Tuesday, December 29, 2020

2021 WTA Preview: Prediction Blowout

Not today, 2020. 2021 is calling...


And you know what that means...

Soon enough, the knock-down, drag-out drama and competition that is the "crazy women's tennis tour," *still* the most interesting tour in the world (even if it continues to have no concept of how to actually market that reality to the general public), will for each player begin the process of either bolstering optimistic notions regarding their upcoming campaign, or dispose of such grandiose aspirations as if they were a failed one-term president with bad hair and a toxic mix of megalomania and delusions of paranoia.

As for which it will be, and for whom, only the Tennis Gods know for sure. And they aren't saying nuthin'.

But that doesn't mean that one can't attempt to interpret some of their ideas beforehand, and even try to predict future storylines in the never ending (though often futile) attempt to stay a step ahead of their complex game.


First up, a quick look at the potential 2021 Top 10.

It's always something of an exercise in monotony to "predict" an upcoming season's final Top 10, as there is often little great movement over the course of the year, with maybe just two or (sometimes) three different names moving into the building.

This year is even more of a odd bird with all the pandemic ranking machinations leading to Top 10ers who barely played in 2020, or maybe didn't play at all, and we're already staring at a big question mark as far as the early season schedule, with Indian Wells (it was last held in '19) having already been postponed (if it's held at all in '21), and possibly many weeks passing by (such as the three weeks between this season's Week 1 event and the concurrent regular tour tournaments held on the AO grounds in Melbourne at the start of February, leading into the year's first major) without a tour-sanctioned event being on the WTA docket.

So I'll just do a drive-by on the 2020 Top 10 incumbents, with a hint of predicting some of the players waiting in the wings for a possible rise from near or "far."

1. Ash Barty, AUS ...her sabbatical in 2014-16 gives Barty (w/ her most recent tour match coming last February) something of a template when it comes to dealing with returning from her personally long(er than the rest) WTA shutdown, which inadvertently allowed her to do an end-run around the inherent pressure that would have come in the year following her '19 #1 campaign. But 2021 comes complete with a different set of challenges, as the Aussie has at least three players (all reigning slam champs) breathing down her neck at the top of the rankings, and even more with the knowledge that they can "take down #1" in any given event. The heightened expectations arrive a year delayed (though she handled things well last January, winning a title and reaching the AO semis), it'll still be a season to test Barty's reserve.
2. Simona Halep, ROU ...Simo's consistency is a given, but her '20 campaign was one of the best non-slam winning/non-#1 seasons ever. Halep could grab bigger prizes (slam #3, medal #1?) in '21 even with a "step back" from her superior overall numbers/percentages of a season ago.
3. Naomi Osaka, JPN ...three straight years with major titles, and now loads of legit evidence that she could be *the* face of the tour -- on and off court -- in a post-Serena era. If Osaka reaches four (or more) career slams by the end of '21, she could be well on her way to becoming just the third double-digit major title holder (Steffi, Serena) since Navratilova/Evert.
4. Sofia Kenin, USA ...if a player can be "underrated, overlooked and nearly disregarded" after winning a slam, reaching a second major final and being named the tour's Player of the Year, then Kenin surely embodies such a notion (she even got out-pointed in the AP Female Athlete voting by a player who made a handful of kicks in a few NCAA football games). Kenin will likely continue to stay near the top of the "numbers race" in '21. Winning the battle for "hearts & minds," though, is a tougher problem to "solve."
5. Elina Svitolina, UKR ...maybe the "wait" for Svitolina to rise to the level of a *true* slam contender is simply a boondoggle, destined to never produce a completed "To-Do" list that sees the Ukrainian live up to her talent. Or maybe it'll happen this coming year. Such is the frustration -- i.e. disappointment verging on exasperation, then morphing into irritation, resentment and bitterness -- of Svitology-101.
6. Karolina Pliskova, CZE ...it's becoming clear that 2016-17 was likely Pliskova's career-best chance to top out on her abilities and win her elusive first major. Enter Sascha Bajin into the fray, following in the hot seat held by several recent coaches of the Czech, in what might best be viewed as a "last ditch" attempt to claim what Pliskova didn't at the (so far) peak stretch of her career. If winning a major is the ultimate and only goal, it may already be too late.
7. Bianca Andreescu, CAN ...was the Canadian an astrological anomaly in '19, in form and healthy for, really, the only extended period of her career? Andreescu showed what she's capable of achieving, if only her body will allow it. But will it? After missing all of '20 with a combination of her November '19 knee injury, rehab and the pandemic, will Bianca's Comet roll through the tour again? Not to mention how brightly or, maybe more importantly, for how long and with how many interruptions?
8. Petra Kvitova, CZE ...Kvitova's career still seems somewhat "incomplete" without a third slam or #1 ranking on her resume. Though she was without a title for the first time in nine years last season, Kvitova (QF-4r-SF) proved more than worthy of being a slam title threat into her early thirties. But, make no mistake, her slam clock *is* ticking.
9. Kiki Bertens, NED ...after three straight years at #9, Bertens' early season results should be expected to be slow to come after offseason Achilles surgery. With GenPDQ bearing down on the Top 10, she'll likely have to rebound more considerably (and quickly) than anticipated to even have a chance at holding her ground this season.
10. Aryna Sabalenka, BLR ...did Sabalenka finally come into her own in the closing weeks of '20 with her three-title (2S/1D) run and climb into the Top 10, or was it another late-season tease that won't bear fruit in the coming season? With (seemingly) a comfortable, confidence-and-independence inspiring coaching situation and tangible evidence of what she can do with superior focus, 2021 could be *her* "moment" just as 2018 was for Osaka after she'd tantalized with her potential before finding the right mix for success.

