WTA Year In Review: 11-15 Including Stephens

0

This off-season, Last Word on Tennis will be looking back at the seasons’ top 50 players on each tour this year. This instalment covers the WTA 2017 players ranked 11-15, including Sloane Stephens and Kristina Mladenovic.

  1. Anastasija Pavlyuchenkova

 

A roller coaster of a year that needs a better Grand Slam record if she is to rise up the rankings

High Points:

Anastasija Pavlyuchenkova won three titles this year, which is the most that she has ever won in a single season. In winning two titles on hard courts and one on clay, she demonstrated that she has the game to compete on multiple surfaces and live up to the additional sense of expectation that her good form has generated. Moreover, she reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open where she lost to Venus Williams. Pavlyuchenkova can take great heart from the fact that she had a consistently good record against players who were just above her in the rankings, such as Angelique Kerber and Timea Babos.

Low Points:

Besides the good run to the quarter finals in Melbourne, Pavlyuchenkova’s Grand Slam form this year was poor. She lost to Arina Rodionova, a qualifier, in the first round at Wimbledon (although it is fair to say that grass is not her favourite surface), and she lost to Christina McHale in the first round at the US Open. She fared one round better at Roland Garros, where her first round opponent retired, but she lost to Veronica Cepede Royg in the second round in three sets. Pavlyuchenkova will surely look to improve this record if she is to work her way up the rankings next year.

Other Highlights:

Pavlyuchenkova seems to like playing on hard courts. Besides her two titles, she also enjoyed a good run at Indian Wells, where she reached the quarter finals after beating Anett Kontaveit, Barbora Strycova, and Dominika Cibulkova in successive rounds. Furthermore, she reached the final in Tokyo, where she came up against an in-form Caroline Wozniacki, losing the final 0-6 5-7.

Outlook for 2018:

Pavlyuchenkova needs to ensure that she replicates the performances against the likes of Kerber and Babos more consistently, especially when she comes up against tougher opponents. Three out of her four Grand Slam losses came in three sets, therefore, she needs to improve her ability to make tactical adjustments in high-pressure situations if she is to improve on her best-ever year to-date. With a bit more work off-court and a good run early on in the year, 2018 could be a big year for Anastasija Pavlyuchenkova.

Embed from Getty Images

  1. Julia Goerges

This Fed Cup legend needs to build on her good run if she is to leave her mark on the WTA Tour

High Points:

Julia Goerges has always proudly represented Germany in the Fed Cup, and this year, she proved just how important she is to its chances of success in the competition. In a closely-fought tie against Ukraine on clay, Goerges won her two singles rubbers, winning the tie for her country by a score of 3-2. As a result of Goerges’ heroics, Germany remained in the World Group going into next year. In addition to this, Goerges won two titles this year, both coming at the end of the tour calendar in Moscow and Zhuhai, respectively. By winning these two titles, Goerges ended a run of three consecutive defeats in finals and ended the year in style.

Low Points:

Goerges probably felt like she was cursed each time she went into a final for most of the year. She lost to Anastasija Sevastova in the final in Mallorca in three sets, then a month later to Irina-Camelia Begu in Bucharest nearly a month later. Goerges’ unfortunate record continued to haunt her after the Washington DC Open in the lead-up to the US Open, where she squandered a one-set lead to succumb to Ekaterina Makarova in three sets. Hopefully, Goerges can use her unfortunate record as motivation going into 2018.

Other Highlights:

The US Open draw was unkind to Julia Goerges, for it ensured that she came up against to-be-champion, Sloane Stephens, in the fourth round. Stevens had beaten Goerges in Cincinnati prior to the US Open, and the American is a bogey player for Goerges, boasting a 5-1 head-to-head lead. Nonetheless, Goerges had quite a consistent year when it came to the lower-ranked WTA tournaments. In addition to her five finals, she reached the semi-finals in Auckland and Budapest.

Outlook for 2018:

Goerges finally cracked the code for how to win a final in 2017 in Moscow and Zhuhai. In many ways, it was a shame for her that there were not more tournaments in the calendar year, for she would have wanted to exploit her positive momentum. Goerges will surely play an important role for Germany’s Fed Cup team (again), when the World Group first round fixtures take place. It seems as though the Fed Cup is her best chance of securing what would be her greatest achievement in professional tennis. Hopefully for German fans and sentimentalists alike, Goerges can help them bring home the title in 2018.
Embed from Getty Images

  1. Sloane Stephens

A maiden Grand Slam win could see the emergence of a new star, if she stays fit

High Points:

On the 9th September 2017, Sloane Stephens stunned the tennis world by winning the US Open at Flushing Meadows, beating Madison Keys in a one-sided final. Stephens had come back from an injury layoff that had left her unable to walk for sixteen weeks, and in doing so, she won the hearts of tennis fans around the world. Overall, the North American hard-court season proved the most successful for Stephens, as she reached the semi-finals in Toronto and Cincinnati, prior to her US Open triumph.

