Forty-four weeks of tennis action and it's come to this... giving a brief thumbnail sketch of a season that had been tasked with belatedly laying down the foundation on which the WTA's future would be built. On that front, 2011 was hardly a "perfect" season. But, in the end, it got the job done.
Thanks to a woman named Petra, that is.
The "greatest season ever" possibilities that caused the 2010 campaign to turn out to be so disappointing were long since forgotten by the time 2011's action kicked off in early January. Without the weight of similar expecations to drag it down, the slate was remarkably clean for the new season. Still, it was imperative that SOMETHING happen over the proceeding eleven months that would set the tour back on course for a productive future, free from the chains of endless discussions about the perceived inadequacies of the WTA's ranking system and the "legitimacy" of the world #1.
Truthfully, things didn't get off to the greatest of starts. Serena Williams wouldn't play until June, and Justine Henin's comeback was cut short so early that it's now easy to forget that she even took the court at all during the '11 season. Her countrywoman Kim Clijsters was great early-on, but injuries soon cut her down to size (and added "dancing at a wedding" to the list of off-court player no-no's to which Serena had added "German restaurant hopping" one year earlier). Li Na became a worldwide star, but then seemed to disappear into the fog. And Venus Williams' health issues made her a barely-there presence, even when she was on the court. With those veterans' absence/ineffectiveness, the door was open for the tour's most criticized star -- Caroline Wozniacki -- to seize the opportunity to shine. But the Dane couldn't do it. Instead, the crown appeared to rest heavier and heavier on the world #1's head and she seemed to begin to fail to see the forest for the trees, becoming more interested in people-pleasing (though, oddly enough, even that "goal" often fell short) press room antics and PDA's with her new famous (and major WINNING) golfing boyfriend rather than actually connecting the dots and acknowledging what everyone else already knew (and told her often) -- that her prime window of opportunity for winning a slam was going to be pretty small unless she made the effort to give her game more tactical options against the slam-contending players with bigger, more aggressive "crunchtime" games than her own. We're still waiting.
But while Wozniacki continued to tread water all season long, her generational counterparts made their moves. 2011 could have devolved into a disaster, but they were there to prevent it. Or should I say that SHE was there?
For, make no (bare?) bones about it, the story of this past season would be lacking quite a bit of "bite" if it hadn't been for Kvitova. While the likes of players named Azarenka, Lisicki, Radwanska and others had what might turn out to be career-changing moments during the past season, none of them rose as high -- nor with as much brute force -- as the 21-year old Czech.
In many respects, 2011 was the Year of Petra, from start to finish. In the end, Kvitova was a champion for all seasons and surfaces, many times leaving opponents and fans breathless while being an asthmatic and sometimes breathless herself. In Week 1, she was champion in the sun of the Australian summer, winning on the hard courts of Brisbane as most of the rest of the world was experiencing the dead of winter. In February, she won indoors in Paris, wiping out Clijsters in the final and sending the Belgian's season down a bad path from which it never wavered. In the springtime, she won on the clay in Madrid, then kicked off her summer by pulverizing Maria Sharapova on the grass in the Wimbledon final. After learning to adapt to her new, slam champion's life, she ducked back under the roof in autumn and won in Linz, then went undefeated in Istanbul to claim the WTA Championships. In Week 44, on the final weekend of the season, she was at it again, leading her Czech teammates to their first Fed Cup title in twenty-three years, and their first ever as an independent nation.
In between her many triumphs, Kvitova's usual boom-or-bust philosophy on the court produced a few hand-wringing moments, for sure. But unlike the handful of other players who have buckled under the pressure of new-found tour success or failed to back up their earlier gains, Kvitova impressively bounced back to dominate once again in the season's closing weeks... while still acknowleding that she has work to do if she's going to be the best player that she should be. She may only be ranked #2 as the season concludes, but that's the type of mindset -- both on and off-court -- the tour NEEDS from a #1-ranked player in the world.
Ah... but for the new "Ms. Backspin," all will come in due time.
Here are the final "Ms. Backspin" rankings for 2011:
1. Petra Kvitova, CZE
..."Petra." Such a simple name. But strong, and direct. "Kvitova." Such an intriguing surname. In the English-speaking world, one doesn't normally see a "k" immediately followed by a "v," but "Kvitova" still manages to roll off the tongue with the same level of conviction with which the Czech goes for her winners. In so many ways, Kvitova showcases the brilliance of contradiction. She's a shy young woman, but her style of game is definitively "in your face." She's shown a killer instinct on the court, but sometimes blushes from too much attention off it. Her array of shots often fire off her racket with such ferociousness that it's scary, but her game can also suddenly spin out of control and be "scary" in an entirely different way. Kvitova's "bad" side essentially cost her the year-end #1 ranking in 2011, as one fewer late-match wildness streak (say vs. Li in Melbourne, or Zvonareva in Tokyo) and she'd have overtaken Wozniacki in the final week of the season. But that was the "price" she paid this season for what was often her brilliance. While 2011 might have been the Year of Petra, Kvitova wasn't as good this season as she CAN be. Not yet. Reigning in her "bad" side, improving her fitness still more, continuing to develop her volley and learning how to better cope with her asthma (especially during the humid North American hard court season) are next on her agenda. But unlike with a certain #1 whose name need not be mentioned, there's no reason to not be confident that she'll find a way to meet some or all of her goals by this time next year because she freely acknowledges -- and craves -- the need to develop her talent still more and not simply be content with her current level of success. THAT is what a real champion SHOULD feel, and when Kvitova becomes the #1 player in the world sometime in 2012, there will no longer be a "credibility gap" for critics to pick apart at the top of the WTA rankings. That said, next season will offer up quite a few NEW obstacles for Kvitova to conquer, starting with an astronomic level of expectation from Day One, and maybe ending with the healthy return of a determined Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters (at least until the Olympics) and the other twentysomethings looking to follow in the Czech's '11 slam-winning footsteps. It won't be an easy go. But I, for one, expect her to find a way to more than hold her own. It's the least one can expect from a reigning "Ms. Backspin," right?
2. Li Na, CHN
...if not for the rise (and crucial, late-season kick) of Kvitova, Li would likely have garnered the latest "Ms. Backspin" honors, as the historical significance of her '11 accomplishments would have outweighed the scattershot nature of her results over the course of the rest of a season in which NO other player(s) really had the sort of results that would make them legitimate Player of the Year contenders. With the looming arrival of the Gang of Billions generation of Chinese players already having been anticipated for a number of years, Li's apperaance in the Australian Open final, then her title run at Roland Garros, secured her place in tennis history as the first great Asian champ. With her series of winning, humor-loaded post-match interviews and trophy ceremonies, Li managed to outdistance the shy Kvitova as the breakout "personality" on the WTA tour this season, but the pressure ulitmately got to the player who'd always had some difficulty maintaining any sort of week-to-week consistency even before she was faced with having the expectations of her many countrymen and countrywomen hoisted pretty much onto solely her shoulders. While, as the years go on, Li's victories will still rise above anything else for her when it comes to remembering her '11 efforts, the lingering be-careful-what-you-wish-for side effects of her success ended up being the #1 topic of discussion when it came to the actual second half of her season. Oh, well. No matter what's happened over the last five months, the soon-to-be 30-year old will always be a champion in the eyes of billions.
3. Liezel Huber, USA
4. Kveta Peschke/Katarina Srebotnik, CZE/SLO
5. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
...if you' re looking for consistency, this is your group of "Ms. Backspin" finalists. Huber finished the season as the #1-ranked doubles player in the world (and will soon pass former partner Cara Black for second place, behind Martina Navratilova, on the career weeks-at-#1 list), won three of the nine highest-level premier events (with two different partners), as well as the U.S. Open and WTA Championships. This is the fifth straight season in which the South African-born American has won at least one slam Doubles or Mixed crown, and the sixth in the last seven. 2011 is Huber's fourth overall year as the season-ending doubles #1, but it's the first season in which she finished alone in the spot, having shared it with Black from 2007-09. Over the course of the season, though, the most award-worthy doubles TEAM was Peschke & Srebotnik. The pair won more titles (6) than any other duo, led the '11 Points Race, and rose in tandem to co-#1 in the doubles rankings as both claimed their first career Women's Doubles slam titles at Wimbledon. Meanwhile, although Wozniacki's hold on the #1 spot in singles seems tenuous (she leads Kvitova by just 115 points), she still managed to stay atop the rankings for all but one week in '11, shared the tour lead for titles (6) with Kvitova, reached two slam SF and once again put up over 60 match wins... actually topping her '10 total, finishing 63-17 a season after a 62-17 campaign allowed her to claim the #1 ranking. It's the first time a woman has had back-to-back #1 seasons since Justine Henin did it in 2006-07.
