Wednesday, November 06, 2013

2013 BSA's: The Truth is Not Fiction

Forty-four weeks of tennis action and it's come to this... giving a brief thumbnail sketch of a season which began with one definitive truth amongst a handful of potentially exciting questions. By the end of the 2013 WTA campaign, even while there were bright moments galore for many of the players not ranked #1, The Truth was still righteous. Even more so than it was before... and maybe ever.

Back in January, though, there were some questions about whether the odds -- and the Tennis Gods -- might be ready to puncture The Truth.

The season opened with a spark of hope for the entire WTA field, for while Serena Williams ended 2012 on a big event tear, winning Wimbledon, the Olympics, the U.S. Open and WTA Championships in succession, she didn't continue her dominant streak by claiming her sixth Australian Open in January. Instead, reigning world #1 Victoria Azarenka, won her SECOND, defending her '12 crown amidst a hail of criticism for "gameswomanship" after a late-match medical timeout in the semifinals, just one year after the Aussie media and fans spent two weeks upbraiding and mocking her on-court shrieks en route to her maiden slam crown. Not only that, Serena actually proved that she was still human. Not 100% healthy, tweaking her back during the match and then being slightly off her game, Williams' unexpected quarterfinal defeat led to the birth of the Sloane Stephens Project in Melbourne as the American pulled off the upset to become the first countrywoman younger than Serena to beat her. Ever. Soon afterward, Williams was knocked off in the Doha final by Azarenka, who opened the season by winning her first seventeen matches (after starting 26-0 in '12).

It was around that time that everything changed, and the tour's rightful balance was soon restored. No, check that. It was RIGHT THERE that it happened, for even while the Belarusian notched her first win over Serena in four years (and got her first ever over a healthy Williams, it should be noted) it was the American who assumed the #1 ranking the next day, as her early '12 hole of inactivity was finally replaced with enough points to lift her into the top spot.

In short order, Stephens got into a misguided public spat with her countrywoman, whom Stephens' herself had previously declared her "good friend" and "idol," simultaneously blaming the media for "creating" the falsely-reported backstory, attacking Williams for being anything but a friend or mentor, and babbling on about some nonsense about the Williams Sisters not signing an autograph for a Kid Sloane and Serena having the audacity to "unfollow" her on Twitter and not seek Stephens out in a friendly fashion after their Melbourne encounter. All in all, it was a series of immature acts from a player with nothing resembling the standing to "call out" Serena on anything other than what was an "off day" Down Under. While Williams, after the Azarenka loss and one-sided social media shoving match, would go on to dominate the clay and hard court seasons, winning her first Roland Garros crown in eleven years and defending both her U.S. Open and WTA Championships titles, Stephens, even while rising to within an eyelash of the Top 10 despite a prolonged post-AO slump, ended 2013 still seeking her first career tour FINAL.

Current Sloane may one day become Future Sloane, rounding into the on-and-off court star that her (marketer's dream) smile and (envious) tennis potential hint could be the case. But, as of right now, the 20-year old is an unpolished find, still as capable of never reaching her full value as she is to shine like the brightest gem in the WTA jewelry box. Until (and if) the latter becomes a reality, Stephens would be wise to listen and learn, not flash and pan. As her relative quiet the rest of the season seemed to indicate, her springtime experiences might have made Stephens realize that it's better to carry a big stick than to simply speak. At least for now.

This is still Serena's time, and the last thing the others players on tour needed was for some upstart with the gift for gab to make Williams angry. By the time the season's hair had grown grey, Williams had gone 78-4 and raised her career slam singles total to seventeen, within striking distance of the all-time greats -- Court (24, w/ 11 in the Open era), Graf (22), Navratilova (18) and Evert (18) -- with which her career will forever be compared. One year after saying that she was finally "playing for history," Serena sharpened what was already a statement that bore considerable teeth, considering that it was someone with the stature of Williams' who'd uttered it.

Of course, that didn't mean that other players didn't find moments to grab, for however briefly, a bit of the spotlight. They did. Sometimes brilliantly, too.

After Williams had fallen to another upset-minded opponent, Marion Bartoli seized upon a career opportunity in the wake of The Radwanskian Massacre in southwest London, claiming an unlikely Wimbledon title... then suddenly retiring from the sport just six weeks later. Azarenka, proving that Doha was no fluke, managed to get another win over Serena in Cincinnati, tying Venus for the most career wins (3) in finals over Serena, and Maria Sharapova (2004) as the only players to ever defeat her twice in finals in a single season. Simona Halep, a good young player looking for a breakthrough for several years, finally made one, putting up Serena-esque stats over the back half of the season, going 39-6, winning six titles in six finals on three different surfaces over a five-month span, ending her year by going 5-0 in the Tournament of Champions event in Sofia a week after Williams had done the same at the WTA Championships in Istanbul. And, to close out the season, the Italians swept through a "C"-team of Russians to claim their fourth Fed Cup championship in the last eight years.

