TENNIS WTA REVIEW – In our traditional review of the 2014 season we look back to the best players of the year, the rising stars, the best matches, the major upsets of the season and the biggest rivalries of the WTA Tour. Diego Sampaolo
The best player of the year: Serena Williams:
Serena Williams claimed her fifth WTA Finals title with her 6-3 6-0 win over Simona Halep in Singapore, tying Steffi Graf as the second most successful player in the history of this tournament after Martina Navratilova, who collected eight wins. Serena bounced back from the worst defeat in her career against the young Romanian player who claimed an upset 6-2 6-0 win in the round-robin. In the semifinal of the WTA Finals Serena battled past her close friend Caroline Wozniacki in a dramatic three-set match with 2-6 6-3 7-6. Williams collected four more WTA Finals titles in 2001, 2009, 2012 and 2013 and finished runner-up twice in 2002 to Kim Clijsters and 2004 to Maria Sharapova.
The US legend bounced back from three early exits in the first three Grand Slam tournaments of the year at the Australian Open, at the Roland Garros and at Wimbledon by winning her sixth US Open title against Wozniacki. She also won in Brisbane, Miami, Rome, Stanford and Cincinnati (one of the few top tournaments missing from her impressive trophy cabinet). Despite some ups and downs Serena had a very solid year claiming a 12-1 record against the top-10 players losing her only match against Halep in the round robin of the WTA Finals in Singapore. It is the sixth time in her career that Serena has clinched the WTA Player of the Year Award after 2002, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
The most consistent players: Simona Halep and Ana Ivanovic
Simona Halep enjoyed a very consistent year. She started 2014 at Number 11 and finished the year at Number 3 after reaching her first Grand Slam final at the Roland Garros and won two titles in Doha and Bucharest. RaShe lost the final against Williams at the WTA Championships in Singapore. She set a career high of Number 2 improving the previous Romanian record held by Irina Spirlea who reached the World Number 7. She also reached the quarter final at the Australian Open and the semifinal at Wimbledon.
“I think winning my semifinal at the French Open was the happiest moment of the year for me. It’s because it put me in my Grand Slam final and doing that at the French Open was my dream because I won it in the juniors. That was the happiest moment of the year”
Ana Ivanovic made up for some ups and downs in Grand Slams where she achieved her best result by reaching the quarter final at the Australian Open with a very consistent season in the WTA circuit throughout the year in which she claimed titles in Auckland, Monterrey, Acapulco, Monterrey and Birmingham.
The come-back of the year: Caroline Wozniacki
The Danish player, former Number 1 player in the WTA Ranking, came back to her glorious past during the summer US hard-court season. She lost to Serena Williams in the quarter finals at the Rogers Cup in Montreal after leading by a set and a break. In Cincinnati she beat Angelique Kerber in the third round and Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarter final before losing in three sets to eventual champion Serena Williams. She lost the US Open final against Serena Williams in straight sets. During the Asian Swing Wozniacki edged Garbine Muguruza in the semifinal in three hard-fought sets before losing the final against Ivanovic in the final. In the inaugural edition of the Wuhan Open the Dane lost in the semifinal against Bouchard in straight sets. At the WTA Championships in Singapore she got through the round robin group beating Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova and Agnieszka Radwanska before losing an epic three-set thriller against Serena Williams in the semifinal.
In the off-season Wozniacki clocked an impressive time of 3:26:33 in her first marathon in New York where she ran for charity. Her training for the New York City Marathon has contributed to her good results during the US hard-court season and at the WTA Championships in Singapore.
The Most Improved player: Eugenie Bouchard
The young Canadian player, the WTA Newcomer of the year in 2013, reached the semifinals in the first two Grand Slam tournaments at the Australian Open and at the Roland Garros before qualifying for her first Major final at Wimbledon becoming the first Canadian player to achieve this feat. During the autumn season Bouchard became the first Canadian player to reach the top-5 and qualified for the WTA Finals in Singapore. She is the first player born in 1992 or later to break into the top-10 and is the youngest player in the top-25 ranking. Thanks to these remarkable results Bouchard was voted the WTA Most Improved Player of the Year. She received 45 of 58 media votes and 49 percent of fan votes beating Karolina Pliskova who won two titles in Seul and Linz.
