Monday, November 20, 2017

2017 WTA Year in Review

Every WTA season takes on a personality all its own over the course of the tour schedule's nearly eleven month running time. This year, the just concluded campaign revealed itself fairly early in the process. Before we really had a chance to settle into any sort of routine, the nature of the prevailing theme was made crystal clear.

Anything goes.

But even as so many storylines zoomed by left and right from January until November, there was still *some* sense of brilliantly mad tidiness at hand. From an opening chapter that included multiple first-time singles champions in Week 1 for the first time in seventeen years, to a final act that featured the United States winning its first Fed Cup crown in, also, seventeen years, 2017 will be remembered as a season in which nothing was beyond the realm of possibility.

For example...

Two former #1's with a history of great match-ups against one another played only a handful of matches this season, and in November saw their respective nations face off in the Fed Cup final while neither was in attendance, one because of the recent birth of her daughter, and the other because of a custody battle over a son born last December.

Another former #1 returned from a 15-month suspension to turn Night 1 of the U.S. Open into tennis' version of a star-studded movie premiere/prizefight.

The Williams Sisters faced off in their first slam final in eight years in Melbourne. Serena won slam crown #23 while she was secretly two months pregnant, then didn't play another match all year.

The first all-teenager singles final in eight years took place on the green clay in Charleston. Two months later, the loser of that match won her maiden tour title on the red clay of Roland Garros.

Two Dashas won titles, while no Kerber or Radwanska did.

In all, five different women held the #1 singles ranking (tied with '08 for the most ever in a season), with seven swaps (the most since '02) of the top ranking occurring over the course of the year. Three women topped the rankings for the very first time in their careers, and Romania claimed its first-ever women's #1. Five different women held the doubles #1 spot, as well, with another three being first-timers.

2016's Top 3 ranked players all fell out of the Top 20, while both Ukraine and Latvia produced their very first Top 10 WTA players. France produced its first in ten years, as well as its second.

The season-ending world #1 won just one singles titles, while #2 won only two and #3 didn't grab her first until October. #5 won none. But #6 won a tour-leading five. Go figure. But not really.

The Australian Open produced a semifinalist who reached the second major semi of her career, eighteen years after she reached her first. There was a British woman in the Wimbledon semis for the first time since 1978, and Bannerettes were four-strong in the final days of the U.S. Open for the first time since 1981. After not seeing such a match-up in twenty-five years, U.S. girls faced off in the final of *three* consecutive junior slam finals.

A former Wimbledon champ returned from career-saving hand surgery to warm applause and (almost secondary) success, while a new slam champion was less than a year removed from foot surgery when she defeated her fellow finalist countrywoman, who was mere months back herself from a second wrist surgery in less than a year, in their home nation's slam in New York.

Four different singles slam champions were crowned (making it five straight unique faces), two first-timers and the youngest major champion since 2006.

A 37-year old reached two slam finals and the WTA Finals championship match, but won none of them, while the WTAF crowned its third consecutive champ who's yet to claim a slam singles title. A 36-year old became the fourth-oldest woman in the Open era to triumphantly raise a tour singles trophy, while a #233-ranked 17-year old won her maiden tour title in just her second WTA main draw appearance.

And, finally, a Hall of Famer already previously enshrined for her work in singles, ended a second, separate Newport-worthy career stint in doubles by retiring for a *third* time, going out as an eleven-time title winner on the year and as a season-ending doubles #1 for the first time in *any* of her careers.

And all that really just scratches the surface of what 2017 turned out to be.

And if you're planning on raising the stakes still more, 2018... well, good luck with that. You're gonna need it.

In a season during which there was more than enough glory to go around -- 43 different singles champions, 61 different doubles winners, and 36 different title-winning duos -- large numbers of individuals could rightly declare their years to be "good," if not "breakthrough" or "career-best" outings, as the tour's depth was spread over the schedule like orange marmalaide on crisp toast.

Of course, with no traditionally "dominate" competitor on the landscape, and with a largely absent Serena Williams (though she *still* won a major) and a rare "off" year from the Czech Fed Cup factored into the mix, it made the decisions regarding 2017's "Ms.Backspin" all the more intriguing. Should the rankings be about numbers? Who won the biggest titles? Or something more intangible? More legitimate arguments could be made for more players, duos and/or teams being the top spot than, well, for as long as I can personally recall.

So, on which head(s) will the "Ms. Backspin" crown rest for the next twelve months? Let's see...

Here are the final "Ms. Backspin" rankings for 2017:

1. Chan Yung-Jan & Martina Hingis, TPE/SUI a year with more than enough glory to go around, Chan & Hingis went back for seconds. And thirds. And fourths. And... well, you get the idea. In what turned out to be a one-season "final act," as Hingis had informed Chan when they joined forces in February that she intended this to be the final season of her (already) Hall of Fame career, things could hardly have gone much better for the pair. They combined for nine titles, going home with the big trophy in every event in which they advanced to a final. Both won an additional two crowns, as well, making them the all-tour (WTA+ATP) overall leaders for 2017. Chan recorded a pair of WD wins with her sister Hao-Ching, while Hingis picked up two slam Mixed trophies with Jamie Murray at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Throughout the year, the pair dominated the doubles on all surfaces (5 hard, 2 red clay, 2 grass titles) and in nearly every big event, taking six high-level Premier crowns. After losing in the SF and QF at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Chan & Hingis finally ate their slam cake together at the U.S. Open, as Hingis swept both doubles draws (giving her 25 total slam titles in her career) and Chan picked up her maiden major crown.

53-7 on the year when joining forces, they strung together 19, 12, 10 and 8-match winning streaks, including four straight title runs in the late summer and early fall. During that stretch, when taking into account her Mixed title run with Murray, Hingis' streak reached 24 (she was a combined 40-2 from the end of Roland Garros through the WTA Finals QF). Hingis assumed the #1 doubles ranking for the first time since 2000 at the start of October, and was joined there as co-#1 by first-timer Chan at the end of the month. Even with their semifinal loss at the WTAF, before which 37-year old Hingis had publicly announced her third career retirement was imminent, they finished 2017 as the season-ending doubles #1's, nearly 3000 points ahead of their nearest competition (co-#3's Makarova/Vesnina). Though she's spent 66 weeks (making her debut in '98) in the position in a career going back over twenty years, it's the first time Hingis has ever ended a season in the top position. She'd been year-end singles #1 in 1997, '99 and '00, and a simultaneously #1 in both disciplines (one of six to do it) for 29 weeks between 1998-00.

While their partnership will account for only a small sliver of a long career, Hingis' short stint with Chan lifted the 28-year old from Taiwan to third on her personal all-time partner title list, with their nine shared crowns coming in behind only the 14 she won with Sania Mirza (2015-16) and 11 with Anna Kournikova (1999-02). Only younger sister Hao-Ching ("Angel"), with 10, has won more titles with Yung-Jan ("Latisha") than the Swiss Miss.

Hingis won't "re"-enter the Hall of Fame with a second plaque, but her "3.0" doubles specialist career from 2013-17 may have been worthy of such an honor if her previous accomplishments had never occurred. In her last stretch, she picked up 27 additional WD titles (giving her a total of 64), four slam doubles wins (13), six mixed crowns (7), a WTAF title (3) and her first Olympic medal ('16 Silver w/ Timea Bacsinszky). She likely could have continued for at least five more years at or near the top of the women's doubles heap (and, who knows, maybe we haven't seen the *true* end of her playing career... she's staged comebacks before, after all), though one figures her biggest future role in the sport may ultimately be as a coach and/or Swiss FC Captain.

Either way, rarely does a player get to, after multiple attempts, find the perfect ending to an historic career. But Hingis most definitely is going out on top.

2. Alona Ostapenko, LAT
...slightly high on the list? Maybe. But the Latvian is here not just because of what she did, but how she did it, for everything that was possible in the heart and mind of 2017 is effectively represented in the mind and body of the Riga native. She may have "only" finished the year ranked #7 (up from #44 a year ago), but Ostapenko's title explosion at Roland Garros was *the* signature moment of the season, and the one for which 2017 will be remembered. Situated at the dead-center of the schedule, it was the landscape-shifting tour quake against which all other WTA events in 2017 that wish to stake such a claim are measured (on the "Ostapenko Scale?"), as well as those into the near future and beyond until another force of nature similar to Latvian Thunder comes bounding onto the scene with such a sense of slam championship entitlement and the game and mentality to back it up.

Winning five three-setters over seven matches, firing a total of 299 no-doubt-about-it winners, and charging back from a 6-4/3-0 (and 3 BP for 4-0) deficit in the final vs. a denied-#1 (for a while longer) Simona Halep, Ostapenko (just two days past her 20th birthday) became the first unseeded RG champ in the Open era, the youngest in Paris since 1997, the youngest women's slam winner since 2006, the youngest maiden slam champ since 2004, and the first woman since 1979 to make her first tour title a major. The last to do it in pro tennis was Gustavo Kuerten in Paris in 1997... on the day that Ostapenko was born. Oh, those sneaky little Tennis Gods. Even better, rather than fall away after her title run, Ostapenko's desire and focus weren't delivered a temporary knockout punch. She became the first in eleven years (Kim Clijsters, in her second career run) to follow up a maiden slam win with a QF-or-better result (Wimbledon) in her next major. After a 26-6 2Q run on clay and grass, the (likely tired) Latvian's results weren't spectacular on summer hard courts, but she rebounded with a 12-4 4Q stint that included her second title (Seoul) and concluded with a series of pull-no-punches round robin outings at the WTA Finals in Singapore.

In a season of eye-popping and unanticipated results, Ostapenko's maiden slam (and tour) title run made it clear to all that excuses for failing to clear career hurdles are no longer valid. If a player is capable of reaching such heights, ala Alona, they need just fling themselves into the fray with everything-and-the-kitchen-sink ferocity and develop an ability to immediately move beyond any mistakes and "reset the game board." If they can manage it then nothing should be out of reach. Maybe the most telling moment of Ostapenko's season, though, may not have been following any of her victories, but after her three-set loss to #5-seeded Karolina Pliskova all the way back at the Australian Open. She'd led the Czech by a 3rd set double-break at 5-2 under the lights on Laver, ultimately falling 10-8. The then-teen was oddly giddy after the defeat, and it soon became clear that, though she'd lost, she'd taken to the big stage and knew she *could* have won the match. The confidence gained from such knowledge led to the realization (or maybe supporting evidence for something that was already inside the head of the former Wimbledon girls champ) that the result of *every* match could and should be on *her* powerful racket, not that of any opponent. She lived and breathed that belief the rest of the season. Ostapenko didn't always win, but she never felt that she should lose. And with great champions -- past, present and future -- developing such a winning sense of inevitability is often the most important step on the way to a special career.

3. Garbine Muguruza, ESP
...2017 was the season in which Muguruza began to throw a rope around high expectations. No one has ever questioned her talent -- she's often been considered the most complete player, with the most all-surface potential, amongst the current crop of twentysomething slam contenders. And it wasn't *just* potential. She also had the results. Even before this season, she'd won a major (RG '16), notched multiple slam wins (one in a final) over Serena Williams, and reached #2 in the rankings. Her problem was consistency of results, and the you-never-know-when-it-might-happen sort of frustrating, head-scratching, zombie-like outings that made "to Mugu" a negative description of a cover-your-eyes performance best forgotten as quickly as it had appeared out of nowhere. Finally, though, the Venezuela-born Spaniard began to find her better self more often in 2017. For the first time ever, she reached at least the Round of 16 at all four majors, and hit her stride during the grass season, going 10-2 and claiming her second career slam crown with a title run at Wimbledon. Coached in the event by Conchita Martinez rather than Sam Sumyk (who was away due to family issues), with whom she's had multiple on-court arguments during changeover visits the last couple of seasons, Muguruza played with an ease and crispness rarely witnessed even in her previous best moments, and never got caught up in any extended bad stretches. Dropping just one set during the fortnight, she defeated three former slam champs -- Kerber, Kuznetsova, and V.Williams in the final -- en route to the win. She followed up SW19 with a 12-3 summer hard court stretch during which she won Cincinnati, saving three MP in the 3rd Round, then destroying Karolina Pliskova and Simona Halep (a combined six games won) in the final two rounds, and rising to #1.

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Muguruza didn't manage to come out on top in the wild scramble for the season-ending #1 ranking, finishing at #2, just 40 points behind top-ranked Halep. But, long-term, the Spaniard seems best prepared for a long stretch of #1 and slam title contention. Maybe more than any other player of the currently-in-their-prime generation in their early to mid-twenties, Muguruza has traditionally posted her best results on the slam stage (two of her five career titles came at majors, as well as three of eight finals), often displaying a joyous embrace of the spotlight that has led her to become the first of the group to win titles at two different slams. She's yet to win a major on hard courts, but her North American run in '17 proves that such a result is well within her wheelhouse. She likely has the best chance of all the current young Top 10ers to complete a Career Slam, and '17 may just have been her stepping stone toward such a feat.

4. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
...a case could be made that the Dane had a better season in 2017 than she did in any of her #1 seasons earlier this decade. If based solely on numbers, Wozniacki would rank higher on this list and maybe even have claimed the seat on the "Ms.Backspin" throne that she's never managed to occupy. But as has been the case throughout her career, there was enough of "a certain something" missing from her otherwise sturdy campaign to leaving it just on the outside looking in.

Wozniacki finshed the season at #3, though she led the tour in matches (81), match wins (60) and finals (8). She was 8-0 in semifinals. She posted three wins over three different #1's during the season (the last player to do that was Dinara Safina in '08), as well as six of her eleven *career* wins over Top 3 players. Her two singles titles give her 27 for her career (only seventeen have ever won 30 or more, and some Hall of Famers who never did are named Sanchez Vicario, Mandlikova, Sabatini and Mauresmo), and her current run of ten consecutive seasons with a title ranks eighth all time in tour history. She closed out her season by claiming her biggest career title at the WTA Finals, defeating Venus Williams (just her second win over one of the Sisters) in the final to top off a week in which she dropped just one set in five matches. But if she hadn't lost her first six finals of the season (dropping all in straight sets) before winning her final two, or had put together one slam run that equaled her season-ending ranking (especially disappointing was her 2nd Round exit at the U.S. Open, her best major and where she reached a final and SF in two of the last three years) she'd likely have finished the season at #1.

Still, Wozniacki's altered on-court attitude displayed the long-wanted (by outside observers) touch of aggressiveness that gave some bite to a game that has always (overly) relied on her steady groundstroke work, on-court speed and consistent, sometimes-spectular defensive skills. The sight of the Dane breaking patterns to go for winners, or approaching the net to put additional pressure on an opponent made tired by the her ability to extend rallies was one that might have totally reversed her career reputation had she shown a willingness to accept and implement such a gameplan years ago. Once she did, though, she became a different, more formidable, player in 2017.

Or is she?

As with all things "Wozniology" over the years, such a breakthrough, potentially career path-altering season ended with the Dane announcing her marriage engagement, as well as the end of the partnership with hitting instructor/assistant coach/right-hand-man-to-the-greats Sascha Bajin, a pairing which (likely not coincidentally) preceded Wozniacki's shift toward the more willingly aggressive game style and return to relevance at the top of the women's game. Both can't but leave one pessimistic about '18, as her last engagement led into a period where she seemed to lose focus (and interest) on the court, and the likeliness that she'll shift back to old, too-defensive patterns next year, without the presence of Bajin to "remind her" to project a more forward presence between the lines, seems great. Just 160 points out of the #1 ranking, Wozniacki may still very well reclaim the spot she last held in 2011, as her long title-less stretch in '17 and only one (RG) QF-or-better slam result would seem to indicate there are still many points to be had that would close the gap between herself and the world #1, and even distance herself a bit from the other contenders in the early months of next season. It all begs the question, was Bajin getting "too much credit" for the Wozniacki family's liking? Or did Piotr (or Caro herself) not enjoy having more than one voice in the ear of his daughter, no matter the results? With the Dane, there are always questions regarding the "why's," "when's" and "how come's" of her career, both on and off the court. Some things never change, I guess.

To be continued during the next "Wozniology" class meeting.

5. Simona Halep, ROU
...well, she's almost there. Or at least it seems that way. But, as usual, we'll have and see for the player whose ongoing career trek continues to qualify her as "the heart of Backspin."

2017 was oh-so-Simona for Halep. After a series of just-missed-it disappointments (including multiple attempts to become to #1 that fell one match short), mental hurdles overcome (falling behind a set and 5-1 in the Roland Garros QF and advancing after saving a MP) and re-erected (leading the RG final 6-4/3-0, with 3 BP for 4-0, only to once again fall short of a maiden slam title in Paris), personal lows (coach Darren Cahill briefly walked away from their partnership after believing Halep quit in a loss to Johanna Konta in Miami) followed by personal triumphs (passing the "mental readjustment" test Cahill had challenged her with, the Romanian was the most in-form player in the clay season, going 20-3 and reaching finals in Madrid, Rome and RG), and with the entire, exhausting and emotional journey ultimately resulting in her achieving her greatest career moment to date when she became the first Romanian to top the WTA singles rankings.

