Monday, November 18, 2019

2019 WTA Blowout Review

Most of the i's and t's of the 2019 WTA season have been dotted and crossed (and, in some cases, crossed and dotted), so how about a rundown of what happened between the lines over the last eleven months?

"Masquerading" (or at least doubling) as a recap of all those preseason Blowout predictions I made before the start of the year...

Sometimes you're right. Sometimes you're wrong. A look at a few of the hits and misses from the preseason predictions...

In January, it's always a game of "what are the chances?" When it came to the season-ending 2019 Top 10, I placed a number of names onto a "probability spectrum" from seemingly most to least likely to have such a campaign. The results (as well as some looks back at the "January forecast" sprinkled throughout this post):

[Actual 2019 finish in parenthesis; Top 10ers in CAPS]

=Other Contenders=

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Ash Barty) "With her confidence growing in the closing months of '18, the Aussie finished on a 17-6 singles run and reached her career ranking high. Expect more of the same in '19, with a Top 10 run, her biggest title to date (a Premier 5 or better), her first (and second) slam QF run, at least five Top 10 wins and maybe, just maybe, a lead role in what could be Australia's best chance for a huge FC victory in a while (it's AUS vs. USA in the 1st Round in February)."
WHAT HAPPENED: While I undershot her season a bit, it *felt* like a *very* optimistic take on her '19 chances eleven months ago. As it turned out, of course, Ash was all that *and* a jar of Vegemite. A Top 10 ranking became NUMBER ONE. A Premier 5-or-better title became, um, ROLAND GARROS (and well as a Premier Mandatory crown in Miami and a second QF run at the AO). Five Top 10 wins (which had been Barty's *career* total heading into the year) turned out to be TWEVLE. A WTAF title topped off the Aussie's singles season, though her undefeated Fed Cup run came to an end a week later as Australia, which she'd carried on her shoulders all season long, lost the Fed Cup final 3-2 in Perth.

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Dayana Yastremska) "The new season should bring her even more riches, including her first of many Top 10 wins, multiple singles titles and maybe even a Cinderella second-week-of-a-slam breakout that would make her the talk of the sport for at least a few days. She'll likely come up short of her ultimate goal, as she did in that junior final in London (in '16). But give her time. Yastremska will still be in her teenage years until the summer of 2020."
WHAT HAPPENED: The Ukrainian picked up two singles titles en route to a #22 finish, and reached the second round of a major for the first time in her career at this year's Wimbledon. Yastremska's first Top 10 win came in Wuhan vs. #2 Karolina Pliskova. Oh, and she'll STILL be a teenager until this coming May.

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Alona Ostapenko) "It feels totally wrong to think she'll have all her proverbial ducks in a row by the end of '19, but with the post-slam pressure alleviated *a little* look for her to get back into the title-winning game a few times, including at a nice-sized Premier event, and post another slam SF run *somewhere*. If she's lucky, it'll be enough to get her back into the back end of the Top 10, or at least in the #12-15 range to set herself up nicely for '20."
WHAT HAPPENED: Ostapenko's performances alternated between up and down swings all year as she was unable to garner any real momentum until the closing weeks of the season. Despite getting extra work in doubles (she reached the Wimbledon MX final), Ostapenko was just 2-4 in the slams, but after bringing in Marion Bartoli for a coaching look-see in the final month of action, she put together a RU/W finish in Linz and Luxembourg, grabbing her first singles title since 2017 and (at times) managing to clean up her heavy-UE and oft-poor serving game. She recorded two Top 10 wins, with her most encouraging victory (def. #2 Pliskova) coming during the 4Q, during which she managed to raise her ranking from #75 to #44 in the final months of '19.

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Simona Halep) "A wire-to-wire #1 season isn't out of the question in '19, especially since her closest competitors (#2 Kerber, with a title and AO semi, and #3 Wozniacki, with her AO crown) also have a large number of early season points to defend (Halep has a Week 1 title and AO final), though she'd be susceptible to an end-run from #4 Svitolina or #5 Osaka should they win in Melbourne. That said, a full season hold on the #1 ranking isn't likely. Still, expect another fine season from Halep, complete with a slam final (or multiple SF), at least two titles and a late-season shot to finish #1 for a third straight year."
WHAT HAPPENED: Halep's remarkable season-to-season consistency once again kept her at or near the top of the sport all year. While she *did* lose the #1 ranking after the Australian Open when Naomi Osaka won her second straight major, and never regained it, she was in the mix for year-end #1 into the fall after claiming her second major with an unexpected title run at Wimbledon (def. Serena Williams in the final w/ maybe the best single match performance of her career). She reached the Madrid final, but missed out on another title when (recent nemesis) Kiki Bertens won in three sets. Halep posted exactly six Top 10 wins for a fourth consecutive season en route to a #4 finish, her sixth straight Top 4 season (easily the best active streak on tour).

Africa/Middle East: Ons Jabeur/TUN [yes - #77]
BLR: Aryna Sabalenka [yes - #11]
CAN: Bianca Andreescu [yes - #5]
CRO: Donna Vekic [#19, second behind #15 Petra Martic]
CZE: Karolina Pliskova [yes - #2]
FRA: Caroline Garcia [#45, second behind #40 Kristina Mladenovic]
GBR: Katie Boulter [fell from #100 to #352 in injury-plagued season; a resurgent #12 Johanna Konta led the Brits]
IND: Karman Thandi [fourth behind #184 Ankita Raina]
LAT: Alona Ostapenko [#44, second behind #27 Anastasija Sevastova]
MEX: Giuliana Olmos [fourth behind #280 Marcela Zacarias]
POL: Iga Swiatek [#61, second behind #42 Magda Linette]
RUS: Dasha Kasatkina [fell from Top 10 to #69; sixth-best Russian behind #30 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova]
SLO: Tamara Zidansek [#64, second behind #49 Polona Hercog]
South America: Beatriz Haddad Maia/BRA [yes - #120]
SRB: Ivana Jorovic [#108, second behind #86 Nina Stojanovic]
SUI: Timea Bacsinszky [fifth behind #8 Belinda Bencic]
SVK: Viktoria Kuzmova [yes - #52]
USA: Serena Williams [yes - #10]
USA (non-Williams): Madison Keys [yes - #13]

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Dasha Kasatkina) "A player with a blessed combination of grind-it-out grit and one-shot brilliance, Kasatkina has left herself room to make an even more significant move in '19. Slightly more efficient matches could make a big difference, as while Kasatkina is a good three-set player (16-8 in '18) she often is taken to three when she could have won in two, leaving her more weary late in tournaments than she should be. It could be why her results tilted a bit downward in last season's final months. Other than her lung-filing Kremlin Cup title run back home in Russia, she was just 6-7 after Wimbledon. Kasatkina is only a breathtaking big slam run away from taking her rightful and acknowledged place as one of the best *and* most exciting players on tour. Here's to her putting up her first SF+ result at a major, as well as grabbing her biggest career title in '19 (Premier 5 or better, while reaching at least a Premier Mandatory final), enabling her to improve on her recently-completed career year."
WHAT HAPPENED: The Russian had a pretty much disastrous season (in Dasha's IG words, "Bye bye season 2019, you’ve been sh*t"). After yet another slow start, she jettison her coach but never really recovered. She fell from #10 to #69, didn't reach even a semifinal, had no Top 10 wins (after eight Top 3 victories in 2017-18), posted 1r-2r-1r-1r results in the majors and was 4-6 in three-setters. A 0-4 start was further complicated by a nine-event mid-season stretch without multiple wins. Kasatkina managed a QF run in Beijing in October, getting her second-best win (after #13 Kerber in Toronto) of the year over #14 Sabalenka, but then lost in the 1st Round in Moscow to mercifully end her season.

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Victoria Azarenka) "Even as a pale shadow of her former self in '18 (just 12 events, with her best result a Miami semi) she almost had a Top 50 campaign. 2019 should see Azarenka's name 'return to the conversation,' with the Belarusian winning a Premier level crown and putting together at least one deep slam run that lights up all the 'Vika is back' marquees. Whether it's enough to slip back into the Top 10 is debatable (she might need a slam final or win to pull off that), but a Top 20 season is well within the grasp of Azarenka 2.0 in the new year.
WHAT HAPPENED: Vika is still searching. While she *did* manage to have her first Top 50 season since 2016 (barely, finishing at #50), she won no titles and recorded just three wins in slams. After an encouraging spring that included a final in Monterrey (ret. vs. Muguruza), three Top 10 wins (her most in three years) and a week in Rome during which she reached the singles QF and a doubles title (w/ Barty), Azarenka never really gained much traction. The summer hard court stretch during which she used to thrive produced just a 3-4 mark, and she didn't play again after reaching the U.S. Open WD final with Barty.