Of course, it all paled in comparison to what was accomplished by Serena. The Truth -- that Williams is quite simply the greatest living (at the very least) on-court spectacle that the sport has to offer -- is sturdy enough on which to build a international social movement. And, even at 31, she's not finished yet. If 2013 was arguably a better-than-the-original follow-up to what was a pretty spectacular 2012, which itself had been something of a late-career encore in a Hall of Fame career, then what does Serena have in store for 2014 in, well, the encore to her encore?

You'd be tempted to say that she's to the point of no longer being able to top herself, but, you know, we're talking about Serena here. It IS possible.

"I feel like my career is almost beginning again or something." - Serena

Hmmm, I'd say that's worth a collective response. So... gulp.

Here are the final "Ms. Backspin" rankings for 2013:

1. Serena Williams, USA

...for many of the top players in the game, injuries, inconsistency and an inability to maintain a high level of motivation over the course of the long season led to uneven '13 campaigns. But, ironically, the player whose Hall of Fame career has often been criticized for a preponderance of injury-related absences, lack of focus and full participation (leading to even the likes of Chris Evert to plead for a full commitment several years ago) suddenly had all of that in spades this season. As great as Serena has been through the years, there has always been a lingering question nibbling at the edges of the consciousness of the tennis world: How good could she be if she was healthy and concentrated on getting the most out of her career? Well, over the past year and a half, we've gotten a pretty good idea... and it's been awesome. This season, though she won "only" two slams, Williams set career marks for titles (11), matches (82), wins (78), longest match win streak (34) and prize money ($12,385,572 USD), producing one of the most dominant seasons in tour history. While the "40 Love" salute to the tour's four-decade history took place throughout the past year, Serena set about carving an even bigger place for herself within it. With a 95.1% win percentage, her season ranked as the ninth-best season in WTA history by a player with 50+ wins and fewer than ten losses. Already, at 31, the oldest women's singles #1 ever, Williams' stranglehold on the top ranking, even while she's found something resembling a legitimate rival in former #1 Azarenka, is greater than it's ever been. Fittingly, after seeing a ten-year span between her first "Ms. Backspin" honor and her second, Serena now becomes the first-ever back-to-back winner. And, who knows, maybe a third time will be the real charm.

Now, for the first time that I can recall, after Serena's easy positioning at #1 on this list, you could find an argument both for and against the final placement of every player in what remains of 2013's official "Ms. Backspin" rankings. It was just that sort of year.

"I guess I'm pretty tough." - Victoria Azarenka

2. Victoria Azarenka, BLR was a strange season for Vika. As usual, she was publicly lambasted and assailed by media and fans in Melbourne, this time for taking a medical timeout at a crucial moment in her semifinal vs. Sloane Stephens. Then, also per usual, she went on to win the Australian Open. After that, up was down, and down was often up. Azarenka won three titles, but battled injuries throughout the season. Her first career Roland Garros semifinal couldn't be celebrated for long, as she slipped and injured herself in her 1st Round match at Wimbledon, forcing her to withdraw from the tournament before her next match and spend the rest of the season trying to get healthy, find her motivation, and rediscover her flagging form. Whatever success she found on all those fronts in the closing months of the season, it didn't come without much struggle. Over the course of 2013, Azarenka mixed in two season-defining wins in finals over Serena, but lost her #1 ranking after one (Doha) and then saw her second (in Cincinnati) mentioned by Williams as something that inspired the American to her latest U.S. Open championship run. Naturally, in a rematch of the '12 final, it was Vika who played and pushed Serena to three sets there, having battled mightily to just reach the final after laboring with her serve and nearly every opponent she faced in Flushing Meadows. Ultimately, she ended the year at the WTA Championships, playing through a back injury, valiantly avoiding her first '13 loss via retirement (making this her first professional season in which she's been able to say that), but also admitting afterward that one of the reasons she didn't play it safe and quit was because, with Melbourne and the past criticism she's received for retiring during matches still taking up space in a corner of her mind, she was leery of the response she might receive if she did. Hmmm, perhaps it was just the rambling of a tired Belarusian who wasn't totally thinking straight. Otherwise, I wonder if such a response to media criticism might be something to worry about. As I've made explicitly clear in this space over the past two seasons, as Vika has replaced Justine Henin as the beloved "face of Backspin," I like my Azarenka funky, thinking for herself, standing up to criticism and not giving a crying shame what her overzealous detractors might think of her. Perhaps as she's been gradually more embraced by fans and the like, and maybe even as her relationship with musician Redfoo has possibly made her more "relatable" and well known, Vika has come to care more and more about her image and reputation and grown weary of defending herself. That's not a bad thing, per se. But she should tread lightly. It's no coincidence that her two best career results have come in grand slams in which she weathered media controversy, allowing her to tap into the innate toughness and will to win that helped her mature from a "crazy kid" into a champion. Azarenka need not create false obstacles to knock down in order to be at her best on the court, but maintaining something of an edge HAS allowed her to refine her focus in her career's most important moments. Vika being Vika, because that's who she is, is a good thing, but an Azarenka that cares TOO much about how people will react to the things she says or does makes one consider whether such distractions could prevent her from continuing to be the champion that she can, and has, been. Of course, maybe I'm overreacting. If she can just spend some time working on her serve, everything will probably turn out just fine.