Naturally, though, after Halep got the #1 ranking by winning a semifinal match (defeating Alona Ostapenko, against whom she'd lost her big lead at RG with the #1 spot and a slam title on the line), a day later she lost in the final. With bright light comes shadows on its heels. Oh, Simona. Still, the work put in by Halep, both before and during the '17 season, led to her great reward on October 9th when her name was next to "1" on the WTA computer. Her accomplishment, built by a consistency of results over a 12-month stretch, is often more difficult to pull off and less of a random result than most would like to admit. It *is* a big deal. But Halep has done it now, so it's no longer her ultimate goal. Once again, the major title that has so far eluded her is first on the "To-Do" list for the rest of her career. While the season-ending #1 ranking is a testament to Halep's abilities to push forward and remain on her feet for long periods of time, it doesn't speak to her accomplishments as a "closer," which still need a bit of work. She reached five finals in '17, and was the only player to appear in back-to-back-to-back finals this season, but she won just one. If it'd been Roland Garros, she'd have been #1 on *this* list, as well. But she didn't, so she's #5. Though she pulled off a career-best feat, 2017 wasn't her "career year."

Halep, even as her confidence has been boosted by her new standing and the resiliency she showed after such a low point back in Miami, is still a work in progress. In our preseason discussion in this space, ATP Backspin's Galileo West said of Halep that's she something of "a puzzle with a missing piece," and I think that's as good a turn of phrase as any regarding where she's been. With her perfectionist ways, and tendency to tilt toward a negative outlook on things, at least partially better under control (though hardly conquered), Halep should enter '18 with all the edge pieces of her personal puzzle connected, as well as much of the inside taking shape. Maintaining an adequately high level of personal belief will undoubtedly continue to be a career-long struggle, but she now knows that she *can" overcome it and avoid tumbling off those fabled "Cliffs of Simona." Now she just has to do it again, then again, and still again.

One of these days, maybe Halep will *truly* be able to smile, effortlessly conjuring up a doozy that will read like the most magnificent vindication and reward for trials, tribulations and hard work. If -- and hopefully when -- that day finally arrives, Backspin will smile and celebrate along with her the brilliant result of a long, sometimes rocky, always memorable journey to, through and out of the heart of darkness and into the (almost, but not quite) unbearable lightness of being of Si-mo-na.

6. Elina Svitolina, UKR
7. Venus Williams, USA
8. Bethanie Mattek-Sands & Lucie Safarova, USA/CZE
9. Caroline Garcia, FRA

...Svitolina had a career year in 2017 but, as is her longtime pattern, while her improvement in results and standing was admirable, she still has *more* room to grow in the upcoming season. First, the good. She became the first Ukrainian woman to earn a Top 10 ranking (reaching #5), ranked second on tour in match wins and led the WTA with five singles titles, including her first Premier wins in Dubai, Rome and Toronto. She was 5-0 in finals. She recorded three #1 wins (giving her five in 2016-17), including victories over multiple different top-ranked players for the second straight season. Eleven wins were over Top 10 players, and eight came over woman ranked in the Top 5. Her 13-match win streak (w/ two more around a walkover) was the longest on tour this season. In the majors, she matched (AO 3r, RG QF) or bettered (WI 4r, US 4r) her previous best results in all four events. But her long-awaited *true* slam breakout performance is still an elusive "get" for Svitolina. She had her chance at Roland Garros. She led Simona Halep 6-3/5-1, was two points from victory at 5-2, twice served for a berth in the semis, and held a MP in the TB. After losing the set, Svitolina lost her focus and grip on the moment, quickly going out in a twenty-minute, love 3rd set. As usual, Svitolina was honest all season about her success and, most importantly, about what she still needs to do. Maybe the most realistic and analytically-minded of her generation of players, the Ukrainian admits to embracing a pattern of gradual, step-by-step progress. Though the "huge" leap didn't come in '17, her season was still a "big" (and logical) advance beyond what she'd done before. Now she'll go back to work and try once again to take the next reasonable steps in her career development. Although, this time, if it doesn't include her first SF-or-better slam result (and/or maybe even a rise into the Top 3, and possibly #1, as she'll be in the mix from pretty much Week 1 forward), 2018 would be the very first "step back" season of Svitolina's career.

At 37, Venus had her best season since 2010, finishing at #5 after reaching a pair of slam finals (AO/WI), another major semi (US) and finishing as the runner-up in the WTA Finals. In all, Williams collected seven Top 10 wins, including her first #1 victory (Kerber) since 2014. It's no one-season, late-career recapturing-her-old-glory situation, either. Venus has now posted seven straight Round of 16-or-better slam results, including nine of ten, and ten of twelve in her age 35-37 seasons. Her 14th Top 10 season ranks third (w/ Chris Evert) on the all-time WTA list behind Martina Navratilova (19) and Serena Williams (15).

Due to Mattek-Sands' season-ending patella dislocation at Wimbledon, "Team Bucie" only played half a season in 2017. But what a season it was. The pair won both the Australian Open and Roland Garros titles, as well as Charleston. Separately, both became the #1-ranked doubles player in the world, BMS for 32 weeks from January until the summer, when she was replaced by Safarova for the next six weeks before being overtaken by Hingis. In all, the duo was 20-3 on the season (after going 18-1 to end '16) and have claimed eleven titles since the start of '15 season (Mattek won two more w/ other partners in the span), including five majors. They need only a SW19 crown to complete a Career Doubles Slam.

Garcia has been stirring in the shadows the last few seasons, occasionally coming into the light to flash great talent, especially in 2016 when she led the French team to the FC final, won the RG doubles w/ Kiki Mladenovic, and picked up two singles titles. After announcing her plan to focus on her singles in '17, and enduring public attacks from her former doubles partner/teammate in which her patriotism, truthfulness and intelligence were assailed and/or nastily questioned, a more mature Garcia ultimately showed a heart and mental mettle that she simply did not yet possess a few seasons ago when she took her initial steps onto the tour's biggest stages. Through the first three-quarters of the season, she had four SF on three different surfaces, and recorded career best slam results at RG (QF) and Wimbledon (4th). Come the fall, Garcia reached full flight. Showing either dominant or rallying form (staging multiple 3rd set comebacks en route to victories), she went 20-6, posted five Top 10 wins, and became the first woman to sweep the singles titles at Wuhan and Beijing, qualifying for her first WTA Finals, where she reached the semis and finished the season at #8. She's the first Pastry to finish a season in the Top 10 since Marion Bartoli in 2011.

10t. USA Fed Cup Team
10t. CoCo Vandeweghe, USA
12. Karolina Pliskova, CZE

...the first year in the post-Mary Joe Fernandez Calamitous Captaincy Era -- wait for it -- produced the first Bannerette Fed Cup title run in seventeen years. In her rookie year at the helm, Kathy Rinaldi put together a series of well thought out rosters stocked with players who worked together as a true team, having each other's backs and seemingly being willing to go through a proverbial wall for the Captain who showed the faith in them to put them in positions that gave them their best opportunity to shine. None of that was ever a hallmark of the MJF years, and the former Captain only seemed to show any sort of movement on the learning curve until her final year in the big seat in '16. In 2017, the opportunistic U.S. squad benefited from a post-Olympic year draw in which many of the world's top players eschewed full FC participation. 1st Round opponent Germany was without Angelique Kerber, and the semifinal Czech squad was essentially a "B/C" collection of Maidens who hadn't made the team *the* dominant force in Fed Cup over the last six years (5 titles). In the final, a trip to Minsk meant facing a Belarus team without Vika Azarenka. Still, two of the three ties went to the deciding doubles (the last after Sloane Stephens had squandered 3rd set leads in a pair of defeats). But then there was CoCo guarding the door, the unquestioned leader of a group of players Rinaldi described as "tough as nails."

Vandeweghe was the MVP of the entire FC season, becoming the first to post an 8-0 record in live rubbers since the current format was adopted more than twenty years ago, winning a pair of clinching doubles matches with two different partners. Twice she had a role in all three points garnered for victory, including when she became just the third to go 3-0 in live rubbers in a final ('04 Myskina, '05 Kuznetsova), joining with Shelby Rogers to close out the championship after her third 2-0 singles weekend of the FC season.

It was the final highlight of a great big stage season for Vandeweghe, who won no singles titles but notched victories over two different #1 players, played in two singles finals, won a doubles crown (Stanford), and posted career-best slam results with semifinal finishes at both the Australian Open and U.S. Open, climbing into the Top 10 in the final week of the season. Vandeweghe didn't seem to miss a beat when forced to make a mid-season coaching switch from the departing Craig Kardon to former Wimbledon champ Pat Cash and, finding something of a kindred spirit in the competitive Aussie, may have inadvertently discovered the right combination at the right time as things head into a '18 campaign when putting up more consistent week-to-week results could lift Vandeweghe even higher.

At first glance, Pliskova's 2017 season, coming after her two-title, U.S. Open final breakout campaign of '16 *feels* a bit disappointing. But, in reality, it was better. She only participated in one Fed Cup tie (2-0 vs. ESP), contributing to the team's earlier-than-usual SF loss, but rather than claiming two titles, she won three (3-0 in finals in Brisbane, Doha and Eastbourne), though none came after June, after which she'd reached her top level a year ago. Pliskova didn't reach a second slam final, but she matched (WI 2r) or exceeded (AO QF/RG SF) her best result at three majors, and made the final eight at Flushing Meadows. Even while not quite serving at her very best (8th in First Serve Points won, after being 2nd last year), she yet again led the tour in aces, notched eight Top 10 wins and after finishing at #6 in '16, she never fell below that standing in '17, spending eight weeks at #1 and ending the season at #4.

13. Julia Goerges, GER
14. Serena Williams, USA
15. Sloane Stephens, USA
16. Ash Barty, AUS

...after an underrated, but up and down career, Goerges put together her most complete campaign in 2017. It still took a bit of additional sweat and tears to make it a "career year," though. After losing her first three final appearances (on three different surfaces), the German found her closing form in the fall. She picked up her first singles titles in six and a half years in Moscow, qualifying for the season-ending Elite Trophy event, which she also won, ending '17 on a nine-match winning streak (17/18 sets) and rising to a career-best #14. She was the only player to win multiple indoor events on the season, and will enter 2018 as the highest-ranked German player on tour.

Sure, Serena played just two tournaments in 2017, and just nine matches. But, being Serena, she won eight of them, the last seven in Melbourne while she was two and a half months pregnant while putting on a run (without dropping a set, of course) to claim the 23rd major of her legendary career, breaking her Open era tie with Steffi Graf and moving within one of the all-time mark of 24 held by Margaret Court as she broke the record (at 35) for being the oldest women's slam singles champ. She was ranked #1 (also the oldest ever) for ten weeks *after* her AO victory march, but never took the court as the top-ranked player in the world, giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia in September. Her eleventh consecutive season (fifth all-time) with a title ended with her ranked #22 in the world, and she's set to defend her title in January. Did you expect anything less?

For most of 2017, Stephens' season looked as if it might be a washout. After she'd finally begun to "perfect" the art of winning, claiming four titles in less than a year (three in the first fourteen weeks of '16), January foot surgery kept her out of action until Wimbledon. After a slow (0-2) start, she caught fire on summer hard courts with the intensity of a thousand suns, and over the course of five weeks made one of the most remarkable rankings climbs in tour history. She'd fallen from the Top 40 into the #330's by the time she started her '17 season, and was #957 when she lost in the 1st Round in Washington. But a Toronto SF lifted her from #934 to #151, then another in Cincinnati took her to #84. Ranked #83, everything came together for a maiden slam run at the U.S. Open four years after she'd reached the AO semifinals in 2013. With her "Future is Now" run complete, she found herself at #17. Unfortunately, after going 0-2, then 15-2, Stephens went 0-6 to end the season, including a winless weekend in the Fed Cup final despite holding break advantages in both her losses, nearly costing the U.S. its first title in seventeen years. Still, she finished the season at #13.

A year ago, after her return from a year and a half sabbatical from the sport during which she became a professional cricket player, Barty was ranked #325. After a season that saw her lead a "Barty Party" under the AO lights in Melbourne en route to the 3rd Round, win her maiden singles title (sweeping Kuala Lumpur) and reach two other finals, including a Wuhan run that included wins over Konta, Radwanska, Ka.Pliskova and Ostapenko, the 21-year old is now the top-ranked Aussie at #17 in the world. In doubles, she joined with Casey Dellacqua to claim three titles on three different surfaces and play in the RG final. Barty is one of two players (E.Vesnina) who ended the season ranked in the Top 20 in both singles and doubles (#11).

17. BLR Fed Cup Team - playing without the nation's top player (Vika Azarenka), Belarus put on a spirited run to a maiden Fed Cup final while playing three straight ties on home soil, upsetting both the Netherlands and Switzerland, then pushing the U.S. to a deciding doubles match in the final. Throughout the year, unheralded MVP Aliaksandra Sasnovich led with her never-give-up heart, outlasting bigger-named opponents in important matches (including Sloane Stephens when the U.S. Open champ led 5-2 in the 3rd with the FC title within reach) while big-hitting and sometimes-ferocious teenager Aryna Sabalenka provided the fiery power and patriotic verve that stirred the proverbial FC pot and (now) provides hope for a continued bright fugure.
18. Johanna Konta, GBR - the Brit's second straight Top 10 season included a 22-4 start on hard courts, topped off by her biggest career title in Miami. After a trying spring that included a heated Fed Cup tie vs. Romania (which led to a ban for ROU Captain Ilie Nastase), Konta starred on the English grass, culminating in a semifinal berth at Wimbledon. A 2-6 finish, with five straight losses to end the season, offered a downbeat conclusion to a great campaign, causing her to just miss out on making her first eight-player WTAF field (ninth).
19. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS - for the most part, the Russian maintained some level of improved consistency this season. After going 0-7 in QF in '16, she won three titles this time around, completed a Career QF Slam with a final eight at the Australian Open (though she was just 1-3 in final three majors), and climbed as high as #14 (one off her career high in '11), finishing at a season-ending best of #15.
20. Yui Kamiji, JPN - the wheelchair #1 won three slam singles (AO/RG/US) titles, and went 2-1 in slam doubles finals. She's still a Wimbledon singles win (lost SF) away from becoming the first to complete a full singles/doubles Career Grand Slam with titles in all eight disciplines.
21. Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS - as a pair, the Hordettes won three titles, including their third slam crown at Wimbledon (they need the AO for the Career Doubles Slam). Individually, both won their first singles titles in three years: Vesnina at Indian Wells, and Makarova in Washington, D.C..
22. Timea Babos & Andrea Hlavackova, HUN/CZE - the duo combined for five doubles titles (each won a sixth w/ a different partner), reaching five consecutive finals to end the season, winning four including the WTA Finals, where they ended Hingis' career in the semis
23. Kristina Mladenovic, FRA - the Pastry was the tour's breakout star through the early summer, having racked up 37 wins by the end of Wimbledon, reaching four finals (winning her maiden title in Saint Petersburg) and the Roland Garros QF. But after initiating a bullying, nasty, one-sided and immature public feud with former Fed Cup teammate and doubles partner Caroline Garcia (just one of many fellow players who felt, or heard, the irrational ire of Kiki, who dealt with her mounting criticism by, of course, ironically retweeting a message that read, "Haters are people terrified of their own emptiness...Critics are people who want to be those who they criticize"), Mladenovic -- in a supreme act of karmic justice -- saw her season fall apart as Garcia's soared. She ended her season on a 12-match losing streak, likely stirred to being by a lingering knee injury that led to an almost total loss of confidence on the court, saw Garcia surpass her in the rankings, just missed out on the WTAF (her countrywoman reached the SF) and, in the final week of the season, slipped out of the Top 10 (Garcia is #8). Sometimes, the Tennis Gods wield their great power in (maybe) instructional, (but not likely) attitude-altering ways.
24. Diede de Groot, NED - the surging Dutch wheelchair star, following in the footsteps of other NED WC greats, picked up her first slam singles crown at Wimbledon. She reached the finals of all four draws (going 2-2) at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and in five slam competitions in 2017. She remains #2 behind Kamiji.
25. Madison Keys, USA - multiple wrist surgeries, and soreness related to several false-start returns, were a prelude to a Stanford title run and appearance in the U.S. Open final before continued wrist pain ended her season early
26t. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO and Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK - at 34, MLB, having battled back from an abusive situation with her father as a teen, posted three Top 10 wins to reach her second career slam semifinal in Melbourne, eighteen years after her first at Wimbledon in 1999. She reached the Top 20 for the first time in May. 29-year old Rybarikova, after a career filled with momentum-stopping injuries, reached her first career slam SF at SW19, and rose to a career-high #20 in the season's final week.
27. Anastasija Sevastova, LAT - the "other" top Latvian followed up her comeback '16 season by climbing into the Top 20, repeating her U.S. Open quarterfinal (she led eventual champ Stephens 3-1 in the 3rd set) and winning her first tour singles title in seven years
28. The Dashas - Kasatkina won her maiden title in Charleston, while Gavrilova won *hers* in New Haven, as well as briefly taking hold of the Aussie #1 ranking (ending Sam Stosur's nine year-plus weekly run). They finished back to back, #24 and #25, respectively, in the singles rankings, and combined in doubles to reach the Tokyo WD final.
29. Kiki Bertens, NED - the Dutch player's great Fed Cup run came to an end, but she won a pair of singles titles (sweeping the S/D in Gstaad), and four in doubles w/ Johanna Larsson/SWE
30. Anett Kontaveit, EST - the 21-year old reached finals on hard, grass and clay courts, winning her maiden title on the lawns at Rosmalen, and defeating both Kerber and Muguruza in the spring. But rather than coast toward becoming the third Baltic region player in the Top 20 (after ending '16 at #109), overscheduling (and, maybe, more success than even she anticipated) saw her top out at #27 in the summer and finish at #34. Kontaveit's blazing start had found her sporting a 44-11 all-level record in just July, but she slumped to a 2-8 finish while playing on fumes.
31. Marketa Vondrousova, CZE - returning from '16 elbow surgery, the teenager won her first 20 matches on all levels. In just her second tour-level MD, she won her first tour title at just 17, then showed tremendous promise in her Fed Cup debut vs. the USA. The youngest player in the Top 100, she strung together additional winning streaks of 6, 8, 9 and 5 matches.
32. Petra Kvitova, CZE - the Czech returned to action in Paris, still unable to fully grip a racket after career-saving emergency hand surgery due to knife wounds incurred in a home invasion last December. She shined quickly on the grass (naturally), going 6-1 and winning the Birmingham title. After leveling off during the summer, she reached the U.S. Open QF and Beijing SF.
HM- Katerina Siniakova, CZE - one of the two Week 1 maiden champs (w/ Lauren Davis), Siniakova made it a two-title season in the summer, only to see her season-ending ranking remain static at #49. She reached five doubles finals with Lucie Hracecka, only to go 0-5. All in all, a very "Czechy" year.

