Serena Williams’ WTA Tour Finals victory in Singapore this weekend saw the last major tournament of the season come to a close and the off-season loom large on the horizon. It is the perfect time to look back on a brilliant season in the WTA, that saw the next generation rise but the old guard keep them away from the silverware.
Back in January 2014, the season began with hardcourts, in the warm-up period for the Australian Open, which saw Serena Williams and Li Na grab the first titles in Brisbane and Shenzen respectively.
Despite this great start to the season, no one expected the Chinese athlete to go on and win the Australian Open, but that’s exactly what she did.
Li Na starts final season in fine fashion
With Williams being trumped by Ana Ivanovic in the just the fourth round, the whole draw was blown wide open and when Agnieszka Radwanska held her nerve to see off an out of sorts Victoria Azarenka, the semi-final line up was turned on its head.
With Eugenie Bouchard bursting into the spotlight and becoming only the second Canadian woman to reach the semi-final of a major, it looked like then 31-year old Li Na, would have quite a game on her hands.
Australian Open set tone for unpredictable season
But Bouchard failed to ignite and lost the semi 6-2, 6-4 to see Na reach her second consecutive Australian Open final.
In the final she met Dominika Cibulkova, who triumphed over Radwanska 6-1, 6-2 and made the Polish star a bridesmaid once again in her quest to win a grand slam title.
Cibulkova who had previously reached a French Open semi in 2009, was through to her first final but was very much the underdog to her far more experienced opponent.
Indeed, this was the way the game played out, with a tight first set being decided on a tie breaker, Na took off and closed out the game, 7-6 (7), 6-0 to win her second Grand Slam title.
Roland Garros remains something special
Fast-forward all the way to May and it was clay court season and after the poor form of the world’s elite in January, Serena and Co were fired up for Roland Garros.
Yet, Williams again couldn’t fire in the big tournaments and despite victory in Rome just a week before Roland Garros, she went tumbling out in the barren wasteland of round two, beaten by Spanish youngster Garbine Muguruza, 6-2,6-2. The win denied a Williams battle royale, as the two were scheduled to meet in the third round but double defeat for the sisters made it a tournament to forget in the Williams household.
Unlike Australia though, Maria Sharapova was in the mix come the quarters and despite losing the opening set 6-1, didn’t let William’s conqueror outshine her, coming back to see off the Spaniard 1-6,7-5,6-1.
It set up a semi-final that put Eugenie Bouchard, in her second consecutive Grand Slam semi of the year, up against her tennis hero, Sharapova. This didn’t seem to faze the young Canadian, who won the first set and made the Russian work hard to get level in the match, with the second set going to Sharapova 7-5.
Sharapova ends up the queen of clay
At level game, it looked like experience would tell and this was immediately the case, as Sharapova was soon out of sight, winning the third set 6-2 to send herself into yet another Grand Slam final, aiming to go one better than last year’s final defeat to Williams.
The second semi-final looked like a mismatch, as the emerging talent of Romanian Simona Halep seemed like it would be too much for surprise semi-finalist Andrea Petkovic. Form proved to be a key factor for Halep and her momentum saw her reel off games to find herself just a single set away from a Grand Slam final.
Petkovic dug in, not letting Halep stride through with ease and the second set ended up in a tie break. The German was desperate to turn the tide in her favour but Halep’s desire couldn’t be repressed and she came through in the tiebreak, taking the game 6-2, 7-6 (7).
The final was then an intriguing mix of the old crowd versus the new generation and it proved to be another score for the old crowd, with the next generation not being allowed to put their hands on the silverware just yet.
It wasn’t all Sharapova’s way though, as she took the first set 6-4 and could have wrapped the game up in two sets, had it not been for a very tight tie break being held by Halep, to level the game and send the final into its full distance.
The third set didn’t disappoint and even though the Russian looked strong, the win wasn’t assured and Sharapova was made to work hard for her fifth Grand Slam title, winning her second French Open title, 6-4, 6-7 (7), 6-4.
Wimbledon served up some shocks
Just a month later, Wimbledon-mania had struck and it was time for the most anticipated Grand Slam to occur, with grass taking centre stage for two weeks.
The in-form player entering the tournament was Ana Ivanovic who won both the Aegon Classic in Birmingham and the Aegon International in Eastbourne. Yet, she was caught up in the mass exodus of top players in the first four rounds of Wimbledon.
Ivanovic came tumbling out in the third round, beaten by grass court maestro Sabine Lisicki, along with five-time champion Serena Williams who was dumped out by Alize Cornet, followed by Sharapova and Radwanska being eliminated in the fourth round.