Now, here's where things begin to get really screwy, so don't be alarmed if the "Ms. Backspin" finishes in no way go hand-in-hand with the actual WTA rankings...

3. Simona Halep, ROU
4. Hsieh Su-Wei/Peng Shuai, TPE/CHN

...finally, a Romanian has stepped up. And did she ever. A former junior #1 (2008), Halep has been a player gradually moving up the rankings for some time, recording year-end ranking jumps at the close of every season of her career. After upping her aggression on court, the trend continued in 2013 as her stunning back-half of the season turned her into the hottest player on the WTA tour not named Serena. Halep claimed six titles, winning back-to-back weeks on clay and grass, then picked up hard court crowns both outdoors (New Haven) and indoors (Moscow & the TOC), the latter two to close out her season with another back-to-back title run. While she's still looking for her slam breakthrough, the Romanian DID put up her career-best major result with a Round of 16 at the U.S. Open and ended 2013 ranked #11 after ending last year positioned just inside the Top 50 at #47. It's the biggest rise of any Top 20 player over the last twelve months, and Halep is poised for even more in 2014. She'll likely become the first woman from Romania to debut in the Top 10 in eighteen years.

Meanwhile, Hsieh & Peng aren't the #1-ranked doubles players in the world (they're #3 and #4), but they were the best duo there was in 2013. The longtime friends, who led the tour with five titles as a team, even trumped the top-ranked pair of Sara Errani & Roberta Vinci on red clay, becoming the first team to do so in several seasons. In Rome, the Italians were riding a 31-match clay court winning streak before the Taiwanese/Chinese duo ended their run. In Istanbul, the pair defeated the other two top-ranked doubles teams of '13 -- Makarova/Vesnina and Petrova/Srebotnik -- en route to taking the indoor crown at the WTA Championships, adding the WTA's biggest non-slam title to their slam win on the grass at Wimbledon and Premier event titles in Rome (clay) and Cincinnati (hard court). Come 2014, they could become the first players from their nations to ever reach #1 in the WTA rankings, and the first Asians since Japan's Ai Sugiyama was last a doubles #1 in 2003.

5. Italian Fed Cup Team
6. Roberta Vinci, ITA
7. Maria Sharapova, RUS
8. Marion Bartoli, FRA

...while Italy's groundbreaking group of vets (Schiavone, Pennetta & Co.) are in the process of passing the torch to a new generation, the thirtysomething-heavy Team Italia proved this season that the originals aren't finished winning just yet. Led by Fed Cup MVP Roberta Vinci, having her best season ever at the age of 30, the Italians knocked out the two-time defending champion Czech team in the semifinals, then swept the Hordettes -- playing without a Top 100 player due to a dispute with the Russian Federation -- in the final to claim the title of the most dominant FC team over the past decade with a fourth championship. Vinci's leadership role was only bolstered by her singles success, as she rose to a career-best #11 and her two titles ran her career record in singles finals to 9-1.

