2016 BSA's: Performances of the Year
- Zhang Shuai
*PERFORMANCES OF THE YEAR*
#1 - #PicaPower For the People
In the biggest Olympic tennis shocker ever, #34-ranked Monica Puig is crowned the Olympic singles champion in Rio, becoming the first person representing Puerto Rico to ever claim a Gold medal in the summer games.
Puig rode her fiery, aggressive game to five straight wins that got progressively more astounding as the week went on. Down went Polona Hercog and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in straight sets. Then Puig took out #4-ranked Roland Garris champ Garbine Muguruza -- her first career Top 5 win -- 6-1/6-1. Next up, Laura Siegemund was held to the same two measly games in an all-unseeded QF, followed by two-time slam winner Petra Kvitova being taken out in three sets. Puig, amazingly, had reached the Olympic final, as the lowest-ranked woman to ever play for singles Gold. But it HAD to end there, right? Nope... not in Rio. Against #2-ranked Australian Open (and, soon, U.S. Open, too) champ Angelique Kerber, Puig's calm in the face of monumental history being on her racket carried the day. She ended Kerber's spotless Rio set record in the 1st, then pulled away in the 3rd, taking a 5-0 lead and winning 6-4/4-6/6-1.
In all, it was a performance for the tennis ages. Two Top 5 wins, victories over three players who had won a combined four slams (and soon five), including two reigning major champions and what would be three of 2016 slam champs, is quite the feat for a player who came into the Olympics with just a single tour title (won two years ago) to her credit.
Just call Puig "The Legend." In Puerto Rico, for sure. For the rest of her life, and for generations hereafter.
#2 - Vika's Springtime "Sunshine Double"
Victoria Azarenka's return to the eye of the WTA storm was given sturdy sea legs with a coast-to-coast North American run of dominance that included a rare sweep of the titles in Indian Wells and Miami that shot her directly back into the Top 5. After a post-injury 0-8 run vs. the Top 3, Azarenka's "Sunshine Double" (the first since 2005, and just the third ever) notched wins over #1 Serena Williams, #3 Angelique Kerber (who jumped to #2 a few days later), and #4 Garbine Muguruza. The three women claimed all four slams in '16, and seven of the eight berths in the finals. Vika's win over Williams in the Miami decider gives her mores wins in finals (4) over Serena than any other player, while her victory over Kerber ran her career head-to-head over the German to 7-1.
#3 - Angie's Aussie Excellence
Angelique Kerber stuns Serena Williams in the final to win the Australian Open, becoming the first woman to defeat her in a three-set slam final. The win makes her the first German to claim a slam crown since 1999 (Graf at RG), the first to win the AO since '94 and the first lefty champ in Melbourne since '96. After saving MP in her 1st Round match vs. Misaki Doi (yep, she's the first to win a slam after doing that so early in tournament, too), Kerber won thirteen of her next fourteen sets (dropping only the 2nd in the final vs. Serena) on her way to the title.
#4 - Serena Catches #22
With a handful of players nipping at her heels, and with her just one title-less Wimbledon away from being shut-out of being the reigning champion at any of the slams for the first time in four years, Serena took the AELTC and threw her own backyard BBQ once more. Over the span of the fortnight, she notched career slam match win #300, reached 300 weeks in the #1 ranking during her career, fired her 800th ace at the All-England Club, held serve in thirty straight games without facing a break point, and finally put away her seventh Wimbledon singles titles to tie Steffi Graf's record of 22 slam wins in the Open era. Oh, and then she went out and won the doubles with Venus, too, taking home SW19 title #6 and the Sisters' overal 14th slam championship. And somehow she made it seem like it was "all in a day's work," as only she (still) can.
#5 - The World According to Garbi
Garbine Muguruza came to Paris with great potential for success, as long as she could keep her head about her. After dropping her opening set in the 1st Round to Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, Muguruza put her head down and ran off fourteen straight sets en route to her first slam title (and just her third overall tour title) at Roland Garros, a run that included wins over former slam champs Svetlana Kuznetsova, Sam Stosur and reigning #1 and defending champ Serena Williams in the final. Defeating Williams for the second time (w/ her '14 2nd Rd. win) in Paris, Muguruza simply outplayed Serena in the championship match, adding her name to the short list of woman who've beaten the (soon-to-be) 22-time major winner in her twenty-eight (after SW19) career slam finals. The first Spanish woman to win a slam since 1998 (Sanchez), the first to reach a slam final since 2000 (Martinez), the first South American-born (Venezuela) winner since 1990 (Sabatini), and the youngest slam champ since 2012 (Azarenka), 22-year old Muguruza rose to a career-best #2 as she left Paris.
#6 - The Angie of New York's Eye
Angelique Kerber's yellow brick road to never-before-seen success cuts yet another brilliant path, this time through New York. By the time the U.S. Open was over, the German had swept through seven matches at a major for the second time in 2016 (dropping just one set, in the final vs. Karolina Pliskova), put behind her her disappointing summer losses in the Wimbledon, Olympic and Cincinnati finals, become the first #1-ranked player from Germany since her idol (and recent confidant) Steffi Graf and, at 28, the oldest woman to ever make her debut in the top spot.
US OPEN CHAMPION!!! WOW, I DID IT!!! pic.twitter.com/YpWv5A7jaM— Angelique Kerber (@AngeliqueKerber) September 10, 2016
Down the stretch in the final, the keys to victory were the same things that have lifted Kerber from the tour pack to the top of the heap:
her belief in herself, her commitment to a gameplan and, of course, her greatest preparation for battle -- her fitness. She's a walking, talking, later-fully-blooming, fist-pumping, major title-lifting example of the "long game" that has become the "new normal" in the sport.
#7 - Turkish Delight
Playing in her Istanbul hometown, Cagla Buyukakcay rode the wave of her own tennis momentum and the support of the crowd to her first career tour singles semifinal, final and maiden title with wins over Marina Melnikova, Sorana Cirstea, Nao Hibino, Stefanie Voegele and Danka Kovinic in a 3-6/6-2/6-3 final. She's the first Turkish woman to accomplish any of those feats in WTA history. The 26-year old rose into the Top 100 for the first time. A month later, she qualified in Paris to become the first Turk in a slam MD in the Open era, where she also became the first to get a match victory (though, thanks to the Parisian rain, it took her two days to get the job done).
#8 - Great Petra of Wuhan
Nearly unassailable, Petra Kvitova lost just one set as she left a trail of awe-inspired opponents and fans shaking their heads in Wuhan. Her second win in three years at the event came for her at the end of a week where she was rarely challenged. Mostly because no one could. Jelena Ostapenko got just four games off her, same as Elina Svitolina. World #1 Angelique Kerber battled for three sets, but still couldn't tear down the Czech wall. The win only further emboldened her. Johanna Konta won just seven games in the QF, saying that "sometimes you're just going along for the ride" when Petra is rolling. Victim #5, three-game winner Simona Halep, noted that Kvitova, "didn't miss. It was tough to do something else." Dominika Cibulkova, victim #6 who fell in quick order in the 1 & 1 final, noted that the Czech "didn't even let me play. You have to be very lucky and play very good to beat her when she plays like this." The title run ended a 13-month drought for Kvitova, who reached her first final in eleven months. A few weeks later, Kvitova would go 4-0 without losing a set to claim the Elite Trophy crown in Zhuhai, running her post-Wimbledon record in tour events to 30-7 after having started the season 16-15.
#9 - A Slovak in Singapore
Dominika Cibulkova's final dramatic act of 2016 consisted of a multi-part, multi-continent, multi-seemingly-inconsequential-occurrence-turned-all-important-detail story. She had to win the title in Linz just to qualify for the WTA Finals field. After taking a wild card into the event, she did it. She lost her first two round robin matches in Singapore, but managed to get one set off Angelique Kerber in a three-set loss in her first outing. She then had to defeat Simona Halep in straights sets in her third match just to keep alive her hopes of reaching the semifinals. After winning the 1st, then squandering a break lead three times in the 2nd, Cibulkova fell behind 5-4 in the tie-break, but managed to take the final three points to (barely) keep air in the lungs of her season. Had Madison Keys gotten one set off Kerber in the final RR match of their group, Cibulkova would have been eliminated. But after Kerber's one lost set to Cibulkova early in the week had given the Slovak a slight edge vs. Keys for the final SF slot (with three won sets vs. two), Kerber helped once again by taking out Keys in straights to allow Cibulkova to slip in through the unattended back door and into the final four. After defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova, converting MP on net cord ball, the Slovak faced off with Kerber again in the final. T
he German had been looking more and more unbeatable every match since struggling early before putting Cibulkova away in the 3rd set in their first meeting in the week. But it was Cibulkova with the devil-may-care attitude in the final, not the two-time slam-winning Olympic finalist ranked #1 in the world. In fact, Kerber was noticably tighter in her last match of a devastating (in a good way) '16 season than she had been all week, as well as most of the past year. Finally, in the closing games, Kerber rediscovered the magic that had gotten her to the final stage in Singapore, but it was too late to hold Cibulkova back. On her fourth MP, Cibulkova was again the beneficiery of a net cord that saw the ball pop up in the air and barely make it over to Kerber's side of the court, angling sideways and bouncing inside the line, well out of reach of ANY human being, as the Slovak become the final storybook queen of the court in the WTA season, downing Kerber 6-3/6-4 the finish off the biggest week of her tennis life.
#10 - Putting the "Team" in Teammates
The Czech Republic's third straight Fed Cup title would not have been possible without (at least) two magnificent individual performances on 2016's three FC weekends. In February vs. Romania in the 1st Round, with Petra Kvitova going 0-2 and Lucie Safarova sidelined, Karolina Pliskova took up the slack and went 2-0, then teamed with Barbora Strycova in the deciding doubles. In the final against France, Strycova came to rescue with the Czech squad down 2-1. A late replacement for Kvitova (who'd lost again on Day 1, dropping her fourth straight FC singles match), Strycova employed her unique brand of fire and in-your-face intensity to defeat a player (Alize Cornet) against whom she was 1-5 in her career, then came back less than an hour later and teamed with Pliskova to win another deciding doubles match, her fifth such doubles win during this historic run, and Pliskova's FOURTH STRAIGHT D.D. victory, a streak that started in the 2015 final vs. Russia.
My shot of the weekend…maybe of the year even. Strycova bliss... pic.twitter.com/5fw1fKdCAu— Jimmie48 Photography (@JJlovesTennis) November 13, 2016
#11 - Kiki in the Sky with Diamonds
"No one expected we could win. I don't think even we did. It's an unbelievable feeling," Kiki Bertens said after the dust of the Fed Cup 1st Round weekend had settled with her Dutch squad (without a Top 100 player at the time) pulling off a stunning win over the Russians in Moscow. It was mostly stirred up by her, kicking things off with a quick win over Ekaterina Makarova on Day 1, then punishing Svetlana Kuznetsova to clinch the tie one day after Richel Hogenkamp had worn the Russian down in a 4:00 marathon. While Hogenkamp had the headline-grabbing victory in the tie, Bertens has been the heart and soul of the improbable Dutch run to the Netherlands' first semifinal berth since 1997.
#12 - Hello, My Name is Karolina
Aside from her Fed Cup heroics, Karolina Pliskova had never really been able to truly put in the sort of performance that might legitimize her as the future slam winner that her big-serving, sometimes-crisp-as-a-potato-chip-and-clean-as-a-whistle game, at times, hinted could one day be her reality. Until Cincinnati, that is.
The Czech glided her way to her biggest career title, losing just a single set all week. While everyone's focus was on Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep, Pliskova was noticably confident and speaking with the conviction of an athlete tired of missing out, and desiring something more. After wins over Jelena Ostapenko, Misaki Doi, Svetlana Kuznetsova and (easily, in windy conditions) Garbine Muguruza, Pliskova diplomatically "approved" of Kerber's potential rise to #1 after a win in the final against her, but made it clear that she had no intention of rolling over and letting it happen on that day, saying that she'd "do everything in my power to stop her in doing that right now." And then she went out and did just that.
A few weeks later, the Czech road the momentum all the way to her first career slam final at the U.S. Open, where she fell in three tough sets to, of course, Kerber.
#13 - Aga's Astonishing Asian Groove
Aga Radwanska coasts through Week 1 without losing a single set in Shenzhen, her third consecutive title dating back to last season. The continuation of the Pole's remarkable run in Asia -- she won '15 titles in Tokyo, Tianjin & Singapore -- ended with a win in the final over Alison Riske. Three of those four title runs came without Aga dropping a set.
Come the fall, the Pole picked right up where she left off once the tour returned to the Asia, claiming her ninth career title (of 20) on the continent with her win in Beijing.
Once again, Radwanska didn't lose a set all week, winning her tour-leading third tournament in such a fashion this year after being the only player to do it twice in '15 (only one other player has won multiple crowns w/o dropping a set over the same stretch), by taking out Wang Qiang, Ekaterina Makarova, Caroline Wozniacki, Yaroslava Shvedova, Elina Svitolina and Johanna Konta to pick up her third Premier Mandatory title (only active players named Serena, Vika and Maria can say the same).