6. Liezel Huber/Lisa Raymond, USA/USA
7. Samantha Stosur, AUS
8. Czech Fed Cup Team
...Huber and Raymond didn't join together as a loaded-with-experience doubes team to fear until the middle of the season. It might have been a lucky thing for the rest of the doubles teams in action on the tour. After Wimbledon, the American pair claimed four of the six biggest doubles titles available, wrapping up the season by salting away a WTA Championships crown that shot Huber all the way to the #1 in the doubles rankings, and the 38-year old Raymond (the oldest '11 titlist on tour not named Kimiko) into the season-ending Top 5 for the tenth time in her (eventual) Hall of Fame career. Speaking of Raymond, years ago, Stosur first made her mark on tour as her doubles partner. The Aussie has since gone on to put her focus on her singles play. It finally paid off in a (sort of surprising) grand slam title at the U.S. Open. Truth is, a year after her initial slam final run at Roland Garros, Stosur really wasn't having that great of a season until she began to finally put things together late in the summer. But her brilliant run in NYC, which ended with a commanding win over Serena in the final, will forever make 2011 SEEM perfect in Sammy's eyes. With her confidence bolstered, Stosur managed a nice SF run at the WTA Championships, giving rise to a little hope that her Open performance might not necessarily be a once-in-a-career moment in the spotlight. As it should have, this past season came to its rightful conclusion in Moscow when the Czechs -- on the road for the third straight round -- walked off with their first Fed Cup title since 1988, and their first EVER as an independent nation. Naturally, Kvitova led the way, with Peschke & Lucie Hradecka providing the final, decisive point in doubles.
9. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
10. Kim Clijsters, BEL
11. Serena Williams, USA
12. Maria Sharapova, RUS
13. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
...in truth, as far as ranking placements go, this group is sort of interchangeable. A-Rad (who, I admit, just doesn't "feel right" ranked so low) could just as easily be #9 as #13, and vice versa with Azarenka. Meanwhile, Clijsters actually won a slam way back in January, and Serena finished the season ranked #12 on the computer (ahead of the major-winning Belgian, it should be noted) even while not playing a match until June, and then not playing after the U.S. Open. Stuck in the middle is Sharapova, who had the best overall slam results (RU in Wimbledon, SF in Paris) of the group and entered the WTA Championships with a decent shot at season-ending #1. In the end, 2011 was a season of "Almosts" and "What If's" for all five of these women. What if Clijsters had been able to stay healthy? She was the best player in the world in January, and had backed up her '10 U.S. Open and Championships crowns with her first Australian Open title to steal the #1 ranking (albeit for just one week) from Wozniacki. Serena came back after missing 49 weeks of action after her foot injury in a German restaurant last summer, and the series of surgeries and health scares that followed. After knocking off the rust on the grass, she didn't lose a match in the North American hard court season (winning 18 of 18 matches) until she was outclassed by Stosur in the final at Flushing Meadows. If she'd won to go 19-0, a "backdoor" Ms. Backspin honor wouldn't have been out of the question. At times, Sharapova looked like she might be THIS CLOSE to returning to her past glory, only to come up short in multiple deep runs in '11 slams. Azarenka ended up at #3 in the rankings behind only Wozniacki and Kvitova, won three titles and put up career-best huge event results at Wimbledon (SF) and the WTA Championships (RU). Meanwhile, Radwanska -- at least before Kvitova stole the show down the stretch -- was the top player of the 4th Quarter, posting back-to-back high-level Premier titles in Tokyo and Beijing and climbing back into the Top 10 after leaving behind the verbally abusive coaching relationship with her father. If only she'd managed to make the break earlier. If only. Maybe she'll get that chance to live up to her FULL potential in 2012... just like the other women in this group.
14. Roberta Vinci, ITA - 3 singles, 3 doubles titles
15. Marion Bartoli, FRA - 2 titles, RG semifinal
16. Andrea Petkovic, POL - a new Top 10er, only three-time slam quarterfinalist in '11, 1 title
17. Vera Zvonareva, RUS - AO semifinalist, 2 titles
18. Gisela Dulko/Flavia Pennetta, ARG/ITA - won AO
19. Sabine Lisicki, GER - 2 titles, Wimbledon SF
20. Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP - 2 singles, 2 doubles titles
21. Andrea Hlavackova/Lucie Hradecka, CZE/CZE - won RG
22. Iveta Benesova/Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE/CZE - 4 titles as a duo
23. Russian Fed Cup Team - another FC final
24. Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP - 2 singles, 2 doubles titles
25. Katarina Srebotnik, SLO - 1 slam Mixed to go w/ 6 titles with Peschke
HM- Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA - 3 titles
*"Ms. BACKSPIN" WINNERS**
2001 Jennifer Capriati / USA
2002 Serena Williams / USA
2003 Justine Henin-Hardenne / BEL
2004 Maria Sharapova / RUS
2005 Kim Clijsters / BEL
2006 Amelie Mauresmo / FRA
2007 Justine Henin / BEL
2008 Cara Black & Liezel Huber / ZIM-USA
2009 Italian Fed Cup Team
2010 Francesca Schiavone / ITA
2011 Petra Kvitova / CZE
"For me as a person, I'm not feeling different (than) before Wimbledon. But I know people recognize me, and everything around me is a little different... I don't like too much the attention, (but) it's important for the WTA, the tournament and for everybody." - Petra Kvitova
2011 Slam Final Backspins:
Australian Open: Kim, You Doll (Clijsters d. Zvonareva)
Roland Garros: The Woman with the Rose Tattoo (Li d. Schiavone)
Wimbledon: The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship (Kvitova d. Sharapova)
U.S. Open: Slingin' Sammy's Bumpy Road to Brilliance (Stosur d. S.Williams)
*CIRCUIT PLAYERS OF THE YEAR*
1. Casey Dellacqua, AUS
2. Irina-Camelia Begu, ROU
3. Romina Oprandi, ITA
4. Sorana Cirstea, ROU
5. Pauline Parmentier, FRA
6. Iryna Bremond, FRA
7. Reka-Luca Jani, HUN
8. Anastasiya Yakimova, BLR
9. Andrea Benitez, ARG
10. Diana Enache, ROU
1. Lucie Hradecka, CZE
2. Casey Dellacqua/Olivia Rogowska, AUS/AUS
3. Cristina Dinu, ROU
4. Victoria Larriere, FRA
5. Aleksandrina Naydenova, BUL
6. Silvia Soler-Espinova, ESP
7. Elena Baltacha, GBR
8. Mathilde Johansson, FRA
9. Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
10. Jamie Hampton, USA
*ITF UP-&-COMING PLAYERS*
1. Lesia Tsurenko, UKR
2. Paula Ormaechea, ARG
3. Alexandra Cadantu, ROU
4. Vitalia Diatchenko, RUS
5. Alison van Uytvanck, BEL
6. Monica Puig, PUR
7. Yuliana Lizarazo, COL
8. Valeria Savinykh, RUS
9. Yulia Putintseva, RUS
10. Scarlett Werner, GER
1. Bibiane Schoofs, NED
2. Nastassja Burnett, FRA
3. Lyudmyla Kichenok/Nadiya Kichenok, UKR
4. Erika Sema, JPN
5. Yurika Sema, JPN
6. Evelyn Mayr, ITA
7. Julia Mayr, ITA
8. Dinah Pfizenmaier, GER
9. Polina Vinogradova, RUS
10. Luksika Kumkhum, THA
1. Petra Cetkovska, CZE
2. Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN
3. Hsieh Su-Wei, TPE
4. Laura Pous-Tio, ESP
5. Melina Czink, HUN
1. Marina Erakovic, NZL
2. Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN
3. Anna Tatishvili, GEO
4. Eleni Daniilidou, GRE
5. Maria-Fernanda Alves, BRA
*YEARLY ITF POY WINNERS*
2008 Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER
2009 Barbora Zahlavova-Stryova, CZE
2010 Mathilde Johansson, FRA
2011 Casey Dellacqua, AUS
*YEARLY DOUBLES POY WINNERS*
2003 Martina Navratilova, USA
2004 Virginia Ruano Pascual, ESP
2005 Cara Black, ZIM
2006 Lisa Raymond, USA
2007 Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
2008 Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
2009 Nuria Llagostera-Vives/Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP/ESP
2010 Gisela Dulko, ARG
2011 Liezel Huber, USA
*PERFORMANCES OF THE YEAR*
1. Petra Kvitova grabs the tour by the scruff of the neck and wins Wimbledon in dominating fashion, destroying Maria Sharapova in the final to become the youngest SW19 champ since '04 (Sharapova), the first lefty slam winner since '94 (Seles) and the first Czech since '98 (Novotna).
2. Samantha Stosur stretches out a brillian, record-breaking run of results over a two-week span in New York, capturing the longest U.S. Open women's match ever, playing in the longest-ever women's tie-break in a slam, and then outclassing Serena Williams in the final to become the first Aussie woman to claim a slam since 1981 (and first at the Open since '73), not to mention joining Sharapova as the only woman not also named Williams to defeat Serena in a slam final.
3. Reaching back-to-back slam finals in Melbourne and Paris, Li Na becomes "historic" as the first-ever Asian slam finalist, and then champion, as she thrills hundreds of millions back home in China with her play on the court (defeating four Top 10 players at RG), and charms the rest of the world with her winning sense of humor off it.
