I wrote last year that 2011 was a good year for the WTA. I felt this way because Petra Kvitova looked like she would be a contender for multiple years, Na Li helped tennis expand into a market of over 1 billion people, Sam Stosur added a Grand Slam champion to the great Aussie tradition, and Maria Sharapova was once again back in the mix.
I have not written a ton about the WTA. Some could consider this to be me automatically liking men’s tennis better than women’s tennis. This is not the case. I have been following tennis consistently since 1985. I vividly remember Hana Mandlikova defeating Martina Navratilova at the 1985 US Open final. I became an immediate Steffi Graf fan watching her push Martina hard in the 1986 US Open semifinal round. The 1992 Monica Seles – Graf clash at the French Open that ended 6-2, 3-6, 10-8 in Seles’ favor was far better viewing for most fans than Jim Courier’s 7-5, 6-2, 6-1 thrashing of Petr Korda at the same event. My lack of coverage of the WTA over the past few years has a lot to do with how confusing and disjointed the women’s game has been at a time when men’s tennis is producing epic matches and all-time great players. I think order is being restored on the women’s side of the sport, and I could not be more pleased with this development.
2012: A Much Better Year
2012 has been an even better year for the WTA. Victoria Azarenka won her first Grand Slam title and joined Petra Kvitova as a contender for the foreseeable future. Azarenka claimed the #1 ranking and the Australian Open title. Azarenka went on an undefeated streak that did not quite live up to Nole’s from 2011, but it was a streak that had to be respected.
Maria Sharapova joined the party by winning her first French Open title and returning to #1. After years of players being ranked #1 without a Grand Slam title in the past 52 weeks or no Grand Slam titles period, Azarenka and Sharapova have created continuity between tennis’ top ranked players and the winners of tennis’ top events.
The old arrangement made top ranked players look like caretakers while part-time players collected the biggest prizes at tennis’ most visible events. In short, casual fans and even long-time tennis fans were often left scratching their head when looking at the WTA Tour.
Now, Sharapova and Azarenka are in a race to see who finishes 2012 ranked #1. Petra Kvitova has not played great at smaller events in 2012, but she is 10-2 in Grand Slam play this year. Petra is 1 slam away from creating another trivalry. The crowded summer of an Olympic year, held at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club no less, should give Azarenka, Sharapova and Kvitova a chance to prove who is #1 in a way that makes the ranking more meaningful than it has been in years.