Now that the dust has well and truly settled and there has been enough time to take a big step back from what was a rollercoaster of a season, it’s finally time for my review of the year, via the medium of everybody’s favourite – lists!
I’m going to break down the 2017 women’s tennis season into six lists – player of the year; most improved player of the year; comeback player of the year; young player of the year; most disappointing player of the year; and coach of the year.
First things first, I’m diving straight in with most disappointing player of the year. I wondered whether or not to include this category as I don’t like to dwell on misfortune but it felt just as important to discuss where things went wrong as where they went right.
3. Agnieszka Radwanska: In my 2017 preview blog, I suggested that at the end of Radwanska’s 2016 season, coming straight after the biggest title of her career at the 2015 WTA Finals, she may have been back at square one. Unfortunately, 2017 was probably the most forgettable year of her career so far. After a decent start in making the final in Sydney, things went downhill with injury issues, frequent early losses, little to show from the Grand Slams and a year-end ranking of 28. 2018 will be a huge year for the Pole.
2. Dominika Cibulkova: The Slovak ended 2016 on a huge high, winning the WTA Finals on her debut. Tipped by many experts for Grand Slam glory this year, 2017 was a massive letdown for Cibulkova, as she failed to win a singles title or make it past the third round of any Slam, leaving her out in the cold with a year-end ranking of 26.
1. Angelique Kerber: No one who knows anything about tennis needs me to tell them about Angelique Kerber’s 2017 season. With two Grand Slams and the world number one ranking to defend, the German’s highlights of the season were a lone final in Monterrey and runs to the last 16 at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. The German has already made huge changes for 2018, axing her longtime coach Torben Beltz and replacing him with Wim Fissette, who worked with Jo Konta in 2017. Everybody in tennis hopes she finds some kind of form next year.
Next up is the young player of the year. I’ve defined a young player as someone 21 or under at the end of the 2017 season.
3. Marketa Vondrousova: Despite being ranked lower than some other players in this group, I’ve given third place to the 18-year-old Czech who came from outside the top 200 to win her first WTA title in Biel and finish the year ranked 67 in the world. This was despite missing some big tournaments due to injury. If she can improve her fitness during the off-season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her seeded by the time we get to Wimbledon and the US Open.
2. Ash Barty: For someone who’s already such ups and downs in a career, Ash Barty is still only 21 years old. 2017 was her breakthrough year, finally replicating her doubles success in the singles game. The Australian won her first WTA title in Kuala Lumpur and made big finals in Birmingham and Wuhan, which helped her to end the year ranked 17 in the world. This will see her face huge pressure in Australia at the beginning of 2018, but she seems ready to deal with this.
1. Jelena Ostapenko: There could only be one winner in this category for 2017; the French Open champion. The 20-year-old Latvian stunned the tennis world by defeating Simona Halep to pick up her first tour-level title, never mind Grand Slam, in May. She backed this up with a run to the Wimbledon quarter finals, a second WTA title in Seoul and qualification for the WTA Finals. With few points to defend prior to Roland Garros, she has an excellent shot of pushing for world number one in the early months of 2018.
Coach of the year is a tricky decision, given that it’s almost impossible to know just how much a coach has contributed to a player’s success. I’ve looked at the relationship between player and coach and the impact the coaching that we, the public, can see has had on the game of the players.
3. Piotr Wozniacki: Caroline Wozniacki had one of the best years of her career in 2017, making eight finals and picking up the biggest title of her career at the WTA Finals. Her father has been there throughout her entire career and has done an excellent job helping her turn things around when they have been tough. Winning her final two finals of the season after losing six on the trot is a prime example of this.
2. Darren Cahill: Simona Halep had a dramatic 2017, with huge highs and massive lows, including becoming world number one for the first time, reaching the French Open final, losing that final to the unheralded Jelena Ostapenko and being on the end of some drubbings in major matches. The first few months of the year were not pretty and it was Cahill’s threat to quit that helped turned Halep’s season round after her on-court meltdown in Miami. His on-court coaching is the best there is but, that said, if 2018 does not bear fruit for Halep, it could be the end of their time together.
