Roundtable: WTA year in review (cont.)
Wertheim: Sports swing between eras of dominance and eras of parity. Tiger Woods rules the PGA Tour. Then he departs and the last 13 majors have been won by 13 different golfers. Still, the WTA's "volatility index" in 2011 was astonishing. Players won and then disappeared. They disappeared and then won. Sometimes because of injury, sometimes because of indifference, Serena played in six tournaments -- low even by her standards. Clijsters won the Australian Open, injured herself in April and played only three matches after the French Open. The endearing Li Na won the French Open -- triggering, one hopes, a tennis boom in the world's most populous country -- and then struggled to win matches for the next six months. Three of the top four in the rankings (Wozniacki, Sharapova and Azarenka) not only failed to win a major among them but also produced only one Grand Slam final appearance (Sharapova at Wimbledon).
Jenkins: Samantha Stosur summoning the will power to defeat Williams at the U.S. Open. This was a done deal going in: Serena in a runaway. Stosur had admitted her mental frailty in key moments, and even her punishing forehand was going to be overcome by Serena's. Instead, Stosur hammered out a very convincing win -- and she admirably retained her edge after Serena, in that unfortunate exchange with chair umpire Eva Asderaki, got a surge of support from the crowd. Also in this category: Kvitova's Wimbledon win and the emergence of Julia Goerges, suddenly in the company of Andrea Petkovic and Sabine Lisicki among the up-and-coming Germans.
Deitsch: Stosur's run at the U.S. Open. Yes, the field was watered down, but no one expected the ninth-seeded Stosur to make her way through the draw, and her destruction of Serena in the final, an exhibition of flawless, attacking tennis, was the most surprising big-event result of 2011. It was only her third career singles title and she took out arguably the greatest big-match player ever.
Graham: Few gave Stosur much of a chance at the U.S. Open after an ignominious first-round exit at Wimbledon. Even fewer thought the 27-year-old Aussie could derail the Serena express in the final -- with the American favorite buoyed by a New York crowd on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. But just when Serena's 14th Grand Slam title seemed all but a foregone conclusion, Stosur played the match of her life and beat back the overwhelming favorite in straight sets.
Nguyen: Li's French Open title. It was surprising enough that Li made the Australian Open final, where she acquitted herself well in a three-set loss to Clijsters. She wouldn't win a match again until April, but pairing with coach Michael Mortensen right before Roland Garros seemed to change everything. She had back-to-back semifinal appearances in Madrid and Rome, and then dropped only two sets on her way to the title in Paris. Li was as surprised as anyone. She hates clay. She hates running, she famously told the media. But how's this for an impressive and shocking run: Li beat Kvitova, Azarenka, Sharapova and defending champion Francesca Schiavone to lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen. If anyone predicted this, I would like to talk to you about some lottery numbers.
Wertheim: Four years ago, Anna Chakvetadze turned 20, reached the U.S. Open semis, infiltrated the top five and looked like a future Slam contender, if not champion. Then it all went bad. That winter six thugs broke into her Moscow apartment, beat her father and made off with $300,000 in cash and jewelry. Reports that Chakvetadze was "uninjured" took a narrow definition, pertaining to her physical well-being. Emotionally, she was, understandably, damaged. So much so that she was through as a factor in tennis. With injuries and a strange case of vertigo conspiring against her as well, she tumbled out of the top 10, top 50 and eventually top 100. She currently clocks in at No. 231 and hasn't played since Wimbledon. She made news recently, though, when she announced her candidacy in the "Right Cause Party" of Russia's lower parliament. (Marat Safin is also seeking one of the 450 seats.)
Jenkins: Christina McHale and Sloane Stephens at the U.S. Open. There wasn't much buzz around any of the young American players at the start of the tournament, and people were especially cautious after the utter collapse of 2009 heroine Melanie Oudin. These two players didn't just score impressive wins; they showed a ton of resolve and athleticism. Worth mentioning: Agnieszka Radwanska, who pulled off an extremely difficult task -- breaking away from her oppressive father -- to become an infinitely more consistent player; and Chakvetadze, who found energy and motivation in Russia's political arena after a career scarred by that horrible off-court incident and a series of dizzy spells.
