Roundtable: WTA year in review
Petra Kvitova is the best player of '11, winning Wimbledon and climbing to No. 2
Veterans Li Na and Samantha Stosur pulled off stunning Grand Slam victories
Caroline Wozniacki remains a suspect No. 1 and Vera Zvonareva has regressed
With the WTA season in the books, SI.com reviews 2011 and looks ahead to next year.
Jon Wertheim: Petra Kvitova is, at once, the WTA's present and future. She deployed her game to devastating effect at Wimbledon and at the year-ending WTA Championships to finish the season ranked No. 2. She also led her country to Fed Cup glory (such as it exists). In these strange times, those qualifications alone are enough to be named season MVP. But it is Kvitova's un-Czeched (sorry) potential that also draws excitement. Go through the prerequisites for success, and she meets them all. She is a 6-foot lefty, age 21, able to clobber the ball, move well, serve concussively and dictate points. She even possesses some feel inside the baseline. While there are still some consistency issues to work through, she is the leading candidate to fill the WTA leadership vacuum.
Bruce Jenkins: Kvitova. I seldom put much stock in the year-end championships, but this year's tournament carried some weight -- and Kvitova made it clear that she's the best and most forceful player in the world. Add that to her Wimbledon title and she had the best year, no questions asked. What's strangely irrelevant now is the No. 1 ranking, and that's been the case since it became largely the province of Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina and Caroline Wozniacki. It's a matter of who steps up when it really counts, and although Kvitova was hardly dominant (note that first-round loss to Alexandra Dulgheru at the U.S. Open), she plays the kind of aggressive, attacking tennis we'll never see from Wozniacki. Kvitova's forehand is a rally-ender when it's on. She has that big lefty serve, always a weapon because it's seen so infrequently on Tour. And while she has occasional difficulty with her approach shots, she has become a confident and capable player at the net.
Richard Deitsch: Kvitova. She won six titles, including her first major and a victory in her WTA Championships debut, and capped a marvelous year by leading the Czech Republic to a dramatic win over Russia in the Fed Cup finals. Kvitova finished with a 60-13 record and went undefeated indoors (21-0). She could overtake Wozniacki by the end of January.
Bryan Armen Graham: Kvitova. Wozniacki and Kvitova finished 1-2 in the year-end rankings, each bagging a Tour-best six titles. But Wozniacki didn't even make it to a major final, while Kvitova broke through for a Grand Slam title and went unbeaten in Fed Cup and the WTA Championships. The big-serving 21-year-old is a star-in-waiting no longer.
Courtney Nguyen: Kvitova. "Del Petra" is her nickname in the blogosphere, and if you follow the WTA, the buzz surrounding the Czech isn't that different from how ATP fans felt about the emergence of Juan Martin del Potro. Coming into 2011, Kvitova was ranked 34th and had one career title. She now has seven career titles, a Fed Cup championship and a No. 2 ranking, only 115 points behind Wozniacki. Had Kvitova not completely gone on walkabout during the North American hardcourt swing (either in the spring or the summer), she could have finished No. 1. (In fact, had Agnieszka Radwanska beaten Wozniacki in their three-set duel at the WTA Championships, Kvitova would have ended the year in the top spot.) In addition, while Wozniacki's defensive style doesn't keep people engaged and No. 3 Victoria Azarenka still lacks firepower, Kvitova has unleashed an exciting game. If she can learn to control her radical mid-match, midseason inconsistency, we're looking at a multiple Grand Slam champion and possible Olympic champion in 2012.
Wertheim: With top players aging, injured or retiring (in the case of Justine Henin), there was a tremendous opportunity for others to step up into the top role. And yet, so many of the likely candidates retreated. Ana Ivanonvic, a former Slam winner, continued to flounder. Svetlana Kuznetsova, a two-time major winner, did virtually nothing. Same for Jelena Jankovic. The list goes on.
Jenkins: Maria Sharapova. Wozniacki wasn't a consideration because I've never expected anything truly significant from her, at any venue. It's an embarrassment that the world No. 1 is known mostly for defense and "hanging in there," and her game, strictly addressed, is dime-a-dozen stuff. Sharapova, on the other hand, should have claimed at least one major this year. She has a titanic edge in mental strength over 95 percent of her opponents, and she knows what it takes to handle the two-week grind. But Sharapova has refused to expand her game, settling for the one-note tedium of baseline blasting, and her serving problems are now mental, not physical. This was her year to win that fourth Slam, and she couldn't get it done.
Deitsch: Outside of Serena Williams' behavior at the U.S. Open? I thought this would be the year Wozniacki would win a major, especially given the lack of giants at the top of the rankings. Though she finished No. 1 for the second straight year, it was a big disappointment that the Dane did not bring home one of the big prizes in a winnable year. It was also disappointing that Kim Clijsters could not stay healthy after winning the Australian Open. The game is better when she's around.
Graham: Wozniacki is the obvious choice here -- happiness on the relationship front notwithstanding -- but spare a thought for Safina. The 25-year-old was the No. 1 player in the world two years ago this month, but chronic back problems led her to announce an ominous-sounding indefinite hiatus in May.
Nguyen: Does anyone remember that Vera Zvonareva was ranked No. 2 for most of 2011? The Russian had a tremendous chance to capitalize on the vacuum at the top and challenge not just for Tour titles but for Slams. Instead, she regressed. In April, she fired coach Sergey Demekhine, who helped her reach No. 2. She then partnered with a revolving door of coaches who couldn't help her find her game. The 27-year-old Zvonareva won only two titles in 2011 and may have missed her best shot to break through at the majors.
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