy of high praise because you sit out a lot of the time?

Don't get me wrong, I really like Caroline. And she has been one of the bright spots on the women's tour this year. But so have Serena and Kim. Including Ivonavic in the bright spots is reaching a bit, imo. Stosur has been more of a disappointment than a bright spot. She should have better results than she put in to be considered a bright spot.

Schiavone was definitely a bright spot. Her magnificent win in Paris was nothing short of inspirational. Bright moments don't always have to be a year-long thing. Some players can pull off that one magical win that everyone remembers the rest of the year. Or, even in defeat, a player can be part of an historic event or memorable occurence just by nature of a hard-fought gruelling match against the eventual winner.

Athletes have a short shelf-life, and if taking time away from the tour when you're a veteran helps you play better when it really matters why should that be a bad thing? It is not the fault of Serena or Kim that the women's tour is in a stale phase right now. It'll pass, they always do. But for right now pointing fingers at women who have already put in the hard yards over the years and want to play less and look to the future is very unfair.

Kim and her husband want to have more children. That's a very honourable thing to do and want. For people who have children, they know that tennis could never compete with that. So, she's going to play until the Olympics and then have a second child and work on her new tennis academy.

Your piece just seems a bit too hard on the ladies who are actually winning big, and a bit too easy on the ladies who aren't pulling their weight.

Posted by lilscot 11/01/2010 at 04:28 PM

And in your description of the final, you talk about Kim's performance as if it was some lackluster effort and that she basically won because Caroline, who was heroic in getting her, "weary," body into the final couldn't rise to the occasion when needed.

Was the match up and down? Of course. Was there brilliant play at times by both players? Absolutely. But to make it sound like Kim really wasn't that into it but pulled it off because Caroline was weary and made some bad shot selections is also unfair and biaised.

Posted by jhon mat 11/01/2010 at 04:53 PM

Wozniacki went toe to toe with Clijsters what a joke ????? if not for Clijsters mental walkabout it will have been a 6-3 6-3 win. When Clijsters was on she was no match.

Posted by Master Ace 11/01/2010 at 05:12 PM

"Will she be the next Kim Clijsters, a Slam-less No. 1 who eventually becomes a Slam winner? Or will she be the next Jelena Jankovic, an accidental top dog who isn’t physical enough to handle the two-week events?"

Steve,
I believe that Caroline is on a similar path to Kim. Before Kim finally won a Slam, the biggest titles that Kim won was 2 WTA Championships in 2002 and 2003. Therefore, Caroline should have her maiden Slam before 2012 is done.

Posted by Mama 11/01/2010 at 05:35 PM

From Steve: "On the bright side, Stosur’s loss was out gain."

Was that a Freudian slip? Or is she finally, officially "Out" from the standpoint of journalists?

Did Steve just break a story?

Posted by Amoureux de tennis 11/01/2010 at 05:37 PM

Steve, I generally enjoy reading your artcles, but you appear a little miffed that your favorite player didn't win including some backhanded compliments for Kim.

"At its most extreme, Clijsters’ impatience can turn into something approaching a cold disdain for the match at hand."

Steve, that's what she may have looked like to you, but you state it as a fact. You are imputing feelings to her out of your own biased perceptions. Sometimes players have ups and downs in a match, but they (the great ones) can correct themselves as Kim did.

"She said after the final that she’ll probably hang up her racquets again in a couple of years. In general, she sounded like she already has one foot out the door. Part-time commitment is hard for a fan to rally around."

She did not exactly say that. The general point was that she was going to be around less longer than Wozniacki (age difference please)and that the latter would have more chances in years to come. Even if Kim does not stick around that much longer, but plays such stellar tennis, yes, I would, and many others, would rally around her.

"it was Wozniacki who I enjoyed watching most in 2010"

PLEASE, it is not that difficult to use correct grammar, most of all for a journalist. Otherwise, it's going down the "take a listen" route.

Posted by babolatclijstersfan 11/01/2010 at 06:08 PM

I would never go so far as to say that Kim ever shows disdain for her match or for the sport when she is struggling in a match. Rather, her way of getting through a rough patch is just to plough forward until she gets her game back and, usually, she does. Even if her speedy, no-time-to-breathe play might not be the best mode for most players to regain their footing in a match, clearly it usually works for Kim. You never feel watching Kim play that she has become desperate or disdainful; I'd say that her calmness and coolheadedness are matched only, maybe, by Sam Stosur. Specifically in the final yesterday, the whole duration of Kim's unevenness lasted maybe 15 minutes at most-- in a way Kim seems to be saying, "No one wants to see me playing poorly so let's get this part over with as fast as possible." And, as usual, she got through it and went on to take the match.

Posted by Lindsey 11/01/2010 at 06:27 PM

I do not care what you think about Kim. I think that she is fantastic and truly talented. Kim like so many other players on the tour lose their concentration in a match and come back to win. Who knows what people are thinking. To say that the matches were lacking excitement is not a correct statement. These ladies earned their ranking and deserved to be there. What is wrong are the comentaries that people write or broadcast. Most of the broadcasters were former top ten tennis players themselves, and it is much easier to sit in a chair or a broadcast booth and throw out advice and comments about the players. Have all the bradcasters developed alzheimers (not meant to offend those who have this awful disease) and forgotten how matches are not perfect? To hear them talk.......it seems that way. That said I look forward to 2011 and all the ups and downs of the players of the WTA and ATP. I just love the sport........

Posted by Ruth 11/01/2010 at 06:53 PM

I wouldn't blame the WTA for being upset about the number of missed events so soon after they established their shortened season. But it's important to point out that the two most "celebrated" injuries (or the injuries to the two highest ranked players) had nothing to do with overplaying.tiredness etc -- Serena's glass cut accident (followed by her aggravating the problem during practice when trying to return to the Tour) and Kim's removal of a mole from her foot (followed by infection of the site).

I think that Venus, Serena, and Kim have always had in common an acute awareness of the fact that there's life after tennis, and there are enough cautionary tales re: players who didn't look beyond tennis (I won't be unkind and name names) for me to believe that having such an awareness of and concern about post-tennis life is a very good thing. I've never noticed that any of them, as a result, exhibited a lack of excitement about being a professional tennis player. But, after reading Steve's post, I guess that I'll have to observe their words and actions more closely. Well, at least Kim's! :)

Posted by Pete 11/01/2010 at 07:48 PM

Kim is smart has all the weapons that Caroline does not have yet but she will ( that scoop forehand yuk)but Kim won the match she was able to do what she had to do to win,Kim is a deserving champion :)

Posted by Kristy 11/01/2010 at 08:21 PM

Oh nooo, did Steve get who/whom wrong again? Amoureux de Tennis, I didn't notice that "critical" grammar point because what the sentence is saying is so interesting. Wozniacki was derided by many as a reliable but boring baseline basher, so for a tennis journalist to find her the most enjoyable to watch of the whole WTA is saying something.

Posted by Ryota 11/01/2010 at 09:07 PM

This is what happens when the "names" become bigger than the game! Time to merge these tours!!!

Posted by Amoureux de tennis 11/01/2010 at 09:31 PM

Kristy, these "critical" grammar points become habitual to some.

Though Wozniacki played really well, I still don't enjoy watching her game. I like the tennis played by some other women much better, namely Henin, Serena, and Stosur.

Posted by zhik_03 11/01/2010 at 09:34 PM

letz give credit to KIM... she deserved the win.. every match has its ups and downs... go kim, make the best out of 2011... and maybe your haters would settle down and just love your game... best of luck... you are a living legend... congrats... and keep rolling Caroline, you'll get to have a slam soon...

Posted by pov 11/01/2010 at 09:45 PM

Tignor's articles are usually excellent and spot-on so I'll chalk this one up as him daring to break out of his mold. lol

I too enjoyed watching Wozniacki. Her game has improved tremendously in the past year or so. As long as she stays healthy, I think she'll be dominant by 2012.

Many posters have already covered the apparent cynicism around Clijsters purported lack of commitment to her tennis. It seems like a strange tack.

And Allstar needs to mandate that info.

Posted by just horsen 11/01/2010 at 10:41 PM

"these "critical" grammar points become habitual to some."