4. Petra Kvitova remains literally untouchable indoors throughout 2011. Compiling a 21-0 season record under the roof, she claims the Paris Indoors in February, then closes the season by winning Linz and the WTA Championships before leading the Czech team to the Fed Cup title while never having the need to feel the sensation of sunlight on her skin.
5. Queen Chaos saves Serbia's bacon with her own personal Fed Cup Odyssey. In the FC World Group playoffs, Jelena Jankovic wasn't even originally scheduled to play. But, on the final day of the tie, JJ was called into action with Serbia down 2-1 and one match loss away from defeat. After defeating Daniela Hantuchova in 2:47, Jankovic came back later in the day in doubles, as she and Alexandra Krunic came back from a 6-2/5-1 deficit to defeat Hantuchova and Magdalena Rybarikova, saving two match points and winning a 9-7 3rd set in a 3:17 match. All in a day's work... well, 6:04 of it anyway.
6. Kim Clijsters begins 2011 on fire Down Under, winning her first Australian Open title. It's her fourth straight victory in eight career slam final appearances (after having lost her first four early in the decade), and it follows up on her '10 victories at the U.S. Open and WTA Championships to help push her back to the #1 ranking (for one week) for the first time since 2006. Following her win in Melbourne, KC's post-comeback slam match record stood at an astounding 27-2.
7. After splitting off from the coaching relationship she'd always had with her verbally abusive father, Agnieszka Radwanska proceeds to win the three biggest titles of her career in the season's closing months. First, she took Carlsbad. Then, in the 4th Quarter, she claimed back-to-back high-level Premier events in Tokyo and Beijing to climb back into the Top 10 in the rankings.
8. Caroline Wozniacki wins her fourth straight New Haven "Wozniacki Open" title at Yale, takes more pictures with the football team and goes public with her budding romance with Masters golf champ Rory McIlroy.
9. Victoria Azarenka wins on the hard courts of Miami (defeating world #2 Clijsters, #3 Zvonareva and Sharapova), then a week later takes the title on Marbella's red clay. It's only the third time since 2000 -- both previous efforts were by Venus Williams, in 2009 and '10 -- that a woman has won on two different surfaces, on two different continents in back-to-back calendar weeks on the WTA schedule.
10. Back from her 49-week absence, and following her efforts to knock the rust off her game on the grass courts in England, Serena Williams heads to North America and wins all eighteen of the matches she plays on hard courts before losing in the U.S. Open final to Sam Stosur.
11. Maria Sharapova wins the biggest clay title of her career in Rome, and her momentum carries her into the semifinals at Roland Garros and her first post-shoulder surgery slam final at Wimbledon.
12. Francesca Schiavone "colors outside the lines" at the slams in what turned out to be an otherwise disappointing '11 season, as she cobbles together a four-part series of thrilling slam matches -- vs. Kuznetsova at the AO, Pavlyuchenkova at RG, Paszek at SW19 and Scheepers in NYC -- and bucks the odds by returning to the final in Paris in her attempt to defend her '10 Roland Garros crown.
13. Petra Kvitova notches three Top 10 wins -- over Li, Zvonareva and Azarenka -- en route to winning on the clay in Madrid.
14. After literally crumbling in Paris (and being carried off the court), Sabine Lisicki surges back with a vengeance. She wins on the grass at Birmingham (her first title in two years), then rides her wild card entry into the Wimbledon draw to the first slam semifinal appearance of her career.
15. Jelena Dokic wins in Kuala Lumpur, coming back from a set down and facing a 2nd set tie-break three times in five matches. She notches her first Top 5 win and reaches her first final since '03, claiming her first tour singles title since '02, saving two match points in the final.
16. Julia Goerges is the first German to win the Stuttgart title since 1996.
17. Flavia Pennetta defeats the reigning world #1's in both singles (Wozniacki) and doubles (Huber) play in one day of action in Beijing, joining Steffi Graf as the only woman to have done so on a single day in tour history.
18. The more La Trufflette, the better? Twice in 2011, Marion Bartoli was forced to play both her semifinal and final match on the same day due to prior weather cancellations. Both times, in Eastbourne and Osaka, she ended up being crowned the tournament champion.
19. Greta Arn defeats top-seeded Maria Sharapova and defending champ Yanina Wickmayer in Auckland, winning her first tour title since 2007.
20. Caroline Wozniacki wins in Dubai with a rare mix of defense AND offense, taking back the #1 ranking from Kim Clijsters just one week after the Belgian had succeeded her in the top spot. It's the earliest (February) in a WTA season that the Dane has ever won a title in her career.
21. Outdistancing her better-known German counterparts, Angelique Kerber, the world #92, is a shocking semifinalist at the U.S. Open.
22. Lucie Hradecka wins her fifth straight Bad Gastein doubles crown, the longest current title streak on the WTA tour.
23. Dominika Cibulkova finally wins her first tour singles title in Moscow, coming back from a set and 3-1 deficit vs. Vera Zvonareva in the QF, then seeing Kaia Kanepi miss on an easy overhead that would have allowed the Estonian to serve for a straights sets win the final. Cibulkova won the 2nd set, and the rest was history.
24. Chanelle Scheepers wins Guangzhou to become the first South African woman to win a tour singles crown since 2003 (Coetzer).
25. Anabel Medina-Garrigues wins her tenth career title at Estoril, finally allowing her name to "officially" be placed next to Anna Smashnova's as the only two women in WTA history with double-digit singles titles but zero slam quarterfinal results.
1. The Czechs, despite playing all three rounds on the road, win their first Fed Cup title since 1988, and first ever since becoming the independent Czech Republic.
2. Liezel Huber & Lisa Raymond combine to win four of the six biggest tour doubles titles after Wimbledon, including the U.S. Open and the WTA Championships. The success lifts Huber back to the #1 doubles ranking she'd once shared with ex-partner Cara Black.
3. First-time slam doubles championship winning teams -- Dulko/Pennetta in Melbourne, Hradecka/Hlavackova in Paris, and Peschke/Srebotnik in London -- grab the Sisters-less spotlight at the season's first three majors
HM- The Washington Kastles -- with the occasional help of Venus & Serena Williams -- sweep to their second World Team Tennis title in three years, putting together the first-ever undefeated (16-0) season in the league's 36-year history.
1. Ashleigh Barty wins the Wimbledon Girls title to become the first Aussie female to claim a slam junior singles slam since 1998 (Dokic), and the first to win at SW19 since 1980
2. Tunisia's Ons Jabeur, one year after reaching the Roland Garros Girls final, returns to Paris and becomes the first player from her nation to ever win a junior slam championship
3. American Lauren Davis is the "Player of the Offseason" in the weeks preceding the official start of the 2011 season. She wins 20 straight junior matches, claiming the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl titles and winning the U.S.'s Australian Open wild card tournament while compiling a 36-1 overall mark during the stretch. She turns pro at the Australian Open.
4. Belgians (not named Kim, Justine or Yanina) rule! An-Sophie Mestach sweeps the Australian Open singles & doubles Girls titles; while Alison van Uytvanck wins 34 straight junior/ITF matches from February to April.
5. Unseeded Bannerette Grace Min is the surprise U.S. Open Girls champ
1. The "NextGen" (finally) strikes as three twenty-one year olds -- Kvitova, Azarenka & Lisicki -- reach the Wimbledon Ladies semifinals
2. Turning back the WTA clock, Czech women claim singles (Kvitova), doubles (Kveta Peschke) and mixed (Iveta Benesova) titles at SW19
3. Kim Clijsters steals the show AFTER her 3rd Round match in Melbourne, calling out ex-player/Aussie tv commentator Todd Woodbridge during an on-court interview after he'd texted Rennae Stubbs wondering if KC was pregnant again because she "looks grumpy and her boobs are bigger"
HM- After previously going 0-11 in WTA doubles finals in her career, Nathalie Grandin finally lifts her first career tour title in Seoul
*TOP MATCHES OF THE YEAR*
1. Australian Open 4th Rd - Francesca Schiavone d. Kuznetsova
...6-4/1-6/16-14. You want drama? Then call on Francesca. In an Open era slam record 4:44 match, Schiavone saved six match points in the 3:00 3rd set. Ultimately, she won on her own third MP after having overcome a groin injury and a 4-2 deciding set deficit against Kuznetsova, who, for her part, was dealing with blisters on her feet. One year after winning Roland Garros (and taking "Ms. Backspin" honors, of course), Schiavone didn't have the sort of career year that she experienced in 2010. But in the slams, she was a marvel, producing great moments (and matches) at all four of the season's biggest events. None could ever live up to the theatrics of this one, though.