SOMEBODY'S KNOCKIN' (and good for a Top 10 visit/return, if not a healthy stay) "Draw me like one of your French girls"...
Serena Williams, USA (#11) ...sure, she'll likely return to the Top 10 during the season. But 2021 (and '22, and maybe even '23?) -- for all the *other* records Serena might tuck away on her career bio -- is *all* about whether or not she gets slam #24 (and/or #25). I predicted a year ago that 2020 was her deadline. With all the (you know) of last season, I'm tempted to extend that do-or-die date another calendar year (or at least a slam or two), but I may turn out to have been 100% correct.
Victoria Azarenka, BLR (#13) ...hopefully the Vikaissance (crossing fingers) isn't interrupted by the sort of injury or off-court worries that spoiled the soup the *last* time Azarenka had managed to make herself a relevant part of the conversation at the top of the game.
Garbine Muguruza, ESP (#15) ...Mugu's Conchita-aided resurgent '20 was cut down to size by the pandemic shutdown, so '21 provides her with the chance to not only further enhance her already-improved state of mind, but also show the ongoing consistency-of-mood (and accompanying reliable string of successes) that has often been at issure during her career.

PARTY-CRASHERS w/ an RSVP "Omar's comin'"...
Iga Swiatek, POL (#17) ...the Top 10 seems just a matter of time, but she'll actually have to win a few titles (RG is still her *only* one, remember) or some important non-slam matches to get there. She can't expect the WTA to game the process for her like it did this year's Fan Favorite Award voting, after all.
Elena Rybakina, KAZ (#19) ...the "It" player of the pre-pandemic tour, the Kazakh never quite reclaimed her *full* mojo in the Restart. Pulling off her first second week slam run at the AO would go a long way toward ensuring her momentum carrying over into the spring. Last year's 1-4 record in finals needs improvement, too.
Jennifer Brady, USA (#24) ...no player came out of the shutdown with a head of steam (that she carried forward, as well) quite like Brady, and she seems well on her way to establishing herself as the best "second-tier" hard court player on tour. A big run in Melbourne and the "first-tier" could be on her agenda for '21.
Coco Gauff, USA (#48) ...had a slight (half-step?) pull back in her results in '20, so if what everyone sensed about her before last year was accurate than '21 should see Gauff surge back to take another leap up the tour rankings. At 17, she's no longer a "rarity," as many players before her have "hit" in their 17-18 years. As was the case with Osaka in NYC, Coco's grounding off-court tone setting during the protest-filled summer in the U.S. could prove -- slightly belatedly -- to have a similarly positive effect on her tour results.

ON THE WATCH LIST "So you're sayin' there's a chance?"...
Elise Mertens, BEL (#21) ...quite possibly the most underappreciated (non-slam winning singles) player on tour, though her overscheduling likely keeps her in the #15-25 range. Still, Mertens *is* a former slam semifinalist and has reached three major QF (and won a WD slam and "Sunshine Doubles Double") the last three seasons.
Nadia Podoroska, ARG (#47) ...she's even better than you remember from Paris, with a forehand that doesn't fit the seemingly fluky nature of her qualifier-to-slam-semifinalist introduction on the big stage. We'll hear from her again, and in notable events, too.
Marketa Vondrousova, CZE (#21) ...will the Czech ever be healthy enough to reclaim the form she had in '19 (RG final, IW/Miami/Rome QF) as a 19-year old? If so, she's a threat for a big rankings jump.
Amanda Anisimova, USA (#30) ...two seasons ago Anisimova, too, looked the part of a tour difference maker en route to the semis in Paris after "pulling an Iga" (i.e. def. Halep in straight sets at RG) a year before Swiatek did it.

A BETTOR'S CHANCE "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?"...
Madison Keys, USA (#16) ...not that I'd EVER endeavor to undertake the fool's errand that would be to bet on what Keys might accomplish -- or *not* accomplish -- on a tournament-by-tournament basis. Does any player have a wider "I could see her doing that" range of possible results in any event she enters than Keys? I mean, other than maybe (still) Sveta Kuznetsova.
Alona Ostapenko, LAT (#44) ...Alona was Iga in Paris before Iga was Iga in Paris. It hasn't been a smooth ride since, but hope springs eternal for a renewal of Latvian Thunder (even on a part-time basis) that might allow for a wide-eyed reacquaintance. It's sort of why she seems to *always* make her way onto this annual list, even if her results don't (admittedly) really warrant it.
Belinda Bencic, SUI (#12) ...her '19 U.S. Open semi (yeah, I'd completely forgotten about that) scratched the surface of the Swiss' career potential, but Bencic is starting to resemble the good-but-a-"disappointing"-pro label that's stuck with another big-time junior star, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.


FIRST-TIME IN-SEASON TOP 5 JUMPS (i.e. not necessarily season-ending, for all jumps in each category): Aryna Sabalenka/BLR
FIRST-TIME IN-SEASON TOP 10 JUMPS: Jennifer Brady/USA, Elena Rybakina/KAZ, Iga Swiatek/POL
FIRST-TIME IN-SEASON TOP 20 JUMPS: Amanda Anisimova/USA, Marie Bouzkova/CZE, Jennifer Brady/USA, Leylah Fernandez/CAN, Fiona Ferro/FRA, Coco Gauff/USA, Ons Jabeur/TUN, Nadia Podoroska/ARG, Dayana Yastremska/UKR

FIRST-TIME IN-SEASON TOP 50 JUMPS: Paula Badosa/ESP, Anna Blinkova/RUS, Elisabetta Cocciaretto/ITA, Leylah Fernandez/CAN, Varvara Gracheva/RUS, Kaja Juvan/SLO, Marta Kostyuk/UKR, Barbora Krejcikova/CZE, Ann Li/USA, Jessica Pegula/USA, Anastasia Potapova/RUS, Sara Sorribes Tormo/ESP, Jil Teichmann/SUI, Patricia Maria Tig/ROU, Martina Trevisan/ITA, Zhu Lin/CHN, Tamara Zidansek/SLO
FIRST-TIME IN-SEASON TOP 100 JUMPS: Irina Bara/ROU, Ysaline Bonaventure/BEL, Cristina Bucsa/ESP, Clara Burel/FRA, Elisabetta Cocciaretto/ITA, Priscilla Hon/AUS, Katarzyna Kawa/POL, Leonie Kung/SUI, Claire Liu/USA, Caty McNally/USA, Whitney Osuigwe/USA, Kamilla Rakhimova/RUS, Liudmila Samsonova/RUS, Mayar Sherif/EGY, Clara Tauson/DEN, Wang Xinyu/CHN, Renata Zarazua/MEX

