Saturday, November 10, 2012

2012 BSA's: Sublime Serenativity

Forty-four weeks of tennis action and it's come to this... giving a brief thumbnail sketch of a season which began with as many (or more) big-time questions as answers, but which ended with one definitive truth.

Back in January, as difficult as it is to remember now, most of us expected '11 Player of the Year Petra Kvitova to fulfill her "destiny" and assume the #1 position on the WTA computer in the early weeks of the season. She came close, but failed to pull things together in the biggest moments. It established a pattern for her '12 campaign that she struggled with all year. Meanwhile, there was hope for a maturing Victoria Azarenka that her back-half of '11 surge, which ended with her coming up short against Kvitova in the YEC final, would mean bigger things a season later. Little did we know just what that would entail... but we -- along with the rest of the WTA in the opening months of the year -- found out pretty quickly. One thing that everyone DID correctly surmise, though, was that 2010-11 #1 Caroline Wozniacki's days at the top were numbered. In fact, she fell from relevance even quicker than anticipated, and needed a great 4Q, right up until her final event, just to finish in the Top 10.

The two wild cards heading into this season, though, were quite possibly the two most well-known women's tennis players -- and, likely, female athletes -- in the world: Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams. Sharapova's valiant comeback from shoulder surgery had begun to pay dividends in '11, but was she ready to play solidly for two full weeks and win her first slam since seeing her entire career flash before her eyes, not to mention take advantage of the Olympic opportunities that her surgery had robbed from her four years ago? And was Serena, after enduring life-threatening medical emergencies following her last slam title run in London in 2010, finally prepared to put in a full season at full capacity... or as "full" a season as Serena has ever played, but with a capacity that is far, far greater than any other women's player, maybe ever?

As things turned out, both were ready. Ready, indeed.

Oh, but so were so many others. 2012 consisted of a series of boomlets in which new and improving players took turns dominating the headlines and making names for themselves. The new Germans, after the post-Graf "Lost Generation" failed to make headway, continued to rise, with their unlikely leader being Angelique Kerber, the determined and grinding scrambler who'd shocked everyone with her U.S. Open semifinal run in '11. The Brits, too, managed to wash off two decade's worth of ill-fitting results to produce two promising young stars in Laura Robson and Heather Watson, who took turns setting new "first British woman to" records as the season progressed. And you knew something good was in the air when, lo and behold, some Americans not named Williams continued to find success, building upon the moments of promise glimpsed a season ago. By the time the season wound down to its final weeks, we'd learned that "30 is the new 20," said goodbye to Kim Clijsters (again, and for the last time... well, unless Kirsten Flipkens can talk her into playing a little doubles, I guess), said hello to the mighty mite that is Sara Errani and learned just how far one Polish player's alter ego would go to strike havoc and fear in unsuspecting melons, real-or-not-real future children of a former Supernova, and her loud-ish, hard-hitting, racket-swinging counterparts alike.

Actually, the only thing we didn't get to see in '12 was a certain chaotic Serb turn an entire waterway into a giant flowing river of apple sauce. But, oh, she DID have a chance.

In fact, one could make a case that this past season was quite possibly the most competitive, and equally high-quality (as one does not necessarily go hand-in-hand with the other), WTA campaign in ages. No one's going to be blaming Barack Obama for anything that happened on this tour over the past eleven months, that's for sure. Still, even with so much achievement evident on the court this year, 2012 was really only ABOUT three women.

Taking a recent page from the ATP tour, the "Big 3" of Azarenka, Sharapova and Serena took turns asserting their dominance over the rest of the field, reclaiming what was once their own or living up to long-held expectations as they passed around the "figurative" lead position in the race all season. Well, at least until one of the three decided that enough was enough. Azarenka dominated the hard court circuit at the beginning of the year, then passed off the baton to Sharapova during the clay season. The Russian briefly assumed the #1 ranking for the first time in four years, only to lose it when Williams grabbed the WTA by the neck on the grass at Wimbledon... and then choked it out over the next four months, becoming the first woman to sweep SW19, the Olympics, the U.S. Open and YEC in a single season.

By the time the year had ended, 2012's "Ms. Backspin," as has often been her wont through the years, had once again risen from the ashes of her own sublime legacy, managing to build another foundation of excellence upon the already-hallowed ground of her Hall of Fame career. Amazingly, as 2013 beckons, the question lingering in the air is whether this year's honoree has EVER been better than she is now. And if that IS the case... what could she possibly do next? After all, she's playing for history now. She's even said as much.

"I kind of just started playing for history. It's very motivating. Since I plan on playing for a long time, (it's) definitely plausible." - Serena, discussing the possibility of pushing her career slam total to 18, the same as Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, or even higher?

That sound you just heard was the collective WTA field taking a great big gulp.

For, you see, 2012, in its soul-pumping heart, was about Williams fully restoring her "Serena-tivity." And for as long as it remains intact, everything that goes on on the women's tour will take place with the knowledge (and warning) that it all changes when Serena steps onto the court.

In truth, it's a great thing for women's tennis in general, as no sport is unhealthy when a potential "Greatest of All Time" star is in top form. But things just got a whole lot tougher for Vika, Maria and everyone else.

Have fun everyone.