2. Beijing Final - Agnieszka Radwanska d. Andrea Petkovic
...7-5/0-6/6-4. Playing to qualify for the eighth and final spot in the WTA Championships field, A-Rad and Petkovic played LIKE THEY MEANT IT. It shouldn't be the case as often as it is on the WTA tour, but it's sometimes rare that a match is WON by a player's great play rather than LOST by one's less-than-great efforts. That wasn't the case with this match. Here, both left no stone unturned. But, for a while, it looked as if it might not be meant to be, as Petkovic, at 4-3 in the 1st, seemingly re-injured the same knee that had kept her out for eight months in '08, and in which she'd torn her meniscus just before this year's U.S. Open. It turned out to be a false alarm. It was good news for us. In the 1st, Radwanska won with a 20/4 winner-to-error ratio (bettering Petkovic's still-good 25/17). The long opening set battle came back to get to a tired A-Rad (she'd come to Beijing after also reaching -- and winning -- the Tokyo final) in the 2nd, as she lost it at love. But she didn't pack things in. In the 3rd, the pair traded off on four consecutive breaks of serve to start things off. Petkovic held break point for a 5-3 lead, but Radwanska got the tough hold for 4-4, then broke the German to take a 5-4 lead. She closed out the match by utilizing her new, bigger 1st serve. Overall, the two combined for 87 winners. Afterward, even in defeat, Petkovic was nice enough to teach A-Rad her "Petko Dance."
3. Wimbledon Final - Petra Kvitova d. Maria Sharapova
...6-4/6-4. A great match needn't be a competitive, knock-down, drag-out battle from start to finish. Sometimes, a remarkable beating can be just as compelling. The scoreboard may make it look as if this was a close one, but that's really a small tribute to Sharapova's unwillingness to totally give in to the force of Kvitova's thunderously near-perfect game on this day at the All-England Club. With a slew of tennis luminaries in the stands -- from Billie Jean King to Kvitova's idol, Martina Navratilova and the last Czech to win Wimbledon, Jana Novotna -- the 21-year old rose to the occasion much like Sharapova had in winning her first slam at SW19 over Serena Williams in '04. Not giving an inch, not flinching a bit, Kvitova's game soared under the pressure of the moment as Sharapova's cracked enough to never leave the ultimate result in doubt. The first slam winner born in the 1990's, Kvitova might just turn out to be the most successful player of her generation. If so, this is where it will have all started.
4. Wimbledon 2nd Rd - Venus Williams d. Kimiko Date-Krumm
...6-7/6-3/8-6. In the first complete women's match played under the roof at Wimbledon, the 40-year old Date-Krumm put a huge scare into five-time Wimbledon champ Williams. After Venus double-faulted on the first point of the match, perhaps we should have known it'd be a wild one. Williams immediately lost her serve three straight times to fall behind 5-1 as KDK's spins, unorthodox block shots and net rushes first began to take hold of the match's flow. Still, Venus managed to push the set to a tie-break, only to fall behind 6-2 before knotting things at 6-6. On her eighth set point, the Japanese vet finally claimed the opening stanza. In the 3rd, Date-Krumm saved six break points and held for 2-2, but couldn't break away from Williams, who used a big serve to overcome her struggles and stay in the match. In the end, Venus won the final game of the match in a hail of KDK errors... but such an unworthy ending doesn't mar the memory of one of the more fascinating matches of the season.
5. Wimbledon 2nd Rd - Sabine Lisicki d. Li Na
...3-6/6-4/8-6. Lisicki served for the set in the 2nd, only to be broken. She then broke back to take the set in a nine and a half minute game. But it was in the 3rd, from match point down at 3-5, that Lisicki had her "moment" by booming four consecutive 120mph+ serves -- two for aces -- to hold. Li still served for the match at 5-4 and 6-5, but the just-minted Roland Garros champion couldn't close things out. Lisicki won, then rode the wave of momentum to new career heights by reaching the Wimbledon semis while putting together an eleven-match winning streak following her RG collapse against Zvonareva.
6. Australian Open SF - Li Na d. Caroline Wozniacki
...3-6/7-5/6-3. How would both players' seasons have been ultimately altered if this one had turned out differently? Armed with her second berth in a slam final, might Wozniacki have pushed eventual AO champion Kim Clijsters in the final and changed the conversation for HER season? If Li hadn't reached the AO final in January, would SHE have been as prepared to do the same (and better) in Paris in June? As it was, Wozniacki led this one 6-3/4-2, served at 5-4 and held a match point before Li put together three consecutive breaks of serve to surge ahead. In the 3rd set, with her opportunity lost and not seized (yet again), Wozniacki produced zero winners.
7. U.S. Open 3rd Rd - Samantha Stosur d. Nadia Petrova
...Petrova saved four match points -- two in both the 2nd and 3rd sets -- in this non-Ashe night match, but the Aussie advanced after 3:16. Naturally, Stosur went on to win the title. Oh, Nadia. Still star-crossed after all these years.
8. Wimbledon 3rd Rd - Tamira Paszek d. Francesca Schiavone
...3-6/6-4/11-9. In 2008, Schiavone won a 1st Round match at Wimbledon over Paszek with a 10-8 3rd set. Well, three years later, turnabout was fair play for the Austrian. After Schiavone helped set the women's slam mark with a 4:44 match against Kuznetsova in Melbourne, her third '11 slam thriller ended after 3:41, just four minutes short of equaling the Wimbledon women's match length mark.
9. US Open 4th Rd - Caroline Wozniacki d. Svetlana Kuznetsova
...6-7/7-5/6-1. Both players seemed to be looking for way to lose the 1st set: Kuznetsova had a handful of bad overhead errors, but still served for the set at 6-5. Wozniacki led 5-2 in the tie-break, only to see an outbreak of errors (a common theme in her game in the season's closing months) lead to the Russian winning 8-6. Kuznetsova led the match 7-6/4-1, with a point for 5-2. But, from there, Wozniacki cleaned up her game as a tiring Kuznetsova's became more and more sloppy. She ended up with 78 total errors, losing on Wozniacki's 5th match point in the 3:00 contest.
10. Miami QF - Maria Sharapova d. Alexandra Dulgheru
...3-6/7-6/7-6. This was one of Sharapova's gutsiest performances in about three years. Her serve was broken four times in the 1st, she double-faulted on set point and was broken ten times in all. But the Russian pulled off eight breaks of serve of her own and, despite having 75+ errors, battled past midnight -- and a turned ankle at 5-5 in the 3rd set -- to win the deciding tie-break 8-6 after nearly blowing a 6-1 TB lead. The win pushed the Russian's ranking back into the Top 10, and helped to provide a nice kick-off for her great results in the spring and early summer.
11. Australian Open Final - Kim Clijsters d. Li Na
...3-6/6-3/6-3. For the first time in thirty years, two married women faced off in a grand slam final. Down 6-3/3-2, Clijsters' fate didn't look good, and the fact that sixteen of the last seventeen slam finals had been decided in straight sets (and in all seventeen the winner of the opening set went on to win the title) didn't help matters. But KC 2.0 continued to highlight its sharp differences with her pre-retirement career, as she managed to come all the way back to win the title for her second straight slam championship (and third since her un-retirement).
12. Wimbledon 3rd Rd - Marion Bartoli d. Flavia Pennetta
...5-7/6-4/9-7. Anger rules. Bartoli argues with umpire Mariana Alves and her father/coach in the stands (ever ordering her parents to leave their seats!), but charges back from a break down in the 3rd to win on her fourth match point -- a Pennetta double-fault that ended the 3:09 "brawl." In the end, the pair combined for 110 winners.
13. Paris 2nd Rd - Petra Kvitova d. Barbora Zahalvova-Strycova
...6-4/6-7/7-6. In the kick-off event of what would be her 21-0 indoor season, Kvitova saves a match point, and wins the deciding tie-break by an 11-9 score. She would go on to destroy Kim Clijsters in the final, sending both's seasons down totally opposite paths.
14. Australian Open 1st Rd - Ekaterina Makarova d. Ana Ivanovic
...3-6/6-4/10-8. Makarova led 5-4, 40/love on AnaIvo's serve in the 3rd, only to see the Serb save three match points in the game and hold. She saved #4 and #6 at 6-5 and 8-7, only to see the Russian hold on and win on #7 to close out the 1:31 final set.
15. US Open 3rd Rd - Flavia Pennetta d. Maria Sharapova
...6-3/3-6/6-4. In match filled with streaky play, Pennetta raced to a 4-0 lead in the 1st, while Sharapova led 3-0 in the 2nd and Pennetta took her own 3-0 lead in the 3rd (with Sharapova holding game point in all three games). From a 3-1, 40/15 hole in the final set, Sharapova managed to even the set at 4-4. But, down 5-4, she opened the tenth game with back-to-back double-faults and was broken at love. It was the Russian's first three-set loss of the season after having previously gone 12-0 in such matches in 2011.
16. Roland Garros 2nd Rd - Vera Zvonareva d. Sabine Lisicki
...4-6/7-5/7-5. Lisicki served for the match at 6-4/5-4, coming within two points of a straight sets win. In the 3rd, she served at 5-2, and held a match point on Zvonareva's serve one game later. Soon after, Lisicki again came within two points of victory. Slipping emotionally, she called for the trainer to treat cramps, then saw Zvonareva win seven straight points. After her ultimate loss, Lisicki shook Zvonareva's hand and then crumpled to the clay in the changeover area. A sobbing mess, Lisicki was dramatically carried off the court on a stretcher. The postscript, of course, to this quite literal collapse was the German's triumphant post-Paris redemption run to the Wimbledon SF.