In the final count, Sharapova had a great season. She finished at #4, reached the final at Roland Garros, and the semis at the Australian Open. She won Indian Wells, and reached high-level finals in Miami and Madrid, too. Somehow, though, it seems as if we saw something of a "lesser" version of Sharapova this season. Could it have been the perception that the Russian had moments when she appeared to slip a bit from the pedestal on which she's been perched for nearly a decade? Publicly sniping with Serena, being caught by photographers on the streets of Madrid with new boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov as if she was common celebrity tabloid fodder, firing the coach (Thomas Hogstedt) who'd helped bring her back to slam champion form following career-threatening shoulder surgery, hiring and firing Jimmy Connors in a flash (after just one match), seeing a story leak just before the U.S. Open that she had considered temporarily changing her name to "Sugarpova" to promote her candy line, then pulling out of the tournament (and, eventually, the rest of the season) with another shoulder ailment. All those things, along with the sight of her falling multiple times on the slippery grass at Wimbledon, then being shockingly upset in the 2nd Round by Michelle Larcher de Brito, seemed to bring Sharapova down to the level of the rest of us humans after for so long seeming to float in a rarified air just above everyone, out of reach of the sort of salacious and eyebrow-raising media coverage that has become the norm for so many of the tour's other big stars. Of course, maybe it's also the growing perception of Sharapova as a player having a harder and harder time finding a way to close out the sort of big events that made her career when she was a teenager. Even with her 2012 Roland Garros win, she's 3-9 in big event finals (high-level Premier events, the Olympics, slams and the WTA Chsp.) over the past two seasons, and the sort of run the Russian had this year in Melbourne has become common, as she reached the QF while losing a record-breaking low total of nine games, only to promptly lose in the semifinals. Sharapova has overcome worse to return to glory, and she very well may do so again. But, for maybe the first time, there may be some nagging reason to believe she might not have it in her... and it might not having anything to do with whether or not her shoulder continues to be a potentially career-shortening malady, either.

Speaking of a career being shortened. What can I say about Bartoli? On the whole, La Trufflette didn't really have a great season. Her year-end ranking fell, and she had just one semifinal or better result. Oh, but it was at Wimbledon. Which she won. Then she retired in shocking (but not REALLY) fashion just a month and a half later, through she eventually left the door open rather widely for a potential return. If it means anything, while most retired players with high standing have their name removed from the computer rankings within a week or two of the end of their careers, here we are some three months since the delightfully eccentric Bartoli's retirement announcement in Cincinnati and she's still listed as the #13th-ranked player in the world, her tour-best 335th streak of consecutive weeks inside the Top 20 fully intact.

The French word for "unretire" is detretraite (whether that's technically linguistically accurate or not, it's good enough for now). You know... I'm just sayin'.

9. Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
10. Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS
11. Li Na, CHN

...Errani & Vinci didn't have the dominant season they did in 2012, but they opened the year in still fairly dominating form, winning the Australian Open (their third slam in less than a year) and following up with titles at the Paris Indoors and in Doha as they ran off a string of appearances in four straight finals. But they never won another title all season, and didn't play nearly as often as both put together good singles campaigns. They still finished the season as co-#1's in doubles, but with AO title points to defend, and with Hsieh & Peng only 265 points behind, that might be just a temporary arrangement.

Makarova & Vesnina have the potential to challenge both Errani/Vinci and Hsieh/Peng for doubles prominence in 2014. Just look at their string of results from 2013 as evidence. Twice, the Hordette paired hoisted the Russian Fed Cup team on their shoulders in a deciding doubles match situation. In the 1st Round, they combined to win their match to take the tie vs. Japan and avert a major upset, then completed the team's epic comeback from a 0-2 Day 1 deficit in the semifinals against the Slovaks to get Russia into the FC final. >Of course, then they turned their backs on the team, which ultimately went down in flames at 4-0, no matter how hard Alexandra Panova tried to prevent it from happening... but you can't judge a duo by the matches they DIDN'T play. When the Russians were on the court together they were formidable, winning titles in Indian Wells and Roland Garros, then defeating Errani/Vinci en route to a runner-up result at the WTA Championships.

While Li followed up the most consistent season of her career in '12 with an even better one in '13, finishing #3 while winning just one title, the thirtysomething Chinese vet is still a work in progress as she and coach Carlos Rodriguez attempt to put together a rare late-career surge that might make her a multiple slam winner. It very nearly happened in Melbourne, as Li battled with eventual champ Azarenka in the final and may very well have won the title if not for multiple falls that injured her ankle and gave her a concussion. Forcing the action more than ever in her matches, Li reached four finals this season, tying a career-best. But she went just 1-3, winning only a smaller debut event in Shenzhen, China in Week 1. She closed the season in strong fashion, though, after a mid-year fitness "training camp" with Rodriguez, reaching semifinals at Toronto, Cincinnati and the U.S. Open before appearing in her first WTA Championships final to close out her season. Li is not yet perfect, as she'd surely admit in typically charming fashion... but the best may still be yet to come.

12. Sara Errani, ITA
13. Sabine Lisicki, GER
14. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
15. Washington Kastles (WTT)

...a year after stunning the tennis world with her rise in 2012, there was little belief that Errani could hold onto her Top 10 ranking in 2013. But after finishing last year at #6, she finished up at #7 this season. Winning the AO doubles with Vinci, and the Fed Cup with her Italian countrywomen, Errani was the epitome of a team player, but her singles results continue to be underrated. She only won one small clay court title in Acapulco, but she reached some big semis (Madrid, Rome and RG) on the surface, as well as finals on hard court (Paris & Dubai), and notched her first-ever match win at the WTA Championships. Of course, the weight of all the self-imposed pressure threw the diminutive Italian down a proverbial flight of stairs at the U.S. Open. But, quite possibly, her willingness to talk openly about her struggles, as well as the season-ending success she experienced afterward, will lift some of that stress from her shoulders in 2014. After all, she'll never again have as many expectations to live up to as she did this year... and she ultimately got through it with her head still atop those very same shoulders that bore so much weight. Complimenti, Sara.

