Angie, Garbine, Serena and the rest: a review of the 2016 women’s season
With the WTA Finals now behind us and the Fed Cup the only major title still to be decided, we look back on the women’s tennis season.
Kerber rises to the top
Angelique Kerber had quite a year. Having never previously made any of the six major finals, the German appeared in five of them, winning the Australian and US Open titles and finishing runner-up at Wimbledon, the Olympic Games and the WTA finals. It was a breakthrough season that seemed altogether unlikely in the early stages of the Australian Open, especially when she came within a single point of elimination in the third round.
That match ultimately proved to be the turning point of her outstanding season, the only downside of which came at the French. Struggling with a shoulder injury, she went down to a first-round defeat to springtime sensation Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, who went all the way to the semi-finals.
At the age of 28 years and eight months, Kerber became the oldest player to reach the top of the women’s rankings for the first time, unseating none other than Serena Williams in the process. And she did so with perfect timing, right at the very end of a season of which Williams herself would have been proud.
Muguruza joins the big hitters
Garbine Muguruza responded to the loss of the opening set of her French Open first-round match against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova in the most emphatic style possible, going on to win 14 sets on the spin and thereby seal her maiden Grand Slam title.
After defeating the Slovakian 3-6 6-3 6-3, the Spaniard saw off Myrtille Georges 6-2 6-0, Yanina Wickmayer 6-3 6-0 and 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3 6-4 in a match of the highest quality. She then disposed of Shelby Rogers 7-5 6-3, last-four regular Samantha Stosur 6-2 6-4, and world number one Serena Williams 7-5 6-4 in the final.
Though her season contained the occasional low note, that stunning run showed her ability to peak at just the right moment and on the biggest of stages.
Records keep coming for Serena and Venus
As seasons go, 2016 was not the greatest for the Williams. Even so, it still brought Serena a 22nd Grand Slam title at Wimbledon (equalling Steffi Graf’s Open era record), runners-up slots at the Australian and French Opens, a 309th victory in Grand Slam matches (surpassing the record of 306 jointly held by Martina Navratilova and Roger Federer), and a 186th consecutive week at the top of the WTA Rankings, equalling another Graf record.
As for Venus, it was a season in which she made a record-breaking 72nd Grand Slam appearance and also stepped out for a record 19th time at the French. Just for good measure, she landed a record fifth Olympic medal at Rio 2016, picking up mixed doubles silver to go with the golds she won in the singles in 2000 and in the doubles in 2000, 2008 and 2012.
The siblings also combined to land the Wimbledon doubles crown, the 14th Grand Slam title they have won together. And if that does not exactly represent a vintage season for the Williams, it just goes to show how high they have set their standards over the best part of the last two decades.
Puig scores a sensation
In scooping women’s singles gold at Rio 2016, Monica Puig sprang an even bigger surprise than Chile’s Nicolas Massu did in Athens 12 years ago. Ranked only 34th in the world, the 22-year-old Puerto Rican disposed of French Open winner Muguruza and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova before seeing off soon-to-be world number one Kerber in the final. In pulling off the biggest shock in the history of Olympic women’s tennis, the disbelieving Puig became the Caribbean island nation’s first female medal winner.
Cibulkova saves best till last
The heel injury Dominika Cibulkova sustained last year saw her WTA ranking plummet to 66th back in February. Yet by the time October came around, the Slovakian was winning in Linz and on the verge of making her first ever appearance at the WTA Finals in Singapore, where she capped a remarkable turnaround in her fortunes by winning the title.
Though she lost two of her round robin matches, Cibulkova advanced to the semi-finals on account of having a superior set average to Simona Halep and Madison Keys. Her reward for then defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova in three sets (1-6 7-6 6-4) was a place in the final against the season’s star performer, Angelique Kerber.
In securing an unexpected straight-sets win (6-3 6-4) over the German, Cibulkova joined respective 1982 and 2015 champions Sylvia Hanika and Agnieszka Radwanska as the only players to have won the WTA Finals without having ever lifted a Grand Slam title. It should not be forgotten, however, that Kim Clijsters, Amélie Mauresmo and even Chris Evert were also once in that category.
Pliskova makes her entrance
Karolina Pliskova was a key player in the mid-season battle between Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber for top slot in the WTA Rankings. In beating the German in the Cincinnati final, Pliskova ensured Williams would momentarily remain number one, but in then beating the American in the US Open semi-finals, she allowed Kerber to move out front as the world’s leading player.
As those performances showed, and in coming within three games of the US title before going down 6-3 4-6 6-4 to Kerber, the Czech has what it takes to one day join the fight for top spot herself. It remains to be seen if twin sister Krystina, currently 61st in the world and a WTA event winner in Tashkent this season, can climb up alongside her.
Read more: 5 things to know about Karolina Pliskova
Mother-to-be Azarenka bounces back
After scaling the heights in 2012 and 2013, during which she proved Serena Williams’ most persistent rival, and then suffering two injury-ravaged seasons, Victoria Azarenka stormed back on to the scene with wins at Indian Wells and Miami. But the Belarusian’s season came to an early end at the French Open, though for the best possible reason, as she announced that she was pregnant. The question is, will the 27-year-old return to the top after giving birth? Kim Clijsters proved it can be done, winning three Grand Slam titles after becoming a mother.
Read more: Azarenka redux
I have some news for you all pic.twitter.com/64Kf90tZF6— victoria azarenka (@vika7) 15 juillet 2016
Doubles honours evenly spread
The women’s doubles season was dominated by four different pairings, with each taking their turn in the spotlight. The year began with Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza taking the Brisbane, Sydney, Australian Open and St Petersburg titles before France’s Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic took over on clay, with victories in Charleston, Stuttgart, Madrid and at the French Open.
Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina then ruled the roost in the Americas, emerging victorious in Montreal and at Rio 2016 before taking the WTA Finals crown, while Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova took the US Open honours and also triumphed in Wuhan and Beijing. And the end of it all, only 300 points separated the top five in the WTA Doubles Rankings (Mirza, Garcia, Mladenovic, Hingis and Mattek-Sands), with the French duo topping the Road to Singapore Doubles Leaderboard.