Africa/Middle East/Mediterranean: Maria Sakkari/GRE
Asia/Pacific: [Top 5] 1=Osaka/JPN, 2=Rybakina/KAZ, 3=Barty/AUS, 4=Sh.Zhang/CHN, 5=Tomljanovic/AUS
BLR: Aryna Sabalenka
CHN: [Top 5] 1=Zhang Shuai, 2=Zheng Saisai, 3=Wang Xinyu, 4=Wang Qiang, 5=Wang Xiyu
CRO: Petra Martic
CZE: [Top 3] 1=Kvitova, 2=Ka.Pliskova, 3=Bouzkova
FRA: [Top 5] 1=Ferro, 2=Cornet, 3=Dodin, 4=Garcia, 5=Mladenovic
FRA: [Jr.] Oceane Babel
ITA: [Top 3] 1=Cocciaretto, 2=Giorgi, 3=Trevisan
KAZ: Elena Rybakina
LAT: Alona Ostapenko
RUS: Veronika Kudermetova
RUS: [Jr.] Polina Kudermetova
SLO: [Top 3] 1=Juvan, 2=Zidansek, 3=Hercog
South America: [WS] Nadia Podoroska
South America: [WD] Luisa Stefani/BRA
USA: [Top 5] 1=Kenin, 2=Brady, 3=S.Williams, 4=Gauff, 5=Anisimova
USA: [Jr.] Ashlyn Krueger
30+: [Top 3] 1=Halep(30), 2=Kvitova(31), 3=Azarenka(32)
Under 21: [Top 3] 1=Swiatek(20), 2=Fernandez(19), 3=Gauff(17)
Wheelchair: [Top 4] 1=de Groot/NED, 2=Kamiji/JPN, 3=Van Koot/NED, 4=Ohtani/JPN

[2020 Top 25]
#14 Johanna Konta/GBR, #25 Angelique Kerber/GER
[2020 #26-50]
#39 Sloane Stephens/USA, #34 Wang Qiang/CHN

[2020 #26-50]
#47 Nadia Podoroska/ARG, #48 Coco Gauff/USA, #31 Ons Jabeur/TUN, #42 Fiona Ferro/FRA, #44 Alona Ostapenko/LAT, #46 Veronika Kudermetova/RUS
[2020 #51-75]
#52 Marie Bouzkova/CZE, #70 Paula Badosa/ESP, #53 Alize Cornet/FRA, #61 Anna Blinkova/RUS, #66 Sara Sorribes Tormo/ESP
[2020 #76-100]
#88 Leylah Fernandez/CAN, #99 Marta Kostyuk/UKR, #98 Ann Li/USA, #87 Tamara Zidansek/SLO, #94 Varvara Gracheva/RUS
[2020 #101-150]
#104 Kaja Juvan/SLO, #133 CiCi Bellis/USA, #132 Elisabetta Cocciaretto/ITA, #128 Mayar Sherif/EGY, #101 Anastasia Potapova/RUS, #123 Wang Xiyu/CHN, #113 Katarzyna Kawa/POL, #141 Genie Bouchard/CAN
[2020 #151-200]
#153 Wang Xinyu/CHN, #155 Kamilla Rakhimova/RUS, #152 Clara Tauson/DEN, #161 Whitney Osuigwe/USA, #162 Cristina Busca/ESP, #157 Leonie Kung/SUI


1.Kamilla Rakhimova, RUS
...the young Russian talent pool is being restocked. Last year's PWNYK, Varvara Gracheva, cracked the Top 100 in 2020 and made her slam MD debut in New York with wins over Paula Badosa and #30-seed Kristina Mladenovic (rallying from 6-1/5-1 down and saving four MP against the Pastry).

This year's candidate is Rakhimova.

The 19-year old Hordette is currently ranked #155. A winner of five ITF titles in '19, Rakhimova made her slam MD debut at the '20 Roland Garros after making her way through qualifying. She posted a 1st Round win, then took #20-seeded Maria Sakkari to a 1st set TB in a straight sets loss. More to come in 2021.

2.Katrina Scott, USA
...the big-hitting 16-year old made her slam MD debut at the U.S. Open in the summer, upsetting Natalia Vikhlyantseva and taking a set off Amanda Anisimova. She was the youngest player in the Top 700 last season. She's already won the USTA's Newcomer of the Year award for '20.

3.Carole Monnet, FRA
...the 19-year old claimed three ITF titles in '20, and finished on a 17-2 (W-SF-RU-W) tear in challenger events in the fall. She'd made her slam MD debut in Paris just prior to her hot finish, getting a 1st Round win over Whitney Osuigwe and then pushing Guilia Gatto-Monticone to three sets a round later.

4.Robin Montgomery, USA
...now 16, she fell in the U.S. Open girls 3rd Round to Scott in '19, but helped lead the USA to the Junior Fed Cup title that year. After winning the '19 Orange Bowl 18s crown, she reached the girls QF at the '20 Australian Open before grabbing her first pro title at a $25K in Las Vegas last March just before the shutdown. In the summer, Montgomery played in the Western & Southern Open and then made her slam MD debut at the U.S. Open (a loss to Yulia Putintseva).

