This year's Year-End Championships were a bit strange, for sure. I thought Maria Sharapova was going to withdraw, but she didn't. Venus Williams did withdraw, and Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic had to retire because of injury and illness, respectively. Here are my final critiques:
Justine Henin (5-0, dropped one set)--Her performance further seals her position as way at the top of women's tennis. Every month, she gets better, and if she stays in good health, she will continue to be the toughest opponent on the tour.
Jelena Jankovic (0-3)--It was sad to see someone with her talent give such a lackluster performance--and finally retire--because of illness. However, it was no surprise: Jankovic has to scale back her schedule or she will flake out again before the season ends.
Serena Williams--It seemed clear from the way she was bandaged all the way to Barcelona that Williams should not have been there. It would have been nice for Marion Bartoli to have more preparation, and for her not to have to inherit a loss.
Anna Chakvetadze (2-1)--2-1 sounds good, but one win was from Williams' retirement, and the other involved defeating a sick opponent. Chakvetadze's overall performance was dismal, and marked by a mental meltdown. The mental part of the game is still Chakvetadze's weakness, and though she has improved from a year or two ago, she still has a long way to go.
Marion Bartoli (1-2)--This record is deceptive, also. One of Bartoli's losses she inherited from Serena Williams (by retirement), and her only win was against Jankovic, also by retirement. She was pulverized by Henin. But she also did not get to prepare much, and she gets a nod for maintaining her cool and her sense of humor under unusual circustances.
Svetlana Kuznetsova (0-3)--This is the worst record of the YEC because Kuznetsova had neither an injury or an illness; she just kept losing. Ivanovic, Sharapova and Hantuchova are all tough opponents, but one would expect the number 2 player in the world to come up with something better.
Ana Ivanovic (2-2)--Ivanovic, on the whole, performed well in Madrid. She got to the semifinals and had to face Henin. But unlike her meltdown in the French Open final against Henin, this time, Ivanovic held her nerve and put up a fight.
Maria Sharapova (4-1)--Sharapova has not played much tennis this year because of a bad shoulder injury and resulting bursitis. Because the shoulder made it so difficult for her to serve, she also experienced service problems when she was finally physically able to serve, undoubtedly for psychological reasons. She withdrew from the tournaments preceding the YEC, began practicing only a week before the YEC, and I expected her to withdraw from Madrid, too. Instead, she put on a show like the one she put on at the 2006 U.S. Open. A 3 1/2 hour final took too much out of her, though, and in the final set, she physically faded, and even had trouble breathing. But her performance was wonderful, and we have much to look forward to in 2008.
Daniela Hantuchova (1-2)--Hantuchova was the surprise participant in this year's YEC, and despite her 1-2 record, she is to be commended for her level of play. She came very close to taking out Ivanovic, but she choked away--as she is so prone to do--the last couple of points. Her defeat of Kuznetsova was stunning. Hantuchova has worked hard to get back into the top 10 after a long time away from it, and her YEC appearance was a good one.