For a few years before 2012, the women’s game was in a state of constant flux… as the top rankings changed hands frequently, the champions of the game remained injured, retired or out of form, and some unlikely players emerged as Grand Slam champions. The scene was a far cry from the men’s game, where the Big Four created their own inner coterie – reserving rights of entry to challenge for Grand Slams and Masters titles. But in 2012, there was some semblance restored to the WTA Tour as well.
By the end of the year, the WTA could boast of its own Big Three – Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams – with each player having their own monumental achievement this season. In the beginning of the year, Victoria Azarenka went on a tear – going unbeaten in her first 26 matches and winning her first Grand Slam singles title in Melbourne. By mid-season, Maria Sharapova had transitioned from self-proclaimed ‘cow on ice’ to French Open champion – completing a career Grand Slam in the bargain. And while both achievements were quite noteworthy, eventually neither could compare to Serena Williams’ second half of the season.
In the first half of 2011, Serena found herself in the hospital due to blood clots and health issues, an after-effect of having stitches on her foot which was hurt by broken glass pieces. And while she picked up the pieces of her career last season itself, it was not until mid-2012 that Serena was in full gear – demolishing any opponents in sight and regaining the aura that she had lost earlier.
Early on in the season, Serena suffered some uncharacteristic defeats – to Russian Ekaterina Makraova in the fourth round of the Australian Open and to former world no. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in the quarter-finals of Miami. Serena picked up her game on the clay courts – going unbeaten by winning titles in Charleston and Madrid (where she beat Azarenka and Sharapova). And while she entered the French Open as a heavy favourite, the law of averages caught up with her. Serena was shocked in the first round by an inspired Frenchwoman Virgine Razzano in a three set thriller in which Serena had plenty of chances to close out the match.
“I was miserable after that loss in Paris. I have never been so miserable after a loss. I was playing extremely well before that. To be honest, I felt like I lost a little confidence after that. I don’t know if that helped me, the loss in Paris, or it fueled me or if it didn’t. I like to believe it did, because, you know, I just wanted to do more. I wanted to do more and more and more. Sometimes they say it’s good to lose.”
That defeat certainly hurt. But like a wounded tiger, Serena came back with steelier resolve. As she told reporters at the US Open:
“I really think a champion is defined not by their wins but by how they can recover when they fall. I have fallen several times. Each time I just get up and I dust myself off and I pray and I’m able to do better or I’m able to get back to the level that I want to be on. So I feel really awesome that I have been able to do that and that I can do that and I have done that. I think, for me, like you see great people like Muhammad Ali, for instance, who is a complete person I have always looked up to in sports. He went to jail for so long and he came back as a champion again. So I just really think that really defines a champion.”
She won her 14th Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, then won Stanford and the Olympics. A quarter final loss to Angelique Kerber in Cincinnati gave Serena some breathing room and by the time she was in New York, she was breathing fire. Serena was in dominating form all fortnight and won her 15th Grand Slam title – now just three shy of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert’s 18 Slam titles. And she ended the season with a win at the WTA Tour Championships in Istanbul.
While the rankings may show her as the third best ranked player in the world (partly due to her limited schedule and partly due to her mediocre early season), there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Serena Williams is the best player in game right now. Serena won 48 of her last 50 matches of the season, and if she is able to pick up some additional points in the first quarter of 2013, there is no doubt the computer will also recoginse her as the best player in the world. Until then, Serena can make do with Sportskeeda’s award for Female Tennis Achievement of the Year.
Catch the rest of the awards here: 2012 Tennis Awards