FIRST-TIME IN-SEASON TOP 10 JUMPS (i.e. not necessarily season-ending, for all jumps): Ash Barty/AUS, Aryna Sabalenka/BLR, Anastasija Sevastova/LAT, Wang Qiang/CHN
...Barty finished at #1, while Sabalenka spent time in the Top 10 before a second straight #11 finish. Sevastova reached #11 (that's two years in a row), while Wang got to #12.
FIRST-TIME IN-SEASON TOP 20 JUMPS: Margarita Gasparyan/RUS, Camila Giorgi/ITA, Ons Jabeur/TUN, Sonya Kenin/USA, Petra Martic/CRO, Maria Sakkari/GRE, Katerina Siniakova/CZE, Donna Vekic/CRO, Dayana Yastremska/UKR
...Kenin (#12), Martic (#15) and Vekic (#19) all reached the Top 20, while Sakkari (#22), Yastremska (#22) and Giorgi (#27) came up a bit short. 2018 Fed Cup final star Siniakova couldn't carry over the momentum, and disappointingly only got as high as #33.
FIRST-TIME IN-SEASON TOP 50 JUMPS: Ekaterina Alexandrova/RUS, Amanda Anisimova/USA, Anna Blinkova/RUS, Katie Boulter/GBR, Olga Danilovic/SRB, Beatriz Haddad Maia/BRA, Ons Jabeur/TUN, Ivana Jorovic/SRB, Dalila Jakupovic/SLO, Kaja Juvan/SLO, Vera Lapko/BLR, Karolina Muchova/CZE, Bernarda Pera/USA, Rebecca Peterson/SWE, Anastasia Potapova/RUS, Iga Swiatek/POL, Wang Yafan/CHN, Dayana Yastremska/UKR, Tamara Zidansek/SLO
...Alexandrova (#35), Anisimova (#21), Muchova (#21), Peterson (#43), Swiatek (#49), Y.Wang (#47) and Yastremska (#22) all reached the Top 50. Blinkova (#59), Lapko (#60), Pera (#63), Potapova (#64) and Zidansek (#56) nearly joined them.
FIRST-TIME IN-SEASON TOP 100 JUMPS: Bianca Andreescu/CAN, Marie Bouzkova/CZE, Harriet Dart/GBR, Francesca Di Lorenzo/USA, Caroline Dolehide/USA, Georgina Garcia Perez/ESP, Ivana Jorovic/SRB, Kaja Juvan/SLO, Marta Kostyuk/UKR, Veronika Kudermetova/RUS, Claire Liu/USA, Karolina Muchova/CZE, Liudmila Samsonova/RUS, Fanny Stollar/HUN, Iga Swiatek/POL, Jil Teichmann/SUI, Wang Xiyu/CHN, Sofya Zhuk/RUS
...Top 100 breakthroughs came from Andreescu (#4 - I wish injury concerns hadn't made me pull back from a Top 50 run at the last minute, but even I'd never have pushed her up *that* far), Bouzkova (#53), Jorovic (#86), Kudermetova (#39), Muchova (#21), Swiatek (#49) and Teichmann (#54). Dart (#121), Di Lorenzo (#120), Dolehide (#129), Juvan (#106), Kostyuk (#116), Samsonova (#123), Stollar (#118), Wang Xiyu (#115) and Zhuk (#119) all got within a well-timed result or two.

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Elina Svitolina) "A year after Caroline Wozniacki rode the momentum from a WTAF title run to her maiden slam win in Melbourne, Svitolina is now in the Dane's shoes as 2019 begins. With her Singapore win officially making her the only player in tour history with 13+ singles titles but ZERO slam semifinal results, the breakthrough *has* to happen this season, right? She couldn't open a year in a better frame of mind, with burgeoning confidence, an appropriate swagger and a hint of the leftover Singapore desire to prove herself. If not now, then when? ...2019 will (finally) be the season she's been dreaming of and building toward for years. She'll lead the tour in titles and Top 10 wins. But she's done that before. The difference will be that those numbers will be secondary factoids, as Svitolina's headlines will include her long-awaited slam "moment" (a title, or at least a final) and first appearance atop the WTA rankings."
WHAT HAPPENED: Svitolina had a disappointing year. Wait. Svitolina had a career year. Wait. Hmmm, I guess it was a little bit of both. She had a quick start (13-5), but showed the same old ability to squander big leads and lose badly on big stages. Her on-court focus was questionable with her increased social media presence (and antics with Gael Monfils) throughout the first half of the season, but she proved to still be an "anti-Monf" sort as she soldiered through a lingering knee injury for most of the season (though it was never bad enough to take her off tour for an extended period). After a bad 1-7 mid-season stretch, she somehow managed to put together a "lucky" Wimbledon semifinal run after facing a string of injured and/or exhausted opponents to finally experience her slam breakthrough. Then she better *earned* another final four result at the U.S. Open. It capped off a good slam year (15-4) that was in contrast to her disappointing regular tour results (she was just 20-17 heading into the WTAF), totally flipping the narrative of every other season in her career. Still, she went into the season-ending Shenzhen event as one of two Top 25 players (#25 Stephens) without an appearance in a final (after winning nine in 2017-18) until she reached the WTAF final in her title defense attempt in a week in which she looked her healthiest in months. Finishing at #6, she was still the only Top 10er without a title in '19. Ultimately, after winning twenty in 2017-18 (and w/ six over #1's since '16), Svitolina posted four Top 10 wins on the season, but *three* of those came in her final event. So, I guess it might be considered the worst best season of the Ukrainian's career. Or would it be the best worst season?

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Elise Mertens) "To keep pace she'll replace two of her three '18 International level singles title with one Premier, and her AO semi with two (slam) QF runs. Though a path can be found, it'll prove to be too tough for the Belgian to *end* the year in the Top 10.
WHAT HAPPENED: Mertens again never climbed higher than #12 during the season (same as in '18), and finished at #17. She only got one slam QF result (U.S.), but *did* win her first Premier crown in Qatar (where she got all three of her '19 Top 10 wins). Her best results came in doubles with Aryna Sabalenka, as the pair won the Sunshine Double (IW/Miami) and the U.S. Open, and the Belgian climbed as high as #2."

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Katerina Siniakova) "In 2019, a couple of Premier finals (all five career finals thus far have been of the International variety), a win in one of them as well in an Int'l, along with a consistent slam slate (with at least one QF) and the Czechs might have a new Maiden chomping at the bit for a career-altering moment come the start of the 2020 season."
WHAT HAPPENED: Who knows what will happen in 2020, but Siniakova surely didn't carry over her momentum from providing the Czech Republic's clinching victory in last year's Fed Cup final. Instead, she reached zero finals and fell from #31 to #58, her worst finish since 2016. Even so, she *did* reach her first slam Round of 16 in Paris, where she notched a #1 win over Naomi Osaka. She fared better in doubles, winning three titles and spending 23 total weeks at #1 (holding the spot alone for 21 straight from mid-January to June).

NEWCOMERS OF THE YEAR: Emiliana Arango/COL, Olga Danilovic/SRB, Fiona Ferro/FRA, Marta Kostyuk/UKR, Veronika Kudermetova/RUS, Anastasia Potapova/RUS, Iga Swiatek/POL, Wang Xinyu/CHN, Wang Xiyu/CHN, Sofya Zhuk/RUS
...while the likes of Danilovic and Kostyuk didn't follow up their surprise '18 success with big steps forward, others *did* spark. Swiatek reached the Roland Garros Round of 16, reached her maiden tour final and climbed into the Top 50. Kudermetova got to #41, won a 125 Series title, reached the RG 3rd Round and posted two Top 10 wins in the 4th Quarter. Ferro won her first tour title in Lausanne, and reached the U.S. Open 3rd Round. And while Potapova didn't match her '18 results, she still posted her first MD wins at the AO, RG and Wimbledon, getting her first big stage upset of Angelique Kerber in Paris.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYERS: Bianca Andreescu/CAN, Anna Blinkova/RUS, Giulia Capocci/ITA (WC), Margarita Gasparyan/RUS, Sonya Kenin/USA, Viktoria Kuzmova/SVK, Karolina Muchova/CZE, Katerina Siniakova/CZE, Fanny Stollar/HUN, Alja Tomljanovic/AUS, Marketa Vondrousova/CZE, Dayana Yastremska/UKR, Tamara Zidansek/SLO
...ha, ya *think* Andreescu was just a *bit* "improved" in 2019? After years of touting Andreescu in this space, she finally hit it big, to the tune of winning Indian Wells, Toronto and the U.S. Open en route to a Top 5 finish.

