That was the year that was..

Sabalenka and Garcia at WTA finals 2022
Aryna Sabalenka and champion Caroline Garcia at the WTA finals in November 2022

So the WTA season 2022 has finally ended. Since the last entry, the main event was the Year End Championships which saw Caroline Garcia top a terrific second half of 2022 with the singles title and a surprise defeat for dominant number 1, Iga Swiatek. My main interest was in the doubles, but sadly ended in a disappointing defeat for my favourite doubles team, Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova. The pair cruised through the group stages and the semi-final and looked on course to retain the title however the team of Elise Mertens and Veronika Kudermatova pipped them at the post in the match tie break of the final.

Meanwhile, one of the big, talking points at the Championships was the sparse crowd in Fort Worth, Texas. Actually the tournament was of a very high standard. The singles titles was won by Caroline Garcia. After her disappointing defeat in the semi finals at the U.S. Open, it appeared the Garcia bubble may have burst. A split with her coach who had helped transform her game into the exciting attacking play that took her to 3 titles over the summer did not bode well. She was overly aggressive in a round robin match against the undisputed world number one, Iga Świątek and was well beaten. Many predicted however that it would be a Garcia-Swiatek final, but one of the stories of the year has been Aryna Sabalenka. Sabalenka beat Swiatek in the semifinals, grinding out a win against a frustrated looking Swiatek. Sadly, she was just beaten in a very high quality serving match by Garcia in the final.

Aryna Sabalenka has unexpectedly turned out to be one of the most consistent players of the last couple of years. Apart from Swiatek, she has hung around in the top 10 when so many others have dropped out. This time last year, it was Anett Kontaveit, Paula Badosa, Barbara Krejcikova occupying the top slots. Losses of form and injury meant they dropped away. Sabalenka began the year with probably one of the worst case of serving yips seen on the tour for many years. Many fans will remember her Australian swing when she was in tears, not being able to serve, serving underarm, and she led the double faults by an absolute country mile. However, despite all of that Sabalenka just kept fighting, kept trying, celebrating when she only hit 10 double faults! I greatly admire the way that she was not put off by the struggles and just kept battling. She seemed to find more of a rhythm on her serve once again and served superbly to beat Swiatek. 

2022 is undoubtedly the year of Iga Świątek. Eight titles, including two Grand Slams. She has been superb. However, I still have a few concerns about her, especially when she’s not playing well or is being out played. In the Ostrava final, she fought to the very end in a very high-quality match against Barbora Krejcikova. Although you could argue she went to pieces a bit in one game at 3-4 down to give Krejcikova the key break. However, what was notable in the semifinal loss to Sabalenka was the way her game fell apart in the final set. She didn’t seem to know what strategy to use and I think that uncertainty and slight panic is lurking beneath the surface for Swiatek. Still, she’s only 21 years old and it is most likely she is going to be the dominant player for the next five or six years. She surely will only get better and barring injury, will probably add 3 or 4 more slams, minimum.

The other big story of the Year End Championships was the abject failure of the Americans, Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff. Much was made that the two of them had qualified in both singles and doubles for the first time. Good for Coco especially at just 18 to achieve. This was quite something, however it didn’t work out very well for them. Both Gauff and Pegula went three love and lost all their matches in singles and doubles as a team. 0-6 is not a great result! Playing both singles and doubles is not an easy thing to do. This time last year, Barbara Krejcikova also qualified for singles and doubles and she’d also played Billie Jean King cup literally the week before the year end championships. However, she also lost all of her singles matches in her debut event. The difference is that she won all of her doubles matches, five matches at those championships to take the title. I think one big difference is Krejcikova had already established herself as a successful doubles player and won several doubles Grand Slams before she made the singles breakthrough. 

Coco Gauff is undoubtedly talented, but the 18-year-old is not the finished article. Once again at the championships, the technical weakness she has in her forehand were exploited by her opponents. Gauff has worked hard to improve her serve, which was also a liability at one point, and the next challenge is to try to figure out why her forehand breaks down when points get tight. 

Jessica Pegula is somebody who I admire as a person. She seems very down-to-earth, very likable very straightforward. However, I find her game very dull to watch. She has no big weapons and there’s little excitement in watching her defeat more talented opponents by being more solid! She mainly seems to win because she’s steady and consistent and her opponent loses. Her steeliness is admirable, but having won the 1000 event in Guadalajara the previous week, she seemed to run out of steam here. Previous to Guadalajara she had won just 1 WTA 250 event yet was number three in the world. Good play from Pegula, or just inconsistencies from too many others in the top 10? Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the two Americans, the slow court in Fort Worth, Texas didn’t suit them and I also think the round-robin format didn’t suit them. Pegula lost singles and doubles on Day One and I think that put a bit of a downer on her. Perhaps that extended to her doubles partner? I had considered them serious contenders for the doubles title, but they were well beaten in all of their matches. 

