Tuesday, October 26, 2010

WTA Year in Review - January

This is a review of the WTA’s 2010 Season. A chance to look back with fondness, a smile, a smirk, a shake of the head and see just what we missed and if there is anything worth looking forward to in 2011.

The 2010 season of the WTA started very much like how 2009 ended. Questions being asked as to who would be the contenders coming into this season. Who was injury free and would make an impact and even more talk of impending retirements.

2010 also saw the continued troubles of various marquee players in women’s tennis. Ivanovic, Sharapova, Jankovic, Venus and Serena Williams, Dementieva, Kuznetsova, Zvonreva and the list went on and on. The injury issues were not only for those players who were singles specialists but ran rampant throughout the doubles tour as well.

The biggest news to greet fans of women’s tennis however was the announcement by Justine Henin, former World No.1 and holder of 7 Grand Slam titles that she would be returning to the WTA Tour. She made this decision after seeing Roger Federer finally accomplish his Career Slam by winning the French Open. Fans of the Henin’s game were thrilled at this announcement as it was felt that her return would bring back some added competitiveness to the Tour and perhaps do away with those pesky also-rans who were occupying the WTA Penthouse. However, the reality was far different than what many dreamed.


The season started off as usual in Sydney with the AO tune up event. This event announced to the tennis world, one Aravane Rezai. I have to confess that I had never heard of Rezai. I perhaps saw her name in the draw but had never seen her play. She played Serena Williams in a match that is as compelling now as it was then. She was fiery. She was passionate and she had no regard for the woman standing across the net. 11 time Grand Slam champion and at the time World No.1, Serena Williams. The match had its ebbs and flows but at the end of the day, Serena gutted out the win, went on to the final where she lost in a lackluster match to her nemesis at the Tour level, Dementieva.

January also saw for the first time, the new Justine Henin, or as fans have christened her, Henin 2.0. She was more aggressive than we had seen in her previous career. She was more attacking, playing more in the forecourt and rushing the net at every given opportunity. She played her first match upon her return at a tournament in Brisbane. I saw her play against Ana Ivanovic and she properly schooled Ivanovic. It was as if she had not left the Tour.

I saw the final of her match against Clijsters and while many commentators proclaimed it the best match of the year, what I saw were 2 players who could not hold serve or put a serve in court on a continuous basis to save their collective lives. Numerous breaks of serve, tons of double faults. The only redeeming quality of the match was the drama that it elicited in the saving of match points and the rallies where were a joy to behold, especially when they ended in winners and not UFEs (which they mostly did).

January also saw the Australian Open and some big upsets and questions being asked about the longevity of some players in the game.

The biggest upset of the tournament saw Maria Kirilenko taking out Maria Sharapova in what has to go down as one of the ugliest matches ever played on a Centre Court at a major by two of arguably the best looking women in women’s tennis. Double faults, check. Unforced error, check. Screaming, check and check. The screaming and screeching by both women and the length of time between serves made this match one of the most painful I have ever had to watch. It was a disaster. Needless to say women’s tennis lost for me that night.

However, January also saw the rise of Chinese tennis at the Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific. Li Na and Jie Zheng both got to the semis of the Australian Open. Na by taking out Venus Williams in a tough quarter final match and Zheng by taking out Kirilenko. They would both go on to lose to the eventual finalists, Henin and eventual champion, Serena Williams.

I was able to finally see Petra Kvitova at this year’s AO when she played Serena Williams in a second round match. She has game but absolutely no consistency. She would show us later on in the season just what she promised at the beginning of the year.

During the year’s first major, players who seemed to be on form coming into the Open and who were early round picks to do well bombed out in inglorious fashion. Dementieva went down in the second round to Henin. Clijsters in the third round against Petrova with a score that still have people scratching their collective heads, including Clijsters, who said after the match that she could not feel the ball.

Early signs of some players who seemed to be making very good improvements and would be players to watch were Stosur, Schiavone, Na, Azarenka, Zheng. There were some players who snuck upon us early in the season and announced their arrival on the scene. Players like Petkovic, Semastova, and Pavlychenkova.

One would not know it but Wozniacki would prove to us later in the year that she is as tough as she looks. In January however, the name Pushniacki was coined and she was dismissed as a Tier IV player who would never win a major or indeed make it to the top. How wrong we were?

Dinara Safina, the finalist at 2 majors in 2009 began her slump to the bottom of the rankings in spectacular fashion by retiring in her fourth round match against Kirilenko. That back injury would basically put paid to one of the Tour’s brightest stars.

Zvonreva also announced that she was more than a pretty face in January and would go on to do wonderful things as the season progressed.

The match of the month was no doubt the Australian Open final between Justine Henin and Serena Williams. It was a match with ebbs and flows. There was considerable gritting of the teeth and toughing it out in the tough moments, but at the end of the day 2 of the Tour’s most polarizing figures came on stage to show the youngsters just how tennis should be played at the Grand Slam level.

There was no calling to the coach. There were no tears. There was no shouting. There were no arguments with the lines persons and tournament officials. The fans in Rod Laver Arena got their money’s worth and then some. The match started out with Henin playing the newest version of her game, attacking and putting pressure on Serena. Serena for her part does what she does best. She held her ground, held her nerve and never backed down. It would go 3 sets and until the middle of the third set, no one knew who would win, although fans of Serena would say differently. It was a match for the ages and it has without a doubt made its way into the annals of those matches that can be considered Best Match Ever.

Prior to that final though Serena had to get through a red lining Victoria Azarenka, a player that I believe has so much potential but does not seem to have what it takes to finish off the top players. Up a set and a double break at the quarter final stage, Azarenka came across the woman that is Serena Williams. Big serves, huge groundies, fist pumps, snarls, defence, offence. Serena came out with her every arsenal to win a game at 4-0 and never looked back. Going into the tie-break Azarenka was up a mini-break up but that meant nothing against the woman who would not be denied a chance to defend her title from the year before and finally win the Australian Open in an even year.

Serena would take the second set 7-6 and move on towards the third set where champion Serena came out. Azarenka looked lost and hopeless and showed us once again why it takes more than a serve, a forehand and a backhand to beat the best.

Further on in January we would see another contender for Best Match of the Year. This was the final between Victoria Azarenka and Venus Williams in Dubai. From the start of the match until its ultimate conclusion, both ladies showed that when Big Babe Tennis is on, there is just nothing quite like it. Forehands, backhands, thumping serves, and even more, beautiful skills at the net. It was a match for the ages. Venus won that match, defending her trophy from the year before.

All in all January proved to be a fantastic month for women’s tennis. We had the return of marquee players like Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters. The resurgence of the ever present Williams Sisters. The improvement of players like Zvonreva, the Tour was shaping up to be a wonderful place to visit and sit and relax and enjoy good tennis.

Matches of the Month:

Serena Williams vs. Justine Henin
Kim Clijsters vs. Justine Henin
Aravane Rezai vs. Serena Williams
Victoria Azarenka vs. Serena Williams

Up Next… February


A_Gallivant said...

I caught that final between Azarenka and Venus in Dubai. That was some amazing tennis. I watch highlights of it on youtube all the time. Vee was doing so well in the beginning of the year.

Karen said...

Hey chica, yes that match between Venus and Vika was an excellent match. One of my favourite parts was in the first few games when Venus hit those 2 running backhands. It was awesome to see her moving like that. Pity she could not maintain that level during the course of the year.