5.Matilda Mutavdzic, GBR
...the 16-year old Brit's junior slam aspirations were thwarted by unlucky draws, as she fell to the eventual champ in both '20 events (AO 1r to Jimenez Kasintseva, RG 3r to Jacquemot). She also lost to the #1-ranked Pastry in a big Grade 1 semifinal run in October. Mutavdzic *did* pick up her first pro title in '20, though, winning a $15K in September.

NEWCOMERS OF THE YEAR: Clara Burel/FRA, Linda Fruhvirtova/CZE, Kaja Juvan/SLO, Ann Li/USA, Kamilla Rakhimova/RUS, Katrina Scott/USA, Clara Tauson/DEN, Wang Xinyu/CHN, Wang Xiyu/CHN, Zheng Qinwen/CHN
MOST IMPROVED PLAYERS: Anna Blinkova/RUS, Marie Bouzkova/CZE, Elisabetta Cocciaretto/ITA, Leylah Fernandez/CAN, Marta Kostyuk/UKR, Momoko Ohtani/JPN (WC), Whitney Osuigwe/USA, Sara Sorribes Tormo/ESP, Tamara Zidansek/SLO
SURPRISE PLAYERS: Cristina Busca/ESP, Maddison Inglis/AUS, Katarzyna Kawa/POL, Danka Kovinic/MNE, Robin Montgomery/USA
COMEBACKS: Bianca Andreescu/CAN, Katie Boulter/GBR, Alexandra Cadantu/ROU (ITF), Oceane Dodin/FRA, Anastasia Potapova/RUS, CoCo Vandeweghe/USA (d), Marketa Vondrousova/CZE
JUNIORS TO WATCH: Oceane Babel/FRA, Kristina Dmitruk/BLR, Alexandra Eala/PHI, Brenda Fruhvirtova/CZE, Linda Fruhvirtova/CZE, Polina Kudermetova/RUS, Linda Noskova/CZE, Diana Shnaider/RUS, Alexandra Vecic/GER, Darja Vidmanova/CZE

ITF ACHIEVERS: Carolina Alves/BRA, Erika Andreeva/RUS, Kamilla Bartone/LAT, Maria Carle/ARG, Alina Charaeva/Oksana Selekhmetova (RUS/RUS), Carole Monnet/FRA, Sebastianna Scilipoti/SUI, Zheng Qinwen/CHN
DOUBLES DUOS TO WATCH: Hayley Carter/Luisa Stefani (USA/BRA), Alexa Guarachi/Desirae Krawczyk (CHI/USA), Yui Kamiji/Momoko Ohtani (JPN/JPN) in Parlympics, Bethanie Mattek-Sands/USA & Sania Mirza/IND in a big event/slam, Arantxa Rus/Tamara Zidansek (NED/SLO), a CiCi Bellis/Marketa Vondrousova (USA/CZE) reunion
COACH OF THE YEAR: Anton Dubrov (Sabalenka), Jorge Fernandez (L.Fernandez), Issam Jellali (Jabeur), Emmanuel Planque (Ferro), Sandra Zaniewska (Cornet)



FIRST-TIME SLAM QUARTERFINALISTS: Alize Cornet/FRA, Leylah Fernandez/CAN, Fiona Ferro/FRA, Coco Gauff/USA, Barbora Krejcikova/CZE, Elena Rybakina/KAZ, Aryna Sabalenka/BLR, Maria Sakkari/GRE
FIRST-TIME SLAM ROUND OF 16's: Anna Blinkova/RUS, Marie Bouzkova/CZE, Clara Burel/FRA, Elisabetta Cocciaretto/ITA, Oceane Dodin/FRA, Leylah Fernandez/CAN, Varvara Gracheva/RUS, Kaja Juvan/SLO, Marta Kostyuk/UKR, Veronika Kudermetova/RUS, Ann Li/USA, Kamilla Rakhimova/RUS, Elena Rybakina/KAZ, Jil Teichmann/SUI, Tamara Zidansek/SLO
NOTABLE FIRST-TIME SLAM 1st ROUND WINNERS: Cristina Bucsa/ESP, Alina Charaeva/RUS, Elisabetta Cocciaretto/ITA, Elsa Jacquemot/FRA, Katarzyna Kawa/POL, Polina Kudermetova/RUS, Leonie Kung/SUI, Robin Montgomery/USA, Whitney Osuigwe/USA, Liudmila Samsonova/RUS, Mayar Sherif/EGY, Wang Xinyu/CHN, Wang Xiyu/CHN
NOTABLE FIRST-TIME SLAM MD SINGLES APPEARANCES: Linda Fruhvirtova/CZE, Matilda Mutavdzic/GBR, Giuliana Olmos/MEX

FIRST-TIME WTA CHAMPIONS: Marie Bouzkova/CZE, Elisabetta Cocciaretto/ITA, Leylah Fernandez/CAN, Varvara Gracheva/RUS, Ons Jabeur/TUN, Kaja Juvan/SLO, Barbora Krejcikova/CZE, Veronika Kudermetova/RUS, Nadia Podoroska/ARG, Ajla Tomljanovic/AUS, Renata Zarazua/MEX, Tamara Zidansek/SLO
FIRST-TIME WTA FINALISTS: Paula Badosa/ESP, Anna Blinkova/RUS, Clara Burel/FRA, Elisabetta Cocciaretto/ITA, Varvara Gracheva/RUS, Kaja Juvan/SLO, Marta Kostyuk/UKR, Veronika Kudermetova/RUS, Ann Li/USA, Nadia Podoroska/ARG, Kamilla Rakhimova/RUS, Mayar Sherif/EGY, Wang Xinyu/CHN, Wang Xiyu/CHN, Renata Zarazua/MEX
FIRST-TIME WTA SEMIFINALISTS: Cristina Bucsa/ESP, Clara Burel/FRA, Elisabetta Cocciaretto/ITA, Varvara Gracheva/RUS, Ivana Jorovic/SRB, Kaja Juvan/SLO, Marta Kostyuk/UKR, Ann Li/USA, Greet Minnen/BEL, Whitney Osuigwe/USA, Jasmine Paolini/ITA, Kamilla Rakhimova/RUS, Katrina Scott/USA, Mayar Sherif/EGY, Clara Tauson/DEN, Wang Xinyu/CHN
HIGHEST RANKED WITHOUT A CAREER FINAL: Danielle Collins/USA, Greet Minnen/BEL, Sara Sorribes Tormo/ESP