Sportsmanship of the Year Award: Petra Kvitova
Petra Kvitova won the WTA Karen Kranzcke Sportsmanship Award which acknowledges a player’s professionalism, attitude and sense of fair play. The Czech player enjoyed a great second half of the year claiming her second Wimbledon triumph three years after her first Grand Slam triumph in 2011. She also won two more titles in New Haven and Wuhan and finished the year in fourth place in the WTA Ranking, a remarkable achievement considering that she was ranked 16th before Wimbledon. In the new Chinese tournament Kvitova beat Bouchard in a re-match of the Wimbledon final and won the third Fed Cup title for the Czech team after a dramatic final against Germany in Prague.
The queen of Clay: Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova lifted her second Roland Garros Trophy beating Simona Halep in a thrilling final two years after beating Sara Errani. The Russian legend has become the most consistent player on clay. On this surface she also collected her third consecutive Stuttgart title and beat Simona Halep in a hard-fought Madrid final.
The doubles team of the year: Errani and Vinci
The Italian “Chiquis” ended the year at the top of the WTA doubles ranking for the third consecutive year after claiming two Grand Slam titles at the Australian Open and at Wimbledon. Thanks to their Wimbledon triumph the Italian players completed the Career Doubles Grand Slam becoming the fifth team in the Open Era to achieve this feat after Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver, Kathy Jordan and Anne Smith, Gigi Fernandez and Natasha Zvereva, Serena and Venus Williams.
Li Na retired from professional tennis:
The 2014 season was marked by the retirement of Li Na one of the most popular stars. She will be sadly missed for her charismatic character and her smile. Li Na started the 2014 season on a high note with the Shenzhen title and her first Australian Open win and her second Grand Slam. In the Melbourne final Li Na defeated Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova to become the first ever Asian champion at the Australian Open. Sadly a knee injury forced Li Na to withdraw from professional tennis
Swiss rising star Belinda Bencic, who ended the year in 33rd place in the WTA Ranking, was named the WTA Newcomer of the Year after an outstanding summer season in which she became the youngest player to reach the quarter final at the US Open since her compatriot Martina Hingis in 1997. She beat Angelique Kerber recording her first ever win against a top-ten player before defeating former World Number 1 Jelena Jankovic in two sets. She was beaten by China’s Peng Shua in the quarter final.
Bencic, who won the French Open and the Wimbledon Junior titles in 2013, is coached by her father and Martina Molitor, the mother of Martina Hingis. Belinda began playing at the age of four at Martina Molitor’s tennis school. The 17-year-old player became the first Swiss girl to win the Roland Garros Junior title since Martina Hingis in 1994. She defeated another rising star Taylor Townsend to win the Wimbledon Junior title.
Garbine Muguruza made a major breakthrough at the Roland Garros where the young Spanish player upset Serena Williams in the second round before losing to Sharapova in three sets in the quarter final. At the Australian Open Muguruza upset Caroline Wozniacki in three sets to reach the fourth round before losing against Agnieszka Radwanska in straight sets. She also reached the semifinals in the doubles teaming up with Carla Suarez Navarro at the French Open losing to eventual winners Peng Shuai and Su-Wei Hsieh. During the autumn Asian Swing Muguruza lost to eventual runner-up Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinal in Tokyo.
Another name to follow in the future is US Taylor Townsend who made her debut in a Grand Slam singles tournament. After defeating Vania King in the first round, she upset World Number 20 Alizé Cornet in the second round. The US rising star lost to Carla Suarez Navarro in the third round.
Another US rising star who made her debut on the Grand Slam stage was Cici Bellis, a 15-year-old player who upset 2014 Australian Open champion Dominica Cibulkova at the US Open becoming the youngest player to win a match at the US Open since Anna Kournikova.
The best matches of the year:
Semifinal WTA Championships Singapore: Serena Williams beat Caroline Wozniacki 2-6 6-3 7-6.
