TENNIS WTA RANKING – How much has women’s tennis changed over the last 12 months? Serena Williams is still world number 1, but Azarenka is in crisis and Li Na has retired from the professional game. Claudio Gilardelli, translated by P. Sassoon
With the season over, it is time to analyse the last 12 months. What has changed over the last year? A superficial observer would say not much, Serena Williams is still number 1 at 33 years old. Yet there are many changes looking beyond the first place of the rankings, let’s have a look.
THE TOP TEN
Looking at the end-of-year rankings of the 24th of November 2014 with the that of 2013 you can notice that there four new entries in the top 10. Halep, Bouchard and Cibulkova are in the best 10 for the first time and there is also a welcome return like Ivanovic at number 5. World numbers 2 and 3 of 2013, Azarenka and Li Na, have made way to other players for different reasons, the Belarusian has dropped to 31st through injury and the Chinese decided to retire. Also Errani and Jankovic have dropped out of the top 10 and are now around 15th place.
Serena Williams has finished a season in the top ten 13 times in her career, four as world number. Her longest streak in the top ten was from 1999 to 2004 when she finished tenth or better for six years in a row. The only other athlete in the top 10 to have been end-of-year number one is Caroline Wozniacki who managed this feat twice in 2010 and 2011. The other two former world number one’s, Sharapova and Ivanovic, have not managed to end the year on top of the rankings. Also the American has been voted the best player of the year for the sixth time ahead of Simona Halep, Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova, Ana Ivanovic and Li Na.
Six players have been consistently in the top ten over the last three seasons: Williams (3rd year), Sharapova, Radwanska, Kvitova (4th year) and Kerber (3rd). The German is the only one of the bunch not to have played a Grand Slam final, but her consistency has allowed her to remain in the top 10 since the 21st of May 2012. Her highest ranking was 5th.
Amongst the new entries, Eugenie Bouchard is the one to have climbed the most places in the last 12 months so it is not surprising that she has been voted most improved player of 2014. At the end of 2013 the Canadian was 32nd and today she is 7th with a best ranking of 5th. Eugenie’s ranking is the result of having played three Major finals in the first three Slams of the year. Cibulkova instead is number 10 mainly thanks to the Australian Open final where she collected 1300 points of her 3052.
Ana Ivanovic is an unexpected and welcome return to this level. After a couple of years of absence during which we thought we lost her at the highest level, it already seemed like a miracle that she was returned at a medium level (number 13 in 2012, 16 in 2013). I think nobody would have bet on her return in the top 5 in 2014. Ana didn’t shine in the Slams (excluding the Australian Open when she defeated Serena Williams), but she undoubtedly had a positive year winning 4 tournaments (Tokyo, Birmingham, Monterrey, Auckland), reaching two finals (Cincinnati and Stuttgart) and a couple of semifinals as well (Beijing and Rome).
Instead Halep cannot be considered a surprise. In 2013 she had already left her mark with 6 tournament wins (in 6 finals) ending the year as world number 11. 12 months ago she was already being touted as one of the players to watch in 2014, and she was.
So what can we expect in 2015? The questions are always the same. Who will be number 1? Will Halep, Bouchard and Ivanovic confirm their 2014? Who will break into the top 10? Will it be the more experienced players like Pennetta or Petkovic? Who will drop out? And what is going to happen to Azarenka? It is impossible to make reliable predictions, but we can always make some hypothesis based on personal opinion and the current state of affairs.
POSITIONS 11 TO 20
The top 20 places in the ranking have changed significantly. Halep and Ivanovic have migrated to better positions, Errani and Jankovic are worryingly dropping. Suarez Navarro is the only name in these positions that was there also in 2013, but it isn’t a positive note for the Spaniard. After jumping from number 34 to number 17 in 2013, it was expected that she could make a further step up, but it didn’t happen in 2014. Carla reached her best ranking (14) in September, so is this the best she can achieve? Or is her talent good enough to propel her to better positions? Personally I believe she should be between the 8th and 12th place, but to do so she has to improve the mental aspect to her game.
Let’s see who is up and who is down. The biggest disappointment is certainly Stephens. In 12 months she dropped 24 places down to number 36. In 2014 the American failed to improve or even maintain herself at the same level. She crashed out of tournaments in the first round 8 times. The fourth round in Melbourne and Paris remain her best results in Slams. In other tournaments the best results were two quarterfinals in Indian Wells and Birmingham.