#14 - There Were No Cliffs of Si-mo-na in Spain
...in her best and most consistent form in over a year, Simona Halep put up six dominating wins (losing just one set, a love anomaly vs. countrywoman Irina-Camelia Begu in the QF) to claim career title #12 to tie Virginia Ruzici (her current manager) for the most all-time tour titles by a Romanian, closing out the final with an ace on match point. After so many struggles over the past two years, Halep staked her claim once again as a big title contender with wins over the likes of Misaki Doi, Karin Knapp, Timea Bacsinszky, Sam Stosur and Dominika Cibulkova. She hadn't reached a final since her Toronto/Cincinnati two-fer in the summer of '15, and hadn't won a title since Indian Wells in March of last year. This was her first clay court title since 2014 in Bucharest, and her six wins in Madrid the most she's had in a single event since she reached the Roland Garros final two springs ago.
#15 - A Pastry in Bloom
Quite simply, Caroline Garcia's 2016 Fed Cup play was glorious, starting with the first Fed Cup weekend of the year. In February, she led the French team to a second FC win over Italy in as many years. Clean, clutch and aggressive, she showed all her game in a pair of straight sets wins over Sara Errani (w/ 31 winners) and Camila Giorgi, the former after Kristina Mladenovic had lost Match #1, and the latter to clinch the tie for the Pastries. She even got on the court with Olympic year doubles partner Mladenovic to pick up a third win. In the 1st Round a year ago against Italy, after losing to Errani on Day 1, Garcia won singles (Giorgi in three sets) and doubles matches on Sunday to complete an historic road comeback from 2-0 down.
Against the Dutch in the April semifinals, Garcia rebounded from an opening match loss to Kiki Bertens to pull the Pastries out of a 2-1 hole on Sunday with a singles win over Arantxa Rus and a deciding doubles victory with Mladenovic that sent the French the final for the first time since 2005. In the final vs. the Czechs, Fed Cup Heart Award winner Garcia went 2-0 vs. Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova to put France up 2-1, only to eventually fall (w/ Mladenovic by her side) in the deciding doubles, one win short of her nation's first FC title since 2003.
#16 - Si-mo-na CAN Go Home Again
As it was, Simona Halep was all smiles in Bucharest, as she claimed the tournament title on Romanian soil for the second time in three years. After dropping the 1st set in the 1st Round vs. Barbora Krejcikova, she showed little mercy the rest of the way. She finished off the Czech 1 & 1, then took out Isabella Shinikova, Danka Kovinic and Vania King (though with a lost TB in the 1st) before serving Anastasija Sevastova a double-bagel in the final in just forty-six minutes. With the win, Halep moved past Virginia Ruzuci into first place on Romania's WTA title list with fourteen titles in her career.
#17 - She Worked Hard for the Money
Nobody worked harder -- or longer -- than Christina McHale did in Tokyo in Week 37. So it was fairly fitting that she was rewarded with her first tour singles title. You know, for the effort. And it only took thirteen hours (and change) on court over the course of five matches to pull it off, too.
The 24-year old's week in Tokyo (where she reached her second career WTA final) included wins over Kateryna Kozlova (2:53; 7-6 3rd), Rebecca Peterson (2:25; 7-6 3rd), Viktoriya Golubic (2:37), Jana Cepelova (2:28; 7-5 3rd) and Katerina Sinikova (2:47) in the final, in her fifth straight three-setter at the event.
#18 - Caro on the Comeback Trail
Dealing with injuries, coaching questions, and a whisper-level wonder in some corners about just how much longer she wanted to play tennis (well, except for when her father said something that legitimately raised eyebrows about her future), Caroline Wozniacki came into the U.S. Open ranked #74 and 13-14 on the season, two years after she'd reached the final there and twelve months after she'd arrived in New York as the #4 seed. But the Dane staged a late summer/early fall comeback that saw her climb back into the Top 20 in what felt like a blink of the eye. After an unexpected semifinal run at the Open, she headed to Asia and found even more success.
In Tokyo, she got past Belinda Bencic ('15 Tokyo RU) in three sets, then followed up the win by doing the same vs. Carla Suarez-Navarro in a three-hour marathon. A win over a qualifier was followed by another three-setter over '15 Tokyo champ Aga Radwanska to get the Dane into her first final since April of last year. After falling behind Naomi Osaka in the 1st set, then being treated for a leg injury that hindered the (likely tentative) Dane for a bit after she returned to the court, it was her experience that proved to be the key in taking the title. While Osaka overreacted to both the moment and Wozniacki's condition, Caro called upon her old calm and consistent game to allow the teenager to hit herself out of a set that she'd seemed destined to win. With Osaka flailing, Wozniacki took a 5-0 lead in the 2nd, then held off a late revival from the new Japanese star down the stretch to win her first title in eighteen months.
She backed up the win with another title run in Hong Kong with wins over Zheng Saisai, Heather Watson, Wang Qiang, and defending champ Jelena Jankovic to reach the final, where she outlasted Kristina Mladenovic in three sets to take career title #25 and ultimately her season on a 21-3 gallop.
#19 - Act 1, Scene 1 (2016)
In the season's opening week, Victoria Azarenka wins Brisbane, taking her first title in twenty-nine months. She did it in true Vika style, too, not dropping a set all week and tying Serena Williams' tournament record by losing a total of just seventeen games (including only four in the final vs. eventual AO champ Angelique Kerber).
#20 - Bending it Like Bencic
Early in 2016, Belinda Bencic was the The Swiss Rock of Fed Cup. "I really feel I belong in between the best players in the world. It makes me happy to be on the big stage," the 18-year old said after her Fed Cup 1st Round tie-opening win over Germany's Andrea Petkovic. All she did was back up that notion on Sunday, winning her third match in three career meetings with AO champ Angelique Kerber. After Timea Bacsinszky (0-2) failed to clinch the tie, the teenager returned with (part-time mentor/coach/inspiration/maybe Olympic doubles partner?) Martina Hingis to handily down the German duo of Groenefeld/Petkovic to win 3-2. The road victory sent the Swiss to their first FC semifinal since 1998... when a 17-year old Hingis led the way. Bencic, at the time, was all of eighteen months old. Soon afterward, she became the first teenager to crack the Top 10 since 2009.
Unfortunately, Bencic wouldn't be able to lead the Swiss in the semis vs. France due to injury, as back and wrist ailments sent her down the rankings (she finished outside the Top 40), caused her to miss the Olympics, and led to her putting up just one QF-or-better result after February. A year ago, Bencic topped Backspin's 2016 Top Performance list with her win in Toronto, but she wasn't even able to attempt to defend her Rogers Cup crown in Montreal this past summer.
#21 - Sloane's Future is Now
Five months after she claimed her first tour title in Washington, D.C. without dropping a set, Sloane Stephens wins #2 in Auckland, once again after not losing a set all week in what was her first tournament with new coach Kamau Murray. Due to weather delays, Stephens had to finish off her semifinal with Caroline Wozniacki, then win the final over Julia Goerges, on the same day.
It's only right to live a trophy life ?? pic.twitter.com/zjU4nhbwkC— Sloane Stephens (@SloaneStephens) February 28, 2016
A month later in Acapulco, Stephens ran her career record in tour finals to 3-0 with a 3rd set TB win over Dominika Cibulkova to take the title. Two months after that, Stephens' first clay court title came in Charleston after an impressive run that included wins over a Danka (Kovinic), two Darias/Dashas (Gavrilova & Kasatkina, the latter after saving a MP), a defending champ named Angie (Kerber, who retired in the SF w/ viral illness) and a Russian (qualifier Elena Vesnina) who spent about twice as much time on the court as Sloane during the week.
Stephens has proven to be quite adept at surviving on the WTA tour after shooting to fame likely just a year or two too early. As a result, before her season was ended early with injury, she'd finally started to show that she'd learned how to thrive. After being 0-6 in WTA semifinals before her D.C. title run, Stephens has gone 8-0 in SF/F matches since. She now has more career titles than fellow recent North American AO semifinalists Genie Bouchard (1) and Madison Keys (2) combined.
#22 - The Dutch Woman Who Would Not Lose
In the late spring, Kiki Bertens finally found a way to convert her Fed Cup success to the WTA courts, winning in both singles and doubles in Nurnberg. After making it through qualifying, Bertens knocked off Tatjana Maria, #1 seed Roberta Vinci, Irina Falconi, Julia Goerges and Mariana Duque in the final. It's Bertens' second career title, but she hadn't reached a WTA final since she won her maiden crown in Fes in 2012. She teamed with Johanna Larsson to take the doubles.
Bertens wasn't finished. In Paris, she ran her singles streak to twelve straight wins (an 18-0 stretch in singles/doubles) as she became the first Dutch woman in forty-five years to reach the Roland Garros semifinals.
French Open - Why the French Open meant so much for Kiki Bertens https://t.co/U0n0V5hHzE— ESPNTennis (@ESPNTennis) June 6, 2016
Wow, the past 3 weeks were crazy, still can't believe it?? Would like to thank my team, family, friends and fans for all the support!!— Kiki Bertens (@kikibertens) June 4, 2016
#23 - Kerber Takes Germany (Again)
For the second straight year, Angelique Kerber started the clay season with an early spring title run. In 2015, she won in Charleston and Stuttgart, but saw her results dry up the rest of the way, leading to a disappointing 3rd Round loss at Roland Garros. This year, after a Charleston semifinal she returned to Stuttgart and, after winning in three sets in her opening match over countrywoman Annika Beck, her superior standing in the draw became clearer and clearer with each outing as she knocked off Carla Suarez-Navarro, Petra Kvitova and then, another fellow German, Laura Siegemund in the final to defend a singles title for the first time in her career. Unfortunately, once again, her results were less noteworthy as the clay spring wore on, ending with a 1st Round exit in Paris.
#24 - The Italian Resistance Reigns Once More
All for one. It's always been that way for the WTA's greatest generation of Italian players. While Italy's Fed Cup fortunes were once again dealt defeat by the French in February in Week 5, the three remaining fabled Italian vets (w/ only Flavia Pennetta now in retirement) quickly made that story a footnote by staging a tour-level coup over the following two weeks. First, Roberta Vinci won her biggest career title in St.Petersburg (giving her a 9-1 record in finals since '07), setting the stage for her to become the oldest player (33) to ever make her Top 10 singles debut. In Dubai, Sara Errani (who went 0-2 in back-to-back matches on FC weekend, after Camila Giorgi had put Italy up 1-0) won her biggest career singles crown, climbing back into the Top 20. But the pièce de résistance of the stretch had to be 35-year old Francesca Schiavone saving MP in the QF and going on to take the title in Rio, her first singles crown since '13, to become the fourth-oldest singles champ in tour history (and, at #132, the lowest-ranked since '12).
Injuries sent Errani's ranking down to #50 by season's end, but she's set to attempt a comeback in 2017. Meanwhile, both Vinci and Schiavone recently announced plans to continue to compete on the WTA tour next season, as well.
#25 - Another Springtime for Sveta's Career
Svetlana Kuznetsova, the Original Hordette blooming anew since turning 30, was in good form at the end of 2015, winning her first-ever title in Russia at the Kremlin Cup, and it carried over into the new season. Her Week 2 title run in Sydney was the earliest in a season she'd lifted a singles trophy in her pro career. Kuznetsova got better as the week moved forward -- and the quality of her opponents improved -- as she put up wins over Tammi Patterson, Sabine Lisicki, Sara Errani and Simona Halep before easily taking out Monica Puig in the final. Kuznetsova sixteenth career title tied her with Elena Dementieva for second place on the all-time Russian list behind Maria Sharapova and she returned to the Top 20.
Come the fall, Kuznetsova had returned to the Top 10 for the first time since 2009, and battled her way into her first season-ending championships field in seven years by defending her Kremlin Cup title with wins over Alize Cornet, Timea Babos, Elina Svitolina (the latter two in three sets, naturally, after Sveta won the 1st) and Dasha Gavrilova in a 2 & 1 final. For Kuznetsova, it put her in sole possession of second place on the all-time Russian title list.
It was love ?? from first ... pic.twitter.com/ZGkpBlKFZA— Svetlana Kuznetsova (@SvetlanaK27) October 22, 2016
#26 - A Quick Start in Qatar
After a career year in 2015 that nevertheless saw good results dry up over the back-half of a season in which she won no titles, Carla Suarez-Navarro finally wins her second tour singles title (she'd been 1-8 in finals) in Doha, her first since 2014. CSN's impressive week -- which also included a trip to the doubles final with Sara Errani -- included wins over Timea Bacsinszky, Elena Vesnina, Aga Radwanska (2 & love) and Jelena Ostapenko in a three-set final secured after she'd gotten off to a slow start while dropping the 1st set to the teenager by a 6-1 score. She jumped back into the Top 10 the following Monday at a career-best #6. Unfortunately, the back-half of the WTA season wore on the Spaniard again in '16, as after a 28-12 start CSN finished 11-9 and outside the Top 10 at #12.
#27 - Pride of the Bride
What was earlier this season a "comeback" story from Achilles' surgery began to resemble something more during the grass season. Dominika Cibulkova's run to the Eastbourne title was, at the time, one of her most satisfying accomplishments (but it would soon be seen as a stepping stone to even bigger and better things). After putting down an irritable Jelena Ostapenko in her first match, Cibulkova overcame two sisters (Kateryna Bondarenko and Aga Radwanska, the latter after a rain suspension set the stage for a two-day comeback from a set and a break down and various other tight spots), blew out Monica Puig in her second match of the day on Friday and then took out arguably the best (at least the "most accomplished") grass court player (Karolina Pliskova) of the month of June in the final. It was the Slovak's first career grass final/title, and she was the first player on tour (there would soon be three more - Serena, Kerber & Keys) to reach 2016 finals on hard, clay and grass courts. She rode the momentum to a QF result at SW19, finishing just in time to keep her wedding on schedule. By the end of the year, she'd won a tour-best four titles, reached the Top 5 and won her biggest-ever title in Singapore.
