Congratulations to @Simona_Halep on clinching her 2nd straight season to end the year as the @WTA World No. 1!— US Open Tennis (@usopen) October 15, 2018
📸: @CincyTennis #USOpenSeries pic.twitter.com/7fyZEWqL6t
It was quite a year for the WTA. Serena Williams returned, there was a Serena Williams controversy, a top player finally reached one of her long-held and elusive goals, and we lost two of the greats. It was an excellent year for veterans, but a new star was born, also. Our world number 1 provided the consistency we've come to expect from her, along with a nice bonus. And the Czechs, as always, put everyone in her place.
Here, in ascending order, are my top 10 occurrences of the year:
10.: You won’t like me when I’m angry: Li Na once said, “Anger is stronger than sorrow, and anger can keep you from collapsing.” Sometimes anger is fuel. It certainly was for Elina Svitolina. One of the most successful players on the tour, the Ukrainian star picks up titles—and even defends them—but tends to fold in majors. At the start of every major, fans and members of the media tend to say, “Okay, this is the time when she’ll do it.” But then, it doesn’t happen.
This year, Svitolina lost a lost of weight in order to have a different frame, and there was a lot of buzz about that. Clearly annoyed, Svitolina arrived at the WTA Finals ready to rumble. She went undefeated in round robin play, then won the whole thing. I think there’s a good chance that she may “pull a Mauresmo” and take home a very big trophy in 2019.
9. Resiliance defined: Serena Williams sometimes goes away for a while, and sometimes for very serious reasons. But she always comes back. This time, she went away for a joyful reason: she gave birth to her daughter. Williams began her maternity leave in April of 2017, after having won the Australian Open while she was two months pregnant. She returned to the tour in the spring of 2018, and made it to the fourth round of the French Open, but then had to withdraw because of an injury. Her emphatic “I’m back!” statement came at Wimbledon, when she made it to the final, as she so often does. In this case, she lost the title to Angelique Kerber.
Williams also made a run to the final at the U.S. Open, where she lost the title to Naomi Osaka in a match that was fraught with tension and whose drama wound up overshadowing Osaka’s victory. 2018 was not an especially easy year for the former world number 1, yet she managed to play in two major finals. Resiliant indeed.
8. Pojd!: They did it again! The Czech Republic won Fed Cup for the sixth time in eight years, defeating defending champion Team USA. And they did it without Petra Kvitova, without Karolina Pliskova, and without Lucie Safarova. Because that’s the kind of team they have. Barbora Strycova, a veteran of Fed Cup battles, made a big contribution, but it was Katerina Siniakova who won both her singles rubbers and brought the team over the line.
7. Patience is a virtue: No one has more stamina than Caroline Wozniacki. She has enormous physical stamina, but she also has enormous mental stamina. She has been number 1 in the world, and she reached the final at the U.S. Open in 2009 and 2014. A threat in almost every tournament, Wozniacki just wasn’t able to grab one of those really huge prizes. But she began 2018 in the best way possible: Wozniacki won the Australian Open. The 28-year-old marathon-running Dane could have a very nice 2019.
6. Czechs go with everything: In 2013, after they won the junior U.S. Open doubles title, Katerina Siniakova and Barbora Krejcikova entertained the crowd with a spirited, wonderful dance. Now, five years later, they have a lot to dance about—they are the number 1 doubles team in the world. The Czech duo won both the French Open and Wimbledon. The only problem is that—with all the reasons they have to celebrate, they haven’t danced again! Come on, ladies—entertain us!
5. Grazie—for so much: Francesca Schiavone—one of the four legendary Fighting Italians who once dominated Fed Cup, and who constantly did amazing things on the tour—retired this year. Schiavone, who won the French Open in 2010 and was the runner-up in 2011, was a master stylist, especially on a clay court (though she could hold her own on every surface). The essence of what we call “heart” in sports, the Italian star put everything she had into every shot she made. Her positive attitude and fighting spirit were infectious,
4. The kids are still alright—and they’re coming to get you: In 2017, it was Alona Ostapenko who broke through in a big way and surprised many by winning the French Open. This year, it was Naomi Osaka. The young Japanese star has shown a lot of promise for the past couple of years, and—while she struggled to handle the sudden fame of winning Indian Wells—Osaka showed the world that she could handle just about everything by the time she got to Flushing Meadows.
At the U.S. Open, Osaka had to get past such formidable opponents as Arnya Sabalenka and 2017 finalist Madison Keys before she could face the player who is generally considered the ultimate test—six-time champion Serena Williams. Osaka beat Williams, her idol, in straight sets. With two big wins in 2018, there’s every reason to believe that Naomi Osaka is a force with which the tour will have to reckon.
3. Slump? What slump?: Angie Kerber had a dream 2016, winning the Australian Open and the U.S. Open, getting to the final at Wimbledon, and bringing home a silver medal from the Olympic Games. 2017, however, was mostly a year of trouble for the German player. But 2018 saw her come back strong, and in the summer, she won Wimbledon, defeating Serena Williams in the final. Kerber is now one French Open shy of achieving a Career Slam.
2. The magic is gone: Some call her The Ninja. Some call her The Magician. Some just call her Aga. Agnieszka Radwanska, the greatest shot-maker I’ve ever seen, retired from professional tennis at the end of this season. Unable to get past a long-term injury, the Polish wonder, at age 29, has left the tour, but the mark she made is unforgettable. Highlight reels come and go, but what Radwanska was able to do on a tennis court will entertain and produce awe for as long as tennis is a reality. Consistent winner of both the Shot of the Year designation and the Fan Favorite award, Radwanska was in a class of her own, as an athlete and a stylist.
1. Romanian rhapsody: World number 1 Simona Halep began her year in a big way—by reaching the final of the Australian Open. That didn’t turn out how she wanted it to—she lost to Caroline Wozniacki. But it was the farthest she had ever gone in the Australian Open draw, and a nice preamble to what was next: Halep (finally) won the French Open, defeating Sloane Stephens in the final. Halep lost the Roland Garros final in 2012 to Maria Sharapova, and she lost it again in 2017 to the force of nature known as Alona Ostapenko.
But this time, she did it. This was Halep’s first major victory, and she ended the year as the world number 1 for the second year in a row; the Romanian’s indefatigible resolve paid off for her. Her coach, Darren Cahill, is taking a year off in 2019, and Halep is also dealing with a back injury (she had to withdraw from the WTA Finals) so her progress may slow down for a while, but her resolve won’t.