Amoureux de tennis,

Steve stated in his last "Reading the Reader's" post that he had foregone the use of "whom" in favor of "who" in an article the previous week because he was trying to create a more informal atmosphere, and while he had considered using "whom" he thought it would have been too formal. It's very possible he had the same reasoning here. I suggest directing your focus to the content rather than the grammar, you might get more out of the piece that way.

Posted by Michele 11/01/2010 at 10:59 PM

@just horsen. Agreed. Let's stop talking grammar and keep talking tennis. This isn't English composition 101.

As a big Clijsters fan (she's one of the few on the tour that keep me interested in women's tennis), she does seem impatient at times. It's common to see her blow a set she should've won, only to come back and win the match. Reminds me a bit of Federer lately, the way he'll lose patience, play erratically, and then find his form again, although he hasn't had as much success turning it around recently :/

Wozniacki, unfortunately, has not impressed me yet. Rankings aside, I do feel pretty strongly that a player doesn't thrill me until they win a GS. It may sound unfair, but to truly respect a player (esp one as young as Caroline), I need to see her go through the grinding two weeks of a major and win. I need to see her do more than she's done.

Posted by susan 11/02/2010 at 12:38 AM

good lord. please stop this insulting nonsense. see grammar myths. the living dead.

http://www.grammarphobia.com/grammar.html

my favourite WTA moment: Francesca Schiavone at the French Open. Nothing else came close.

Posted by roGER 11/02/2010 at 04:55 AM

I disappointed by the attitude and 'motivation' (I use the term losely) of sports journalists to the Serena Williams foot injury story.

Mainly because in terms of the WTA, this was the most important story of the year. Are we to seriously believe that the world's most famous (and recognisable) female athlete cut her foot in a restaurant with no witnesses?!?

So here's what I think any journalism graudate would have done:

1) Found out the name of the resturant and it's location.

2) Found out if there were any witnesses.

3) Assuming there were, interviewed a witness or two.

4) Contacted a surgeon about the likely injury, and asked him about Williams' extraordinary decision to play an exhibition match a few days after such a serious injury.

5) After collecting all the evidence above asked Serena or her agent or spokesperson or whomever to comment.

If we assume that any graduate sports journalist would have done the above, then we can only assume that it wasn't done for a reason. Maybe journalists are afraid of enraging the Williams clan, who as Indian Wells proves, are famously capable of sustaining a grudge for years.

Or maybe the WTA itself has been uncooperative, or maybe the 'real story' is known only to tennis insiders?

But really, I fail to understand why some sports journalist somewhere hasn't investigated the story - best case scenario, it could all have been done in an afternoon on the telephone. Even in the worst case it surely wouldn't have taken much more than a week to at least establish some facts!

Posted by Sela 11/02/2010 at 07:53 AM

Steve, for me Kim is the most talented player on the tour by far. Playing that less tournaments and doing so well, does not mean that the other players are not good enough. But this means that Kim is the better player. With that less played and ranked 3rd , who can do the same? Now She is a mom and now that she achieved almost everything in tennis, she puts all into perspective, like she always says herself. And that is why she wins more than during her first career! She is happily married, she's happy being a mom, and she's aware that she's lucky to be that talented. And all of this reflects to her tennis!

Posted by Tex 11/02/2010 at 09:03 AM

It ain't hard to talk right.

Posted by Davers 11/02/2010 at 10:53 AM

Almost everything I have read aboout the WTA Championships has bordered on being disdainful of Kim. She won the friggin' tournament! When Serena or Venus win a big match without much prep, people marvel at their skills and champion's heart. In contrast, there appears to be a snarl behind everything written about Clijsters these days, which is surprising, given what a positive role model and strong ambassador for the sport she is. At least this author acknowledged at one point that Clijsters is the Player of the Year.

Posted by M.J. 11/02/2010 at 11:50 AM

Three things

1) Stop referring to Serena in this 8-0 against top players thing, that you Clijsters fans seem to be found of pointing out, as if Clijsters has owned Serena since her return. When in fact, she won their OWNLY match, which is just her 2nd win over Serena ever, where she was assisted to the finish line. She neither had to earn match point nor win it, both were GIVEN to her on Serena's serve when they were on serve. Anyone who has followed women's majors for over a decade (or any good length of time) knows it is hard to close out Serena, even with a match point.

2) People need to stop with this "Wozniacki taking the same path as Clijsters" mess because they have two completely different games. How can one assume that just because Clijsters (and Mauresmo) won a slam after becoming #1 Wozniacki can do the same? Clijsters and Mauresmo have much bigger attacking games than Woz does, so the comparison seems really invalid.

3) Why is Serena's foot injury still an important mystery to anyone? What difference will small details make in the grand scheme of the storyline? I seriously doubt it was some conspiracy or not a real injury, especially since Serena missed a major because of it.

Posted by Charlie Mueller 11/02/2010 at 12:09 PM

Women's game is suffering a bit. I like watching Clisters, the Williams sisters, Stosur, and Justine. The others are back court basher/defenders who cannot play the forecourt, cannot serve and wins are based on who folds, not who WINS. The others are the exceptions- they play to win, they attack, and they don't fold regularly- they just are injured 50% of the time. Woz has a great mental game, but I believe she is just the currently most together back court basher/defender. She probably will not reach the heights at the big events of any of the others.

The men's game is chock full of intesting players from the top clear through the top 100. The women have depth (little separates the basher/defenders), but lack of variety and it seems competitive competence. They often seem over matched by the task at hand.

Posted by Kristy 11/02/2010 at 12:22 PM

susan, I agree about Schiavone at the FO. She was electrifying - converted me instantly to a rabid fan.

But I gather she hasn't been able to reproduce that brilliance. Sad.

Posted by d 11/02/2010 at 12:46 PM

roGER, thanks for your point regarding Serena's latest injury. that certainly has been a very cloudy matter, which is becoming all too typical in her case.

I agree that it would be good to see a more activist and investigative tennis press; Chris Rochus' recent points about PEDs highlighted another place where we know very little of the real deal, and there the potential repercussions could be huge.

Posted by Master Ace 11/02/2010 at 02:41 PM

"2) People need to stop with this "Wozniacki taking the same path as Clijsters" mess because they have two completely different games. How can one assume that just because Clijsters (and Mauresmo) won a slam after becoming #1 Wozniacki can do the same? Clijsters and Mauresmo have much bigger attacking games than Woz does, so the comparison seems really invalid"

M.J.,
I am saying that Caroline is taking the same path as Kim as results are concerned not playing styles. Kim and Amelie came from the early 2000s(Justine, Serena and Venus are part of this time also) where attacking was the name of the game while Caroline style is more defensive with her strengths being court awareness and mental toughness which players of the late 2000s seem to be missing. Therefore, Caroline will get her Slam before 2012 is over especially if she improves her serve, forehand and net play.

Posted by M.J. 11/02/2010 at 03:18 PM

Master Ace, I wasn't quoting you specifically, but looking back at what you'd written earlier I can see how it could've been interpreted that way. I've seen many people, including tennis writers, write similar things. My point was Wozniacki's playing style won't produce the same results as Clijster's or Mauresmo's. I don't see Wozniacki ever winning a slam until the likes of Serena, Venus, Clijsters and Henin are no longer around. Also, Wozniacki, just like Murray, is susceptible to being taken to the cleaners by big servers/hitters (i.e. Stosur & Kvitova) before she even gets to the business end to face the caliber of player I just mentioned. That's just how I see it, just as you see her winning one within the next two years, only time will tell which of us is correct. As a side note, it's not easy for someone who plays often to drastically improve on such fundamentals as serve, forehand, and net play in a relatively short period of time. Jankovic, for a relevant example, was unsuccessful in her attempt at the first one.

Posted by Master Ace 11/02/2010 at 05:00 PM

"but looking back at what you'd written earlier I can see how it could've been interpreted that way. I've seen many people, including tennis writers, write similar things"

M.J.,
Understand your point on how that can be interpret that way. Also, I can see your point that Caroline not winning a Slam until the WS and the Belgian ladies have retired especially if the WS and the Belgian ladies play on their early 2000 level. Jelena made a tactical mistake in the 2008 off-season by going to Mexico to bulk up in an attempt to match the power game of the Williams Sisters. She bulked up but her movement was effected by the change and I believe she has not been the same player since despite her winning Indian Wells in 2010 and Cincinnati in 2009.

