The WTA First Quarter Report Card
Ubitennis looks at the top performing players on the women's tour during the first three months of the 2018 season
Examining the performances of the most notable players from the first three months of the season, as well as their prospects heading into Q2.
January in Melbourne, Wozniacki finally silenced all the doubters (myself included) who said she may never win a major title. After saving a match point and coming back from 5-1 down in the final set of her second round match, Caroline went on to defeat Simona Halep in a stellar final to win the Australian Open. This victory also brought her back atop the WTA rankings for the first time in six years. February and March were understandably a bit of a letdown following such a career high, with Wozniacki going just 6-4. Her Q3 ended in ugly fashion: after her opening round loss to Monica Puig in Miami, Caroline said fans made derogatory and threatening comments to her family during the match. Looking ahead to Q2, I expect her Melbourne hangover to continue. Though she did make the quarterfinals at Roland Garros last year, clay is not Caroline’s strongest surface.
Q1 was another wild ride for Simona Halep. At her first major as the world number one, she did not crumble under the pressure of being atop the rankings. Halep fought off both Lauren Davis and Angelique Kerber in extended third set battles, saving match points in each of those Australian Open affairs. She was just a few games away from her first major title before succumbing to Wozniacki. That match would also result in the loss of her number one ranking, but she would gain it back just a few weeks later. Simona strongly bounced back from her dramatic January, making the semis in both Doha and Indian Wells. However, the Halep of old reappeared during her Indian Wells semifinal against Naomi Osaka. Simona showed no signs of the fighting spirit that was marveled at in Melbourne, winning just three games and refusing to even speak to coach Darren Cahill during a coaching visit. The next week in Miami, Simona’s struggles and negative attitude persisted, as she was ousted by Agnieszka Radwanska in the third round. With the demons that await her in Paris surrounding last year’s heartbreaking final at Roland Garros, will Halep be able to turn her game around?
Kerber announced her goal for this year was to forget her dismal 2017 ever happened, and she’s been successful in putting that behind her. Kerber is number three in the Race to Singapore rankings, thanks to an impressive tally of 21 match wins in Q1. She started the year going 10-0, winning the title in Sydney and making the semifinals in Melbourne. Angelique has reached the quarterfinals or better at every tournament she’s entered in 2018. With new coach Wim Fisette by her side, Kerber has her mojo back. Looking ahead, she will look to drastically improve on her recent results at Roland Garros, where she lost in the first round in both of the last two years. With almost no points to defend on the clay, Kerber’s ranking should continue to rise and provide her with a good seeding for both Wimbledon and the US Open, where she is a former finalist and champion, respectively.
Q1 of 2018 was more of the same for Svitolina. She continues to rack up wins and titles outside of the majors. Elina is 18-4 on the year, and already won titles in both Brisbane and Dubai. But she’s still yet to advance passed the quarterfinals at a major. At the Australian Open, her draw to the semifinals included no seeded players. Despite this, she again faltered in the quarterfinals, winning just four games against Elise Mertens. She’s also yet to win a Premier Mandatory event, and she failed to reach the semifinals in both Indian Wells and Miami. The 23-year-old is too talented for these trends to continue. It seems only a matter of time before she gets defeats the mental pressure on these bigger stages, and I presume we’ll see her breakthrough later this year.
In 2017, Petra Kvitova was an inspiring comeback story. In 2018, she’s proving to again be a legitimate contender for major titles. Following a tough loss 10-8 in the third set in the first round of the Australian Open, Kvitova won two tournaments in February. Her title runs in St. Petersburg and Doha included seven victories over top 10 opponents, and brought herself back into the top 10. Her results in Indian Wells and Miami were less impressive, a reminder that Petra’s form can greatly vary from week to week. The clay is Kvitova’s weakest surface, with only two of her 22 career titles coming on the terra baute (both in Madrid). While she’s a former Roland Garros semifinalist, it’s been six years since she advanced farther than the fourth round in Paris. But when the tour moves to grass, the two-time Wimbledon Champion will be a serious threat.
After reaching the fourth round at a major for the first time in Melbourne, the 20-year-old put the tennis world on notice by winning the title in Indian Wells. Shockingly, that Premier Mandatory title was her first title of any kind at any level on the WTA tour. Just three days later, she followed that up by thumping Serena Williams in Miami. Osaka is fully expected to contend for majors in the near future. In Q2, I’m curious to see if she can quickly follow-up on her Q1 success, though a Q2 letdown seems more likely for a young player who will need to adjust to the new pressure and attention.
Following her breakout US Open victory, Stephens went on an eight match losing streak. She finally got a few match wins in Acapulco and Indian Wells, but it wasn’t until Miami that Sloane looked more like the US Open champion. In Key Biscayne, she defeated Muguruza, Kerber, Azarenka, and Ostapenko to claim the second biggest title of her career. Since August of last year, Stephens is 24-5 in North America. Can she now transfer that success to tournaments outside North America? And can she avoid another post-title slump? It’s hard to say: Sloane herself admits to struggling to stay motivated week in and week out. But there’s no reason why Stephens should not have a strong clay court season. And with no points to defend in Q2, she should easily achieve a new career-high ranking within the top eight.
Serena returned to action in March after a 14-month maternity layoff. Williams toughed out two victories in Indian Wells before running into her older sister in the third round. After her loss to Osaka in Miami, she immediately exited the tournament without talking to the press. It’s naturally going to take some time for Serena to get her game fully back, but I suspect the all-time great will find it in time for the grass court season this summer.