WTA Year-End Review 2018 Part 2

2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki
2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki

After seven consecutive losses in title matches, Caroline Wozniacki thought that she wouldn’t get in a great spot to end the previous year. Everything started to come together for the Dane as she ended her lengthy losing streak, winning at Tokyo before going on to become WTA Finals champion in Singapore. After five attempts, the then 27-year-old used all her confidence to come out of the gates fast in 2018.

Wozniacki ran into Auckland but came up short in another final against Germany’s Julia Goerges. When it looked as if the consistent results from 2017 were rearing its ugly head again, the former world number one made her push to be part of Australian Open history.

She played three lopsided matches that went the distance leading to the biggest moment of her life….Grand Slam champion. Wozniacki fought against Simona Halep to capture her first career slam in Melbourne. It not only changed her outlook of the rest of the year but also marked a return to the world number one ranking since 2011.

While her reign at the top of the ranks didn’t last long, the Dane competed regularly going deep in Doha but unable to match her semifinal from last year. Indian Wells and Miami didn’t pan out both physically and mentally leading to her preparations for the clay courts. Wozniacki played three matches each at Istanbul, Madrid, and Rome before going out in four rounds at Roland Garros. Eastbourne became her second title win of the season, but didn’t lead to much at Wimbledon.

Wozniacki didn’t do well during the US Open Series but refused to let the second half of the hard court season slip away. The 28-year-old played a strong list of contenders at the China Open winning each of her six matches in straight sets to win the title. While it didn’t roll over into defending her WTA championship in Singapore, there was still a lot to be said of her season of “major” change. It made Wozniacki more than prepared to defend her Australian Open title and become a regular threat to the rest of the competition.

Victoria Azarenka at the Rogers Cup in Montreal
Victoria Azarenka at the Rogers Cup in Montreal

One player who is trying to get back into the mix of strong players is Victoria Azarenka who played 29 matches for the first time since 2016. After giving birth to her son Leo in Dec. 2017, the former world number one made her season debut three months into the season playing a late night match against Heather Watson at Indian Wells. While she got her first win after becoming a mother, a delay of her second-round match ended in disaster against 17' US Open champion Sloane Stephens.

The Belorussian gave herself a shot at returning to Miami where she had been a three-time champ. In signature fashion, Azarenka went all the way to the semis giving Stephens a much harder fight despite losing out on a fourth career trip to the final. It became a clear indication of her dedication to the sport playing in 11 tournaments in 2018. Despite having some physical strains that took her out early in tournaments, the 29-year-old looked forward to a second year back starting at the ASB Classic.

Belinda Bencic in competition at the Toray Pan Pacific Open
Belinda Bencic in competition at the Toray Pan Pacific Open

Belinda Bencic was very much looking forward to 2019 since putting in a lot of time in ITF tournaments. The 21-year-old who once beat Serena Williams in competition and won a premier WTA tournament had struggled since after a back injury and other complications. This year, her highlights included making the final of the Hopman Cup before going to the fourth round of Wimbledon. It showed the tennis world her eagerness to be a serious fighter in the sport. While she had to play from the very bottom in tournaments, Bencic rallied to go deep in New Haven winning four straight before losing to eventual champion Aryna Sabalenka.

The Swiss star took that confidence and went into Luxembourg writing an odyssey that took her all the way to the final. Though she had a serious challenge against Goerges, Bencic proved that her skills were returning to their full potential after completing eight matches playing 18 sets. She returned to ITF competitions before the year ended in mid-November. With the hope of having better outcomes and more time on the WTA Tour, Bencic carried a lot of positive feelings to be back where she belonged.

The same went for Johanna Konta and Monica Puig who were both dealing with problems on and off the court. The 27-year-old Brit started 2018 as the world number nine and dropped to 50th by the time Wimbledon was in play. Despite coming so close to winning the tournament in Nottingham, Konta was left frustrated by her results. “I basically just ran out of steam,” Konta said to The Guardian. “That is pretty much what happened. It could have been for a number of different reasons.”

She also came to the conclusion that she didn’t have the right support to get her out of those moments. It was then that she decided to sign with StarWing Sports who have clients like Stan Wawrinka, Gaël Monfils and Donna Vekic. She also split ways with American coach Michael Joyce and hired Dimitri Zavialoff. With her back on her native soil of Australia, Konta will try to recover ground and take the new path made.

Puig was on a different one ever since Hurricane Maria devastated her island nation of Puerto Rico. The tennis star spent a numerous amount of time raising money for her countrymen in any way that she could. While it was a great contribution for the better good, It didn’t help with her tennis game. The then 24-year-old continued to play the WTA Tour but couldn’t get a serious grip in tournaments.

From Auckland to Cincinnati, Puig didn’t get out of the second round in five tournaments and only made the quarters in Monterrey. It wasn’t until New Haven where the reigning Olympic gold medalist won six matches in a row before retiring to Carla Suarez Navarro in the semifinal. She journeyed from qualifications to the round of eight in Wuhan before her season came to a quick end. While there remains a lot to be done for her home country, Puig remained intent on doing both until she can make a point to bring more hope to her constituents back home.

Agnieszka Radwanska playing in her final WTA match at the Connecticut Open
Agnieszka Radwanska playing in her final WTA match at the Connecticut Open

Agnieszka Radwanska would see a lot more of hers after calling a career of 13 years in competition. The 29-year-old cited health concerns as her reason to retire as “no longer able to train and play the way I used to,” in a letter on Facebook. Radwanska won 20 WTA titles going 650-276 with her best victories coming on the hard and grass courts. She made the Wimbledon final in 2012 despite losing to S. Williams.

“Taking into consideration my health and the heavy burdens of professional tennis, I have to concede that I’m not able to push my body to the limits required.” This past season, the Polish star made it to the QFs at Auckland and Sydney. She also made it to the semis at Eastbourne before taking serious defeats that led to her decision. “It’s time for new challenges, new ideas, equally as exciting as those on the tennis court, I hope.”

The tennis world is always in gear at this time of the year where everyone gets excited to see their favourite stars back in action. 2019 leaves every possibility open for everyone involved including some new names that will no doubt make their mark on the WTA tour and at grand slam tournaments. The sport starts with a new page to ink the action on the courts and illustrate the champions that will raise trophies, create legends and become immortal.

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Edited by Kingshuk Kusari
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