Here are the final "Ms. Backspin" rankings for 2012:

"The older I get, the better I serve." - Serena Williams

1. Serena Williams, USA

...simply put, from the moment Serena sullied her career-long grand slam undefeated 1st Round record (46-0) with an opening match loss to Virginie Razzano in Paris, after Williams had come to Roland Garros sporting a 17-match clay winning streak, she was simply awe-inspiring. After a pair of early-round nail-biters at SW19, Williams finished the last half of the season with a flourish never before seen in the history of the WTA, not only wrapping up a Career Six Pack (joining only Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi as the only winners of all four slams, plus singles titles at the Olympics and YEC), but doing so in a fashion often so dominant that it rendered not only spectators and opponents speechless, but Williams herself, as well.

While Serena might not have been a constant presence on tour (the "secret weapon" to her career longevity, it should be noted), her fifteen tournaments (just three less than Azarenka, and two fewer than Sharapova) constitute what, for her, is actually a pretty busy schedule. Still, even while working with fewer opportunities, Williams won more slams (2, at Wimbledon and the U.S.) and more titles (7 -- her first time as the solo tour leader in a decade -- on four different surfaces, as well as indoors) than any other woman on tour. She ended her season on a 46-2 run, was undefeated in finals, and had winning streaks of 17, 19 and 12-matches. While Williams ended up ranked #3, she notched four wins over the world #1 (giving her 18 for her career), was a combined 8-0 vs. #1 Azarenka and #2 Sharapova, including 4-0 in finals, twice defeating both in the same event, and extended her record against the pair since '05 to 20-1. After being stuck on thirteen slam singles titles final prior to stepping on broken glass in '10 and setting off a slew of health scares, Serena won #14 and #15 in London and New York, moving her within legitimate striking distance of the totals of all-time greats like Navratilova and Evert, both with 18, (though maybe not Court nor Graf, with 24 and 22, respectively).

Serena's rampage through the field at the Olympics might have very well been her best performance ever, and for a player in the thick of the "Greatest of All Time" discussion that's saying something special. Her extended run over the back-half of '12 -- winning two slams, sweeping the singles & doubles at Wimbledon and the Olympics, then going undefeated in the YEC -- is likely her best since she won four straight majors during her “SerenaSlam” run in 2002-03. But, as scary and unfathomable as it might seem, Williams may not be ready to slow down just yet. Poised, at 31, to become the oldest woman to hold the WTA's #1 singles ranking, Williams seems on target to come to a "meeting of the minds" with the tour's computer in the opening months of next season. Not only that, but Serena is arguably in the best shape of her life, more focused than ever on tennis and, as usual, always revels in the notion of defying convention. And she must be licking her lips at the possibility of having the chance to be as good, or better, ten years AFTER she had the best run of slam results the WTA has witnessed over the past two decades.

Of course, we've seen this sort of dominance from Williams before, only to see if fade away for one reason or another.

As always with Serena over the years, her remarkable accomplishments are constantly seen from two different points of view. First, that hers might be the most thundering and physically imposing brand of women's tennis ever played and, second, that there's always the chance that fate and the Tennis Gods will decide that you'll never see that particular Serena again. After waning in the past, Williams has always managed to come back. But, at some point, she won't. Set to turn 32 during the upcoming season, another slip from the top of the game might just be her last (although, after what older sister Venus has pulled herself through, that IS a debatable point). Hopefully, that won't be happening for still a good while longer. Serena has always been a "love her or hate her" type of player, but it's far past time that we should ALL appreciate her while she's still gracing the tour with her presence. The WTA will be "less" in her eventual absence, and not because of the tremendous media machine that Williams' actions kicks into gear, either. For any group of athletes to continue to get better, they have to be pushed, to be forced to raise their own level of play in order to have a shot to keep up with the most gifted of the bunch. As she has been for over a decade now, give or take a season (or a Belgian) or two, Williams has most definitely been that player.

#3 ranking be damned, she's STILL that player... and we, and the WTA tour, are all the better for it. It's been a full decade since Serena was crowned "Ms. Backspin." I'm tempted to ask, "Where's she been?" But, really, she's been there all along.

"I will always play with my heart and with my passion." - Victoria Azarenka

2. Victoria Azarenka, BLR

...Vika's 2012 season was a wonderful example of what can happen when a often-rambunctious tennis player grows up a little, sets aside her "crazy kid" tendencies (at least all the damaging ones) and plays more like a "lady." A refreshingly-demonstrative, still-evolving, less-restless, always honest ("good luck with that," indeed), wears-her-emotions-on-her-sleeve-but-no-longer-lets-them-get-the-better-of-her, ear phones and hoodie-wearing, "Whack-a-Vika" resisting, (eventually) Stacey Allaster chagrining, (occasionally, but not often enough) shorts-wearing, Redfoo charming, (gradually) winning over fans with her let-me-be-me-and-I'll-let-you-be-you attitude, Sharapova-feuding, grand slam winning and #1-ranking holding lady, I'll have you know. Isn't it great?

If for nothing else in these parts, 2012 will be remembered as the season in which the Belarusian became the funky new "face of Backspin."

After the on-the-verge ending of her '11 campaign, Azarenka was surely a player worth watching when 2012 began. Pretty soon, though, she was THE player to watch. After being known for too long for her physical fragility and the overly-emotional, anger-fueled spin-outs, Vika's hard work to improve her body, game and spirit over the last two years paid off in sometimes shocking fashion as she blazed a bloody trail through the beating heart of the tour throughout the 1st Quarter, rarely ever being legitimately challenged by her usually overmatched opponents. Putting together a string of six consecutive appearances in finals dating back to last season, including a four-event title streak this season that included a 26-match season opening run (the best in the WTA since 1997) she snatched her maiden slam title at the Australian Open, leapfrogged from #3 into the #1 ranking and managed to solve The Riddle of The Radwanska more times than any other player on tour.