2021 SLAM SINGLES CHAMPIONS: (1 each) Bianca Andreescu, Simona Halep, Naomi Osaka, Aryna Sabalenka
2021 SLAM SINGLES RUNNERS-UP: (1 each) Victoria Azarenka, Petra Kvitova, Garbine Muguruza, Serena Williams
TOKYO OLYMPIC SINGLES SEMIFINALISTS: Ash Barty, Naomi Osaka, Aryna Sabalenka, Serena Williams

2021 SLAM DOUBLES TITLES: (2) Babos/Mladenovic; (1 each) Mattek-Sands & someone (Kenin, Mirza or Vandeweghe?), Krejcikova/Siniakova

2021 SLAM MIXED DOUBLES TITLES: Latisha Chan, Coco Gauff, Barbora Krejcikova, Samantha Stosur
TOKYO OLYMPIC MX SEMIFINALISTS: Barty/an Aussie man, Gauff/a U.S. man, Halep/a Romanian man, Sakkari/Tsitsipas
2021 WHEELCHAIR SLAM WINNERS: Diede de Groot (2), Yui Kamiji (1)
2021 PARALYMPIC FINALS: Diede de Groot def. Yui Kamiji; de Groot/Van Koot def. Kamiji/Ohtani

2021 IN-SEASON SINGLES #1's: Ash Barty, Simona Halep
2021 IN-SEASON DOUBLES #1's: Timea Babos/Kristina Mladenovic, Hsieh Su-wei
2021 ROUND OF 16 AT ALL FOUR SLAMS: Victoria Azarenka, Sofia Kenin, Petra Kvitova
2021 SINGLES TITLE LEADER: Aryna Sabalenka
2021 SINGLES FINAL LEADERS: Simona Halep & Elena Rybakina
2021 S+D MATCH WIN LEADER: Elise Mertens


2020 TOP 10er 2021 PREDICTIONS
Barty Claims 2 singles titles, but has no slam SF+ result. Still, she wins multiple medals in Tokyo.
Halep Wins third career slam crown, returns to #1, and wins two Masters 1000 titles. Leads tour in finals, and plays in Olympic medal match.
Osaka Completes fourth consecutive season with a slam title, nearly returning to #1 (but not quite). Plays in Gold match in Tokyo Olympics.
Kenin Takes three titles, and is tour's match win (season and slam) leader. Reaches another slam SF, and the 4r at all four majors. Her three slam QF top WTA in '21.
Svitolina Again wins multiple titles (including her biggest since WTAF '19 -- a Masters 500+), and reaches a third career slam SF (but is handily defeated). Also has at least one slam loss to a #75+-ranked player.
Ka.Pliskova Wins no more than one title (and maybe less) in '21, and must "salvage" slam year w/ a U.S. Open 4th Rd. result. Teaming with coach Sascha Bajin doesn't last the season.
Andreescu Returns after missing all of '20 to win a second major, record 5+ Top 10 wins, and claim two Masters 500+ titles.
Kvitova Reaches a fourth career slam final, but again doesn't get third major title. Plays in 4th Round at all four majors, and rebounds with w/ two singles titles after being shutout in '20 (ending a 9-year streak).
Bertens Has a very slow start after offseason Achilles surgery, having her first final-less season since '15. Her lone second week run at a major comes in Paris. Wins a pair of WD titles.
Sabalenka A Barty-esque (circa '19) season -- i.e. super-versatile -- that sees her win her maiden slam singles crown after never previously having reached a major QF. Climbs into the Top 5 and leads tour (all alone) with 5+ singles titles (2 Masters 1000 and 2 500 wins), plays in *two* medal matches in Tokyo, picks up two WTA doubles crowns (both w/ Mertens) and leads Belarus to its first BJK Cup title. She *may* briefly join the short list of WTA players (w/ Smashnova & Medina-Garrigues) with 10+ titles and no slam QF, but will quickly remove her name from such ranks.

Serena Williams: reaches her 34th career slam final, but loses for a fifth straight time as the quest for #24 remains unfulfilled. Still, she becomes the oldest WTA singles champion ever (with a title after mid-April, breaking Billie Jean King's record with a win at age 39, 203 days in '83), matches Martina Navratilova's record for career #1 wins (Serena has 17, Martina 18) and gets within one of 50 career wins over #1/#2 (she enters '21 w/ 46). In Tokyo, Williams matches sister Venus' record with her fifth career Olympic tennis medal.
Elena Rybakina: the Kazakh reaches the Top 10, wins two titles (at least one a Masters 500+), shares the tour lead for most finals and reaches her maiden slam QF.

A lucky loser reaches the Round of 16 at a slam (the first since 1993), while a qualifier plays in the Roland Garros QF.
A former singles #1 and/or slam finalist announces that she is coming out of retirement.
Monica Puig's Olympic Gold medal defense ends in the 1st Round in Tokyo.
Coco Gauff: wins a slam title, reaches her first major singles semi, and plays in a medal match in Tokyo. Claims her second tour singles title, her biggest so far, at a Masters 500 event.
Leylah Fernandez: wins her maiden WTA singles title, and reaches back-to-back finals at some point during the season. Fernandez reaches the Top 20, upsets a Top 8 seed at a major and plays in her first slam QF.
A Canadian player not named Bianca defeats a reigning world #1.