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Meanwhile, Blinkova reached her career high, won a 125 Series event and reached the 3rd Round at RG. Capocci made her debuts in all four wheelchair slam events, reached the Top 4 and played in the Wimbledon doubles final. Gasparyan continued to be hit/miss as far as finishing events, but she played in all four slams in a season for the first time (famously retiring after being on the verge of blowing out Svitolina in the 2nd Rd.). Kenin made a huge leap in relevancy, winning three titles, reaching the Top 15 and the RG Round of 16 while posting five Top 10 wins (two vs. #1's, and another over Serena in Paris). Kuzmova reached the RG 3rd Round and won two doubles crowns. Muchova played in the Wimbledon QF, won her maiden title and finished just outside the Top 20 (#21). Tomljanovic is now fully back from her shoulder injury, returning to the Top 40, recording two Top 10 wins, and claiming a big match in the Fed Cup final. Vondrousova came out of the gates on fire, reaching the Miami/IW QF and playing in three finals (including Roland Garros), defeating Halep twice and climbing into the Top 15 before a wrist injury ended her season during the summer. Yastremska won two titles, reaching the Wimbledon Round of 16 and finishing just outside the Top 20 (#22). Zidansek reached a career high, won a 125 Series crown and played in the Nuremberg final.

SURPRISE PLAYERS: Katie Boulter/GBR, Harriet Dart/GBR, Georgina Garcia Perez/ESP, Polona Hercog/SLO, Giuliana Olmos/MEX, Elena-Gabriela Ruse/ROU, Liudmila Samsonova/RUS, Slovenian Fed Cup, Katarina Zavatska/UKR
...Boulter never got the chance to fully follow up her Top 100 season from '18, going out with injury from April unti November after having her early season highlight be a combined 5-1 singles mark for GBR in Fed Cup (for which she was a Heart Award). Countrywoman Dart reached the singles 3rd Round at Wimbledon. GGP was a Heart Award nominee for her 3-win Fed Cup performance vs. Japan in February. Hercog returned to the Top 50, reached the 3rd Round at RG and Wimbledon, and won her first tour singles title since 2012. Olmos won her maiden tour doubles title (1-2 in F), becoming the first woman from Mexico to win a tour title. Samsonova made her slam MD debut in Paris as a qualifier, reached a tour SF as a LL in Palermo, and reached her biggest career final ($80K) on the challenger level. Zavatska won her first $100K.

COMEBACKS: Victoria Azarenka/BLR, Timea Bacsinszky/SUI, CiCi Bellis/USA, Beatriz Haddad Maia/BRA, Margarita Gasparyan/RUS (since the WTA couldn't include her as an '18 nominee for Comeback Player), Sania Mirza/IND (d), Garbine Muguruza/ESP, Alona Ostapenko/LAT, Peng Shuai/CHN, Russian Fed Cup, CoCo Vandeweghe/USA
...Azarenka inched into the Top 50 (from #51), reached her first singles final since 2016 and played in all four majors in a season for the first time since '15. But her *best* result was in doubles w/ Ash Barty, with whom she reached the U.S. Open final. Bacsinszky started out great, reaching the Sydney QF and AO 3rd (notching her first Top 10 win since '17), but then didn't post multiple MD wins in a tour event the rest of the season, and didn'y win *any* singles match after June. After four surgeries on her wrist, Bellis *finally* returned to action in November, playing for the first time since March '18. Haddad had her first career Top 10 win (Stephens in Acapulco), but was suspended after failing a drug test at RG. Her final win of the season came in the Wimbledon 1st Round over former champ Muguruza. Haddad still finished as the South American #1 at 120. Gasparyan had her biggest career win (#7 Svitolina). Peng rebounded from her ridiculous "pay to not play" suspension in '18, rising from #298 to #75. Russia isn't back to its old Fed Cup form, but avoided disaster and was bolstered by the change in format for 2020. The Hordettes will play in the February "qualifying" round (vs. ROU) for a berth in the big week-long championship event in Budapest in April. Vandeweghe missed much of the season recovering from ankle surgery, but returned in late summer and ultimately reached fall finals in $60K and 125 Series events.

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Serena Williams) "Between now and the end of 2019, it's hard to imagine Williams won't finally match Court in the record books, and quite possibly pass her by, as well. Assuming her health holds up, she'll be a Top 10 player (maybe Top 5, or even better) even if she plays a shortened non-slam schedule with only a few big results. But rankings (ironic, considering her return last year led to the recent ranking changes that benefit returning mothers... or in *her* case, the players who might have to play *one particular mother* TOO early in a draw) have never mattered much to Serena. She's won slams from positions all over the WTA computer throughout her career. She'll do it again in 2019. At least once."
WHAT HAPPENED: Serena is still waiting, and one has to wonder if time is running out on getting #24. She'll turn 39 by the end of 2020, having had four more chances to catch or surpass Court's mark. Title-less since her return from having a baby, having lost in slam finals to veterans, in-their-prime stars and newcomers alike (this year, Halep in the SW19 final, then Andreescu at Flushing Meadows), and with the WTA landscape being populated by more and more slam contenders even as her old rivals (Venus, Sharapova, Stosur, etc.) fall off as legitimate major threats, might these next four majors be her *last* best chances to finally pull her final big "get" into her career column? Even with the one thing she's still playing for remaining elusive to this point, Serena punched the card on her 16th career Top 10 season in '19, notching Top 10 wins #174-176 and her 17th victory over a world #1 (her first in seven years, and second only to Navratilova all-time on tour).

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Julia Goerges) "She's still seeking that first high Premier level title, but will have to settle for simply reaching her first such final in '19."
WHAT HAPPENED: Goerges reached three finals, becoming the first Auckland champ in fifteen years to successfully defend the crown with a win in the final over Andreescu in the Canadian's season-opening event. But she won just five total slam MD matches, as many as she won in '18 at Wimbledon alone during her maiden SF run at a major. She fell from #14 to #28.

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Garbine Muguruza) "But the one good thing about a bad stretch (or season, in this case) for the Spaniard is that, like the tides, the Law of Muguruza is that an ebb is inevitably followed by a strong flow in the opposite direction. It'd be just like Muguruza to follow up a disappointing campaign with possibly a career year. Though she's capable of dominating anyone on tour in her best form, it's crazy to impose that sort of prediction on *any* season from the WTA's most hard-to-gauge player (yes, even more so than, say, Sveta), but it'd be smart to expect a rebound. While consistency can't be assured, it almost seems a lock that Muguruza will reach another high tide in '19, say by winning slam title #3 (to go along with one or two 1r/2r losses at other majors) and reclaiming her spot in the Top 10."
WHAT HAPPENED: Muguruza continues to, well, "mugu." Rather than rebound, her ranking fell from #18 to #36. She never climbed higher than #15 all season. Her season wasn't a washout, though, as she *did* defend her Monterrey title (she's won titles in six straight seasons -- one of the few consistently good things about her career), opened the slam season with Round of 16's in Melbourne and Paris and posted her third career win over Serena Williams (via ret., leveling their H2H at 3-3). But then she was dumped out in the 1st Round in London and New York, and recorded just one win after RG (a 1-7 finish). Maybe her most productive late season move was to finally part ways with coach Sam Sumyk, with whom her courtside squabbles were sometimes as legendary as some of her accomplishments. No word on a replacement yet (hmmm, I hear Conchita Martinez is suddenly a free agent again), but maybe the Spaniard's recent offseasons trips to Mt.Kilimanjaro and Tanzania will at least provide a little inspiration for '20.

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Anett Kontaveit) "Kontaveit has continued to only *knock* at the door of something big. 2019 could be the season she finally jimmies the lock and gains entry into the discussion of the game's top young players that far too often excludes her name. She'll end the singles title drought that extends back to the summer of '17, winning multiples titles for the first time, and will finally break through the slam Round of 16 (one at each of three different majors) glass ceiling this season. She got as far as finishing as the runner-up (to Sabalenka) in her attempt to grab a big title in Wuhan late this past season, so a Premier level (low or high) crown is a must for '19 to even begin to approach what it *could* be and what some season (if not this, then '20) *should* be soon."
WHAT HAPPENED: Rather than finally make her move up the tour hierachy, Kontaveit remained mostly stationary. She didn't win a title, and reached just one final (Stuttgart, after seeing opponents retire and give her a walkover in the QF/SF). She came up one win short of the Round of 16 at three slams, and saw her Top 10 win total fall from six to just one (over Kvitova, all the way back in Brisbane). Again, though, Kontaveit showed great potential, reaching a Premier Mandatory semi in Miami, becoming the highest ranked Estonian ever (#14) in the spring and posting victories over former slam winners (Kvitova, Kerber, Sharapova and Azarenka), a soon-to-be-winner (Andreescu) and maybe a future champ (Anisimova). Ranked in the Top 20 coming out of the U.S. Open, she saw her ranking fall to #26 as she missed the entire Asian swing due to illness.