Excluding Stosur (-4 places, n.22) who is still close to the best players and Bartoli who retired, the rest of the 2013 top 20 have lost many places. Vinci lost 33 positions and is now 47th, Flipkens -25 to 45th, Lisicki -11 to 26th and most of all Kirilenko who dropped from 19th to 190th but it has to be said that she had to deal with injury problems. Out of all of these names the German seems to be the only one to have a real chance of getting back into the top 20 in a short time. After Wimbledon she fell from 19th to 33rd, but she came back to 24th in September before settling at the 26th position.
Of the top 20 there are only 2 players who haven’t been so high in the rankings before, Makarova (11th) and Muguruza (20th). The Spanish player is the one that has made the biggest improvement by jumping ahead by 43 places compared to 2013 with some excellent results. She reached the quarterfinals in Paris and the last 16 in Melbourne. She won the Hobart tournament starting from the qualifiers reaching also the finals in Florianopolis and the semifinals in Sofia, Tokyo and Marrakech. Against top 10 players, Muguruza has a record of 3 wins and 5 defeats (the highlight was the defeat of Serena Williams in Paris) and against the top 20 she has won 7 times losing just twice. Makarova’s ranking is the result of her excellent performances in the Majors (semifinals at the US Open, quarterfinals in London and 4th round in Australia). If she is able to beat players ranked below her, the Russian has a chance of breaking into the top 10 in the early part of 2015.
The other players have been in these positions before if not better. Safarova (16) ended 2012 as 17th, Pennetta (12) and Petkovic (13) are former top 10 players, Venus Williams (18) needs no introduction and Cornet (19) was world number 11 even if it was in 2009.
Also in this case the doubts are the obvious ones for players that have been around for a while like Pennetta or Venus Williams. Or players in crisis like Jankovic and Errani. Or even who will be the next revelation.
THE TOP 100
For the athletes placed between positions 21 and 100 I decided to focus on the new entries, on players that have dropped out of the top 100, the players that made the big improvements or the biggest falls. For clarity and simplicity I will let the tables speak leaving each one of you the task of going to check the situation of their favourite player.
25 players have left the Top 100:
Here are the 30 players that improved the most:
It is obvious that breaking into the top 100 from far behind represents the biggest improvements so it is to no surprise that in the top 18 places of the most improved we find 18 players from the previous table. But if we compare the two lists and make a simple subtraction we can see that:
Camila Giorgi is the second player amongst the top 100 to have progressed the most since 2013. One of the surprises of the year, Zahlavova Strycova is first, Pliskova third, Muguruza fourth and Eugenie Bouchard ninth.
Here are the players that have lost the most places in the rankings, but are still in the top 100:
The names of Azarenka and Stephens stand out in this table, but this table also highlights the fact that all the Italian players (Schiavone, Vinci, Knapp and Errani) lost places except for Giorgi and Pennetta.
We can argue what the term “young” means in tennis, in my personal ranking system it is applied to players under 20 years of age. In this case I wanted to include also athletes born in 1993 and 1992 to have a more complete vision of the new generation.
What emerges is Keys is the only player representing the class of 1995 in the top 100 (is there a missing generation?). There are also just a few players born in 1996 and 1997, but Konjuh, Bencic (Newcomer of the year) and Siniakova have progressed significantly during the last 12 months (as the next table shows). Vekic confirmed her place in the top 100 for the second time.
(“Età” means age, “RNK” is ranking, “Scarto” means difference with previous year)
Can we talk of a slower pace of change and rise of the new generation? This feeling is confirmed by the slight rise in the average age of the top 100 players, in 2014 it’s 25.05 compared to 24.81 of a year ago.
(“Età” means age, “Media” means average)
In the last 12 months we have a reduced “diversity” in the top 100. In 2013 there were 37 nationalities represented, in 2014 it is 33. Israel, Thailand, Argentina, Brazil and Taipei have dropped out, but Bulgaria is back. The USA has the biggest contingent (12 athletes) followed by the Czech Republic (8), Russia and Germany (7), and Italy (6).