Low Points:

At the beginning of the year, even the most optimistic of tennis fans would not have predicted that Sloane Stephens would end the season with a Grand Slam to her name. Surgery on her left foot, in January, had left her unable to walk, and it seemed as though she would never quite match the expectations that fans and pundits had placed on her from a young age. Thankfully, Stephens proved all of her doubters wrong.

Other Highlights:

Despite losing both of her singles rubbers in the Fed Cup final against Belarus, Stephens came home with a Fed Cup winners’ medal. Having had an inconsistent Asian hard court season, the win provided a much-needed boost of confidence for the American. Stephens ended the year on a high, following her US Open triumph, and this should put her in a good place going into the 2018 season.

Outlook for 2018:

Hopefully, Stephens’ injury woes are behind her. If so, then next year could be the year that she finally establishes herself as one of the games’ greats. The Australian Open will provide the perfect opportunity for Stephens to go for another Grand Slam title, especially with the uncertainty regarding how Serena Williams will adapt to being back on-court. Williams aside, however, Sloane Stephens will go into the 2018 Australian Open as one of the favourites.

Embed from Getty Images

  1. Svetlana Kuznetsova

The experienced veteran still has enough to cause an upset, but she must ensure that she stays fit and picks her tournaments wisely.

High Points:

Svetlana Kuznetsova may not have won a title this year, but she can be incredibly proud of her Grand Slam performances this year. As well as making the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, the likeable two-time Grand Slam champion made it to the fourth round of the French Open and Australian Open. Throughout the year, Kuznetsova delivered her best performances during tournaments that mattered, which is the mark of a true champion. She enjoyed an amazing run to the final of Indian Wells in March, and a run to the semi-finals in Madrid and the quarterfinals in Cincinnati.

Low Points:

Kuznetsova struggled with a wrist injury towards the end of the year. Unfortunately for her, news has emerged in the past week that her wrist will require surgery and will therefore rule her out of the Australian Open. Hopefully, Kuznetsova’s recovery will be swift, but at 32, she may struggle with the additional time needed to recover. Nonetheless, if there is one thing the Russian has relished throughout her career, it is a fight against the odds. She will be looking to return back to winning ways as soon as possible.

Other Highlights:

Tennis fans around the world know Kuznetsova’s mental strength and will to win only too well. Despite this, even the most hard-core tennis fan will have been surprised at Kuznetsova’s ability to remain competitive in the world’s Top 20 for so long. The Russian has done remarkably well to be where she is at this stage in her career. Her professionalism and love of the game should be an inspiration to other players on both the men’s and women’s tours.

Outlook for 2018:

Provided that her recovery from surgery goes well, tennis fans can expect much of the same from the former Roland Garros and US Open champion in 2018. Kuznetsova still has the mental strength and experience to cause an upset at a Grand Slam, but if she is to remain competitive, then she must be more selective regarding the amount of tournaments that she plays. If she makes the right decisions following her return, and if her recovery goes well, we could be seeing her winning matches (and the odd tournament) on the tour for a number of years to come.

Embed from Getty Images

  1. Kristina Mladenovic

A Jekyll and Hyde season which leaves tennis fans wondering which direction the Frenchwoman will go in 2018.

High Points:

Kristina Mladenovic is not someone who does ‘moderation’ very well. Following a disappointing first-round loss at the Australian Open, she won her only title of the year, in St Petersburg, before reaching the semi-finals in Acapulco and then two consecutive finals in Stuttgart and Madrid, respectively. Mladenovic also had a wonderful run to the quarterfinals at Roland Garros, where she won over French hearts by beating Garbiñe Muguruza en route, in an incredible fourth round match.

Low Points:

Mladenovic’s quarterfinal loss to Timea Bacsinsky at Roland Garros hurt her a lot. She would only go on to win seven competitive matches for the remainder of the year, which shows how significant the result was, in terms of her confidence. Mladenovic will be hoping for redemption this year round, and the experience of having gone through such a crushing defeat will have strengthened the feisty Frenchwoman, going into next season.

Other Highlights:

Mladenovic played a vital role in keeping the French Fed Cup team in the World Group, despite a heavy opening round loss to Switzerland. She won both of her singles rubbers against Spain’s Sílvia Soler-Espinosa and Sara Sorribes Tormo comfortably. These wins subsequently acted as a good catalyst for her run to the Stuttgart and Madrid finals.

Outlook for 2018:

Mladenovic unquestionably possesses the talent to be a regular Top 10 player. Nonetheless, as with many other players on the women’s and men’s circuit, a lot depends on her mood and her confidence going into tournaments. Currently without a coach, Mladenovic needs someone in her box who can calm her down, and who can teach her how to channel her anger to more productive ends. If Mladenovic makes the right choice of new coach, then she has a good chance at breaking into the Top 10 again, as well as getting revenge for last year’s Roland Garros quarterfinal defeat.

Embed from Getty Images

LEAVE A REPLY