If 2014 was the year of the unexpected, then 2015 is--at least for now--a year in which we aren't really sure what to expect. The times occasionally appear to be changing, and then--just like that--it feels as though the beloved veterans run the show. Who will rise in the coming season, who will struggle, and who will inevitably fade, albeit with an unchanged fighting spirit?
All eyes are always on world number 1 Serena Williams, whose performance tends to defy prediction--of any kind. Williams is 33 years old in biological years, but in tennis years, she's practically ageless. We've seen her play (and win) while she was all bandaged up from head to toe, and that was several years ago! Williams appears to be less injury-prone these days, she's very fit, and--given her historical ebb-and-flow pattern, it wouldn't be surprising to see her come on strongly in the new season. I like her chance to add at least one major singles trophy.
Maria Sharapova's tennis career has been interesting, and sometimes puzzling. Winning the French Open for a second time--and doing so in such a high-quality final--gave Sharapova a boost she probably really needed. But there are still things she needs to do--get her erratic serve under control, and beat Serena Williams. The reality, however, is that it's nothing short of a miracle that the Russian survived all her shoulder issues and is the number 2 player in the world. I, for one, believe in Maria and am looking forward to her 2015 performance.
If Williams and Sharapova are unpredictable, then Petra Kvitova is a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces fly around and then re-arrange themselves in ways that sometimes make no sense. A huge talent and an established champion, the Czech star could do so much more. There's the issue of her asthma and the related issue of her tendency to develop respiratory infections. And then there's just that meltdown habit that may or not be related to her physical health at any given moment.
Kvitova had a strong season, especially in the second half. She not only won Wimbledon again, but she played one of the most dramatic Fed Cup matches in recent history and clinched her country's repeat as Fed Cup champions. Her Wimbledon win alone was masterful enough to be one of the year's top stories. Will 2015 be the year that Petra plays like--well, Petra--from beginning to end? If she does, she'll strike considerable fear in all kinds of opponents.
The player to keep watching (and who wouldn't want to?) is Simona Halep, who, in 2013, gracefully announced her arrival in the elite group of WTA players. At last. She had a good 2014, reaching the final of the French Open, among other accomplishments. As far as I'm concerned, the only thing holding Halep back is her tendency to get injured. Her feet and her back are the most vulnerable. She does have confidence issues now and again, but with her much improved serve and her solid two-season record, the Romanian star is looking at a very bright future--if she can stay healthy.
One of my wishes for Halep would be for her to retain the services of Alex Stober, but Kvitova has already hired him, and that, too, is a very good thing.
That brings me to Genie Bouchard. She stunned the tennis world last year with a dramatic breakthrough that took her to the semifinals of both the Australian Open and the French Open, and the Wimbledon final. The rest of her season didn't go too well because of injuries, and she was just injured again recently.
There's a kind of edge to Bouchard which appears to work well for her during the heat of competition, but which might also have a shadow side. Bouchard has created a "me against them all" persona for herself (which I thought about when I saw so many players weeping as they said emotional goodbyes to Li Na), but it feels a bit forced. Shes having to deal with massive amounts of media and fan attention, and she had to endure being blown to the other side of London by Kvitova in the Wimbledon final. She has also parted ways with her coach. There's a lot going on there.
Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki re-invented themselves in 2014, so it will be especially interesting to see what they do in 2015. Wozniacki is the steadier of the two, by history, yet it's Ivanovic who has already won a major.
Ekaterina Makarova likes the big stage, and with her 2014 U.S. Open semifinal appearance, she made me think that with a bit more confidence (maybe with help from a psychological expert?), she could rock the entire tennis world.
Victoria Azarenka's 2014 pretty much didn't count. The two-time Australian Open champion could win a third Melbourne title, finally win a U.S. Open title, or find a variety of ways to get sick and injured and lag behind. The fragility of Azarenka is in constant conflict with her talent and fighting spirit.
I'll definitely be keeping an eye on Lucie Safarova (who has also re-invented herself), the under-appreciated Angelique Kerber and her countrywoman, Andrea Petkovic. Alize Cornet, too. (Li Na may be gone, but JJ, Alize and Petko are available, and that's a lot of entertainment.)
Will Aga Radwanska pull herself back together? I hope so. And I think she will.
The youth attack is on. Garbine Muguruza, Belinda Bencic, Elina Svitolina, and Karolina Pliskova are all looking good. Muguruza is looking especially good, and there's a kind of calm, comfortable aura around the Spaniard that I think will serve her well in 2015 and beyond.
Both Camila Giorgi and Caroline Garcia have lots of potential, but also a lot of nerves to tame. Kristina Mladenovic is the tour's wild card in singles right now--anything could happen. As for doubles, I see her continuing to take home trophies. She and Timea Babos are a fairly consistent team now; I also liked the team of Mladenovic and Lucie Safarova. Of course, we may see another round of "Mladenovic and Anybody," which tends to be a winning combination.
Will we be saying goodbye to any Italians next year? Flavia Pennetta is 32 years old. She's also number 12 in the world and won Indian Wells this year, so maybe we'll have the great pleasure of keeping her around a while. Francesca Schiavone is 34 and could very well end her pro career soon.
As for the other Italian stars--Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci should remain a force in doubles.