Posted by Polish Matador 11/02/2010 at 07:40 PM

Caro #1, sorry Serena, Kim, Jelena, etc.

Posted by Willie 11/02/2010 at 08:20 PM

Hey Tigger,

The wta is what it is, enjoy it brutha.

Posted by Charles 11/02/2010 at 08:21 PM

2010 Analysis and 2011 Preview of Women’s Tennis – 27 Oct 2010

Who is number 1 for 2010 in women’s tennis? Yearend number one has been unclear or disputed repeatedly in the last decade and a half – 10 of the last 12 years by my count. This year the computer says it is Caroline Wozniacki. Yet she has not advanced past the semifinal of any grand slam in 2010. Based on record in the majors, the logical choice is Serena Williams who won in Melbourne and Wimbledon. But Serena played only six tournaments this year before injuring her foot. Can her accomplishments over just half a year really make her #1 for the whole year?

Few would disagree that Serena played the best tennis this year. I suspect that every other tennis player on the tour would trade their 2010 titles for Serena’s two, so Serena gets my vote for number one of the year. But how will she fare next year? Will she come back successfully from injury? In the year in which she turns thirty CAN she come back?

What about her sister and the Belgians? Will they threaten her? Or maybe the Serbs, or the host of Russians, and what about that talented Dane…

Serena Williams
In a way it’s encouraging that Serena’s injury is not a repetitive stress injury or chronic condition due to over training, bad form, or the rigours of tour life. It was a simple slip and some broken glass. Unfortunate to be sure, but there is hope for recovery and not the career-inhibiting disabling experienced by Maria Sharapova, requiring her to change the strokes that took her to major championship titles. Still it’s alarming that it has taken so long for Serena to return.

Hopefully she can come back at full strength and continue to challenge for majors the way she always has. She certainly shows the desire to do so – a pleasant change from the mid-00’s when she played a light schedule and it seemed she might drift away from the game.

In terms of major title output, Serena is still ahead of Navratilova at the same age and could well match the count of 18 slams that both Navratilova and Evert accumulated. Serena has won both the Australian and Wimbledon the last two years and because of timing, preference, surface, or whatever reasons she would seem the favourite again for both titles.

At the French, Serena has been decidedly less stellar. Last year she made noise about wanting to augment her lone French title – and what Serena wants she usually gets. Although her game is not optimized for clay she must be considered one of the favourites.

At the US Open, Serena will probably be bookies favourite again, with Clijsters a very close second. The calendar year Grand Slam is not out of reach for Serena, but is not likely. Away from the slams, expect less intensity from her and few if any titles. Exceptions might be Miami and the yearend championships.

Barring injury, I’d expect Serena to rise to #1 again on the computer in addition to her unofficial status as the best in the game. Taking a longer, historical view debate is sure to gather about whether Serena is the GOAT, greatest of all time.

She does not have the most slam titles, the most dominating match winning percentage, or the longest tenure at #1. But the depth of the competition she has faced is probably unparalleled and her ability on the court may be unmatched.

Comparisons with past greats are difficult. Helen Wills Moody made the finals of all 22 grand slam events she entered, winning 19 of them, and was undefeated for about 7 years. Suzanne Lenglen won all the majors from which she didn’t default and was also undefeated for multiple years. But the competition they faced in the 1920’s and 30’s was vastly more shallow than women’s professional tennis boasts today. Likewise for Maureen Connolly in the 50’s who won the first female Grand Slam and 9 majors on the trot.

Even when we get to the 60’s and the amazing feats of Margaret Smith Court, we must install some asterisks. Even though Court won a record 24 slam singles titles (and 62 including doubles and mixed), eleven of those were Australian titles won from small and generally weak fields. For example, even though Court won her first Australian title in 1960, that same year she lost in the final of the Australian junior event: which means the ‘open’ (to all ages) event was not much stronger than the junior event. How much more difficult is it to win an Australian Open now? (Much, much more difficult!)

Even at the beginning of the open era in the days of Billie Jean King and Chris Evert, the competition was much less deep than today. Then there were hundreds of players trying to make it on the professional circuit. Now there are thousands. The pool is 10 times deeper and so is the talent. It makes dominating that much more difficult.

Serena’s place in history is not yet determined. Will she be judged ahead of Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova? The jury is still out. What does Serena have left to show us?

Kim Clijsters
Kim is arguably the second best player of 2010, despite the #3 ranking. Her US Open defense rarely seemed in jeopardy, although the absence of Serena was significant, to be sure. For opponents she was likely the second scariest player to face in 2010, after Serena; but her year featured some real flat spots in addition to the highs.

Coming off the US Open victory in 2009, expectations were high for her at the Australian, so a 3rd round loss was definitely disappointing. She rebounded with a title in Miami but was then forced to miss the French and much of the clay season entirely. A QF a Wimbledon was a decent though not spectacular result. All was forgiven during the summer hardcourt season that saw her nab a 3rd USO title. Clijsters has not lost at the US Open since 2003 when she was a finalist. The last time she played and lost before the final was 2002. So she must be considered a strong favourite for a 4th title, eclipsed only, perhaps, by Serena who lost her cool in 2009 and couldn’t play in 2010.

Winning a major in Melbourne, Paris, or New York is definitely possible for Clijsters, although I think more than one major in 2010 is unlikely. Wimbledon is not outside of the realm of possibility, but it would probably require the absence or upsets of both Williams sisters to become reality.

Her five titles in 2010 are second highest among the women. Although she has not demonstrated the consistency to win 8 or 9 titles in a year the way she did before her first retirement, she seems to be settling into a higher level of play and could again start to rack up the title count in 2011.

Caroline Wozniacki
The computer yearend #1lead the tour in titles won, matches won, matches played, and… hmmm, well those are fine accomplishments…

Caroline seems to be at her best on hardcourts and had her best slam result at the USO, making the semifinals. She also racked up a stunning post-Wimbledon record match record of 33-4, and captured 6 titles for the year.

Her record against her top rivals however has been sodden: 0-2 against Serena, 0-4 against Venus, 0-2 against Clijsters, 0-1 against Henin, 1-2 against Sharapova. Her failure to capture a slam title before age 20 suggests she will not achieve many (any, perhaps) slam titles in her career, although the rule is not universal; notable exceptions include Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King.

Nevertheless, the path for Wozniacki has been one of steady improvement and the yearend #1 ranking is a significant accomplishment. All that’s left on her to-do list is that first Major title.

I expect that she will wear the #1 mantle with less anxiety than did Jankovic and Safina – although the pressure to cop that first slam and ‘justify’ the ranking is sure to become immense. Staying at the top is tougher than getting there. How she handles the pressure of the next 6 months will be revealing and may well chart the course of her career.

The Aus or US opens are likely her best bets at a first Major win. Melbourne is Serena’s stronghold having won the title there five times. However whether Serena will have healed in time to play in Australia is not yet known. That could well be the window Wozniacki needs although there will be some other prize fighters who will have to make way for the head-to-head-poor Wozniacki – namely, Clijsters, Henin, Venus, and even Sharapova or Zvonareva.

Prognosis at the USOpen is slightly better based on Wozniacki’s best results there (RU, SF) although how to wrest the title away from Clijsters or Serena seems beyond Caroline’s ken at this point.

Overall, I don’t expect Wozniacki to find her way to a slam title, although she is most likely to get one if the other contenders all calve. She may well hang on to #1 for most of the year and win a slew of minor tournaments. Is she interim #1 until the next major talent comes along, or will she herself develop into that talent? Is she Chris Evert or Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere?

Venus Williams
Venus match winning record is actually quite good for 2010 at 0.84 (??) and she is tied for 3rd in tournament wins for the year (at 2, with a host of others) But her accomplishments are somewhat distorted because she played only 9 tournaments. She would probably be ranked higher than #5 by the computer if she had been able to play a full schedule. How much injury will affect her in 2011 is anyone’s guess.