ITF ACHIEVERS: Clara Burel/FRA, Dasha Lopatetska/UKR, Andreea Amalia Rosca/ROU, Liudmila Samsonova/RUS, Gabriella Taylor/GBR
...not much to see here. 2018 girls #1 Burel played just four matches before ending her season in the spring with wrist surgery. Lopatetska was an early ITF star, winning three titles before a knee injury (the cost of the surgery was ultimately picked up by countrywoman Elina Svitolina) ended her season. Rosca won one title, while Taylor was 0-3 in challenger finals. Samsonova had the most complete season, though she didn't win a title. The Russian qualified at Roland Garros, reached a tour-level semi (Palermo) as a qualifier and played in an $80K final in October.
NAMES TO WATCH IN THE JUNIOR SLAMS (non-2018 final Top 10ers): Elisabetta Cocciaretto/ITA, Dasha Lopatetskaya/UKR, Elli Mandlik/USA, Yuki Naito/JPN, Diane Parry/FRA, Gabriella Price/USA, Emma Raducanu/GBR, Oksana Selekhmeteva/RUS, Daniela Vismane/LAT
...Parry reached the junior #1 ranking late in the year after winning the Junior Masters event. The Pastry with the pretty one-handed backhand also won Grade A and Grade 1 titles, and reached the Roehampton and Wimbledon junior semis. At 16, she even posted a MD women's win at Roland Garros, the youngest to do in a decade. Mandlik won two ITF titles, but also went home with the Roehampton girls doubles crown. Selekhmetova reached the Roehampton and Wimbledon girls doubles finals, then won the U.S. Open GD while reaching the girls singles semis. Cocciaretto (3 ITF wins), Lopatetska (3 ITF wins), Naito (5-4 in ITF finals) and Vismane (one $15K title) didn't compete in any junior events in '19.
DOUBLES DUOS TO WATCH: Miyu Kato/Makota Ninomiya (JPN/JPN), Veronika Kudermetova/Russian or Russian-born partners, from Natela Dzalamidze to Anna Blinkova, Galina Voskoboeva or others (RUS/RUS+?), Asia Muhammad/Maria Sanchez (USA/USA), Sabrina Santamaria/Kaitlyn Christian (USA/USA), Samantha Stosur/Zhang Shuai (AUS/CHN)
...Stosur/Zhang won the Australian Open, reached the Miami final and the WTAF semis. Muhammad/Sanchez won Monterrey. Kudermetova teamed with Voskoboeva to reach the Lugano and Charleston finals and Madrid SF, while the Russian won Wuhan with Duan Yingying. Santamaria reached two tour finals, but neither was while partnering Christian.
NCAA CHAMPION: Ashley Lahey/USA (Pepperdine) [to watch: Michaela Gordon/USA (Stanford), Eden Richardson/GBR (LSU) and Lourdes Carle/ARG (Georgia)]
...Miami's Estela Perez-Somarriba (ESP) won the NCAA Women's Tournament title, while Georgia's Katrina Jokic (SRB) was the season-ending #1. Lahey (#14, and the current NCAA #1 in Nov.'19), Gordon (#6) and Richardson (#11) were all Top 15 players for the 2018-19 college season.

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Naomi Osaka) "The 'year after,' though, brings along a whole new set of issues, from maintaining Osaka's focus to enabling her to handle her new level of expectation. It's never going to be a simple breeze when so many are calling you 'the future of the sport,' saying you'll soon reach #1 AND win another slam in '19. ... We know what Osaka is capable of, but there's a good chance her busy offseason, new commitments (to sponsors and the tour) and responsibilities (as the face and hope of Japanese tennis) might have her fighting to stay balanced for much of the year. As so many new young champs have proven before her, it ain't as easy as it sometimes looks. That said, Osaka is still going to be a wrecking ball at times this coming year. (At least) another slam final is certainly likely, and she very well could lead the tour in Premier titles. But there will come a moment this year when she loses a few matches in a row, is frustrated and a few eyebrows are raised when she falls to a lower ranked player most think she should smoke in under an hour. That's when the tale of her season will be told. If Naomi *is* the transformative presence that will soon dominate the tour, maybe she'll bypass the usual 'year after' haze and pick up in 2019 right where she left off in New York, and never relent. That *probably* won't be the case, but if it is... well, look out, world."
WHAT HAPPENED: Well, Osaka answered a lot of questions by going out and winning the Australian Open, becoming the first maiden slam champ to also win her *next* slam since the comeback campaign of Jennifer Capriati in 2001. Of course, things got more complicated after that. She reached #1, then jettisoned coach Sascha Bajin. Osaka soon appointed Jermaine Jenkins to the role ahead of what was an "average" spring (though her 9-3 clay record was encouraging on a surface not exactly beneficial to her game). Following Wimbledon, though, Osaka found her stride, finishing on an 18-4 run. Despite playing with a knee injury, she reached the Round of 16 in her U.S. Open title defense, winning a much-hyped nighttime match-up vs. 15-year old Coco Gauff. Osaka split with Jenkins after the Open and, with her father assuming the coaching reigns, went undefeated on the tour's Asian swing, winning eleven straight matches (taking titles in Osaka and the Premier Mandatory Beijing) before pulling out of WTAF round robin play with a shoulder injury. She finished the season at #3, having recorded six Top 10 wins (she had five in 2017-18), and has yet to announce any potential coaching additions for 2020 (though it should be noted that Bajin *is* a notable free agent as the offseason begins).
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Words can’t describe this feeling.

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WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Karolina Pliskova) "With some of her intangibles intact once again, Pliskova may be able to give a little more finishing bite to what has been an underrated good slam run the last few seasons. After not reaching a Round of 16 in her first seventeen majors, she's done so at seven of her last nine (w/ six QF+ results). As 2019 begins, she's legitimately back in the slam winning mix, and not just because of her high ranking. Pliskova once again has the *look* of a player capable of scaling the mountain. Will she do it? She *could*, but I'm not going to predict her to do so. I am placing her in her first major final since '16, though, as well as in the winner's circle in tournaments on hard, clay and grass surfaces in a season for the first time in her career, as well as assuming the role of "MVP" for another of the Czech Republic's successful Fed Cup runs.
WHAT HAPPENED: Pliskova was a threat from Week 1 through Week 44, opening the season with a title in Brisbane, then winning again on the clay (Rome, her biggest yet on the surface) and grass (Eastbourne) before a strong 4Q finish that included a title (Zhengzhou) and WTAF semi. She *did* win titles on three different surfaces for the first time, joining Barty as the only players to do it, as well as tying the Aussie for the tour title lead (4) on the season. While she didn't reach a major final, Pliskova had another slam semi (AO) and two 4th Round finishes (WI/US), as well as reaching a Premier Mandatory final in Miami. While the Czech Republic's Fed Cup run finally came to an end (Karolina lost a crucial match to Halep in Romania's 3-2 1st Round win), the Czech regained the WTA ace title she'd held from 2015-17 and finished at #2 in the rankings behind Barty, her best season-ending ranking ever. Still, she decided to move on from coach Conchita Martinez after the season.

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Wang Qiang) "She sure looked like a Top 10 threat in the closing months, but she still has to prove it at other stops on the WTA schedule. Wang will likely still be at her best closer to home, but her personality and dramatic play can make her a fan favorite in any corner of the globe (ala Li Na), and that could go a long way toward winning close matches and putting up good results throughout the year. Look for her to have improved success elsewhere, making at least one final outside Asia and winning her first title a long way from home. Whether or not she can climb into the Top 10 will depend on if she can rattle off a few second week runs at the slams (her best results are 3rd Rounds at RG and the U.S.). It's easy to see her getting at least one QF+ major run in '19... and why not have it come in Melbourne, the "Asia/Pacific slam" where Li first made her slam breakthrough in the first slam of this nearly complete decade with a SF in '10?"
WHAT HAPPENED: While Wang's season hardly stood up to the higher level of expectation her closing push in '18 produced, she posted quite a few significant results. First, the bad news. She didn't reach a final in '19, fell in the season-ending rankings (#20 to #29) rather than rose, and after a 21-6 (SF-W-SF-SF-RU-RU) mark during the fall Asian swing last year she was just 2-4 this time around. Now, the good. She had her best AO and Wimbledon results (3rd Rd. for both), reached her first Premier Mandatory QF in Miami, climbed as high as #12 (second behind former #2 Li in CHN tennis history), and posted her first career slam QF (the fifth CHN woman to do it) at the U.S. Open, where she got her biggest win ever over then-#2 Barty.

