7 Predictions for the 2012 WTA Season
The 2012 WTA season will be starting soon as the women's main draw in Brisbane is scheduled for a New Year's Day start. That event is part of the build-up to the 2012 Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the year, a tournament that will come from Melbourne Park.
With the new season dawning, here are several predictions for what I think will happen during the 2012 season, with a primary focus on the current top players on the women's tour.
Petra Kvitova Finishes the Year Ranked No. 1
Petra Kvitova was my predicted winner of the 2011 Wimbledon championships following the first round of that Slam, and I think she has the tools to win multiple Grand Slams in the next six to seven years of her career.
She's my favorite to win the 2012 Australian Open and since the Czech star is barely behind Caroline Wozniacki in the rankings right now, I think Kvitova will take over the world No. 1 ranking with the updates following the Aussie.
However even failing that, Kvitova is still my pick to finish 2012 ranked No. 1 in the world. She's a player for all surfaces who promises to stop players like Francesca Schiavone, Na Li and Samantha Stosur from winning more Grand Slam titles.
Caroline Wozniacki Wins a Grand Slam
Caroline Wozniacki, the current world No. 1, has a little bit of a tag. Much like Dinara Safina and Jelena Jankovic in years past, Wozniacki is the top-ranked player in the world but has never won a Grand Slam tournament.
Wozniacki's solitary Grand Slam final appearance came at Flushing Meadows in 2009, when she fell to Kim Clijsters, a victory for the Belgian that brought her a second title from the US Open.
When one looks at Wozniacki's Grand Slam chart, she appears to be a clear hard-courter. Her US Open finalist showing in 2009 was followed up in 2010 and 2011 with semifinal appearances.
Her only other Grand Slam semifinal appearance came in Melbourne last season as she pushed Na Li to the brink of elimination before faltering in three sets.
Wozniacki's best chance for a Grand Slam title in 2012 is either in Melbourne or New York. I don't see her winning both, but she's in the habit of hanging around those draws so late, that I think she should win one of them this year.
An important point to remember with Wozniacki is that she is still just 21 years old. The feeling I've got with a lot of tennis pundits is that they've prematurely reached a verdict with the Dane.
Make no mistake: the jury is still out.
Wozniacki is an improving player and I think she ends the Grand Slam goose egg in 2012 at either the US Open or the Australian Open, maybe even the French.
Na Li Ends Season out of Top 25
Na Li could best be described in one word: satisfied.
The reigning French Open champion had an incredible first half of a season in 2011 as she made the Australian Open final, she gave Kim Clijsters a run for her money in that final, and then the Chinese star won at Roland Garros.
However, you have to think that Li's successes either took a toll on her body or they quenched her ambitious thirst.
Immediately after winning the French Open, Li's results started to tumble. Between Roland Garros and the end of the season, Li suffered losses to all of the following players: Monica Niculescu, Simona Halep, Petra Cetkovska and Daniela Hantuchova.
Additionally, Li only won one match in the US Open and Wimbledon combined and her current ranking of world No. 5 is largely reflective of things she did in the first half of 2011 as opposed to an entire season.
When a player accomplishes a milestone goal, as Li did when she won the French, it is natural to have a let-down and it happens to a lot of players.
However, Li will be 30 soon and if she doesn't play her absolute best tennis right away, she could be out of the top 10 soon.
Li has 1,870 ranking points to defend in Sydney and Melbourne, points that are very unlikely to be defended. China's top player could be tumbling down the rankings soon, and re-ascending won't be easy against a field of talent that keeps getting relatively younger.
Serena Williams Fails to Climb Higher Than Third
Serena Williams made her comeback from injury in 2011 in time for the grass court season. However her result at Wimbledon, a fourth-round loss to Marion Bartoli, was far below the American's normal standard as she had won the title at the All England Club four times.
While her poor 2011 result could be attributed to rust, you do have to wonder what happened to Williams in the final of the 2011 US Open.
Williams entered the final with 13 Grand Slam titles to her credit. Her opponent, Samantha Stosur, had zero.
Additionally, Stosur, a player who is normally terrible at finishing tournaments, only had two WTA titles to her credit in her entire career as she entered the Flushing Meadows final.
Every single perspective on the match implied a Williams victory, but it made no difference. It was Stosur in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3, in what was a boring Grand Slam final.
That lackluster performance has to be eyebrow-raising, and it was the last we saw of Williams, since she did not play a match after losing at Flushing Meadows.
She is the most proven player on tour, but if she's declining at all then the 29-year-old could have trouble re-capturing the world No. 1 ranking or even the world No. 2 ranking.
Additionally, Williams, even when she is healthy, has not always been the most dedicated player when it comes to contesting tournaments.
There have been times in her career when pundits have questioned her interest in tennis, and she definitely has other interfering interests besides the sport.
I think she'll do enough damage this year to climb back into the top five, but I don't think she'll claim the top spot or the second spot.
I also predict that she won't get through a pre-match interview at the Australian Open without seeming annoyed, bothered or short-tempered toward the interviewer.
Petra Kvitova Wins the French Open
Petra Kvitova picked up six titles in 2011, with the most prestigious one being Wimbledon.
While most of her other titles came on the hard-court surface, there are two reasons to have solid faith in Kvitova's abilities on clay.
Firstly, the Czech star won Madrid, a Premier Mandatory clay court event on tour. But secondly, Kvitova was the only top player who was able to challenge Na Li at the 2011 French Open.
Li, the eventual champion at the event, sailed smoothly after the first round of the French with the exception of her match against Kvitova, one that went three sets.
Of all the Grand Slam tournaments upcoming in 2012 (men's and women's), the women's French Open is considered the most wide open. Justine Henin is now long retired, Na Li is fading, and there are few who think Francesca Schiavone can do much as she is considered ninth favorite for the event (Source: bet365).
Serena Williams hasn't won the French Open in an eon now, and the tournament feels as though it's ripe, once again, for a first time champion.
Kvitova exited in the fourth round last season but I think that was due to an unlucky draw. If she had been on the opposite side of Li at Roland Garros 2011, I think the two would have met in the final.
Look for Kvitova to win the clay court Slam this upcoming season with Samantha Stosur the most credible threat to prevent that from happening.
Svetlana Kuznetsova Makes a Comeback
Svetlana Kuznetsova isn't exactly off the radar on the women's tour; however, her ranking of world No. 19 is a little low for her caliber.
Twice a Grand Slam winner, the 26-year-old has not been so threatening in recent seasons, and 2011 had few highlights.
The Australian Open has never been a stage that Kuznetsova has shined on too brightly, and I do not expect anything but a middle-round exit from the Russian (third round, fourth round or quarterfinals).
However, you can't keep a good player down on the WTA Tour, and I'm looking for Kuznetsova to get back into the top 10 in 2012 with both a solid clay-court season and an impressive late hard-court season.
At this point, she is a good 'sleeper' for the Roland Garros title.
Agnieszka Radwanska Makes a Grand Slam Semifinal
Agnieszka Radwanska is a stellar player in the WTA events and in late 2011 she came on strong, winning both WTA Tokyo and WTA Beijing.
However, Radwanska is a little bit of an underachiever at the Grand Slam level. The 22-year-old, who is currently ranked world No. 8, has not yet won her quarter in a Grand Slam tournament.
If her September and October results are a sign of things to come, then Radwanska should make a Grand Slam semifinal in 2012.
As a well-rounded player, a run that deep could happen in any tournament, but the Aussie and Wimbledon are historically her best majors.