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.
Captain Benneteau ‘Proud’ After France Seal First Fed Cup For 16 Years
Kristina Mladenovic won both the matches she was involved with to seal the Fed Cup title for France.
France’s Fed Cup captain Julien Benneteau expressed his pride after France edged out Australia 3-2 in the Fed Cup final.
The visitors claimed their first Fed Cup title for 16 years in Perth after Kristina Mladenovic won both of the matches she was involved with.
It all started after Mladenovic produced one of the greatest wins of her career by edging out world number one Ash Barty 2-6 6-4 7-6(1) in the first match of the day.
Both players had convincing wins on day one and it was the Australian who started the strongest, claiming the first set 6-2.
However Mladenovic struck back in the second set with a crucial break at 5-4 as she closed out the set to force a decider.
There was a lot of momentum shifts in the deciding set but eventually the world number 40 dominated the tiebreak to seal a shock win and a 2-1 lead for France.
Australia hit back in the second rubber of the day as Ajla Tomljanovic produced a solid performance to defeat Pauline Parmentier 6-4 7-5.
After a convincing loss in day one, Tomljanovic produced stunning shot-making to redeem herself and score her first Fed Cup win as an Australian.
The deciding rubber was a highly-anticipated doubles match between Ash Barty and Sam Stosur taking on Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic.
All four players had a combined total of 13 doubles grand slam titles as Australia had a good start to the match but lacked clinical edge after that.
The French team took advantage as they won the last two games of the opening set and the first two games of the second set.
This allowed them to control the tempo and when Stosur hit a volley long, the celebrations could start as they sealed a 6-4 6-3 win.
After the match, Captain Julien Benneteau expressed his pride at his French side, “I’m the proudest man on the planet right now,” Benneteau claimed.
“I’m so proud of my girls and the team, they deserve it because they fought for a long time for this title. It’s a dream for me. I tried to imagine that at the beginning of the year when I knew that I could have the best team with me on the court. Eight months later, here we are.”
The win means it’s France’s third Fed Cup triumph overall and their first since 2003, with Kristina Mladenovic winning all three of the matches she was involved with.
As for Australia, it was emotional scenes as Barty didn’t seem to have enough in the tank to edge the Aussies over the finish line.
This final also means its the last traditional final as the format will now to change a one-week 12 team contest which will take place next April in Budapest.
Ash Barty And Kristina Mladenovic Power To Victory On Day One At Fed Cup Final
Ash Barty and Kristina Mladenovic produced one-sided victories to keep the score level after day one of the Fed Cup Final.
Ash Barty and Kristina Mladenovic produced dominant displays to keep Australia and France level at the end of day one of the Fed Cup Final.
In front of a sold-out RAC Arena in Perth, Australia were bidding for their first Fed Cup title since 1974 as they took on a reunited French team.
However their bid got off to the worst possible start as a nervy Ajla Tomljanovic was stunned by Kristina Mladenovic in 72 minutes.
Hitting 16 winners, the world number 40 pummelled her way past Tomljanovic to hand the visitors the early advantage.
Though the Australian debutant showed moments of brilliance, they were in patches as Mladenovic produced a stunning performance for the French team.
After the match, the doubles grand slam champion admitted she played the perfect match, “I really did almost a perfect match, I was really in the zone,” Mladenovic said in her on-court interview.
“I love these kind of events — the more the pressure it is, the bigger the pressure it is, the more special is the event. I came out there and I just wanted to win, basically.”
As France held the early lead, the pressure was on world number one Ash Barty to deliver and deliver she did in an equally impressive performance.
A 6-0 6-0 thrashing of Caroline Garcia was exactly what Australia ordered as Barty was ruthless in her dismantling of the French number two.
Eight aces helped Barty power past the world number 45 and the 40 degree temperatures as a mix of variety as well as power was evidence why every rubber the hosts of win this year has involved Barty.
After the 56 minute win the world number one explained how she executed her game-plan, “I think just overall today I executed very well. I made Caro pretty uncomfortable,” Barty said.