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Sloane Stephens) "She could have a middlin' season, see her ranking slide out of the Top 10, and *still* contend for her second major with a deep run in, well, any of the three slams at which she's contended for titles thus far. 2019 isn't opening with Stephens looking ready for a dominant season, but more likely one with a big Premier title and a deep, ultimately title-less, slam run, leading to bottom-of-the-Top 10 contention and a fight to slip into the WTA Finals in Shenzhen in the final weeks of the season (essentially, a repeat of '18)."
WHAT HAPPENED: While '18 was somewhat a step back from Stephens' summer run in '17, 2019 didn't even qualify as a middlin' season by what *should* be her standards. After starting the season soon after she'd surprisingly announced a suspension of her coaching relationship with Kamau Murray, one of which she'd previously extolled the virtues because Murray was a coach who finally "got" here, Stephens fell from #6 to #25 over the course of the season. With Svitolina's WTAF run in Shenzhen, Stephens was the only Top 25 player to not even appear in a final in 2019. Her best result was a semi in Madrid, which led into her best slam result (QF) of the season in Paris. In August, Murray suddenly left new charge Monica Puig in the lurch to rejoin the Stephens camp, but it didn't prevent Sloane from a 4-7 post-Wimbledon finish to her season. For the first time since 2014, she didn't post a win over a Top 10 player. For a player who often seems as content *away* from the game as she ever has even when she wins big (though the huge checks have always been nice), Stephens remains a potentially dominant figure in the sport who is nonetheless a tennis enigma who has seemingly left a *lot* of great tennis results on the table over the years. With Stephens starting from a position on the *outside* of the major conversations regarding the major contenders in the sport, one has to think we'll find out more in '20 about whether or not she *really* wishes to push to return to the top of the rankings.

...she reached her first two slam semis, while Ash Barty and Bianca Andreescu were maiden champs at Roland Garros and the U.S. Open, respectively.
FIRST-TIME SLAM FINALISTS: Aryna Sabalenka/BLR, Elina Svitolina/UKR
...Barty (RG), Marketa Vondrousova (RG) and Andreescu (U.S.) were the latest first-timers.
FIRST-TIME SLAM SEMIFINALISTS: Dasha Kasatkina/RUS, Aryna Sabalenka/BLR, Elina Svitolina/UKR + another of the first-time quarterfinalists below... if I had to pick ONE, I guess I'd go with Czech FC heroine Siniakova
...Svitolina finally made a final four at SW19. She was one of eight such first-timers in '19, joining Danielle Collins (AO), Barty (RG), Vondrousova (RG), Amanda Anisimova (RG), Barbora Strycova (WI), Andreescu (U.S.) and Belinda Bencic (U.S.).
FIRST-TIME SLAM QUARTERFINALISTS: Ash Barty/AUS, Mihaela Buzarnescu/ROU, Margarita Gasparyan/RUS, Aryna Sabalenka/BLR, Katerina Siniakova/CZE, Wang Qiang/CHN, Dayana Yastremska/UKR
...Barty (AO) and Wang (US) broke through this year, with Barty then going on to *win* her *next* major in Paris. Sabalenka dipped in and out of the Top 10, but is still seeking her first slam QF. She didn't reach the Round of 16 at any major in '19.
FIRST-TIME SLAM ROUND OF 16's: Amanda Anisimova/USA, Beatriz Haddad Maia/BRA, Ons Jabeur/TUN, Sonya Kenin/USA, Viktoria Kuzmova/SVK, Karolina Muchova/CZE, Maria Sakkari/GRE, Katerina Siniakova/CZE, Iga Swiatek/POL, Wang Qiang/CHN, Dayana Yastresmka/UKR
...yes: Anisimova (AO), Kenin (RG), Muchova (WI), Siniakova (RG), Swiatek (RG), Wang (US) and Yastremska (WI). Haddad posted 1st Round wins at the AO and Wimbledon before her suspension, Jabeur reached the 3rd Round at the U.S. Open while Kuzmova did the same at RG. Sakkari came up one win short of the Round of 16 in Melbourne, London *and* New York.
FIVE NOTABLE FIRST-TIME SLAM 1st ROUND WINNERS: Amanda Anisimova/USA, Ankita Raina/IND, Iga Swiatek/POL, Wang Xiyu/CHN, Dayana Yastremska/UKR
...Anisimova reached the 4th Round at the Australian Open and Roland Garros semis, posting two wins over Sabalenka and another over RG defending champ Halep. She was the first player born in the 2000's to reach a slam QF/SF. Swiatek notched her first win in Melbourne, and reached the Round of 16 in Paris. Yastremska got her first win at the AO (reaching the 3rd Rd.), then followed up with 4th (Wimbledon) and 3rd Rd. (U.S.) slam results. Wang Xiyu made her slam MD debut in New York, but lost in the 1st Round. Raina lost in qualifying at all four majors.

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Caroline Wozniacki) "With the possibility of becoming a younger generation's face of her condition (rheumatoid arthritis) and how to overcome it, a second slam title in '19 would come complete with several additional layers of storyline than was even the case with her Down Under run of a season ago. The thought is that she won't get it, but barring injury Wozniacki should remain the Top 10 player she's been for most of the last decade (ankle injuries knocked her into the teens in 2015-16), pick up a handful of titles (she enters the season with 30, six behind Maria Sharapova for the recognition of being the winningest active non-Williams on tour), and put up her eighth career slam semi, as well."
WHAT HAPPENED: Wozniacki continued to learn to deal with her auto-immune condition, as well as dealing with various injuries. It resulted in the worst season of her pro career, as for the first time since her first full season on tour in 2007 (the year she turned 17) she won no titles and had zero Top 10 wins. She fell from #3 to her worst season-ending ranking of #38. She had three 3rd Round results at the majors, while her season highlight came with a run to the Charleston final in the spring. She was married in June, and by the end of the year had been joined by Danielle Collins in what is now a pair of tour players diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. While one final (curtain-closing?) run at slam glory could still be in the Dane's future, more so now than at the end of any other season one can feel the end likely coming to the Dane's time on tour far, far sooner than later.

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Petra Kvitova) "SuperPetra will make a few appearances in '19, just maybe not during quite as many long stretches of dominance as last season. She'll win fewer titles, but will post better slam results en route to what might arguably be considered a "better" season even as her ranking ends up looking not quite as good as the "7" that stood by her name at the end of the most recent campaign."
WHAT HAPPENED: While Kvitova again finished at #7, saw her titles won total drop from five to two and number of Top 10 wins shrink from seven to three while she struggled through the season's middle months with a forearm injury (missing RG and part of the summer schedule), 2019 might be considered to have been a *better* season than '18. For one, her hot start (24-6) included her best slam result (AO final) since she won Wimbledon in '14. After winning just four MD matches in majors a year ago, Kvitova also reached a Round of 16 at Wimbledon. She played in four Premier-or-better finals (winning in Sydney and Stuttgart, losing the P5 Dubai final), and when she was finally healthy again reached the Wuhan semis in September. Her bad run in the WTAF continued, though, as she went 0-3 in RR play, extending a losing streak in the event that goes back to the '15 final and is now at seven matches.

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Madison Keys) "Can she put it all together and play a (mostly) full schedule this year? Why not? The odds have to be on her side at some point, right? One has to think she'll at least reach a few finals in '19, and maybe win a few titles, too. Say, winning her biggest crown yet (a Premier 5 would do it), matching or besting her biggest non-slam final (ditto), putting on another deep slam run and returning to the Top 10 at some point during the season."
WHAT HAPPENED: Keys still hasn't really played a *full* schedule by the standards of many (her 15 events tied for third fewest in the season-ending Top 50 behind Serena's ten and Vondrousova's twelve), but she again made close to the most of her season by shining in bigger events. After reuniting with former coach Juan Todero, she won her first career clay title (Charleston, w/ her first wins over Stephens and Wozniacki), reached the RG QF, and claimed her biggest career title at Premier 5 Cincinnati to begin a career-best winning streak (9 matches). Keys returned to the Top 10 for two weeks heading into the U.S. Open, where she reached the 4th Round, her seventh Round of 16 or better result in nine majors. She ended up as the highest non-Williams U.S. player at #13, just edging out Sofia Kenin.

FIRST-TIME WTA CHAMPIONS: Ons Jabeur/TUN, Sonya Kenin/USA, Petra Martic/CRO, Karolina Muchova/CZE, Yulia Putintseva/KAZ (finally), Aliaksandra Sasnovich/BLR, Iga Swiatek/POL, Ajla Tomljanovic/AUS, Wang Xiyu/CHN, Zheng Saisai/CHN
...Kenin, Martic, Muchova, Putintseva and Zheng all were maiden title winners. Swiatek reached her first tour final, while Tomljanovic reached her fourth career final (she's now 0-4).
FIRST-TIME WTA FINALISTS: CiCi Bellis/USA, Ivana Jorovic/SRB, Sonya Kenin/USA, Marta Kostyuk/UKR, Veronika Kudermetova/RUS, Viktoria Kuzmova/SVK, Vera Lapko/BLR, Karolina Muchova/CZE, Iga Swiatek/POL, Wang Xiyu/CHN, Wang Yafan/CHN, Tamara Zidansek/SLO
...Kenin, Muchova, Swiatek, Wang Yafan and Zidansek all reached their first WTA singles finals. Kudermetova reached and won her first WTA 125 Series final.
FIRST-TIME WTA SEMIFINALISTS: Bianca Andreescu/CAN, Anna Blinkova/RUS, Katie Boulter/GBR, Caroline Dolehide/USA, Fiona Ferro/FRA, Dalma Galfi/HUN, Ivana Jorovic/SRB, Kaja Juvan/SLO, Marta Kostyuk/UKR, Veronika Kudermetova/RUS, Liang En-shuo/TPE, Claire Liu/USA, Karolina Muchova/CZE, Iga Swiatek/POL, Wang Xinyu/CHN, Wang Xiyu/CHN, Sofya Zhuk/RUS
...yes: Andreescu, Blinkova, Ferro, Kudermetova, Muchova, Swiatek. Dolehide reached the Pan-American Games final. Juvan and Liang reached semis in a WTA 125 Series events.
...#93 Potapova still qualifies for the mix, but Danielle Collins (#31), Ekaterina Alexandrova (#35) and Veronika Kudermetova (#41) were the Top 50 players without titles.
...Collins and Kudermetova.