Both Radwanska and Lisicki had good seasons. The Pole opened the year with back-to-back titles, then finally ended the title drought that followed with a late-season crown in Seoul. She finished with her second straight year-end Top 5 ranking. Meanwhile, Lisicki reached three finals and matched her career-best year-end ranking by finishing at #15. But, really, both their seasons revolved around one single match (and, on a lesser scale, the moment that followed it). With the massacre of the top seeds that occurred at Wimbledon, Radwanska, a finalist in 2012, found herself, as the #4 seed, the odds-on favorite to take the title in a semifinal field consisting of other women seeded #15, #20 and #23. But when the latter woman of the group, the #23-seeded German, a semifinalist at SW19 in 2011, outlasted A-Rad in a 9-7 3rd set both their seasons were set in stone. For Lisicki, it was a dream come true to reach her first slam final at the tournament she loves most and, even if she didn't ultimately win the title, her 2013 would forever be a raging success. For Radwanska, it was a lost opportunity -- and maybe as good as any she may EVER have -- to finally win a major title, and it kicked off a disappointing (and, eventually, heart-tugging stretch, as she cut short her pre-U.S. Open schedule to travel home for her grandfather's funeral) summer and back-half of a season that unceremoniously ended in Istanbul when she sleepwalked through three straight matches at the WTA Championships, failing to win a set or even seem able to maintain for more than a brief period the clever brand of tennis that she's become known for the last few years.

Meanwhile, the Washington Kastles, led by Hall of Famer Martina Hingis, broke a North American pro sports team record with their 34th consecutive win, then went on to win a third straight World Team Tennis championship.

16. Russian Fed Cup Team - good results, but a depressing and embarrassing finish
17. Petra Kvitova, CZE - the usual push-and-pull of a Petra season ended on the positive note with an uptick in results and fitness, and a slight rise in the rankings from #8 to #6
18. Angelique Kerber, GER - the German played through injury all year, but sparked late when she finally was relatively healthy
19. Ashleigh Barty/Casey Dellacqua, AUS/AUS - two-time slam doubles finalists, and on watch to become the first all-Aussie women's slam champs in thirty-five years
20. Sloane Stephens, USA - a lot of talk, but Future Sloane is sill simply a notion... not a foregone conclusion
21. Jelena Jankovic, SRB - Queen Chaos stormed back into the spotlight, rebounding from last year's Fed Cup final disappointment to return to the Top 10 and become relevant to the WTA discussion for the first time in a few seasons
22. Samantha Stosur, AUS - can a shiny 4Q (three finals and a title) erase all the mostly dull surfaces (only one QF+ result, albeit it was another title run) that dominated the rest of her season? Hmmm, almost... but not quite. Titles and finals-wise, the stats says Sammy had her best season. But we know otherwise.
23. Kirsten Flipkens, BEL - who said the days of Belgian slam semifinalists ended with the retirements of La Petit Taureau and Barbie? It wasn't the case this year at Wimbledon.
24. Kristina Mladenovic, FRA (doubles) - always a doubles ringer (six total titles with six different partners), the Pastry next needs to work on her nerves in singles
25. Elena Vesnina, RUS - after having gone 0-6 in singles finals, the Hordette found her groove and won two in 2013, jumping into the Top 25 after finishing last year at #69.
HM- Andrea Hlavackova/Lucie Hradecka, CZE/CZE - they ended their regular partnership with a U.S. Open crown, their second career slam. Hlavackova won the Mixed in New York, too, while Hradecka claimed the same title at Roland Garros.
HM- Nadia Petrova/Katarina Srebotnik, RUS/SLO - they won three titles and reached the WTA Championships, but Petrova's injuries deflated what might have been a superior season for the new duo
Juniors- Ana Konjuh, CRO & Belinda Bencic, SUI - the top two juniors in the world in 2013, they both left with girls slam trophies in both arms. Melbourne and NYC for Konjuh, and Paris and London for Bencic.