2001 Jennifer Capriati / USA
2002 Serena Williams / USA
2003 Justine Henin-Hardenne / BEL
2004 Maria Sharapova / RUS
2005 Kim Clijsters / BEL
2006 Amelie Mauresmo / FRA
2007 Justine Henin / BEL
2008 Cara Black & Liezel Huber / ZIM-USA
2009 Italian Fed Cup Team
2010 Francesca Schiavone / ITA
2011 Petra Kvitova / CZE
2012 Serena Williams / USA
2013 Serena Williams / USA
2014 Czech Fed Cup Team
2015 Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza / SUI-IND
2016 Angelique Kerber / GER
2017 Chan Yung-Jan & Martina Hingis / TPE-SUI

=YEARLY "Ms. Backspin" Top 10's=
1. Jennifer Capriati, USA
2. Lindsay Davenport, USA
3. Venus Williams, USA
4t. Kim Clijsters, BEL
4t. Justine Henin, BEL
6. Martina Hingis, SUI
7. Jelena Dokic, AUS
8. Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
9. Serena Williams, USA
10. Monica Seles, USA
1. Serena Williams, USA
2. Venus Williams, USA
3. Jennifer Capriati, USA
4. Kim Clijsters, BEL
5. Anna Smashnova, ISR
6. Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
7. Monica Seles, USA
8. Justine Henin, BEL
9. Jelena Dokic, AUS
10. Paola Suarez, ARG
1. Justine Henin-Hardenne, BEL
2. Serena Williams, USA
3. Kim Clijsters, BEL
4t. Anastasia Myskina, RUS
4t. Elena Dementieva, RUS
6. Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
7. Maria Sharapova, RUS
8. Ai Sugiyama, JPN
9t. Virginia Ruano Pascual, ESP
9t. Paola Suarez, ARG
1. Maria Sharapova, RUS
2. Lindsay Davenport, USA
3. Anastasia Myskina, RUS
4. Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
5. Justine Henin-Hardenne, BEL
6. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
7. Virginia Ruano Pascual/Paola Suarez, ESP/ARG
8. Elena Dementieva, RUS
9. Serena Williams, USA
10. Vera Zvonareva, RUS
1. Kim Clijsters, BEL
2. Lindsay Davenport, USA
3. Mary Pierce, FRA
4. Justine Henin-Hardenne, BEL
5. Serena Williams & Venus Williams, USA/USA
6. Maria Sharapova, RUS
7. Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
8. Cara Black, ZIM
9. Patty Schnyder, SUI
10. Nadia Petrova, RUS
1. Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2. Justine Henin-Hardenne, BEL
3. Maria Sharapova, RUS
4. Nadia Petrova, RUS
5. Lisa Raymond/Samantha Stosur, USA/AUS
6. Italian Fed Cup Team
7. Martina Hingis, SUI
8. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
9. Kim Clijsters, BEL
10. Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
1. Justine Henin, BEL
2. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
3. Venus Williams, USA
4. Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
5. Serena Williams, USA
6. Ana Ivanovic, SRB
7. Anna Chakvetadze, RUS
8. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
9. Maria Sharapova, RUS
10. Lisa Raymond/Samantha Stosur, USA/AUS
1. Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
2. Serena Williams, USA
3. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
4. Maria Sharapova, RUS
5. Venus Williams, USA
6. Dinara Safina, RUS
7. Ana Ivanovic, SRB
8. Russian Fed Cup Team
9. Elena Dementieva, RUS
10. Vera Zvonareva, RUS
1. Italian Fed Cup Team
2. Serena Williams, USA
3. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
4. Serena Williams/Venus Williams, USA/USA
5. Nuria Llagostera-Vives/Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP/ESP
6. Dinara Safina, RUS
7. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
8. Kim Clijsters, BEL
9. United States Fed Cup Team
10. Elena Dementieva, RUS
1. Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2. Kim Clijsters, BEL
3. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
4. Serena Williams, USA
5. Gisela Dulko/Flavia Pennetta, ARG/ITA
6. Italian Fed Cup Team
7. Vera Zvonareva, RUS
8. Samantha Stosur, AUS
9. Vania King/Yaroslava Shvedova, USA/KAZ
10. United States Fed Cup Team
1. Petra Kvitova, CZE
2. Li Na, CHN
3. Liezel Huber, USA
4. Kveta Peschke/Katarina Srebotnik, CZE/SLO
5. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
6. Liezel Huber/Lisa Raymond, USA/USA
7. Samantha Stosur, AUS
8. Czech Republic Fed Cup Team
9. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
10. Kim Clijsters, BEL
1. Serena Williams, USA
2. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
3. Maria Sharapova, RUS
4. Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
5. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
6. Sara Errani, ITA
7. Czech Fed Cup Team
8. Angelique Kerber, GER
9. Petra Kvitova, CZE
10. Serena Williams/Venus Williams, USA/USA
1. Serena Williams, USA
2. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
3. Simona Halep, ROU
4. Hsieh Su-Wei/Peng Shuai, TPE/CHN
5. Italian Fed Cup Team
6. Roberta Vinci, ITA
7. Maria Sharapova, RUS
8. Marion Bartoli, FRA
9. Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
10. Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS
1. Czech Fed Cup Team
2. Serena Williams, USA
3. Maria Sharapova, RUS
4. Petra Kvitova, CZE
5. Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
6. Simona Halep, ROU
7. Li Na, CHN
8. Genie Bouchard, CAN
9. Ana Ivanovic, SRB
10. Peng Shuai, CHN
1. Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza, SUI/IND
2. Serena Williams, USA
3. Czech Fed Cup Team
4. Angelique Kerber, GER
5. Simona Halep, ROU
6. Garbine Muguruza, ESP
7. Timea Bacsinszky, SUI
8. Bethanie Mattek-Sands/Lucie Safarova, USA/CZE
9. Maria Sharapova, RUS
10. Karolina Pliskova, CZE
1. Angelique Kerber, GER
2. Czech Fed Cup Team
3. Caroline Garcia/Kristina Mladenovic, FRA/FRA
4. Serena Williams, USA
5. Bethanie Mattek-Sands/Lucie Safarova, USA/CZE
6. Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza, SUI/IND
7. Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS
8. Karolina Pliskova, CZE
9. French Fed Cup Team
10. Garbine Muguruza, ESP

The sixth annual listing of the people, journeys, forces of nature, slogans, spiritual causes-and-effects, time-traveling destinations and other things of indeterminate description that provided me with a "helping hand" in shaping this season's Backspin discussion. Some may not necessarily have been THE stories of the year but they surely struck this Backspinner's fancy at some point. And that's enough.

1. Latvian Thunder: The NextGen Face of Backspin

2. "In Rinaldi We Trust": A nation turns its lonely Fed Cup eyes to you

3. Karmic Kiki & the Pastry Queen Named Caro

4. Fifty Shades of Simona

5. There's Something About Maria: "Obsession is a dish best served cold."

6. "Elina's To-Do List"

7. The Future (Sloane) is Now

8. The CoCo Conundrum
9. The Bracelet: Once upon a time, Aleks was the #1 player in Serbia...
10. Petra.
11. Vintage Venus
12. The Canadian Revolution & TPFKAGB

13. Oh, Angie: "Angie, Angie Angie..."

14. Cheer the Kasatkina

15. Beware the (Junior) Bannerettes
16. The Caracus Conqueror: "Sweet Embraceable Mugu"
17. "#CoffeewithLucie"

#barista in #quebeccity! Let's wake up for another evening match!#coffeewithlucie ????

A post shared by Lucie Safarova (@lucie.safarova) on

18. "The Dasha Show" and "The Barty Party"
19. The Match of the Century (91st Anniversary)

20. The Fall of the Italian Empire
HM- Backspin Court of Appeals: The Best Player Never to Be #1


Of course, even while (mostly) in absentia...

**Past "BACKSPIN MVP" Top 3's**
1st - "The Radwanska"
2nd - Victoria Azarenka
3rd - "Carl & Carla"
[All-Time Backspin MVP - 2012]
1st - Kim Clijsters
2nd - Justine Henin
3rd - Jelena Jankovic
1st - Serena Williams & Vika Azarenka
2nd - "The Radwanska"
3rd - "Citizen Anna"
1st - Team Genie and/vs. Team Sloane
2nd - 2004 Revisited (Russian Revolution)
3rd - Captain/Coach Amelie Mauresmo
1st - "Being Simona Halep"
2nd - Maria Sharapova's Instagram account
3rd - "The (Almost) Grand Slam" (Serena Williams)
1st - Halep & "The Cliffs of Simona"
2nd - Free Maria Sharapova
3rd - "La Petit Taureau" Week

Up next, positioning a magnifying glass on the world... region by region.

RISERS: Sloane Stephens/USA and Madison Keys/USA
SURPRISE: Jennifer Brady/USA
VETERAN: Serena Williams/USA
FRESH FACES: CiCi Bellis/USA and Bianca Andreescu/CAN
COMEBACKS: USA Fed Cup & Vicky Duval/USA
DOWN: Genie Bouchard/CAN
JUNIORS: Whitney Osuigwe/USA, Claire Liu/USA and Amanda Anisimova/USA
DOUBLES: Bethanie Mattek-Sands/USA
ITF PLAYER: Taylor Townsend/USA
NCAA PLAYERS: Francesca Di Lorenzo/USA (Ohio State) and Brienne Minor/USA (Michigan)
IMPROVED: Shelby Rogers/USA and Kristie Ahn/USA
FED CUP: CoCo Vandeweghe/USA
WHEELCHAIR: Dana Mathewson/USA
KEY AN EYE ON...: Kayla Day/USA, Sonya Kenin/USA and Coco Gauff/USA

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Beatriz Haddad Maia/BRA
RISER: Veronica Cepede Royg/PAR
SURPRISE: Andrea Gamiz/VEN & Daniela Seguel/CHI
VETERAN: Mariana Duque Marino/COL
FRESH FACES: Nadia Podoroska/ARG
COMEBACK: Paula Ormaechea/ARG
DOWN: Teliana Pereira/BRA
JUNIORS: Maria Lourdes Carle/ARG, Emiliana Arango/COL and Maria Osorio Serrano/COL
DOUBLES: Maria Igigoyen/ARG
ITF PLAYER: Fernanda Brito/CHI
NCAA PLAYER: Luisa Stefani/BRA (Pepperdine)
IMPROVED: Beatriz Haddad Maia/BRA
FED CUP: Barbara Gatica/Daniela Seguel, CHI
WHEELCHAIR: Angelica Bernal/COL
KEY AN EYE ON...: Alexa Guarachi/CHI

RISERS: Dasha Gavrilova/AUS and Yulia Putintseva/KAZ
SURPRISES: Arina Rodionova/AUS and Han Xinyun/CHN
VETERAN: Zhang Shuai/CHN and Shuko Aoyama/JPN
FRESH FACES: Ash Barty/AUS and Jiang Xinyu/Tang Qianhui, CHN/CHN
COMEBACKS: Peng Shuai/CHN and Zarina Diyas/KAZ
DOWN: Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ
JUNIORS: Destanee Aiava/AUS and Wang Xin Yu/CHN
DOUBLES: Ash Barty/Casey Dellacqua, AUS/AU
ITF PLAYERS: Gao Xinyu/CHN and Olivia Rogowska/AUS
NCAA PLAYERS: Belinda Woolcock/AUS (Florida) and Astra Sharma/AUS (Vanderbilt)
IMPROVED: Wang Qiang/CHN and Arina Rodionova/AUS
FED CUP: Dasha Gavrilova/AUS
KEY AN EYE ON...: Naomi Osaka/JPN

RISER: Ons Jabeur/TUN
SURPRISE: Basak Eraydin/TUR
VETERANS: Julia Glushko/ISR and Pemra Ozgen/TUR
FRESH FACES: Sandra Samir/EGY and Ines Abbou/ALG
COMEBACK: Fatma Al-Nabhani/OMA
DOWN: Cagla Buyukakcay/TUR
JUNIORS: Chiraz Bechri/TUR and Sada Nahimana/BDI
ITF PLAYERS: Despina Papamichail/GRE
NCAA PLAYER: Mayar Sherif Ahmed/EGY (Pepperdine)
IMPROVED: Maria Sakkari/GRE and Ons Jabeur/TUR
FED CUP: Valentini Grammatikopoulou/GRE
FED CUP CAPTAIN: Anastasios Bavelas/GRE
WHEELCHAIR: Kgothatso Montjane/RSA
KEY AN EYE ON...: Zoe Kruger/RSA

RISERS: Simona Halep/ROU, Elina Svitolina/UKR and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
SURPRISES: BLR Fed Cup Team and Mihaela Buzarnescu/ROU
VETERAN: Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS and Anastasija Sevastova/LAT
FRESH FACES: Dasha Kasatkina/RUS, Anett Kontaveit/EST and Aryna Sabalenka/BLR
COMEBACKS: Maria Sharapova/RUS and Vera Zvonareva/RUS
DOWN: Victoria Azarenka/BLR
JUNIORS: Marta Kostyuk/UKR and Elena Rybakina/RUS
DOUBLES: Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS
ITF PLAYERS: Mihaela Buzarnescu/ROU and Polina Monova/RUS
NCAA PLAYER: Viktoriya Lushkova/UKR (Oklahoma State)
IMPROVED: Ekaterina Alexandrova/RUS and Natalia Vikhlyantseva/RUS
FED CUP: Aliaksandra Sasnovich/BLR
WHEELCHAIR: Viktoriia Lvova/RUS
KEY AN EYE ON...: Dayana Yastremska/UKR and Anastasia Potapova/RUS