#28 - "V" is for "Victorious Venus"
Venus Williams, just a few months from turning 36, often had a rough go of things in the 1st Quarter of 2016. But after leading the U.S. Fed Cup team to a victory over Poland in Hawaii in World Group II (she's 19-2 in FC singles in her career), Williams went straight to Taiwan and won a title at the inaugural event in Kaohsiung without dropping a set. Of the seven WTA singles titles won in the Open era by players age 35+, Williams now has claimed three, all having been won since last fall. By the end of the summer, she'd reached her first slam semifinal (Wimbledon) since 2010, and picked up her record-tying (w/ 1920's star Kitty McKane) fifth career Olympic tennis medal in Rio -- a Mixed Doubles Silver.
- Venus Williams
"My dreams come true when I step on the court."
#29 - Lucie's Big Return... remember?
While Lucie Safarova's 2016 was mostly known for her doubles success, she did have one glorious week in singles. Heading into Prague in April, the Czech was sporting a 0-5 2016 singles mark since she'd returned full-time from the bacterial infection that left her hospitalized last fall. A week earlier in Stuttgart, her 1st Round loss to Karolina Pliskova was a tight affair, and her first three-setter of the season. It was a hopeful sign, but who knew it was actually going to be a prelude to a title run? After losing the opening set of her 1st Round match in Prague to Mariana Duque, Safarova didn't lose another set on the way to her first final since New Haven last summer. Her week included additional wins over Lucie Hradecka (ret.), Hsieh Su-Wei and, interestingly enough, Pliskova, the defending champ at the event. This time, Safarova downed her countrywoman 4 & 6. In the final, she came back from a set down against Samantha Stosur to secure her seventh career tour title in her sixteenth final. It was her first title run on clay since she won her maiden singles crown in Estoril in 2005. She'd only win multiple matches in two (RG & Wimbledon) of her remaining singles events on the season, falling from #9 at the start of the year to outside the Top 60 by the end.
7th WTA title from Prague!!!! So happy! Thank you so much for all your support!! Was amazing week! ???????????????? pic.twitter.com/yD8I1ec2Un— lucie safarova (@luciesafarova) April 30, 2016
#30 - A Brit, California Dreamin'
The rise of Johanna Konta continued in Stanford. Since finishing a season in the Top 100 (#47) for the first time in her career last year, the Sydney-born Brit lurched forward in leaps and bounds in 2016. Her season began with a surprise semifinal run at the Australian Open (which began with a 1st Round upset of Venus Williams), and her summertime trip to California resulted in her maiden title, which included win over the likes of Dominika Cibulkova and, once more, Williams (in the final). She ultimately became the first Top 10 Brit since 1983.
#31 - When in Rome... Serena wins
...in Rome, Serena's run of straight sets wins over Anna-Lena Friedsam, Christina McHale, Svetlana Kuznetsova (allowing the Russian just two games after losing to her in Miami), Irina-Camelia Begu and Madison Keys was nice, even if it won't be long remembered as a fabled run. Still, her forth Italian Open crown, coming fourteen years after her first in 2002, was her first title since last summer in Cincinnati. It didn't serve a forerunner to slam title #22, though, as Williams dropped her second slam final of 2016 in the RG final vs. Muguruza, but she managed to finally pick up that historic title a few weeks later in London.
#32 - Where the Pliskovae Roam
Karolina Pliskova's long-awaited slam breakthrough didn't happen at Wimbledon this year (it'd have to wait for her trip to Flushing Meadows), but the Czech's performance in the three weeks leading up to the season's third slam at least officially "welcomed" her into a season that had previously seen her remain conspicuously outside the gates, save for another clutch Fed Cup performance, through most of the first six months of 2016. Her high point came in Nottingham. After she dropped the opening set of her 1st Round match vs. Anastasija Sevastova, Pliskova then ran off ten straight sets with additional wins over Anna Tatishvili, Ashleigh Barty, Monica Puig and Alison Riske in the final. The win was Pliskova's fifth career title in thirteen WTA finals (she reached another at Eastbourne two weeks later), and her first career grass court crown.
#33 - A Prelude to a Future?
Slowly but surely, Madison Keys has been building up her game and confidence since her breakout Australian Open semifinal run last year. After proving herself on her least favorite surface (clay) during the spring, Keys finally arrived at the grass court season that she admitted to longing for. She had quite the week in Birmingham, simultaneously propping up the growing propsects of U.S. women's tennis, while also shining a light on what has been a hard-to-fathom drought of epic proportions. First, the 21-year old secured a spot in the Top 10 for the first time. While a great and worthy accomplishment, it wouldn't seem QUITE as big a deal if you didn't know that the last U.S. woman to debut in the Top 10 was named Williams. As in Serena. As in 1999. As in SEVENTEEN years ago. The last non-Williams Bannerette had been Chanda Rubin in 1996. Her entry means there were three Bannerettes in the Top 10 for the first time since September 2005.
Keys then went on to grab her second career tour title (the other also came on the grass, at Eastbourne in '14) with wins over Timea Babos, Tamira Paszek, Jelena Ostapenko, Carla Suarez-Navarro and Barbora Strycova.
#34 - Simona Overcomes... Simona
I suppose the way to say it is that Simona weathered the storm in Montreal. As usual, much of it was of her own making, as her lingering questions of confidence and perfectionist notions threatened on multiple times to sandbag her own attempts to advance one additional step and win the same Rogers Cup title that eluded her in last year's Toronto final vs. Belinda Bencic. With the help of coach/sports psychologist/Simona whisperer Darren Cahill, who somehow found a way to walk the delicate line that allowed Halep to be able to find her way through her worst stretches before TOTALLY giving away the match, spread the possible "blame" around (i.e. taking some of it on himself) in order to prevent Halep from getting lost in her own head, as well as still feel loose enough to have the sense of humor to laugh at her potentially devastating competitive idiosyncrasies. Well, after the fact (and everything had turned out all right), at least.
Thank you, Montreal, thank you team! pic.twitter.com/vkzRBTqXkX— Simona Halep (@Simona_Halep) August 1, 2016
Halep's Montreal wins over Dasha Gavrilova, Karolina Pliskova, Svetlana Kuznetsova (after losing the 1st set), Angelique Kerber (after almost melting down following a near-perfect love 1st set win) and Madison Keys (even after twice failing to serve out the 1st) seems to have played a role in adding a thin-but-strong layer of confidence around the outer shell of the Swarmette, who rode her summertime "good vibes" to a QF result at Flushing Meadows and a pitched battle there with Serena Williams.
#35 - Raising the Czech Flag
Ranked outside the Top 10 and not on the tip of anyone's tongue as a potential Olympic medalist after a disappointing first seven months of '16 that saw her reach just one semifinal, Petra Kvitova donned her nation's colors and suddenly found her game. Down went Timea Babos, Caroline Wozniacki, Ekaterina Makarova (in a tough one in which Bad Petra was successfully held at bay) and Elina Svitolina (2 games lost!), Kvitova reached the medal round. After being outplayed by eventual Gold medalist Monica Puig, the Czech rebounded to take the Bronze match from Madison Keys and lead the way for the Maidens' three-medal haul in Rio (one each in WS, WD and MX). Kvitova joins Jana Novotna ('96 Bronze) as the only Czechs to pick up Olympic medals in women's singles.
#36 - The Land that Li Built, Cont'd.
In Nanchang, 27-year old Duan became this season's sixth maiden singles champion, and the fourth on tour since Wimbledon. Wins over Marina Melnikova, Han Xinyun, Kurumi Nara and Misa Eguchi put Duan in her first career final, making her the first Chinese woman to play for a WTA singles title since Zheng Jie at Rosmalan two years ago. Her come-from-behind win over Vania King crowned her the first Chinese singles champ on tour since Li Na took the Australian Open title in January 2014. It's a big "next step" for the rangy Duan, whose big-serving game had already flashed potential on the big stage of the AELTC. In 2015, she upset Genie Bouchard at SW19 in the 1st Round, and this summer she did the same thing there to Kristyna Pliskova. At #163, she was the lowest-ranked tour-level champion of the season, and the third-lowest since 2012.
Promising star Duan Yingying wins Jiangxi Open title after beating US player Vania King in final pic.twitter.com/aRALoUnZ8s— Team China (@XHSports) August 7, 2016
A few months later in Tianjin, Peng Shuai, the former U.S. Open semifinalist (2014) ranked all the way down at #182 after battling a back injury last season, became the second lowest-ranked tour singles champ since '12 while (finally) picking up her career WTA singles title. After a career spent playing in the shadow of multiple slam-winner Li Na and a 0-6 record in tour-level singles finals, the 30-year old Peng returned to her hometown as a wild card entrant into the MD and became the seventh Chinese woman to lift a WTA singles trophy. In fact, she lifted two pieces of hardware, as she also claimed the doubles with Christina McHale. Of course, it helped a little that opponents were falling left and right before her. Peng got a 1st Round walkover from Zhang Shuai, then another from Aga Radwanska in the QF. In between, she recorded a straight sets win over Chang Kai-Chen, then finished off a rain-delayed, three-set, two-day SF (though only a few games were played on Sunday,) over Danka Kovinic to reach the final. Once there, Peng got the benefit of playing Alison Riske just ninety minutes after the Bannerette had completed her own FULL semifinal match. Peng won in straight sets.
The Chinese vet who ranked at #259 at the start of the U.S. Open, following a great fall that also included a $100K title in Shenzhen, is now ranked at #84.
#37 - Aga's Summer Haven
Aga Radwanska arrived in New Haven having had a disappointing summer on the court, as well as having been the international poster child for poor air travel en route to Rio (it was a 55-hour ordeal just to get there, then she lost in the 1st Round in both singles and doubles). She needed something to go right. Finally, it did. Wins over Jelena Ostapenko and Kirsten Flipkens led to a destruction (1 & 1) of Petra Kvitova in the semis and a quick 5-0 lead on Elina Svitolina in the final. Things tightened from there, but Radwanska used all her skills to plug the leaks in a game that looked as if it was about to hit the wall, at least as far as her ability to avoid being taken down by exhaustion and mental fatigue. As it was, she never lost a set (joining Vika Azarenka as the only women to win two '16 titles in such a fashion) while grabbing the title AND picking up the U.S. Open Series crown.
#38 - A Romanian Rules
After Petra Kvitova had headlined the week, Monica Niculescu stole the show in the Luxembourg final, taking out the Czech 6-4/6-0 to win a third career title, her first in two years. The Swarmette had earlier advanced past Kirsten Flipkens, Francesca Schiavone (coming back from a set and 5-2 down to win eleven of fifteen games to take the match) and Kiki Bertens, as well as getting a walkover from an ill Caroline Wozniacki in the QF. The third Romanian to win a title in '16 (Halep & Begu), Niculescu very nearly swept the doubles, as well, ultimately losing (w/ Patricia-Maria Tig) a 13-11 3rd set TB to Bertens/Larsson in the final. And she gets a sure-fire nod for one of the most addictive post-match ceremony performances, too.
#39 - Another Swiss Miss Makes Good
In Gstaad, the surprising '16 season of Viktoriya Golubic added another milestone. After flashing mean skills under pressure in Fed Cup semifinal play vs. the mighty Czech squad in the spring (going 2-0 vs. Pliskova and Strycova in Switzerland's eventual 3-2 loss), she rose above a field of super-achieving Swiss (three of four semifinalists, and a doubles champion) to claim the title at the first tour-level event held within the nation's borders in eight years. Wins over Mona Barthel, Evgeniya Rodina, Carina Witthoeft, Rebeka Masarova and Kiki Bertens garnered Golubic her first career WTA singles title AND her first-ever Top 100 ranking, more than 100 places higher than where she finished 2015.
#40 - The District of Yanina
Yanina Wickmayer had the full D.C. experience. She began the week by making her way around town...
Morningrun after a good win here in Washington yesterday.. Doubles later today.. So in love with this city! ?? pic.twitter.com/oVo9DUdGia— Yanina Wickmayer (@wickytennis) July 19, 2016
And then ended the weekend by making off with ALL the trophies.
The 26-year Waffle won her fifth career tour singles title after a run of victories that included wins over Madison Brengle, Zhang Shuai, Kristina Mladenovic, Yulia Putintseva and Lauren Davis in the final. She'd already picked up career doubles title #2 with Monica Niculescu a day earlier.
#41 - The German Revelation
To Siegemund is to live. A week after the Laura Siegemund welcomed a return of the WTA schedule to clay with a semifinal result in Bucharest, the 28-year old reached her second final of the season (w/ Stuttgart, both on clay) in Bastad and walked away with her maiden tour singles title. Wins over Kateryna Kozlova, Lucie Hradecka, Lara Arruabarrena, Julia Goerges (ret. in 3rd) and Katerina Siniakova did the trick, as she rose to yet another career-best ranking. The summer swing of the German's career year was only just beginning, too. On hard courts, she went on to reach the Olympic QF, earn her first singles seed (#26) at a major and win her first slam title in the U.S. Open mixed doubles.