It set up another intriguing final four as Bouchard, appearing in her third Grand Slam semi out of three in 2014, and equally in form Halep were joined by strong grass court player Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova.
Kvitova looked a strong contender, having the most Wimbledon pedigree of the women and had the easiest semi against Safarova, who contested a tight first set, but was blown away by the big hitting game of the Czech player, 7-6 (8), 6-0.
In the battle of the youngsters, it was a much anticipated showdown with two of the tour’s best performers at Grand Slams in 2014, with Halep bidding to reach back to back Grand Slam finals.
She was to be denied though, as Bouchard reached her first Grand Slam final, seeing off the Romanian 7-6, 6-2, to confirm that there would be a new name on the Wimbledon trophy.
And that name proved to be the big hitting Czech, Petra Kvitova, who just had too much power for Bouchard, her clinical winners landing around her opponent like cannonballs. Sealing the first set 6-3, the second set was a non-event and the Czech bagelled her opponent, whose nerves certainly played a part in the 6-3, 6-0 defeat.
Normal order restored at Flushing Meadows
The US Open had a more familiar feel to it, with the old guard seeming to take back the power from the young guns. Despite losing newly crowned Wimbledon champion Kvitova in just round three, the semi-final line up had an air of familiarity with Serena Williams the overwhelming favourite after Sharapova was sent tumbling by a resurgent Caroline Wozniacki, who showed form that her early career promised, in the fourth round.
2011 was the last season where Williams didn’t win a single Grand Slam title and she looked set to extend her successful streak, despatching Azarenka’s conqueror Ekaterina Makarova with ease 6-1, 6-3 to reach her eighth US Open final.
Wozniacki returns to the top tier
She was joined in the final by Caroline Wozniacki who was a set up on Shuai Peng when her Chinese opponent was forced to retire, sending her through to her first Grand Slam final since her 2009 US Open final defeat to Kim Clijsters.
And it was another defeat for the Danish star, as Williams’ quest to become the most successful woman of the Open Era was boosted, as a 6-3, 6-3 victory saw the American cap an indifferent season with her eighteenth Grand Slam title, her sixth at the US Open.
Whilst September saw Australian Open winner Li Na retire due to recurring knee injuries that were worsening and plaguing her career, October saw a rollercoaster ride for Serena Williams.
Williams suffers humiliation in Singapore
In the final major event of the year, the WTA Tour Championships in Singapore, Williams suffered her heaviest defeat in 18 years at the hands of Halep, who beat her 6-0, 6-2 in the group. It saw Williams receive only the eighth bagel set of her professional tennis career.
It put Williams’ fate out of her own hands and meant that Ivanovic had to win in two sets to beat Williams to the semis. But the Serbian could only manage a three set win over Halep, meaning the Romanian and American qualified for the semi-finals.
In the other group, Wozniacki took control and a win against Sharapova ensured the Russian couldn’t qualify for the semis, sending the Dane through in top spot and meaning Serena Williams would finish the year as world number one.
She was joined by Radwanska, who was pitted against Halep in the semi-final and never really got her teeth into the match, losing 6-2, 6-2 to cap another season without a major title for the tactical maestro.
Williams saved match points against the unbeaten Wozniacki to qualify for her third straight WTA Tour Finals final, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (8) and set up a rematch with Halep, who had handed out a vicious beating in the group stage.
Class is permanent
But Williams had a point to prove and wanted to send out a message to the rest of the tour that the defeat was just a blip and it proved to be just that.
Williams dealt out a 6-3, 6-0 revenge attack on the Romanian in her first ever final at the WTA Tour Finals, showing no mercy and powering her way to victory.
This years’ title was the American’s fifth WTA tour finals victory and ensured that the American will remain number one at the end of the year. It also confirmed her as the second most successful women in the history of the event, tied with Steffi Graff, just three titles behind Martina Navratilova who won the tournament eight times.
Drawing the curtain almost fully down on the season, it has been a real breakthrough year for Eugenie Bouchard, with the young Canadian star tipped to get her first Grand Slam title next year. Romanian Simona Halep will be close behind and a resurgent Wozniacki will also feel she has a good shout next year.
Serena Williams can never be written off, as she tries to amass 22 to equal Steffi Graf’s record tally and Sharapova will also be looking to add to her haul of five titles.
This season though, definitely showed things are beginning to shift and the familiar finalists need to watch out for the upcoming stars, who aren’t afraid to hand out hidings to top stars on an off day.
The WTA has never been so exciting and next season promises more of the same shocks and surprises that littered this year’s tour.
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