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Reflections on WTA 2009

img_1710It’s that time of year when we look back at what transpired on the women’s tour over the past season and view ahead at the upcoming year.  Here’s a recap of the great, the good and the down right ugly moments from 2009.

Last year, in many respects, can be characterized as bizarre. The majors commenced with a meltdown by Dinara Safina as Serena Williams thrashed her in the Australian Open final.  Months later after sensational results at lead up tournaments, Safina, newly crowned world number one, had another breakdown in the French Open final vis-à-vis Svetlana Kuznetsova.  As such, Kuznetsova grabbed the second major of her career.

At the All England Club, after Serena survived a riveting semifinal match against Elena Dementieva, she faced Venus in the finals for the second consecutive year.  However, this go around, Serena bested big sister to capture 2009’s third major.  Also a favorite to step to the finals at the U.S. Open, Serena encountered two stumbling blocks, her emotions and  Kim Clijsters.

After fulfilling her desire to procreate, Clijsters discovered that her retreat from tennis had left a void.  Thus, following a two year absence, Clijsters once again embraced the game. Subsequent to some impressive triumphs, Clijsters took on Serena in the semifinals. The weather may have been in part culpable, more likely though, it was Clijsters’ superb touch that got under Serena’s skin as a foot fault by a line judge roused Serena’s anger.  Unsavory words by Serena caused a point penalty with Clijsters having match point.  A day later, Clijsters went on to rope the U.S. Open trophy, the second major of her career.

Leading the pack of names that captivated the tour in 2009 is Dane Caroline Wozniacki.  The teenager became her country’s first competitor to reach a major final. Although downed by Clijsters, after starting the year in the top 20, Wozniacki closed 2009 at number 4.  Belarusian Victoria Azarenka continued her march in the right direction.  Azarenka demolished Serena at the Sony Ericsson Open to catch the biggest title of her career.

On the other hand, for the Serbs, it was  a year of sliding backward. Ana Ivanovic, the 2008 French Open champion and former world number one, had trouble directing her forehand and serve. With neither stroke on the money, Ivanovic did not get pass the fourth round at any of the majors. Ivanovic reached one final, Indian Wells, but failed to hoist the trophy. Fed up, Ivanovic put a punctuation to her season in October and her ranking tumbled to 21st.  Number one at the start of the year, Jelena Jankovic, fared a little better than Ivanovic by collecting two titles.  However, Jankovic was equally a disappointment at the majors with only a round of 16 appearance in Paris and Melbourne.

The Russians are still impacting the tour. In spite of her poor results at the majors, Safina earned three titles.  In addition to the French, Kuznetsova pocketed a couple of premier titles.  Other than the semis at Wimbledon, Dementieva made the semis in Australia and acquired three trophies.  Maria Sharapova returned mid-year subsequent to a hiatus due to shoulder surgery with a retooled service motion.  After a slow start and ditching her abbreviated service routine, Sharapova bagged a title and ended the year ranked 14th.

New hope for American tennis came in the form of teenager Melanie Oudin. On the heels of a round of 16 showing at Wimbledon, including a victory over Jankovic, at the U.S. Open, Oudin defeated Dementieva, Nadia Petrova and Sharapova before being halted in the quarterfinals. Prior to these tremendous conquests, Oudin was a star on the Federation Cup team.

With a squad devoid of Serena and Venus, significant contributions by Oudin and Alexa Glatch propelled the U.S. all the way to the Fed Cup final.  Unfortunately, the Americans inexperience was well exploited by their Italian counterparts.  On the back of established competitors such as Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta, who became the first Italian woman to crack the top ten this year, Italy pounced the U.S. to claim its second trophy this decade.

Teenager Sorana Cristea had a breakthrough at the majors by getting to the quarterfinals at the French Open.  In the quarters, Cristea fell to 25 year old veteran Samantha Stosur.  Stosur produced her best results in singles this year.  Not only was Stosur a semifinalist at the French, she captured her initial singles career title in Osaka. 20 year-old Dominika Cibulkova also achieved her first big break at a major in advancing to the semis in Paris.

Frenchwoman Arvane Rezai took the maiden title of the newly created Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions, an international season ending championship in Bali. At the Sony Ericsson year ending Championships in Doha, with a pristine performance, Serena routed Venus in the finals for her only non- major title of 2009 and finished the year at number one.

One day shy of her 39th birthday, Kimiko Date Krumm became the oldest player to prevail in a WTA final at Hansol Korea Open. Similarly, German adolescent Sabine Lisicki demonstrated that she is the wave of the future by securing her first professional title at the renowned Family Circle Cup.

Possibly inspired by her old adversary’s success at the U.S. Open, in September, Justine Henin did an about-face with the stunning announcement that she would be rejoining the tour in 2010.  In contrast, at the age of 30, two time major champion Amelie Mauresmo gracefully existed, declaring her retirement at season’s end.

Gambling resurfaced in the news as Wozniacki withdrew from a match.  Ahead and just points away from a win, an injured Wozniacki was advised by her coach to cease play.  As the discussion unfolded between the two, bets began to pour in favor of Wozniacki’s opponent.  This fueled speculations of irregularities, the investigation is still ongoing.  After making a splash at the U.S. Open with a semifinal run, Yanina Wickmayer was suspended due to failing to notify officials of her location for drug testing purposes. Luckily, on appeal, the decision has been reversed and Wickmayer has been reinstated.

Despite participating in doubles only at the majors and Stanford, the Williams sisters dominated winning all finals except the French Open.  The latter was claimed by the Spanish team of Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual.  Still, duo Liezel Huber and Cara Black remain ranked at the top of doubles tableaux.

With the flurry of names taking the spotlight in 2009, a fundamental conclusion can be deduced, there is really no dominant competitor on tour.  With Henin, Clijsters and  Sharapova back in the hunt, it bodes well for an engaging 2010.

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