Meanwhile, Genie Bouchard (#141) returns to the Top 50 for the first time since March 2017. She reaches at least one final, but remains title-less since 2014.
A WTA singles final features players with an age difference of more than 20 years.
Venus Williams (#79) falls out of the Top 100 for the first time since March 2012.
Garbine Muguruza: reaches her fifth career slam final, and wins multiple tour titles in a season for the first time since 2017. Her multiple surface titles include her first on clay since claiming Roland Garros in '16.

Iga Swiatek: climbs into the Top 10, though her best slam result is "just" a SF. Adds two more tour titles to her '20 RG crown (both at Masters 500+ events) and records two overall wins over different reigning #1 singles players.
Victoria Azarenka: reaches a slam final and semi, while reaching the Round of 16 at each of the four majors. Returning to the Top 10 for the first time since 2016, she wins a Masters 1000 title and records just her second #1 victory since '13.
A player records wins over the world #1 and #2 in a single major for the first time since 2009 (RG-Kuznetsova).

A player has the chance to become just the fourth player in tour history -- Graf '99 RG, S.Williams '02 Miami, V.Williams '08 WTA -- to post wins over the world's top three ranked players in a single event, but fails to do so with a loss in the final.
A player ranked outside the Top 300 wins a tour singles title, the lowest-ranked champion since 2001 and the second lowest-ranked (not counting unranked players) winner in tour history.
An all-Belarusian semifinal or final takes place in a slam.
Bannerette Katrina Scott in youngest tour singles semifinalist of the season.
Jennifer Brady: reaches her second hard court slam singles semi, climbs into the Top 10 and wins her biggest career title (anything higher than a 250).
Nadia Podoroska: her Paris run proves to be no fluke, as she rises into the Top 20, reaches the Round of 16 again at RG (as well as at a hard court slam). She reaches multiple 250 finals, winning her maiden tour title, as well as playing in at least one 500+ semifinal.
Alize Cornet: the Pastry's thirtysomething resurgence includes her winning her biggest career title (500+), and multiple crowns in a season for the first time in her career. A year after completing a "Career Round of 16 Slam" in New York, she reaches her first major QF as she pushes her consecutive slam MD appearance streak to 59 by the end of '21 (just 3 behind Ai Sugiyama's tour record of 62).

Two of the season's four junior slam champs (including the AO event, which is scheduled to be played later in the year) hail from Russia and France.

The last Hordette winner was Anastasia Potapova at the '16 Wimbledon, while Elsa Jacquemot (the third straight Pastry to finish as the year-end girls #1) won the 2020 Roland Garros, the first French winner since '09.
A seeded women's player (or Round of 16 participant) faces suspension after failing a drug test at a major.
Carla Suarez Navarro takes the court at the Tokyo Olympics.
Anett Kontaveit: despite the mostly underachieving arc (no title since '17, and just one major QF) of her career, she reaches the Round of 16 at Wimbledon to join the list of active players to have reached the 4th Round at all four majors. Kontaveit finally played in her first career slam QF at last year's Australian Open. She reaches her seventh career tour final in '21, but falls to 1-6.
Ons Jabeur: finally wins her maiden tour singles title en route to a Top 20 ranking and two more slam QF results to go along with the one she had last season in Melbourne
Maria Sakkari: reaches her first career slam QF, wins her second and biggest career title (500+) and plays in a MX medal match in Tokyo

8 = Kim Clijsters match wins (UNDER)
10 = Venus Williams match wins (OVER)
3 = Hsieh/Strycova WD titles (OVER)
2 = injury-related event w/d by Andreescu (OVER)
2 = S.Williams slam semis (UNDER)
Start of summer HC season = Pliskova/Bajin pairing (UNDER)

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova wins career title #13, making her the only player in tour history with so many WTA titles but w/o a slam SF result. The only other player to previously hold the distinction was Elina Svitolina, until she reached her first slam SF in 2019.
Mayar Sherif becomes the first Egyptian woman to record a slam MD victory, as well as the first to reach at least the semifinals in a tour-level singles event.

Renata Zarazua becomes the first woman from Mexico to win a WTA singles title.

And, of course...

After finally hitting on that traditional Blowout "a woman representing Mexico will play a main draw slam singles match" prediction in 2020 (thank you, Renata Zarazua!), I'm not abandoning the notion. Instead, I'm doubling down.

TWO women representing Mexico will appear in the *same* slam draw in 2021, which will be an Open era first for a major. One will reach the 3rd Round, which hasn't happened for a player from Mexico since 1995 (Angelica Gavaldon).

Of course, as always, I could also be waaaaaay off.

Or, you know, by midseason regretting not having gone a *little* bigger with a prediction or two (aka the Andreescu Conundrum of two preseasons ago... a scenario which *could* live a second life in the form of *another* Canadian's prospects this time around) or maybe start to wonder what possessed me to step up or back on a few others (like the notion of a "pretty big" year for Cornet, or the "bad feeling" earworm I'm getting for Pliskova and Kerber's respective seasons).

But I guess as long as we see anything resembling a "normal" season in '21, all will be deemed well, no matter what.


Well, that's it. We'll soon begin to see how smart, or stupid, I look *this* year.

Ready, set... judge.

