Petra Kvitova’s brilliant year: 2011 women’s tennis review
Marianne Bevis takes a look back at the 2011 women's tennis season, including Petra Kvitova's surge up the rankings
When it came to the women’s tour in 2011, variety was definitely the spice of life. The Grand Slams were won by four different women””three of them winning a Major for the first time.
Old familiar faces came and went: Kim Clijsters won in Australia but played only five more matches after March due to injury. Justine Henin, back on the tour for little more than a season, managed three matches in Melbourne before a chronic elbow problem forced her to retire for good.
The year began, just as 2010 had ended, without Serena Williams””she would return where she had left, at Wimbledon, and power to back-to-back Premier titles and the US Open final just a fortnight before her 30th birthday.
Sister Venus missed most of the year””all but 11 matches””with injury and illness.
And throughout, Caroline Wozniacki held sway at the top of the rankings to the year-end, yet remained in search of that elusive Slam.
The absence of so many former champions seemed, however, to give a shot in the arm to the women’s scene. A new generation of young faces began to assert themselves and a panoply of established women showed that experience and maturity bring their own rewards.
For every 21-year-old Petra Kvitova””who won the first tournament of the year in Brisbane””there was a 31-year-old Greta Arn, who beat Maria Sharapova, Julia Goerges and Yanina Wickmayer, all in straight sets, to win in Auckland.
Women newly into their 20s made inroads: Goerges in Stuttgart, Polona Hercog in Bastad, Magdalena Rybarikova in Memphis, Ksenia Pervak in Tashkent. But scattered amongst them were wins by women born almost a decade earlier.
Thirty-year-old Lourdes Domingues Lino won her second title in four years in Bogota. Alberta Brianti, now 31, took Fes, her first title in 11 years as a pro. Anabel Medina Garrigues and Marie Jose Martinez Sanchez won two titles apiece: both are nearing 30.
The likes of Na Li, Sam Stosur and Marion Bartoli achieved their highest year-end rankings after more than a decade apiece on the tour””and each has a place here. But the star of the year was 21-year-old Kvitova. She started the year with a title and ended it the same way, taking four more in between.
Player of the year: Petra Kvitova
The memory of a tall, unassuming young woman from the Czech Republic at Wimbledon in 2010 may become a moment that, in years to come, recalls the first sighting of a great champion.
Then ranked in the 60s, still growing into her long limbs and flushed with the thrill of the big Wimbledon stage, she dismissed Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki and Kaia Kanepi before falling to Serena Williams. Kvitova was barely 20 but already had big, left-handed, fearless tennis.
Even so, despite three titles from five finals already in the bag, come Wimbledon 2011 there were few prepared for her serene progress to that same title. Judging from her Mona Lisa smile, she was unsure how to react herself, too.
Her inexperience at this elite level caused a dropping off in form before she regrouped for the Asian swing, reached the semis in Tokyo and then the title in Linz. This timely indoor success launched her into Istanbul where she powered to the WTA Championships unbeaten. To cap it off, she led the Czech team to Fed Cup glory and won the WTA Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award.
Kvitova started the year at No34, ended it at No2 and, with her growing self-confidence, she may well become No1 in the world by early spring. More significant still, her ability on grass is second to none. Kvitova must start 2012 as favourite for another special Wimbledon title: Olympic gold.
The striking, charismatic German turned 24 during the US Open and she celebrated by reaching her third Grand Slam quarter-final of the year and of her career.
Coming into New York, Petkovic had scored more match wins than anyone but Wozniacki. She broke into the top 10 for the first time in August with excellent results on the US hard courts, including semi-finals in Cincinnati and Carlsbad and wins over Kvitova and Nadia Petrova.
Despite losing to Wozniacki at Flushing, the increasingly-confident Petkovic looked ready to take her momentum through the remaining hard-court season and push for the WTA Championships. But a chronic knee problem has blighted her tennis before and it flared up during the Beijing final. She subsequently pulled out of Tokyo, Linz and Luxembourg and was unable to take up her place at Bali’s Tournament of Champions.
The evolution of the tall, athletic Petkovic has been a slow burn: She turned pro only five years ago. But her steady maturation bore huge fruits in this, her breakthrough year. She will be a force to be reckoned with in 2012″”and will no doubt continue to light up tournaments with her signature dances.
It was the delightful Radwanska who beat Petkovic in the Beijing final, one of the highest quality women’s matches of the year.
The quiet, slight Polish woman turned pro six years ago having won both the Wimbledon and French junior titles and broke into the top 10 in 2008 after reaching the quarters of the Australian Open and Wimbledon. By the end of last year, however, she was back to No14 and had not won a title since Eastbourne in June 2008.