17. WTA Championships RR - Caroline Wozniacki d. Agnieszka Radwanska
...5-7/6-2/6-4 In an otherwise disappointing turn in Istanbul, Wozniacki DID manage to produce this overlooked gem in which she defeated the player who'd often looked in the 4th Quarter of '11 like an improved version of the Dane herself. In the 2:30+ match, A-Rad blew a 4-2 lead in the 1st, only to see C-Woz squander her own hard-won 5-4, 40/love advantage and lose the set. It was the first set Radwanska had taken off her friend in four years... but she wouldn't have the pleasure of winning another. After falling behind 4-1 in the 3rd, the Pole scrambled back to put the final result back into question. But it was too little, too late.
18. Hopman Cup Final (Women's Singles) - Justine Henin d. Bethanie Mattek-Sands 7-6/6-4
Australian Open 3rd Round - Svetlana Kuznetsova d. Justine Henin 6-4/7-6
...Henin wasn't around long in 2011, so one has to settle for what she left behind to remember even a little of her forgettable final WTA turn. In Perth, she and Mattek-Sands traded off eight consecutive breaks of serve in the 1st set. Four times, Henin went up a break only to immediately give it back. In the tie-break, she went up a mini-break, then failed to hold her advantage again. Mattek-Sands held two set points at 6-4, only to see Henin's renowned grit allow her to overcome the situation to win the TB 8-6 and close out the 1:09 set. In the 2nd, she grabbed a mid-set break lead and didn't look back. Although, Mattek-Sands and John Isner ended up winning the HC title. In Melbourne, the Player Formerly Known as La Petit Taureau was on full display. Entering with a 16-3 career edge on Kuznetsova, Henin wasn't able to convert a break point until after the Russian had served for the match at 6-4/5-4, 30/15. Henin battled back to get to a set-point in the 2nd set tie-break, but couldn't convert. Kuznetsova won on her fourth match point... and the soon-to-retire-again Henin never played another WTA match. Somehow, I doubt if I'll remember this Henin for very long.
19. Sydney QF - Kim Clijsters d. Alisa Kleybanova
...4-6/6-3/7-6. With a Down Under penchant for coming THIS CLOSE to winning big matches in the past, Kleybanova's history held up in Week 2. Taking two medical time outs for a back injury and blisters one day after a long match against Dominika Cibulkova, the Russian blows a 4-2 3rd set lead, only to surge back to knot things at 4-4, and hold key games for 5-4 and 6-5, before the match went to a deciding tie-break. Clijsters ultimately ran away with it at 7-1.
20. Australian Open QF - Caroline Wozniacki d. Francesca Schiavone
...3-6/6-3/6-3. In a match filled with masterful Schiavone shotmaking, Woznaicki dropped the 1st set after going 0-for-6 in break point opportunities and producing just one total winner. The Italian led 6-3/3-1, but, one round after her historic battle with Kuznetsova (see #1 above), she began to tire. The wheels figuratively came off her game in Game #6 of the 2nd, as she lost her serve at love with four consecutive unforced errors to lose her break lead as a more aggressive Wozniacki claimed the set to tie the match. Down 5-2 in the 3rd, Schiavone saved three match points and earned a break of serve. But it was only a short-lived reprieve.
21. Roland Garros QF - Francesca Schiavone d. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 1-6/7-5/7-5
US Open 3rd Rd - Francesca Schiavone d. Chanelle Scheepers 5-7/7-6/6-3
...in her second '11 slam thriller, Schiavone saw Pavlyuchenkova take a 6-1/4-1 lead. In the 3rd, after nearly squandering a 5-1 lead of her own, the Italian vet took the final two games to secure the match. In her fourth '11 slam thriller, Schiavone saw Scheepers take a 7-5/5-4 lead and hold a match point. But, on break point down, Scheepers double-faulted. Schiavone had her right where she wanted her.
22. Hong Kong (exhibition) Final - Vera Zvonareva d. Caroline Wozniacki
...6-1/6-0. Sure, it was a Week 1 exhibition, but at the time this 58-minute wipeout seemed to hint that C-Woz hadn't spent her offseason wisely when it came to improving her game and entering '11 with a running start. The Dane had some early-season success, but the notion seemed to play out as the season wore on. As it turned out, it was the only -- official or unofficial -- match-up of a #1-ranked player against the #2-ranked player all season long.
23. Fed Cup 1st Rd Match #2 - Flavia Pennetta/ITA d. Samantha Stosur/AUS
...7-6/6-7/6-4. Pennetta ends Italy streak of sixteen consecutive Fed Cup losses to Australia, coming back from a 5-3 deficit in the 1st set. Italy ultimately won 4-1, but it would be the two-time defending FC champion Italian team's only World Group highlight in 2011.
24. Roland Garros Final - Li Na d. Francesca Schiavone
...6-4/7-6. At 29 and 30, respectively, Li and Schiavone combined for the fifth-oldest slam final ever, and the oldest since the 1998 Wimbledon (Novotna/Tauziat). With her historic win, Li became the fourth-oldest first-time slam champ ever (after Schiavone had become the oldest at RG in '10).
25. Rome 1st Rd - Greta Arn d. Svetlana Kuznetsova
...3-6/7-6/7-6. In 3:22, the Hungarian veteran saves four match points en route to victory. At age 32, she finishes the season with a best-ever year-end career ranking of #64.
HM- New Haven 1st Rd - Elena Vesnina d. Jelena Jankovic
...6-4/2-6/6-4. Come now, how could I do a "Best Match" list without squeezing in that JJ (who else?) was on the court in Connecticut when that super-rare 5.8 earthquake hit the U.S. East Coast (and shook Backspin HQ). The stadium was evacuation, and there was a two-hour delay before Vesnina and Queen Chaos returned to the court.
Victoria Azarenka served down 1-6/3-5, love/40 against Serena Williams in their 3rd Round U.S. Open match. She saved three match points in the game, then a fourth on Williams' serve. She then broke Serena's serve with a block-back winner to become the first to break the American's serve in the tournament. After saving break points in game #12, Azarenka pushed the set to a tie-break. Williams won it 7-5, but Azarenka proved herself worthy of the day's stage... as well as possibly the one reserved for a future grand slam champion.
In their Round of 16 U.S. Open match, Samantha Stosur and Maria Kirilenko did battle in a (women's slam record) 32-point tie-break to decide the 2nd set. Stosur held five match points during the TB, while Kirilenko took six set points (and three successful replay challenges) to finally win it 17-15. On her eighth match point, though, Stosur finally won the match -- and, later, the tournament -- in three.
1. Roland Garros 4th Rd - Francesca Schiavone d. Jelena Jankovic 6-3/2-6/6-4
Cincinnati 3rd Rd - Jelena Jankovic d. Francesca Schiavone 6-3/5-7/6-4
...how could these two NOT produce interesting matches? In Paris, they battled for over 2:30. In Cincy, JJ served for a straight sets win and held match point, only to see Schiavone force a 3rd. JJ went up 5-1 in the decider, but had to hold on to win the 2:38 match that included "the usual" -- calls for trainers, along with displeasure with coaches, the umpire and whatever else came to mind.
2. The BoJo/U-Rad Trilogy
...in the middle of the season, Bojana Jovanovski and Urszula Radwanska took part in a compelling trilogy of matches in back-to-back-to-back events stretching across the globe. They met in Doha qualifying, with BoJo coming back from a set down to win in a 13-11 3rd set tie-break. In Kuala Lumpur, the Serb came back from a set down to win once again. Then, in Indian Wells, Radwanska showed that SHE could play that game, too, coming back from a set down herself to win in 2:50, preventing a BoJo sweep by taking the 3rd set tie-break by an 8-6 score.
3. College Park QF - Tamira Paszek d. Stephanie Dubois 5-7/6-4/7-6
...Paszek played in two of the three longest matches on tour this year (for that matter, so did Schiavone). This one lasted 3:42.
**RANKINGS NOTES OF NOTE**
[as of end-of-season ranks on November 7]
In 2009, Kim Clijsters finished at #18 after playing just four events. In 2010, Justine Henin finished #12 despite missing the final half of the season. There were no similarly ranking-busting cameos in 2011, but Serena Williams managed to overcome her nearly year-long absence to climb to #12 with just thirteen events, while AO champ Clijsters again made the most out of a small number of appearances, winding up the year at #13 while playing in just fourteen tournaments. The next highest-ranked player with so few apperances as Serena's thirteen clocked in at #103 with just eleven events. Her name? Umm, well, Venus. Somehow, they almost always end up in the same sentence, don't they?
Once again, South American women's tennis lagged far behind their counterparts on the ATP. While five men from the continent finished in the Top 50 in 2008, no women did. In 2009, the ratio was 6:1, and in '10 it was 4:1. In both of those years, Gisela Dulko (#37 in '09, and #49 a year later) was the sole South American woman to be ranked so high. In 2011, though, Dulko's singles play slumped and she finished at #68, as the continent was once again shut out of the Top 50. The next-highest was Dulko's countrywoman Paula Ormaechea, all the way down at #187. In the same week that the South American women failed to rank at such a level on the WTA computers, four of their male counterparts managed to do so (and eleven men from the continent were positioned in the Top 100 compared to just Dulko for the women).
