The Times are Changing on the WTA Tour

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The reclaiming of the #1 ranking on the men’s ATP tour was attained by Rafa Nadal this week. This achievement marks the 707th week in a row that the #1 ranking has been held by either Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, or Roger Federer. The next generation of ATP stars have been unable to break the grasp the “Big Four” have maintained on the top spots.

In contrast, on the WTA tour, the upper rankings have shown a lot more variability. Although Serena Williams has been the most dominant player, younger players have been able to infiltrate the upper echelons of the rankings.

The release of the women’s seedings for the 2017 US Open this week provides an interesting comparison to the seedings just five years ago at the 2012 US Open.

Comparison between WTA US Open seeds

These are top seeds for the US Open 2017:

  1. Karolina Pliskova
  2. Simona Halep
  3. Garbine Muguruza
  4. Elina Svitolina
  5. Caroline Wozniacki
  6. Angelique Kerber
  7. Johanna Konta
  8. Svetlana Kuznetsova
  9. Venus Williams
  10. Agnieszka Radwanska

These were the top seeds for the US Open 2012:

  1. Victoria Azarenka
  2. Agnieska Radwanska
  3. Maria Sharapova
  4. Serena Williams
  5. Petra Kvitova
  6. Angelique Kerber
  7. Samantha Stosur
  8. Caroline Wozniacki
  9. Li Na
  10. Sara Errani

 

The rise of the new generation of WTA stars has been clearly evident this year, with Garbine Muguruza winning Wimbledon and Jelena Ostapenko winning Roland Garros.

But what has happened to the WTA players who were at the top of the game in 2012?

Victoria Azarenka

The top seeded player in 2012 was Victoria Azarenka. The Belorussian had already won the first of her two Australian Open titles earlier in the year. Earlier this week, Azarenka officially withdrew from the US Open. Having worked hard to get back into competitive shape after giving birth to a son late last year, Azarenka has already notched a few wins on the tour. Unfortunately, Azarenka has found herself in a custody battle with the father of her son. In a Twitter posting, the player stated that she is unable to take her son out of California so she is unwilling to leave the state.

Maria Sharapova

The #2 seed in 2012 was former champion Maria Sharapova. Sharapova won the title in 2006. The Russian has held the #1 ranking for a total of 21 weeks. In 2016 Sharapova was suspended from competition by the International Tennis Federation for using a banned substance. The drug in question was a recent addition to the banned substance list, a drug the player had been using for several years. The drug, Meldonium, has never been scientifically proven to enhance athletic performance.

After serving her suspension, Sharapova returned to the WTA tour in the spring. Although her form and intensity have returned to pre-suspension levels, Sharapova’s comeback has been hampered by injury. The granting of wild card spots in the main draws of tournaments for a player whose suspension has caused them to drop in the rankings has been criticized by players and fans. Wimbledon did not grant former champion Sharapova a spot in the main draw. Last week, the US Open did in fact grant her a position in the main draw, although she is unseeded.

Serena Williams

Serena Williams was the #4 seed in 2012 and she went on to win the title. Since the 2012 US Open Williams has continued to add titles to her resume and has now amassed a total of 23 major singles titles. Williams last major title came at the 2017 Australian Open. In the spring of this year Williams accidentally revealed on social media that she is expecting her first child in the early fall. The American has indicated she plans to return to the game but she is well aware of the challenges she will face.

Petra Kvitova

Another player missing from this year’s top seeds is Petra kvitova. The Czech left handed player owns two Wimbledon titles and has spent much of the last few years near the top of the rankings. Last December Kvitova was attacked during a botched home invasion burglary.  In defending herself, the player suffered knife lacerations to the tendons in her left hand. Following surgery to repair the damaged tendons, Kvitova began to focus on her return to the game. Wimbledon saw the former champion win the first match of her comeback. Results have been mixed over the hard court season and Kvitova is ranked at #13 entering the US Open.

Samantha Stosur

Samantha Stosur entered the 2012 US Open as the defending champion having shocked Serena Williams in the final the previous year. Stosur had previously played in the French Open final and also reached a career high of #4 in 2011. Known for a heavy topspin forehand and a wicked kick serve, Stosur was unable to maintain her level of success in the following years. Currently ranked at #44, 2017 has seen the Australian struggle with a stress fracture in her hand and that injury has forced her to withdraw from this year’s US Open.

Li Na

Chinese player Li Na was the #9 seed in 2012. Li Na was an Australian Open champion and a Roland Garros champion and always a fan favorite. A knee injury forced the player into retirement. Since retiring from tennis, Li Na has started a family. Li Na and her husband, who also served as her coach, now have both a daughter and a son.

Sara Errani

The tenth seed in the women’s draw in 2012 was Italian Sara errani. Mainly known as a clay court specialist and a highly successful doubles player Errani reached a career high singles ranking of #5 in 2013. Results over the last few years have not been as consistent and injuries have also hindered her results. Earlier this summer Errani failed a drug test and she is currently serving a two month suspension. The drug in question is a cancer treatment drug that her mother uses. The player believes that somehow it accidentally contaminated her food.

This year’s top seeds feature new and exciting young players. While the men’s seedings have been hit hard by injury, the women’s tour has been hit hard by biology. It is interesting that new mothers currently returning to the tour include: Kataryna Bonderenko, Patty Schynder, and former world #2 Vera Zvonereva. Without a protected ranking, these former top players find themselves in the qualifying draw for this year’s US Open. In contrast, three of those top four players on the men’s tour are new fathers; between them they have six children under the age of ten and more on the way. On-site nurseries for player’s children’s are becoming more prominent. Perhaps the WTA should modify its protected ranking policy for returning mothers. Currently a player has a protected ranking for a year following the birth of a child. Kim Clijsters was one of the few who found success post-becoming a mother, winning three Major titles after the birth of her first child. Imagine if players like Lindsay Davenport, Justine Henin, and even Chris Evert had continued playing after starting their families. Perhaps with some changes we will see Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams at the top of the seedings in coming years at the US Open.

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