Coming out on TOP ☝️@Iga_Swiatek ends the year as the World No.1 singles player for the first time in her career, while @K_Siniakova finishes atop the doubles rankings for the second straight season 🏆— wta (@WTA) November 8, 2022
2022 was the year that Alizé Cornet competed in her 63rd consecutive major (a “runner-up” for my list), the year that Ons Jabeur collected the runner-up trophy at two majors, and the year that the WTA and its “women’s health” partner chose to play its biggest tournament in a city where women’s health is endangered every moment. It was also the year when former world number 1 Simona Halep because the latest probable victim of WADA, an orgnaization whose corrupt ways are never even questioned by the very organizations that they harm.
And it was also the year in which there was palpable tension between at least one Ukrainian player and the players from Russia and Belarus, and the year when Wimbledon and both tennis tours had a political spitting contest.
Here, in ascending order, are my top ten 2021 happenings:
10. Now you see her, now you don’t: World number 1 Ash Barty fulfilled a dream at the start of the 2022 season—she won the Australian Open. And then she retired from professional tennis. Unfortunately (but not unexpectedly), this act was reported as her second retirement, which it was not; Barty’s earlier break was just that—a break. But who cares about facts?
Barty was so talented that she could have gone on and won who konws how many majors and big tournaments, but—in typical Ash Barty fashion—she did what she needed to do for herself, regardless of what anyone else might think.
The Australian star won three singles majors and one doubles major (a peculiar stat, given how very gifted she was in doubles). She won fifteen singles titles and twelve doubles titles, and she held the year-end number 1 ranking for three consecutive seasons. Barty also won the WTA Finals in 2018.
Last year, I wrote:
A doubles star who leaves tennis behind for two years in order to sort things out and to play professional cricket, then returns to become number 1 in the world in singles--wins the French Open, then takes a year off because of the pandemic, during which time she wins a golf tournament. Then injures her hip at the French Open, but shows up at Wimbledon--and wins the title.
Oh, that movie is too over-the-top to be made! It was, however, exactly what happened in the professional life of Ash Barty, 2021 Wimbledon singles champion, and world number 1.
9. Diede the even greater: Diede de Groot (aka Diede the Great), who is world number 1 in both singles and doubles, won the Golden Slam in 2021, and she hasn’t let up since. The 25-year-old, mentored by the great Esther Vergeer, won the Grand Slam in singles this year (and, in fact, went 38-0 in singles), and won three majors in doubles (with partner Aniek Van Koot). But that wasn’t all—De Groot also won both the NEC Wheelchair Singles Masters championship (her fifth), and—with Van Koot—the Wheelchair Doubles Masters title.
8. Fly (high) with Caro: Caroline Garcia ended a lengthy slump this season, and she did it in style. The Frenchwoman began the 2022 season ranked number 78 in the world and is currently number 4. Garcia won the French Open (with Kiki Mladenovic) in doubles (her doubles game had never left her), and won Bad Homburg and Warsaw, defeating Iga Switek in the quarterfinals. But she wasn’t done—she went on to win Cincinnati, reached the U.S. Open semifinals for the first time, then capped her glorious year off by winning the WTA Finals.
7. Epic—and awesome: World number 1 Iga Swiatek was on a ten-match win streak in finals. Her opponent in the Ostrava final was Barbora Krejcikova, who spent much of this year either out with injury or working to find her game again. She found it in front of her home crowd, in what was easily the match of the year. Krejcikova and Swiatek threw everything they had at each other for three hours and sixteen minutes, and it was a spectacle to behold.
Krejcikova went down 1-5 in the first set, but wound up losing it 5-7. She won the second and thrd sets 7-6, 6-3. The scoreline alone communicates how thrilling the match was, but the shot-making and athleticism made it something beyond thrilling. The players were very emotional, the people in the stands were very emotional, and those watching on television were very emotional, also.
Doing what nobody has been able to do for a long, long time 👏— wta (@WTA) October 9, 2022
🇨🇿 @BKrejcikova defeats Swiatek in a final after 3h16m to clinch her fifth career WTA singles title!!!#OstravaOpen pic.twitter.com/ljCYStnI25
6. I’ll have another, please: The French Open champion in 2020 (Krejcikova won in 2021), Iga Swiatek, did it again in 2022, taking out the likes of Jessie Pegula, Dasha Kasatkina and—in the final—Coco Gauff.
5. And one of these, too: When I wrote about Swiatek and the 2022 U.S. Open, I described her as having a kind of Princess and the Pea role. She made it clear that she didn’t like the “special” women’s tennis balls used in Flushing Meadows (she isn’t alone), and she was constantly replacing her racket because she was dissatisfied with the string tension. But that didn’t stop her from winning the championship. Swiatek defeated 2017 champion Sloane Stephens, Jessie Pegula and Aryna Sabalenka, before defeating Ons Jabeur in the final.
4. The master steps away?: Serena Williams retired from professional tennis this year—or did she? At first, it seemed like she
did, but now, it’s hard to know.
3. Like a boss: Elena Rybakina may have been a first-time major champion, but her Wimbledon win should have come to no surprise to anyone who was paying attention. Seeded 17th, Rybakina had faced the challenges of both illness and injury, as well as having won only two of the eight finals that she had contested. But on the lawns of Wimbledon, she left all that behind, dropping only two sets in the entire tournament, and taking out 2019 champion Simona Halep in the process. Her victory made Rybakina the first Kazakhstani to win a major.
That was the good part. Rybankina received no ranking points for winning Wimbldeon, due the the WTA/ATP’s decision to strip ranking points as a protest against Wimbledon’t decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players fron competing. (As a result of both of these actions, Vladimir Putin has—of course—suffered greatly.)
2. A worthy encore: Last year, Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova won the Golden Slam and the WTA finals. We’ll never know what would have happened, but the pair just missed winning another Grand Slam this year when they had to had to withdraw from the French Open because Krejcikova contracted the Covid virus. They took home trophies after the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, which is still very impressive, especially coming after experiencing their glory year of 2021.
1. It’s all about Iga: World number 1 Iga Swiatek is now living in the rarified air of very elite sport. Her victory in San Diego gave her her eighth title of the year (including two majors), and she ended the season 24-1 in the USA. The Polish star also had a ten-match winning streak in finals (broken by Krejcikova), and—at one point in the season—she was on a 37-match win streak. She can only get better (I’m thinking lots of practice on grass courts?), and I, for one, can’t wait to see what she accomplishes in 2023.
Aside from her tennis, Swiatek is developing a rare (how unfortunate) Azaarenka-type voice; she is comfortable speaking out on everything from the U.S. Open’s insistence on forcing WTA players to use lightweight tennis balls to the problem of player abuse by authority figures.
But that’s not all. The Russian players are avid readers, but only the world number 1 has been spotted reading Wuthering Heights during a changeover (back when I read it, I couldn’t put it down, either). And my personal favorite Iga moment this year was her revelation that “Seven” is her favorite song from Folklore.