A slew of big (well, some were big-"ish") names fell out of the Top 50 over the last year. Amongst them, most largely because of illness/injury, were Dulko, Venus Williams, Aravane Rezai, Alona Bondarenko, Agnes Szavay, Kimiko Date-Krumm, and Yaroslava Shvedova. Meanwhile, 2010 Top 50ers Elena Dementieva, Justine Henin, Patty Schnyder, Tathiana Garbin and Sybille Bammer all retired. On the other side of the equation, the Top 50 welcomed back the likes of returnees Sabine Lisicki, Peng Shuai, Anabel Medina-Garrigues and Tamira Paszek, the latter of which finished in the top half of the Hot 100 for the first time since 2007.
While a throng of women -- amongst them being Jelena Dokic, Virginie Razzano, Magdalena Rybarikova, Kateryna Bondarenko, Sania Mirza, Anne Keothavong, Marina Erakovic, Eleni Daniilidou and Galina Voskoboeva -- all saw their fortunes turn and enable them to return to the Top 100 in 2011, the worm turned the other way for many other "name" players, including no-longer-Top-100ers Dinara Safina, Melanie Oudin and new Russian political candidate Anna Chakvetadze. #85 Razzano had missed out on a Top 100 finish in 2010 after having previously done so for nine straight years, while #129 Safina, whose back injury may prevent her from ever playing again, hasn't ended a year ranked outside the Top 100 since 2001.
#97 Sloane Stephens, 18, is the youngest player in the Top 100 (last year it was Bojana Jovanovski, who is still the fourth-youngest behind Stephens, Heather Watson and Christina McHale, the latter of which is the youngest Top 50er). #131 Laura Robson, 17, is the youngest player in the Top 200, an honor held last year by Zarina Diyas, who fell to #223 in 2011. In 2008-09, Michelle Larcher de Brito was the youngest Top 200er before finishing at # 205 a season ago. Up to #173 at the end of 2011, 18-year old Larcher de Brito is back as the sixth-youngest player in the Top 200. Naturally, 41-year old Kimiko Date-Krumm (#100) is once again the oldest in the Top 10, but her fall from in side of the Top 50 leaves #11 Francesca Schiavone, 31, as the new most senior player there.
*YOUNGEST PLAYER - end of '11 season*
18...Sloane Stephens, USA (born March 20, 1993)
19...Heather Watson, GBR (born May 19, 1992)
19...Christina McHale, USA (born May 11, 1992)
19...Bojana Jovanovski, SRB (born Dec.31, 1991)
20...Simona Halep, ROU (born Sept.27, 1991)
20...Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS (born July 3, 1991)
20...Ksenia Pervak, RUS (born May 27, 1991)
20...Polona Hercog, SLO (born Jan.20, 1991)
20...Petra Martic, CRO (born Jan.19, 1991)
17...Laura Robson, GBR (born January 12, 1994)
18...Caroline Garcia, FRA (born October 16, 1993)
18...Kristina Mladenovic, FRA (born May 14, 1993)
18...Timea Babos, HUN (born May 10, 1993)
18...Ajla Tomljanovic, CRO (born May 7, 1993)
18...Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR (born January 29, 1993)
19...Paula Ormaechea, ARG (born September 28, 1992)
19...Chichi Scholl, USA (born July 5, 1992)
19...Elena Bogdan, ROU (born March 28, 1992)
19...Karolina Pliskova, ROU (born March 21, 1992)
19...Kristyna Pliskova, ROU (born March 21, 1992)
19...Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino, ESP (born March 20, 1992)
*OLDEST PLAYER - end of '11 season*
41...Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN (born September 28, 1970)
32...Greta Arn, HUN (born April 13, 1979)
31...Alberta Brianti, ITA (born April 5,1980)
31...Francesca Schiavone, ITA (born June 23, 1980)
30...Lourdes Dominguez-Lino, ESP (born March 31, 1981)
30...Serena Williams, USA (born September 26, 1981)
30...Kristina Barrois, GER (born September 30, 1981)
29...Klara Zakopalova, CZE (born February 24, 1982)
29...Flavia Pennetta, ITA (born February 25, 1982)
29...Li Na, CHN (born February 26, 1982)
37...Jill Craybas, USA (born July 4, 1974)
34...Tamarine Tanasugarn, THA (born May 24, 1977)
31...Nuria Llagostera-Vives, ESP (born May 16, 1980)
31...Venus Williams, USA (born June 17, 1980)
30...Stephanie Foretz-Gacon, FRA (born May 3, 1981)
30...Rika Fujiwara, JPN (born September 19, 1981)
29...Mirjana Lucic, CRO (born March 9, 1982)
29...Marie Eve Pelletier, CAN (born March 21, 1982)
29...Anastasia Rodionova, AUS (born May 12, 1982)
29...Anna Floris, ITA (born May 15, 1982)
Only four of 2010's Top 10 finished there again in 2011: Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka, Samantha Stosur and Vera Zvonareva. Only three were also repeats from '09 (Wozniacki, Azarenka & Zvonareva), while Zvonareva is the only woman who has finished in the Top 10 for the last four years. Meanwhile, the players who fell from the '10 Top 10 consist of a virtual "who's who" of former #1's, slam champs or Olympic Gold medalists -- Kim Clijsters (#3 to #13), Serena Williams (#4 to #12), Venus Williams (#5 to #103), Francesca Schiavone (#7 to #11), Jelena Jankovic (#8 to #14) and Elena Dementieva (#9 - retired). Of the current Top 10ers, Petra Kvitova (#34 to #2), Maria Sharapova (#18 to #4), Li Na (#11 to #5), Agnieszka Radwanska (#14 to #8), Marion Bartoli (#16 to #9) and Andrea Petkovic (#32 to #10) were the six season-ending newcomers.
Nadia Petrova won a title in College Park to grab her first tour singles crown since 2008, but her year-end ranking fell from #15 to #29. Meanwhile, while vets Flavia Pennetta and Svetlana Kuznetsova are perceived to have had far less impact on the WTA season in '11 than in previous seasons, but both managed to actually RAISE their rankings over the past twelve months. Pennetta went from #24 to #20, while Kuznetsova climbed to #19 from #27.
Are the rich finally finally to get richer in the WTA? In 2007, there were fifteen Russians in the Top 100. At the end of 2008, there were fifteen. At the end of 2009, there were fifteen again. 2010 saw sixteen finish in the Top 100. This year there were only twelve. Eleven of the dozen are repeats from a season ago, with Evgeniya Rodina the only newcomer. While six Hordettes finished in the Top 20 in 2009, then five did in 2010, only four were present in the year-end rankings this time around (ala, poor Elena Dementieva, a fifth could have been you). And while there were four in the Top 10 (three in the Top 5!) two seasons, there were but two the past couple of years. Additionally, the seven tour singles titles won by Russians in '11 is the lowest single season total for the Hordettes since 2002.
Once again, the Czech Republic is second behind Russia with the most players in the Top 100 with seven. A year, #33-ranked Lucie Safarova was the highest-ranked Maiden, while three Czechs -- Kvitova, Safarova & Petra Cetkovska -- finished ranked higher than that in 2011.
Marion Bartoli's twenty-nine events (no wonder she has so many injuries!) are the most by any player ranked in the Top 20 (next were Peng Shuai's twenty-three, as the always-overscheduled Caroline Wozniacki managed to fall into a seven-way tie for third with twenty-two). #47 Ayumi Morita and #44 Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova were the only other Top 100 players who matched Bartoli's twenty-nine, while #171 Julia Cohen's whopping forty events led the players in the Top 200. The American also led all players in the group last year (w/ 36).
At the end of 2009, twelve players rose into the Top 50 after having finished the previous year ranked outside the Top 100. Last year, only two did it. In 2011, six made the big leap: #15 Sabine Lisicki, #31 Petra Cetkovska, #38 Chanelle Scheepers, #40 Irina-Camelia Begu, #42 Christina McHale and #49 Petra Martic.
Stephanie Foretz-Gacon is the player with her nose pressed up against the Top 100 glass, finishing #101. A year ago, it was current #63 Rebecca Marino. In 2009, Monica Niculescu lived just outside the fence. Two years afterward, the Romanian is up to #30.
