WTA Annual Preview: Serena Will Share Slam Titles in 2016
Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
After a frantic, exciting and dramatic 2015 season, the WTA tour hits 2016 with the promise of even more top class women’s tennis.
Under a new CEO and with plenty of questions to be answered, 2016 promises to be an enthralling year. 2015 saw the rise of some of the brightest prospects on the WTA tour but Serena Williams remained dominant. However, a fantastic year ended on a sour note with a loss to Roberta Vinci, a defeat that ended the calendar year grand slam hopes.
Flavia Pennetta went on to win her first and only grand slam title in New York, a fairy-tale ending to her career.
That was two of the many moments that defined 2015 in the WTA. Another great year, another roaring success. What will 2016 bring?
Will Serena remain dominant?
The world number one was the dominant force on tour yet again in 2015. Serena’s excellence was capped off by being voted the Sports Illustrated Sports person of the year, another achievement to add to her already massive collection.
But her search for history at the US Open ended in dramatic fashion against Vinci. The calendar year grand slam was denied, as was the chance to match Steffi Graf’s grand slam title record.
The American has not played since that defeat and skipped the final leg of the 2015 season. She will be fresh, hungry and determined in 2016 and that is a scary thought.
But with the younger generation seemingly making a breakthrough and her advancing years, will Serena remain dominant in 2016?
It will be highly surprising if she does not tie Graf at least. However, this could be a year where her strangle hold over the tour will at the very least be loosened.
Halep and Radwanska still searching for first major
The world number two had another solid year but still remains slam-less. In fact she failed to build at all on the French Open final of 2014 and did not impress in the major events.
It was the consistency over the course of the season and results outside the majors that earned Halep the number two ranking, but there were signs of her being overtaken.
The Romanian has to be careful this year and wary of the chasing pack. However she will still be searching for her first grand slam, and having proven herself across all surfaces she might fancy her chances in any of them.
Agnieszka Radwanska has rarely played better tennis than she did at the end of 2015. She overcame the odds and the brink of exit to win the WTA Championships in November- her biggest title to date.
The Pole finished the year as the world number five and if she can build on that momentum, 2016 might be the year she finally claims a major. Wimbledon will be the best opportunity as she is a former finalist there in 2012.
Radwanska is certainly a player to watch in 2016 as it feels like this is the best chance in years she has to claim her first slam.
Next step for Muguruza: Grand slam title?
One of the stories of 2015 was the rise of Garbine Muguruza. The Spaniard made a breakthrough run to the Wimbledon final where she would ultimately fall short against Serena.
After a mini-slump over the American hard court season, Muguruza established herself as one of the worlds best with a final appearance in Wuhan and a title victory in Beijing- her biggest to date.
There are few players who can match the raw power of the world number three and her double handed backhand is one of the best in the game. There is still some ironing out needed around the edges, most notably with the serve, but she made huge strides in a small space of time under new coach Sam Sumyk.
Mentally she seems prepared to win her first major in 2016. Despite her final at Wimbledon, Muguruza’s best chances will likely be in Melbourne or Paris.
Kvitova and Sharapova looking to add to their total
With Serena remaining dominant over the year and injury/illness issues plaguing both players, Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova failed to collect any grand slam titles in 2015.
The Russian had problems with her right forearm and right leg during the summer which kept her out of action. In the early part of the year however, Sharapova proved she is still one of the world’s best, making the final of the Australian open.
Serena defeated her (again) in the final for the 17 straight time. The draught against the world number one is something the world number four will want to erase in 2016, but the main goal will be to add to her 5 grand slam titles. The best chance will likely come at Roland Garros where she has won twice before.
Kvitova had her 2015 plagued by mononucleosis which may have prevented her from bringing her best tennis. The Wimbledon loss to Jelena Jankovic was a surprise, but she did bounce back to end the year strongly by leading the Czech Republic to the Fed Cup title.
The big hitting leftie is twice a Wimbledon winner and will look to add to that collection in 2016, though a grand slam away from sw19 will be the aim.
Will the youngsters continue their breakthrough?
Below the elite of the game there is a crop of young players who are set to make a major breakthrough in 2016.
Leading the pack is 18 year old Belinda Bencic who made headlines with her incredible run to the Toronto title. The Swiss is ever improving and at the young age of 18 still has a long way to go before she even reaches her prime.
Top 10 and perhaps a breakthrough grand slam run will be on the agenda for 2016 for Bencic. Except her rise to continue.
Karolina Pliskova was one of the highest winners in 2015, winning over 50 matches on tour. The Czech is known for her big serve and ice cold temperament on court but there are still improvements that could be made to her ground game and defence.
Pliskova still lacked the big grand slam result last year and barely missed out on the top 10. With some hard work during off season, it is difficult to see the world number 11 miss out on the top 10 in 2016.
Consistency was the key for Elina Svitolina in 2015. The Ukrainian finished the year inside the top 20 and is still rapidly improving. The next step for the 21 year old will be cracking the top 10. Can she do it in 2016?
Madison Keys made a big run to the semi finals of the Australian open in 2015 but failed to really build on that momentum. With her massive game, the American will certainly be dangerous in any event.
With other young players outside the top 20 looking to make their own breakthrough, 2016 could be the year where we see a shift in generation at the top of the game.
And it doesn’t stop there
With victory in Wuhan, Venus Williams proved she still has what it takes to compete at the highest level at 35 years of age. Can she have one last hurrah at a grand slam event?
Lucie Safarova and Angelique Kerber both finished inside the worlds top ten with very different seasons. Kerber was incredible outside of the slams, whilst Safarova made her first major final. Can the German reach the final of the grand slam, and can the Czech go one further in 2016?
There are also plenty of former world number ones looking to rekindle their former glory. Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic and Victoria Azarenka were are far cry from their best in 2015, but it is a new year and a new chance to regain their position amongst the elite.
Australian Open: Serena Williams def. Garbine Muguruza
Roland Garros: Garbine Muguruza def. Maria Sharapova
Wimbledon: Petra Kvitova def. Agnieszka Radwanska
US Open: Maria Sharapova def. Simona Halep
Serena will tie Graf but overall have a year where her dominance is finally broken. Muguruza will claim her first grand slam in her third final at Roland Garros, with Kvitova and Sharapova claiming the other two majors.
- Serena Williams
- Garbine Muguruza
- Maria Sharapova
- Petra Kvitova
- Simona Halep
- Agnieszka Radwanska
- Karolina Pliskova
- Belinda Bencic
- Victoria Azarenka
- Angelique Kerber
But despite not having a stand out season by her standards, Serena will do enough to reclaim her number one ranking with victories at the Premier Mandatories and the Year End Championships. Bencic and Pliskova will enter the top eight with a resurging Azarenka and another consistent year from Kerber rounding off the top 10.