What a lovely tournament Bastad seems to be. Siegemund and Siniakova at the trophy ceremony. pic.twitter.com/E7AzsMN7TB— Lucy Sophia (@lucysophiaj) July 24, 2016
#42 - CoCo Channels Her Inner Grass Gladiator
At Rosmalen, CoCo Vandeweghe won her second title at the tournament in the last three years. The wins are the Bannerette's only two career WTA singles title runs. Her no-sets-lost route to the title included victories over Indy De Vroome (CoCo vs. Indy!), Mayo Hibi (CoCo vs. Mayo!), Evgeniya Rodina, Madison Brengle and, finally, Kristina Mladenovic (CoCo vs. Kiki!) in a 7-5/7-5, oft-interrupted-by-rain final. Vandeweghe is now just one of six active singles players with multiple grass court titles in their career, and her rankings bump earned her a seed at the All-England Club, where she rode her serve to a Round of 16 result a year after reaching the QF. But, most importantly, that was a big ol' cup...
#43 - A Pastry in Spain Plays Mainly on the
Caroline Garcia's first career grass court title in Mallorca allowed her to pass her doubles partner Kristina Mladenovic in the singles rankings (where she stayed for the remainder of '16) and lock away a seed at Wimbledon. Wins over Carina Witthoeft, Anna-Lena Friedsam, Ana Ivanovic, Kirsten Flipkens and Anastasija Sevastova, but the biggest news may have been how Garcia's Fed Cup (singles and doubles) and duo success with Mladenovic have served to greatly improve her confidence, as well as the corresponding singles results on the tour level. She'd picked up career title #2 on the clay in Strasbourg right before Roland Garros, and this was #3 on yet another surface.
#44 - A Hurdle Cleared, the Best was Still to Come
Dominika Cibulkova needed to win the title in Linz to reach the WTA Finals in Singapore. So, off she went, taking the crown with a string of straight sets wins over Belinda Bencic, Annika Beck, defending champ Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Carla Suarez-Navarro and Viktorija Golubic. A runner-up at the Linz event in 2011, Cibulkova's title this time around made her the first player with two (w/ Katowice) indoor titles in 2016. A few weeks later, she'd pick up her third at the cozy confines in Singapore.
#45 - My Tsurenko is Your Tsurenko
In Guangzhou, Lesia Tsurenko grabbed the second title of her career (w/ Istanbul '15), dropping just a single set en route to the crown with victories over Junri Namigata, Nigina Abduraimova, Alison Riske and, in the final, tournament defending champing Jelena Jankovic in three sets. Her week was a continuation of the head of steam she built up at Flushing Meadows, where Tsurenko knocked out two seeds (#21 Begu & #12 Cibulkova) on her way to the Round of 16. It wasa long-awaited uptick in a season which had seen her exit three events via walkover/retirement after not winning her first tour-level match (she won three in Fed Cup zone play, though) of the season until March after opening '16 with a four-match losing streak.
#46 - How Much is That Pastry in the Window?
19-year old Oceane Dodin reached and won her first career tour singles final in Quebec City, taking out Lauren Davis in straight sets to win her maiden title and become the only teenage WTA singles champ of 2016. Before her run, Dodin hadn't posted tour-level MD win all season (her last came in her 1st Round upset of Jelena Jankovic at last year's U.S. Open), and had lost nine straight matches (Q/MD) in WTA events, including four straight hard court matches before her pre-final wins in Quebec over Naomi Broady, Sachia Vickery, Alison Van Uytvanck and Julia Boserup. Dodin would go on to win an additional $100K challenger in October, finishing the season on a 28-6 sprint that lifted her ranking to #69.
#47 - Where the Pliskovae Roam, Phase 2
The notion that the proverbial rising tide lifts all (similar) boats is alive and well on the WTA tour. Much like the success of players of a certain nation will often spur similar results from fellow countrywoman, the Pliskova twins are proving that blood is just as thick as national waters. Granted, the huge-serving-but-inconsistent Kristyna sparked at times in '16 like never before, but what she did AFTER twin sibling Karolina put on a show in New York City is "next step" stuff. On the same weekend that her twin played in the U.S. Open final, Kristyna won the biggest title of her career in the WTA 125 Series event in Dalian. Sure, that one had a bit of an "asterisk" attached, as the Czech won the final when Misa Eguchi retired in the final after being injured when leading 5-2, 30/love in the 3rd set. Kristyna didn't need such "dark luck" the second time around, though.
In Tashkent, she knocked off Sara Sorribes-Tormo, Kurumi Nara, Irina Khromacheva, Kateryna Kozlova and defending champ Nao Hibino in a three-set final to claim her maiden tour crown in her first appearance in a tour-level final. She even reached the doubles semis with Amra Sadikovic. With this win, combined with the 125 Series victory and a $50K challenger title back in February, Pliskova became just the second player (Zhang Shuai '13) to collect one of all three titles in a single season since the (almost-tour-level-but-not-quite) 125 Series was instituted in 2012.
After winning the Tashkent crown, Kristyna had the usual "Pliskovian" reaction (i.e. not much of one at all, at least to the naked eye) to her greatest career moment, but the sly acknowledgement of the situation that some might have to her really-it-runs-in-the-family stoicism should be enough to lead any worry-warts to clam up if they have a problem with the fact that she didn't see fit to do somersalts or backflips after converting MP.
#48 - In Sam They Trust... up to a point
On the road in Slovakia, Samantha Stosur put her veteran standing to good use while leading Australia past Slovakia in Fed Cup World Group II play. She was unassailable in Bratislava, downing both Jana Cepelova and Anna Karolina Schmiedlova in straight sets, then after junior Kimberly Birrell lost to Dominika Cibulkova to force things to the doubles, teaming with Casey Dellacqua to defeat Cepelova & Daniela Hantuchova in three sets to clinch the win. But, back on home turf in spring World Group Playoffs, Stosur revented to "old form," losing back-to-back three-set singles matches over two days to Christina McHale and (in the clinching match) CoCo Vandeweghe in the U.S.'s 4-0 tie win in Brisbane.
#49- Timea Continues to Love Her Job
After a frustratingly slow-to-fully-heal knee injury, May was finally the time for Timea Bacsinzky to get her '16 season into some rightful order. In Rabat, the Swiss put together her first title run since her Queen of Mexico two-fer in Monterrey and Acapulco in February/March of last year. Bacsinszky reached her first final since Beijing in October '15 (she injured her knee in Luxembourg soon afterward, ending her season early), losing just a single set (to Kateryna Kozlova). In the final, she lost just three additional games to Marina Erakovic to win her fourth career WTA title, and her first on clay. She went on to put up one of the best clay court winning percentages of the spring, culminating in a QF result at Roland Garros. Later in the summer, Bacsinszky teamed with Martina Hingis to win Olympic Silver (the first medal for both) in the Rio women's doubles.
#50 - A Stale Pastry No Longer
Alize Cornet's '15 season, while not a lost cause, had left a bit to be desired after her headline-making '14 campaign. Having dropped outside the Top 40 after being Top 20 two seasons ago, the Pastry claimed her first title since '14 when she defeated Genie Bouchard in the Hobart final all the way back in Week 2, claiming claim career title #5. Cornet hadn't reached even a semifinal in sixteen months.
HM - No Vika, No Problem
With Victoria Azarenka sitting out the tie, it was expected that Olga Govortsova was going to play the role of team leader for Belarus vs. Canada in Fed Cup World Group II play in Quebec City. But it turned out to be 21-year old Aliaksandra Sasnovich. She opened the tie with what turned out to be a key three-set win over Francoise Abanda, then returned in Match #4 to help the team climb out of the 2-1 hole down which Govortsova's poor singles performance had thrown the Belarusians. In the end, Sasnovich teamed with Govortsova in doubles to defeat '15 Pan-Am Games Gold medalists Gabriela Dabrowski & Carol Zhao to drag Team Belarus into the World Group Playoffs (where Azarenka ultimately took the reigns once again in a 3-2 win over Russia).
Success On the Court, Good Works Off It
...in Bogota, #92-ranked Bannerette Irina Falconi became 2016's maiden first-time finalist, and picked up career title #1 with wins over a pair of Spaniards, Lara Arruabarrena (SF) and Silvia Soler-Espinosa (F). The 25-year old, who burst onto the radar with a 3rd Round effort at the U.S. Open in 2011, hit a career-high of #64 last season and had her first season-ending Top 100 (#73) finish in four years. Prior to this run, her best tour results were a SF in Washington in 2011, and two QF in Birmingham ('12) and last year in this same Bogota event, where she also reached the doubles final in '15. Days later, Falconi led an effort to fund relief efforts for the survivors of an earthquake in her native Ecuador.
People are amazing!!! There is still so much good in the world!! ???????? pic.twitter.com/HyKUhTvJbn— Irina Falconi (@IrinaFalconi) April 28, 2016
Huge thanks to every single person who donated!! It is a huge help! Travis and I are planning to personally head down to Ecuador and help!— Irina Falconi (@IrinaFalconi) April 28, 2016
With Apologies to France
Just a week after the French Fed Cup team went down in crushing disappointing in the final in Strasbourg to the Czechs, Russia's Ekaterina Alexandrova (sort) of rubbed a little salt in the nation's tennis wound. In the WTA 125 Series event in Limoges, the Hordette picked up the biggest title of her career by stepping on and over a string of Pastries from the recently defeated FC squad, defeating Pauline Parmentier, Alize Cornet and defending champ Caroline Garcia in the final.
#1 - The Clay Queens
Caroline Garcia & Kristina Mladenovic dominate the clay court season, compiling a 22-1 record on the surface and winning four titles, including Roland Garros.
The Pastries won three straight titles in Charleston, Stuttgart and Madrid during a 15-match winning streak, defeating '15 RG champs Mattek-Sands/Safarova in the final, then world #1's Hingis/Mirza in the other two. Garcia & Mladenovic personally handed Hingis & Mirza two of their three losses in seventeen finals as duo in 2015-16, with Mladenovic being a part of all three losses, also defeating the pair on red clay in Rome last year while partnering Timea Babos. At Roland Garros, they became the first all-French duo to win in Paris since 1971, defeating Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina in a three-set final. They're the first all-French born Pastries to win since 1945, during the WWII stretch which the tournament doesn't recognize as "official"... so they're actually the first French-born WD champs since 1926! Half of THAT title-winning duo? None other than "La Divine" herself, Suzanne Lenglen.
#2 - The Golden Hordettes
Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina added Olympic Gold in Rio to their career big title haul, doing so without dropping a set. Four years after losing to the Williams Sisters in the London QF, wins over the likes of Muguruza/CSN, Safarova/Strycova and Bacsinszky/Hingis made the longtime duo the first all-Russian pair to stand on the level step of the medal stand. Echoing the words of countrywoman (and '08 singles Gold medalist) Elena Dementieva, the three-time slam WD/MX winner and '16 Wimbledon singles semifinalist Vesnina declared this win the greatest accomplishment of her tennis career.
#3 - The Road to 41
Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza win back-to-back-to-back-to-back titles in Brisbane (where Hingis defended), Sydney (where Mirza defended), Melbourne (their third straight slam, but Mirza's first ever AO win, and Hingis' first since 2002) and St.Petersburg to run their consecutive title streak to nine tournaments. Their overall match winning streak, the longest on tour since 1990, was finally halted at forty-one in a row. Also in January, Hingis joined Mirza as the co-#1 in doubles, rising to the position that she last held in 2000.
#4 - Maidens to the Rescue
The Czechs have been the dominant team in Fed Cup competition for more than half a decade now, but they haven't exactly always had smooth sailing. Never more so than during their 2016 title run. All three of the nation's victories this season -- in order, over Romania, Switzerland and France -- were 3-2 battles that came down to the deciding doubles. In fact, the Czech Republic's last FOUR FC ties have come under such circumstances, as the 2015 final victory over Russia was also decided in the final match.
Karolina Pliskova has been a member of all four deciding doubles wins, teaming with Barbora Strycova three times (vs. RUS, ROU & FRA), and Lucie Hradecka (BELOW, in the semis vs. the Swiss) to lift the Maidens to victory.
#5 - Dynamic Duos
Bethanie Mattek-Sands' had a "gold rush" sort of hard court summer, while doubles partner Lucie Safarova was busy collecting hardware, as well.
First, on the final day of tennis competition in Brazil, Mattek-Sands denied Venus Williams her record fifth career Olympic tennis Gold... but at least she and her star-spangled socks were the beneficiary of the halt of Olympic history, so at least something good came of it. BMS and Jack Sock lost just one set -- the opening set of the final vs. Venus & Rajeev Ram -- en route to the top spot on the medal stand, claiming just the second Mixed Doubles Gold since 1924 (Vika Azarenka & Max Mirnyi won in '12 in the competitions return to the Olympics in London after an 88-year absence).
Then, Mattek-Sands re-joined forces with Safarova at the U.S. Open, where the Dynamic Duo defeated Rio Gold medalists Makarova/Vesnina (SF) and #1-seeded Roland Garros champs Garcia/Mladenovic (in the final) to claim third slam title as a pair. With the '15 wins they picked up in Melbourne and Paris, they're a Wimbledon title away from completing a Career Slam.
Safarova, meanwhile, won women's doubles Bronze in Rio with fellow Czech Barbora Strycova.
#6 - #14 at SW19
Venus & Serena Williams, playing at Wimbledon for the first time since Serena's odd, stumbling "virus-related" exit from the WD two years ago, were in fine form at the All-England Club, winning their sixth SW19 title and 14th overall slam crown. They're tied for the second-most ever by a duo in the Open era, and are just six away from matching the Open era record held by Martina Navratilova & Pam Shriver.