[based on November 7 end-of-season WTA rankings]
*TOP 20 BY AGE*
[at of end of 2011]
*TOP 20 BY NATION*
4...RUS (Kuznetsova, Pavlyuchenkova, Sharapova, Zvonareva)
2...CHN (Li, Peng)
2...GER (Lisicki, Petkovic)
2...ITA (Pennetta, Schiavone)
*TOP 20 BY CAREER TITLES*
*TOP 100 FACTS*
HIGHEST-RANKED PLAYER WITHOUT A CAREER WTA SINGLES TITLE: #17 Peng Shuai, CHN
*TOP 50 PLAYERS WITHOUT TITLES*
#30 Monica Niculescu, ROU
#31 Petra Cetkovska, CZE
#32 Angelique Kerber, GER
#40 Irina-Camelia Begu, ROU
#42 Christina McHale, USA
#46 Tsvetana Pironkova, BUL
#47 Ayumi Morita, JPN
#49 Petra Martic, CRO
#50 Elena Baltacha, GBR
NEW PLAYERS IN THE TOP 100 (since end of '10 season): 31
2010 newbies: 23
2009 newbies: 28
2008 newbies: 34
2007 newbies: 33
HIGHEST-RANKED TOP 100 NEWBIES ('10 rank):
#15 Sabine Lisicki, GER (#179)
#31 Petra Cetkovska, CZE (#142)
#38 Chanelle Scheepers, RSA (#107)
#40 Irina-Camelia Begu, ROU (#214)
#42 Christina McHale, USA (#115)
#49 Petra Martic, CRO (#114)
#51 Lucie Hradecka, CZE (#111)
#58 Galina Voskoboeva, KAZ (#528)
#61 Marina Erakovic, NZL (#324)
#62 Anastasiya Yakimova, BLR (#121)
*SMALLEST 2010-to-2011 RANKING CHANGES IN TOP 100*
0...Caroline Wozniacki (1/1)
0...Samantha Stosur (6/6)
0...Klara Zakopalova (41/41)
0...Patricia Mayr-Achleitner (99/99)
1...Carla Suarez-Navarro (57/56)
2...Sara Errani (43/45)
2...Ekaterina Makarova (50/52)
*COMEBACK RANKINGS OF NOTE*
#15 Sabine Lisicki, GER
#27 Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP
#43 Tamira Paszek, AUT
#58 Galina Voskoboeva, KAZ
#60 Sorana Cirstea, ROU
#61 Marina Erakovic, NZL
#64 Greta Arn, HUN
#66 Jelena Dokic, AUS
#73 Anne Keothavong, GBR
#81 Kateryna Bondarenko, UKR
#87 Anna Tatishvili, GEO
#88 Sania Mirza, IND
#90 Eleni Daniilidou, GRE
#116 Mirjana Lucic, CRO
#156 Casey Dellacqua, AUS
#157 Marta Domachowska, POL
#186 Rika Fujiwara, JPN
#220 Olga Puchkova, RUS
*NextGen RANKINGS OF NOTE*
#16 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
#30 Monica Niculescu, ROU
#39 Ksenia Pervak, RUS
#40 Irina-Camelia Begu, ROU
#42 Christina McHale, USA
#47 Ayumi Morita, JPN
#53 Simona Halep, ROU
#63 Rebecca Marino, CAN
#65 Bojana Jovanovski, SRB
#80 Irina Falconi, USA
#84 Arantxa Rus, NED
#92 Heather Watson, GBR
#93 Evgeniya Rodina, RUS
#96 Alexandra Cadantu, ROU
#95 Iryna Bremond, FRA
#97 Sloane Stephens, USA
#120 Lesia Tsurenko, UKR
#123 Anastasia Pivovarova, RUS
#125 Vitalia Diatchenko, RUS
#126 Zhang Shuai, CHN
#127 Coco Vandeweghe, USA
#131 Laura Robson, GBR
#135 Alison Riske, USA
#139 Melanie Oudin, USA
#142 Chang Kai-Chen, TPE
#144 Kurumi Nara, JPN
#145 Ajla Tomljanovic, CRO
#146 Caroline Garcia, FRA
#151 Alexa Glatch, USA
#153 Timea Babos, HUN
#159 Karolina Pliskova, CZE
#166 Sharon Fichman, CAN
#167 Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino, ESP
#169 Chichi Scholl, USA
#173 Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR
#178 Olivia Rogowska, AUS
#179 Kristyna Pliskova, CZE
#183 Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
#185 Noppawan Lertcheewakarn, THA
#187 Paula Ormaechea, ARG
#189 Isabella Holland, AUS
#190 Mariana Duque-Marino, COL
#192 Madison Brengle, USA
#198 Elena Bogdan, ROU
#208 Tamaryn Hendler, BEL
#209 Chanel Simmonds, RSA
#210 Ashley Weinhold, USA
#219 Sachie Ishizu, JPN
#223 Zarina Diyas, KAZ
#228 Monica Puig, PUR
#237 Verona Cepede Royg, PAR
#241 Yulia Putintseva, RUS
#255 Sally Peers, AUS
#257 Nastja Kolar, SLO
#269 Elina Svitolina, UKR
#276 Zheng Saisai, CHN
#297 Alison van Uytvanck, BEL
#302 Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
#305 Johanna Konta, AUS
#315 Madison Keys, USA
#319 Lauren Davis, USA
#321 Bianca Botto, PER
#342 Yana Buchina, RUS
#359 Gabriela Dabrowski, CAN
#383 Daria Gavrilova, RUS
#402 Irina Khromacheva, RUS
#414 Grace Min, USA
#428 Taylor Townsend, USA
#446 Krista Hardabeck, USA
#512 Victoria Kan, RUS
#517 Allie Will, USA
#599 Gabriela Paz, VEN
#573 Anett Kontaveit, EST
#12 Serena Williams, #103 Venus Williams (USA)
#8 Agnieszka Radwanska, #109 Urszula Radwanska (POL)
#81 Kateryna Bondarenko, #253 Alona Bondarenko (UKR)
#108 Anastasia Rodionova, #238 Arina Rodionova (AUS/RUS)
#121 Erika Sema, #168 Yurika Sema (JPN)
#159 Karolina Pliskova, #179 Kristyna Pliskova (CZE)
#182 Zuzana Kucova, #205 Kristina Kucova (SVK)
#200 Olga Ianchuk, #358 Elizaveta Ianchuk (UKR)
#363 Lyudmyla Kichenok, #491 Nadija Kichenok (UKR)
#404 Evelyn Mayr, #465 Julia Mayr (ITA)
#586 Hulya Esen, #1145 Lutifiye Esen (TUR)
*TOP 100 BY NATION*
(w/ # in 2010)
7...Czech Republic (8)
6...United States (7)
3...Great Britain (1)
3...Slovak Republic (2)
1...New Zealand (0)
1...South Africa (0)
2010 TOP 100, NONE in 2011: Switzerland, Thailand, Uzbekistan
#4 Maria Sharapova
#7 Vera Zvonareva
#16 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
#19 Svetlana Kuznetsova
#28 Maria Kirilenko
#29 Nadia Petrova
#39 Ksenia Pervak
#52 Ekaterina Makarova
#57 Elena Vesnina
#69 Alisa Kleybanova
#1 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
#2 Petra Kvitova, CZE
#3 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
#8 Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
#9 Marion Bartoli, FRA
#10 Andrea Petkovic, GER
#11 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
#13 Kim Clijsters, BEL
#14 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
#15 Sabine Lisicki, GER
#5 Li Na, CHN
#6 Samantha Stosur, AUS
#17 Peng Shuai, CHN
#33 Jarmila Gajdosova, AUS
#47 Ayumi Morita, JPN
#48 Zheng Jie, CHN
#58 Galina Voskoboeva, KAZ
#61 Marina Erakovic, NZL
#66 Jelena Dokic, AUS
#88 Sania Mirza, IND
#68 Gisela Dulko, ARG
#187 Paula Ormaechea, ARG
#190 Mariana Duque-Marino, COL
#193 Florencia Molinero, ARG
#237 Veronica Cepede Royg, PAR
#251 Catalina Castano, COL
#259 Maria Fernanda Alvarez Teran, BOL
#268 Andrea Koch-Benvenuto, CHI
#282 Vivian Segnini, BRA
#304 Roxane Vaisemberg, BRA
#310 Maria Irigoyen, ARG
#12 Serena Williams
#42 Christina McHale
#55 Bethanie Mattek-Sands
#76 Vania King
#80 Irina Falconi
#97 Sloane Stephens
#103 Venus Williams
#110 Varvara Lepchenko
#127 Coco Vandeweghe
#135 Alison Riske
==NON-U.S. NORTH AMERICA/ATLANTIC==
#63 Rebecca Marino, CAN
#98 Stephanie Dubois, CAN
#105 Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN
#166 Sharon Fichman, CAN
#228 Monica Puig, PUR
#283 Heidi El Tabakh, CAN
#302 Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
#316 Marie Eve Pelletier, CAN
#359 Gabriela Dabrowski, CAN
#436 Ximena Hermoso, MEX
#37 Shahar Peer, ISR
#38 Chanelle Scheepers, RSA
#165 Julia Glushko, ISR
#197 Cagla Buyukakcay, TUR
#209 Chanel Simmonds, RSA
#289 Pemra Ozgen, TUR
#333 Nadia Lalami, MAR