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There are a few reasons why this years @wimbledon means so much to me: First Grand Slam main draw win. First big match against one of the greatest players - @serenawilliams. Also first match on such a big court. - Kind of a bittersweet loss but i fought till the very end so I really can't be too mad at myself. ?????? Also... for the first time I had my whole team with me. This journey is not just a product of my hard work but also the hard work of people around me who make sure I go in the right direction. And for that I'm beyond grateful. ?? This is just the beginning and I can't wait for what's to come. Thank you for everyone's support. ???????? #grateful #byewimby #homenow #besttournament #seeyounextyear #ifeelslovenia

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1.Kaja Juvan, SLO
...rose from #174 to as high as #106. After getting a RG qualifying win over Coco Gauff, Juvan served for the MD in the final round, only to lose. She reached the MD as a LL, and served for the win vs. Sorana Cirstea, only to lose again. She finally qualified for Wimbledon, posted a MD win over Kristina Pliskova and then pushed Serena Williams to three sets. A $100K SF in May was followed by a 125 Series semi in June. She recorded wins over Astra Sharma, Aleksandra Krunic, Caty McNally, Yanina Wickmayer and Jil Teichmann (on clay).
2.Ivana Jorovic, SRB
...jumped from #185 to #106 and won a $25K (improving to 13-2 in career finals). Notched her maiden slam MD win at Wimbledon, then took eventual quarterfinalist Alison Riske to 9-7 in the 3rd set. In Paris, Jorovic had lost a 7-5 3rd set vs. Jennifer Brady in the 1st Round. She posted season wins over Magda Linette, Timea Babos, Stefanie Voegele and Caroline Garcia.
3.Katie Boulter, GBR
...before being injured, she won a Fed Cup Heart Award for GBR as the Brits reached World Group II for the first time since 1993
4.Fiona Ferro, FRA
...was a maiden tour title winner in Lausanne, and reached the U.S. Open 3rd Rd.
5.Viktoriia Dema, UKR
...won two $15K challengers

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Angelique Kerber) "The German will turn 31 during the Australian Open, an age after which only two women not named Serena have won major titles (they were named Martina and Flavia, BTW). This season and next, Kerber seems set to possibly play the part of the proverbial "canary in the coal mine" as far as the "normal" (i.e. not you-know-who) thirtysomething crowd's continued slam viability as Generation PDQ's roots fully take hold on the tour. If her '18 season is any indication, how Kerber gets out of the gate may give us a clue to her '19 prospects. ... She'll enter the new year without coach Wim Fissette, who helped Kerber bring everything back together before once again hitting the road for parts and challenges unknown (well, not really -- he's since teamed up with Vika), so it'll be up to Rainer Schuettler to help her maintain her high level of results. ... The thought here is that Kerber won't fall off as she did two seasons ago, but while her slam results will be consistently good she won't pick up slam #4. She'll win more singles titles than a season ago, but will top out in the majors at the SF stage (quite possibly at Roland Garros, which would still be her best Paris finish at the one slam missing in her career trophy collection)."
WHAT HAPPENED: It seems as if the German canary, like Serena, is proving that while thirtysomethings can still compete with the best on the current tour their ability to win *big* and/or *consistently* has and will become more and more difficult as Gen PDQ's roots grow even deeper. Kerber's up/down swing took another wrong turn in '19, as her season-ending rankings the last four seasons go like this: 1-21-2-20. She didn't win a title this season, and her 4r-1r-2r-1r slam finishes were pretty much on par with her disappointing '17 results. While she had ten in the decade, Kerber hasn't posted back-to-back seasons with a slam QF+ result since 2011-12. She *did* start the season well this time out, getting out on a 12-5 run and reaching the Premier Mandatory Indian Wells final, which turned out to be the first of dramatic back-to-back "Sunshine Three-Setters" defeats at the hands of Bianca "DQ" Andreescu (IW F/Miami 3r). Kerber's physical game style has often prevented consecutive great big event seasons, and she seemed to wear down a bit in '19, as well. She suffered a rare five-match losing streak during the summer, and went just 4-9 down the stretch after reaching the Eastbourne final. After Fissette and Kerber parted ways following her '18 resurgence, Kerber let new coach Rainer Schuettler go late in '19 (Schuetter has since been named the new German Fed Cup captain). She'll be looking for another coaching *spark* for '20. Could it end up being Sascha Bajin? Her camp has been his rumored eventual landing spot for months.

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Kiki Bertens) "How about a campaign in which the improved fitness and aggression that led to greater success on hard courts allows her to "go back to her roots" and be *even better* on clay courts than she was in the past? Bertens' last red clay title was in July '17, and she's never won a Premier level event on her "best" surface. She should take care of that this year, and maybe equal (or knock off?) her best Roland Garros result ('16 semi), too. Add that to consistent results elsewhere, and she could poke her head into the Top 5 by the summer."
WHAT HAPPENED: Bertens had a fine season, but came up short of what might have been something even more. She reached five finals, winning two titles in the first half of the year, including her first on clay in two years at the Premier Mandatory Madrid. But she lost in her last three finals of '19. She reached a career high #4 in the spring, and arrived in Paris with a 12-3 clay record on the season and as the "favorite" in the eyes of many to take the title. But then Kiki had her "Oh, Nadia" moment and saw illness sap her energy and destroy maybe her best chance to win a major, forcing her to retire from her 2nd Round match. It was the low point of her season, and headlined a slam year in which she failed to reach the second week in any major. Still, she had eight Top 10 wins on three different surfaces, including four over Top 3 players (def. #1 Barty in the WTAF, where she'd become the first player to play in both the Elite Trophy *and* WTA Finals in the same season). For the second straight season, Bertens finished at #9.

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Aryna Sabalenka) "In the end, even with her biggest title (Premier 5 Wuhan) and the running up of her season Top 10 win total (she had eight, seven coming on hard court from July forward as she ended on a 25-7 run), the calendar ran out before she could complete her goals. That'll change in 2019. After going 0-3 in the first three majors of '18, Sabalenka has so much room to grow it's crazy. But maybe not as crazy as the notion that she'll still be just 20 years old come the start of May. By then, her day may have *already* come. I'm going to stop just short of predicting her to be Generation PDQ's next first-time slam champ in '19 (I'm picking her to "only" reach her maiden major final, but pick up a Premier Mandatory title), but I also realize that I very well may regret not taking that plunge now when I recap these picks in about eleven months time. Actually, I might already fully regret it before the the start of February, if you know what I mean."
WHAT HAPPENED: While Sabalenka had unexpectedly great success in doubles (winning the Sunshine Double and U.S. Open w/ Elise Mertens), her singles campaign was rocky. She was streaky all season (following up a 3-4 slam season with a 4-4 one), and had a very public (and somewhat) strange 'break-up' with coach Dmitry Tursonov before things were patched up a short while later. Still, she opened the season with a singles title (part of a 9-1 start) and ended it with one (Elite Trophy), seeing the calendar run out on her once again as her 10-1 finish left her at #11 for a second straight season (after spending 25 weeks in '19 in the Top 10). Her great close included a defense of her Wuhan crown, as well as her first career #1 win (Barty in that event). Looks like I'll find myself in the same to-regret-or-not-to-regret position with the Belarusian come the start of '20 as was the case to start this year.
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?????????!!!Watch out!!!??????