Williams beat her friend Wozniacki to get through to the final of the WTA Finals for the seventh time in her career. Wozniacki, the only player to get through to the semifinals without losing a round-robin match, cruised through to win the first set with 6-2 after 26 minutes. Williams bounced back to claim a second-set win with 6-3 to force the match to the third set. Wozniacki broke serve for 5-4 but Williams broke back to draw level to 5-5. Williams earned a match point as Wozniacki was serving at 5-6. The Dane saved the match with a volley. The match came down to the tie-break where Wozniacki cruised to a 4-1 lead. Williams won three consecutive points to draw level to 4-4. The US star missed out on two match points at 6-4 and 6-5 before clinching a dramatic win on the fourth match point with a forehand return.
Final Roland Garros: Maria Sharapova beat Simona Halep 6-4 6-7 6-4
It was the best Grand Slam final in 2014. Maria Sharapova fought back from a set down to defeat Spanish Newcomer Garbine Muguruza in the quarter final and Eugenie Bouchard in the semifinal to qualify for her third straight Roland Garros final. Sharapova needed three sets to edge Simona Halep in a re-match of the Madrid Mutua Open to clinch her second Roland Garros title and her fifth Grand Slam win after a three- hour epic battle. It was the first time since 2001 that a Roland Garros final came down to the third set. Sharapova went down a break in the first set but she built up a 6-4 2-0 lead with a break in the second set but Halep recovered to win the second set at the tie-break. Halep broke serve twice and served for the set but Sharapova broke back both times. In the tie-break Sharapova went up 5-3 and came two points from winning the match but Halep reeled off four consecutive points to win the tie-break forcing the match to the decider. The Romanian player held two break points for a 3-1 lead in the third set and drew level to 4-4. Sharapova held on to win the final two games of the decider.
“I never thought seven or eight years ago that I would win more Roland Garros titles when I was 27 years old than any other Grand Slams”, said Sharapova who won Wimbledon in 2004, the US Open in 2006, the Australian Open in 2008 and the Roland Garros in 2012 and 2014.
Round of 32 Wimbledon: Petra Kvitova beat Venus Williams 5-7 7-6 7-5
Petra Kvitova fought back from a set down to win an epic three-set match against Venus Williams. The two-hour and 30-minute match featured just two breaks of serve. Both players played a three-set match for the fifth time. Williams saved a break point in the opening game of the first set before breaking serve to love at 6-5 to win the first set. Kvitova held serve at 15-30 in the second set as she was serving to stay in the set at 4-5 before taking the tie-break with 7-2 to force the match to the decider. Neither Williams nor Kvitova managed to earn a break point until Venus dropped her serve at 5-6 on the first break point she faced in the third set.
Semifinal WTA Premier Cincinnati: Ana Ivanovic beat Maria Sharapova 6-2 5-7 7-5
Ana Ivanovic won a thrilling semifinal in Cincinnati in three dramatic sets over Maria Sharapova. Ivanovic led by a set and a double break. She served for the match at 5-2 but Sharapova fought back reeling off five consecutive games to win the second set 7-5. In the third set Sharapova served for the match and earned two match points but Ivanovic saved them to claim her first hard-court win over Sharapova with 6-2 5-7 7-5.
The biggest upsets of the Year:
Australian Open quarter final: Ana Ivanovic beat Serena Williams:
Ana Ivanovic fought back from a set down to take an upset win over Serena Williams with 4-6 6-3 6-3. It was a remarkable win for Ivanovic who had not got through the fourth round in Melbourne since she reached the final in 2008.
Rome third round: Ana Ivanovic beat Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova enjoyed a perfect start to her clay season winning 12 matches in a row including two titles in Stuttgart and Madrid but this time Ivanovic claimed an upset win in three sets. The Serb stormed to a 6-1 win in the first set and broke in the first game of the second set but Sharapova broke back to force the match to the third set. Ivanovic broke for 5-4 before closing out the match with a forehand winner on her match point
Wimbledon third round: Alizé Cornet beat Serena Williams
Alizé Cornet upset Serena Williams twice this season in Dubai and at Wimbledon. In Dubai the French player reached the final where she lost to Serena’s sister Venus. At Wimbledon she fought back from a set down to score her second win in a row over Serena with 1-6 6-3 6-4 before losing to Eugenie Bouchard in the fourth round.