But 2011 saw a fresh blooming of Radwanska, especially on the hard courts of summer and autumn: the final of Carlsbad, semis in Toronto and then back-to-back Premier titles in Tokyo and Beijing. Playing intelligent, creative all-court tennis, she found a second career surge””and she’s still only 22.
Radwanska ends 2011 with a year-end high of No8 and now perhaps with the maturity and confidence that prevented a permanent breakthrough before. Her many fans””and she was the WTA Fans’ Favourite this year””will hope for more of her special brand of tennis and personality in 2012.
When Stosur walked onto Arthur Ashe to face Williams in the final of the US Open, she had the look of a woman wanting to prove something: how much work she had put into transforming herself from one of the best doubles players in the world, via serious illness, to becoming one of the strongest and smartest singles players.
Her first Grand Slam success came in 2010 when she reached the final of the French Open, beating Williams in three sets in the process.
Then, after a slow start to 2011, she made the finals in Rome and Toronto””this time losing to Williams””and looked increasingly impressive through the US Open draw, beating Petrova, Maria Kirilenko and No2 seed Vera Zvonareva.
Along the way, Stosur broke the record for the longest women’s match in New York since tie-breaks were introduced in 1970. In her quarter-final, she played the longest Open era tie-break, losing it 15-17. Then in the final, the new-model Stosur, more focused and confident than her younger self, produced her best tennis of the year to beat Williams in just 73 minutes.
As a result, Stosur became the first Australian woman to win a Slam since Evonne Goolagong at Wimbledon in 1980. And what wouldn’t Australia give for their favourite daughter to win her second on home soil next month.
She’s unconventional, smart, hard-working, determined and consistent: One has to admire the focus and fight of France’s Bartoli.
She may be the closest that the women’s tour has to the determination and work ethic of David Ferrer, and both will end their career knowing they maximised every ounce of their ability.
By any measure, Bartoli had a good year, one that started at No16 in the
rankings and ended on a personal year-end high of No9.
She reached the finals of Indian Wells, Strasbourg and Stanford, the semis of the French Open and the quarters of Wimbledon””after beating Kvitova for the title in Eastbourne. She dipped during the US Open Series, only to go on an all-or-nothing Far East campaign of four tournaments in four straight weeks that culminated in the Osaka title.
It all added up to the highest tally of matches on the women’s tour but she was thwarted at the 13th hour when she fell ill in Moscow: She needed just one more match win to qualify for Istanbul. In the event, she got to play a match as an alternate””and won it””before rushing off to her allotted place in Bali. That proved to be a step too far and she retired with an ankle injury.
But come 2012, she’ll be back, jaw clenched and ready to fight once more. And it would really be no surprise if she scrambled another couple of places up the rankings.
Caroline Wozniacki did not manage that long-sought-after Grand Slam title but she produced plenty of highlights, including the year-end No1 for the second straight year. She won six titles, reached the finals of two more, the semis of the Australian and US Open, and won more matches than any other woman this year. With her strong early-season record on the hard courts, Melbourne may be her favourite for that elusive Major.
Maria Sharapova had the No1 ranking in her sights until she twisted an ankle in Tokyo. She qualified for Istanbul but retired after losing two Round Robins and instead ended 2011 at No4. It was her highest year-end since 2006 and a rise of 14 places via two Premier titles in Rome and Cincinnati, the finals of Wimbledon and Miami and semis of Indian Wells and Roland Garros.
Na Li became Asia’s first Grand Slam singles champion at Roland Garros after almost sealing her moment of glory in Australia: She lost to Clijsters in the final. She lit up the first half of 2011 with her sharp, clean tennis on court and her wit and charm off court. Despite a drastic fall in form and loss of confidence in the second half of the year, she continued a year-on-year rise up the rankings to, at the age of 29, a year-end-high of No5.
Francesca Schiavone almost made it two French Open titles in a row before losing out to Li in the 2011 final. She lost ground during the rest of the year, but notched up the longest active streak of Open era Grand Slam appearances””45″”at the US Open. The fighting spirit and durability of the 31-year-old is renowned and she claimed two of the three longest matches of the year: her defeat of Svetlana Kuznetsova at the Australian Open in 4hrs 44mins and her loss to Paszek at Wimbledon in 3hrs 41mins. There’s no such thing as a lost cause for Schiavone.
Serena Williams, absent for a year with injury and illness, made a remarkable return to the June grass. She reached the fourth round of Wimbledon but it was the US Open Series that felt the full force of her tennis with back-to-back titles at Stanford and Toronto. Her loss in New York, her 17th Grand Slam final, was only her second hard-court loss in 20 matches. She withdrew from the rest of the season for health reasons, but with some winter exhibitions under her belt, she could be gearing up for another Major in 2012.
More in this series: Novak Djokovic’s year to remember