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The 2018 WTA Season Review

Ubitennis.net reviews a memorable 2018 WTA season highlighted by Simona Halep’s first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros, Naomi Osaka’s breakthrough at the US Open, the return of Serena Williams, the Wimbledon triumph of Angelique Kerber and the emergence of Aryna Sabalenka.

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In 2018 four different players won the four Grand Slam titles: Caroline Wozniacki (Australian Open), Simona Halep (Roland Garros), Angelique Kerber (Wimbledon) and Naomi Osaka (US Open) during what was a very unpredictable season. There was no dominant player on the circuit with many different winners in the WTA Premier 5 and Premier Mandatory tournaments: Petra Kvitova (Doha, Madrid and Birmingham), Elina Svitolina (Dubai and Rome), Naomi Osaka (Indian Wells), Sloane Stephens (Miami), Karolina Pliskova (Stuttgart and Tokyo), Simona Halep (Montreal), Kiki Bertens (Cincinnati), Aryna Sabalenka (Wuhan) and Caroline Wozniacki (Beijing).

 

Here is a breakdown of the highs and lows of this season

The best player of the year: Simona Halep

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Simona Halep finally won her first WTA Grand Slam at Roland Garros in her fourth attempt. Defeating Sloane Stephens after losing the first set. The Romanian star had lost her three previous Grand Slam finals at Roland Garros in 2014 against Maria Sharapova and in 2017 against Jelena Ostapenko, and at the 2018 Australian Open against Caroline Wozniacki. The Romanian player won two more WTA titles in Shenzhen and Montreal. At the Canadian Open she beat Sloane Stephens in a re-match of Roland Garros.

Unfortunately Halep ended the 2018 season early due to a herniated disk and was forced to miss the WTA Finals in Singapore, but ended the year as the WTA World Number 1 player.

The World number 1 player received an honorary doctorate from West University in Timisoara for the great results on the court and the contribution she has given to Romania as a country.

The Breakthrough of the year: Naomi Osaka:

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The 21 year-old player born in Japan to a Haitian father and a Japanese mother enjoyed her breakthrough season. Winning against another 21-year-old, Daria Kasatkina, in the final of the Premier Mandatory tournament at Indian Wells and her maiden Grand Slam trophy at the US Open, where she beat Serena Williams. Osaka extended her winning streak of ten matches by reaching the final at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, where she lost to Karolina Pliskova. The US-based Japanese player also reached the semifinal at the China Open in Beijing. She qualified for her first WTA Finals in Singapore, where she lost all her round-robin matches against Sloane Stephens, Angelique Kerber and Kiki Bertens. She withdrew during her match against Bertens due to a hamstring injury in her final match of the year.

Osaka has improved her ranking to world number 4. She has become the joint-highest ranked Japanese male or female player in history, equalling Kimiko Date and Kei Nishikori.

She also reached the third round at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, matching her best result at both tournaments.

The comeback of the year:

Serena Williams:

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Serena Williams made her comeback to the tennis court last March at Indian Wells after giving birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia. She reached the third round at Indian Wells before losing to her sister Venus and lost in the first round against Naomi Osaka in Miami. After reaching the Round of 16 at Roland Garros Serena qualified for two Grand Slam finals at Wimbledon and at the US Open. In both tournaments the 23-time Grand Slam champion dropped just one set before the final. Her Wimbledon final was her first title match at Grand Slam level since the 2017 Australian Open. Williams beat Karolina Pliskova in the quarter final of the US Open, scoring her first win against a top-10 player since her return from pregnancy.

Angelique Kerber:

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The German player of Polish origin dropped out of the top 20 at the end of a difficult 2017 season, but she started her comeback season with a win in the Sydney final against Australia’s Ashleigh Barty. At the Australian Open she beat Madison Keys to set up a semifinal against Simona Halep, who won the third set 9-7 on her fourth match point. After qualifying for the quarter finals in Doha, Indian Wells, Miami and Rome and the semifinal in Dubai, the tennis player from Bremen reached her first Roland Garros quarter final in six years, before losing to eventual champion Simona Halep in three sets. The German player beat Serena Williams in straight sets in the Wimbledon title match in a re-match of the 2016 final in this tournament to climb to world number 4 in the WTA Rankings.

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Elise Mertens sets up Linz final against her doubles partner Aryna Sabalenka

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Number 2 seed and two-time US Open quarter finalist Elise Mertens came back from one set down in her 2-6 6-1 7-5 win over number 4 Ekaterina Aleksandrova 2-6 6-1 7-5 after 2 hours and 5 minutes to reach the final at the Upper Austria Ladies Linz. Mertens will face Aryna Sabalenka, who beat Barbora Krejikova 7-5 4-6 6-3 in the second semifinal.

 

Mertens reached the Prague Open final, the Western and Southern Open semifinals and the US Open in a successful post-covid season. Aleksandrova beat 2020 Roland Garros Nadia Podorska 6-2 6-1 in the quarter finals. 

The Russian player won the Shenzhen Open and reached the St. Petersburg semifinal. She did not drop a set en route to the semifinals. 

The Belgian player was beaten by Aleksandrova 6-4 6-2 in their only previous clash on grass at the s’Hertogenbosch Open. 