“I felt like in the first three or four of my service games I was in control of a lot of the points, and Caro is a player who like court position, she likes to be up in the court. So that was a key factor for me today. And that’s probably the best I’ve returned in a long long time.”
It is now 15 wins in a row for Barty in Fed Cup as she takes on Kristina Mladenovic in a crucial third rubber tomorrow.
Then Caroline Garcia is scheduled to take on Ajla Tomljanovic although both teams could be set to make changes depending on the scenario.
Should the two nations split the singles again then the deciding doubles will see Ash Barty and Sam Stosur take on Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic.
Play begins from 3am GMT time tomorrow, in what will be the last day of a traditional Fed Cup Final before the re-formatted version begins next year.
Ash Barty Heads Australia’s Bid To End Their 45-Year Fed Cup Title Drought
Will it be jubilation or heartbreak for team Australian this weekend?
When Australia last won the Fed Cup, none of the participants in this weekend’s final was even born. Including both the team captains.
1974 was the last time the country triumphed in the team tournament. A perhaps surprising statistic for a country who is the third most decorated in the history of the competition. World No.1 Ash Barty will lead her team when they played France on home soil in Perth. It is the first time in almost 20 years the two have locked horns with both being optimistic about their chances of victory.
“When you are playing for your country and you are playing in a Fed Cup final, it is pretty easy to get up and about and be as ready as you can,” said Barty, who recently won the WTA Finals in Shenzhen.
“It’s a format that I love, I cherish it. This is going to be a really precious week.”
Barty’s performance in the final could be critical to Australia’s hopes. She is the only top 50 player in her team, but Ajla Tomljanovic is just outside in 51st place. In comparison, France has four players ranked inside the top 65 in the singles. Kristina Mladenovic is also the current world No.2 in doubles. Something Barty is wary of.
“Kiki has the ability to play well in the big moments,” she told AAP.
“Obviously she was on a bit of a heater in Shenzhen in doubles and she’s a beautiful doubles player. We’ve seen that time and time again.
“I’m sure, without knowing the team until Friday, that her name will feature heavily on Saturday and Sunday.
“So it’s someone I would love to play and try and right my wrongs from midway through the year when we played in Rome.”
Whilst being the visitors, France are by no means intimidated by the occasion. They have only won the title twice before with the most recent occurring back in 2003. Three years ago, they narrowly missed out on winning the trophy after losing the final match in their tie against the Czech Republic.
Caroline Garcia was one of the Frenchwomen who featured in the 2016 final. She believes that loss has made France even stronger.
“That final was a great lesson for me and all of us,” Garcia reflects. “We now have the experience of losing and we don’t want to have the feeling of losing a final again. We have been there before, whereas the Australian girls haven’t. It is an important factor for us.”
Ajla Tomljanovic has been chosen to open up Australia’s campaign on Saturday against Mladenovic. The match will be her first ever representing her country in the Fed Cup. The former Croatian No.1 was recently approved to play for Australia following an appeal to the ITF. A somewhat controversial decision in the aftermath of Aljaz Bedene’s failed attempt to represent Great Britain a couple years ago.
Tomljanovic was picked ahead of veteran player Sam Stosur. The 35-year-old has played 57 Fed Cup matches in her career and has played in 31 ties. She has won more singles matches in the competition than any other Australian player in history.
“It is exceptionally tough to decide your two singles players for day one. For us it was a matter of match-ups and I feel like we are going in with our strongest two players for Saturday,” said team captain Alicia Molik.
“I feel like it’s the right decision… within this team everyone brought such a high level in practice. It has been difficult, sets have been very close and that’s really the way that we want it. It should be a tough decision.”
As for the second singles match, Barty will take on Garcia. They are currently level at 2-2 in their head-to-head, But Barty won their most recent meeting at the Wuhan Open this year. However French captain, Julien Benneteau, is confident in his players.
“In the first two rounds (against Belgium and Romania), we proved that we could win with different players in singles. It is an advantage,” he stated.
The final will start on Saturday at 11:00 local time (0300 GMT).
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