The USA, Russia and Romania have gained a player, but their average ranking has increased. Italy and Serbia are not doing as well as a year ago. Serbia has a top 10 player, a top 15 player that are both not to be considered young anymore, but they have a group of younger players emerging (Jovanovski n57, Krunic n.102 and Jaksic n130). Italy on the other hand does not have a new generation of players emerging. The average age of the Italian contingent in the top 100 is 29, only Giorgi was born in 1991. Behind her there is Barbieri (born in 1991, ranked 204) and Burnett (1992, n240).
Germany has improved it’s average ranking with 7 players in the top 100 like 12 months ago. Also France and Spain have improved their average ranking, they lost a player in the top 100 though, and the Czech Republic.
The Czechs are on the ascendency. They have three more players in the top 100 compared to 2013 and their average ranking has dropped by almost 10 places. Considering that two of the new entries in the top 100 are Siniakova and Smitkova, will the Czechs become the new superpower in world tennis?
Naomi Osaka Overcomes Second Set Scare To Reach Last 32 At Australian Open
Naomi Osaka is into the last 32 of the Australian Open where Amanda Anisimova awaits.
Two-time champion Naomi Osaka overcame a second set scare to defeat Madison Brengle 6-0 6-4 to reach the third round of the Australian Open.
Osaka overcame a second set scare as she produced another dominant display of power to reach the last 32 against the unconventional American.
The world number 14 is looking for her fourth grand slam title in Melbourne.
Next for Osaka is Amanda Anisimova who beat a physically compromised Belinda Bencic 6-2 7-5.
It was a lightening quick start from Osaka who took the opening set in 20 minutes.
A display of power, accuracy and pace saw Brengle struggling to gain points on her service games.
The American isn’t a player who is going to hit you off the court and her shots were way too conservative against a player like Osaka who hits the ball so cleanly from the baseline.
Brengle came close but no reward as Osaka reeled off seven games in a row to take a 6-0 1-0 lead.
However Brengle eventually settled into her rhythm and to her obvious delight was ecstatic to win her first game of the match.
This relaxation allowed her to play with complete freedom as she started to use a lot of depth, angles and topspin to disrupt Osaka’s rhythm, who’s level dropped slightly.
Brengle created nine break points which Osaka saved with aggression and precison but on the tenth one, the American eventually broke to go a break up in the second set.
The American’s smile said it all as she was now in command of the second set but that didn’t last long.
That’s as Osaka used her champion’s skills to grind the break back and then went on a run of eight consecutive points to seal victory and a spot in the third round.
After the match Osaka spoke about her return game and the prospects of facing Amanda Anisimova in the next round, “I honestly want to say I returned pretty well,” Osaka admitted in her on-court interview.
“Been really working on it in the off-season. I’m trying not to [rate my level] if I compare myself to the past I will never be satisfied. I’m trying to take it one day at a time.
“I think we’re both going to take our chances. It’s very interesting to play against the younger players because I remember being a younger player myself and having nothing to lose.”
Friday’s meeting between the two players will be the first time they have faced each other.
Aryna Sabalenka Survives Sanders Scare At Australian Open
The Belarussian was made to work hard during her opening match at Melbourne Park.
World No.2 Aryna Sabalenka came back from the brink of defeat to seal her spot in the second round of the Australian Open.
The two-time Grand Slam semi-finalist struggled with her consistency throughout her 5-7, 6-3, 6-2, win over wild card Storm Saunders, who is yet to win a Grand Slam main draw match in her career. At one stage Sabalenka looked to be on the verge of suffering a third consecutive Tour defeat after trailing by a set and a break to the underdog before staging an emphatic fight back. Doing so with the help of her rival who started to unravel as the match progressed.
“She played well, she’s a tough opponent and I’m happy I won today,” Sabalenka said of Sanders during her on-court interview.
Sabalenka’s roller-coaster victory is best illustrated by the match statistics. Dealing with inconsistencies in her serve, she produced a total of 12 double faults and won 43% of her second service points. Furthermore, she hit a total of 29 winners against 37 unforced errors en route to the victory.