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2019 SLAM SINGLES FINALISTS: (2) S.Williams, and (1 each) Halep, Muguruza, Osaka, Ka.Pliskova, Sabalenka, Svitolina
...Williams *was* the only player to reach more than one slam final. Of the group, Halep and Osaka were joined by Andreescu, Barty, Kvitova and Vondrousova.
2019 SLAM DOUBLES TITLES: (1 each) Babos/Mladenovic, Barty/Vandeweghe, Stosur & *someone* (Sh.Zhang or w/ a last-minute partner), a duo consisting of at least one Czech (Hlavackova, Krejcikova, Siniakova, Strycova, etc.)
...Babos/Mladenovic (RG) and Stosur/Zhang (AO) *did* win majors, as did Strycova (WI w/ Hsieh). The other winning duo was Mertens/Sabalenka (US).
2019 SLAM MIXED DOUBLES TITLES: (1 each) Gaby Dabrowski, Andreja Klepac, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Alona Ostapenko
...Mattek-Sands (US) won, along with Barbora Krejcikova (AO) and Latisha Chan (RG/WI).
2019 IN-SEASON SINGLES #1's: Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber, Elina Svitolina, Serena Williams
...Halep held the top spot for the first four weeks, followed by Naomi Osaka (25 wks.) and season-ending #1 Ash Barty (23 wks. through the end of 2019) trading the top spot back and forth the rest of the way.
2019 IN-SEASON DOUBLES #1's: Timea Babos, Barbora Krejcikova/Katerina Siniakova, Kristina Mladenovic
...three of the four held the #1 ranking. In all by the end of 2019, season-ending #1 Barbora Strycova (22 wks.) will have held the spot all alone for the most weeks, followed by Siniakova (21 solo, 23 combined), Mladenovic (7) and Krejcikova/Siniaokova (2 wks. as co-#1's to open the year).
2019 ROUND OF 16 AT ALL FOUR SLAMS: Caroline Garcia, Angelique Kerber, Aryna Sabalenka, Elina Svitolina, Serena Williams
...the only player to reach the 4th Round at every major was Ash Barty.
2019 QF AT ALL FOUR SLAMS: Elina Svitolina, Serena Williams
...both Svitolina and Williams did so at three majors, tying Johanna Konta for the most on tour.
2019 SINGLES TITLE LEADER: Elina Svitolina
...Barty and Pliskova tied for the top with four titles each.
2019 MATCH WIN LEADER: Angelique Kerber
...Barty led with 57. Kerber had just 28.
Caroline Garcia will record her first career win over a world #1, then later get a second over a DIFFERENT world #1.
...Garcia's biggest win was over #21 Mertens. She was 1-7 vs. Top 10 players. Just three players -- Bencic, Kenin and Mladenovic -- had multiple #1 victories in '19, with only Kenin and Mladenovic having wins over *different* #1's (both def. Osaka and Barty).
Laura Siegemund will reach her first tour level singles final (on clay, of course) since her knee injury, win a tour-level WD title on the surface and have her career best Roland Garros result (3rd Rd.+).
...Siegemund didn't reach a tour singles final (she reached the semis on clay in Bucharest, though). She did win a WTA doubles title (Guangzhou w/ Peng) , but it came on hard court. She posted her best RG result, though it was only a 2nd Round finish (she led Belinda Bencic 6-4/4-2 before ultimately falling in three).
CoCo Vandeweghe will return to the Top 30 and reach a slam quarterfinal, as well as once again be Kathy Rinaldi's "right hand woman" in Fed Cup.
...this prediction will likely be repeated for 2020, as Vandeweghe didn't return from ankle surgery until the summer, missing the Fed Cup season entirely, and only played one slam match in '19. She began to find her game in the fall, reaching a $60K final, back-to-back $80K QF and then a WTA Series 125 final.

Of course, *now* she's got hella company as just the no-longer-the-tour's-only Bannerette CoCo/Coco.

At some point during the season there will be TWO Canadians ranked in the Top 60. On that note, Bianca Andreescu will claim titles in a $100K challenger and WTA 125 Series event; while Genie Bouchard will reach her first tour-level singles final since 2016.
...Bouchard never climbed higher than #72 on the year, but Andreescu cracked the Top 100 in January, the Top 60 in March, the Top 20 in August and Top 5 after winning the U.S. Open. She climbed as high as #4 in October, making her the highest ranked Canadian in tour history.

Andreescu, of course, blasted into the season with a final run in Auckland that included wins over Wozniacki and V.Williams. Aside from a shoulder injury that cost her the clay (save for 1 match) and grass court seasons, she never looked back. She won a Series 125 crown in Week 4, then stunned the tennis world by taking Indian Wells in March. She returned to the tour during the summer and won the Rogers Cup in Toronto, just minutes from her hometown in Mississauga, then completed her remarkable rise by taking the U.S. Open, defeating Serena Williams in the final to extend to career-opening winning streak vs. Top 10 players to eight matches.

At the time of these predictions, after years of touting Andreescu and forecasting good things for her (only to often see them run aground due to injuries), saying she'd be one of the season's Most Improved, would rise from outside the Top 150 to the Top 60 and win 125/$100K titles seemed like a big step. I nearly had her breaking into at least the Top 50, reaching her maiden singles final and a slam Round of 16 (she was just 0-1 in career slam MD matches as '19 began), too, but pulled back at the eleventh hour of the post because of her aforementioned injury history and went the more realistic route. Turned out, even *that* would have been on the conservative side of things. Live and learn, I guess. But I'm glad that I wasn't nearly correct *enough* in this case.

Bouchard made good on my *2018* prediction by winning her maiden WTA *doubles* title in Week 1 in Auckland. But she never really topped that result. She reached a singles QF that week, as well, but never came close to such a result on the tour level again. She reached a 125 Series QF to end the opening month (losing to Andreescu, who'd win the title), but never won more than one match in any tour event all season. From February to November, she lost thirteen straight matches on all levels as her ranking fell outside the Top 200. She finally won in back-to-back outings again in a 125 event in November.

Timea Bacsinszky will return to the Top 20, reach a slam QF and record three Top 10 wins, her first since the spring of 2017 and subsequent hand surgery.
...the former world #9 never cracked the Top 80, and her best slam result was a 3rd Round in Melbourne, where she got her only Top 10 win (vs. Kasatkina, who soon went into a ranking freefall) of the year.
Mihaela Buzarnescu will come within a single match win of reaching the Top 10, but will get no closer. She'll reach a pair of slam QF, record the biggest win of her career (current best: over #4 Svitolina, '17 RG), as well as claim 3+ doubles titles.
...Buzarnescu's high water mark was #25 and she won just one slam MD match. Her season-ending ranking fell from #24 to #109.
Amanda Anisimova will post a match win in a slam over a former #1-ranked player.
...the Bannerette flashed in the majors, upsetting Aryna Sabalenka in Melbourne *and* Paris. At Roland Garros, she *did* get a win over a former #1, taking out defending champ Simona Halep en route to the semifinals in just her fourth appearance in a major MD.

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what a day ?? #semifinals #chills

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Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (career titles: 12) will replace Elina Svitolina as the only player in tour history with 13+ titles but zero slam semifinal results.
...Svitolina's two slam semifinals removed her from the one-woman list of players with 13 titles and no major final four results. Pavlyuchenkova is next in line to head the list, but still needs one more title.
Garbine Muguruza will win 3+ titles in a season for the first time.
...she only won once, in her Monterrey title defense.
Four different Belarusians will reach WTA singles finals, with three winning titles during the season.
...two reached finals, with Sabalenka winning three times (3-1) and Azarenka (0-1) none.
A Top 20 women's singles player will be defaulted from a match.
...still waiting. Maybe this will carry over into 2020.
The Czechs will retain their Fed Cup championship.
...the defending champs lost 3-2 in the 1st Round in a deciding doubles match vs. Romania, with Irina-Camelia Begu & Monica Niculescu topping Barbora Krejcikova & Katerina Siniakova.
Maria Sharapova will claim her first singles title since 2017 -- and biggest since 2015 (Italian Open - Premier 5) -- but will not climb back into the Top 10. She'll finish in the Top 20 for the first time since 2015.
...Sharapova was dogged by injuries all season. Playing just fifteen matches (8-7, with 5 wins coming in her first two events), she appeared in no finals for the second straight season (she'd played in one in four years), reached just one slam Round of 16 (AO, prior to missing RG and going 0-2 at WI/US). She *did* post career Top 10 win #8, in Melbourne over then-#3 Wozniacki. She never got higher than #27 and finished at #136, her worst in seventeen years.
Demi Schuurs will win WTA doubles titles with four different partners.
...after leading the tour with seven WD titles (w/ four partners) in '18, Schuurs won none in '19, going 0-5 in finals with Anna-Lena Groenefeld.
Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic will finally play against each other in a singles match for the first time since the publicly contentious end of their doubles partnership. Garcia will win, while Mladenovic will provide her with a sincerely (that's *key*) gracious greeting at the net. Kiki will then go on to win her first singles title since February 2017 (she's 0-4 in finals since then, and currently 1-7 for her career). #KarmicKiki hard as it was to believe, Garcia and Mladenovic played doubles together (in Fed Cup) *before* they ever met on the court as opponents for the first time since their ugly break-up in early 2017. After being on the same roster during France's February 1st Round tie vs. Belgium (Mladenovic DNP), Kiki's bad karma finally started to go in reverse. She notched her first career #1 win in her next event (Osaka in Dubai), and in April picked up Sascha Bajin as coach.