Suspicion that she may retire in the year of her 31st birthday is probably unjustified. She still seems to have lots of ability, hunger, and enjoyment for the game.

Wimbledon, where she has won 5 times, is probably her best shot at another major title, although the AO or USO are not beyond reason with a little luck. She seems to do well in the Feb-Apr portion of the calendar so I’d expect a title or two from her during that time.

Based on her playing ability she is probably the 3rd or 4th least desirable opponent for the other women, but based on her accomplishments in 2010 I’d rate her 5th overall.

Justine Henin
At the end of 2009 I hoped that 2010 would see many battles between the Williams sisters and the Belgians. It seemed incredible that Serena and Justine, having then won 18 GS titles between them had never faced each other in a Major final. That wish was granted at the Australian, but fizzled for the rest of the year as both players sustained injuries.

Surprisingly, Henin finishes the year around #13 in the official rankings despite playing only 9 tournaments and missing the last half of the year. That fact is witness to her high standard of play. Her return to a grand slam final in only her second tournament back was at least as surprising as Clijsters’ comeback success and only the mighty Serena could upend her.

Murmurs that the injury setback might derail her comeback, though unsubstantiated, may not be empty. I’m hoping that 2010 was just a warmup. If she returns it will be evidence of a strong desire to compete and will be reassurance that we will have her for at least another few years.

There is no tournament she could not win, but among the majors the French, where she is 4-time champion, seems most likely. What she has not shown in her comeback is the ability to beat the top players. That final hurdle will need to be crossed in 2011 if she is to fulfill her dream of winning Wimbledon.

I expect that 2011 will be better for her on the court than 2010 was and consider her the favourite at Roland Garros.

Vera Zvonareva
Maria Sharapova may still have more star power, but the best Russian for the year was Zvonareva. She made her first and second grand slam finals at Wimbledon and the US Open, respectively. Is this a sign of things to come or was this her peak?

If she maintains her recent high standard of play for at least the first four or so months of 2011, Vera could gain the #1 computer ranking. That would be a remarkable accomplishment for someone who most had written off several years ago as past her peak and hopelessly emotionally fragile.

It’s hard to know what kind of fire burns inside Zvonareva. Does she have the all-consuming desire and steely focus necessary to triumph on the slam stage? Based on her age, one suspects she is near or has slightly passed her peak. It would not surprise me if she never again attained the heights of 2010.

She will likely win some more premier tournaments and I hope she proves me wrong and wins a slam someday. Any of the slams seem equally likely, or unlikely, for that accomplishment, with her record at the USO being slightly the best and at the AO slightly the worst.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see her drop slightly in the rankings by the end of 2011 from her current #2. Her peak may have passed but she could still win a major.

Francesca Schiavone
Defying all odds, Schiavone has had her breakout year at age 30. What’s next, a peak at age 35??

The exuberance and self-belief with which she sailed merrily to the French title were enough to melt the heart of any curmudgeon. She produced one of those beautiful moments in sports – victory by the underdog.

Surprisingly, she continued to play well, making the QF at the US Open and qualifying for the yearend championships. She is a joy to watch with great variety in her strokes from delicate slices and deft angles to round-house single-arm walloping backhands. Where has all this talent been hiding? She had seemed a permanent member of the top 20 – where she has danced for the last 7 years. It’s great to have her at the top of the game and I only hope we will get to see more of her flair at the latter stages of some big tournaments.

Purely statistically, we must consider the possibility that the height of her career has passed and that the French victory was the solar flare of a dying sun. But Francesca defies the odds. I won’t bill her as the consistency-pony and maybe it’s blind hope, but I think she may take us with her again in 2011 to some unexpected heights.

Samantha Stosur
I thought she was a doubles specialist. I completely wrote off her 2009 SF appearance at Roland Garros as a fluke. So needless to say, her fine form on clay in 2010 and runner-up at the French caught me totally by surprise. Yet if anyone did the heavy lifting at that tournament it was Stosur – taking down Henin, SWilliams, and Jankovic in succession. But in the final she looked nervous and fearful – a stark contrast to her vanquisher who was all smiles and laughter, even from the beginning of the match.

At some point Stosur decided that she could translate her doubles talent into singles success. It’s rare for a talent to show itself this late, but Stosur has made remarkable improvement over the last 2 years and 2011 could take her even higher, despite her age – she turns 27 in March.

If she’s going to succeed at the top level she would do well to take a page from the Schiavone book and learn to channel affirmation and joy instead of fear for big match situations. Easier said than done to be sure.

Her game would seem better suited to most surfaces other than clay, but it’s hard to argue with results, so her best results will likely come on the terre. That said, I don’t consider her a serious threat at any of the slams – perhaps she’ll prove me a slow learner. I would expect an International title or two from her in 2011 and maybe a SF at the slams.

Jelena Jankovic
Jankovic’s year featured a passable first half for a top player and a dismal finish. She won Indian Wells, made the final in Rome and semi in Paris, but post-Wimbledon won only 6 of 17 matches and lost to players ranked 93, 114, 129, and 268. She will need a major turnaround to maintain her position as longest continuous member of the current top 10 – at yearend it will have been 203 weeks since she was lower than 10.

Jankovic turns 26 this year and may never again ascend to the heights in ranking (#1) and slam results (2008 US runner up) of the past. She did do a lot of complaining about niggling injuries in her pressers in 2010. Are they excuses or are they holding her back from regaining top form? I expect she will hoist some hardware again in 2011, but more than two titles would surprise me. At the slams she will likely struggle to get past the QF stage.

Elena Dementieva
Dementieva surprised me by announcing her retirement at the yearend championships. Granted she’s 29 and has played on the main tour for 12 years, but I just didn’t see it coming. She still seems in her best form and a yearend finish of 9 doesn’t seem to indicate much decline. But knowing where the will or ambition lies is not always transparent so I wish her the best in her future endeavours.

Her year did not attain the heights of last year, especially at the slams where she made two SF in 2009 but only one this year at the French. Down to the last four, the field seemed ripe finally for her maiden slam title, so her retirement there was a heartbreaking last hurrah.

Victoria Azarenka
Azarenka seems to have the goods to take down the big names. Unlike Wozniacki who seems unable to beat the game’s elite, Azarenka has victories over Serena, Clijsters, Sharapova, Mauresmo, even Martina Hingis. But she lacks Wozniacki’s consistency. She’s also a year older than the Dane. Will Victoria be able to channel her ability effectively?

She had a disappointing year at the slams finishing in the QF in Australia but winning only 3 matches in the other three. She did win Moscow and Stanford and I keep expecting that she will break through on the big stage any day now.

I could see her making a slam final in 2011 and winning a couple of tour events. Hopefully she doesn’t just repeat 2010 and then start to fade away. She’s young, her best days should be still to come.

Li Na
Li danced in and out of the top 10 a few times in 2010 spending a total of 11 or so weeks there. Li had a great run in Melbourne, taking down Wozniacki and Venus Williams before losing a tight one 76 76 to Serena in the semis. She then resurfaced on grass, winning in Birmingham and then making the Wimbledon QF, losing again to Serena. She also put in a solid SF showing on home turf in Beijing. Overall, it has been her best year. She turns 29 in February, so I expect we have seen the best she has to offer. From a country as vast as China we will likely see many future champions. For now, Li has set the bar her countrywomen must equal to give notice on the international stage.

For 2011 another slam SF run is possible if not likely and another tournament title or two are well within possibility.

Maria Sharapova
2010 was supposed to be the year of Sharapova’s comeback – so I thought. She won two minor tournaments early in the year and seemed to be rounding nicely into form for the American hardcourt season with finalist showings in Stanford and Cincinnati. After slaying Beatrice Capra love and love in the 3rd round at the US Open a deep run looked imminent, but she was beaten by Wozniacki in the round of 16 and never seemed to recover, winning only one more match for the rest of the year, complaining of injury.

Perhaps the loss to Wozniacki hurt her confidence or perhaps she has been distracted by her engagement to Sasha Vujacic. Since her return from shoulder surgery in 2009 she has not found the top form that took her to three grand slam titles.