Azarenka, likely overworked by her 1Q success saw her star dim ever-so-slightly during the clay court season (on, admittedly, her worst surface). She even lost her #1 ranking to Maria Sharapova for a month, but she righted things on the grass, repeating her '11 Wimbledon semifinal result, winning Gold (Mixed Doubles) and Bronze (Singles) at the London Olympics and re-claiming her spot atop the rankings. From there, she began to re-assert herself on hard courts again, reaching the U.S. Open semis, then finding her groove in the 4Q with a 14-0 run that saw her pick up back-to-back titles in Beijing and Linz before securing the year-end #1 ranking at the YEC in Istanbul. In all, she won six titles (going 6-0 in hard court finals) and proved herself to be the most worthy, non-Serena #1 since Justine Henin walked away from the game for the first time back in 2008.

While self-assured and less susceptible (hey, The Riddle of The Serena is going to "dirty" up any player's ledger) to coming up short in big matches, Vika will enter 2013 seemingly fated to give up her #1 ranking to the few-1Q-points-to-defend Williams. She'll no longer be the hunter. She'll be the hunted. Such a turnabout has rocked other #1's in recent seasons, so we'll find out just how rock-solid the "new" Azarenka really is in the early months of next season. Truthfully, though, I'm not too worried. Azarenka will surely hit a few bumps in the road, but I have every confidence that she'll be able to ride them out and maintain her contending position in the Big 3 hierarchy.

Somehow, you get the feeling that 2012 was just the beginning for Vika. If this IS the "start" of a beautiful friendship, well, Backspin simply cannot wait.

"I'm 24 years old, almost 25. I love this sport as much as i loved it, you know, what I was at that age (when won Wimbledon in '04). I've also been through a lot of tough times. I've also said the success that I can achieve, the fact that I got myself back to being Top 5 in the world, playing tennis again, playing at a high level, competing at this level is pretty remarkable from where I was on a surgery table, not knowing if I'd ever be able to hit a serve again." - Maria Sharapova

3. Maria Sharapova, RUS

...she'll never be "The Supernova" again, but "Maria" is more than good enough.

Sharapova's long climb back from career-threatening shoulder surgery produced a dramatic moment in Paris this spring when the Russian topped off a brilliant clay... yes, CLAY court season (3 titles) with a Roland Garros title that (briefly) gave her back the #1 ranking and completed her Career Grand Slam. With the flaming inconsistency of her post-surgery serve mostly worked out (but not without its occasional hiccups), combined with her vastly improved court movement, Sharapova has actually become a far better, more versatile player (hence, her developed proficiency on clay) than the one who burst upon the scene as a hard-hitting teenager nearly a decade ago. Always and still a fabulous competitor, Sharapova might just be the one player on tour who never simply "gives away" matches. Even if she provides her opponent with occasional help (usually in the form of double-faults), the player on the side of the net still has to BEAT her at some point. And, sometimes, the one big match-turning point is extremely hard to get. Just ask Petra Kvitova, victimized by Sharapova's big point prowess on numerous occasions this season. It's such mettle and consistent competitiveness (9-1 in semis in '12) that has allowed Sharapova to notch tour singles titles in ten consecutive seasons now, good for sixth all-time, and one '13 crown away from being bested only by past players named Martina, Chris and Steffi. I note that because, after we've seen Sharapova literally grow up on and off tour (her latest endeavor: "Sugarpova" candies!), it's sometimes easy to forget just how great a career she has actually put together. And, now, with her comeback climb behind her, her career moves into a "now what?" phase.

Well, we DO know that there's still a little more room for Sharapova to grow in 2013. After all, while she did fulfill her dream of playing in the Olympics, her Silver Medal was emblematic of the work that can still be done. This year, she became the first player to ever play in and lose the three biggest titles -- Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami -- of the season's 1Q in a single season. Also, Sharapova, while finishing the season ranked #2, was just 3-6 in finals (0-5 on hard courts, 1-4 in slams/Olympics/YEC, and 1-5 vs. Azarenka and Serena, the latter of which she hasn't defeated in eight years).

While most would consider Sharapova's comeback "complete" after her '12 campaign, it's likely that's not the case with the Russian herself. While she knows that the season she just completed was never a "given" to become a reality, she also knows that she's not finished. She can still improve. She can still wins more slams. Otherwise, she wouldn't be here. After the sort of injury that has devastated the hopes of every other tennis player who has ever suffered it wasn't enough to stop her, it's clear that she's not ready to stop now.

4. Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
5. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
6. Sara Errani, ITA
7. Czech Republic Fed Cup Team

...Errani & Vinci are a lethal combo on their favored clay courts, and are currently riding a 27-match winning streak on the dirt. But the Italian strung together 25 straight all-surface wins at one point in '12, taking a tour-best eight titles, winning two slams -- on the clay in Paris, but also the hard courts of New York (and they reached the final in Melbourne, too). Both players spent time with a solo grasp on the doubles #1 this season, with Vinci rising to the spot late enough to end the season there, becoming the first Italian woman to ever finish as a year-end #1.

Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of the WTA? The Radwanska knows. The existence of Agnieszka Radwanska's shadowy, sometimes-meanspirited, Jekyll-esque alter ego was first brought to public attention earlier this year. The Rad's sole mission in "life" is to create havoc and mayhem where there is otherwise tranquility. To spread fear and dread to all corners of the WTA world, seeking vengeance on It's (and A-Rad's) enemies with no thought to the collateral damage that may occur in the process. From the weather to injury-related walkovers, from "crazy, mixed up" scheduling to weird draws, The Radwanska tries to stick Its creepy hands into every proverbial cookie jar there is. Oh, and Aga is pretty damn good, too... so it works.

Supersmart and clever tennis players take note! Ditching your dad as your coach and employing a game with just a dash more aggression and a somewhat improved first serve can make a world of difference (Are you listening, Midge?). Ever since A-Rad made the move to Polish FC coach Tomasz Wiktorowski following a public outburst from her dad at last year's Wimbledon, the Pole has climbed up the rankings with the sure-footedness and consistency of a giant ape traversing the side of the Empire State Building, swatting away proverbial airplanes and making biting remarks about some of her opponents while finding ways to turn the tables on them when they're least expecting it.

Well, everyone except for Vika and Serena (a combined 0-7 in '12), that is.

But, aye. You see, there's the rub. While A-Rad rose to #2 (finishing at #4), won three titles (including Miami), reached the Wimbledon final (coming within a set of claiming the #1 ranking) and became the scourge of melons throughout the world from her Radwanska Abbey base outside London, it was easy for some to continue to not give Aga her full due simply because she spent the entire season playing second fiddle to the Big 3. But not a certain Backspinner. I know better.

The night is no longer safe, and never turn your back on a dark corner of the room. That's when The Radwanska will get you.

Individually, Errani put up shockingly good results this season. Having never finished a season ranked higher than #42, the diminutive 25-year old scrambler changed rackets (ala Michael Chang in years gone by, going with a longer weapon) and zoomed all the way up into the Top 10 in '12. Her eight doubles titles (two slams) with Vinci were combined with four singles titles (including two s/d sweeps) -- all on clay -- and a berth in the Roland Garros final. But her surprising turns weren't limited to the red dirt, as she also reached the QF at the Australian Open and the semis in Flushing Meadows. Meanwhile, after having to go on the road to claim the Fed Cup title for the Czech Republic in '11, the same group of four women -- Petra Kvitova, final star Lucie Safarova, Andrea Hlavackova & Lucie Hradecka -- brought the circus to Prague this November, securing another crown with a 3-1 win over Serbia. In 2012's three FC rounds, the Maidens outdistanced their opponents by a combined 11-3 score.

8. Angelique Kerber, GER
9. Petra Kvitova, CZE
10. Serena Williams/Venus Williams, USA/USA

...for Kerber, her surprise run to the '11 U.S. Open semifinals was only the beginning. Over the course of barely a year, the German managed to raise her ranking from around #100 to the Top 5. The athletic, consistent -- and consistently gutsy (not to mention sometimes delightfully ornery -- Kerber won the first two titles of her career in '12, notched wins over both Serena AND Venus and reached a second slam Final Four at Wimbledon. Though she has some power, Kerber's largely defensive style of play makes one wonder if she can string together multiple wins against the game's very best players in the final rounds of a slam and walk off with the first major claimed by a German woman since Steffi Graf in '99. But with a player as stubbornly determined as she is, don't count her out.

It says much about the overwhelming expectations that were placed on Kvitova's shoulders as '12 began that she reached two slam semis, claimed two singles titles, won the U.S. Open Series (after previously having a 10-21 career mark in North America, a record usually blamed on her asthma), helped the Czech Republic defend the Fed Cup title and finished the season at #8 (picking up the season-opening Hopman Cup crown with Tomas Berdych, too, as a bonus), but is generally considered to have had a "disappointing" season. And she did, too. 2011's "Ms. Backspin" (and WTA POY) was SUPPOSED to carry over her sometimes-overwhelming play into this season. But illness, in-match inconsistency and poor play on big points (especially vs. Sharapova) prevented Kvitova from being all that she maybe could have been. She had a(nother) shot at the #1 ranking in Sydney January, needing to win the title. But she lost in the semis to Li Na, blowing a 6-1/3-1 lead, and the die was cast. The hits rarely let up, as she had to rise from her sick bed (suffering from bronchitis) to provide one brilliant singles performance on Day 1 of the Fed Cup final. Still, with her English improving (sure, it'll mean fewer "unintentionally brilliant" comments, such as her dubbing of Williams as "The Serena" last year, but she'll likely feel more comfortable performing her off-court duties around the world) and her knowledge of how different things are for a grand slam winner locked away for safe-keeping, maybe Kvitova will be able to FULLY focus on her tennis again in '13. Getting fitter, playing big points like she did so often in '11 and being able to maintain a season-long focus should serve her well next season. With less stress, maybe she won't have as many health issues, either. If so, maybe the Big 3 could morph into the Big 4.

Speaking of Big. If they ever carve out a WTA Mount Rushmore on some desolate mountainside in the middle of nowhere, whoever's in charge would be remiss if they failed to include BOTH Williams Sisters. Especially when they play together, there's nothing quite like them. Once again, Venus & Serena only dabbled in doubles in '12, but they were mostly awesome, winning both Wimbledon (their 5th) and Olympic Gold (3rd) on the lawns of the All-England Club.