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Garbine Muguruza/ESP
RISERS: Caroline Garcia/FRA, Karolina Pliskova/CZE, Johanna Konta/GBR and Kristina Mladenovic/FRA
SURPRISES: Rebecca Sramkova/SVK, Barbora Krejcikova/CZE and Martina Trevisan/ITA
VETERANS: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN, Julia Goerges/GER and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni/CRO
FRESH FACES: Elise Mertens/BEL, Katerina Siniakova/CZE and Marketa Vondrousova/CZE
COMEBACKS: Petra Kvitova/CZE, Magdalena Rybarikova/SVK and Sorana Cirstea/ROU
DOWN: Angelique Kerber/GER, Aga Radwanska/POL, Dominika Cibulkova/SVK and Jelena Jankovic/SRB
JUNIORS: Iga Swiatek/POL, Rebeka Masarova/SUI and Olga Danilovic/SRB
DOUBLES: Martina Hingis/SUI and Lucie Safarova/CZ
ITF PLAYERS: Polona Hercog/SLO, Tatjana Maria/GER and Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor/ESP
NCAA PLAYER: Sinead Lohan/IRL (Miami)
IMPROVED: Aleksandra Krunic/SRB, Donna Vekic/CRO and Carina Witthoeft/GER
FED CUP: Timea Bacsinszky/SUI and Elise Mertens/BEL
FED CUP CAPTAIN: Dominique Monami/BEL
WHEELCHAIR: Diede de Groot/NED
KEY AN EYE ON...: Jana Fett/CRO

2008 Serena Williams, USA
2009 Serena Williams, USA
2010 Serena Williams, USA
2011 Serena Williams, USA
2012 Serena Williams, USA
2013 Serena Williams, USA
2014 Serena Williams, USA
2015 Serena Williams, USA
2016 Serena Williams, USA
2017 Venus Williams, USA

2008 Gisela Dulko, ARG
2009 Gisela Dulko, ARG
2010 Gisela Dulko, ARG
2011 Gisela Dulko, ARG
2012 Paula Ormaechea, ARG
2013 Paula Ormaechea, ARG
2014 Paula Ormaechea, ARG
2015 Teliana Pereira, BRA
2016 Mariana Duque, COL
2017 Beatriz Haddad, BRA

2008 Zheng Jie, CHN
2009 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2010 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2011 Li Na, CHN
2012 Li Na, CHN
2013 Li Na, CHN
2014 Li Na, CHN
2015 Sania Mirza, IND
2016 Sania Mirza, IND
2017 Chan Yung-Jan, TPE

2008 Cara Black, ZIM
2009 Shahar Peer, ISR
2010 Shahar Peer, ISR
2011 Chanelle Scheepers, RSA
2012 Chanelle Scheepers, RSA
2013 Cara Black, ZIM
2014 Cara Black, ZIM
2015 Ons Jabeur, TUN
2016 Cagla Buyukakcay, TUR
2017 Maria Sakkari, GRE

[Non-Russian Europe, 2008-12]
2008 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2009 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2010 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2011 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2012 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
[Russia, 2008-15]
2008 Dinara Safina
2009 Svetlana Kuznetsova
2010 Vera Zvonareva
2011 Maria Sharapova
2012 Maria Sharapova
2013 Maria Sharapova
2014 Maria Sharapova
2015 Maria Sharapova
[Non-Russian Eastern Europe, 2013-15]
2013 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2014 Simona Halep, ROU
2015 Simona Halep, ROU
2016 Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS
2017 Alona Ostapenko, LAT
2013 Aga Radwanska, POL
2014 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2015 Martina Hingis, SUI
2016 Angelique Kerber, GER
2017 Garbine Muguruza, ESP

2004 Lindsay Davenport, USA
2005 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2006 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2007 Justine Henin, BEL
2008 Serena Williams, USA
2009 Elena Dementieva, RUS
2010 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2011 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2012 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2013 Serena Williams, USA
2014 Serena Williams, USA
2015 Serena Williams, USA
2016 Angelique Kerber, GER
2017 Elina Svitolina, UKR

2004 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2005 Justine Henin-Hardenne, BEL
2006 Nadia Petrova, RUS
2007 Justine Henin, BEL
2008 Dinara Safina, RUS
2009 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2010 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2011 Li Na, CHN
2012 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2013 Serena Williams, USA
2014 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2015 Angelique Kerber, GER
2016 Caroline Garcia/Kristina Mladenovic, FRA/FRA
2017 Simona Halep, ROU

2004 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2005 Venus Williams, USA
2006 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2007 Venus Williams, USA
2008 Venus Williams, USA
2009 Serena Williams, USA
2010 Serena Williams, USA
2011 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2012 Serena Williams, USA
2013 Marion Bartoli, FRA
2014 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2015 Serena Williams, USA
2016 Serena Williams, USA
2017 Garbine Muguruza, ESP

2004 Anastasia Myskina, RUS
2005 Mary Pierce, FRA
2006 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2007 Justine Henin, BEL
2008 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2009 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2010 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2011 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2012 Angelique Kerber, GER
2013 Serena Williams, USA
2014 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
2015 Aga Radwanska, POL
2016 Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
2017 Julia Goerges, GER

2002 Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
2003 Elena Dementieva, RUS
2004 Maria Sharapova, RUS & Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2005 Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER
2006 Nadia Petrova, RUS
2007 Jelena Jankovic, SRB & Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2008 Dinara Safina, RUS
2009 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2010 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2011 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2012 Aga Radwanska, POL
2013 Simona Halep, ROU
2014 Simona Halep, ROU & Genie Bouchard, CAN
2015 Garbine Muguruza, ESP
2016 Karolina Pliskova, CZE
2017 Caroline Garcia, FRA

2002 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2003 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2004 Tatiana Golovin, FRA
2005 Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
2006 Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
2007 Agnes Szavay, HUN
2008 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2009 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2010 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
2011 Monica Niculescu, ROU
2012 Laura Robson, GBR
2013 Sloane Stephens, USA & Genie Bouchard, CAN
2014 Belinda Bencic, SUI
2015 Belinda Bencic, SUI
2016 Dasha Kasatkina, RUS
2017 Alona Ostapenko, LAT

2002 Vera Zvonareva, RUS
2003 Vera Dushevina, RUS
2004 Maria Kirilenko, RUS & Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
2005 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2006 Olga Puchkova, RUS
2007 Tamira Paszek, AUT
2008 Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR & Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
2009 Melanie Oudin, USA
2010 Alisa Kleybanova, RUS
2011 Caroline Garcia, FRA
2012 Taylor Townsend/Genie Bouchard, USA/CAN
2013 Belinda Bencic, SUI
2014 CiCi Bellis, USA
2015 Dalma Galfi, HUN
2016 Kayla Day, USA
2017 Claire Liu, USA

2015 Jamie Loeb, USA (North Carolina)
2016 Danielle Collins, USA (Virginia)
2017 Francesca Di Lorenzo, USA (Ohio State)

2002 Anna Smashnova, ISR
2003 Anca Barna, GER
2004 Claudine Schaul, LUX
2005 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2006 Severine Bremond, FRA
2007 Sybille Bammer, AUT
2008 Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN
2009 Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
2010 Vania King/Yaroslava Shvedova, USA/KAZ
2011 Galina Voskoboeva, KAZ
2012 Sara Errani, ITA
2013 Karin Knapp, ITA
2014 Tereza Smitkova, CZE
2015 Johanna Konta, GBR
2016 NED Fed Cup Team
2017 BLR Fed Cup Team

2002 Monica Seles, USA
2003 Ai Sugiyama, JPN
2004 Lindsay Davenport, USA
2005 Lindsay Davenport, USA
2006 Martina Hingis, SUI
2007 Venus Williams, USA
2008 Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
2009 Serena Williams, USA
2010 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2011 Li Na, CHN
2012 Serena Williams, USA
2013 Serena Williams, USA
2014 Serena Williams, USA
2015 Serena Williams, USA
2016 Angelique Kerber, GER
2017 Venus Williams, USA

2002 Chanda Rubin, USA
2003 Lina Krasnoroutskaya, RUS
2004 Mary Pierce, FRA
2005 Venus Williams, USA
2006 Martina Hingis, SUI
2007 Serena Williams/Venus Williams, USA/USA
2008 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2009 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2010 Justine Henin, BEL
2011 Sabine Lisicki, GER
2012 Hsieh Su-Wei, TPE
2013 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2014 Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO
2015 Russian Fed Cup Team
2016 Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
2017 Petra Kvitova, CZE

2003 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2004 Alicia Molik, AUS
2005 Kveta Peschke, CZE
2006 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2007 Marion Bartoli, FRA
2008 Vera Zvonareva, RUS
2009 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2010 Kaia Kanepi, EST
2011 Aga Radwanska, POL
2012 Varvara Lepchenko, USA
2013 Julia Glushko, ISR & Alison Riske, USA
2014 Alize Cornet, FRA
2015 Dasha Gavrilova, RUS/AUS
2016 Monica Puig, PUR
2017 Maria Sakkari, GRE & Beatriz Haddad Maia, BRA

2002 Meghann Shaughnessy, USA
2003 Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
2004 Jelena Dokic, SRB
2005 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2006 Serena Williams/Venus Williams, USA/USA
2007 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2008 Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
2009 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2010 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2011 Venus Williams, USA
2012 Vera Zvonareva, RUS
2013 Nadia Petrova, RUS
2014 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2015 Genie Bouchard, CAN
2016 Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, SVK
2017 Angelique Kerber, GER

2003 Martina Navratilova, USA
2004 Virginia Ruano Pascual, ESP
2005 Cara Black, ZIM
2006 Lisa Raymond, USA
2007 Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
2008 Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
2009 Nuria Llagostera-Vives/MJ. Martinez-Sanchez, ESP/ESP
2010 Gisela Dulko, ARG
2011 Liezel Huber, USA
2012 Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
2013 Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
2014 Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
2015 Martina Hingis, SUI
2016 Caroline Garcia/Kristina Mladenovic, FRA/FRA
2017 Chan Yung-Jan/Martina Hingis, TPE/SUI

2003 Virginia Ruano Pascual/Paola Suarez, ESP/ARG
2004 Virginia Ruano Pascual/Paola Suarez, ESP/ARG
2005 Serena Williams/Venus Williams, USA/USA
2006 Lisa Raymond/Samantha Stosur, USA/AUS
2007 Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
2008 Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
2009 Italian Fed Cup Team
2010 Gisela Dulko/Flavia Pennetta, ARG/ITA
2011 Kveta Peschke/Katarina Srebotnik, CZE/SLO
2012 Czech Fed Cup Team
2013 Hsieh Su-Wei/Peng Shuai, TPE/CHN
2014 Czech Fed Cup Team
2015 Czech Fed Cup Team
2016 Czech Fed Cup Team
2017 U.S. Fed Cup Team

2008 Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER
2009 Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE
2010 Mathilde Johansson, FRA
2011 Casey Dellacqua, AUS
2012 Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, ESP
2013 Reka-Luca Jani, HUN
2014 Denisa Allertova, CZE
2015 Dasha Kasatkina, RUS
2016 Isabella Shinikova, BUL
2017 Mihaela Buzarnescu, ROU

2005 Elena Dementieva, RUS
2006 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2007 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2008 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2009 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2010 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2011 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2012 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2013 Roberta Vinci, ITA
2014 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2015 Karolina Pliskova, CZE
2016 Caroline Garcia, FRA*
2017 CoCo Vandeweghe, USA
* - non-championship team

2015 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA*
2016 Paul Haarhuis, NED*
2017 Kathy Rinaldi, USA
* - non-championship team

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

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Halep) “I think, slowly but surely, Darren Cahill is really having a positive effect on her outlook. She just needs to relax. R-E-L-A-X. She's surely been pictured smiling a lot more over the past year than she was in the past. It's a good first step, to allow herself to loosen up. At some point, it (hopefully) carries over onto the court. There were positive signs of it in '16, though she had a few bumpy hikes, too. I think another very good season in '17 could be the stepping stone to cementing the confidence that would lead to her finally making the 'big leap' in '18."
WHAT I SAY NOW: I'm still fine with this.

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Kerber) “Kerber matching her 2016 slam results of two titles and another final might be asking a bit much. In 2015 she had a great 'regular season,' but performed poorly in the majors. Last year, she was incredible in the majors, but only 'very good' on the regular circuit (going 1-4 in non-slam finals, including the Olympics and WTA Finals). Still, it was enough to finish at #1, even without her Olympic final run garnering any ranking points. I think she'll settle in somewhere in the middle in '17, claiming 'only' one major, but winning a few more non-slam tour titles (4 or 5 overall?) than she did in '16."
WHAT I SAY NOW: Angie is already acting as if it's 2018, and Wim Fissette is now aboard for the next ride.

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Muguruza) “I'm really not expecting her to win her second slam in '17, or even reach a major final for her third straight year. But I'm thinking she'll be generally consistent in the slams. Not in the "bad" way, but in that I think she'll avoid an early round upset and reach the Round of 16 at all four majors, and advance even deeper than that in the draw at at least two of them."
WHAT I SAY NOW: Her major season included two Round of 16's, a QF and the Wimbledon title. She pulled off what I was thinking, which seemed an act of faith at the time, as well as a bit more.

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Ostapenko) “Ostapenko is a fun, sometimes edgy, presence on tour who is probably a year or two away from REALLY making a move. But that doesn't mean she won't put a few "name" pelts on her trophy wall in '17."
WHAT I SAY NOW: What she did wasn't ENTIRELY shocking, but her results were definitely a bit ahead of schedule.

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Serena) “The question with her is how many slams she'll win. I'll give her at least one to move past Steffi Graf with #23, and it's probably even money that she ties Margaret Court's all-time mark with #24 by the end of 2017. If not this year, then it'll happen in 2018 (well, assuming civilization survives the first year of the Trump administration, I guess)."
WHAT I SAY NOW: I was right on the first part, will delay the middle part for the new year... and I'm still not sure about the last part.

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Svitolina) “A year of consulting with Justine Henin seemed to get Svitolina's thinking in a "championship line," setting her up perfectly to take the next step. In 2016, she had her best season yet, reaching her two biggest finals, and getting wins over TWO different #1's. She's still looking for her slam breakout, with a QF in Paris in '15 her best result so far. I think she'll have her first great slam run this season, become the first woman representing Ukraine to ever reach the Top 10, lift a big Premier-level trophy and qualify for Singapore."
WHAT I SAY NOW: The "slam breakout" was just missed, but she *did* reach the Top 10, lift multiple big Premier trophies and qualify for the WTA Finals.

WHAT I SAID THEN: (On Garcia) “Garcia is coming off a career year in singles, doubles and Fed Cup. With belief on her side, combined with the usual French athletic style, she's got a Top 10 sort of game. It's just a matter of whether she can keep the emotional component in her favor."
WHAT I SAY NOW: It turned out that she's caught up to the learning curve. Now the question is what it'll mean for her in '18.

Of course, there were lists...