For 2011 I’m hoping we see a return of the imperious Maria, slashing and screeching her way to titles. She turns 24 in April and should have a few good years left. A couple more titles and at least one slam SF should be in order for 2011.

Svetlana Kuznetsova
It is an indication of the depth in the women’s game that there are so many top contenders active on the roster. Some had good years, some did not.

After copping her second GS title in 2009, 2010 was a disaster for Kuznetsova. She emerged for a mid-season fling with a title in San Diego and a SF in Montreal, but aside from those two tournaments, posted a match record of 17-17 – certainly not top 10 territory. In fact she fell to the low 20’s on the computer by year’s end.

After winning the US Open in 2004, the future seemed bright and she proceeded to make the final of every 6th major after that featuring in French 2006, USO 2007, and French 2009. She was on track for USO 2010, but with that trend broken, one wonders if we have heard the last of her or if there is another song in her repertoire?

She has been inconsistent enough that a return to the top tier or another slam could not be considered a shock, but to be honest, I don’t expect it. I think we have seen the best of her stage show – maybe we’ll get a good encore – but at this point, more than a slam SF would be surprising.

Ana Ivanovic
After three Major finals and a title at the 2008 French, Ivanovic began to lose confidence and troughed in late 2009 and early 2010. Her rank had slipped to the low 50’s by March. But then, slowly, the renaissance began. She made the semis in Rome and Cincinnati and then rejoined the winner’s circle after a two-year hiatus with a title in Linz in October. She has a ways to go, but the signs are encouraging. I’m not expecting her in a major final anytime soon, but she is trending in that direction in maybe a few years time.

Dinara Safina
Safina’s collapse has been even more dramatic than Ivanovic’s or Kuznetsova’s. The woman ranked #1 for most of 2009 and still at #3 in May had fallen to 70 by August. Safina slunk to a dreadful 13-16 win-loss record in 2010.

After holding on bravely to the #1 ranking for so long in 2009 she seemed to be displaying the mental fortitude to avoid critics’ reproaches about her lack of a slam title. But the house of cards collapsed rapidly in 6 consecutive losses. Let’s hope the current #1 does not succumb to the same pressure.

It’s hard to predict any way but up for Safina in 2011. Hopefully she can find her game and threaten the bastille again. A semi final anywhere would be a happy turn and should be within reach.

Honourable mentions
Several other players made some noise in 2010 and are worthy of mention.

Shahar Peer made 7 semi finals and posted a very respectable 47-21 record.

Agnieszka Radwanska hung around the top 10 for most of the year before being slowed by injury.

Nadia Petrova had some nice slam performances taking out Clijsters and Kuznetsova in Melbourne and Venus Williams in Paris.

Aravane Rezai stunned the field in Madrid beating Henin, Jankovic, and VWilliams on clay.

Maria Kirilenko had her best year in the slams with victories over Sharapova and Safina in a QF showing in Melbourne, over defending champ Kuznetsova leading to a 4R performance in Paris, and 3rd rounders in Wimbledon and New York.

Estonian Kaia Kanepi was ranked 140 in May before winning 7 consecutive matches out of the qualies at Wimbledon en route to a QF showing. She then followed it up with a title in Palermo and another major QF, this time at the US Open, finishing the year close to 20.

Kimiko Date Krumm didn’t move much in the rankings but continues to inspire, making a tournament final in Osaka at age 40.

Youth
Looking to the future of the game, a few youngsters are showing early signs of promise, although predicting greatness is always hazardous. Ages given are as they would be at Dec 31, 2010.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, age 19, is already ranked in the top 20 and has shown some promising results claiming the title in Istanbul and victories over Dementieva and Schiavone. She should make top 10 one day.

Petra Kvitova, age 20, ranking mid-30’s, was very impressive in making the Wimbledon semis beating Wozniacki and Azarenka, and at 6 feet tall may not yet have found her full game. Top 10 potential.

Anastasija Sevastova, age 20, ranking mid-40’s, beat Jankovic, Ivanovic, and Stosur in 2010 and won Estoril. She may climb near the top 10 in her career and the top 20 in 2011.

Polona Hercog, age 19, ranking mid-40’s, has the size (6 feet) to do some damage. She made the final in Acapulco and played Venus close, but did not muster any other stand-out performances. Should make the top 20 at some point, probably in a few years.

Melanie Oudin, age 19, ranking mid-60’s, did not rival her spectacular accomplishments of 2009 – call it a sophomore slump. She may flirt with the top 20 some day.

Bojana Jovanovski, age 19 barely (born 31 Dec 91), ranking about 70. Her victory over Jankovic in Beijing may be less impressive than it appears, given Jankovic’s bad form at year end, but the confidence Jovanovski may have gained is real. She may make some noise in 2011 although more than top 30 this year would be unexpected.

Rebecca Marino, age 20 (Dec 90), ranking about 110, showed great consistency in winning 3 tournaments and 15 consecutive matches at ITF events at year end. She also played through qualifying at the US Open before losing a first set tiebreaker to Venus Williams in the 2nd round. If all goes well she could reach top 50 in 2011.

Kristina McHale, age 18, ranking about 115, beat Azarenka and Petrova in 2010. At 5’7” she will have difficulty challenging for the top but she could make top 10 one day and may reach 50 in 2011.

Ajla Tomljanovic, age 17, ranking mid-150’s, won an ITF event in 2010 and is already 5’11”. She has size and age on her side and should be able to break into the top 100 in 2011, maybe higher.

Zarina Diyas, age 17, ranking 170’s, is another member of the Kazakh cohort currently storming pro tennis. She gave notice by plowing through qualifying in Moscow, winning 5 matches in a row, culminating with a 61 62 drubbing of Jankovic before losing by the same score to Kirilenko in the main draw QF. Could break into the top 100 in 2011; future potential unknown.

Magda Linette, age 18, ranking 180’s, won 3 straight ITF tournaments and 21 straight matches in Sep-Oct. Future unknown but looks promising.

Michelle Larcher de Brito, age 17, ranking 190’s, has age though not size (5’5”) on her side. Renowned for being perhaps the loudest screecher on the tour, her biggest scalp in 2010 was over #39, Govortsova. She made more noise in 2009 beating Zheng on the way to the 3rd round of the French. Could get to 100 in 2011.

Laura Robson, age 16, ranking 190’s, is the next great British hope and is young enough for those expectations to remain buoyed. Already 5’10” the future may indeed be promising. She lost in a second set tiebreaker to Jankovic at Wimbledon and looks to have some big game potential although I’d be surprised to see her much past 80-100 in 2011.

Sloane Stephens, age 17, ranking about 230, has not shown any breathtaking results but is young enough that her American compatriots are still hoping anything could happen.

Kristina Mladenovic, age 17, ranking about 260, at 5’11” is the next big thing from France. Time will tell.

It’s hard to know if any future champions or top 10 players will emerge from this lot. Perhaps the next #1 is labouring obscurely elsewhere or playing in the juniors.

Overall I do not foresee a major changing of the guard in 2011. There are enough players at or near the top, however, to make predicting difficult. Not that that will stop me…

2011 Grand Slams

Top 6 picks in order.

Australian – SWilliams, Clijsters, Wozniacki, Zvonareva, Henin, Azarenka
French – Henin, SWilliams, Clijsters, Wozniacki, Schiavone, Stosur
Wimbledon – SWilliams, VWilliams, Henin, Clijsters, Sharapova, Zvonareva
US – SWilliams, Clijsters, Henin, Wozniacki, VWilliams, Zvonareva

Top Ten Lists

Charles’ 2010 Rank
(computer rank)
1. SWilliams (4)
2. Clijsters (3)
3. Wozniacki (1)
4. Zvonareva (2)
5. Schiavone (7)
6. VWilliams (5)
7. Stosur (6)
8. Henin (~13)
9. Jankovic (8)
10. Dementieva (9)

2011 Projection
1. SWilliams
2. Clijsters
3. Wozniacki
4. Henin
5. Zvonareva
6. VWilliams
7. Stosur
8. Sharapova (~15)
9. Azarenka (10)
10. Jankovic

I actually think Schiavone will be very close to the top 10 in 2011, but the top is crowded and so I expect her to finish just outside. Ivanovic could also be close, along with Li and ARadwanska.