2002 Venus Williams, USA
2003 Serena Williams, USA
2004 Lindsay Davenport/USA, Eleni Daniilidou/GRE (co-PoW)
2005 Elena Dementieva, RUS
2006 Lucie Safarova, CZE
2007 Dinara Safina, RUS
2008 Li Na, CHN
2009 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2010 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2011 Vera Zvonareva, RUS
2012 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2013 Serena Williams, USA
2014 Serena Williams, USA
2015 Maria Sharapova/RUS, Simona Halep/ROU (co-PoW)
2016 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2017 Karolina Pliskova, CZE
2018 Simona Halep, ROU
2019 Julia Goerges, GER
2020 Serena Williams, USA

**CAREER WEEK 1 TITLES - active**
3...Karolina Pliskova, CZE
3...Serena Williams, USA
2...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2...Venus Williams, USA
1...Ekaterina Alexandrova, RUS
1...Kim Clijsters, BEL
1...Lauren Davis, USA
1...Simona Halep, ROU
1...Kaia Kanepi, EST
1...Petra Kvitova, CZE
1...Aryna Sabalenka, BLR
1...Katerina Siniakova, CZE
1...Katarina Srebotnik, SLO
1...Sloane Stephens, USA
1...Elina Svitolina, UKR
1...Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
ALSO: Daniilidou (2), Jankovic (1)

=2014 Week 2=
Tsvetana Pironkova (SYDNEY), Garbine Muguruza (HOBART)
=2017 Week 1=
Katerina Siniakova (SHENZHEN), Lauren Davis (AUCKLAND)
=2017 Week 2=
Elise Mertens (HOBART)
=2019 Week 2=
Sonia Kenin (HOBART)
=2020 Week 1=
Ekaterina Alexandrova (SHENZHEN)

2006 Marion Bartoli (Auckland) - first final
2009 Victoria Azarenka (Brisbane) - had been 0-4 in finals
2017 Katerina Siniakova (Shenzhen) - had been 0-2 in finals
2017 Lauren Davis (Auckland) - had been 0-2 in finals
2020 Ekaterina Alexandrova (Shenzhen) - second career final

Silvija Talaja (Gold Coast)
Anne Kremer (Auckland)
Katerina Siniakova (Shenzhen)
Lauren Davis (Auckland)


Speed Bump (Dave Coverly) - December 27, 2020

All for now.


Blogger colt13 said...

Are you saying WTA marketing is worse than Rebel Wilson's version of Cats?

With Azarenka/Osaka reaching the finals of both "Cincinnati" and the US Open, I wonder if Melbourne 1/Melbourne 2 and the Open will be the same. A unique setup in which 120 of the 128 players in the AO draw will get to play a warmup on site. Top 86 players entered in the Open have entered this, rest will be settled after AO qualifying. As example 1- Kozlova is in Q for this, but would be withdrawn if she doesn't make AO draw, where she is MD only, but 4 out.

ATP put out their schedule through March. Miami is on it, so WTA should be saying something soon. With IW looking at possibly October, I can't imagine it being a one off in the US, so maybe US Open, Lexington, Vancouver, Indian Wells?

Also would like to see Linz, Luxembourg, Ostrava, Moscow, before Beijing and Wuhan.

Thank Luca Fiorino for this nugget. Race to Shenzhen rules have been changed, and I don't like it. Even though I make that joke about players being #1 in the race in December off of ITF tournaments, they, along with 125K events, will not be counted.

This will penalize a player for having a breakout year. Andreescu would have still made YEC even with her Newport points not being counted in 2019, but had the events run in 2020, the last Elite Trophy direct entrant would have been Podoroska at 19- 1275 pts. Would not have been an alternate with WTA points only at 22- 927 pts.

Love the blowout, so my rebuttal.

Maja Chwalinska is the youngster whose train I am jumping on early.

Sabalenka is good enough to reach a slam final, but I think her partner Mertens will also get there.

Puig already out of AO, hopefully she will be healthy enough to play Olympics.

Clijsters- Over. Thought is that she will pick up wins in bulk, mainly the US summer swing.

Venus- Under. Will play 12 or less events, as of now would not make Olympics, so 4 slams, Melbourne, Miami and IW seem right, but where else?

Hsieh/Strycova- Push. Because it is an Olympic year, they both might need to split to find a partner, plus Hsieh needs to find out if Taipei will make her eligible.

Real curious who Strycova's partner will be. The other twist we did not have at this time last year? Siniakova and Krejcikova possibly qualifying in singles, especially with Vondrousova's FO points dropping off right before cutoff time.

Williams- Under. Predicting 4th rd at every slam, just worried about durability.

Pliskova/Bajin- Under. That would mean 3 slams, and she has been poor at Wimbledon, so that would be about right.

Andreescu- Over. Either way- before or during the event. Part of me wanted her to play Abu Dhabi, because with the quarantine break, she would not have to push back to back tournaments. Now, she is scheduled to do that with Melbourne/AO.

Wed Dec 30, 08:41:00 AM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

My main concern is Andreescu's health. If she doesn't get it straight now, she will only do more damage and fall behind. She is currently my main reason for watching the WTA--I think she's a spectacular talent (though Swiatek is a close second in holding my interest)--and she's hardly there.

Petra's 2019 AO run continues to give me hope for her (I'm still not over that loss).

Wed Dec 30, 12:24:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Well, at least the WTA has something to work with. ;)

Hmmm, maybe a chance for Sabalenka to get to 10 titles, then remove her name from the no-slam-QF list (or prevent it from ever showing up) all in the same city?

Yeah, and you'd think they wouldn't make a Race change like that in a season where the actual tour schedule is so in flux, either. :/

Ah, Chwalinka's a really good one I hadn't thought to include.

As always, I'll stick with the Under for Clijsters, just based on the injury factor.

A Push might be very good choice for Hsieh/Strycova. But if Hsieh can't squeeze into the Olympics (the ITF sure didn't seem likely to bend the rules a short while ago w/ her situation), and with Strycova out (I think...right?...not sure) because of her FC retirement, they might still be a full-season team.

Hopefully missing *all* of 2020 will give BA a leg up on being fully healthy for a while. If not for the pandemic, I wonder if she'd tried to hurry back, which could have just started the cycle all over again.

Wed Dec 30, 01:12:00 PM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

Q draw is out for Abu Dhabi, and the #8 seed is ranked 280. So guaranteed to have someone 280 or lower make the field. So many late withdrawals that Shibahara, Hradecka, N. Kichenok and Stefani got in.

Normally I say this a couple of weeks later, but due to COVID, this is the last week to affect AO seeding, as Melbourne 1 & 2 are too late. Kudermetova at 46 is the last player that could mathematically play her way into one.