1. Anabel Medina Garrigues: In her first coaching role, just a few weeks after coming on board, the Spaniard coached Jelena Ostapenko to the French Open title. When she has coached her on court, she managed the Latvian’s wilder side, giving her simple yet constructive advice on how to turn the match to her advantage. Her success with Ostapenko saw her named Fed Cup captain for 2018, thus bringing the incredibly fruitful partnership to a sudden end.
Many of the best stories in tennis in 2017 involved comebacks of very different natures, making comeback player of the year an extremely tough choice.
3. Magdalena Rybarikova. After an injury-hit 2016, the Slovak returned early in 2017 but saw her ranking drop to 453 by March. Success on the ITF Circuit, followed by an exemplary grass court season, including a run to the Wimbledon semi-finals, saw her end the year at a career high of 20.
2. Sloane Stephens. In pretty much any other year, Sloane Stephens’ return would have seen her at the top of this list. After almost a year out of the game following foot surgery, the American returned with straight sets losses at Wimbledon and Washington D.C. Her season then caught fire with back-to-back semi final runs in Toronto and Cincinnati before, almost out of nowhere, winning her first Grand Slam title at the US Open. Though her season ended poorly will six consecutive defeats after her title run, Stephens’ comeback ranks amongst the best in tennis history.
1. Petra Kvitova. A comeback with an entirely different set of circumstances. Kvitova was attacked at her home in December 2016 by an intruder with a knife, suffering significant damage to her left hand, her playing hand. She returned earlier than expected at Roland Garros in May and her season’s highlights include a title in Birmingham and a quarter final run at the US Open. However, the fact that she made it back at all made it the comeback of the year.
Most improved player of the year
3. Ash Barty. After remarking on something of a “soft comeback” to the game in 2016, Barty came back in force at the Australian Open where winning her two opening matches saw her make headlines. She had a very consistent year, performing well on the WTA Tour, though less so in the Grand Slams and made three finals. 2018 could be the year she finally breaks into the top tier.
2. Caroline Garcia. After being heralded by many as a future superstar following her famous French Open match against Maria Sharapova in 2011, Garcia has struggled to live up to this mantle, being stuck in the 20-40 in the world zone for quite a few years. In 2017, she had a career-best Grand Slam performance, making the quarter finals in her Slam at Roland Garros, before a sensational two weeks in Asia at the end of the year which saw her win her biggest career titles in Wuhan and Beijing. This saw her qualify for the WTA Finals, where she beat Elina Svitolina and Caroline Wozniacki in the round robin stage before losing a tight semi final to Venus Williams.
1. Jelena Ostapenko. I’ve pretty much already said it all about the Latvian’s season, which saw her end the season as one of the premier players on the WTA Tour. At the start of the season, I predicted that she’d be in the top 30 by the end of the year, but did not expect to see her make the giant strides she has over the course of 2017. Far and away the most improved player of the year.
Player of the year
3. Simona Halep. Ending the year ranked number one in the world is a huge achievement for Simona Halep, though her season has been as frustrating as it has been successful. She won her only title of the season in Madrid before struggling with injury in the Rome final and losing from a set and a break up to Ostapenko in the French Open final. Two more losses in finals came in Cincinnati and Beijing, before a poor showing at the WTA Finals. 2018 is going to be huge for the Romanian as tennis fans wait to see whether she has the nerve to achieve even greater things.
2. Jelena Ostapenko. An admittedly outside pick for player of the year, I’ve ranked Jelena Ostapenko second given that she won a Grand Slam, backed it up with a second WTA title, reached another Grand Slam quarter final at Wimbledon and made her debut at the WTA Finals.
1. Garbine Muguruza. Given that there are so many players close to one another at the top of the rankings, picking a player of the year is difficult. I’m giving it to Garbine Muguruza on the basis that she is the only player to win both a Grand Slam and Premier 5 tournament in 2017. The Spaniard also managed to improve her consistency in the latter half of the season, going deep in tournaments on a far more frequent basis than she’s managed in the past.
So that’s that, and we’re now just over three weeks away from it all kicking off again! I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with my preview of the 2018 season. Have a lovely time over the winter break!