Soon after, she and Garcia teamed up for the first time in two years to win the deciding doubles in the semifinals to defeat Romania and reach the FC final. Mladenovic, ranked in the #60's at the time, saw an uptick in her results, reaching QF in Istanbul and Rome, where she won the by-now-anticlimactic meeting with Garcia.

Mladenovic won the RG doubles with Timea Babos, then reached WD #1 in June. Her singles improvement continued with QF in Nottingham, Washington and Linz, along with semis in Zhengzhou (where she defeated Garcia again) and Moscow. Having risen into the bottom half of the #30's, Mladenovic surprisingly saw Bajin (his decision) decide to give up his coaching duties. It was clear she wasn't happy about it, but she managed to refrain from the sort of personal attacks that might have accompanied her sore feelings two years ago. Instead, she took things out on her opponents. She and Babos won the WTAF, then Mladenovic starred in the Fed Cup final Down Under, defeating #1 Ash Barty and then teaming again with Garcia (lifting up her game a bit, in fact, after *she'd* been double-bageled by AB) to win a deciding doubles match, giving France the FC crown for the first time since 2003 (and turning back the memories of their DD loss vs. CZE in the '16 final).

Andrea Petkovic will play in her first WTA singles final since February 2015.
...the German somewhat returned to relevence between the lines (she always seems to have it outside them) even as her ranking fell from #64 to #79. Her best result was a SF in Linz, but she had wins over the likes of Kvitova, Goerges, Sh.Zhang, Ostapenko, Riske, Hsieh and Kasatkina, and helped Germany defeat Latvia in the Fed Cup WG Playoffs in April.
Margarita Gasparyan will reach the Top 20 in both singles and doubles, win a pair of tour-level singles titles and advance to at least the QF of a major.
...Gasparyan's top rank during the season was #54 in singles, while she went 1-1 in tour WD finals. She recorded her biggest career win over #7 Svitolina in Birmingham (and had her dead to rights at Wimbledon, too, before being injured). She played in all four majors (a first), posting wins in the AO, WI and US.
Alona Ostapenko will win a slam Mixed Doubles title, and reach a slam Doubles final.
...once again, Ostapenko used doubles to get additional court time in events in which she exited early in singles. She found success, too, reaching finals in Jurmala and Beijing, and recording her best career slam WD results with QF at Roland Garros and the U.S. Open. At Wimbledon, she reached the mixed final (and Robert Lindstedt had the sore head to prove it).
Sloane Stephens will win either Indian Wells or Miami, as well as her first WTA doubles title (quite possibly as part of a sweep of one of the aforementioned tournaments).
...umm, nope. Stephens only played two WD matches all year, and lost them both.
Svetlana Kuznetsova will claim her final WTA singles title.
...Sveta didn't win a title, but she reached a final (Cincinnati) for the sixth straight season. It was the 42nd final (18-24) of her career.
21+ different nations will produce tour-level singles champions, the most since 2012. The list will include the first champion hailing from Slovenia since that same year (P.Hercog - Bastad).
...women from 23 different nations won tour-level singles titles in 2019 (players representing an additional six reached finals but lost).

That list *did* include a champion from Slovenia, as Polona Hercog won in Lugano to become the first woman crowned from that nation since, well, Hercog herself won in Bastad in July '12.

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This feels so special!!! ?????? #3

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A South American girl will reach a slam junior singles final, the first in more than a decade ('08 US: Gabriela Paz/VEN). The last winner from the continent was Maria-Emilia Salerni (ARG) at the 2000 U.S. Open.
...Colombia's Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, a girls semifinalist in Paris, won the U.S. Open junior title.

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Say hello to the future ?? #USOpen

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Vera Zvonareva will return to the WTA Top 75 for the first time since 2012. January, the former world #2 returned to the Top 100 for the first since early 2013. She ranked as high as #76 in February before falling to a season-ending #141.
Wang Qiang will be the first Chinese player ever to win three tour-level singles titles in a season.
...she went title-less.
Venus Williams will be shut out as far as singles titles for the third straight season (a career-worst drought), but will reach her first final since 2017 and play in a slam QF.
...Venus *was* title-less once more, but also didn't play in a final. Her best slam result was a 3rd Round at the AO, as she finished at #53, her worst ranking since 2011 (and the second-worst year-end finish of her long career). During the season, she had her first-ever four-match losing streak, as well as the 2nd (#674 Mattek-Sands/San Jose), 3rd (#313 Coco Gauff/ Wimbledon) and 5th (#152 Andreescu/Auckland) worst rankings defeats of her career.
Ash Barty will be the first player since February 2016 (Lucie Safarova) to be ranked in the WTA Top 10 in both singles and doubles simultaneously during the season.
...the Aussie was the only player to ranked in the Top 10 in both at the same time in 2019, doing so for 23 straight weeks from the end of Miami until the end of the U.S. Open.
After an encouraging start with coach Dimitri Zavialoff, Johanna Konta will be searching for a new coach again before the start of 2020.
...even without a title to her credit, Konta had a truly resurgent season.

The Brit didn't explode out of the gate, though. She was just 8-6 in tour matches through March, but didn't panic and seek change. She starred in Fed Cup, going 6-0 and extending her singles streak in the competition to eleven straight wins. Zavialoff's work to diversify Konta's backcourt game paid big dividends during the clay season, as she had the best success of her career on the surface, reaching her first semis and finals, including her third career slam SF (she's three-quarters of the way to a "Career SF Slam") in Paris. After her 15-4 clay run, she was 7-3 on grass. She slumped (0-2) during the summer hard court season where she once starred, but rebounded with a QF at the U.S. Open before pulling up stakes on her season and not taking part in the 4Q schedule.

In the end, Konta rose from #39 to #12, tying her 2016 career best stat with seven Top 10 wins (though, notably, four came at the expense of Sloane Stephens alone).

So far, so good on Zavialoff sticking around for 2020. But, you know, it's only late November. (Hopefully, Jo won't dwell too long in early December on having won zero titles.)

Elite Trophy champion: Anett Kontaveit
...the Estonian had already ended her season due to illness by the time Zhuhai rolled around. She would have qualified for the field had she been active.
A woman representing Mexico will play a main draw slam singles match (I predict this almost every year, I know. I'll be correct, too... some day.)
...still waiting. But I'll once again re-rack this one for 2020.
2019 WHEELCHAIR SLAMS: Diede de Groot will sweep all four majors to win a four-part singles Grand Slam, becoming the first ever (Esther Vergeer competed when Wimbledon didn't have a singles competition) to do so. She'll also pick up the two titles (AO doubles & RG singles) she needs to become the first player to win all eight slam crowns in a career. In the end, though, she'll come up one slam doubles title short of going 8-for-8 in '19. Groot came within a 7-5 3rd set at Wimbledon of sweeping all four singles WC slams. She *did* collect the only two titles she hadn't won, becoming the first player in wheelchair slam history to claim all eight titles in a career. Upon sweeping both RG titles, de Groot was simultaneously the reigning champ in all eight slam disciplines (a first in the sport's history). She and Aniek Van Koot (who def. her in the Wimbledon singles final) won the Doubles Grand Slam, taking all four majors. So, she *was* 7-of-8 in '19, but it was a singles title that slipped through her fingers.

Yui Kamiji will reach three singles slam finals, and win at least two slam doubles crowns (if she splits her four slam partnerships between de Groot and another player, such as possibly a back-from-having-a-baby Jordanne Whiley late in the year at the U.S. Open, she'll complete a Doubles Grand Slam for the season).
...Kamiji was runner-up to de Groot in Melbourne and Paris. For the first time since 2011, she didn't play in a slam WD final.

Some new deep-in-the-draw blood: Kgothatso Montjane (RSA) will be a surprise slam singles finalist, while Giuliana Capocci (ITA) will reach a semifinal.
...Montjane didn't reach a slam singles final, but she did play in the U.S. Open doubles final alongside Sabine Ellerbrock. Capocci played in the Wimbledon doubles final and climbed as high as #4 in the rankings. The U.S.'s Dana Mathewson reached the U.S. Open singles semis.
2019 NAME GAME: Belgium's Eliessa Vanlangendonck (currently 0-10 in career WS semis, and 1-7 in WD finals) will win her first *TWO* ITF singles titles, and at least three ITF doubles crowns.
...the Waffle failed to reach a challenger singles final, and won one $15K doubles crown.

I was waaaaay off on some things, but correct in many cases (and *close* to being right on on some others... and, yes I'll forever regret that last moment pull-back on my Andreescu picks.)






Coming soon: the final "Ms.Backspin" list and some year-end awards and (in lieu of a *full* yearbook for this season) a recap of Backspin Academy's "Carl Talks" weekend.

All for now.