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

=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. Reka-Luca Jani!, Reka-Luca Jani!, Reka-Luca Jani!, HUN
2. Jovana Jaksic, SRB
3. Teliana Pereira, BRA
4. Melanie Klaffner, AUT
5. Aliaksandra Sasnovich, BLR
6. Aranxa Rus, NED
7. Anna Tatishvili, GEO
8. Deniz Khazaniuk, ISR
9. Anna Morgina, RUS
10. Stephanie Vogt, LIE
11. Polona Hercog, SLO
12. Anna-Lena Friedsam, GER
13. Shebly Rogers, USA
14. Lauren Davis, USA
15. Johanna Konta, GBR
16. Nadiya Kichenok, UKR
17. Mariana Duque-Marino, COL
18. Tara Moore, GBR
19. Montserrat Gonzalez, PAR
20. Ons Jabeur, TUN
21. Anett Kontaveit, EST
22. Dinah Pfizenmaier, GER
23. Ana Bogdan, ROU
24. Bernarda Pera, USA
25. Tadeja Majeric, SLO
26. Maryna Zanevska, UKR
27t. Barbora Krejcikova, CZE
27t. Katerina Siniakova, CZE
28. Wang Yafan, CHN
29. Alison Van Uytvanck, BEL
30. Gioia Barbieri, ITA
31. Ksenia Palkina, KGZ
32. Elise Mertens, BEL
33. Alice Balducci, ITA
34. Ajla Tomljanovic, CRO
35. Katerina Siniakova, CZE
36. Ipek Soylu, TUR
37. Elena Baltacha, GBR
38. Ana Sofia Sanchez, MEX
39. Julia Kimmelmann, GER
40. Laura Siegemund, GER
41. Clothilde de Barnardi, FRA
42. Valetini Grammatikopoulou, GRE
43. Barbara Luz, POR
44. Viktorija Golubic, SUI
45. Fatma Al Nabhani, OMA
HM- Zarina Diyas, KAZ & Dorotja Eric, SRB

2008 Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER
2009 Barbora Zahlavova-Stryova, CZE
2010 Mathilde Johansson, FRA
2011 Casey Dellacqua, AUS
2012 Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, ESP
2013 Reka-Luca Jani, HUN

1. Roberta Vinci, ITA
2. Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
3. Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina, RUS
4. Serena Williams, USA
5. Petra Kvitova, CZE
6. Romina Oprandi, SUI
7. Anna-Lena Groenefeld/Sabine Lisicki, GER
8. Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
9. Sofia Arvdisson/Johanna Larsson, SWE
10. Lourdes Dominguez-Lino, ESP
11. Marion Bartoli, FRA
12. Julia Goerges, GER
13. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
14. Paula Ormaechea, ARG
15. Samantha Stosur, AUS
HM- Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP & Eugenie Bouchard/Sharon Fichman, CAN
Jr. HM- Veronika Kudermetova, RUS
Special HM- Alexandra Panova, RUS (for making the most out of a bad situation)

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

Now, just as last year, here's a second opinion from Galileo West, who's been presenting weekly awards for the men over at Backspin's sister (brother??) ATP site this season, including a men's version of the Regional Honors in recent weeks.

1. Serena Williams
...When Serena won her opening title of the year at Brisbane, her opponent (A-Pavs) said this after the match in her runner-up speech: "Congratulations Serena - amazing match. I always feel like I don't know how to play tennis when I play against you!" It's fair to say that A-Pavs is a pretty decent tennis player. That quote sums up Serena's stellar season. She is seventh all-time in WTA titles won, having overtaken Davenport and Seles this year. She is, obviously, top among current players. She won eleven titles this year, which is one of the top ten title-winning seasons. She has the greatest win percentage ever at a Year-End Championship, with a stunning 83.3%. She finishes year-end number one for a third time, too. It isn't just her sheer dominance that has been impressive. It's the class that has gone with it. She even dealt with that whole Sloane Stephens debacle pretty well. She has been entertaining in interviews, outgoing and had no outbursts -- I'm not counting stuff like the Jelena Jankovic Charleston disagreement. It wasn't quite Steffi Graf in 1988 -- that was beyond belief -- but two slams, the tour championships and eight other titles is pretty good. And let's not forget that second French Open title, the title she has wanted badly for so many years.

2. Victoria Azarenka
...The top three are pretty predictable. The rankings, this year, at least, don't lie. Vika has had another solid year. She has had two years in a row where she has won a slam, the same slam admittedly, but that is still consistency. She had also been a consistent top 10er for three seasons straight. However, she has battled injuries and they have prevented her from achieving her full potential. She has achieved so much already but she is injury prone. In fact, the commentators at the YEC said they were worried for her because she looked in such a bad way against Li Na. Anyway, this year she was number one from June last year to February of this -- a total of 32 weeks. She reached a slam semi, slam final and won one, too. Not to mention three finals and three titles, as well. She has been very strong this year and you can expect more of the same in 2014.