NEWCOMERS OF THE YEAR: CiCi Bellis/USA, Oceane Dodin/FRA, Jana Fett/CRO, Dalma Galfi/HUN, Margarita Gasparyan/RUS, Irina Khromacheva/RUS, Viktoria Kuzmova/SVK, Rebeka Masarova/SUI, Katerina Siniakova/CZE
...Bellis won the tour's "Newcomer of the Year" award, Siniakova won her first two titles, Dodin reached the Top 50 and Fett the Top 100
MOST IMPROVED PLAYERS: Ekaterina Alexandrova/RUS, Xenia Knoll/SUI (doubles), Ana Konjuh/CRO, Jelena Ostapenko/LAT, Kristyna Pliskova/CZE, Maria Sakkari/GRE, Ipek Soylu/TUR, Carina Witthoeft/GER, Yang Zhaoxuan/CHN (doubles)
...RG champ Ostapenko won the tour's "Most Improved" award, while Sakkari won mine. Witthoeft won her first title, Konjuh was the second youngest finalist of the season, Pliskova reached the Top 35 and Yang was 1-2 in WD finals
COMEBACKS: Casey Dellacqua/AUS (doubles), Camila Giorgi/ITA, Anna Karolina Schmiedlova/SVK, Maria Sharapova/RUS, Anna Tatishvili/USA, Ajla Tomljanovic/AUS, U.S. Fed Cup Team
...Dellacqua won three titles with Barty, AKS made strides on the ITF circuit, Sharapova won a title in Tianjin and is back in the Top 60, and the U.S. won the FC crown for the first time since 2000
FIRST-TIME WTA CHAMPIONS: Ekaterina Alexandrova/RUS, CiCi Bellis/USA, Louisa Chirico/USA, Lauren Davis/USA, Jana Fett/CRO, Dasha Gavrilova/AUS, Daria Kasatkina/RUS, Danka Kovinic/MNE, Kristina Mladenovic/FRA, Naomi Osaka/JPN, Jelena Ostapenko/LAT
...Davis, Gavrilova, Kasatkina, Mladenovic and Ostapenko were maiden champions
FIRST-TIME WTA FINALISTS: Ekaterina Alexandrova/RUS, Ana Bogdan/ROU, Louisa Chirico/USA, Jana Fett/CRO, Dalma Galfi/HUN, Daria Kasatkina/RUS, Rebeka Masarova/SUI, Andreea Mitu/ROU, Carina Witthoeft/GER, Zheng Saisai/CHN
...Kasatkina and Witthoeft both reached their maiden finals and won titles (and, yes, I'll be picking Fett here again for '18)
NCAA CHAMPION: Francesca Di Lorenzo, Ohio State
...she wasn't the NCAA singles champion, but Di Lorenzo was the #1-seed at the season-ending championships, won the doubles national championship, finished the season as the collegiate #1 and won the invitational event held at Flushing Meadows during the U.S. Open
NAMES TO WATCH IN THE JUNIOR SLAMS: Bianca Andreescu/CAN, Amanda Anisimova/USA, Amina Anshba/RUS, Kaja Juvan/SLO, Claire Liu/USA, Olesya Pervushina/RUS, Elena Rybakina/RUS, Iga Swiatek/POL, Dayana Yastremska/UKR
...Anisimova and Liu won girls slam crowns, while Andreescu won a pair of GD slam titles and reached the AO girls singles semis (and a tour-level QF in Washington, and was a Wimbledon qualifier and WD finalist at Quebec City). Juvan won the Wimbledon girls doubles, was the Roehampton and Junior Masters WS runner-up, as well as the European 18s champ. Rybakina reached two junior singles semis, while Swiatek won the pre-AO Traralgon event.
FIRST-TIME SLAM FINALIST: Elina Svitolina/UKR on the To-Do list. Well, after...
FIRST-TIME SLAM SEMIFINALISTS: Belinda Bencic/SUI, Dasha Kasatkina/RUS, Elina Svitolina/UKR
...Bencic was out much of the year with injuries (but has won back-to-back 125 Series events in November), while Svitolina had a MP at Roland Garros to reach the final four
FIRST-TIME IN-SEASON TOP 10 JUMPS (i.e. not necessarily season-ending): Dasha Kasatkina/RUS, Elina Svitolina/UKR, Elena Vesnina/RUS
...Svitolina made the jump, while Vesnina got as high as #13 in March
FIRST-TIME IN-SEASON TOP 20 JUMPS: Timea Babos/HUN, Irina-Camelia Begu/ROU, Kiki Bertens/NED, Caroline Garcia/FRA, Dasha Gavrilova/AUS, Daria Kasatkina/RUS, Ana Konjuh/CRO, Kristina Mladenovic/FRA, Naomi Osaka/JPN, Jelena Ostapenko/LAT, Monica Puig/PUR, Yulia Putintseva/KAZ, Laura Siegemund/GER, Katerina Siniakova/CZE, Zhang Shuai/CHN
...Bertens, Garcia (Top 10), Gavrilova, Konjuh, Mladenovic (briefly Top 10) and Ostapenko (Top 10) all qualified for the honor. Kasatkina reached #24 and Putintseva #27.


2017 slam singles finalists: Serena Williams (2), Angelique Kerber (2), Karolina Pliskova (1), Elina Svitolina (1), Simona Halep or Aga Radwanska (1), someone not ranked in the 2016 Top 10 (1)
...Venus Williams (2), Simona Halep (1), Madison Keys (1), Garbine Muguruza (1), Alona Ostapenko (1), Sloane Stephens (1), Serena Williams (1)
Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka both win '17 tour titles upon their return, with Sharapova claiming two or more
...Sharapova got her title, but Vika's custody battle issues kept her off tour in the second half of the season
Caroline Garcia, Kristina Mladenovic and Bethanie Mattek-Sands all spend time as the doubles #1, but Sania Mirza ends the year in the top spot for a third straight season
...Mattek-Sands was one of five to spend time at #1, and if not for her injury *may* have stayed there. Garcia eventually stopped playing doubles, Mladenovic's WD ranking slipped without '16 partner Garcia by her side, and Mirza dropped outside the Top 10
Slam doubles champions include Sania Mirza (w/ someone), Bethanie Mattek-Sands/Lucie Safarova, Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina and Andrea Hlavackova/Peng Shuai, but not Caroline Garcia/Kristina Mladenovic, though the all-Pastry pair will reach at least two slam finals and collect more total titles in '17 than any other duo
...Mattek-Sands/Safarova won two, while Makarova/Vesnina and Y.Chan/Hingis took the final two
Martina Hingis picks up two more Mixed doubles slam wins, while Sania Mirza claims one of her own.
...ah, Hingis *did* win two Mixed slams, but Mirza didn't get one
Casey Dellacqua & Ash Barty win their first tour-level doubles title as duo since 2014 fact, they won three on three different surfaces
Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki tie for the tour lead in overall singles titles
...Wozniacki won two (but led w/ eight finals), while Kerber won none
Simona Halep wins a title in each of the schedule's four quarters
...she won just one title, but her consistency over the course of the season's four quarters got her the season-ending #1
Sloane Stephens returns to the Top 15
...she took a crazy route there, but Stephens finished at #13
The year-end #1 junior is from the United States
...Bannerettes met in three straight girls slam singles finals in Paris, London and New York, and won both the 14s and 16s team titles, as well. Whitney Osuigwe is the current #1, but has lost back-to-back Grade A finals this fall while trying to wrap up the sesaon-ending #1 ranking. U.S. teens Claire Liu (#3) and Amanda Anisimova (#4) are both in the Top 5. Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk is #2.
A Mexican woman plays a slam main draw singles match
...still waiting
Two names many people will know one year from now that they don't know today: Dalma Galfi and Jana Fett
...Fett reached the Hobart SF in her tour-level MD debut, and finished in the Top 100
Dutch 20-year old Diede de Groot becomes a wheelchair slam singles champion Groot claimed the Wimbledon singles crown

And, finally, some memorable moments...

1. Madrid 2nd Round - Genie Bouchard def. Maria Sharapova
One of the matches of the year. But not for all the pre-match reasons, when Bouchard had created her only non-Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue media attention for herself by using a fact-deficient argument to speak out against her return to the sport after serving out her suspension, and doing so by remarkably attempting to frame herself (after displaying an I'd-sooner-spit-in-your-eye-than-shake-your-hand-or-be-friends attitude toward opponents in the past) as something of a "woman of the people" playing for and with the support of the everyday professionals of the WTA tour when she faced off with the Russian.

As it was, at least for one day (perhaps demonizing her adversary helped?), Bouchard turned back the clock here to 2014 -- you know, when she was a Sharapova wannabe and one-time fangirl trying to walk in the Russian's well-placed footsteps in terms of on-court mindset and off-court endorsement contracts -- with winning big point construction, hustle and great shotmaking, proving that her mostly lacking play for most of the last two years is even more puzzling than the whole USTA lawsuit thing.

But the other truth here was that Sharapova's lack of match play in her second tournament back showed, as the Russian failed to take advantage of her own opportunities against an opponent who, while far from being perfect in the practice herself, managed to squander fewer big moments than Sharapova did during the match. Sharapova led 4-2 in the 1st set, but saw Bouchard surge back and serve for the set at 5-4, only to be broken. But the Russian couldn't back up the break and the Canadian served out the 7-5 set in 1:10. It proved to be a, if not *the*, key moment in the match.

In the 2nd, two consecutive DF from Bouchard gave Sharapova another 4-2 lead, which she finally held onto by claiming the final four games of the set. In the deciding 3rd, the momentum shifted wildly. Sharapova held from love/40 for 2-1, then Bouchard did the same a game later, and Sharapova did it again the game after that (saving 5 BP). Bouchard then proceeded to take a break lead at 4-3, only to give it back a game later. In game #9, Sharapova served up 40/15, but was broken to fall behind 4-5.

With Bouchard serving for the match, Sharapova then missed an open down the line backhand on BP that would have gotten things back on serve. She staved off a MP with the help of a wild net cord bounce, but Bouchard put away MP #2 with a big forehand winner to end the 2:51 match and get her first win in five meetings with Sharapova. On the final scoresheet, Sharapova won more total points (112-107), and held a 44-20 edge in winners. But 49 UE's to Bouchard's 27, and a one-more-would-have-made-all-the-difference 5-of-15 performance on BP just wasn't enough to nip Bouchard's equally scratchy 5-of-21 numbers at the finish.

The moment didn't spur Bouchard to a return to her old form. After a 3rd Round win over a retiring Angelique Kerber (6-3/5-0), the Canadian was spanked in the QF by Sharapova's compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova, losing 6-4/6-0. After posting three wins in Madrid, her most in an event in four months, Bouchard never posted multiple wins in another tournament all season, and only won three times in her next fourteen matches. Meanwhile, Sharapova went 12-5 and won a singles title in her penultimate tournament of the season. Sharapova finished at #60, while Bouchard was #81.
2. Beijing QF - Caroline Garcia def. Elina Svitolina
It was Svitolina's chances to reach #1 that took the blow with this match, but it was Garcia's bold, nerve-less shotmaking that earned the headlines. In the 3:21 epic encounter, Garcia played from both ahead and behind, but never, ever gave up, even after failing while trying to pull off some of her more aggressive tactics. She led and blew leads in both the 1st and 2nd sets, splitting the pair, then trailed 3-1 in the 3rd (Svitolina had a BP for 4-1), but held on and broke for 3-3. Svitolina served for the match at 6-5, but Garcia finished off the last of seven straight 3rd set breaks of serve to force a deciding TB. Garcia stayed alive with big serving, but it was the Ukrainian who held a MP at 6-5. Garcia swept the final three points, putting away the win with a second serve return winner to finish with 60 winners (vs. 67 UE's, while Svitolina was 31/42) and coast past a certain countrywoman in the rankings.

3. Australian Open 3rd Round - Svetlana Kuznetsova def. Jelena Jankovic
The two vets battled for 3:36, as Kuznetsova failed to put away the match after leading 6-4/4-1, but made up for it by coming back from 3-0 down in the 3rd. With these two, would you expect anything less, or more?

4. U.S. Open 1st Round - Maria Sharapova def. Simona Halep
In the (best ever) Night 1 1st Rounder on Ashe, the prize fight-like atmosphere was thick prior to the meeting between the Russian wild card and the #2 seeded Romanian. Dressed in crystals and black lace, Sharapova notched her first slam win since the '16 AO, and her first in NYC since 2014 (and just second since '12) to improve to 7-0 vs. Halep. But as is usually the case when these two meet, Halep battled Sharapova. The Russian led 6-4/4-1, and held a BP for 5-1. But Halep's defense and unwillingness to give up or give produced a five-game winning streak (Sharapova was 1-of-11 on BP in the set), and held a BP in the 3rd when Sharapova served for the match at 5-3. After securing the win, an emotional Sharapova fell to her knees at the conclusion of the 2:44 affair that completed her re-introduction to "big-time tennis." Echoing the sentiment of all involved in the event, she concluded her post match interview with a joyous, "It's primetime, baby! I love it!"

5. U.S. Open QF - Venus Williams def. Petra Kvitova
In a match in which haymaker shot rained down from both sides of the net (and it literally rained mid-way through the 3rd set), Kvitova missed out on complete a Career SF Slam as Williams advanced to her third slam semi of the season (fifteen years after she last accomplished the feat). Kvitova led 3-1 in all three sets, but Venus prevailed in the end, keyed by a hold for 5-4 in a four-deuce game.
6. WTA Finals rr - Venus Williams def. Alona Ostapenko
After their straight sets affair in the Wimbledon QF, 2017 needed a great Williams/Ostapenko clash more than we knew, and we got one in Singapore. The 20-year old RG champ led 5-3 in the 1st, only to see the player who made her own YEC debut in 1999 (when Alona was 2) win four straight games to take the lead in the match. No matter, Latvian Thunder just proceeded to save a MP at 5-4 in 2nd and stage her own comeback, winning a TB to send things to the 3rd set. There, six consecutive breaks of serve came before Ostapenko held from love/40 down for a 5-4 lead. Two games later, Williams broke on her fourth BP of game #11 and then served out the 3:13 multi-generational classic. Venus fired 26 winners vs. 29 UE's, while Ostapenko stood at 48/40. To be continued... hopefully.

7. Cincinnati 2nd Round - Ekaterina Makarova def. Angelique Kerber
Muguruza got the honors at the end of the weekend, but these two stood out during the week for their knock-down, drag-out dramatic battle in the heat. Kerber, looking for that big win to right her wayward course that never came in '17, 2-0 in the 3rd, only to see Makarova charge back to take a 5-2 lead. After saving a MP, the German took things to a deciding tie-break, which she led 3-0.

But the Russian, even while taking a MTO in the breaker, battling a thigh injury, cramping so bad that she went down on the court at one point and facing a Kerber who simply wouldn't give up or give in, persevered. Ultimately, on her eighth MP, Makarova put the match away with a drop shot.

8. Wimbledon 2nd Round - Johanna Konta def. Donna Vekic
In a high-quality, 3:10 contest, Konta and Vekic combined for nearly 100 winners (the Brit surpassed 50, powered by her big forehand), and both had double-digit aces. Vekic, who'd defeated Konta in the Nottingham final weeks earlier, served for the 1st set at 5-3, only to DF on BP. At 5-5, 15/40 it was Vekic saving four BP to hold for 6-5 before going on to lose a TB. With both players fighting out of love/30 holes in the 3rd, including in game #17 when Konta saved a BP when Vekic overhit a backhand on a second serve return, then saw her passing attempt hit the net cord and land on her own side of the net to give the Brit a GP (and knotting the point totals for the match at 123-123). Konta outlasted the Croat, finally holding the total points edge 130-127. She comforted her tearful opponent at the net, then went on write her name in the Wimbledon history books, reaching the semifinals.

9. Toronto QF - Caroline Wozniacki def. Karolina Pliskova
Avenging two of her '17 final losses (the Czech won out over the Dane in Doha & Eastbourne), Wozniacki overcame a slew of rain delays and a 5-1 1st set deficit to outlast Pliskova, who was in her first week of action after inheriting the #1 ranking from Angelique Kerber. Somewhat surprisingly, this was also Wozniacki's first career win over a world #1. She'd go on to get two more in 2017, over two *other* #1's.

10. Madrid Final - Simona Halep def. Kristina Mladenovic
In a truly entertaining, momentum-swinging final, Halep outlasted Mladenovic in the 3rd after failing to close things out in the 2nd. Battling a lower back injury, the Pastry lost a 5-2 1st set lead as the Romanian reeled off four straight games to grab the early lead in the match. She ran her string to six games in the 2nd, up a break at 2-0. After Mladenovic got things back on serve, Halep held for 5-4 and 6-5, but the French woman's effortless defense-to-offense tactics -- including a head-swirling running forehand drop shot behind the baseline during the TB -- pushed things to a 3rd. Again, Halep held an early break lead at 2-1, but this time she didn't lose it. Finally breaking Mladenovic for 5-2 on her third BP of game #7, the Swarmette quickly went up 40/love in her own service game and served out her first successful title defense.
11. U.S. Open SF - Sloane Stephens def. Venus Williams
Right before our eyes, "Current Sloane" became "Future Sloane." Down 4-5, at 30/30 in game #10 of the 3rd set, it happened, for it was at that moment that the champion that Stephens would become days later (and may indeed become in the future) was effectively 'born"... when she was two points from defeat.

Her 30-all low stretch to reach a seemingly perfectly-placed Williams slice shot into the corner, sending a backhand down the line for a winner, both pulled her back from the ledge in this match, but also lifted her higher than she'd ever climbed before. After not blinking -- and instead staring straight ahead with a laser-like focus -- in this crucial deciding set, Stephens seemed to grow exponentially in stature right at that moment. The Future suddenly came out from behind the clouds. Rather than being a point away from defeat, she was a point away from knotting the score at 5-5. But, really, it was so much more than that. With that single shot, belief was no longer a notion, it was a fact. She blasted a big serve moments later to hold, and continued to perfect her defensive/offensive mix a game later. Racing to a Williams net cord shot, she reached the ball and flicked it across the net into the short court for a winner.

She seemed to grow still a few *more* sizes.

A deep return produced an error from Venus that broke Williams at love for a 6-5 lead. Serving for the match and her first career slam final appearance, Stephens went up 15/love, as she was still yet to lose a point since her low stretching winner at 30/30 two games earlier. Williams ended the string a point later (finally putting away a high backhand volley to end another long, tough rally that Sloane extended with a series of gets), but it was all that she could do to hold Stephens back. Stephens fired a forehand into the corner that Venus couldn't return, reaching match point. A deep serve handcuffed Williams moments later and it was all over. Stephens raised her arms in triumph, winning after never wavering an inch, a speck or a whiff down the stretch of the biggest and most important set of her tennis career.