Aleksandrova earned two breaks and served out the first set 6-2 on her first chance. Mertens went up a 4-0 lead with a double break and sealed the second set, when Aleksandrova made a backhand error. Mertens converted her fourth break point in the eighth game to seal the third set, when Aleksandrova made a backhand error. 

Mertens set up a final clash against her doubles partner Aryna Sabalenka, who battled past former Doubles world number 1 Barbora Krejikova 7-5 4-6 6-3. Sabalenka ended the year in the top 10 for the first time in her career. With a win in the final against Mertens Sabalenka would tie Simona Halep for most titles won this year. Sabalenka clinched two WTA titles earlier this season in Doha and Ostrava. The Belarusian player has not dropped a set in her three mathces this week against Jasmine Paolini, Stefanie Voegele and Oceane Dodin. 

Sabalenka and Krejikova traded breaks in the fourth and fifth games of the opening set. Sabalenka sealed the first set 7-5. Sabalenka earned an early break in the second game to take a 2-0 lead. Kreijikova broke back in the third game. The Czech player sealed the second set with a break at love in the ninth game to win the second set 6-4 forcing the match to the third set. Both players saved a break point in the first seven games. Krejikova came back from 0-40 down in the eighth game but Sabalenka converted her fourth break point at deuce to win the third set 6-3 on her first match point. 

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Aryna Sabalenka, Elise Mertens and Dayana Yastremska lead the field in Linz

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Aryna Sabalenka, Elise Mertens and Dayana Yastremska grab the headlines at the Upper Austria Ladies in Linz, the final tournament of the WTA Tour season. 

 

World number 15 and top seed Sabalenka will be aiming to win her third title of the season after Doha and Ostrava. She beat Jennifer Brady in the semifinal and US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka in the final in Ostrava. 

Sabalenka will start her Linz campaign against world number 94 Jasmine Paolini from Italy and could face Lexington finalist Jill Teichmann in the quarter final. 

Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska has been drawn in the top half of the draw. The number 3 seed reached her first Premier-level final in Adelaide. Since the tour resumed last August Yastremska has reached the quarter final in Palermo and beat Venus Williams at the Western and Southern Open in New York, but lost to US Open semifinalist Jennifer Brady in Ostrava. Yastremska won three WTA titles in Hobart, Thailand and Strasbourg in 2019.

This year’s US Open quarter finalist Elise Mertens from Belgium will open her Linz campaign qualifier Anhelina Kalinina before a second-round match against either Vera Zvonareva or Ukrainian teenage Marta Kostyuk, who broke into the top 100 for the first time in her career. Mertens and Sabalenka lifted their first US doubles title in 2019 and the Ostrava doubles trophy last October.

Mertens stopped 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin’s Grand Slam winning streak at the US Open to reach her second consecutive US Open quarter final before losing to eventual finalist Victoria Azarenka.  

Last year’s Linz champion Coco Gauff will not defend her title as she ended her season after losing to Sabalenka in the third round in Ostrava. 

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How Will ‘Healthy’ Andreescu Deal With Expectation In 2021?

Bianca Andreescu will look to deal with the expectation of being a grand slam title when she returns in the new year.

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Bianca Andreescu (@toisports - Twitter)

After missing the 2020 season due to injury, Bianca Andreescu will enter the 2021 season healthy and with a lot of expectation after a breakout 2019 season.

 

In a year, which has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the WTA season has seen proof of how strong the depth is on the tour.

There have been two new grand slam champions crowned in Sofia Kenin and Iga Swiatek as well as the rejuvenation of Victoria Azarenka’s career as well as many other players making their mark on the tour.

However one player, we have not seen in 2020 is Bianca Andreescu with the 20 year-old Canadian taking the year to nurse her knee and foot injuries.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, Andreescu used the hiatus to continue her rehabilitation of her knee injury suffered at the 2019 WTA Finals. Just as it looked like Andreescu was ready to defend her US Open title a foot injury derailed her comeback.

However it looks the US Open champion looks to be ready for the 2021 season, “I’m doing really well,” Andreescu told Alize Lim in the latest episode of Major Talk.

“The virus kind of pushed me back, and some little personal things here and there, but right now I’m good, I’m training hard, I’m really looking forward to 2021.

“I’m perfectly healthy. I just really wanted to take time to build everything in my life and I think this time off really helped me do that.

“I wouldn’t say I am ready tomorrow to play a match because I am taking it step by step, but maybe in a couple of weeks I will be good. I don’t want to rush anything but I’m feeling good.”

Practicing at the Patrick Mouratoglou Academy and in Monaco, Bianca Andreescu looks to be fitter than before as she looks to return in Australia in 2021.

But the question now is how will Andreescu deal with the expectation that will be placed on her shoulders.

Having won three titles in 2019 including the US Open, Bianca Andreescu looked unstoppable when fully healthy. Her mentality, confidence and variety on the tennis court gives her all the tools to outsmart her opponents.

The only problem is that she isn’t the only player who has these attributes on the WTA Tour with the likes of Sofia Kenin and Iga Swiatek now proving that they can perform with conviction on the biggest stages.

It is now a stronger WTA Tour that Andreescu has to battle against in a bid to prove that she is the strongest player of the current generation. Her and Naomi Osaka are being looked at to win 5-10 grand slams, the pressure is now on to deliver when it matters.

We will find out in 2021, whether Andreescu can mentally and physically deal with being a consistent world class player. The Canadian will play the Australian Open, which starts on the 18th of January.

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