WTA 2011 review: Petra Kvitova tops player awards
Marianne Bevis looks back at the 2011 WTA season after Petra Kvitova was named player of the year
The women of the WTA tour have travelled the world, played 55 tournaments, and fought it out for a place in the year-ending Championships in Istanbul and Bali. Time, then, to sit back, take a breather and prepare for 2012″”Olympic year.
But first, there has been one more ceremony to complete, the prize giving that requires neither ball nor racket, but simply a great season’s work: the Oscars of women’s tennis.
The WTA Player Awards are selected by media and fans to recognise achievements both on and off the court, and in a year of such diversity, the voters have been spoiled for choice.
There was a different winner for each Grand Slam, a fifth woman as No1, former champions stricken with illness and injury, and new faces battling it out against a phalanx of late bloomers.
Maria Sharapova, who won her first Slam at 17, found her old winning ways after a steady climb back from shoulder surgery in 2008/9. She won in Rome and Cincinnati, reached the finals of Wimbledon and Miami and ended the year at No4″”and she’s still only 24.
In the second week of the year, Na Li took the first major step in what would become a record-making year, winning China’s first Premier title in Sydney. Two weeks later, she became the first Asian player to reach the final of a Grand Slam””the Australian Open. In Paris, she went still further, taking the French Open title in front of an estimated 116 Chinese viewers.
Kim Clijsters, who returned from retirement in 2009 to win back-to-back US Open titles, was 2011’s first Slam winner with her first Australian Open title. It took her to No1 for first time since 2006, the first mother ever to hold the top ranking. But after starting the year with three straight finals and two Fed Cup wins, she fell to a succession of injuries and has managed just one match since June.
Caroline Wozniacki won the first of six titles at Dubai, won her 500th match at Miami and held the No1 ranking for all but one week””yet still she failed to win a Grand Slam.
Drama surrounded both Williams sisters. Serena returned to the tour in June for the first time since winning Wimbledon in 2010, having suffered a serious foot injury and then a pulmonary embolism. She soon had titles from Stanford and Toronto and reached the final of the US Open. She has not played since, yet her year ended with a No12 ranking and a 22-3 win-loss record.
For Venus, 2011 was even worse. Plagued by abdominal injury, she played in only four events, three of them Slams, and lost early in all of them. Then came the announcement in New York that she was suffering from the autoimmune virus, SjÃ¶gren’s Syndrome. She, too, has been absent ever since.
None of these women featured in the WTA “Oscars” but perhaps the most surprising absentee was Sam Stosur.
Now 27, the quietly-spoken Stosur is a late bloomer on the singles tour after making the transition from a successful doubles career, and she became the first Australian woman to win the US Open title since Margaret Court in 1973.
She has shown an impressive determination in working back to her best ever fitness after losing a year to Lyme disease and viral meningitis in 2007. Her reward was a first Grand Slam final in Paris last year and, after a slow start to 2011, she reached the finals in Toronto and looked increasingly impressive through the US Open draw.
She finally took on the toughest challenge of all in 13-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams, and won.
However, the standout player of the year has rightly been honoured by both media and fans.
Petra Kvitova won the first tournament of the year in Brisbane and won the season-ending climax in Istanbul. In between, she took four more titles, peaking in high summer with her first Grand Slam at Wimbledon.
This season, which culminated in victory for the Czech Republic in the Fed Cup this month, has earned her the Player Of The Year Award. In rising from No34 at the start of the year to No2 at the end, she has also won the Most Improved Player Award. And it doesn’t end there. Chosen by her fellow players, Kvitova has also won the Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award, which acknowledges a player’s professionalism, attitude and sense of fair play.
She has proved, in her gutsy, attacking style of play that she is the new face of women’s tennis. Tall, left-handed and with an aggressive, clean game that marries elements of Steffi Graf with Kvitova’s idol, Martina Navratilova, she is also modest and unaffected.
Her reaction to the three awards? “I will always cherish the 2011 season.”
Certainly her break-through in 2011 is a shot in the arm of the women’s tour, but her prowess on grass must make 2012 an even more exciting prospect for the 21-year-old: surely Olympic gold beckons.
In the popularity stakes, only one woman could compete with Kvitova, and she could not be more of a contrast.
The Fans’ Favourite was Agnieszka Radwanska, proving that variety is the spice of life. She is a slight, calm figure who plays intelligent, strategic tennis that wins with foot-speed, touch, placement and a willingness to mix up drop shots and volleys with angled baseline winners.
The Polish woman turned pro six years ago having won both the Wimbledon and French junior titles, broke into the top 10 in 2008 but ended last year at No14.
Then, in 2011, she enjoyed a second blooming. Carlsbad was her first title in three years and she went on to win Tokyo and Beijing””the biggest results of her career””back-to-back. She is still just 22.
Two more fan favourites took the other major honours.
The Comeback Player Of The Year Award went to Sabine Lisicki who, in 2009, burst on the scene with her first Premier title in Charleston and reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at Wimbledon.
She then missed much of 2010 with an ankle injury before making a surge back up the rankings from No179 at the start of the 2011 to a career-high of 15 in November.
As well as titles in Birmingham and Dallas, she reached her maiden Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon.
The smiling, extrovert German thrilled the Centre Court crowd with her pacy, powerful game and, despite missing the Asian swing and withdrawing from Luxembourg with illness, she managed to qualify for Bali.
Last but not least, the evergreen Francesca Schiavone won her colleagues’ vote for the Player Service Award, which recognises the woman who has done the most to support her fellow players through the WTA Players’ Council and other initiatives.
Schiavone has captured the imagination of tennis fans with her joy and tennis-craft since winning the title at Roland Garros last year. And her progress to the final again this year was just as popular.
Schiavone went on to compete in her 12th US Open in her 45th consecutive Grand Slam appearance””the longest active female streak in the Open era. Yet it was not until she won her first Slam in Paris last year that she earned the WTA’s Most Improved Player award””aged 30. She may value this year’s award still more.
Results in full
Player Of The Year; and Most Improved Player Of The Year: Petra Kvitova
Comeback Player Of The Year: Sabine Lisicki
Newcomer Of The Year: Irina-Camelia Begu
Player Service: Francesca Schiavone
Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship: Petra Kvitova
Fan Favourite Singles Player: Agnieszka Radwanska
Fan Favourite Breakthrough Player: Petra Kvitova