Shocks, both on and off court, have dominated headlines so far this season on the WTA Tour. We take a look at the story so far in our first quarter review…
Biggest story: Without doubt Maria Sharapova’s admission she had tested positive to meldonium during the Australian Open. The fallout – from her peers to sponsors – is continuing, as the five-time Grand Slam champion serves a provisional suspension and awaits determination of the case.
Biggest mover: Belarusian Victoria Azarenka is finally fulfilling her potential again. It has taken the former world No.1 two years to return to top form, but she started the season in sensational fashion with victory in Brisbane. The 26-year-old then defeated world No.1 Serena Williams to win Indian Wells and added Miami to her haul, her biggest titles since winning the Australian Open in 2013. It catapulted Azarenka back to world No.5 and with only 470 points to defend until Wimbledon, expect her to climb higher quickly.
Needs to improve: Caroline Wozniacki has been named Denmark’s flag bearer for the Olympic Games, passed one million Twitter followers and made headlines for posing in a body suit for Sport Illustrated’s Swimsuit edition so far this year – but on court, there hasn’t been much to celebrate. The former world No.1 has fallen out of the world’s top 20 and has only one top 50 win.
Simona Halep falls into this category too – the Romanian started the season ranked No.2 but has slipped out of the top five after a disappointing first round exit at the Australian Open and failing to defend her Dubai title (losing in the opening round).
Keep an eye on: 18-year-old Russian Daria Kasatkina is going places – and getting there fast! She started the season ranked No.72 but after a third round appearance at the Australian Open and an impressive quarterfinal run at Indian Wells, her ranking has skyrocketed to No.35. Her success hasn’t just been limited to singles. Teaming up with compatriot Elena Vesnina, the pair snapped the 41-match winning streak of No.1 doubles team Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza in February. Not a bad effort in just her third WTA-level doubles event.
Big question: Where is the consistency? History was made in Dubai in February when all eight seeds failed to win a match, it was symbolic of a season start that has been littered with upsets and top players struggling with form. Serena has not won a title since August and Venus has had four first round exits in five tournaments so far in 2016. Is the unpredictability good for the game? Will the top players step up in the next part of the season? Such questions bode for an interesting clay season.
Top five report card:
(1) SERENA WILLIAMS
Win-Loss record: 13-3
Highlight: A return to the Indian Wells final was an emotional achievement for the 34-year-old and the fan support she received helped bury the demons from the controversial 2001 decider.
Lowlight: Lost consecutive finals for the first time since 2004, with nervous displays at both Australian Open and Indian Wells. A fourth round loss in Miami, a tournament has she won a record eight times, only adds to the American’s fading air of invincibility.
(2) ANGELIQUE KERBER
Win-Loss record: 17-5
Highlight: A brave performance to win the Australian Open, her first Grand Slam title and becoming the first woman to beat Serena Williams in a three-set final in the process. Pushed her ranking from No.10 at season start to No.2.
Lowlight: Opening round exits in Doha and Indian Wells. The inconsistency also overshadowed some new-found respect she’d earnt with her steely Australian Open run.
(3) AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA
Win-Loss record: 19-4
Highlight: Has been a consistent performer so far this season, reaching the semifinals or better in her first four tournaments. This helped propel her back to a career-high rank of No.2, which she subsequently lost after a fourth round exit in Miami.
Lowlight: A semifinal loss to Serena Williams at the Australian Open was no disgrace – the American has never lost at that stage in Melbourne Park in seven matches, but the comprehensive nature of the defeat highlighted Radwanska’s lack of weaponry against big-hitters.
(4) GARBINE MUGURUZA
Win-Loss record: 8-6
Highlight: They are few and far between for the out-of-sorts Spaniard. After a slow start to the season, a fourth round run at Miami showed glimpses of a form revival – taking a red-hot Victoria Azarenka two tight tiebreak sets to beat her.
Lowlight: The losses are piling up but the most disappointing aspect has been Muguruza’s attitude. She has been despondent on court, often arguing with her coach Sam Sumyk mid-match – which gives a worrying insight into her confidence level.
(5) VICTORIA AZARENKA
Win-Loss record: 22-1
Highlight: Started the year ranked No.22 but has impressively roared back into the top five. Titles in Brisbane, Indian Wells and Miami have reaffirmed the Belarusian’s status as one of the world’s top players.
Lowlight: An unexpected loss to Kerber in the Australian Open quarterfinals hurt – it was her first loss to the German in seven matches.
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