Playing a top 10 player for only the second time in her career, 27-year-old Sanders started the match in clinical fashion as she produced a level of tennis which exceeded that of her current ranking. Three consecutive times she managed to dismantle the Sabalenka serve to open up a swift 4-1 lead. However, the second seed briefly managed to find her footing in the match to claw her way back and level the set at 5-5. Not to be disheartened, Sanders continued pressing her opponent who faltered at the worst possible moment. Granting the underdog another break before she closed out the set.
On the verge of suffering an upset, Sabalenka’s woes continued in the second set when she got broken once again three games in. Trailing 5-7, 1-3, she managed to turn her fortunes around with the help of a six-game winning streak. Exposing the inexperienced her opponent has of playing on the biggest stages of the game. Serving to level up, she triumphed on her third set point with the help of a serve down the center of the court which Sanders returned out.
Into her stride, Sabalenka charged towards the finish line by winning a further four games in the decider before Sanders managed to register another game of her own. Serving for the win, a blistering serve down the center of the court secured the victory.
“I was already (mentally) in the locker room. Maybe that was the key because I stopped thinking too much and started playing tennis. I tried to put the ball (on the court) as much as I could and I think I did it well. That’s why I came back (in the match),” Sabalenka commented on how she turned the match around.
“Now I will recover and then tomorrow I will speak with my team about my next opponent.”
Sabalenka will play China’s Wang Xinyu in the next round. She could claim the world No.1 ranking in Melbourne if one of two scenarios occur over the coming days. She reaches the final and Ash Barty loses before the quarter-finals or Barty reaches the Quarter-finals and Sabalenka goes on to win the title.
Garbine Muguruza Reaches New Milestone As Swiatek Finds Her Groove At Australian Open
The two title contenders were in impressive form during their opening matches.
Third seed Garbine Muguruza extended her perfect run of first round wins at the Australian Open to 10 with a straightforward victory over France’s Clara Burel.
The former world No.1, who is yet to lose an opening match played at Melbourne Park in her career, required just under 90 minutes to see off Burel 6-3, 6-4. Muguruza broke her rival three consecutive times during the first set to win the opener in just over half an hour. Then in the second she eased to a 5-3 lead but failed to convert three match points. Muguruza was then broken in the following game before breaking back again to seal victory.
“It felt very good. I didn’t know really who I was facing. We’ve never played before,” Muguruza told reporters afterwards. “Very tricky. You’re always nervous going out there on Rod Laver, which I love, and starting a Grand Slam campaign.’
“I’m very happy the way I played and, of course, controlling the nerves.”
On what is the ninth anniversary of her Melbourne Park debut. Muguruza is hoping to go one step further than she did back in 2020 and win the title. She has now won 27 matches at the Australian Open which makes it her second most successful Grand Slam in terms of wins. Her best is the French Open where she has recorded 29 victories.
Muguruza will next take on another French player in the shape of Alize Cornet. During her on-court interview on Tuesday she was asked about her net play which the Spaniard said is a reflection of her on-court personality.
“It’s just a journey of adapting to your character,” she said. “I’m an aggressive player on the court and I like to dominate. I train like that. I’m not like that outside but inside the court I’m aggressive.”
Swiatek and her new coach
Another winner on day two was former French Open champion Iga Swiatek who swept aside Britain’s Harriet Dart 6-3, 6-0. At the start of the match she was trailing 1-3 before fighting back by winning 11 games in a row. The Pole is playing in her 12th Grand Slam main draw and is hoping to go beyond the fourth round in Australia for the first time in her career.
“You could see that first few games were pretty tricky for me. With the sun, I know I got broken in my second service game,” said Swiatek.
“I’m pretty happy that I was patient, I found the rhythm throughout the match. That’s pretty positive.”
Swiatek is in Melbourne with her new coach Tomasz Wiktorowski who is known for his previous work with Agnieszka Radwanska. She admits the new collaboration is very much a work in progress but believes she is heading in the right direction with her new mentor.
“He didn’t change a lot at the beginning because he was good to continue the process that I’ve had. Too many changes would be really confusing,” she said of Wiktorowski.
“We’re focusing on different stuff. We’re working on my strengths, which is great, because it’s going to give me confidence. I’m going to be able to be more, like, proactive on court. We were working on some attack formations and offensive game.’
“But we also didn’t have time to work on everything that we wanted to because there is a lot to improve in terms of my volleys and maybe slice.”
Swiatek will play Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson in the second round.
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