12. Stuttgart SF - Kristina Mladenovic def. Maria Sharapova
The Tennis Gods were just waiting to spring this one on us, weren't they? In Sharapova's very first event back, a face-off with the player who'd been most (personally) critical of her back when the whole suspension mess began over a year ago. Early on, it looked as if Sharapova would get the better of the Pasty, as she seized control by going up 6-3/2-0. But a sharp drop off (some 60%) on her second serve points won opened the door, and Mladenovic burst through it by playing the big points well, taking the 2nd set despite seven DF and Sharapova holding three BP chances at 5-5. After failing to get the break and the chance to serve for the match, Sharapova dropped serve a game later and things went to a 3rd set. There, again, Sharapova had chances to break out on top. At 15/40 on Mladenovic's serve at 2-2, and with another BP at 2-4. Finally, with Mladenovic serving for the match at 5-3, the Russian finally broke to get back on serve. But then she couldn't consolidate the break with a hold, as the Pastry broke back to take the match. In all, Mladenovic led 100-98 in total points, but Sharapova's 3-for-16 record on BP opportunities (vs. Kiki's 4-for-8) told a large part of the tale.
13. Saint Petersburg Final - Kristina Mladenovic def. Yulia Putintseva
In a match-up which would crown a first-time singles champ, these two battled for 2:36, producing 94 total winners (Mladenovic 62-32) and 67 UE's (46-21). Putintseva made the Pastry work, battling back from 5-2 down in the 2nd to force and win a TB, then nearly climbing out of a 5-1 hole in the 3rd. Mladenovic served at 5-2, only to see Putintseva save three MP, then a fourth when Kiki served for the title again at 5-4. Finally, Mladenovic fired a winner on her 5th MP, ending her 0-3 career run in finals.

14. Stuttgart Final - Laura Siegemund def. Kristina Mladenovic
In a match that saw Mladenovic start slowly, then fight her way back into things vs. both Siegemund and the German crowd, the 3rd set proved to be a fight to the finish. Serving at 4-4, Mladenovic saved three BP, but Siegemund broke on #4 with a forehand return winner off a second serve. But when serving for the title at 5-4, 15/30, a point penalty for taking too much time nearly spoiled a great finish. Thankfully, though, Siegemund held her ground and things were decided in a concluding TB. It was Mladenovic who started quickly this time, taking a 4-1 lead and getting to within two points of the crown at 5-4. But Siegemund surged last and, as it turned out, best. In the end, HER drop shot off a get of a Mladenovic drop shot on MP delivered the final blow.
15. Roland Garros Final - Alona Ostapenko def. Simona Halep
20-year old Ostapenko roars in the slam record books, becoming the first unseeded RG champ in the Open era, and the youngest in two decades. She trailed 6-4/3-0, and faced three BP for 4-0, before turning the tables on Halep -- like her, playing for a maiden slam win, but also the #1 ranking -- by unleashing a string of winners (she had 54W/54UE in this match) from a racket that produced 299 over the course of seven matches in Paris. Latvian Thunder became the first slam winner from nation, and the rest, as they say, is history.


2005 Aust.Open SF - Serena Williams d. Maria Sharapova
2006 Aust.Open SF - Justine Henin-H. d. Maria Sharapova
2007 Los Angeles SF - Ana Ivanovic d. Jelena Jankovic
2008 U.S. Open Final - Serena Williams d. Venus Williams
2009 Wimbledon SF - Serena Williams d. Elena Dementieva
2010 Brisbane Final - Kim Clijsters d. Justine Henin
2011 AO 4th - Francesca Schiavone d. Svetlana Kuznetsova
2012 Miami 4th - Victoria Azarenka d. Dominika Cibulkova
2013 Cincinnati Final - Victoria Azarenka d. Serena Williams
2014 Indian Wells QF - Aga Radwanska d. Jelena Jankovic
2015 RG 2nd - Francesca Schiavone d. Svetlana Kuznetsova
2016 Wimb.4th - Dominika Cibulkova d. Aga Radwanska
2017 Madrid 2nd - Genie Bouchard d. Maria Sharapova

1. Roland Garros QF - Simona Halep def. Elina Svitolina
For a while, it appeared that this would be a mismatch, as the 22-year old Ukrainian walked her slam dreams up to the edge of reality, only to see her Romanian opponent come up from behind her and shove her over the Cliffs of Simona.

After their meeting in an injury-marred, but still quite intriguing, Rome final, the two players who'd combined for three singles titles and a 33-4 record heading into this QF match-up of former RG junior champs seemed destined to have to face off again if either was going to win her maiden slam title in Paris.

The 1st set began with Svitolina playing as if she was still in the Elina-dubbed "Svitolina mode" that had carried her past Petra Martic one round earlier. After taking the final five games of the match against the Croat, she arrived on the scene looking as if she didn't plan on losing another game. Ever again. She held at love in game #1, and claimed the first six points. Relentless, she hounded Halep from all over the court, firing huge and clean forehand blasts whenever and wherever she so desired. Flashing big, accurate groundstrokes that served to pull Halep from side to side as if on a string, she expertly constructed well thought out points while also displaying an urgency that naturally brought her forward to succinctly end rallies whenever she knew the time was right. The Ukrainian won her tenth consecutive game over two matches to take a 5-0 lead just twenty-four minutes into the action. The Romanian briefly turned the momentum in her favor as Svitolina's error count begin to climb and her second serves came over the net a bit slower than they had been only moments earlier. Halep won three straight games to get to within 5-3, and led love/30 on Svitolina's serve in game #9. She saved another SP, only to see Svitolina regain her form just in time to avoid letting her lead slip away. Big-serving by the Ukrainian got her back to SP, which she converted when Halep fired a forehand return long.

With a 6-3 1st set in her back pocket, Svitolina set off on a similar path in the 2nd, taking double-break advantage at 4-1. Halep got game #6 to deuce, but Svitolina held for 5-1. In the past, before her brief split with coach Darren Cahill after her got fed up with her negative on-court attitude after a loss in Miami in March, Halep might have looked for an escape hatch and as quick an exit from this match as possible. But after touting her transformation into a "2.0" version of herself since she righted her personal ship, coaxed Cahill to return and immediately attacked the clay season with positivity, confidence and, ultimately, sustained success, Halep didn't do such a thing this day. While she admitted later that she *did* indeed feel that the match was lost, she nonetheless kept on trying. Eventually, it worked.

Of course, it helped that Svitolina's own nerves came into play. Having never been so close to a slam semifinal before, the Ukrainian's level of play dipped at the worst possible time. She served for the match at 5-2, but failed to put it away. She took a love/30 lead on Halep's serve a game later, but wasn't able to get the break for the win. While a proud smile began to creep onto Cahill's face in the stands, with Svitolina again serving for the match, Halep broke her with a crosscourt forehand winner to knot the set at 5-5. Halep won her fifth straight game, forcing Svitolina to hold to stay in the set after having been two points from the win only minutes earlier. Svitolina quickly fell behind love/40 but, after having seen Halep suddenly seize control of the set, the Ukrainian managed to find a way to catch her previous lightning in a bottle once more. She saved the three SP, getting the game to deuce with great defense and a Halep mid-court miss. Halep's volley put-away gave her SP #4, but Svitolina saved it from the baseline with a passing shot to the corner, ending a 23-shot rally. She held to force a TB.

With the momentum now trading hands, it seemed to be all about the matter of which woman would surge last. Svitolina led the TB 4-2, but an ill-timed backhand error turned a possible 5-2 bulge into a razor-thin 4-3 lead. She winced, recognizing the lost opportunity to put a (near) strangle-hold on the breaker. What followed were two more backhand errors that handed Halep a 5-4 lead. But Svitolina had another push-back in her. A backhand down the line knotted the score, and she moved forward for a forehand put-away to reach match point for the first time. But when she couldn't end the match a point later, after having played like a house afire earlier in the day, Svitolina saw the house come down on her head. On Halep's fifth SP, the Romanian's forehand smacked into the net cord, popped up and dribbled over onto Svitolina's side of the court.

The match was going three, but it was already over. While Svitolina couldn't let go of the chance that had slipped from her grasp, a fully confident Halep cruised. She broke Svitolina to open the set and, in the "last line of defense" in game #3, the Ukrainian recovered from a love/40 hole to hold a game point, only to drop serve anyway. A few minutes later, Halep was holding serve at love to end a 6-0 set that had lasted just twenty minutes.

Halep went on to play in her second RG final, only to lose a big lead herself and once again come up one win short of her first major.
2. Australian Open 1st Round - Lucie Safarova def. Yanina Wickmayer
Serving to stay in the match while down 6-3/6-5, Safarova fell behind love/40, and it seemed just a matter of time before it'd be over and Bethanie Mattek-Sands would have her doubles partner all to herself for the rest of this tournament. But that was when Safarova decided she wasn't ready to go. Here's how things went:

3. Wimbledon 1st Round - Arina Rodionova def. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
The Aussie had the best day of her pro career. Qualifier Rodionova, 27, had never won a MD slam match, but then she outlasted #16-seeded Pavlyuchenkova in a match in which she saved SEVEN match points in a result that can only really be described as being something along the lines of being "oh-so-Pavlyuchenkova." It was only a year ago that the Russian reached her first Wimbledon QF, and another final eight run in January in Melbourne completed her "Career QF Slam." Pavlyuchenkova led 6-3/5-4, and had seven MP in the 2nd set. In the 3rd, as Rodionova served for the match at 5-3, the current Russian seemed to have a chance to turn the tables on the former Hordette, saving a MP, breaking serve and ultimately sending the match over the 2:30 mark. On her third MP, Rodionova finally broke Pavlyuchenkova in game #16 to record her first career slam win.

4. WTA Finals rr - Caroline Garcia def. Elina Svitolina
A classic Garcia 2.0 win, the second at the expense of Svitolina this fall. After failing to close out the 1st after serving up 4-3, then leading 5-2 in the TB, serving two at 5-4, holding SP at 6-5 and 7-6, and badly missing a swing volley, Garcia fell down a break early in the 2nd and briefly was brought to tears during a changeover session with her father.

But rather than go away, the Pastry dug in and won four consecutive games, taking a 5-2 lead and holding to win the 2nd at 6-3 from love/40 down. Svitolina led 2-0 in the 3rd, and broke for a 5-3 advantage (winning a game that included two wonderful backhand passing shots). But, again, Garcia refused to give in. She broke at love and held to knot things at 5-5, then denied a GP and broke again on BP #3 two games later. The Pastry served out the win to take the 2:44 battle, holding a 58/31 W/UE ratio (vs. Svitolina's 33/22), and staying alive in group play.

5. WTA Finals rr - Caroline Garcia def. Caroline Wozniacki
After a slow start vs. an in-form Wozniacki, Garcia 2.0 stabilized and pulled out another win that she wouldn't have gotten a year ago, finding a way to take away the momentum of the match with greater aggression and, for really the only time all week, making the Dane blink in the face of pressure. Wozniacki breezed through the love 1st set in :22, firing balls deep and keeping Garcia on her heels while winning 24 of 31 points. After failing to convert two BP in game #3, Garcia took the advantage in game #5 and served out the 2nd set on her second attempt. Wozniacki was up a break in the 3rd, and served for the match at 5-4. But on a point that featured her great defense and athleticism, Garcia moved forward to put away an overhead to end a point in which Wozniacki failed to seize the initiative, carving out a third BP in game #10. A backhand error from the Dane a point later tied the score at 5-5. Holding from love/40, Garcia took her first lead in the match a game later, then a Wozniacki DF gave her a MP. On MP #2, Wozniacki's forehand sailed long and Garcia stayed alive once more, even with the Dane winning more points (93-87) on the day. Halep's loss in the next match not only got Garcia into the semis in her WTA Finals debut, but this victory stole the group win from Wozniacki, as well. Not that that ultimately mattered to Caro... the Danish one, I mean. She went on to win the WTAF title.
6. Indian Wells Final - Elena Vesnina def. Svetlana Kuznetsova
A lost opportunity for Kuznetsova, and a moment of true opportunistic achievement for Vesnina. Coming back from a break down twice in the 1st, Kuznetsova took the TB. But with the advantage on her side of the net in the 2nd (4-1 lead) and 3rd (4-2) she wasn't able to call upon championship form.

7. Wimbledon 1st Round - Carina Witthoeft def. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
35-year old MLB who opened the season by reaching the AO semifinals (her first such result since doing so at Wimbledon at age 16 in 1999) faced off with the German on Day 1 at SW19. Witthoeft took the 1st set 6-3, and things were knotted at 4-4 in the 2nd. Lucic held for 5-4 and took a love/40 lead in the following game. She eventually got the break, took the set at 7-5, and led 5-0 in the 3rd. But then it all fell apart. Witthoeft stormed back and broke the Croat to take a 7-6 lead, then served out the match after saving a BP.
8. Australian Open 3rd Round - Karolina Pliskova def. Alona Ostapenko
Against the unrelenting Latvian, Pliskova fell behind two breaks in the 3rd and saw Ostapenko serve for the match at 5-2 and 5-4. Finding a way to win when she wasn't at her best, the Czech reached into her "experience bag" and pulled out defense and, ultimately, her big serve to move forward.

9t. Fed Cup Final Match 2 - Aryna Sabalenka def. Sloane Stephens
The U.S. could have put a headlock on the tie, but U.S. Open champ Stephens was ultimately unable to subdue the teenager, or allow the Belarussian's increasing propensity to string together wild errors to work for her benefit. Stirring up the crowd and roaring as often as she'd smack winners, Sabalenka took advantage of Stephens' inability to back up any of the three break advantages she held in the 3rd set. Sloane's increasing tentativeness down the stretch evened what should have been a playing field tilted in her favor, as Sabalenka put on an inspiring, exciting Ostapenko-like show, and even found some additional luck (like a framed volley off the net cord winner) along the way to knot things after Day 1.

Fed Cup Final Match 4 - Aliaksandra Sasnovich def. Sloane Stephens
Once again, Stephens was asked by Captain Rinaldi, who held to her original lineup despite Stephens' Saturday loss (and Elite Trophy knee injury, and winless post-U.S. Open stretch), to follow up CoCo Vandeweghe's steady performance with one of her own. Once again Stephens put herself in position to win. Once again Stephens lost. She did take the 1st set, denying Sasnovich on all five of her BP opportunities. After the Belarussian dominated the 2nd, Stephens again found herself up a break at 4-2 in the 3rd. Unlike against Sabalenka, she backed up the break with a hold for 5-2. But then it happened again. After failing to serve out the match (and title) at 5-3, Stephens squandered her big lead, flying forehand errors left, right and in-between, letting a lob go only to see it drop in over her head and generally look like the Current Sloane that we used to see before she began to turn the corner to the Future a while back. While Stephens berated her own play in the changeover area afer falling behind 5-6, Rinaldi seemed to jump inside her being with a face-to-face captain-to-player discussion that, briefly, seemed to work. She broke Sasnovich to keep the match alive, only to not realize that there wouldn't be a deciding TB played. The moment seemed to break her rediscovered concentration as she was broken at love, then Sasnovich held to get another bet-you-didn't-see-that-coming sort of FC win that has made her the Belarussian MVP this season, forcing things to a deciding doubles contest, in which Vandeweghe (w/ Shelby Rogers) finally did what Stephens couldn't, clinching the first U.S. FC title in seventeen years.

1. Auckland 2nd Round - Madison Brengle def. Serena Williams
Week 1 play was highlighted by #72-ranked Brengle's windy conditions upset of Williams, which made her just the second (w/ Sloane Stephens, '13 AO) U.S. player that Serena has ever lost to who was younger than herself. Williams had beaten Brengle 6-0/6-1 in their only previous match-up. The other seasons in which Serena suffered her first loss of the season BEFORE the Australian Open? 2007, '09 and '10. The other thing those three seasons had in common was that she was crowned AO champ all three years. Well, we know what happened in Melbourne, don't we? Something to remember come January 2018.

2. Wimbledon 2nd Round - Madison Brengle def. Petra Kvitova
Kvitova, in her ninth match back, had been 6-0 on the grass. But by the end of this one in the London heat, the Czech was exhausted and just 1-3 in career matches vs. Brengle, who notched her *second* big slam upset of 2017.
3. U.S. Open 1st Round - Aleksandra Krunic def. Johanna Konta
The Bracelet was at it again in NYC, pulling the upset to get her first Top 10 win in three years.

Konta had been a bit "off" since she arrived in North America fresh off her Wimbledon SF run and brief climb into the Top 5. It's not surprising, really. While Konta *was* a previous slam semifinalist ('16 AO), doing so in front of a home crowd and taking on that particular crown of thorns -- and continuing to maintain such a high level of play -- is another task indeed. Even while looking to be one of the best hard courters on tour over the last year or so, she went just 2-2 on summer HC coming into this one. She won the 1st set vs. Krunic, but nerves seemed to play a key role in the gradual extinction of her latest New York experience. Krunic was up an early break in the 3rd, but Konta got things back on serve at 2-2. The Serb broke gain for a 4-3 lead, and was two points from victory at 5-3 before Konta managed to hold serve. Then, showing signs of feeling the moment, Krunic went up 40/love a game later and, on her second MP, saw Konta yank a backhand wide to end it. Krunic ended the season as the top-ranked Serb for the first time in her career.
4. Roland Garros 2nd Round - Ons Jabuer def. Dominika Cibulkova
The lucky loser takes out the #6 seed, becoming the first Arab woman to reach the 3rd Round of a slam.