Deitsch: We come in praise of Patty Schnyder, the workmanlike lefty who retired (quietly) from the Tour after 17 years. Sure, she never won majors the way her fellow Swiss Martina Hingis did, but she was embedded in the top 10 for 94 weeks (reaching a high of No. 7) and won 11 titles. She'll be missed.
Graham: The steady ascent of Stephens, the 18-year-old from Plantation, Fla., who became the youngest member of the top 100 with a pair of hard-fought victories at the U.S. Open. Stephens brings an effervescent energy and wry humor to the often droll Tour. She simply kills it on a Twitter feed with an absorbing blend of Confucian profundity, junior-year poetry and fortune-cookie wisdom.
Nguyen: Alisa Kleybanova's cancer diagnosis. I was disappointed by how little attention the 21-year-old Russian received upon being diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in July. Kleybanova, who reached a career-high No. 20 in February, announced the news on her 22nd birthday and has been in Italy undergoing chemotherapy and rehabilitation. I was blown away by her positive attitude about the situation. All you had to do was log on to her official site and see her match schedule: "Next Match: Alisa vs. Hodgkins lymphoma, Perugia, Italy." There's no doubting her character and resolve.
Wertheim: For six weeks or so last summer, we were treated to a representation of Serena's inimitable career. She won two events on hardcourts, simply blasting away the field, slugging winners and competing with deathly intensity. (She permitted Sharapova only four games; Azarenka six; Stosur six.) She withdrew from the third event, Cincinnati, officially with an injury, unofficially with a case of I-wanna-go-to-the-Kardashian-wedding, and then everything went to hell in the U.S. Open final. But if Serena has a singular ability to polarize fans, she also has unique talent for bouncing back. It says here she is not done winning majors. She may be 30 years old. She may be out of the top 10. She may be prone to both injury and indifference. But she is still Serena Williams. And no one else is. Watch for her next year. At least sometimes.
Jenkins: The arrival of Caroline Garcia and Bojana Jovanovski. Maybe I'm too harsh on Wozniacki, but I'm drawn toward real power, the type of weapon that made Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Martina Navratilova and the Williams sisters such great champions. Garcia was nothing short of a revelation at the French Open as a 17-year-old, nearly taking down Sharapova and drawing raves from both men and women on Tour. Her huge, stylish forehand is to die for, and she'll reach the fourth round of a major next year. As for Jovanovski, you have to question the future of anyone who boards a plane for the Carlsbad tournament and winds up in Carlsbad, N.M. But the 19-year-old Serb has massive power, just waiting to be harnessed. She'll make a big splash at some point.
Deitsch: Wozniacki will win a major. Finally.
Graham: Venus Williams retires ... but not before winning Olympic gold at the All England Club.
Nguyen: What constitutes a bold prediction for the WTA? Wozniacki winning/not winning a Slam? Sharapova/Serena winning/not winning a Slam? No pick seems sure and every pick seems foolish. So my story to watch in 2012 isn't so much a prediction as a question: Are the Germans for real? Petkovic had a fantastic year to finish in the top 10. Lisicki rose from No. 218 in April to close the year at No. 15. Angelique Kerber made a surprise run to the U.S. semifinals. And Goerges rounded out the bunch with a title in Stuttgart to end right outside the top 20. They'll make a formidable Fed Cup team, for sure, but are we seeing a German resurgence or was 2011 just a blip? Lisicki has the game to win Slams, particularly at Wimbledon, but she's struggled to stay injury-free. All credit to Petkovic, who has built herself into the best player she can be, but has she topped out? As for Kerber and Goerges, I'm more inclined to "sell" than "hold." CEO Stacey Allaster didn't hide the fact that the WTA needed these women to do well in order to regain traction in the German market, something the Tour hasn't had since the days of Steffi Graf. The Germans are powerful and fun to watch with personality to spare. No doubt that continued German success would be good for the game.