The team of the year: Czech Republic wins the Fed Cup
Czech Republic beat Germany 3-1 to clinch the third Fed Cup title in four years. The final held at the O2 Arena in Prague was highlighted by a fantastic three-set final rubber match between Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber. Kvitova battled past her German rival 7-6 (7-5) 4-6 6-4 in a thrilling match in front of 13000 enthusiastic fans. Czech Republic won the eighth Fed Cup title in history becoming the second most successful nation in this competition.
In the decisive roller-coaster match Kerber converted her break point in the seventh game for 5-2 but Kvitova fought back when she converted her sixth break point chance of the match and got another break to draw level to 5-5. Kerber broke back immediately for 6-5 but she failed to serve out the set. In a very tight tie-break Kvitova wrapped up the first set after 1 hour and 16 minutes. Kvitova broke serve twice to go up 3-0 but Kerber reeled off three consecutive games to draw level to 3-3. Kerber brought up two break point chances in the 10th game of the second set and closed it out at the first opportunity. Kerber stormed to a 3-0 lead in the decider but Kvitova recovered to draw level to 4-4 before breaking serve for 5-4 in the ninth game. Kvitova sealed a thrilling win on the fourth match point after a 2-hour and 57-minute battle.
In the other two matches Kvitova beat Andrea Petkovic 6-2 6-4 and Lucie Safarova prevailed over Kerber with 6-4 6-4.
Leylah Fernandez wins Billie Jean King Heart Award
The Canadian was recognized by the fans for her part in Canada beating Serbia in the play-off tie last month.
Leylah Fernandez has been named the winner of the Billie Jean King Heart award voted on by the fans of the game. She played an integral part in Canada beating Serbia 4-0 in the playoff tie last month.
18-year-old Fernandez was involved in a poll with Elina Svitolina, Katie Boulter and Magdalena French. The award comes with $3000 which she donated to her favourite charity Table de Concertation en Securite Alimentaire de Villeray in Montreal.
” I was surprised, there were so many great players who were nominated and showed a lot of heart during the competition so I didn’t expect much from my part but I’m happy the fans voted and that I was given this opportunity to show what we are made of so I am excited,” said Fernandez.
ITF president David Haggerty commented on her award saying “Congratulations to Leylah Fernandez for her great performance at the Billie Jean King playoff in April and for being voted the recipient of the Bille Jean King Heart Award. It’s extra special to be voted by the fans and recognized for showing great courage and commitment to your team”.
Heidi El Tabakh the Billie Jean King Cup captain for Canada also reacted to Fernandez winning the award.
” I am so happy and extremely proud of Leylah (Fernandez) for winning the Billie Jean King Heart Award. It was well deserved following a spectacular performance in Serbia which she worked so hard for,” she said.
“Leylah is a fighter on the court, she always represents Canada with pride and is an incredible teammate for her fellow teammates. She is very worthy of this award”.
This is the 12th year the award has been given and it recognizes players who have represented their country with distinction, shown exceptional courage on the court, and demonstrated outstanding commitment to the team during the Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas.
So far the the award winners have donated over $200,000 to charities across the world.
Tennis Stars Voice Concerns Over Staging Tokyo Olympics
After being delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, top players such as Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori still have reservations.
Japan’s top male tennis player Kei Nishikori has questioned how much preparation the IOC and local officials in his home country has prepared for a ‘worst-case’ scenario of hosting the Olympics.
The four-year event has already been postponed by 12 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic and some have called for the sporting extravaganza to be scrapped. Recently governors of nine Japanese prefectures said there should be an option to suspend or even cancel the Olympics altogether if cases in the region can’t be kept under control. Three of those governors are in charge of cities set to stage Olympic events.
Weighing in on the debate, former US Open finalist Nishikori raises doubts over how organisers plan to hold a safe event given the high number of athletes that will be present, which is an estimated 11,000. Japan has already said that overseas fans are banned and international athletes will not be able to bring relatives with them to minimise the risk.
“I don’t know what they are thinking, and I don’t know how much they are thinking about how they are going to make a bubble, because this is not 100 people like these tournaments,” Nishikori said after his first-round match at the Italian Open on Monday.
