The women’s professional tennis tour, organized by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), is largely known for superstars such as Serena Williams and Venus Williams. But with both Williams sisters nearing 40 years old, retirement is looming. Who will be the next star to take over women’s tennis? This question has been haunting the WTA for some years as the top of the women’s game has been in flux since the earlier part of the decade.
Promising talents such as Garbiñe Muguruza and Sloane Stephens showed flashes of brilliance and star power but failed to produce the consistency required to be the star of women’s tennis. Serena continues to be a favorite at every tournament she enters, even if she hasn’t played competitive tennis for months. As recently as 2017, Venus was reaching multiple Grand Slam finals in a year. Who are the new names to remember from the 2019 season?
Naomi Osaka cements herself at the top of the game
Osaka rose to fame at the end of 2018 with her sensational U.S. Open title, but it wasn’t for the reasons she wanted. Osaka was caught in the middle of a controversial call by the umpire that penalized a game from her opponent in the final, Serena. Numerous opinion articles were written defending the umpire and defending Serena, but the damage to Osaka had already been done — the limelight was taken away from her despite the dazzling display of power tennis that took Osaka to her first slam.
Osaka ground through three 3-set matches on her way to her second straight Grand Slam final. Standing in her way was another star of women’s tennis: Petra Kvitova. Only two years ago, Kvitova suffered a life-threatening injury from a knife attack that put her entire tennis career into question. Winning a third Grand Slam title would complete what has already been a fairytale comeback.
In a scintillating display of power tennis, Osaka survived Kvitova 7-6(2), 5-7, 6-4 despite wasting three consecutive match points in the second set. Again, Osaka cried after winning, but this time it was tears of joy. With the win, Osaka also rose to the prestigious No. 1 ranking, the first Asian player ever to hold the top ranking in singles.
Osaka struggled with the pressure that came with the top ranking, taking another three months to reach a quarterfinal in a tournament. It wasn’t until September that she finally sat victorious at a tournament again, winning the Pan Pacific Open and following it up with a title at the China Open just two weeks later. Osaka scaled the heights of women’s tennis in the span of a few months and learned the pressures of being a top player. Expect to see Osaka’s name around for many years.
Ashleigh Barty shows remarkable consistency and poise on her way to the year-end No. 1 ranking.
Barty is only 23 years old; her age is quite easy to forget when one remembers that Barty took a break from professional women’s tennis to play cricket just a few years ago. Before her hiatus, Barty was a budding talent, winning junior Wimbledon at the sapling age of 15. Despite having never broken the Top 100 in singles, she experienced enormous success in professional doubles, reaching three Grand Slam finals as a teenager.
The break did Barty wonders. She returned stronger than ever, winning her first singles title in 2017 at the Malaysian Open and breaking into the Top 20 of women’s tennis. The next year, Barty won her first Grand Slam doubles title. In 2019, she accomplished the same feat in singles at the French Open, along with titles in Miami and Birmingham and numerous deep appearances in tournaments throughout the year.
Only once did Barty suffer a first-round exit, a testament to her remarkable consistency throughout 2019, which is made even more remarkable considering that consistency is exactly what women’s tennis has been lacking.
At the WTA Tour Finals, where the top eight women’s tennis players gather to compete in a round-robin style tournament, Barty once again proved deserving of the No. 1 ranking. She finished at the top of her round-robin group, edged past world No. 2 Karolina Pliskova in the semifinals before defeating defending champion Elina Svitolina to win the title.
With her appearance at the tournament, she secured the year-end No. 1 ranking and solidified her standing at the top of women’s tennis. Like Osaka, Barty is here to stay and compete for the biggest titles in women’s tennis for many more years.
Bianca Andreescu skyrockets to the top of the game despite injuries in 2019
Andreescu was not even in the world’s Top 100 when she started the year. At the 2018 U.S. Open, she lost in the first round of qualifying; she didn’t even qualify for the main draw on the merits of her own ranking. However, 48 wins and just seven losses later, Andreescu owns the 2019 U.S. Open title over Serena and a spot in the Top 5 of the WTA rankings.
In her first tournament of the year, Andreescu reached the final of the Auckland Open, losing a tough three-setter to former Top 10 player Julia Gorges. Since February, she didn’t lose a single completed match until she ran into a resurgent Osaka in the quarterfinals of the China Open in October. This massive winning streak took her to big titles in Indian Wells, Toronto and the U.S. Open.
During that time span, Andreescu beat seven Top 10 players, dazzling everybody with her mixture of power tennis and sneaky variety. Born on June 16, 2000, Andreescu is still a teenager with the potential to change the game of women’s tennis.
However, she ended her season on another shaky note — an injury — which is a concerning theme in her young career. Injuries kept her out of the game for significant chunks of 2018 and 2019. If Andreescu can stay healthy and confident in 2020, it will be exciting to see what she can do.
The WTA continues to show a remarkable depth of quality: Other names to watch for
Pliskova and Svitolina have been in the Top 10 of women’s tennis for a few years now. Svitolina finally broke new ground, reaching two Grand Slam semifinals, but failed to win a single title on tour this year. Pliskova is still showing flashes of magnificence here and there, enough to take her to a few titles throughout the year. However, Pliskova has yet to put it together where it matters the most: The Grand Slams.
Another name to watch out for is Sofia Kenin, a young American who has been making waves on tour this year. With wins over Serena at the French Open, Barty and Osaka, Kenin has proved she can do damage in the big tournaments. Kenin also owns three titles at the international level, showcasing her consistency over lower-ranked players.
Elevating one’s game to the next level in order to reach the top of women’s tennis is routinely cited as one of the most difficult transitions. Kenin shows promise but has work to do in the off-season to continue her progress.
After breaking into the Top 10 as a teenager, Belinda Bencic suffered serious injuries that took her out of the top of the game for a few years. However, a title at the Dubai Tennis Championships and a semifinal at the U.S. Open signal she is back. Bencic qualified for the WTA Tour Finals as one of the top eight players of the year and reached the semifinals despite being one of the last players to qualify for the tournament.
With former No. 1s and Grand Slam champions Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber still floating around, the WTA is filled with names that can do damage in the biggest tournaments. Rising stars like Marketa Vondrousova, Amanda Anisimova and Dayana Yastremska ensure that no match at the Grand Slams will be easy.
The end of the 2019 season is here, but it’s only a couple of months until a fresh season begins. Women’s tennis is often criticized for being in “parody” because there aren’t any superstars like Serena dominating the top of the women’s game. However, I find the diversity in names to be fascinating; you never know what’s going to happen next in women’s tennis.