11. Serbian Fed Cup Team
12. Liezel Huber/Lisa Raymond, USA/USA
13. Nadia Petrova, RUS
14. Andrea Hlavackova/Lucie Hradecka, CZE/CZE
15. Roberta Vinci, ITA

...four years after Jelena Jankovic (U.S. runner-up and year-end #1) and Ana Ivanovic (in-season #1 and RG title) had dual singles breakthroughs, both took turns (w/ Bojana Jovanovski, and doubles supporting star Alexandra Krunic) leading Team Serbia to its first-ever Fed Cup final, a hard-won trek which included three consecutive FC ties that came down to the deciding doubles match over the past two seasons. Huber & Raymond began the year as the hottest doubles team on the planet, winning sixteen consecutive matches, claiming four straight titles, and holding or sharing the #1 ranking for 36 weeks (Huber was the solo #1 for 16). While the well-liked Raymond ended up picking up a Mixed Doubles title at Wimbledon, and Olympic Bronze, the not-as-well-liked (to put it mildly) Huber was the focus of much on and off-court sniping from opponents as the all-American veteran duo closed out the season without reaching a slam final.

Petrova picked up a new coach in Ricardo Sanchez and, after turning 30, stayed healthy enough to put up her best season since '06, when she was in the running for "Best Hordette" and all things seemed possible. Three singles titles, including a career-biggest in Tokyo, and two doubles crowns at Miami and the YEC (plus Olympic Bronze) with Maria Kirilenko, made her the dual threat all her longtime supporters have always hoped she'd he healthy enough to be. Oh, Nadia... is it too much to hope for even more next year? While Petrova mostly exceeded expectations, Czechs Hlavackova & Hradecka always seemed to be leaving something left on the table. Sure, they won four titles on three continents in '12, as well as a Silver Medal in London. But they specialized in coming in 2nd Place at the season's biggest events -- reaching and losing in the finals at Wimbledon, the Olympics, the U.S. Open and YEC (and in the SF at the Australian Open and RG). Vinci, the other half of the Errani/Vinci doubles duo, more than held up her own in singles, too. The solo year-end doubles #1 won a singles title in Dallas, reached her first career slam QF and pulled off her first year-end Top 20 ranking. Blooming late at 29, Vinci has now raised her final singles ranking four straight seasons.

16. Laura Robson, GBR - Mixed Silver, U.S. Open 4th Rd. (w/ wins over Li & Kim) and first British finalist since 1988
17. Li Na, CHN - surprisingly, '12 was her most consistent, though not as flashy as '11, season -- 4 finals (a career-best) and a title in Cincinnati. Coming in '13: hopefully, a full season w/ Carlos Rodriguez
18. Venus Williams, GBR - (still) overcoming Sjogren's, she won first singles title in two years, won SW19 & Gold in doubles + 2nd straight WTT title for D.C.
19. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN - two-title, three final 4Q surge got 2010-11's #1 into year-end Top 10
20. Bojana Jovanovski, SRB - won Baku, put Team Serbia on back in FC 1st Rd., and had travel plans in order
21. Heather Watson, GBR - doubles success, then became first British singles champ in 24 years
22. Raquel Kops-Jones/Abigail Spears, USA/USA - quietly won 4 doubles titles
23. Maria Kirilenko, RUS - 0-2 in finals, and 4th Place at Olympics; but won Miami & YEC in doubles; so close to so much more
24. Hsieh Su-Wei, TPE - after one Top 125 finish (#79 in '08) since 2001, she won first two WTA titles and finished #25 at age 26
25. Kaia Kanepi, EST - 2 titles, but too much time missed due to injury (again)
HM- Taylor Townsend, USA & Eugenie Bouchard, CAN - juniors swept AO & Wimbledon, respectively, singles & doubles crowns

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

=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
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
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. Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, ESP
2. Ana Savic, CRO
3. Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN
4. Hsieh Su-Wei, TPE
5. Anna-Lena Friedsam, GER
6. Annika Beck, GER
7. Duan Ying-Ying, CHN
8. Basek Eraydin, TUR
9. Margarita Gasparyan, RUS
10. Anna Schmiedlova, SVK
11. Maryna Zanevska, UKR
12. Victoria Kan, RUS
13. Cristina Dinu, ROU
14. Katerina Vankova, CZE
15. Sofia Kvatsabaia, GEO
16. Cristina-Andreea Mitu, ROU
17. Estelle Guisard, FRA
18. Daniela Seguel, CHI
19. Ashleigh Barty, AUS
20. Jovana Jaksic, SRB
21. Silvia Costa-Melgar, CHI
22. Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
23. Sandra Zaniewska, POL
24. Maria Joao Koehler, POR
25. Mandy Minella, LUX
HM- Yulia Putintseva, KAZ

2008 Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER
2009 Barbora Zahlavova-Stryova, CZE
2010 Mathilde Johansson, FRA
2011 Casey Dellacqua, AUS
2012 Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, ESP

1. Petra Kvitova, CZE
2. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
3. Lucie Safarova, CZE
4. Samantha Stosur, AUS
5. Bojana Jovanovski, SRB
6. Alexandra Krunic, SRB
7. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
8. Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
9. Ayumi Morita, JPN
10. Serena Williams, USA
11. Stefanie Voegele, SUI
12. Paula Ormaechea, ARG
13. Johanna Larsson, SWE
14. Florencia Molinero, ARG
15. Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
HM- Sofia Arvidsson, SWE

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

If you've been checking out ATP Backspin over the last couple of months, you know that Galileo West has been helping me out by providing a weekly wrap-up of the happenings on the men's tour. For the first time here, he's contributing a few opinions about the women's game. Namely, an "alternate" Player of the Year list:

Hey all, I'm helping Todd out here, and right away I'm going to say I'm making these picks with the tour in mind, not just the big events (although I will be placing focus on them). So I'm saying that Serena is the best in the world, but as a tour, I don't want to give her the Player of the Year award because she didn't play enough events and that's just my opinion. Please feel free to hurl abuse at me in the comments and tell me how wrong I am, though. I don't mind.

