The women who made the 2018 season sparkle

With players on their vacations, it’s a perfect time to sit back and reflect on a scintillating season of WTA action.

©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Alex Sharp

The unpredictability that swept across the WTA season made it a campaign to remember for fans, media and players.

The Grand Slams were split between four different players with dreams made, unprecedented drama and captivating contests at every event.

Here we look at the names who really moulded the memorable 2018 in women’s tennis.

Patience pays off for Caroline with Melbourne magic

“Honestly, I think that's one of the most positive things about all of this. I'm never going to get that question again,” joked the Dane. Finally, Caroline Wozniacki ruled on the major stage at the 43rd attempt and forced journalists to conjure up a new line of questioning.

Twice a Grand Slam runner-up in New York (2009, 2014), but her game gleamed in the Melbourne sun to lift a maiden major.

It could have been so different, having to claw back from 1-5 in the deciding set to topple Jana Fett in the second round.

Caroline Wozniacky crying out of joy after winning her first Grand Slam title at the 2018 Australian Open.©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

The final was a concoction of raw emotion, piercing striking and astonishing athleticism, with Wozniacki prevailing 7-6(2), 3-6, 6-4 in two hours and 49 minutes of sweltering action.

“It was a dream come true to rise to world No.1 in 2010, but, to do so again after so many years really makes me proud,” declared Wozniacki. “To become No.1 again after winning my first-ever Grand Slam here in Melbourne is one of the happiest and proudest moments of my career.”

Osaka launches onto the major stage

Osaka began 2018 at world No.68, but by March coach Sascha Bajin moulded her destructive artillery into a consistent menace.

At just 20-years-old Osaka relinquished just a single set to topple Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Karolina Pliskova, world No.1 Simona Halep and Daria Kasatkina to lift the Indian Wells trophy.

From unseeded outsider to a first WTA title. Now that is a statement.

It was also the launchpad for an absorbing triumph at the US Open. Unfortunately, the Championships will be remembered for the controversy between her idol Serena Williams and umpire Carlos Ramos.

Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams during the US Open 2018 trophy presentation©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

However, Osaka’s ruthless 6-2, 6-4 showing in the final encapsulated her maturity and development in 2018.

Blocking out the histrionics, unleashing her game with poise and precision. The first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam has the potential to tally up plenty more.

Halep warms hearts with Parisian glory

The Romanian fell agonisingly short in the 2014 and 2017 Roland Garros finals. Halep had also surrendered a set and a break lead to Ostapenko in last year’s silverware showdown, but banished the demons of three previous major finals in June.

Sloane Stephens ran out of ideas as Halep capped a title run characterised by unwavering spirit to press 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 onto the Roll of Honour in Paris.

"In the last game I felt I cannot breathe any more. I just tried not to repeat the (outcome from) last year. Honestly, I cannot believe it,” said Halep following an emotional embrace with coach Darren Cahill. “I was dreaming for this moment since I started to play tennis. I'm really happy that it's happened in Roland-Garros in Paris. My special city."

Simona Halep kissing the Roland-Garros 2018 trophy in front of the RG18 clay wall©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

An eventual 46-11 season record scooped up a second successive year-end No.1 ranking alongside qualification once again for the WTA Finals in Singapore.  

"Winning a grand slam and finishing No.1, I think it's the most that I could ask for. I had also tough moments, because in Melbourne it was really tough to go over and to come back stronger,” reflected the Romanian after a herniated disk in Halep's back forced her withdrawal from Singapore. "I think definitely, actually, this is the best year of my career."

Kerber caps comeback with Wimbledon wish

"I think it's just amazing. I cannot describe this feeling because when I was a kid I was always dreaming for this moment. To win Wimbledon, it's something really special in my career."

Angelique Kerber dissolved the doubts and lack of form in 2017 to become the first German woman to win the Wimbledon title since Steffi Graf in 1996.

Not bad company for a player who fell from grand slam glory in 2016 to despair in 2017 as her ranking tumbled outside the Top 20.

Kerber’s relentless resolve was rewarded on the luscious lawns of SW19, navigating past Belinda Bencic, Osaka, Daria Kasatkina, Ostapenko and Serena Williams all in straight sets.

Such authority, such dominance, it was a defiant signal that Kerber is well and truly back.

Angelique Kerber fist pumping at Wimbledon 2018©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
A rocket from Belarus

Kiki Bertens deservedly was acknowledged for a staggering 12 months as the WTA’s ‘Most Improved Player of the Year.’

The Dutchwomen transformed her clay court and doubles prowess into an all-court threat. The 2-6, 7-6(6), 6-2 thriller with Halep to claim the Cincinnati Premier Mandatory perfectly portrayed her development.

However, Aryna Sabalenka is another player who could have easily been awarded this accolade.

The Belarusian led the WTA tour with a 21-8 success rate in matches going the distance to three sets. Sabalenka is the ultimate competitor, embodying the spirit of the tiger tattoo in her left arm.

"The way she competes and the way she can kind of turn into this ‘beast mode’ at a critical time, I feel like it's a very unique talent," former ATP player and now Sabalenka’s coach, Dmitry Tursunov told WTA Insider.  

The duo began working ahead of the grass court campaign and Sabalenka’s game has flourished.

The 20-year-old won a debut title at the Connecticut Open before lifting the Wuhan Open trophy. Add into the mix reaching a career-high ranking of No.11, Sabalenka has truly launched herself into the talk of contenders.

Can Tursunov turn Sabalenka into a Grand Slam champion in 2019?

Serena's return

The story consumed not only tennis but the sporting world. Serena Williams’ return from a year off on maternity leave was mightily impressive.

The American certainly sets high standards for herself, but advancing to the Wimbledon (only her fourth tournament since giving birth in September 2017) and US Open finals in a comeback season was a fabulous feat, one only Serena could really achieve.