#7 - The OTHER "Sunshine Double" of 2016
Bethanie Mattek-Sands accomplishes the doubles version of the "Sunshine Double," sweeping the titles in Indian Wells and Miami, winning in the desert with CoCo Vandeweghe before reuniting on the other side of the continent with Dynamic partner Lucie Safarova, who finally returned in March from the illness that plagued her late last season, to win in Miami.
#8 - The Last Hordettes Standing
While Bethanie Mattek-Sands/Lucie Safarova were riding an 18-match winning streak, and BMS was a win away from the doubles #1 ranking, it was Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina who had the final say in Singapore, as the all-Hordette pair claimed their first WTA Finals title just a few months after taking Olympic Gold in Rio. They lost just one set in the three-round event, becoming the second all-Russian duo (Kirilenko/Petrova '12) to lift the season-ending trophy. Always a big event duo, the all-Hordette pair has won a total of eight titles as a pair: two slams, the Olympics, the WTA Finals, three big Premier events (Beijing/Indian Wells/Montreal) and the Kremlin Cup back home in Russia.
#9 - Martina Makes (More) History
Martina Hingis completes a Career Mixed Slam with a title run at Roland Garros with Leander Paes. RG was the only title that eluded them in 2015, as they won in Melbourne, London and New York. Hingis is the seventh woman (fifth in the Open era) to complete a Career Mixed Slam, while she and Paes are the fourth duo to do it (second in the Open era, with the last coming in 1975).
#10 - Taking' It ALMOST All the Way
With Hingis/Mirza kaput (except for a brief encore performance in Singapore), the race for the unofficial title of "best doubles duo" was on in the closing months of 2016. While Garcia/Mladenovic threw their towel into the ring during the clay season, and Makarova/Vesnina did the same in Rio, the finally-healthy Dynamic Duo of Bethanie Mattek-Sands & Lucie Safarova (aka "Bucie") asserted the potency of their potential candidacy more often than any other duo in the 4Q.
After adding a third overall slam crown at the U.S. Open (def. Makarova/Vesnina in the SF, then Garcia/Mladenovic in the Final), they followed up with a Premier 5 title in Wuhan, not losing a set all week in China, finishing off things with a 1 & 4 victory over Mirza/Strycova in the final, then posting an even bigger Premier Mandatory win in Beijing, completing another week's work with a straight sets win over Garcia/Mladenovic (they've 4-1 vs. the Pastries in finals) to claim their third consecutive title.
The pair ran their winning streak to eighteen (the second-longest by a duo this season, behind only Hingis/Mirza's 19-match run to finish off their 41-match streak) at the WTA Finals, defeating Garcia/Mladenovic again in the semis and bringing Mattek-Sands to within one win of overtaking Sania Mirza for the season-ending doubles #1 ranking. But Team Bucie fell to Makarova/Vesnina in straights in the championship match, meaning the WTA's doubles "debate" is now destined to continue into what should be a very competitive 2017 season. Yes!
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2016 Western & Southern Open champions. ???? pic.twitter.com/VE2tm0ZdUn— Christopher Levy (@tennis_shots) August 21, 2016
#11 - Martina, Who?
In her first event since the announcement of the end of her legendary-though-short-lived partnership with Martina Hingis, Sania Mirza teamed with Barbora Strycova for the very first time and surged all the way to the Cincinnati final without dropping a set (def. the defending champion Chan sisters in the semis), allowing Sania to meet up with and defeat, yep, you guessed it -- Hingis, along with NEW partner CoCo Vandeweghe. A week later, Mirza teamed with another partner, Monica Niculescu, in New Haven. Six years after they last played together, they, too, walked away with a title. It was Mirza's third title at the event, all three with different partners.
In Tokyo, Mirza & Strycova picked up their second title in three events together, running their overall record to 12-1 after winning close matches over Doi/Nara (10-8 3rd TB) and Dabrowski/Martinez-Sanchez (10-5 3rd TB), then downing Liang Chen & Yang Zhaoxuan 1 & 1 in the final. Combined with three different partners, world doubles #1 Mirza led the tour in 2016 with eight titles, including wins in three of her first four tournaments after the announcement of the end of her partnership with Hingis.
#12 - The Queens of Mexico
Anabel Medina-Garrigues & Arantxa Parra-Santonja sweep the Acapulco and Monterrey titles to earn the Queen(s) of Mexico crown for the next twelve months (one year after Timea Bacsinszky was the first honoree after winning both singles titles last spring). The 33-year old Spanish duo went through the the first tournament without dropping a set, then reached the Monterrey final in the same fashion. Once there, they dropped the opening set to Petra Martic & Maria Sanchez before staging a comeback to take the Mexican crown.
#13 - Heather Makes Good
After a disappointing singles effort (a 1st Round loss, after nearly upsetting Serena last year), Heather Watson ended her fortnight in London with a flourish, becoming the first British woman to win the Mixed Doubles title since Jo Durie in 1987, taking the honors with Fin Henri Kontinen over Anna-Lena Groenefeld & Robert Farah. The unseeded Watson & Kontinen, playing together for the first time, had advanced through the first two MX rounds via walkover and defeated only two seeds -- the #15 & #16 duo, though the latter was none other than Hingis/Paes, the defending SW19 champs fresh off having completed a Career MX Slam as a team in Paris.
She asked me for a picture with my trophy... ?? pic.twitter.com/ghNHiSEl6b— Heather Watson (@HeatherWatson92) July 12, 2016
#14 - Somebody Went to Rio and All She Got was...
Early on in Rio, things looked bleak for Venus Williams. Playing with a viral illness, the player who arguably loves the Olympics more than any other (or seems to), was dumped out of the 1st Round of singles on Day 1, then she and Serena lost their first Olympic doubles match ever on Day 2. After at first being noncommital about playing Mixed Doubles, thinking she'd be busy in the other two draws, Venus teamed up with Rajeev Ram (himself a late addition to the team) and very nearly wrote what could have been a storybook ending (but don't be sure, for Venus recently stated that her goal is to play in Tokyo in 2020) to the greatest-ever Olympic tennis career. After saving two MP in the 1st Round vs. Bertens/Rojer, the U.S. duo went all the way to the Gold Medal Match, where they won the 1st set and held a 6-3 lead in the 3rd set TB vs. Mattek-Sands/Sock. A win would have given Venus a record fifth tennis Gold, and made her the only player to win Gold in singles, doubles and mixed. But it wasn't meant to be. Still, Venus remains tied with Serena with the most tennis Golds (4), and her Silver matches 1920's star Kitty McKane's record of five career Olympic tennis medals. As usual, with Venus, we really didn't have reason to worry. And while there may be some argument about whether or not Venus loves her Olympic participation MORE than any other player on tour, one should probably take a look at her extended reaction to winning the semifinal contest over Mirza/Bopanna, which simply assured her of a fifth medal and another shot to play for Gold. It's priceless, really.
Fave video of all time ?? pic.twitter.com/k4kf58XVSO— Tennis (@atpwtalove) August 14, 2016
#15 - Sisters-in-Arms
A week after winning the deciding doubles match in Taiwan's Promotional Playoff tie against Japan in Thailand (def. Shuko Aoyama & Erin Hozumi to clinch the 2-1 tie), the Chan sisters came back home to Taiwan and won the title in the inaugural WTA event in Kaohsiung without losing set, then followed up by winning in Doha, as well. They're second on the all-time all-sisters list for WTA doubles titles because a pair of siblings named Serena and Venus. Maybe you've heard of them?
#16 - The Final Surface...and the final title
Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza played in three straight red clay finals in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome (a tour-best seven finals in '16), finally claimed a title in the Italian Open with a 3rd set TB win over Makarova/Vesnina in the final. A year ago, their first red clay title after going 0-3 on the surface in previous finals (though they did win on green clay in Charleston in '15) had eluded the pair when they lost in the final to Timea Babos & Kristina Mladenovic. The win in Rome ended up being the last title claimed by "Santina," as the pair announced the end of their brief partnership during the summer, playing just one additional event (the WTA Finals in late October) before officially bringing down the curtain on their comet-like period of success.
#17 - Swiss Miss Silver
As was the case with Venus, Rio didn't look good for Switzerland's biggest Olympic tennis stars, either. Martina Hingis lost her expected doubles partner when Belinda Bencic's wrist injury knocked her out of action, then Roger Federer's Olympic absence took away that expected dream pairing for the Original Swiss Miss, as well. Stan Wawrinka begged off, too, then skipped the games entirely. Hingis ended up not playing MX at all, then announced mid-week that her and Sania Mirza's year-and-a-half partnership (14 titles, 3 slams and a 41-match winning streak) was over. Timea Bacsinszky, meanwhile, skipped the opening ceremonies because she had a Day 1 singles match scheduled, which she then promptly lost to Zheng Saisai after having held MP. So, while they weren't exactly the Olympic savior either was expecting, both Hingis and Bacsinszky played that role for each other to the hilt over the course of play in Rio. The pair lost just one set en route to the semis. There, the Swiss faced down MP -- literally, as a Hingis shot hit Andrea Hlavackova in the face to save the match -- and went on to win, assuring Hingis of her first Olympic medal, one of the few things to elude her in her Hall of Fame career. Like Venus, the storybook ending didn't include Gold. Instead, it was Silver, as the Swiss were outplayed by the more experienced-and-in-sync Russian duo of Makarova & Vesnina, but that's one thing that great about the Olympics -- one needn't WIN the final match to come away a "winner."
#18 - Partners That Survive Together, Thrive Together
Kiki Bertens & Johanna Larsson claimed back-to-back indoor titles in Linz and Luxembourg. In their first title run, they won a pair of 10-7 3rd set TB over Schuurs/Voracova (SF) and Groenefeld/Peschke (Final), then did the same a week later, surviving a 13-11 TB vs. Flipkens/Mertens (QF) and 11-9 in the final over Niculescu/Tig to claim their fifth overall title as a pair.
#19 - Siegemunding and it Feels So Good
In a season that had already seen her reach her first career tour singles final (Stuttgart), win her maiden title (Bastad), have a best-ever slam result (AO/US 3rd Rd.) and reach career-high rankings in singles (#27) and doubles (#40), 28-year old Laura Siegemund picked up her very first slam win at the U.S. Open when she claimed the Mixed Doubles title along with Mate Pavic.
#20 - (T)winnin' Like Twins
Ukrainian twins Lyudmyla & Nadiia Kichenok took the Florianopolis title, the second of their careers after winning in Shenzhen last season, without dropping a set. A 6-3/6-1 win over Babos/Jani came in the sisters' fourth WTA final together. 21-19 in ITF finals, they're only the fifth different pair of siblings to win multiple WD titles on tour, along with players named Williams, Chan, Pliskova and Bondarenko.
HM - One Final Time, with Feeling
while Czech women were grabbing tennis medals left and right in Rio, Hlavackova & Hradecka -- Silver medalists in 2012 -- didn't join in on the fun, losing to fellow Maidens Safarova/Stryova in the Bronze match. They "corrected" things in Quebec City, taking their twelfth title together with a win over Kudryavtseva/Panova in the final. It was their first tour crown as a duo since reuniting as a team late in the '14 season after a brief parting following their '13 U.S. Open title run. Though they did win a $100K challenger when they first joined forces again late in '14, they'd gone 0-4 in WTA finals over the last season and nine months.
Following the season, the two announcement another break-up of their partnership, revealing their decision to team with new partners in '17.
Ash CAN Go Home Again
Saying, "Tennis just makes sense to me," after a year and a half way, during which time her activities included a stint in a professional cricket league, 19-year old Ashleigh Barty returned to tennis in February. She picked up a title in her very first event, winning the $25K challenger in Perth with fellow Aussie Jessica Moore. The last time Barty played in a final was in Birmingham in 2014, just weeks before what had been most recent tour-level event at Wimbledon. "I'm starting from scratch and that's no worries at all," Barty said. Eventually, she reached finals in four of her first five events (w/ three different Aussie partners, including former partner Casey Dellacqua) and won three titles (two w/ Arina Rodionova). Later in the season, Barty (a former junior singles slam champ at Wimbledon in '11) reached a singles semi in a $50K challenger in Eastbourne and QF at a tour-level event in Nottingham in June, as well as another QF at a WTA 125 Series event in Taipei in November.
Great week with Jess! Pretty cool to be back on the winners list first tournament in. Pumped for next week ?????? #2.0 pic.twitter.com/0UQVohZ4r7— Ash Barty (@ashbar96) February 14, 2016
#1 - The Interchangaebles Reign Supreme
The Czech Republic maintained its control of the Fed Cup hardware, becoming the first nation to win three straight Fed Cup titles since Spain from 1993-95, and with five championships in the last six years, the Maidens can now claim the most extended run of FC dominance since the great U.S. squads of the late 1970's and early 1980's. Sometimes it seems as if the Czech squad has more weaponized, interchangeable parts than Captain Petr Pala could ever possibly know what to do with, and that fact came in handy throughout the team's 2016 journey, as three nations took their best shots at the defending champs, but none could deliver the clinching blow.
Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova, 2015 Top 10ers who have spearheaded the nation's multiple-title run, ultimately provided zero points for the squad this season, with Safarova unable to particiapte due to injury/illness and Kvitova going winless in the 1st Round (0-2) and Final (0-1). But, have no fear, Karolina Pliskova went 2-0 vs. Romania to take up the slack vs. Romania, then won the deciding doubles with Barbora Strycova. Strycova was pressed into singles action with Kvitova absent in the semis vs. Switzerland, then when things again went to the doubles it was Lucie Hradecka who teamed with Pliskova to take a 3-2 tie victory. In the final vs. France, the Czechs fell behind 2-1, but Strycova -- blue-and-red cape flowing off her shoulders -- arrived and kept the tie alive with a singles victory, then returned soon afterward to win ANOTHER deciding doubles match with Pliskova by her side.
An early note for 2017: the U.S. was the last team to win four straight FC titles, claiming the last of seven consecutive championships in 1982.
Even with all their usual off-court controversy, the Hordettes seemed a safe bet to advance past the Dutch squad in the Fed Cup 1st Round. While the Netherlands had won seven straight ties, with Kiki Bertens and/or Arantxa Rus pulling the load, the nation entered the weekend without a Top 100 player for a road tie vs. Sharapova (Career Slam), Svetlana Kuznetsova (two slams wins), Ekaterina Makarova (slam semifinalist) and Daria Kasatkina. Even Dutch Captain Paul Haarhuis said it'd take a "miracle" to emerge with the victory. Well, wish granted, and the "Miracle of Moscow" became a reality. With emphasis. Bertens kicked things off with a straight sets win over a frustrated Makarova, then Richel Hogenkamp (pictured) won the longest-ever FC match (4:00) over Russian all-time Fed Cup match leader Kuznetsova, saving MP and putting Netherlands up 2-0. Everyone wondered if the lineup would change and Sharapova would play singles match #3, or at least a fresh Kasatkina might be plucked from the bench to face Bertens on Sunday. Since, you know, surely Sveta wouldn't be called upon to play the first match after losing the marathon match #2 the night before. But she was and, understandably, was a shadow of her usual FC self (and more like her "off" self on her worst tour match days), losing in straights to Bertens. The win clinched a stunning upset of epic proportions, even with the Dutch team's under-the-radar, the-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-our-parts credo a living, breathing "fifth" team member in the tie from the start.
#3 - The Green Machine
The Australian Green team -- Daria Gavrilova & Nick Kyrgios -- become the first Aussie duo to win the Hopman Cup since Mark Philippoussis and a 16-year old Jelena Dokic in 1999. The pair barely made it out of round robin play, having to save a MP (via a Gavrilova volley up the middle and then a crosscourt drop volley) vs. France in the final RR match in an 11-9 3rd set mixed doubles match tie-break. The Aussies never lost again, winning the match two points point later (Kyrgios covered the entire court, hitting all half a dozen shots on MP) and then shutting out Ukraine 2-0 in the final.
HM - The Big Red Machine, Part XVIII
Led by Taylor Davidson, the Stanford Cardinal women claimed the school's record eighteenth NCAA team championship (the next-best total is six, by Florida), defeating Oklahoma State in the final.
#1 - Making it Official
Great moments here in Rio! Two gold medals, a dream come true???? pic.twitter.com/AAtMCPWNNq— jiske griffioen (@jiskegriffioen) September 17, 2016
Well, it's official. After a few years of jockeying for position, Jiske Griffioen has inherited the throne as THE top wheelchair champion of the post-Esther Vergeer era, which ended when the dominant Dutch future Hall of Famer swept Gold at the Paralympics in London in 2012. Four years later in Rio, 31-year old Griffioen kept the Gold medals -- all the Gold medals -- in "the family." Just like Vergeer, Griffioen swept the Paralympic singles and doubles Gold, meaning she's won five of the last seven slam/Olympics singles titles, including both the Australian Open and Wimbledon crowns in '16 (and 6 of 8 of the sport's biggest events, when you include the season-ending Masters event in 2015). As is so often the case, Griffioen went through her doubles partner, Aniek Van Koot, to achieve all this. As if to further be the linking agent connecting Vergeer and Griffioen, it was Van Koot (five years younger than the current #1, and nine years than the former) who earned the Silver while losing to Vergeer in HER Paralympic singles swan song in '12. Van Koot & Griffioen joined forces to win the doubles Gold, defeating another all-Dutch duo -- Marjolein Buis & Diede de Groot -- in the final.
#2 - The First of Her Kind
31-year old Dutch WC #1 Jiske Griffioen becomes the first-ever Wimbledon Wheelchair Singles champ with a three-set win over doubles partner Aniek Van Koot.
I can't believe it!! Wimbledon singles champion?? beating Aniek van Koot 4-6 6-0 6-4! MATHILDE DUSOL PHOTOGRAPHY pic.twitter.com/45eO5u3Rar— jiske griffioen (@jiskegriffioen) July 9, 2016
#3 - Best Friends 3-Ever... 4-Ever can come next year
In the Wimbledon Wheelchair Doubles, common foes met for a 13th time, and the 10th time in a slam final. #1 Yui Kamiji & Jordanne Whiley won their third straight Wimbledon title, defeating #2-ranked Jiske Griffioen & Aniek Van Koot (fresh off of meeting in the singles final the day before) in two dominating sets.
#4 - Buis Joins the Club
Marjolein Buis, 28, becomes the latest Dutch player to become a slam singles champion, as her maiden win at Roland Garros adds her name to the list (w/ Jiske Griffioen and Aniek Van Koot) of her fellow countrywomen to win since the retirement of THE Dutch WC legend, Esther Vergeer.
#5 - The NEXT One?
Might the heir to Griffioen's throne ALREADY have been found? Enter fellow Dutch player, 19-year old Diede de Groot.
"Diede the Great" (as her Twitter handle calls her) won WD Silver at this year's Paralympics in Rio, and finished fourth in singles, notching a win over world #5 Jordanne Whiley (a former WS slam champ) in the QF. From June forward, de Groot pulled off wins over #1 Jiske Griffioen ('16 AO, Wimbledon and Paralympic champ), #2 Aniek Van Koot (2-time WS slam champ), #3 Yui Kamiji (3-time WS slam champ), #4 Marjolein Buis ('16 RG champ) and #6 Sabine Ellerbrock (2-time WS slam champ). Having climbed into the Top 8 in the WC rankings, de Groot is set to make her grand slam debut in 2017. It should be quite interesting.
She's been practicing her celebratory pirouettes...
[JUNIORS & NCAA]
#1 - Another Swiss Star-in-the-Making
Rebeka Masarova wins the Roland Garros girls singles title, joining fellow Swiss stars Martina Hingis (1993-94) and Belinda Bencic (2013) as champions at the event. The #12 seed, Masarova defeated the #1 Olesya Pervushina (SF) and #2 Anastasia Potapova (Final) en route to the title.
Rebeka Masarova poses with the trophy following her victory during Girls Singles final vs Amanda Anisimova (Getty) pic.twitter.com/dY9b8M6h9a— Waqas RF (@Fed_43600) June 5, 2016
RG 2016 Junior Champion, Rebeka Masarova is a...well read the post ?? pic.twitter.com/XOn4Evjg7k— Sofia_RF (@Sofia__RF) June 6, 2016
Ultimately, the RG girls champ finally put together a 16-match clay court winning streak that was finally snapped by Hordette Amina Anshba in the final of the Grade 1 clay court German Juniors event in Berlin a few weeks before Wimbledon, 7-6(3)/3-6/6-4, preventing the Swiss teen from becoming the girls #1 with a win.
A fews later, Masarova reached the semifinals in the tour-level Gstaad women's event in her tour debut.
#2 - The Days of Kayla
Bannerette Kayla Day had a summer to remember. First, she won the U.S. 18s National Championship, earning a WC into the U.S. Open main draw. Then, in New Haven, the 16-year old notched qualifying wins over Naomi Broady and Kirsten Flipkens before losing in the final Q-round to Anastasija Sevastova (who'd later reach the U.S. Open QF) in three sets, but still made her MD tour debut as a lucky loser. A week later, she posted her first career slam win over Madison Brengle at the U.S. Open, THEN had a go in the junior competition, as well. All she did was reach the girls doubles final, then, leading the charge of ten U.S. girls in the Round of 16, was the last Bannerette standing as she won the singles crown.
2016 US Open -- Led by juniors champion Kayla Day, next wave of American tennis players prepares to make a splash https://t.co/KGQnRsc37c— ESPNTennis (@ESPNTennis) September 12, 2016
In the fall, Day won the USTA's multi-event challenger playoff to earn a wild card in next January's Australian Open women's MD.
#3 - Yet Another Generation of Russian Tennis Stars are Here
Anastasia Potopova claimed the Wimbledon Girls title, defeating Ukraine's Dayana Yastremska in a final in which the last game of the match saw the 15-year old Russian fight off two BP, overcome two MP being overturned via replay and ultimately win on her seventh MP of the game. She's the fourth different Hordette to win a junior slam since the start of 2014, the second straight to win Wimbledon (Zhuk '15) and the fourth Russian girl to lift the SW19 girls title since the end of the Soviet era.
#4 - The Legacy of Radwanska
It's been eleven years since the Radwanska sisters brought Poland a junior Fed Cup title, and as the competition was playing out in Budapest it was Aga's name that was being passed around. 14-year old Polish #2 singles player Maja Chwalinska, a small player who sports crafty and intelligent skills ala you-know-who, said, "I think that we will all keep working hard and play, play, play," adding, ""Maybe we will be like Agnieszka Radwanska in the future, but we will see." And then the junior Poles, who came into the week as the youngest squad in the field (with every member of the roster having been born in 2001), went out and more than lived up to the Radwanska legend.
Congratulations to Poland - 2016 Junior Fed Cup champions! pic.twitter.com/7680JzCYEz— ITF Junior Tennis (@ItfJunior) October 2, 2016
The #4-seeded Polish squad, after taking out #5 Canada in round robin play to reach the semis, eliminated the #1-seeded Russians (who'd gone 9-0 without losing a set in RR action) when Iga Swiatek teamed with Chwalinska to defeat juniors #2 and #3 Anastasia Potapova & Olesya Pervushina 1 & 3 to reach the final. There, they faced off with the #2-seeded U.S. squad. In the opening singles match, #10-ranked junior Claire Liu (who went all week without her lost luggage after the team flew in from the U.S. training site in Spain) knocked off #93 Chwalinska, but then #12 Swiatek upset #4 Amanda Anisimova to force a deciding doubles match. There it was once again the duo of Chwalinska/Swiatek that thrived, handling Liu (the Wimbledon girls doubles champ w/ Usue Arconada) & Caty McNally 4 & love to clinch the title. For the week, Swiatek went 9-0 in singles and doubles action.
CHWALINSKA & SWIATEK
#5 - Following in Vika's Footsteps
Vera Lapko's Australian Open junior singles final win over '15 champ Tereza Mihalikova, in which she closed out a straight sets win despite having trailed 4-1 in the 2nd set, made the Belarusian the first girl from her nation to win a slam crown since Victoria Azarenka claimed the AO and U.S. Open titles in 2005.
#6 - The Thoughtful Hordette
Anna Blinkova wins the second annual Junior Masters in Chengdo, China in an eight-player event featuring an elite group of the world's best girls. The 17-year old Russian was crowned champion after defeating Usue Arconada in her opening match, Kayla Day to advance to the final, and then knocking off Katie Swan 6-4/6-7(1)/7-6(4) despite seeing the 17-year old Brit serve for the match at 6-5. Blinkova was the Wimbledon girls runner-up to fellow Hordette Sofya Zhuk last summer. She gives a great interview, too.
#7 - The Ukrainian Generation
The 14s junior squad from Ukraine took home the nation's first title in a decade at the ITF World Junior championships.
Playing in the competition in Prostejov, Czech Republic, the Ukrainian girls faced off in the final against the junior Bannerettes of the U.S., a meeting of the runners-up from the past two years (UKR '14, USA '15). After Alexa Noel put the U.S. up 1-0 with a three-set win over Daria Snigur, Marta Kostyuk (the Eddie Herr 14s champ from last year -- a year after current Wimbledon junior champ Anastasia Potapova won the same crown -- and the highest-ranked player in the event, at #115) defeated Whitney Osuigwe 6-3/6-0 to send things to the deciding doubles match. There, Kostyuk teamed with Dasha Lopatetska to defeat Noel/Osuigwe in a 10-6 3rd set TB to claim the title.
#8 - U-Va. All the Way
Virginia's Danielle Collins won her second NCAA women's singles title in three years, becoming the seventh female (and the first from U-Va.) to win multiple championships
[NON-WINNING -- BUT LAUDABLE -- EFFORTS]
An energetic and entertaining Daria Gavrilova becomes an instant star Down Under, knocking off AO seeds Petra Kvitova and Kristina Mladenovic under the lights en route to her first career slam Round of 16 at the Australian Open
DASHA! Daria Gavrilova reaches 4th round of a grand slam for first time, beating Kristina Mladenovic 6-4, 4-6, 11-9 pic.twitter.com/5WYREjWw1I— FOX SPORTS News (@FOXSportsNews) January 22, 2016
Zhang Shuai puts on a quarterfinal run for the ages in Melbourne, going from a #133-ranked barely-a-qualifier who was contemplating retirement to the highest-ranked Chinese player in the world after an improbable AO run that included wins over #2 Simona Halep, Week 2 title-winner Alize Cornet and '15 Melbourne semifinalist Madison Keys
Before Johanna Konta's semifinal run at the Australian Open, no British woman had reached an AO Round of 16 since 1987, a slam QF since 1984 or a major SF since 1977
While Serena Williams' return trip to Indian Wells didn't end as well as she'd have hoped, she still reached her first final at the tournament in fifteen years. She returned to the event in '15 after a fourteen-year boycott, pulling out of the semifinals last season due to injury. This year, Venus returned to the tournament after her own 15-year absence.