Posted by Uh Hu Baby 11/02/2010 at 09:06 PM


Posted by Charles 11/02/2010 at 08:21 PM
2010 Analysis and 2011 Preview of Women’s Tennis – 27 Oct 2010

Who is number 1 for 2010 in women’s tennis? Yearend number one has been unclear or disputed repeatedly in the last decade and a half – 10 of the last 12 years by my count. This year the computer says it is Caroline Wozniacki. Yet she has not advanced past the semifinal of any grand slam in 2010. Based on record in the majors, the logical choice is Serena Williams who won in Melbourne and Wimbledon. But Serena played only six tournaments this year before injuring her foot. Can her accomplishments over just half a year really make her #1 for the whole year?

Few would disagree that Serena played the best tennis this year. I suspect that every other tennis player on the tour would trade their 2010 titles for Serena’s two, so Serena gets my vote for number one of the year. But how will she fare next year? Will she come back successfully from injury? In the year in which she turns thirty CAN she come back?

What about her sister and the Belgians? Will they threaten her? Or maybe the Serbs, or the host of Russians, and what about that talented Dane…

Serena Williams
In a way it’s encouraging that Serena’s injury is not a repetitive stress injury or chronic condition due to over training, bad form, or the rigours of tour life. It was a simple slip and some broken glass. Unfortunate to be sure, but there is hope for recovery and not the career-inhibiting disabling experienced by Maria Sharapova, requiring her to change the strokes that took her to major championship titles. Still it’s alarming that it has taken so long for Serena to return.

Hopefully she can come back at full strength and continue to challenge for majors the way she always has. She certainly shows the desire to do so – a pleasant change from the mid-00’s when she played a light schedule and it seemed she might drift away from the game.

In terms of major title output, Serena is still ahead of Navratilova at the same age and could well match the count of 18 slams that both Navratilova and Evert accumulated. Serena has won both the Australian and Wimbledon the last two years and because of timing, preference, surface, or whatever reasons she would seem the favourite again for both titles.

At the French, Serena has been decidedly less stellar. Last year she made noise about wanting to augment her lone French title – and what Serena wants she usually gets. Although her game is not optimized for clay she must be considered one of the favourites.

At the US Open, Serena will probably be bookies favourite again, with Clijsters a very close second. The calendar year Grand Slam is not out of reach for Serena, but is not likely. Away from the slams, expect less intensity from her and few if any titles. Exceptions might be Miami and the yearend championships.

Barring injury, I’d expect Serena to rise to #1 again on the computer in addition to her unofficial status as the best in the game. Taking a longer, historical view debate is sure to gather about whether Serena is the GOAT, greatest of all time.

She does not have the most slam titles, the most dominating match winning percentage, or the longest tenure at #1. But the depth of the competition she has faced is probably unparalleled and her ability on the court may be unmatched.

Comparisons with past greats are difficult. Helen Wills Moody made the finals of all 22 grand slam events she entered, winning 19 of them, and was undefeated for about 7 years. Suzanne Lenglen won all the majors from which she didn’t default and was also undefeated for multiple years. But the competition they faced in the 1920’s and 30’s was vastly more shallow than women’s professional tennis boasts today. Likewise for Maureen Connolly in the 50’s who won the first female Grand Slam and 9 majors on the trot.

Even when we get to the 60’s and the amazing feats of Margaret Smith Court, we must install some asterisks. Even though Court won a record 24 slam singles titles (and 62 including doubles and mixed), eleven of those were Australian titles won from small and generally weak fields. For example, even though Court won her first Australian title in 1960, that same year she lost in the final of the Australian junior event: which means the ‘open’ (to all ages) event was not much stronger than the junior event. How much more difficult is it to win an Australian Open now? (Much, much more difficult!)

Even at the beginning of the open era in the days of Billie Jean King and Chris Evert, the competition was much less deep than today. Then there were hundreds of players trying to make it on the professional circuit. Now there are thousands. The pool is 10 times deeper and so is the talent. It makes dominating that much more difficult.

Serena’s place in history is not yet determined. Will she be judged ahead of Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova? The jury is still out. What does Serena have left to show us?

Kim Clijsters
Kim is arguably the second best player of 2010, despite the #3 ranking. Her US Open defense rarely seemed in jeopardy, although the absence of Serena was significant, to be sure. For opponents she was likely the second scariest player to face in 2010, after Serena; but her year featured some real flat spots in addition to the highs.

Coming off the US Open victory in 2009, expectations were high for her at the Australian, so a 3rd round loss was definitely disappointing. She rebounded with a title in Miami but was then forced to miss the French and much of the clay season entirely. A QF a Wimbledon was a decent though not spectacular result. All was forgiven during the summer hardcourt season that saw her nab a 3rd USO title. Clijsters has not lost at the US Open since 2003 when she was a finalist. The last time she played and lost before the final was 2002. So she must be considered a strong favourite for a 4th title, eclipsed only, perhaps, by Serena who lost her cool in 2009 and couldn’t play in 2010.

Winning a major in Melbourne, Paris, or New York is definitely possible for Clijsters, although I think more than one major in 2010 is unlikely. Wimbledon is not outside of the realm of possibility, but it would probably require the absence or upsets of both Williams sisters to become reality.

Her five titles in 2010 are second highest among the women. Although she has not demonstrated the consistency to win 8 or 9 titles in a year the way she did before her first retirement, she seems to be settling into a higher level of play and could again start to rack up the title count in 2011.

Caroline Wozniacki
The computer yearend #1lead the tour in titles won, matches won, matches played, and… hmmm, well those are fine accomplishments…

Caroline seems to be at her best on hardcourts and had her best slam result at the USO, making the semifinals. She also racked up a stunning post-Wimbledon record match record of 33-4, and captured 6 titles for the year.

Her record against her top rivals however has been sodden: 0-2 against Serena, 0-4 against Venus, 0-2 against Clijsters, 0-1 against Henin, 1-2 against Sharapova. Her failure to capture a slam title before age 20 suggests she will not achieve many (any, perhaps) slam titles in her career, although the rule is not universal; notable exceptions include Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King.

Nevertheless, the path for Wozniacki has been one of steady improvement and the yearend #1 ranking is a significant accomplishment. All that’s left on her to-do list is that first Major title.

I expect that she will wear the #1 mantle with less anxiety than did Jankovic and Safina – although the pressure to cop that first slam and ‘justify’ the ranking is sure to become immense. Staying at the top is tougher than getting there. How she handles the pressure of the next 6 months will be revealing and may well chart the course of her career.

The Aus or US opens are likely her best bets at a first Major win. Melbourne is Serena’s stronghold having won the title there five times. However whether Serena will have healed in time to play in Australia is not yet known. That could well be the window Wozniacki needs although there will be some other prize fighters who will have to make way for the head-to-head-poor Wozniacki – namely, Clijsters, Henin, Venus, and even Sharapova or Zvonareva.

Prognosis at the USOpen is slightly better based on Wozniacki’s best results there (RU, SF) although how to wrest the title away from Clijsters or Serena seems beyond Caroline’s ken at this point.

Overall, I don’t expect Wozniacki to find her way to a slam title, although she is most likely to get one if the other contenders all calve. She may well hang on to #1 for most of the year and win a slew of minor tournaments. Is she interim #1 until the next major talent comes along, or will she herself develop into that talent? Is she Chris Evert or Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere?

Venus Williams
Venus match winning record is actually quite good for 2010 at 0.84 (??) and she is tied for 3rd in tournament wins for the year (at 2, with a host of others) But her accomplishments are somewhat distorted because she played only 9 tournaments. She would probably be ranked higher than #5 by the computer if she had been able to play a full schedule. How much injury will affect her in 2011 is anyone’s guess.

Suspicion that she may retire in the year of her 31st birthday is probably unjustified. She still seems to have lots of ability, hunger, and enjoyment for the game.

Wimbledon, where she has won 5 times, is probably her best shot at another major title, although the AO or USO are not beyond reason with a little luck. She seems to do well in the Feb-Apr portion of the calendar so I’d expect a title or two from her during that time.