1-Azarenka 10595
2-Sharapova 10045

...when was the last time the top two both had 10,000 points? #3 Serena has over 9000.

1. Azarenka/Vika/the loud one
...She is not the best player in the world right now -- until Serena retires, there's only one person who is -- but I will play the devil's advocate here. I don't like Serena that much, and I really don't like Azarenka. But if I pick anyone else I will look a prize fool and it would be inaccurate, too. So, I'm going to say that she was world #1, she won her maiden slam -- slamming Sharapova in the final, too -- got a Bronze and a Gold, won two Premier Mandatories and had a fabulous year overall. It's the first time since Clijsters was top dog that I agree with the person atop the rankings. I mean, 2011 "I'm-amazing-and-a-mother" Kim Clijsters, the year she won the Aussie. You still with me? Good. Now back to Gruntarenka Azarenka. She's dominated Radwasnka, bullied Sharapova and laughed in the face of the likes of Stosur and Ivanovic. I mean she was truly terrifying, aggressive, consistent and mentally tough, but above all she was loudly the best player out there whenever Serena was absent, and that is a very prestigious honour indeed. BUT she did lose to Cibulkova and should've lost to her twice. Only the Choke of the Year stopped that from happening.
2. Serena/Williams/Terminator
...When she decides to play, she's the best in the world. And I personally think that's not fair. Safina, Wozniacki, Jankovic and Azarenka were all great players, but it was awful that people would always say, "Yes, but Serena's still better." She would simply turn up to the 8 biggest events and maybe a couple of others in America. And the WTA refused to impose sanctions as it had a right to. And nobody else would ever dare to do what Serena did, except maybe Sharapova. But nowadays even Pova plays a fairly full schedule. And still the WTA does nothing. Why? Because she's Serena Williams. It's a double standard and unfair on everyone else. But that's the reason I don't like Serena. I like the fun side of her personality, and her fashion sense and her sense of humour. I like her sister, and I like her on Twitter and, frankly, I want her to come and dominate the WTA tour as it should be. I think we all know how good she is, so I don't really need to go into that. But I was just outlining my reasons for putting her second, and her good points and not so good points as I see them.
3. Sharapova/Supernova
...The Queen of the Hordettes reigns supreme in Russia once again. And she is also -- I never thought I'd say this -- the Queen of Clay. I refuse to count Madrid. I'm boycotting it and it won't be mentioned again except to say that Serena won it with consummate ease. She knocked off Kvitova's indoor win streak, and survived match points in beating Stosur, took down the world number one in straights in Stuttgart, came back from the dead against Li Na, beat Venus comfortably in Rome and finally, finally completed the career Grand Slam in Paris, defeating the surprise package Errani.
4. Errani (singles) and Errani/Vinci (doubles)
...To get a favourable draw in one slam is good, in two it's unlikely, but three in one year? Add to those a bunch of smaller events and you have Errani's year. At the Aussie she played Savinykh, Cirstea, Petrova and then Zheng before losing to Kvitova. Her French Open was no fluke, although she only beat Stosur because she choked. And Kerber aside, her US Open run wasn't that impressive, either, to be honest. I'm just pointing out she will struggle to defend those points next year. Also, Errani, please stop making that weird noise whenever you hit the ball. I thought it was just Schiavone, but apparently not. However, she has done amazingly in doubles along-side one of my faves Vinci. They won Rome, that tournament in Spain I'm boycotting and the French/US doubles.
5. Kerber
...She has had an amazing year and ended up at number 5 too. Semis of Wimbledon and winning in Denmark -- beating Woz easily -- and Paris are the highlights, but the main thing was the sheer consistency of her results. She did so well consistently. I think she will win a slam one day soon, too. She has serious firepower but I have heard a few people I know say that she's only good because she's lefty. Regardless, she's had a fabulous year. She started off at what, #25 or 26?
6. Radwanska
...Getting rid of Robert Radwanska was a master stroke. She was always around #8-12 in the rankings, but this year she had an incredible year, winning Miami as The Radwanska and then making it all the way through to the final of Wimbledon before losing in a competitive -- although only because Serena allowed it -- final. Also, some grand slam quarterfinals in there, as well, but getting thrashed by Kuznetsova was perhaps a lowlight.
7. Serena/Venus
...They're great together and win almost everything they ever enter. They also won the Gold and Wimbledon, too, but to be honest, the Williams sisters winning everything in doubles and dominating in singles is getting a bit dull. The WTA will be more interesting when they retire, to be honest, although perhaps not as stable.
8. Petrova
...She just thrashed Wozniacki with the loss of only three games in the TOC. She also happens to be awesome. I love my Russians, and Star-Crossed Nadia is one of my faves. I predict two slam quarterfinals next year for her and the year-end in Istanbul, too. And, yes, I'm aware I just jinxed her awfully there. And I'm pretty sure a lightning bolt will hit her. And if the words, "Oh, Nadia" aren't spoken by either me or Todd in the next 6 months, then I'm Hannibal Lector.
9. British Ladies
...OK, hear me out first. For a long time, British tennis has been a joke with the occasional decent player or two. Now, though, now, they have not just Murray, but Watson and Robson. At the Aussie, Jankovic won 6-1/6-0 or something, but now looking back, who's had the better year? I think it's very close, but maybe Jankovic just edges it. Heather won two doubles titles and Osaka, too.
10. Kanepi & Cibulkova
...Yes, two members of the "When They're On, They're On" club. They both played incredible, awe-inspiring, brilliant tennis throughout 2012 when they got the chance. They both did well at the French Open, and they also both won titles. I think Kanepi's Brisbane title was one of the most impressive titles this season.