“It’s 10,000 people in the village. So I don’t think it’s easy, especially what’s happening right now in Japan. It’s not doing good. Well, not even (just) Japan. You have to think all over the world right now.”
The world No.45 expresses a view similar to the of four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka who said earlier this week that she was ‘not sure’ if the event should go ahead due to the current case numbers.
“I’m an athlete, and of course my immediate thought is that I want to play in the Olympics,” she said.
“But as a human, I would say we’re in a pandemic, and if people aren’t healthy, and if they’re not feeling safe, then it’s definitely a really big cause for concern.”
In the latest figures published by health officials, Tokyo reported 925 news cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday which is an increase of almost 400 compared to the previous day. Although Monday figures are usually low due to the closure of testing centres over the weekend. Tuesday’s number is higher compared to this time last week (609 cases) and two weeks ago (828 cases).
Besides the COVID-19 concerns, the prospect of having to go to the Games without a member of family could result in the absence of four-time gold medallist Serena Williams. The former world No.1 says she is undecided on playing the event and hasn’t been separated from her three-year-old daughter for more than 24 hours before.
“I haven’t spent 24 hours without her, so that kind of answers the question itself,” said Williams.
“I haven’t really thought much about Tokyo, because it was supposed to be last year and now it’s this year, and then there is this pandemic and there is so much to think about.
“Then there are the Grand Slams. It’s just a lot. So I have really been taking it one day at a time to a fault, and I definitely need to figure out my next moves.”
Besides athlete concerns, Olympic organisers are also facing falling public support. A recent poll conducted by newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun found that nearly 60% of respondents wanted the Games to be cancelled. Furthermore TBS news reported 65% of people surveyed in another poll wanted the event either cancelled or suspended again, with 37% supporting the cancellation and 28% in favour of suspension.
The Olympic tennis event is set to start on July 24th.
Top Tennis Tournaments Among 97 Events UK Sport Hopes To Host Over The Next Decade
A plan for the ‘greatest decade of extraordinary sporting moments’ in the UK has been published and tennis is among the sports officials are interested in.
The government agency responsible for investing in Olympic and Paralympic sport within Great Britain has said they could submit an application to host two team tennis events over the next decade.
UK Sport has labelled both the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup Finals as an ‘opportunity’ for them to host in their 10-year strategic plan which will last until 2021. Overall the country is looking at the possibility of staging 97 events across 44 sports over the next 10 years. Those behind the plan believe such a move could generate a total of £7 billion for the UK economy. A live feasibility study is already underway for bidding to host the 2030 football World Cup, 2026 European Athletic Championships and more.
“Together we have achieved so much in Olympic and Paralympic sport. Nevertheless, we are very aware there is no room for complacency and that we must build on our success to create the next exciting phase of high-performance sport,” UK Sport chair Dame Katherine Grainger said in a statement.
“One where we work even more collaboratively and inclusively to keep winning and win well, in ways that will inspire more people and have a broader impact on our society.
“Achieving on the world stage will still sit firmly at the heart of what we do. But we should not underestimate the powerful platform that provides us with, and it is our shared responsibility to better harness this for positive social change.”
When it comes to both the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup, UK Sport has categorized them as a mega event. Meaning they are ‘seen as the pinnacle of their sport at World level and which have significant staging costs, attract more than 100,000 live spectators, entail considerable delivery complexity and require extensive public funding and guarantee commitments.’ At present they have been labelled as an ‘opportunity’ by the agency. Meaning that no decision to bid to host them has been made yet but remains a good possibility.
The government made no reference to what venues could be used, especially regarding the tennis events which will require more than one court due to the change of the tournament in recent years. The finals of the team events now last for a week or so and are done initially in a group format before turning into a knock-out stage.
This year’s Davis Cup finals are taking place across three European cities. However, the women’s equivalent remains in doubt after the ITF ended their contract with the Hungarian Tennis Association who were meant to be holding the event. Hungary recently sent a letter saying it was no longer feasible to do so due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UK is best known for its staging of the prestigious Wimbledon Championships, as well as other grass-court events. Furthermore, it also experienced great success in hosting the ATP Finals between 2009-2020 which attracted more than 2.8 million visitors during that period.
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