Laver Cup still wants to play this year in September, so IW would fit around then as another US event.

Serena has won titles in 19 different seasons. If Swiatek plays one of the Melbourne warmups, the Australian Open will be her 19th WTA main draw.

Stat of the Week- 80- Career high ranking for Maria Strandlund of Sweden.

What could possibly get me to reference Strandlund? Her Week 1 SF run in Indonesia. Indonesia had a tournament? A short lived tournament, which could also be referred to as the Yayuk Basuki Invitational, as she reached the final 3 times, winning twice in the 5 years it was held from 1993-97.

Before this year, this was the last time that there was not a points paying event in the opening week in Australia or New Zealand. Basuki went out in the SF, as did Strandlund, starting off the season with a bang, matching her career best SF run. Her most recent one was way, and I do mean way back in 1989, when she lost to Sabine Hack in Bastad.

Believe it or not, she also lost to Hack in Indonesia, and she went on to win the tournament.

Having hung around for a decade, her main claim to fame is that she has more BJK Cup wins than Catarina Lindquist, 13 to 12.

Quiz Time!

Indonesia has had low level success in BJK Cup. Who has the most wins in their history?

A. Yayuk Basuki
B. Wynne Prakusya
C. Angeligue Widjaja
D. Jessy Rompies

Interlude- Ther will be an Up/Down Side once draw is posted. Main draw starts Wednesday.

Even the greats lack some skills.



This one will be fun to reveal.

(D)Rompies was the throwaway choice with only 20 wins, but put her time in as her 17 doubles wins leaves her third on that list. Never really breaking through on tour, her career high in singles was 413.

(C)Widjaja isn't close at 29, then re-read that. A 2 time winner on tour, her doubles play at BJK Cup is special. She went 16-0, all with Prakusya.

Now we get to the fun stuff. When Prakusya stopped playing BJK Cup after 2005, she had the record with a whopping 61 wins. Their singles leader in wins with 31, she also has 30 doubles wins leaving her second on that list.

Now (A)Basuki put a twist on this. Having started her BJK Cup play in the 80's, she lasted long enough to play in 3 decades, stopping play after 2001.

Then she came back. In 2011, she made it to a fourth decade. Now, you may think that this was a one off just to say she did it. But no, she played doubles and won. Not once, not twice, but three times, giving her a total of 62, 1 more than Prakusya.

Probably fitting that it was in doubles, as her career high in doubles was 9, and she was QF or better at all 4 slams, culminating an a SF run in New York back in 1993.

Mon Jan 04, 11:21:00 AM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

WTA 1000 and 500 events will be covered under this format.

5 On the Up Side- 2021 Debut.

1.Sabalenka- Willing to play anywhere, anytime. Won her last 2 events, and 3 of her last 8. Pick to win.
2.Pavlyuchenkova- If you go by social media, along with Cornet, this is the player that is most mentally ready to handle this tournament. The draw does her no favors, with Jabeur in the first round, and potentially Sabalenka in the 3rd.
3.Podoroska- What a difference a year makes. Almost a year ago this week, she was ranked 258, then won a 25K in Malibu. Fun opening match with Sorribes Tormo.
4.Alexandrova- Won Shenzhen to open last season ranked 34. Opens this season at 33. Will she be as ready as she was last year?
5.Shvedova- BJK Cup captain is back. Played singles in Doha last year, but looking for her first singles win since Nurnberg 2017 vs Maria.

Mon Jan 04, 02:09:00 PM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

5 On the Down Side.

1.Halbauer- When I saw the Q list last week, this was the name that jumped out. Going for her first WTA MD in her 8th attempt. Then why is she on this list? Because she pulled out 24 hrs before draw was made. At 310, not only was it an opportunity, she would have been seeded in Q at 16. Note that 8th seed is ranked 280, so we are guaranteed of a player 280 or lower qualifying. So when will we see her next? With Hua Hin cancelled, maybe Charleston, since that is where 5 of her 7 attempts have come.
2.Aussie Women- Aussies having to qualify for AO away from home? You might think that this is a big deal, but they went 0-11 last year. In fact, of the last 43 attempts to qualify, only 1 has made it- Astra Sharma in 2019. Contrast that with Russia's Anna Kalinskaya, who has qualified the last 3 years, and will try to make it a fourth. Still looking for that first MD win though.
3.Svitolina- Which Svitolina will show up? The one that won Brisbane in 2018, or the won that lost her first match there in 2019 and 2020. Like Kasatkina and Muguruza, puts up some odd results in January.
4.Wang Q- Not a down, but an unknown. First tournament back since the pandemic, she does so with Pat Cash in her corner.
5.Bolsova- Had to pull out of Abu Dhabi because she is first player out of AO MD. Pressure is on since she has to make it to final round just to be LL. If somebody(Bertens) pulls out, and she doesn't reach it, it will sting.

Mon Jan 04, 02:20:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yeah, I just realized yesterday that Abu Dhabi is a Wednesday-to-Wednesday event, so it'll be little-bit-off-schedule Week 1 post, I guess.

I still want the pitchers batting again in the NL. Before I watched a lot of NL baseball (i.e. before the Nats arrived) I thought pitchers batting was dumb, but now I think it's much more interesting and essential.

Quiz: I went w/ Widjaja (by the way, the lowest ranked -- non-unranked -- WTA singles champion ever... in Bali in '01 as #579). :/

I'm wondering how that Svitolina/Pegula 1st Rounder might go.

The draw seems more than a bit top-heavy, with Kenin-Sabalenka-Muguruza-Rybakina (+Jabeur, Sakkari and Gauff) up there. That'd be a *really* good SF group. Many more "iffy" players in the bottom, it seems... so maybe some surprising semifinalists emerge down there. Would love to see Fernandez have a good start (but maybe vs. Brady 2r, so...).

Mon Jan 04, 10:42:00 PM EST  

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