2017 WTA season preview: can the chasing pack muscle in on the top?

I’m now looking at some of the other players lying in and around the top 10 – Svetlana Kuznetsova, Jo Konta and Carla Suarez Navarro. Svetlana Kuznetsova had something of a comeback in 2016. Somehow it was the first time she’d finished the year ranked inside the top 10 since 2009 and, scarily, it’s over 12 years since she won the US Open and close to 8 years since she won Roland Garros. While it seems like she’s been at the top of the game for so long, it was heartening to see her really fight for her place in the Tour Finals by winning Moscow and then find her top form to beat Radwanska and Pliskova before suffering an agonising defeat to Cibulkova in the semis. She’s one of the only players who can beat anybody on her day, and hopefully she’ll continue her form into 2017. She’s playing Brisbane and Sydney (where she’s the defending champion) before the Australian Open.

“IMG_4122” by Marianne Bevis is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Jo Konta’s 2016 exceeded expectation for everybody who follows her. Australian Open semi final, first title by beating Venus in the Stanford final, final in Beijing and missing out on the Tour Finals by the skin of her teeth. While she seemed to struggle with the pressure of being the overwhelming favourite in a number of high stakes matches throughout the season (Kucova in Montreal and Sevastova at the US Open), she scored a brilliant 7 top 10 wins over the course of the season. Her off season has been extremely turbulent, with the tragic young death of her mental guru Juan Coto and a split from coach Esteban Carril, the man who has helped her rise from outside the world’s top 150 to the top 10. She’s gone big time with her replacement, hiring Wim Fissette, who coached Kim Clijsters to three Grand Slams, Simona Halep to the Roland Garros final, Sabine Lisicki to the Wimbledon final and Victoria Azarenka to Indian Wells and Miami in 2016. While nobody knows how the turmoil of the off season will affect her, she has the chance to keep improving throughout 2017, winning more titles and climbing up the rankings. She kicks off her year in Shenzhen (where she lost 1st round last year) then Sydney before playing the Australian Open, where she has a lot of ranking points to defend after last year’s brilliant showing.

“Carla Suarez Navarro” by Tatiana is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Carla Suarez Navarro had another good year in 2016. She took advantage of a meltdown by Jelena Ostapenko to win the biggest title of her career in Doha and had decent showings in all four Grand Slams (one quarter final and three fourth rounds). Once again, though, she fell short of her goal of reaching the Tour Finals. My feeling about Suarez Navarro is that she probably won’t go any further than she already has, but that when she looks back on what she’s done in the past five years or so, she’ll probably feel that she’s realised her potential as a tennis player. Suarez Navarro has pulled out of Brisbane with a shoulder injury but is still scheduled to play Sydney before the Australian Open.

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