Based on her playing ability she is probably the 3rd or 4th least desirable opponent for the other women, but based on her accomplishments in 2010 I’d rate her 5th overall.

Justine Henin
At the end of 2009 I hoped that 2010 would see many battles between the Williams sisters and the Belgians. It seemed incredible that Serena and Justine, having then won 18 GS titles between them had never faced each other in a Major final. That wish was granted at the Australian, but fizzled for the rest of the year as both players sustained injuries.

Surprisingly, Henin finishes the year around #13 in the official rankings despite playing only 9 tournaments and missing the last half of the year. That fact is witness to her high standard of play. Her return to a grand slam final in only her second tournament back was at least as surprising as Clijsters’ comeback success and only the mighty Serena could upend her.

Murmurs that the injury setback might derail her comeback, though unsubstantiated, may not be empty. I’m hoping that 2010 was just a warmup. If she returns it will be evidence of a strong desire to compete and will be reassurance that we will have her for at least another few years.

There is no tournament she could not win, but among the majors the French, where she is 4-time champion, seems most likely. What she has not shown in her comeback is the ability to beat the top players. That final hurdle will need to be crossed in 2011 if she is to fulfill her dream of winning Wimbledon.

I expect that 2011 will be better for her on the court than 2010 was and consider her the favourite at Roland Garros.

Vera Zvonareva
Maria Sharapova may still have more star power, but the best Russian for the year was Zvonareva. She made her first and second grand slam finals at Wimbledon and the US Open, respectively. Is this a sign of things to come or was this her peak?

If she maintains her recent high standard of play for at least the first four or so months of 2011, Vera could gain the #1 computer ranking. That would be a remarkable accomplishment for someone who most had written off several years ago as past her peak and hopelessly emotionally fragile.

It’s hard to know what kind of fire burns inside Zvonareva. Does she have the all-consuming desire and steely focus necessary to triumph on the slam stage? Based on her age, one suspects she is near or has slightly passed her peak. It would not surprise me if she never again attained the heights of 2010.

She will likely win some more premier tournaments and I hope she proves me wrong and wins a slam someday. Any of the slams seem equally likely, or unlikely, for that accomplishment, with her record at the USO being slightly the best and at the AO slightly the worst.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see her drop slightly in the rankings by the end of 2011 from her current #2. Her peak may have passed but she could still win a major.

Francesca Schiavone
Defying all odds, Schiavone has had her breakout year at age 30. What’s next, a peak at age 35??

The exuberance and self-belief with which she sailed merrily to the French title were enough to melt the heart of any curmudgeon. She produced one of those beautiful moments in sports – victory by the underdog.

Surprisingly, she continued to play well, making the QF at the US Open and qualifying for the yearend championships. She is a joy to watch with great variety in her strokes from delicate slices and deft angles to round-house single-arm walloping backhands. Where has all this talent been hiding? She had seemed a permanent member of the top 20 – where she has danced for the last 7 years. It’s great to have her at the top of the game and I only hope we will get to see more of her flair at the latter stages of some big tournaments.

Purely statistically, we must consider the possibility that the height of her career has passed and that the French victory was the solar flare of a dying sun. But Francesca defies the odds. I won’t bill her as the consistency-pony and maybe it’s blind hope, but I think she may take us with her again in 2011 to some unexpected heights.

Samantha Stosur
I thought she was a doubles specialist. I completely wrote off her 2009 SF appearance at Roland Garros as a fluke. So needless to say, her fine form on clay in 2010 and runner-up at the French caught me totally by surprise. Yet if anyone did the heavy lifting at that tournament it was Stosur – taking down Henin, SWilliams, and Jankovic in succession. But in the final she looked nervous and fearful – a stark contrast to her vanquisher who was all smiles and laughter, even from the beginning of the match.

At some point Stosur decided that she could translate her doubles talent into singles success. It’s rare for a talent to show itself this late, but Stosur has made remarkable improvement over the last 2 years and 2011 could take her even higher, despite her age – she turns 27 in March.

If she’s going to succeed at the top level she would do well to take a page from the Schiavone book and learn to channel affirmation and joy instead of fear for big match situations. Easier said than done to be sure.

Her game would seem better suited to most surfaces other than clay, but it’s hard to argue with results, so her best results will likely come on the terre. That said, I don’t consider her a serious threat at any of the slams – perhaps she’ll prove me a slow learner. I would expect an International title or two from her in 2011 and maybe a SF at the slams.

Jelena Jankovic
Jankovic’s year featured a passable first half for a top player and a dismal finish. She won Indian Wells, made the final in Rome and semi in Paris, but post-Wimbledon won only 6 of 17 matches and lost to players ranked 93, 114, 129, and 268. She will need a major turnaround to maintain her position as longest continuous member of the current top 10 – at yearend it will have been 203 weeks since she was lower than 10.

Jankovic turns 26 this year and may never again ascend to the heights in ranking (#1) and slam results (2008 US runner up) of the past. She did do a lot of complaining about niggling injuries in her pressers in 2010. Are they excuses or are they holding her back from regaining top form? I expect she will hoist some hardware again in 2011, but more than two titles would surprise me. At the slams she will likely struggle to get past the QF stage.

Elena Dementieva
Dementieva surprised me by announcing her retirement at the yearend championships. Granted she’s 29 and has played on the main tour for 12 years, but I just didn’t see it coming. She still seems in her best form and a yearend finish of 9 doesn’t seem to indicate much decline. But knowing where the will or ambition lies is not always transparent so I wish her the best in her future endeavours.

Her year did not attain the heights of last year, especially at the slams where she made two SF in 2009 but only one this year at the French. Down to the last four, the field seemed ripe finally for her maiden slam title, so her retirement there was a heartbreaking last hurrah.

Victoria Azarenka
Azarenka seems to have the goods to take down the big names. Unlike Wozniacki who seems unable to beat the game’s elite, Azarenka has victories over Serena, Clijsters, Sharapova, Mauresmo, even Martina Hingis. But she lacks Wozniacki’s consistency. She’s also a year older than the Dane. Will Victoria be able to channel her ability effectively?

She had a disappointing year at the slams finishing in the QF in Australia but winning only 3 matches in the other three. She did win Moscow and Stanford and I keep expecting that she will break through on the big stage any day now.

I could see her making a slam final in 2011 and winning a couple of tour events. Hopefully she doesn’t just repeat 2010 and then start to fade away. She’s young, her best days should be still to come.

Li Na
Li danced in and out of the top 10 a few times in 2010 spending a total of 11 or so weeks there. Li had a great run in Melbourne, taking down Wozniacki and Venus Williams before losing a tight one 76 76 to Serena in the semis. She then resurfaced on grass, winning in Birmingham and then making the Wimbledon QF, losing again to Serena. She also put in a solid SF showing on home turf in Beijing. Overall, it has been her best year. She turns 29 in February, so I expect we have seen the best she has to offer. From a country as vast as China we will likely see many future champions. For now, Li has set the bar her countrywomen must equal to give notice on the international stage.

For 2011 another slam SF run is possible if not likely and another tournament title or two are well within possibility.

Maria Sharapova
2010 was supposed to be the year of Sharapova’s comeback – so I thought. She won two minor tournaments early in the year and seemed to be rounding nicely into form for the American hardcourt season with finalist showings in Stanford and Cincinnati. After slaying Beatrice Capra love and love in the 3rd round at the US Open a deep run looked imminent, but she was beaten by Wozniacki in the round of 16 and never seemed to recover, winning only one more match for the rest of the year, complaining of injury.

Perhaps the loss to Wozniacki hurt her confidence or perhaps she has been distracted by her engagement to Sasha Vujacic. Since her return from shoulder surgery in 2009 she has not found the top form that took her to three grand slam titles.

For 2011 I’m hoping we see a return of the imperious Maria, slashing and screeching her way to titles. She turns 24 in April and should have a few good years left. A couple more titles and at least one slam SF should be in order for 2011.

Svetlana Kuznetsova
It is an indication of the depth in the women’s game that there are so many top contenders active on the roster. Some had good years, some did not.