5. Indian Wells 2nd Round - Kayla Day def. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
The 17-year old wild card (#175) notches her first career Top 30 win over a player literally more than twice her age in 35-year old Lucic. In her first tour-level three-setter, Day staged a comeback from 5-3 down in the 3rd, with the Croatian serving for the match.


6. Rosmalen 1st Round. - Antonia Lottner def. Dominika Cibulkova
Does this loss to a literal WTA tour neophyte say more about Lottner, maybe finally getting her footing at age 20 and pulling this upset in her MD tour debut, or Cibulkova? The veteran was never quite the same in '17 after her Top 5 finish and WTAF-winning effort last year, nor after injuring her wrist during the spring. 26-22 on the season, she finished at #26.

7. Washington 1st Round - Bianca Andreescu def. Camila Giorgi 5-7/6-3/6-4
Washington 2nd Rd. - Bianca Andreescu def. Kristina Mladenovic 6-2/6-3
the 17-year old WC (#167) gets her her first WTA win to become the youngest Canadian to notch a tour win since Maureen Drake in 1988, then becomes the first "2000 baby" to record a Top 20 victory with her upset of Mladenovic. In the latter match, Mladenovic led 2-0 in the 1st set before dropping six straight games to lose the set, then held a break lead early in the 2nd, as well, but then never held another BP opportunity for the remainder of the match. The Pastry served at just 38% on the day, and had ten DF.

8. Stanford 1st Round - Caroline Dolehide def. Naomi Osaka
As good as the result was for Dolehide, it was just the opposite for Osaka, who suffered her sixth 1st Round loss in nine MD appearances.

9. Australian Open 1st Round - Shelby Rogers def. Simona Halep
Suffering from tendinitis in her knee, Halep fell in the 1st Round in Melbourne for the second straight year. #52 Rogers faced just one BP on the day, making the Romanian the First Seed Out of the Australian Open and a virtual afterthought in a very story-filled slam. Seven months later, Halep also lost in the 1st Round of the U.S. Open. She still finished at #1.

10t. Toronto 1st Round - Varvara Lepchenko def. Alona Ostapenko 1-6/7-6(2)/7-6(5)
Cincinnati 1st Rd. - Aleksandra Krunic def. Alona Ostapenko 6-4/6-2
the only (brief) signs of any cracks in the exterior of the RG champ occurred during the summer HC season. After dominating the 1st set, Ostapenko had a wild ride the rest of the way vs. Lepchenko. Even so, she came back from 0-3 in the 3rd before being nipped at the finish line.

A week later, the Bracelet found herself down 0-3, love/40 in the 1st set after winning just four of the first twenty points. But a three-ace game got her on the board, and she went on to win twelve of the final fifteen games from Ostapenko, handing the frustrated RG champ her third straight loss, the last two these defeats at the hands of the #87 and #70-ranked players in the world, respectively.
11. Charleston 2nd Round - Fanny Stollar def. Elena Vesnina
After winning the Indian Wells title, this was Vesnina's second straight loss. In Miami, she dropped a 7-5 3rd set to Ajla Tomljanovic, and then came up on the short end of a pair of tie-breaks here against the teenage Hungarian qualifier.
12. Dubai 3rd Round - CiCi Bellis def. Aga Radwanska
At the time, I said that this one had the feel of players taking on the role of two ships passing in the night, heading in opposite directions. While Aga is still ranked ahead of CiCi, the thought still holds all these months later.


1. Alona Ostapenko Powers to Her Maiden Slam Win in Paris
2. Serena Williams Wins Career Slam #23 at the Australian Open w/o Dropping a Set
Caroline Garcia's wins in Wuhan included the dispatching of Angelique Kerber, Christina McHale, Dominika Cibulkova (her first Top 10 win of '17), Ekaterina Makarova, Maria Sakkari and Ash Barty in the final, during which the Aussie twice served for the match in the 2nd set. Garcia had been 0-4 in her previous semifinal appearances this season, but seemed quite at home in the latter stages of this event. Her title run was the biggest for a French woman since Marion Bartoli won Wimbledon in 2013. Like Mladenovic, Garcia's prospects have been noticeable since way back (Andy Murray called her a "future #1" when she was a teenager, while watching her face off with Maria Sharapova in Paris), but it's taken her a little while to embrace the big stage. Remember, she once asked the FFT to not schedule her on Chatrier at Roland Garros because it was too much pressure. It was surely an eyebrow-raising moment, but turned out to be just the first of many in which she proved she's no longer the sort of player who doesn't take to such a challenge.

A week later, when the Pastry backed up her Wuhan win by becoming the first to make it a Chinese two-fer by also taking Beijing, we were asking where this Garcia had been hiding. But it didn't matter. She's here now, and that's what matters.

Of course, a case can be made that it's been Garcia's accumulation of experiences, from the early praise to her renowned cases of nerves and honest doubts about her own ability to handle pressure, to her Fed Cup awakening (thanks, Amelie), doubles success, belated singles breakthroughs and the decision to focus her efforts on reaching her full potential there, as well as her handling of the public back-stabbing antics of her former doubles partner and FC teammate and the national fire that it lit, may be the reason that the 24-year old emerged as *the* form player in Asia in the 4th Quarter of the '17 season. Through it all, she not only learned how to focus, but also who to trust, who to shrug off, and who has her best interests at heart. It's surely seemed to evolve into something of a clarifying moment for the young Frenchwoman, and her reward has been a career-defining and changing stint on the other side of the world.

In pulling off the WTA's first Wuhan/Beijing title sweep in singles, Garcia flew into the Top 10, becoming the first French woman to debut there since Marion Bartoli in 2007. Beijing added victories over Elise Mertens, Alize Cornet, Elina Svitolina (in a back-and-forth match that highlighted Caro's hardened nerves and Latvian Thunder-like embrace of gutsy, risky shotmaking making that dares herself to play at her very best, and her opponent to match her level, if they're able), Petra Kvitova and, in the final, soon-to-be-#1 Simona Halep. Her run qualified her for her first WTA Finals, where she'd reach the semifinals and finish at #8 just two months after having made her Top 20 debut.

Over these two weeks in China, Garcia put up three Top 10 wins (she'd add two more in Singapore), including two Top 5 (+1) victories in Beijing over #2 Halep (now #1) and then-#3 Svitolina, denying the latter a shot at #1 and dealing the former a final defeat before assuming the top spot.
...coming eighteen years and several lifetimes worth of anxiety and uncertainty after her original slam semifinal performance at Wimbledon in 1999, no one foresaw 34-year old Croat Mirjana Lucic-Baroni rising to such heights once again in Melbourne. Not even her, though she never gave the sources of her by now well-known struggles the satisfaction of ever seeing her give up. Even in a remarkable and unexpected season of great stories, her storybook AO run, while it may have receded into the collective memory by now, was never truly overtaken as the most unexpected and heartwarming occurrence of 2017.


...29-year German Laura Siegemund is a resident of the city, and reached her maiden tour singles final in Stuttgart one year ago. But, really, as great as it is to have a frenzied crowd on her side, it's the clay that makes the BIG difference. Siegemund may have welcomed the start of the clay season more than any other player. Struggling to find her game on hard courts, she started 2017 at 1-7, and had lost ten of eleven matches on the surface going back to last season. On the clay, though, the inventive, scrambling, fist-pumping German with a propensity to drop shot any opponent at any time is fully transformed. 1-11 on hard courts since late last season, she'd sported a 32-7 mark on clay courts since her breakout tour-level performance in Charleston last season, a QF result that she soon followed up with her qualifier-to-finalist run in Stuttgart and her first tour title in Bastad the following July.

This year in Stuttgart, Siegemund received a late MD wild card and put up wins over Zhang Shuai, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Karolina Pliskova and Simona Halep (her second straight year with a win over the Swarmette in the event, and her third Top 10 win of the week -- meaning of her eight career Top 10 wins, six have come in Stuttgart the last two years) to return to the final. There, she quickly took the opening set from Kristina Mladenovic in :28, but had to weather a late storm in the third to grab the title. Breaking the Pastry on her fourth try in game #9 of the 3rd, Siegemund served for the match at 5-4. But after falling behind 15/30, umpire Mariana Alves (lest we forget, she DOES have a history of injecting herself into the story at times) gave the German a point penalty for a time violation for taking too long to serve as she waited for the crowd to calm down before approaching the baseline. After a brief argument that only stoked a crowd a bit more, Siegemund dropped serve and then saw Mladenovic hold at love. She forced a tie-break, though, and overcame a 4-1 and 5-4 deficits, sweeping the final three points and (ironically) getting to a Mladenovic drop shot on MP and (of course) lifting her own crosscourt drop shot over the net and painting a line to finally end things.

Unfortunately, a month later in Nuremberg, Siegemund suffered a knee injury and missed her rest of the '17 season.
6. Muguruza Claims Second Career Slam at Wimbledon
7. THE DANE TAKES SINGAPORE what fell as if it could be a watershed moment in her career, Caroline Wozniacki experienced a range of tennis experiences at the WTA Finals in Singapore. She was imperious early on, almost embarrassing the likes of Elina Svitolina and Simona Halep, then blinking in the heat of battle vs. Caroline Garcia and failing to win the group in a last moment switcheroo. She pulled a match back from a potentially perilous place in the semis against Karolina Pliskova, then raced to a commanding lead in the final vs. Venus Williams, only to see the 37-year old legend threaten to stage an equally legendary comeback. It turned out to only be a slightly more scenic trip to the biggest title of her career.

After getting off to an impeccable start at the WTA Finals in Singapore, winning 24 of 28 games in her first two matches vs. Elina Svitolina and Simona Halep, Wozniacki briefly looked to be in danger of squandering her roll. Garcia, who beat her to the punch in a short stretch when the Dane was noticeably tentative and eschewed her otherwise well-time aggressive tactics, staged a comeback in the final round robin match, erasing a 5-3 3rd set lead to win and ultimately take the #1 spot in the group. Wozniacki, with the prospect of losing her third straight set on the racket of Karolina Pliskova when the Czech held six SP in the 1st set of their semifinal, appeared to have quite possibly reached the end of her dominant WTA Finals run. But after converting on her own sixth SP, Wozniacki wrapped up the match in straights and a day later nearly ran Venus Williams out of the final, leading 6-4/5-0. Williams' comeback threatened to become the story of the final, but it wasn't meant to be. After stopping the bleeding at the last possible moment, the Dane claimed the title without having to witness the full Venus aura overwhelm the arena, winning 6-4/6-4.


8. A RUSSIAN RULES IN THE DESERT Indian Wells, an "on fire" Elena Vesnina strung together gritty wins over Shelby Rogers, Timea Babos, Angelique Kerber, Venus Williams and Kristina Mladenovic to reach her biggest career final (the tenth of her tour career), then went about staging multiple comebacks (down 4-1 in the 2nd, then 4-2 in the 3rd) against countrywoman Svetlana Kuznetsova in the final to claim the title, her first since winning her second career crown (both coming in the same season) in Eastbourne in 2013. She rose to a new career high of #13 with the title. “This is a dream,” she said. “I hope it’s a great example for other players that everything can happen if you believe in yourself, you know that you have the game. I knew I could play well. I know I have the game. I have the shots. I have the serve. I was just, it was just about the consistency and using the right shots on the right moment. Don’t panic, don’t rush.”
...with all the celebration of her return to the tour having taken place in Paris, Kvitova returned to her beloved English grass courts with just as much heartwarming support, but a bit less of the fascination involved with her Roland Garros return after hand surgery following a home invasion knife attack. We knew she could now hold a racket, and we'd soon learn that she couldn't *fully* grip it, but we didn't know how much match play she'd need to regain her old form. As it turned out, the Czech picked up right where she left off. In 2014, when she won her last grass title at Wimbledon, not 2016, when Kvitova went a combined 3-3 on the surface (and, interestingly, perhaps, lost to RG champ and former Wimbledon girls winner Alona Ostapenko), as she dropped as many matches last summer as she did on the grass from 2013-15 combined. Her Birmingham title gave her career win #20, and her first singles crown on grass outside the gates of the AELTC. Wins over Tereza Smitkova, Naomi Broady, Kristina Mladenovic and Lucie Safarova (ret.) without dropping a set put Kvitova into her 27th career final, where she was tested by Ash Barty, dropping the 1st set and pulling ahead in the middle of a tight early 3rd to take the title. She's now won a title in seven consecutive seasons, behind only Serena Williams' current eleven-year streak and Caroline Wozniacki's ten in a row..
10. Sloane Stephens Wins the U.S. Open
...after opening her run in Cincinnati with wins over Beatriz Haddad, Garbine Muguruza's week got *really* interesting. She saved three MP vs. Madison Keys, she went 2:45 against Svetlana Kuznetsova, ended her 0-6 run vs. #1 Karolina Pliskova, and then was the latest to thwart #2 Simona Halep's dreams of reaching the #1 ranking. Her victories over the top two players in the world in the same event marks the 35th time it's happened in tour history. The last time was in 2012 (by Serena, the most recent of twelve such occasions when one of the Sisters pulled it off), and the last time a non-Williams did it was in 2009 (Kuznetsova).
...Aussie Ash Barty, 21, came up just short of a truly remarkable run in Wuhan that, had she taken the title, surely would have qualified as one of the Top 3 -- if not THE -- top non-slam singles performances by any player this season. She came up just short, but the Aussie's third trip to a singles final this season has marked her as an essential part of the NextGen group of players elbowing their way to the front of the WTA line. Another Barty Party is surely on the schedule for Melbourne come January.

In her own way, Barty actually falls in line with the recent string of players who have taken time off (by choice/injury) and come back to the sport as strong or stronger than ever, only she did it at the start of her career rather than the middle or near the end. Her year and a half sabbatical from tennis -- which included a stint as a pro cricket player Down Under -- wasn't a case of needing to recuperate and rediscover a lost love of the sport, but one of slowing down and reclaiming a bit of sanity before returning to the grind of the tennis tour once she felt she was finally ready for such a life. Well, she's surely taking to it now. Already a doubles success, Barty has added a load of singles accomplishments to her career resume this year. Her appearance in this final in Wuhan was noteworthy in itself, but it was her *path* there that was so impressive. She posted a win over CiCi Bellis, then reeled off four straight Top 20 wins, three of them Top 10 victories and one a Top 5. Johanna Konta fell in three after the Brit had led 4-2, then another win over Aga Radwanska went the distance, as did Barty's win over Karolina Pliskova. A straight sets win over Alona Ostapenko included the Aussie's fourth match of the week with a bagel set (also vs. Bellis, Konta and Radwanska). In the final against Caroline Garcia, a second title and a fifth Top 20 win were within Barty's grasp. She twice served for the match, but ultimately fell in three sets. She ended the season in the Top 20 and as the highest-ranked Aussie, and more than displayed a fan-friendly, good-natured attitude about the sport and her enjoyment of competition by how she sincerely congratulated the French woman upon her own biggest career accomplishment, and spoke of what *Garcia* could look forward to in the future.

In 2018, Barty's expectations won't be far behind those of the Pastry.
...based on her historic 8-0 record and lead role in the U.S. squad's Fed Cup championship run, CoCo Vandeweghe is this year's Fed Cup Player of the Year, but a good case can by made that Belarus' Aliaksandra Sasnovich was the most influentual player in the season-long 2017 event.

Just call her the Belarussian Hammer. On Sundays, she leaves her victims a bloodies mess on the battlefield. Sasnovich's match #3 win in the 1st Round over Kiki Bertens in February set the course for the defeat of the Netherlands, and her upset of Timea Bacsinszky in the exact same position in the semis did the same vs. Switzerland. When just one win in each tie, as she substituted for Vika Azarenka in the #1 singles slot, would have been noteworthy, Sasnovich went 4-0 in FC play this season while leading Belarus into its first ever Fed Cup final. In the final, Sasnovich staged a 3rd set comeback to upset Sloane Stephens (trying to clinch the title) to push the tie with the United States to the deciding doubles. She and Aryna Sabalenka came up one match short of truly remarkable accomplishment, but Sasnovich's role in the season-long drama (over two years, actually, as she 8-2 in FC singles in 2016-17) should not be forgotten anytime soon.


2003 Justine Henin-Hardenne (U.S. Open)
2004 Maria Sharapova (Wimbledon)
2005 Kim Clijsters (North American hardcourts)
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 Wiliams (Roland Garros)
2014 Petra Kvitova (Wimbledon)
2015 Belinda Bencic (Toronto)
2016 Monica Puig (Olympics)
2017 Alona Ostapenko (Roland Garros)

And, thus, ends Backspin's all-things-in-one review of the 2017 WTA season.