2006 Miami champ Svetlana Kuznetsova knocks off Serena Williams en route to the final, her first at the event since 2009.
Samantha Crawford uses a huge serve and big shots to go from qualifier to Brisbane semifinalist after upsetting Belinda Bencic and delivering a Breaking Bad-style "say my name" three & love demolition of Andrea Petkovic
=2nd QUARTER, Pt.1=
Going into the April, Golubic was looked upon as an end-of-the-bench player for the Swiss... the she notched upset victories over Karolina Pliskova (erasing a 6-4/4-2 deficit in her FC debut) and Barbora Strycova (staving off elimination). Pliskova & Lucie Hradecka ultimately defeated Golubic & Martina Hingis in the deciding doubles, but the young Swiss pretty much stole the tie's spotlight, even in defeat.
FED CUP ZONES— Diane Elayne Dees (@WomenWhoServe) April 17, 2016
The Asia/Oceana Zone
The Europe/Africa Zone
The Golubic Zone
Angelique Kerber was ultimately crowned champion for the second straight year in Stuttgart, but it was another German who drove the story all week long. Laura Siegemund, 28, became the first qualifier to reach the final (without losing a set through seven matches) as she rode a game style with very Radwanskian and Vinci-like undertones to three straight Top 10 vitories over Simona Halep and, incidentally, BOTH Vinci and Radwanska.
The run of Madison Keys to the Rome final was arguably (or maybe it's not even arguable, actually) more surprising and impressive than her semifinal result at the Australian Open in 2015. The Bannerette put up wins over Andrea Petkovic, Petra Kvitova (w/ three match-ending aces), Timea Babos, Barbora Strycova and Garbine Muguruza en route to the biggest final of her career. She even managed to force Serena Williams into a 1st set tie-break in the championship match.
For the first time in Paris since 1988, four unseeded women reached the singles quarterfinals as #58 Kiki Bertens became the first Dutch woman in the RG semifinals since 1971, #108 Shelby Rogers (w/ wins over #17 Karolina Pliskova, Elena Vesnina, #10 Petra Kvitova and #25 Irina-Camelia Begu) became the first non-Williams Bannerette to reach the RG QF since 2005, #102 Tsvetana Pironkova came back from a set and 3-0 down (a day and a half rain delay) to knock off Aga Radwanska and #60 Yulia Putintseva reached her first career slam QF (def. #28 Petkovic and #12 Suarez-Navarro) while dropping just eighteen games through four matches.
Dominika Cibulkova's post-Achilles' tendon surgery renaissance in '16 picked up speed in Madrid with the Slovak advancing to the final with four consecutive three-set matches over Aga Radwanska (from a break down in the 3rd), Caroline Garcia (from 6-0/3-0), Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Sorana Cirstea (after dropping the 1st vs. both) before dominating an overwhelmed Louisa Chirico in the semis (on Domi's 27th birthday) to become, at #38, the lowest-ranked woman to ever reach a Premier Mandatory final.
Samantha Stosur made her final tournament with coach David Taylor count a memorable one. Arriving in Paris nursing an injury that may have relieved her of expectations, the Aussie made her own opportunities, advancing past '15 RG finalist Lucie Safarova, '14 RG finalist Simona Halep and unseeded Tsvetana Pironkova to reach her first slam semifinal since 2012. A former RG finalist herself (2010), Stosur is 34-13 in the tournament for her career, by far her best record at any of the majors.
This spring in Madrid, it was Louisa Chirico who took a turn in the getting-crowded NextGen Bannerette Spotlight. The 19-year old world #130 had the week of her career. After making it through qualifying, she pulled off upsets of the likes of Monica Niculescu and Ana Ivanovic, advanced past an injured Vika Azarenka (back), the took out Dasha Gavrilova to reach her maiden WTA semifinal.
=2nd QUARTER, Pt.2=
At 36, Venus Williams became the oldest Wimbledon semifinalist since 1994 (Navratilova-37), putting up her best SW19 result since '09 on the heels of having her best Roland Garros since 2010. She continued to turn away questions about the "r" word, too. "Retiring is the easy way out," she said. "I don't have time for easy."
Less than six months after winning her maiden slam title in Melbourne, Angelique Kerber reaches the Wimbledon final without dropping a set, defeating Simona Halep and Venus Williams, thus becoming just the third player to ever notch slam wins over both Sisters while never having been ranked #1 herself. A few months later, Angie gracefully REMOVED her name from THAT list while visiting New York City.
In Birmingham, Barbora Strycova became the first person since Maria Sharapova (in 2004) to reach both the singles and doubles finals at the event. The 30-year old Czech, a singles finalist in the event two years earlier, reached her second final of the year (w/ Dubai) with wins over Karolina Pliskova, Heather Watson, Tsvetana Pironkova and CoCo Vandweghe (so that's three grass court title winners, including BOTH from the previous week, and a former Wimbledon semifinalist) before falling to Madison Keys.
Don't count out the now thirtysomething (or nearly so) members of the back half of last decade's Russian Revolution just yet. At 29, Elena Vesnina came into 2016 following her worst season on tour in a decade. Fighting her way back up the rankings all year, the Hordette reached a personal mountaintop at Wimbledon, advancing to her first career slam singles SF and lifting her ranking into the Top 25. Vesnina was the third first-time semifinalist at a major this season, joining Johanna Konta (AO) and Kiki Bertens (RG) on the third step of the slam "medal stand" in 2016.
Somewhat under the radar, Yaroslava Shvedova was a true triple threat at Wimbledon. She reached the singles QF (at #96), the mixed SF and the doubles final, putting up a tournament-best 12 overall victories. Well, at least it was until Serena won the singles AND doubles finals and edged her out with wins #12 and #13.
After a few seasons of being at or near the top of the tour lists for titles, finals and aces, but without a breakout major event performance to her credit,
Seemingly forever searching for her slam breakout moment, Karolina Pliskova's summer in North America -- especially the final two weeks in New York -- provided a sudden life change when it comes to how she's viewed on the overall landscape of the WTA tour. Her decisions to buckle down and intensely work on improving her movement, while also cutting back on her sometimes-obscenely-overpacked schedule, made her THE biggest mover-and-shaker of the 3rd Quarter. After wins on her title-winning run in Cincy over #10 Svetlana Kuznetosva, #3 Garbine Muguruza and (then-) #2 Angelique Kerber, the tall Czech went to the U.S. Open, after never having advanced past the 3rd Round in her seventeen major appearances (actually, she was the only player in the Top 20 without a QUARTERFINAL at a slam), and played like someone with the nerves of a multi-slam winner. She took out the world #6 (Venus Williams, saving a MP) and #1 (Serena Williams) to blow through her old artificial Round of 16 roadblock and becoming the first woman representing her nation to reach the U.S. Open final since 1993. Just the fourth woman to defeat both Williams Sisters in the same slam, her three-set loss to Kerber in the final prevented Pliskova from matching countrywoman Hana Mandlikova's 1985 U.S. Open title run, which included wins over the world's #1 and #2 players (Navratilova & Evert) en route.
Mark it down, Week 28 of 2016 was when Rebeka Masarova became a star. Yeah, the 16-year old spent the spring clay court season running roughshod over junior competition and winning the Roland Garros girls title, but what she did in Gstaad is another thing altogether. Making her WTA tour debut as a wild card, ranked #797 in the world, Masarova opened up by upsetting #2-seeded Jelena Jankovic, a former #1 (#27 at the time), then followed up with two more Top 100 wins over #92 Anett Kontaveit and #38 Annika Beck en route to the semifinals. Just like that, the latest Swiss Miss jumped 483 spots in the rankings.
In Stanford, even while she didn't ultimately win the title, Venus Williams was THE story of the week. As great on the court as she was off it, she reached her 80th career final twenty-two years after she made her WTA tour debut as a wee fourteen year-old back in the Bank of the West Classic in 1994 (w/ a win over Shaun Stafford, then a 2nd Rd. loss to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in a love 3rd set) when the event was held in Oakland. After being forced to three sets in her opening match against Magda Linette, 36-year old Williams dispatched younger countrywomen CiCi Bellis and Alison Riske in straight sets (with a close set vs. each) before finally not being able to corral Brit Johanna Konta in the final.
Injuries and the mental fatigue and disappointment involved with dealing with them, as well as the declining on-court results they produced, led Anastasija Sevastova to retire from tennis in 2013. She returned to the sport in 2015, and was an immediate (and healthy) success on the ITF circuit. The 26-year old Latvian has returned to the WTA scene in 2016, reaching her first tour finals in six years on grass (Mallorca) and clay (Bucharest in the 3Q). In North America, she turned to the hard courts, putting on her first career slam QF run at the U.S. Open (the first by a Latvian at a major since 1994) after posting wins over Garbine Muguruza and Johanna Konta before, alas, an early-match turned ankle vs. Caroline Wozniacki sealed her fate.
Caroline Wozniacki came into the U.S. Open with her career looking like it might be about to reach a critical point. Over a 12-month span that included an ankle injury and a growing sense that her heart might not be "in it" anymore when it came to her tennis future, she'd fallen from the Top 5 to #74 and came to New York with another coaching experiment having ended (this time by David Kotyza's hand) and off a very poor showing in the same New Haven tournament she used to dominate. She struggled to get past qualifier Taylor Townsend in the 1st Round... and then caught a whiff of the consistent-but-also-occasionally-aggressive playing style that took her to the 2014 Open final. With an upset of #8 Madison Keys in the Round of 16 her biggest "get," Caro pushed herself into a totally unexpected semifinal run that has lifted her ranking back into the Top 30 and put a whole new course of "Wozniology-101" on the schedule. Yeah, father Piotr also publicly said that his 26-year old daughter might retire by the end of the 2017 season, at about the age these days when so many players are altering the course of their careers and discovering a new level of success (I add parenthetically, with absolutely no hint of irony at all).
Kristina Kucova had the week of her 26-year old life in Montreal. Ranked #121, she made her way through qualifying (def. Christina McHale), which would have been a fairly satisfactory result at such a big event. But she was hardly finished. Next came a win over #9 Carla Suarez-Navarro, the biggest of the Slovak's career. Victories over Washington D.C. champ Yanina Wickmayer, former slam finalist Genie Bouchard (from a set and a break down, and admitting that she didn't feel nervous on the big court -- "I was really calm," she said. "I felt like I belong on this court."), and Stanford winner Johanna Konta (singlehandedly keeping the Brit out of the Top 10) to reach her biggest-ever tour-level semifinal (and her first since Bucharest '14). The first qualifier to reach the semis of the event since 1996 (Kimberly Po), Kucova had never had a Top 30 win in her career before this event.
"I surprised myself with how I managed to turn matches around; it was the greatest week of my life" -Kristina Kukova pic.twitter.com/4oilqSF3Do— Coupe Rogers (@CoupeRogers) July 31, 2016
Three years after she won the U.S. Open girls title, and two years after former junior Swiss rival Belinda Bencic reached the final eight at Flushing Meadows, 18-year old Croat Ana Konjuh reached her first career slam QF in New York. And she did it by taking out Aga Radwanska, against whom she'd held three MP at Wimbledon only to ultimately injure herself while stepping on a ball and be unable to compete in the closing moments of a 2nd Round loss. And she did it in dominating fashion. There was just nothing Radwanska could do about it.
Given a wild card into the Tokyo event, 18-year old Naomi Osaka thrilled the home crowds with wins over Misaki Doi, Dominika Cibulkova (3 games lost), Aliaksandra Sasnovich and Elina Svitolina to become the first Japanese player to reach the final in twenty-one years (Kimiko Date, in 1995, of course), as she appeared in her maiden tour singles final just a few weeks after reaching the 3rd Round of a major for the third time in 2016. A match away from her first pro title of any kind, Osaka led Caroline Wozniacki in the 1st set, only to lose her way and concentration after the Dane's medical timeout mid-way through the set, as well as possibly behing hindered by a shoulder injury of her own. She dropped the 1st set, then fell behind 5-0 in the 2nd before finally taming her game and getting things to 5-3 before Wozniacki finished off the straight sets win.
In Beijing, Johanna Konta reaches her first career Premier Mandatory final on the back of wins over Anastasija Sevastova, Timea Babos, Karolina Pliskova ('16 Top 10 win #6), Zhang Shuai (winning the final twelve games after falling behind 4-0), and Madison Keys (Top 10 win #7). The result provided a key 4Q piece in allowing Konta to become just the fourth Brit -- and the the first in 32 years -- to climb into the singles Top 10.
Backspin's Official Unicorn ended her 2016 just as she began it, with hope springing eternal and popping out all over the place. Between her Hopman Cup title and star-making Round of 16 run in Melbourne, Gavrilova had an up-and-down season. A good clay season (QF in Madrid, wins over Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova and Elina Svitolina) and summer hard court victories over the likes of Svitolina (again) and Caroline Garcia were the highlights of a 8-month stretch that included eleven events in which she failed to win multiple MD matches. But, as it turned out, the Aussie saved the best for last. Her three-event, season-concluding sprint, after a false start in Wuhan, included a progressive climb from quarterfinalist (Beijing) to semifinalist (Hong Kong) to first-time tour singles finalist in her orignial hometown of Moscow. She went 10-3 in the closing weeks, notching big victories over #1 Angelique Kerber, Timea Bacsinszky, and Garcia (again), then last in her closing week of action took out Lucie Safarova, Carla Suarez-Navarro, two-time Moscow finalist (and '14 champ) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and Julia Goerges to finally knock down the finalist door. She finally ran out of gas in the final vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova, but she had a full week. She and Daria Kasatkina -- the Dashas -- reached their first doubles final together, as well, a run which included a win over the top Russian doubles duo of Makarova/Vesnina.