After copping her second GS title in 2009, 2010 was a disaster for Kuznetsova. She emerged for a mid-season fling with a title in San Diego and a SF in Montreal, but aside from those two tournaments, posted a match record of 17-17 – certainly not top 10 territory. In fact she fell to the low 20’s on the computer by year’s end.

After winning the US Open in 2004, the future seemed bright and she proceeded to make the final of every 6th major after that featuring in French 2006, USO 2007, and French 2009. She was on track for USO 2010, but with that trend broken, one wonders if we have heard the last of her or if there is another song in her repertoire?

She has been inconsistent enough that a return to the top tier or another slam could not be considered a shock, but to be honest, I don’t expect it. I think we have seen the best of her stage show – maybe we’ll get a good encore – but at this point, more than a slam SF would be surprising.

Ana Ivanovic
After three Major finals and a title at the 2008 French, Ivanovic began to lose confidence and troughed in late 2009 and early 2010. Her rank had slipped to the low 50’s by March. But then, slowly, the renaissance began. She made the semis in Rome and Cincinnati and then rejoined the winner’s circle after a two-year hiatus with a title in Linz in October. She has a ways to go, but the signs are encouraging. I’m not expecting her in a major final anytime soon, but she is trending in that direction in maybe a few years time.

Dinara Safina
Safina’s collapse has been even more dramatic than Ivanovic’s or Kuznetsova’s. The woman ranked #1 for most of 2009 and still at #3 in May had fallen to 70 by August. Safina slunk to a dreadful 13-16 win-loss record in 2010.

After holding on bravely to the #1 ranking for so long in 2009 she seemed to be displaying the mental fortitude to avoid critics’ reproaches about her lack of a slam title. But the house of cards collapsed rapidly in 6 consecutive losses. Let’s hope the current #1 does not succumb to the same pressure.

It’s hard to predict any way but up for Safina in 2011. Hopefully she can find her game and threaten the bastille again. A semi final anywhere would be a happy turn and should be within reach.

Honourable mentions
Several other players made some noise in 2010 and are worthy of mention.

Shahar Peer made 7 semi finals and posted a very respectable 47-21 record.

Agnieszka Radwanska hung around the top 10 for most of the year before being slowed by injury.

Nadia Petrova had some nice slam performances taking out Clijsters and Kuznetsova in Melbourne and Venus Williams in Paris.

Aravane Rezai stunned the field in Madrid beating Henin, Jankovic, and VWilliams on clay.

Maria Kirilenko had her best year in the slams with victories over Sharapova and Safina in a QF showing in Melbourne, over defending champ Kuznetsova leading to a 4R performance in Paris, and 3rd rounders in Wimbledon and New York.

Estonian Kaia Kanepi was ranked 140 in May before winning 7 consecutive matches out of the qualies at Wimbledon en route to a QF showing. She then followed it up with a title in Palermo and another major QF, this time at the US Open, finishing the year close to 20.

Kimiko Date Krumm didn’t move much in the rankings but continues to inspire, making a tournament final in Osaka at age 40.

Youth
Looking to the future of the game, a few youngsters are showing early signs of promise, although predicting greatness is always hazardous. Ages given are as they would be at Dec 31, 2010.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, age 19, is already ranked in the top 20 and has shown some promising results claiming the title in Istanbul and victories over Dementieva and Schiavone. She should make top 10 one day.

Petra Kvitova, age 20, ranking mid-30’s, was very impressive in making the Wimbledon semis beating Wozniacki and Azarenka, and at 6 feet tall may not yet have found her full game. Top 10 potential.

Anastasija Sevastova, age 20, ranking mid-40’s, beat Jankovic, Ivanovic, and Stosur in 2010 and won Estoril. She may climb near the top 10 in her career and the top 20 in 2011.

Polona Hercog, age 19, ranking mid-40’s, has the size (6 feet) to do some damage. She made the final in Acapulco and played Venus close, but did not muster any other stand-out performances. Should make the top 20 at some point, probably in a few years.

Melanie Oudin, age 19, ranking mid-60’s, did not rival her spectacular accomplishments of 2009 – call it a sophomore slump. She may flirt with the top 20 some day.

Bojana Jovanovski, age 19 barely (born 31 Dec 91), ranking about 70. Her victory over Jankovic in Beijing may be less impressive than it appears, given Jankovic’s bad form at year end, but the confidence Jovanovski may have gained is real. She may make some noise in 2011 although more than top 30 this year would be unexpected.

Rebecca Marino, age 20 (Dec 90), ranking about 110, showed great consistency in winning 3 tournaments and 15 consecutive matches at ITF events at year end. She also played through qualifying at the US Open before losing a first set tiebreaker to Venus Williams in the 2nd round. If all goes well she could reach top 50 in 2011.

Kristina McHale, age 18, ranking about 115, beat Azarenka and Petrova in 2010. At 5’7” she will have difficulty challenging for the top but she could make top 10 one day and may reach 50 in 2011.

Ajla Tomljanovic, age 17, ranking mid-150’s, won an ITF event in 2010 and is already 5’11”. She has size and age on her side and should be able to break into the top 100 in 2011, maybe higher.

Zarina Diyas, age 17, ranking 170’s, is another member of the Kazakh cohort currently storming pro tennis. She gave notice by plowing through qualifying in Moscow, winning 5 matches in a row, culminating with a 61 62 drubbing of Jankovic before losing by the same score to Kirilenko in the main draw QF. Could break into the top 100 in 2011; future potential unknown.

Magda Linette, age 18, ranking 180’s, won 3 straight ITF tournaments and 21 straight matches in Sep-Oct. Future unknown but looks promising.

Michelle Larcher de Brito, age 17, ranking 190’s, has age though not size (5’5”) on her side. Renowned for being perhaps the loudest screecher on the tour, her biggest scalp in 2010 was over #39, Govortsova. She made more noise in 2009 beating Zheng on the way to the 3rd round of the French. Could get to 100 in 2011.

Laura Robson, age 16, ranking 190’s, is the next great British hope and is young enough for those expectations to remain buoyed. Already 5’10” the future may indeed be promising. She lost in a second set tiebreaker to Jankovic at Wimbledon and looks to have some big game potential although I’d be surprised to see her much past 80-100 in 2011.

Sloane Stephens, age 17, ranking about 230, has not shown any breathtaking results but is young enough that her American compatriots are still hoping anything could happen.

Kristina Mladenovic, age 17, ranking about 260, at 5’11” is the next big thing from France. Time will tell.

It’s hard to know if any future champions or top 10 players will emerge from this lot. Perhaps the next #1 is labouring obscurely elsewhere or playing in the juniors.

Overall I do not foresee a major changing of the guard in 2011. There are enough players at or near the top, however, to make predicting difficult. Not that that will stop me…

2011 Grand Slams

Top 6 picks in order.

Australian – SWilliams, Clijsters, Wozniacki, Zvonareva, Henin, Azarenka
French – Henin, SWilliams, Clijsters, Wozniacki, Schiavone, Stosur
Wimbledon – SWilliams, VWilliams, Henin, Clijsters, Sharapova, Zvonareva
US – SWilliams, Clijsters, Henin, Wozniacki, VWilliams, Zvonareva

Top Ten Lists

Charles’ 2010 Rank
(computer rank)
1. SWilliams (4)
2. Clijsters (3)
3. Wozniacki (1)
4. Zvonareva (2)
5. Schiavone (7)
6. VWilliams (5)
7. Stosur (6)
8. Henin (~13)
9. Jankovic (8)
10. Dementieva (9)

2011 Projection
1. SWilliams
2. Clijsters
3. Wozniacki
4. Henin
5. Zvonareva
6. VWilliams
7. Stosur
8. Sharapova (~15)
9. Azarenka (10)
10. Jankovic

I actually think Schiavone will be very close to the top 10 in 2011, but the top is crowded and so I expect her to finish just outside. Ivanovic could also be close, along with Li and ARadwanska.


What he said.

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Posted by Syd 11/20/2010 at 10:32 AM

Charles,

Thanks for this analysis, surely it deserves a page of its own. Superb.

Only quibble: Safina. No mention of her serious back injury.


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