3. Maria Sharapova
...She continued the second phase of her career in the same vein this year. She reached back-to-back semifinals at slams, reaching one final. Overall, she reached five finals and won two. Serena stopped her in the other three. She has a serious match-up problem against her, which is well documented. She had her season cut short by another shoulder injury, which I think is related to the first. Can she come back a second time? I think Sharapova is the toughest player out there mentally, barring Williams. Her will and determination should be good enough to return once more. She is very good at getting to the final of Miami, but not great once she gets there. After losing this year, she's now 0-5 in Miami finals. Just something quirky to note.

4. Li Na
...She has had a consistent season. Well, consistent at the beginning and the end, at least. She deserves to be at the #3 spot. She made a second Australian Open final. She loves it there. In fact, she is like the anti-Stosur. She beat Sharapova 2 and 2 in that semi and was so close against Vika. She rolled her ankle several times during that match and that may have hampered her season in some ways. Li made back-to-back semis at Toronto and Cincy before making the semis of the Open, where she was beaten by Williams 6-0, 6-3. But, if it makes her feel any better, Safina lost by the exact same score in a slam final at the 2008 Aussie. She has just been a consistent top ten player all year and finally at the tail-end she made her move, more than earning her #3 ranking.

5. Marion Bartoli
...I think it would be wrong of me not to include the 2013 Wimbledon champ. Admittedly, she didn't exactly face a high calibre kind of opponent, but she still had to win the thing. Then she retired. It was bizarre. She wanted that Wimbledon title so badly. Not as bad as poor Novotna, who led in two different finals but needed a third to finally get it done, but she still had a long love affair with the hallowed green turf. She finally managed to win it. Bartoli only won one title this year. I was going to put her below Halep, but I just think that winning Wimbledon, well, it should be top five. In all honesty, she didn't have a great year but she won the biggest title there is and if I were Halep I would trade all my titles for a Wimbledon.

6. Simona Halep
...She hasn't been a great slam player. A fourth round showing at the US this year aside, she has never been past the second round, but slam level consistency will come with time. She did get to the semis of Rome and the quarters of Cincinnati. She also went 6-0 in finals, and only Serena won more titles. She also won 53 times , which is second to Radwanska and Williams' 56 and 78, respectively. She began the year at #47 and will finish it at #11. She even won the weird Tournament of Champions -- she went 5-0 -- which pretty much everyone disparages. It was the cherry on the red velvet cake of a fantastic season.
7. Agnieszka Radwanska
...I know it may be odd to put the world number five so low, but she had an under the radar season, to be honest. It was a strong season but she really suffered after that epic loss to Lisicki. Also, I don't approve of her frosty handshake with Lisicki. I understand why it was frosty but Lisicki is such a pleasant, likable person, like Radwanska is, and I expected a hug at the net along with the handshake. But I digress. She went 3-1 in finals, though they were all Tier 2 or below. She went QF,QF,SF,4th Rd. in the slams and that's consistent achievement. She didn't have a great YEC, though. She had an amazing season last year and this was a decent follow up. She was great at the slams, but I think some of her fight went out after that heartbreaking loss in the Wimbledon semifinal.

8. Petra Kvitova
...She did not do well at the slams, apart from Wimbledon. She did take the Czechs to a semifinals in the Fed Cup. She made the semifinals in the YEC, too. Add to that a quarterfinal run in Indian Wells and a semi run in Beijing, plus quarters in Qatar and Canada and you have a pretty good season. Not only that but she won Tokyo and Dubai. She went 2-2 in finals this year, but she really got back on track. This year was a year she started to develop some consistency. Kind of. Not Halep consistency, but still decent consistency. I think she will win another Wimbledon title one day. I don't know if that is a bold prediction or not, but I think it will happen. Until then, she should try to build consistency in the slams.

9. Jelena Jankovic
...Who doesn't love Jelena Jankovic? She always makes me laugh. She's like a breath of fresh air on the WTA tour. I had forgotten how awesome she is until this year. She was #22 at the start of the year, and now she's #8. That is because she has consistently been putting in big performances. She made the French Open quarters and the US Open fourth round. Li stopped her there convincingly, but her 6-0, 4-6, 3-6 loss to Sharapova in the French quarters was one of the strangest matches I've seen in a while. Jankovic made three finals, winning one that was her first title since Indian Wells in 2010. The two she lost, she lost to Williams.

10. Roberta Vinci
..."Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" applies to Vinci so much. On and off court. I have seen her play at Wimbledon and she plays such a watchable game. She is a hark to the old days, with a swashbuckling game. She is always difficult to face and this year she was fantastic in doubles but also excellent in the singles. She made a pair of fourth rounds in the slams and a quarter at the US Open. Serena stopped her in the French Open 4th Round. In singles she is 9-1 in finals. In doubles she is 19-15. She had a stellar doubles year again, ending the year as co-#1. In singles, she won a pair of titles. She defeated compatriot, doubles partner and friend Errani in one of her finals. She, too, is a breath of fresh air.