Hey! Hold up, Vika! Come back! I know you're ticked off about not being named "Ms. Backspin," but I thought Galileo picking you as POY would make you feel a little better. Plus... I'm not finished yet!

MORE BSA's ARE STILL TO COME: Performance & Match Lists, Rankings Round-up and the WTA Yearbook

Oh, well. I'm sure she'll be back.

All for now.


Blogger Sissi said...

"the Williams sisters winning everything in doubles and dominating in singles is getting a bit dull. The WTA will be more interesting when they retire, to be honest"

That dude Galileo has the right to say what he thinks but just because you're tired of Venus and Serena winning (which means you're tired of them being that good which shows your jealousy) doesn't mean they have to retire. Just ask your faves, those russian chokers to up their games. It's as simple as that.
That guy really sounds childish. Did he feel the same when his fave Federer won everything in the mid 2000s.

Sun Nov 11, 02:07:00 PM EST  
Blogger Sissi said...

And besides, Serena played a full schedule this year. She just happened to flop at the first two slams. This is simple as that. Even herself said so.
I doubt this guy Galileo really follows women's tennis when he comes up with such dumb and inaccurate statements. But never mind

Sun Nov 11, 02:10:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

People (pundits, casual fans, etc.) should stop dissing the ranking system. It depicts how well players have done within a certain time frame. And in the past 12 months, Azarenka and Sharapova have gone further in tournaments than Serena. Without adding any tournaments to her schedule, Serena could have been ranked higher. She's only 1000 points behind Azarenka... Her 1st round loss at the FO is the biggest reason why she doesn't have those 1000 points. If she had reached week 2, which she usually does, and gone 1 round further at Miami and Australia, she would have the 1000 points. But she didn' she's not ranked #1 at the moment. And that is accurate.

If you're talking about best player at this instant, there's no official metric that measures that currently except for who won the latest tournament...and that's Serena...but it still doesn't detract from "year-end rankings". They're measuring different things.

And then the Player of the Year award is also a bit different since it's not just based off of Year End Rankings...There's quality of titles factored in as well...along with other intangibles...which is why Wozniacki never won the title despite being ranked No. 1...and why Azarenka might not get it this year.

I feel like this should be clear to commentators and tennis reporters since it's usually due to their snide remarks and harassment that the tour starts to track these to hear them constantly hark on this things irritates me.

Anyway, thanks Todd for the post. Was interested to hear from Galileo...(do I even want to ask?)...don't think I've met him before...

Sun Nov 11, 03:23:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

You should take your first opportunity, Eric, because I think a squishing might be in Galileo's near future :)

This was all great; I especially love the description of Vika. What a wonderful assortment of characters we have--Vika, Serena, Maria, Petra, Angelique, Aga, and of course, the greatest character of all--Li Na.

I don't really have a feel for 2013. As you point out, Serena can "wander off" when we least expect it. A major factor will be whether Petra pulls herself together. If she does (and I so hope she does), she can change the landscape.

Also, Kerber's serving during part of the Istanbul event made me sit up and take notice.

Sun Nov 11, 04:20:00 PM EST  
Blogger Galileo said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Sun Nov 11, 04:53:00 PM EST  
Blogger Galileo said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Sun Nov 11, 04:54:00 PM EST  
Blogger Galileo said...

Hi All. Galileo Here..
I would like to apologise if you misread my Serena sounds worse than i meant it to be. I was trying to show why some (myself included) aren't massive fans of her and also why some really do like her.I butchered it completely..and for that I apologize but you also have to keep in mind that I live in the UK. Here, she isn't as big as she is in the US. And a lot of the people I talk to also don't like Serena and tell me so on a regular basis...again apologies to all. I don't hate Serena,Im just not a huge fan. Sorry if there was any offence taken.If you want compensation for that I will happily write an article of how great Serena is.Please forgive my error :)

Sun Nov 11, 04:56:00 PM EST  
Blogger Sissi said...

Don't worry, you have the right to like who you want and hate who you want. You don't need to write how awesome she is. It will sound hypocrite and forced. Serena and her fans could care less.
Just because you and your acquaintances dislike her doesn't it's the same with everybody.And it sound unprofessional when you say because you hate a player, they have to retire. You must be fed up with a player winning but that doesn't mean they don't have a place in the game.
I'm not criticizing, i'm just pointing out wha's obvious in your piece. But after all everyone's entitled to their opinions, right?

Sun Nov 11, 05:33:00 PM EST  
Blogger Sissi said...

Sorry for my mistakes,
...doesn't mean...
...sounds unprofessional...
...what's obvious...

Sun Nov 11, 05:39:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

All right, everyone. Be nice to Galileo. I didn't really agree with him, either... but Serena always stirs various emotions and thoughts. ;)

And, just to be clear -- and I guess I DO have to be that, don't I, considering some of the ongoing "cast" in the "Backspin Lounge" (thanks for that, by the way, Diane -- I'm going to used that now!) -- GW is indeed a real person, not some dastardly entity or un-evolved figment of anyone's imagination.