One of the other stories of the singles tournament was Maria Sakkari.  Another very likable player, but another player who is highly ranked having precisely one WTA title. Sakkari had lost the Guadalajara final to Pegula the week before. However she came in like a train to the Year End Championships. The slow court actually seem to suit her game. Sakkari is famously a gym bunny with impressive physique, fitness and stamina. She can run for miles and has lots of energy, but the way that she beat all three opponents in the round robin stage was quite surprising.

A number of interesting trends from the singles tournament was that of the eight players there were four debutantes and four had been played the tournament before. It was the four experienced players that made the semifinals. Swiatek, Sabalenka and Sakkari all made their first appearance last year. Caroline Garcia, whose first appearance was five years ago, hadn’t been a factor in the years between. Of the other four players making their debut – Ons Jabeur, Daria Kasatkina, Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff – they all went out in the round-robin stage. What was also interesting was that the two players who had won all of their round-robin matches, Iga Świątek and Maria Sakkari , both lost semifinals. 

The final was a match of really high quality between Garcia and Sabalenka. Both had served brilliantly all week and that continued into the final where Garcia’s greater consistency gave her a tight victory.

My main interest of the Year End Championships was cheering on the doubles team of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova. After winning all three Grand Slams, they played this year they were undoubtedly the number one pair. However, interestingly they have not won the WTA title together. Siniakova has won three with other partners, but as a pair due to injuries they have not played together that much. In Guadalajara, they reach the semifinals, but quite honestly they were playing pretty badly in that tournament. In the quarter-finals they played Ostapenko and Kichenok and I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen them player as badly. The fact that they won it was a bit of a miracle frankly. There was also an interesting situation that when they played the semi-final against Beatriz Haddad Maia and Anna Danilina, it was a decider for who would make the Year End Championships. The other pair competing for the final place was Ellen Perez and Nicole Melichar Martinez, who have probably been one of the toughest pairs Krejcikova and Siniakova played this year. The Czechs only just beat them in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and it was another really tight one in the semifinals of the US Open. Of course Haddad Maia and Danilina, were who the Czechs beat in the Australian Open final, but if they beat them in the semifinals of Guadalajara, it would’ve put Perez and Melichar Martinez into the Year End Championships. Once again, the Czechs lost a match that they should’ve won. In the semi-final, there was a match tiebreak and they missed at least three sitters at the net that they would never miss on any other day. Maybe they were keen to push out Perez and Melichar Martinez as well? 

Anyway onto the Year End Championships and that final. Kudermatova and Mertens look very impressive. Veronika Kudermatova, a Russian player who only just missed out on making the singles field in Texas, was probably the standout player. Her serve and ground strokes were especially impressive and they began like a train. They raced into the lead and were all over the Czechs, racing to a set and a break lead. However the Czechs dug in and looked to have turned it around and repeated their US Open heroics when they took the second set and went 7-2 up in the match tiebreak which is first 10. 7-2 with only three points needed? Should’ve been all over and perhaps Krejcikova and Siniakova felt it was all over as well, because they relaxed or lost their intensity. Mertens and Kudermatova had not been playing, especially well and looked like they were beaten. However, they took their chances better and raised their level while the Czechs dropped theirs. 5 to 10 minutes, where the momentum shifted and I’ll admit I was pretty devastated as I wanted to see them defend that title.

The final event of the season was the Billie Jean King Cup finals in Glasgow. Krejcikova and Siniaková were due to be the core of the Czech team but Krejcikova pulled out while en route after the niggling wrist injury she has had since Tallinn proved to be more serious. Siniakova showed terrific spirit to team up with Vondrousova in the doubles and got a great win in singles over a very tired looking Coco Gauff in singles. However, they were well beaten by Switzerland in the semi-finals with a tired Muchova and listless Karolina Pliskova losing their singles rubbers. Bencic, Golubic and Teichmann made up a strong Team Switzerland and lifted the title. Great Britain were surprise semi-finalists, largely thanks to the little known doubles team of Olivia Nicholas and Alicia Barnett who were a match tie break away from taking the Brits all the way to the finals!

And so ends the season. The big talking points of the season one were:

  • The shock retirement of Ash Barty. Remember Ash won the first two tournaments of the year including the Australian Open, is a clear number one and appears to be on course to dominate. Then out of the blue she announces her retirement from the sport.
  • The subsequent rise of Iga Świątek who takes over the world number 1 crown and dominates in a way that actually Ash Barty never did. A 37 match unbeaten run – the best in many, many years – and 8 titles including 2 grand slams. Iga is the dominant player right now.
  • Serena’s retirement. A legend of the game and the first week of the US Open was wonderful as we got one last Serena hurrah. She raged against the dying of the light, taking out Danka Kovinic and world number 2 Anett Kontaveit before losing in 3 sets to a steely Ajla Tomljanovic. Serena had nothing to lose and had shown little form in her couple of warm up tournaments but to see that fight, that serve, that drive one last time was amazing – and I’m not even a massive Serena fan!
  • The Wimbledon debacle. Russian and Belarusian players were banned due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine so the WTA and ATP stripped away all ranking points, making it a highly prestigious exhibition event. Poor Elena Rybakina, the lowest of low key players, didn’t get the usual 2000 points and ranking boost that kept the likes of Emma Raducanu in the top 10 for a year.