Thanks everyone.

Hmmm, so Galileo had Aga at a "low" #7 on his list, while I had her down at #14 and didn't offer any apologies for it. I guess that means I'll be treated to a healthy dose of smashed melons on my doorstep until The Rad is no longer an "official" threat to humankind... or at least existing in as plain a sight as It did at places like Wimbledon on Day 3 this summer. But I trust that Citizen Anna will save the day... though I guess we'll have to wait until the day before Christmas to find out the details about that, huh?

In the mean time, I'll show A-Rad in a happier light before I go. You know, just to try to curry favor. So...

Okay, am I (temporarily) off the hook now? Good, because I'm not finished yet!

MORE BSA's ARE STILL TO COME: the Rankings Round-Up later this week, then the Performance & Match Lists and, of course, the WTA Yearbook next week.

All for now.


Blogger Zidane said...

Actually, there is no equivalent in French for the word "retire". (The verb "retirer" despite common roots means something else. That's what we call in friends "false friends": words that are identical in French and English but that mean something different.)

Retraite is the word we use, but it's strictly a noun, so we use it in the form "to take your retirement" (prendre sa retraite) or "go to retirement" (aller à la retraite). Because of that, "déretraite" just cannot work: you cannot "take your unretirement" or "go to unretirement". The opposite is rather to "come out of your retirement" (sortir de sa retraite). I can't find any catchy quick form for it though, sorry.

Wed Nov 06, 11:39:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Ha! I have an answer ready for that, as I expected I might hear from you, Zidane. :)

I say, blame Jon Wertheim... because I sort of borrowed that note from him when he brought it up for SI back when Bartoli retired.

So there. Ha!

Wed Nov 06, 11:47:00 PM EST  
Blogger Zidane said...

Hmm, with the accents, he got it worse than you did!

If we used it, dé-retraité, the word he wrote, would actually mean "unretired", not "unretirement". We just don't have this practice in French of adding prefixes to words to give them a new meaning, unless it's such a wide practice that it's in the dictionary.

Thu Nov 07, 07:00:00 AM EST  
Blogger Eric said... Galileo West someone actually a different person? I get confused.

Thu Nov 07, 01:39:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

I suppose you don't have to say...the mystery is part of the reason I keep coming back (kidding).

Thu Nov 07, 01:40:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Zidane -

I resisted using that for two and a half months, but broke down in a moment of weakness and used it here rather than in the Yearbook. Oh, well. Keep being my French watchdog. ;)

(I guess I knew I'd one day wish I hadn't dropped that French class in college. Madame Voegler was right.)

Eric -

Hmmm, I think you asked this last year, too. Haha. No, Galileo IS an actual person, and he does his level best to try to keep ATP Backspin far more current than I'm able to do on a regular basis. Only so many hours in a day, after all.

I've been adding his WTA opinions for Player of the Year and preseason predictions since late last season, and will again next month before the '14 campaign. It's sort of reminiscent of how I'd have Pierre make "second opinion" picks back in Backspin's early days. ;)

Thu Nov 07, 03:35:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Eric -

And, of course, what with Carl, Carla, Carlita, Carlo, Anna, The Rad, Future Sloane, QC ("the end is the beginning, the beginning is the end" version), etc. banging around in here, it IS a legitimate question. :D

Thu Nov 07, 03:38:00 PM EST  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Eric. Yes, I am a real person. I had read Todds posts for a while and was a huge fan of his work. So I volunteered to help if he needed it.So, the ATP side during the tour including slams and stuff. Luckily, my social life is minimum so I can help :). I wasn't sure if Bartoli went above Halep or I apologize if I mucked that one up.Is Wimbledon worth more or less than six titles I wonder....?

Thu Nov 07, 04:28:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

I agree with you, Galileo, about Halep likely being willing to exchange all six of her titles for Bartoli's one at Wimbledon. Still, I had to put Halep up at #3 on my list.

This was a strange season, as other than Serena full '13 and Halep's last half of the year, pretty much every player of merit either had large stretches of sketchy results (ala A-Rad, Kvitova & Vika) or extended absences (ala Li, Sharapova & Vika) that, I think, makes it hard to look at their seasons as "complete" in the way that has generally been the case with Top 10ers in previous years.

Hmmm, Serena's luck really hit the skids after she won slam #13, but 2013 tossed around like ragdolls pretty much everyone BUT her. Coincidence?

I wonder if there's French expression for something like that? :D

Thu Nov 07, 05:48:00 PM EST  

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