Of course, the WTA Yearbook still remains on the late year docket. It'll be coming soon, though I should note that it will have an abbreviated format due to meddling by antagonistic outside parties in the Backspin Academy election process. The new elections were recently cancelled. We expect an investigation and full accounting of what occurred to be forthcoming in the near future.

Luckily the BSA School for the Performing Arts has stepped up and is still fully committed to participating in the production of our annual Yearbook. The works of our most creative students will be exclusively honored in this year's keepsake, along with a rundown of all the individuals expected to take part in our regular "Carl Talks" lecture series.

So, be on the lookout for that!

And, finally, we all got our heads together to try to figure out the best way to close out this review. Since there were so many good ideas, things got a big heated at HQ for a few moments. But once we heard one suggestion all discussion stopped, as we just couldn't get it out of our heads. It was perfect, as it features a different side of the student who elbowed her way into out collective heart over the past year.

Without further ado, we present... your reigning Roland Garros champion doing a ballroom samba.

Samba ?????? @max.kravchenko #me#dancing#lesson#samba#greattime#professionaldancer#ballroomdancing#riga#latvia#2017

A post shared by Jelena Ostapenko (@jelena.ostapenko1997) on

All for now.


Blogger colt13 said...

Woke up to the news that Jana Novotna passed at the young age of 49. Way too soon.

Chock full o' stats!

Bencic won, and is in the main draw of the AO.

The Russian and Eastern Europe group on your list is loaded.

Stat of the Week-9 The number of slam nations that won out of the first 10 Fed Cups.

With only the 125K's left, it is time to take a look at Fed Cup and the tour, and see if the game has grown. The numbers may intrigue you.

Fed Cup-The first 10 years(1963-72)
Slam nations-9
Non slam nations-1

South Africa-1

South Africa's win was in the 10th year. Compare that to the last 10 years(2008-17).

Slam nations-1
Non slam nations-9

Czech Republic-5

And the US just got that one.

So that makes you wonder, if the Fed Cup was won by slam nations, did the slams have the same breakdown? Actually for the 63-72 era, the split was exactly the same. Instead of 9/10, it was 36/40, both 90%.

Non slam

Names like Court, King, Wade, etc all came from the slam countries, and they dominated. The only 4 from a non slam country came from Brazil and Maria Bueno, who not only held up the banner for those 10 years, but almost 20, as between Zsuzsa Kormoczy(Hungary) winning the French in 1958, and Mima Jausovec, also the French in 1976, Bueno was the only woman from a non slam country to win one-7 in total.

One of the years Bueno won Wimbledon was 1964, which is a year we will take a look at for a different reason. You see, this is the year the actress Cathy Lee Crosby played(Thanks ESPN), as well as her sister Linda Lou, who got crushed by Ann Jones 6-0, 6-0. They live in Wimbledon lore because they did something that can never be done again, as they played in 4 disciplines. Both played in singles and lost, played together in doubles and played well but lost, Linda-Lou played mixed. So what was the fourth? The Wimbledon Plate. What is the Wimbledon Plate?

Just as the Final Four used to have a third place game, Wimbledon had the plate, which for the women started in the mid 30's and ran through 1989. Women that had lost in the first 2 rounds were eligible, and in that same 63-72 period, peaked with Francoise Durr, Vera Sukova(Helena's mother), Virginia Wade, and Evonne Goolagong winning. Other interesting names include 1986 winner Pam Shriver, 1978-Mona Guerrant, and 1952 winner Betsy Abbas from Egypt, which is even more noteable when you realize that Egypt has not had a woman in the main draw at Wimbledon in the Open Era.

So with the non slam nations picking up in Fed Cup, did it also happen at the majors? Yes, but as one woman in Bueno stood out in the past, one stands out in the present.

Non slam nations-21
Slam nations-19

Czech Republic-2

Slam Nations

The game has grown, probably more than people realize. Why don't they know?

Slam nations

Serena has been a one woman marketing machine for the US. Even only playing one slam, she won, making it 6 straight years and 10 of 11, only the injury shortened campaign of 2011 lacking.

Longest streak of years with a slam:
Evert-13(all of her 18 slams won in this period)
Court-7(All AO)
Wills Moody-7

One other that deserves note is Helen Jacobs, who has a 5 year streak, and only won 5 slams. Wills Moody deserves mention, because she snuck in between the war stoppages to get hers.

Mon Nov 20, 11:43:00 AM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

Quiz Time!
1.Mumbai is being played this week. Who was the last player from India before Sania Mirza to make the main draw at Wimbledon?

A.Shikha Uberoi
B.Neha Uberoi
C.None of the above

2.The Wimbledon Plate had winners from non traditional countries win. How many of these has a title winner-Poland, Soviet Union, Sweden, South Africa?


1.C.None, Mirza is the only woman in the Open Era to have made the main draw. The Uberoi sisters both had their success at the US Open.

2.D.All of them won!

Mon Nov 20, 11:43:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Horrible news about Novotna. While I followed Dokic's career more closely than any other, I'd have to say that Novotna was the player with whom I experienced the most deeply felt defeats and successes. The reason I call Halep the "Heart of Backspin" is because the push/pull, struggles with confidence and, ultimately, triumph most closely makes me feel the way I did watching Novotna's long, oh-so-human battle against herself before she finally rose above it all and won Wimbledon in 1998. Her win still ranks as my favorite, most well-earned, moment ever in tennis, and maybe in all of sport. For a long time, I even had the newspaper headlines and photos from the next day framed on my wall. (I probably still have that stored somewhere... I'll have to try to find it.)

Damn. Bad day. So glad now that she got into the HoF maybe a little earlier than anticipated and got to be honored for all that she *did* accomplish rather than being remembered, as she is by so many, for the times when she'd failed to do so. Of course, it's the combination that so humanized her in the eyes of most, especially those at Wimbledon. It's not so bad a legacy to have, I guess.

I didn't even have any knowledge of the Wimbledon Plate. Interesting. I'm surprised Shriver hasn't brought it up on occasion. ;)

Ah, you tricked me on the Mirza one. Since you provided names I thought maybe there *had* been one. Nope.

I went with three. Oh, well.

Mon Nov 20, 12:54:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

Thank you—this is wonderful. I don’t know how you do it.

Mon Nov 20, 01:01:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Here's what I wrote a few years ago for my "All-Time All-Backspin Team," on which Novotna was, of course, a First Team member along with Dokic, Mandlikova and Becker (Henin was "only" 2nd Team, along with Vika). Halep and (soon, if not already) Ostapenko would challenge now, with maybe Kasatkina with an outside future hope.

(from "The Best of Times..." (now w/o pics because they'd all been stored on Photobucket before it tried to extort $500 from people to continue to allow pics to show up on other sties, by the way)

...oh, did someone mention fighting against adversity? Yeah, well, Novotna pretty much set the template for being her own worst enemy, but coming out on top in the end. At first, I became attached to Novotna's career around '90 because I loved her net rushing game. I've even tried to employ her much-loved backhand chip approach shot on the court in my own "tennis" game over the years. But once the Czech imploded and blew a big lead on Centre Court against Steffi Graf in the '93 Wimbledon final, then broke down in tears on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent, she morphed into something else entirely -- the centerpiece of an ultimate quest. Sometimes investing anything in such a player turns out to be one long whole-lotta-wrong moment (see Ms. Petrova), but every once in a while you get a "Novotna moment." Five years after her biggest failure, just one of many "smaller" ones in her career (I mean, when "pulling a Novotna" can refer to failing to win a match when you have a 5-0, 40/love lead on match point, you know you've got issues with choking that even Heimlich couldn't find a way around), the Czech rose once again at Wimbledon and won the '98 title. I still consider it my favorite sporting moment, because the decade-long trek to get there made her ultimate she's-no-Hall-of-Famer-without-it victory oh so much sweeter. Truthfully, if Novotna had won in '93 she might not have risen to the place in my personal hierarchy of players where she ended up residing. The experience of losing "with" her had made the difference. Interestingly, on the same day in June '99 that Novotna returned to SW19 to bask in the glow of her '98 title, Dokic burst onto the scene with her match against Hingis. The torch was passed. But that wasn't all... it was also the same day that Boris Becker returned to the courts at Wimbledon after a brief retirement.

Mon Nov 20, 01:06:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Thanks, Diane. I had to cut it down a bit from past seasons in order to include it all in one post, though because of all the Ms.B recaps it still was really looooong. Hopefully I included all the relevant matches, as I didn't catalog and rank them throughout the season quite as extensively as I have in the past.

Mon Nov 20, 01:09:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Just realized I'd written about Jana recently in my and Galileo's Court of Appeals post about the best players never ranked #1.

Here's that...


While she maybe doesn't quite measure up to inclusion in this mix (or maybe she does), Backspin all-time fave Novotna's Hall of Fame career is worth highlighting. One of the last true serve-and-volley players, her journey to her lone slam title ('98 Wimbledon) was one of the rockiest -- and, finally, most rewarding -- in recent memory. (If Simona Halep ever wins a slam, her course would nestle in somewhere behind her, but not *that* far back.) Thing is, her path was quite close to being oh-so-different, as while she rightfully developed a "choking" reputation, she didn't "fail to show up" in her slam final appearances, unlike some of the players under consideration here. Novotna had good showings in her first three slam finals, going three sets against Hall of Famers Seles, Graf and Hingis (a combined 36 major wins). She was a set up vs. both Seles and Hingis, and led Graf 4-1 (with a GP for 5-1) in the 3rd set at Wimbledon in '93 before her infamous collapse. She was that close to piling up four slams wins, and one wonders if she'd gotten her maiden title in her first final appearance if she'd gone on to claim several more. To her everlasting credit, the Czech was never mentally defeated by her losses, and continued to come back time and time again until things finally (eventually) went her way just months before she turned 30. She had seven years with SF+ slam results in an eight-year stretch, and was a success in all areas of the sport. Her 24 singles titles were joined by 76 in doubles and four more in mixed. She's a twelve-time slam doubles champ. She did her singles high ranking (#2) one better by reaching the #1 spot in doubles, and was part of the 1988 Czech Fed Cup championship team. As Novotna aged, she got better. Prior to her '98 Wimbledon run, she claimed the '97 WTA Championships crown, and went 18-6 in her final twenty-four singles finals (after going 6-10 in the first sixteen). While her overall marks vs. the likes of Graf, Hingis and Davenport weren't good by any stretch, she was 11-10 vs. Sanchez Vicario, 5-1 vs. Pierce, 4-0 vs. Capriati, 3-1 vs. Venus Williams and 4-4 against Seles.

Mon Nov 20, 01:18:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Added Match of Year and Performance of Year history to the post. I'd forgotten to do that.

2005 AO SF - S.Williams d. Sharapova
2006 AO SF - Henin-H. d. Sharapova
2007 LA SF - Ivanovic d. Jankovic
2008 US F - S.Williams d. V.Williams
2009 Wimb SF - S.Williams d. Dementieva
2010 Brisbane F - Clijsters d. Henin
2011 AO 4th - Schiavone d. Kuznetsova
2012 Mia 4th - Azarenka d. Cibulkova
2013 Cincy F - Azarenka d. S.Williams
2014 IW QF - A.Radwanska d. Jankovic
2015 RG 2nd - Schiavone d. Kuznetsova
2016 Wimb.4th - Cibulkova d. A.Radwanska
2017 Madrid 2nd - Bouchard d. Sharapova

2003 Justine Henin-Hardenne (U.S. Open)
2004 Maria Sharapova (Wimbledon)
2005 Kim Clijsters (North American hardcourts)
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 Wiliams (Roland Garros)
2014 Petra Kvitova (Wimbledon)
2015 Belinda Bencic (Toronto)
2016 Monica Puig (Olympics)
2017 Alona Ostapenko (Roland Garros)

Mon Nov 20, 02:58:00 PM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

Not too worried about Wozniacki. With David Lee retiring, it feels more like Clijsters/Lynch than her playing second fiddle.

Mon Nov 20, 08:55:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

I wonder if the exit of Sascha might be a bigger issue, though. We'll see. :\

Mon Nov 20, 09:28:00 PM EST  
Blogger Leif Mortensen said...

I can understand Ostapenko is your Ms. Backspin - I don't recognise a double as that - but Muguruza before Wozniacki - there must be something you've missed. In her two last meetings with Wozniacki she looked really poor and mentally she colapsed. She retired after losing first set in Miami. She completely had a breakdown mentally and playwisely in Tokyo where she was bageled. Evert and Martina are putting up a new rivalry between Serena and Mugu - no way realistic. She's to me a roller-coaster-player that can't play consistenly enough - IMHO - so think again.

Mon Nov 27, 11:39:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

I really don't have any personal questions with putting Caro at #4. I'd think Ostapenko, who didn't reach the Top 5, might be a more "pushing it" final position, but I just think her impact was so great.

I understand making a case for Wozniacki (like I've said, there are legitimate notions all the way down to Venus on this list for POY), but I think you're burying the lead a bit with Muguruza. She did finish #2 (Caro #3) and reached #1 (though the Dane may get there in a month or two), won a slam (Caro's WTAF is a level down), won two titles (same as Woz) and reached at least the Round of 16 at all four majors (Caro had a QF and 4r). Wozniacki's best argument was her leading match win and finals totals, which I think I took into account in placing her ahead of the world #1 (Halep), two slam winners (Serena/Sloane), a two-time slam finalist and also semifinalist (Venus) and the tour singles title leader (Svitolina).

Not that I agreed with it, but the WTA picked Muguruza as Player of Year. That said, I *do* think this might have been Wozniacki's "best" season. If she'd matched Svitolina's five titles, say, or reached a slam SF/F I suspect I'd had her one or two spots higher.

Mon Nov 27, 02:29:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

At the $15K challenger in Antalya (Nov.20-26), she got a win over one seeded player (Ipek Oz) and reached the semifinals!

Mon Nov 27, 04:26:00 PM EST  
Blogger Leif Mortensen said...

Well Todd we never agree on the importance of slams - which I think is overrated. It's also a pity to see players only preparing for slams and playing lousy in other tournaments - a scary example is Kerber - well you can actually take along Sloane too - I thijnk of the poor play in FED cup final - they are not good role models for the WTA tour (Oh slams are not WTA). Make a Ms Consistency so you have best woman in slams - which Ms Backspin must be and a workhorse titel for the player who defeated 3 #1 player in the same year. To me the final between the top 8 layers on the tour must be over the slams and some damn good matches there were where a slam is more a bit of luck in the draw. Yeah well IMHO - but you still are making a really good blog ;)

Tue Nov 28, 01:33:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Well, remember, as far as Muguruza goes, she posted wins over two different #1's this season herself, and also defeated the world #1 and #2 in the same week en route to winning in Cincinnati.

Well, while the WTAF is a nice event, that a player can win it while also losing a match during the week (or two losses, as was the case with Radwanska and Cibulkova in recent seasons) makes it difficult for me to consider it on the same level as a slam, let alone higher. That said, Wozniacki's run in Singapore (aside from those few games vs. Garcia) was one of the best performances of the season.

Haha. All right, thanks. ;)

Tue Nov 28, 02:49:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

By the way, Marjolein Buis & Diede de Groot won the Wheelchair Doubles Masters this past weekend. Past winners:

2000 Daniela di Toro/Maaike Smit (AUS/NED)
2001 Maaike Smit/Esther Vergeer (NED/NED)
2002 Maaike Smit/Esther Vergeer (NED/NED)
2003 Maaike Smit/Esther Vergeer (NED/NED)
2004 Jiske Griffioen/Esther Vergeer (NED/NED)
2005 Jiske Griffioen/Esther Vergeer (NED/NED)
2006 Jiske Griffioen/Esther Vergeer (NED/NED)
2007 Jiske Griffioen/Esther Vergeer (NED/NED)
2008 Jiske Griffioen/Esther Vergeer (NED/NED)
2009 Korie Homan/Esther Vergeer (NED/NED)
2010 Aniek van Koot/Sharon Walraven (NED/NED)
2011 Esther Vergeer/Sharon Walraven (NED/NED)
2012 Jiske Griffioen/Aniek van Koot (NED/NED)
2013 Yui Kamiji/Jordanne Whiley (JPN/GBR)
2014 Yui Kamiji/Jordanne Whiley (JPN/GBR)
2015 Jiske Griffioen/Aniek van Koot (NED/NED)
2016 Diede de Groot/Lucy Shuker (NED/GBR)
2017 Marjolein Buis/Diede de Groot (NED/NED)

The singles Masters event is this week.

Tue Nov 28, 02:51:00 PM EST  

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