[A Feat... or not a Feat?]
Kristyna Pliskova, whose twin sister Karolina led the tour in aces in '15, set a tour record for aces in a match with 31 vs. Monica Puig in the 2nd Round in Melbourne, breaking the mark of 27 set a year ago by Sabine Lisicki in a two-set match in Birmingham. Pliskova set the mark in an extended three-setter in which she held five match points... but lost.
RECORD BREAKER Kristyna Pliskova hit 31 aces in her defeat to Monica Puig - the most ever in a women's match ?????? pic.twitter.com/pAlpeuz7Jv— Australian Open (@AustralianOpen) January 20, 2016
[Best One-Match Performance]
Petra Kvitova -- aka "Merciless Petra" -- destroyed wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time Sorana Cirstea in the 1st Round of Wimbledon. The Czech opened the match by breaking the Romanian. She held at love to take a 3-0 lead after just seven minutes. Eight minutes later, Kvitova closed out a love set win in FIFTEEN minutes with an ace to hold at love again. In all, it was Kvitova's third love game of the set, an opening stanza in which she won 24 of 28 points, losing as many as two in a single game just once. Cirstea played better in the 2nd set, which lasted :38. She at least let it be known that she wasn't going to be simple roadkill, as in the opening game the Swarmette saved two break points and held in a three-deuce game. But Kvitova went up 40/15 in game #5 and got the 3-2 break advantage that she never relinquished. She won 6-0/6-4 in :53, losing just two points on her 1st serve on the day and eight total points on serve. She never faced a BP, and committed just eight unforced errors. Let me repeat that... Petra Kvitova committed just eight unforced errors. Not in a stretch of play between changeovers, either. In a single match.
Of course, this is a "One-Match" performance award because, well, two-time SW19 champ Kvitova ended up losing one round later to Ekaterina Makarova in a straight-sets match pushed back, interrupted and delayed for days because of the rainy first week Wimbledon weather.
In the Australian Open semis, Serena Williams throttled Aga Radwanska in a near-perfect love opening set that lasted just 21 minutes. In all, Williams, moving forward with gusto, led 18-1 in winners in the stanza... even without hitting a single ace. As it turned out, she didn't need them.
When you've got a rough day at the office pic.twitter.com/ztBaIMqaTN— WTA Reactions (@WTAreactions) January 28, 2016
[Best Performance in a Single Set... to no avail]
One year after she stopped cold Serena Williams' quest for a Grand Slam in the semifinals, Roberta Vinci returned to Ashe Stadium court on Day 9 of the U.S. Open with the opportunity to thwart yet another run at history. While she talked of being tired, and was playing with a leg injury that seemed to have some impact on her movement, after advancing to her fourth Open quarterfinal in the last five years, the 33-year old looked none the worse for wear throughout the opening stretch of her QF match with Angelique Kerber, the reigning Australian Open champ, Wimbledon finalist and Rio Silver medalist. But Vinci really didn't care much about all that in the opening set.
Employing her "throwback" game of slice-heavy variety, net approaches and drop shots, the Italian found ways to bedevil Kerber early and often in the 1st. And the Germany didn't particularly like it, either. Her frustration was evident as, just as she'd done vs. Serena Williams a year ago, Vinci consistently pulled and tugged Kerber to the areas of the court she desired, then sent a ball in the opposite direction for a winner, or past her while the German's feet remained plastered to the court. Vinci got a service break to open the match. It would be a common occurrence in the set, as the Italian's brand of magic often got the better of Kerber. Thing is, Vinci could never back up her breaks with service holds in order to build a lead. Every time Vinci would edge ahead, Kerber would pull her back to even by recording a break of her own, waiting for something more to go her way.
Vinci has 9 winners:— Carl Bialik (@CarlBialik) September 6, 2016
3 passing shots
1 drop shot
1 passing shot
1 approach shot
8 of Kerber's 13 are groundstrokes
At 4-4, Kerber's efforts to problem-solve Vinci's frustrating gameplan hit a major snag when she suddenly lost control of her own groundstrokes, misfiring on four consecutive points with a string on unforced errors that broke her own serve at love and gave the Italian the chance to serve out the set. When the first point of game #10 saw Vinci approach the net and fire a forehand directly into the tape, only to see the ball pop up, richochet to the left and clear the net by only an inch or two and bounce helplessly on Kerber's side of the court, well, it looked like the Tennis Gods might just be with her again in New York. But another net cord shot from Vinci failed to clear the net two points later, putting her behind 15/30. She pulled to 30/30 with a forehand winner, but the backhand and forehand errors that ended the next two points once again allowed Kerber to get back on serve with a responding break at 5-5.
Kerber held a game later and, serving at 5-6, the verve had seemingly (and suddenly) gone out of the Vinci game as, perhaps, after failing to seize her moment to take the lead in the match produced the break in concentration that finally allowed all the factors working against her -- a mediocre season, bad summer, fatigue, injury and, you know, Kerber herself -- to all come to bear in a perfect storm that took her out once and for all. She quickly fell behind love/40, then saw the set end on a foot fault on a second serve at SP, as a great set of tennis ended with a whimper with Kerber taking the 1st at 7-5 while never having to swing her racket on the final point.
Vinci sarcastically gave a "thumbs up" to the linesperson who made the call (call it the "anti-Serena" reaction?) as she walked to the changeover area. It would be the Italian's last act of note in the match, as she wouldn't win another game as the "tennis paradise" that we witnessed in the opening set just wilted, dried up and went away in the 2nd... just like Vinci's game.
[Best Around-the-Post Winner]
[Best Game/Coaching Tool While Having No Hope]
Maria Sharapova's game #7 performance in the 2nd set of a 6-4/6-1 loss to Serena Williams in the Australian Open QF. Maybe the cheers she received after she finally got on the board in the 2nd after falling down 5-0 ("Don't give me your pity!") particularly irked her. But in what would be the final game of the match -- and her last in quite some time, it turns out -- Sharapova seemed to make a point of showing her competitiveness. Serving with new balls, Williams hit her thirteenth ace on the second point of the game. But Sharapova didn't fold, not by a long shot. Clenching her fist, slapping her thigh and urging herself on, she fired a return winner to reach BP, then reached BP again soon afterward, still seeking an opportunity to get a foothold from which she might be able to climb back into the match. It was a characteristic stretch of points for the Russian, though it was ultimately an unsuccessful one.
Really, coaches of young tennis players -- or young athletes, period -- should show this game (starting at 1:10:30) to their charges, obscuring the score. The kids should be told to focus on Sharapova, playing "in a bubble" with her all-so-familiar look of intensity, pumping herself up to give her all on every point. When the kids are asked what they think the score of the match was in that
game, they'd likely to stunned that it wasn't something close to 5-5 in the 3rd.
[Best Act-Like-Nobody's-Watching Post-Match Celebration]
Siegemund knocks off JJ. AND CELEBRATES. pic.twitter.com/92oVcqppIV— TennisNow (@Tennis_Now) January 21, 2016
[Best Act-Like-Nobody's-Watching Performance in the Stands]
Belinda Bencic... who now knows that someone is ALWAYS watching. Or she will soon.
When you spent too much time watching the St. Petersburg cheerleaders https://t.co/0hibnFhD98— WTA Reactions (@WTAreactions) February 12, 2016
When you know you're gonna be on WTAreactions pic.twitter.com/vA6Lm1cPBH— WTA Reactions (@WTAreactions) February 13, 2016
[Best Post-Match Emotion]
[Best Post-Match Celebration]
[Best Post-Match Champagne Moment]
Come to see Laura Siegemund win Bastad, but stick around for probably what will be the best (surprise) champagne bottle moment of the season during the trophy ceremony:
[Best Post-Match Slip of the Tongue]
[Best Post-Match Preparation]
[Best Post-Match Hug]
Hmmm, a flashforward to the conclusion of a future slam final? Say, about 1918-19? Speaking of the future...
Recognising the power of ?? https://t.co/zGca1pUSvz— WTA Reactions (@WTAreactions) January 22, 2016
[Best Sports Illustrated Model Stint, 2016 edition]
[Worst, err, Handshake?]
Roland Garros: Alize Cornet - Tatjana Maria (ÖZET): Fransiz raket Cornet, seyircisinden büyük destek aldigi m... https://t.co/NXpySHlQt4— Messi Show (@leomessishow) May 27, 2016
[Best About-What-You'd-Expect Moment... i.e. Aga vs. Barbora]
[Best Kiki I-Don't-Play-Favorites-With-My-Partners Shots on the Same Day]
[Best Invitational Performance (or "Wimbledon Champ... again!")]
In the Invitational doubles competition, wouldn't you know it, Martina Navratilova was a Wimbledon champion yet again. At age 59 (she turned 60 after this year's U.S. Open, which marked the ten-year anniversary of her final pro slam title in the Mixed Doubles in 2006, 32 years after she won her first slam crown in 1974). She and Selima Sfar won the final over Lindsay Davenport & Mary Joe Fernandez after taking a 1st set TB 7-5, and then Davenport essentially forced MJF to retire in order to not hurt herself seriously. Fernandez had injured her left leg just prior to the TB, but eschewed any medical attention and went ahead and played the breaker. But she could barely move around the court, limping and hunched over in a way that often made her to resemble a 90-year old man. Well, not really... but if you squinted your eyes, maybe.
For Navratilova, if you count her regular wins during her career, it's her 23rd overall Wimbledon title (9 singles, 7 doubles, 4 mixed, 3 Invitational). The oldest to win the Invitational event, this was her third Invitational win, with the others coming in 2009 (w/ Helena Sukova) and '10 (w/ Jana Novotna)... before Martina Hingis came in and won three straight titles (2011-13 w/ Davenport) before heading back to the regular tour.
Go, Original Martina!
[Best On-Court Friendship]
[Oddest/Most Artistically Beautiful Trophy]
[Worst Trophy Change]
From 2013-15, Bastad had the coolest/oddest/most-cuddly-for-all-the-weirdest-reasons trophy on tour. No longer.
[Best Radwanska No-Look Shot]
[Best Radwanska Sneak Attack]
[The Key to Aga's Success?]
[Best Aga Impression]
[Best WTA-themed Halloween Costume]
How cute is that ???? https://t.co/ndSn4kvXyV— Kristina Mladenovic (@KikiMladenovic) October 31, 2016
Come on, is there really any doubt?
[Best Player/Fan Interaction]
The surprise continued for this lucky fan. She was escorted off court and got a surprise meet and greet with…Serena! #BOTWClassic— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) July 21, 2016
[Best (non-verbal) Gavrilovian Response]
EVERYBODY WAS KUNG POOTS FIGHTING pic.twitter.com/jMgiRY8X79— René Denfeld (@Renestance) August 31, 2016
[Best Racket Challeng(er)]
[Best Medal Stand]
Unless you'd say...
Or, actually, I sort of prefer this one (because sometimes a simple turn of an ankle makes all the difference)...
Caught ya, Barbora.
[Best New Hall of Famer]
@ International Tennis Hall of Fame ;-)— Justine Henin (@Justine_Henin) July 16, 2016
At Justine Henin's induction ceremony into the International Hall of Fame, Monica Seles introduced La Petit Taureau. Naturally, she singled out the Belgian's one-handed backhand for praise, calling it "one of the signature shots in tennis history," adding, "And as an opponent, I hated it." Of Henin's four-title run at Roland Garros, Seles noted that the "clay court was her canvas, and her racket the paint brush." "She was an artist; power, touch, court sense, creativity. Justine's game was like a rainbow. The full spectrum of color. But Justine was also a warrior. Drive, dedicated, focused. One of the toughest competitors we'll ever see."
Henin: "I wasn't the biggest or the strongest. But like Amelie said, impossible is nothing. You have to believe."?????? pic.twitter.com/hTfStddetQ— Tennis Hall of Fame (@TennisHalloFame) July 16, 2016
Meanwhile, coming in 2017...
And, of course...
*TOP PERFORMANCE WINNERS*
2003 Justine Henin-Hardenne = U.S. Open
2004 Maria Sharapova = Wimbledon
2005 Kim Clijsters = North American hardcourt season
2006 Maria Sharapova = U.S. Open
2007 Justine Henin = U.S. Open
2008 Venus Williams = Wimbledon
2009 Serena Williams = Wimbledon
2010 Serena Williams = Wimbledon
2011 Petra Kvitova = Wimbledon
2012 Serena Williams = Olympics
2013 Serena Williams = Roland Garros
2014 Petra Kvitova = Wimbledon
2015 Belinda Bencic = Toronto
2016 Monica Puig = Olympics
And, finally, some Wisdom of Gibbsy...
Huh. An arena in which the defeated publicly lose their will to live, you say? Sounds familiar. pic.twitter.com/A7YG6fIqKA— Nicole Gibbs (@Gibbsyyyy) May 9, 2016
Yep, sounds about about right.
All for now.