The new season is upon us and allows us an opportunity to look back on what happened during the past year in order to get a grasp on what may happen in 2011.
Caroline Wozniacki will continue to improve
For her, 2010 was mostly about reaching No. 1 in the rankings. Even if the young Dane didn't reach any Grand Slam finals in '10, she was able, because of her steadiness and frequency of play, to oust Serena Williams from the top-spot. The ranking system was much discussed, mostly because of the comparison of the points given in Grand Slams and in other events. The WTA is now choosing to favor players who play all year long at the expense of the players who pick and choose tournaments. Grand Slams continue to be the main events though -- they're the tournaments everyone want to win and the only record that really remains after a career. Until now, Caroline hasn't won one but let's not forget that she's only 20 years old and is constantly improving.
The half-season of past champions
Serena Williams, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters are three players able to master this world tour when healthy, but they can now only be considered partially involved in their sport. Serena has won so many titles that she has lost all motivation when it comes to play another event than a Slam. As far as her injury is concerned, she has already stated she won't come back before spring due to the foot injury which occurred after her triumph in Wimbledon. I personally doubt she'll be able to play the clay season, so that would mean we'd see her again in England. If it happens, it'd mean she'd have been out for a whole year.
Justine retired only to realize only two years later that she loved and missed the game. In 2010 she was like a roller coaster with more dips than heights. We were expecting a lot more from her comeback. She started very strong with finals in Brisbane and the Australian Open and also won in Stuttgart and s'Hertogenbosch. While playing Wimbledon she injured her elbow in a fall and ended her season. She may get a late start in 2011, which could allow her to be in full shape only for the second part of the season. Henin claims she can't train like usual because of pain from the Wimbledon injury.
Kim Clijsters in the other hand, even if she played way fewer than other, younger players (11 events in 2010) was thrilling. She was much more realistic about her health and stamina than Henin and it paid off. She loves life and being on the court and it shows. At the end, it led her to five titles in 2010, one Grand Slam in New York, two Premier events in Miami and Cincinnati and the year-end Masters. The next year should look the same. She'll keep a light schedule so she still be able to juglehood motherhood and maintaining her standing as a top player.
Vera Zvonareva: title contender?
The Russian reached the No. 2 ranking in 2010 and she's continuing the steady improvement that got her there. She's an interesting player because she's vastly different from the other girls in the way that she's independent-minded and able to manage herself on a daily basis. We often see her spending hours in the fitness room to do specific bodybuilding or stretching work. She's doing it every single day. She's a very determined player and her high ranking rewards all the years of hard work she went through. In my opinion, she'll join Clijster as one of the main threats to Wozniacki's No. 1 ranking.
Elena Dementieva left the Tour, wanting to start a new life and become a mother. The Russian was one of the most serious and motivated players of the WTA during all those years. She was entirely devoted to her sport. Dementieva won't have any regret, even if she was close to win a Grand Slam but never able to achieve it, because she gave herself all the chances to use her full potential.
How serious should we take the improvements of Sam Stosur and Francesca Schiavone?
Those two players improved a lot in 2010. A lot. Getting to the French Open final, they played a different kind of tennis that we are used to. It's closer from what we see on the men's tour: strong serve, inside-out forehand, huge athletic strength for the Australian, and over-the-top topspin, taking the ball early and a strong volleying game for the Italian. They possess the weapons to keep that momentum in 2011.
The disappointments of 2010
I was personally disappointed by Justine Henin's comeback. She was off to an impressive start with those two finals in Brisbane and Melbourne, but then she only did some one-shot wins like in s'Hertogenbosh or Stuttgart. She was unable to keep that level for a whole season and crashed early in the main events.
Victoria Azarenka, 20 years old in 2010 and top 10 member, fell in the ranking and that was a letdown. She was among those players we were waiting for to win a Grand Slam, but nothing happened. After improving her game and her ranking on a steady basis since several years, she didn't take the new step up and went through a lot of injuries in 2010. It has to be noticed that she has entirely rebuilt her staff by changing her coach and fitness trainer at the end of 2009. She may have needed all this time to adjust to a new way of working.
Maria Sharapova was also disappointing. Those who thought she'd be back to the top once her shoulder issues would be resolved were forced to accept a sad reality. The Russian lacks motivation even if she keeps a high level of play when she's giving herself a real chance. Her great modeling career ended when she traded Fashion Week dreams for more Grand Slam ones. She ended the year at a disappointing 18th spot.
We were also expecting way better from Dominika Cibulkova, semifinalist at the French Open in 2009 at 20 years old. She reached No. 13, but parting ways with her coach Vladimir Platenik didn't allow her to go on in improving. She now works with the dup that led Dinara Safina to the No. 1 ranking: coach Zejko Krajan and a fitness trainer. Until now, the results are still in the waiting room and she ended the season ranked 32.
Yanina Wickmayer wasn't able to duplicate the success she showed at the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010. She started great by winning Auckland and reaching the 4th round at the Australian Open after going through the qualifiers. She then delivered an amazing match against Justine Henin. The rest of her season was disappointing after an elbow surgery done before the French Open. She ended ranked No. 23.
Finally, I'd like to congratulate Daria Gavrilova, member of my Academy, for her title of Junior World Champion 2010. The young Russian of 16 years old won this year the Junior Olympic Games and the US Open juniors. A huge bravo to her coach Sylvain Mathias and to her fitness trainer Frédéric Lefebvre. Before Daria, Gilles Muller (2001) and Marcos Baghdatis (2003) were the other members of my Academy to have won that prestigious trophy.