He is, I tell you. Really. Reeeaaally. I'm NOT kidding about that, either. Really. Oh, I give up -- I've made my own bed on all that, I guess, huh?

Diane --
Speaking of Carl... he's been a bit incognito for a bit, hasn't he? I'm wondering if that's good thing? Could You-Know-What have something to do with that, or is he just getting cold feet (insert own cave-dwelling, barefoot Neanderthal joke here) about his impending nuptials w/ Carla? I suspect we'll find out soon.

By the way -- Performance/Match and season-ending rankings lists will be coming this week!

Sun Nov 11, 05:55:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

Maybe an elk ran over him. Or he's busy being fitted for a skin with a cummerbund?

Sun Nov 11, 06:13:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Hmmm... but with the skin of what??? An elk, or somethng more... squish-worthy?

Sun Nov 11, 06:39:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

Oh I figured Carl and Carla were married already and "doing their taxes".

As my coworker who just recently got married told me, "You can never stop doing taxes."


my previous comment wasn't directed at anyone here...i was just letting out my thoughts after reading a jon wertheim thing...where he was talking about the ranking system...again...

Sun Nov 11, 11:56:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yeah, the ranking system is never going to be "perfect," and certainly not when there's someone like Serena around.

It's like with any other sport. The majors are the "playoffs," and everything else is the "regular season." The "big" champ wasn't always a divisional winner, and is sometimes a very good "wild card" entrant. Serena, as her up-and-down graph of results shows, has pretty always been a wild card. It works for her, though.

People are smart enough to know the difference between season-long success and/or consistency, and big event supremacy. The importance, percentage-wise (50/50, 60/40, 65/55?), is like shifting sands depending who you listen to... but the players -- and anyone who really follows the sport -- know the lay of the land, and anyone who has to be "spoon-fed" yet another crazy-ass, more "simple" ranking change-up doesn't really care all that much about it anyway.

At least that's my opinion. :)

Mon Nov 12, 11:22:00 AM EST  
Blogger Zidane said...

I think Eric said it all on the different ways to designate the players' exploits and the distinctions between all these titles - #1, best current player, POY.

As in U.K., Serena is not very appreciated in Canada. Still, as Todd regularly says, any tennis fan who decides not to look at her performances and open his mind to her game is the one who loses in the end, missing the outstanding performances and tennis history itself as it unravels.

Excellent recap by the way. With Wimbledon, Gold medal, US Open and the year-end Championships, Serena has to be designated player of the year.

My great fear for 2013 is Sharapova. Unlike you, I'm not sure, now that she won her elusive post-comeback Slam and that the tour intensity will fall for two months, how determined she will be for the rest of her career. I wouldn't be surprised if she decided to pull a 2008-Henin, and that would be quite unfortunate.

P.S. That Stosur quote on the WTA website is so delicious!

"On whether her Australian season in 2012 was "kind of a disaster"...

"It wasn't kind of. It was. It's okay.""

Mon Nov 12, 05:13:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

Hi Zidane,

Hope you are well!

Mon Nov 12, 11:22:00 PM EST  
Blogger jo shum said...

2013 q1 will be very interesting. Vika will be the first time defending champion, and she is bound to be nervous. And if Serena is as good as now, vika will be down the ladder as soon as feb comes. I hope vika will be much refreshed to rekindle the fire to start. Mmm....

Maria never win 2 slams in consecutive years. So... Would this be a new trend? I feel that Maria's fortune depends much on how others play than how she plays.

Serena is Serena.

Li, can't wait to see if Carlos is able transform her, maybe just a tiny bit.

Tue Nov 13, 10:32:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Just one of those weird "Sister Watch" moments from last week's ITF action:

*$25K Minsk, BLR*
1st Rd. - Lyudmyla Kichenok d. Olga Ianchuk
1st Rd. - Nadiya Kichenok d. Elizaveta Ianchuk

...of course, the Tennis Gods got some measure of revenge for the Ianchuk sisters, as Lyudmyla ultimately lost in the singles final, and both Kichenok sisters were defeated in the doubles final.

Speaking of the ITF, while I didn't do any actual awards this week, there were some interesting challenger results. Amongst the winners: Madison Keys (her second over the last few weeks), Waffle Alison van Uytvanck, Serbia's Jovana Jaksic (5-0 in ITF finals this season) and Turkey's Basek Eraydin (7-0, and tying Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor for the most circuit titles this season).

Oh, and a belated congrats to Ukraine's Elina Svitolina for winning the last WTA-sanctioned event of the season in the $125K in Pune, India. Svitlova, 18, prevented Kimiko Date-Krumm, 42, from becoming the oldest singles titlist in WTA history, and instead became the youngest tour singles title winner since Caroline Wozniacki in New Haven in 2008.

Tue Nov 13, 01:48:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

:) Vid speaks for itself.

Wed Nov 14, 03:26:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

I like how the claws came out near the end... maybe channeling The Radwanska for a moment? ;)

Wed Nov 14, 06:25:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

One of my cats, Roxie, sometimes screams along with Azarenka. Vika will scream, and Roxie will scream back. She doesn't do this with any other player--only Azarenka--and only after really loud screams. I've gotten used to it, and sometimes forget how funny it is.

Once, she (Roxie) yelled so loud right in my face, and I said "shh..." and she snorted, which I believe is tabby for "Good luck with that."

Wed Nov 14, 07:27:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Diane -- hahahaha

Wed Nov 14, 08:17:00 PM EST  

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