A few other quick talking points from 2022:

  • Emma Raducanu and her many many coaches. 2022 was always going to be a difficult year for the young Brit being such a high-profile player. Everybody wanted to beat her and Raducanu struggled with expectations, injury and fitness throughout much of 2022. She certainly got through a few coaches as well. She is still only 19 so perhaps 2023 will see her start to put some wins together.
  • Top 10 flops – this year was not a great one for Anett Kontaveit, Paula Badosa and Garbiñe Mugaruza. Three players who did very well at the end of 2021.  Anett Kontaveit suffered the effects of Covid and long Covid however and struggled to capture her 2021 form. Paula Badosa began the year well winning the Sydney title, but it was all downhill from there, and she had a pretty poor season on the whole. 
  • Undoubtedly the biggest flop of the year was YEC 2021 champion Garbine Muguruza who barely won a match in 2022. She is hugely lacking in confidence as was seen in her best match of the year, the third round defeat to Petra Kvitova at the U.S. Open. Petra kept playing the ball to her forehand as Mugaruza was so nervy on it, she gave up error after error. I’m not sure where she goes from here, but as a Krejcikova fan, not sure I am that bothered!

My highlights of 2022 are slightly different. Petra Kvitova ended the year back where she belongs as the Czech number one, ranked 16 in the world which is very pleasing to me. The highlight for Kvitova fans was her winning her 29th singles title at Eastbourne but it was also amazing to see her reach the final of the WTA 1000 event in Cincinnati. Petra is win over Mugaruza at the US Open was also a fantastic match. 2022 started depressingly for the Petra fans with so many poor performances thanks to a niggling wrist injury,  but actually ended up being pretty good.

And a personal highlight… of MY LIFE actually, was getting a selfie with Petra. This was just before the Eastbourne run so I like to think I brought her good luck!

Meanwhile it was an amazing year for the doubles team of Krejcikova and Siniakova going 18-0 in Grand Slams, winning the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. That US Open win completed the career grand slam for them. Indeed, the Czech pair have completed a golden, Year End slam in about 15 months! Since Krejcikova lifted the Roland Garros singles title in June 2021, the pair won RG21 doubles, then Tokyo 2020 Olympic gold (held in 2021 due to COVID), 2021 Year End Champions, 2022 Australian Open champions, 2022 Wimbledon champions and then 2022 US Open champions in September 2022. Amazing!

Krejcikova’s victories in Tallinn and Ostrava were also a massive highlight for me. After suffering with an arm injury since February, she was slipping out of the singles conversation a bit. This autumn run saw her beat all the active singles grand slam winners (ok, that is just Swiatek and Rybakina) but also Bencic, Kontaveit and Haddad Maia. It looks like she could be a force again next year. 

One of the more amusing highlights of the Year End Championships was playing ‘Where is Barbora?’  in the singles matches. Krejcikova was in the stands for nearly every match. (Although she didn’t appear to be watching the doubles!) All documented by media reporter Blair Henley (make sure to scroll through the thread!)

One of the very first entries on this blog, was about the time I became a fan of Barbora Krejcikova in the spring of 2021. The rest of the tennis world has been a little slower. Her laconic manner on court and lengthy medical timeouts have some people not appreciating her. But I think fans of Babs as she is affectionately now starting to be known, are more numerous and I have hopes that she can rise from the current position of 21 in the world and back to the top 10. 

Katerina Siniakova has also had a pretty fantastic year. She won six doubles titles, three grand slams with Krejcikova and then tournaments with Bernarda Pera, Storm Sanders and Kristina Mladenovic. As well as that Siniakova also won another singles title in Slovakia where she beat Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the final. Seven titles is only just behind Iga Świątek and Siniakova is the year end doubles number one for the second year in a row.

So what will 2023 bring? For me, I have hopes that Petra Kvitova can finally win her 30th title and I think it could happen. I am looking forward to seeing Barbora Krejcikova get her singles ranking back up towards the top 10 again and win more titles. I’m also hoping for more doubles grand slams from Krejcikova and Siniaková and Kateřina Siniaková making a breakthrough in singles to match her doubles partner would be great.

Hope 2023 brings peace on Earth and decent WTA TV coverage to all!

By Kvittycat53

WTA tennis fan, especially Petra Kvitova, Barbora Krejcikova, Kateřina Siniaková

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