#437 Keren Shlomo, ISR
#499 Melis Sezer, TUR
#524 Deniz Khazaniuk, ISR
#1 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
#59 Johanna Larsson, SWE
#78 Sofia Arvidsson, SWE
#370 Piia Suomalainen, FIN
#495 Emma Laine, FIN
#525 Ulrikke Eikeri, NOR
#5 Li Na
#17 Peng Shuai
#48 Zheng Jie
#126 Zhang Shuai
#214 Lu Jing-jing
#270 Wang Qiang
#276 Zheng Saisai
#313 Xu Yi-Fan
#323 Zhao Yi-Jing
#328 Han Xinyun
#329 Hu Yue-Yue
#30 Monica Niculescu
#40 Irina-Camelia Begu
#53 Simona Halep
#60 Sorana Cirstea
#70 Alexandra Dulgheru
#96 Alexandra Cadantu
#124 Edina Gallovits-Hall
#155 Mihaela Buzarnescu
#181 Madalina Gojnea
#198 Elena Bogdan
#2 Petra Kvitova
#25 Lucie Safarova
#31 Petra Cetkovska
#41 Klara Zakopalova
#44 Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova
#51 Lucie Hradecka
#54 Iveta Benesova
#102 Eva Birnerova
#112 Andrea Hlavackova
#154 Sandra Zahlavova
#10 Andrea Petkovic
#15 Sabine Lisicki
#21 Julia Goerges
#32 Angelique Kerber
#67 Mona Barthel
#141 Kathrin Woerle
#191 Tatjana Malek
#204 Sarah Gronert
#234 Annika Beck
#243 Laura Siegemund
#6 Samantha Stosur
#33 Jarmila Groth
#66 Jelena Dokic
#108 Anastasia Rodionova
#156 Caey Dellacqua
#178 Olivia Rogowska
#189 Isabella Holland
#255 Sally Peers
#278 Sophie Ferguson
#284 Monique Adamczak
#9 Marion Bartoli
#74 Pauline Parmentier
#77 Mathilde Johansson
#85 Virginie Razzano
#89 Alize Cornet
#95 Iryna Bremond
#101 Stephanie Foretz-Gacon
#113 Aravane Rezai
#146 Caroline Garcia
#170 Claire Feuerstein
#50 Elena Baltacha
#73 Anne Keothavong
#92 Heather Watson
#131 Laura Robson
#201 Naomi Broady
#240 Emily Webley-Smith
#299 Melanie South
#332 Tara Moore
#357 Katie O'Brien
#415 Anna Fitzpatrick
#81 Kateryna Bondarenko
#120 Lesia Tsurenko
#134 Tetiana Luzhanska
#174 Mariya Koryttseva
#199 Yuliya Beygelzimer
#200 Olga Savchuk
#252 Veronika Kapshay
#253 Alona Bondarenko
#258 Irina Buryachok
#262 Tetyana Arefyeva
#269 Elina Svitolina
#47 Ayumi Morita
#100 Kimiko Date-Krumm
#106 Misaki Doi
#121 Erika Sema
#144 Kurumi Nara
#168 Yurika Sema
#186 Rika Fujiwara
#196 Junri Namigata
#219 Sachie Ishizu
#229 Aiko Nakamura
#14 Jelena Jankovic
#22 Ana Ivanovic
#65 Bojana Jovanovski
#226 Aleksandra Krunic
#355 Doroteja Eric
#13 Kim Clijsters
#26 Yanina Wickmayer
#194 Kirsten Flipkens
#208 Tamaryn Hendler
#297 Alison van Uytvanck
#58 Galina Voskoboeva
#175 Sessil Karatantcheva
#206 Yaroslava Shvedova
#223 Zarina Diyas
#726 Kamila Kerimbayeva
*RUSSIAN RESULTS ON THE WTA TOUR*
2001....0 titles, 3 RU, 6 SF
2002....6 titles, 8 RU, 11 SF
2003...11 titles, 4 RU, 20 SF
2004...15 titles, 18 RU, 30 SF
2005....9 titles, 8 RU, 36 SF
2006...19 titles, 15 RU, 30 SF
2007...12 titles, 15 RU, 26 SF
2008...18 titles, 20 RU, 21 SF
2009...13 titles, 13 RU, 19 SF
2010...13 titles, 16 RU, 14 SF
2011...7 titles, 7 RU, 18 SF
*BIGGEST RISES IN THE RANKINGS*
=end of '10 to end of '11=
[in 2011 Top 25]
+164...Sabine Lisicki (#179 to #15)
+55...Peng Shuai (#72 to #17)
+32...Petra Kvitova (#34 to #2)
+22...Andrea Petkovic (#32 to #10)
+19...Julia Goerges (#40 to #21)
+15...Roberta Vinci (#38 to #23)
+14...Maria Sharapova (#18 to #4)
+13...Dominika Cibulkova (#31 to #18)
[2011 Top 26-50]
+174...Irina-Camelia Begu (#214 to #40
+111...Petra Cetkovska (#142 to #31)
+73...Christina McHale (#115 to #42)
+69...Chanelle Scheppers (#107 to #38)
+65...Petra Martic (#114 to #49)
+58...Ksenia Pervak (#97 to #39)
+53...Monica Niculescu (#83 to #30)
+47...Tamira Paszek (#90 to #43)
+46...Anabel Medina-Garrigues (#73 to #27)
[2011 Top 51-100]
+470...Galina Voskoboeva (#528 to #58)
+282...Alexandra Cadantu (#378 to #96)
+263...Marina Erakovic (#324 to #61)
+141...Mona Barthel (#208 to #67)
+137...Irina Falconi (#217 to #80)
+123...Iryna Bremond (#218 to #95)
+101...Sloane Stephens (#198 to#97)
+88...Silvia Soler-Espinosa (#170 to #82)
+84...Heather Watson (#176 to #92)
+78...Sania Mirza (#166 to #88)
+77...Eleni Daniilidou (#167 to #90)
*BIGGEST FALLS IN THE RANKINGS*
=end of '10 to end of '11=
[2010 Top 25]
-98...Venus Williams (#5 to #103)
-94...Aravane Rezai (#19 to #113)
-44...Alisa Kleybanova (#25 to #69)
-24...Shahar Peer (#13 to #37)
-14...Nadia Petrova (#15 to #29)
RETIRED: #9 Elena Dementieva, #12 Justine Henin
[2010 Top 26-50]
-219...Agnes Szavay (#37 to #256)
-217...Alona Bondarenko (#36 to #253)
-191...Timea Bacsinszky (#51 to #242)
-174...Anna Chakvetadze (#56 to #230)
-167...Yaroslava Shvedova (#39 to #206)
-54...Kimiko Date-Krumm (#46 to #100)
RETIRED: #44 Patty Schnyder
[2010 Top 51-100]
-717...Karolina Sprem (#96 to #813)
-117...Kirsten Flipkens (#77 to #194)
-99...Edina Gallovits-Hall (#75 to #174)
-81...Renata Voracova (#82 to #163)
-74...Melanie Oudin (#65 to #139)
-67...Dinara Safina (#62 to #129)
-65...Sandra Zahlavova (#89 to #154)
-64...Tamarine Tanasugarn (#58 to #122)
-54...Arantxa Parra-Santonja (#64 to #118)
RETIRED: #70 Sybille Bammer, #87 Tatiana Garbin
*SINGLES & DOUBLES*
=TOP 25 IN BOTH (5)=
Victoria Azarenka (#3, #12)
Agnieszka Radwanska (#8, #16)
Peng Shuai (#17, #25)
Flavia Pennetta (#20, #8)
Daniela Hantuchova (#24, #18)
=TOP 50 IN BOTH (+13)=
Samantha Stosur (#6, #33)
Sabine Lisicki (#15, #45)
Julia Goerges (#21, #40)
Roberta Vinci (#23, #26)
Anabel Medina-Garrigues (#27, #30)
Maria Kirilenko (#28, #7)
Nadia Petrova (#29, #13)
Monica Niculescu (#30, #50)
Jarmila Gajdosova (#33, #41)
Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez (#35, #21)
Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova (#44, #22)
Sara Errani (#45, #27)
Zheng Jie (#48, #20)
*NATIONS WITH TOP 100 DOUBLES PLAYER, BUT NOT SINGLES*
TAIWAN (3): #35 Hsieh Su-Wei, #42 Chan Yung-Jan, #47 Chuang Chia-Jung [singles high: #132 Chan]
UZBEKISTAN (1): ##84 Akgul Amanmuradova [singles high: #115 Amanmuradova]
ZIMBABWE (1): #77 Cara Black [singles high: unranked Valeria Bhunu]
NOTE: 9 nations were on this list at the end of 2010
And, hopefully, I didn't flub up any numbers or figures after all that transcribing.
UP NEXT: WTA Yearbook
After that, I'll be taking a short break. I'll be back in December, though (unless news warrants otherwise, of course), when I'll begin my preview series for the 2012 season. First up, on December 1st, will be the inaugural "Grand Slam Master List" preseason rankings for the upcoming WTA campaign (a few placements might rankle, while others could surprise).
After that, I'll post the second annual edition of "'Twas the Backspin Before Christmas" on December 19, followed soon thereafter by "The Intriguing 100," and "Prediction Blowout" (along with the Backspin Picks for Week 1 Down Under thrown in there somewhere, of course).
All for now.