Power Ranking the Top 20 Women Going into European Clay-Court Stretch
The most competitive stretch of the WTA's clay-court season begins today (April 21) as the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany gets underway.
It's the first in a series of premier events that lead to the French Open.
Uncertainty surrounds the top ranked players. A tired and injured Serena Williams is 0-1 on clay after being upset at the Family Circle Cup. Victoria Azarenka, also injured, hasn't played since Indian Wells.
Meanwhile, other players have inserted themselves into contention talk and the power rankings.
Unlike the WTA rankings, which include points accumulated last year, power rankings are about who is hot now. The points race in the road to the WTA Championships in Singapore count for more when it comes to power rankings. Then add the intangibles. Who has the momentum, motivation and determination to succeed during this stretch?
Some highly ranked players failed to make cut. This includes Sloane Stephens, who, although ranked inside the top 20, has played miserably this year.
Andrea Petkovic, ranked outside the top 20, has played her way into the power rankings. Who else?
Honorable Mention: Caroline Garcia
WTA Ranking: 51
Garcia was only 17 then. She would go on to struggle in the transition from juniors to the big leagues. But now things are coming together for the young French woman.
Garcia pushed Serena Williams to a three-setter at the Sony Open. She recently captured her first WTA title with a victory over Jelena Jankovic in Bogota. She beat Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys, America's young stars, in straight sets in Fed Cup play. She began the year ranked No. 75. She's currently ranked No. 51 and poised to keep climbing now that she's on clay, the surface she grew up on.
Honorable Mention: Sloane Stephens
WTA Ranking: 17
Reason for Power Ranking: Sloane Stephens remains ranked in the top 20 mostly by default. She's benefited from the failures of others. Once the "next big thing," Stephens finds herself in another early-season slump.
Although Stephens moves well on any surface, her powerful groundstrokes are neutralized on clay. She also continues to hover way too far behind the baseline.
Honorable Mention: Roberta Vinci
WTA Ranking: 20
Reason for Power Ranking: After reaching a career-high ranking of of No. 11 last year, Roberta Vinci's singles career has come crashing back to earth. Partnered with Sara Errani, Vinci has had far more success in doubles. In singles, she has yet to advance beyond a third round this season. She has been bounced in her opening matches several times. She seems exhausted and uncomfortable on the court.
20. Andrea Petkovic
WTA Ranking: 28
Reason for Power Ranking: Andrea Petkovic reached a career-high ranking of No. 9 in 2011. She underwent surgery early last year to repair a torn meniscus in her right knee. She returned within two months and began rebuilding her game.
This year, she has returned to her aggressive play. A surprise winner at the Family Circle Cup, Petkovic is gaining steam and will be a player to watch at Stuttgart, where she received a wild card.
19. Samantha Stosur
WTA Ranking: 19
Reason for Power Ranking: Samantha Stosur could have easily been an honorable mention for power ranking. Like Stephens, Stosur has been underperforming. But unlike Stephens, Stosur has a Grand Slam title and was a finalist at the 2010 French Open.
A streaky player, Stosur can get on a roll in any tournament.
18. Sabine Lisicki
WTA Ranking: 14
Reason for Power Ranking: Sabine Lisicki catapulted up the ranks after reaching the finals at the 2013 Wimbledon. She continues to live off points garnered in that Wimbledon run. Since then, the German power hitter has been inconsistent. As a singles player, she is outside the top 50 in points earned this year. She's found more success in doubles, where she has partnered with Martina Hingis.
17. Caroline Wozniacki
WTA Ranking: 15
Reason for Power Ranking: Caroline Wozniacki recently received attention when she played caddy for her fiance, golfer Rory McIlroy, at the Masters. A few years ago, the former No. 1 would have been making headlines because of her tennis. Wozniacki used to answer questions about when she would win a Grand Slam. Now she's barely relevant in discussions about Slam contenders.
16. Eugenie Bouchard
WTA Ranking: 18
Reason for Power Ranking: Eugenie Bouchard is having a breakout year. The 20-year-old Canadian made the semifinals of the Australian Open and the Family Circle Cup. She opened the season ranked No. 32 and has moved to No. 18, a career high.
But as the tour goes into the difficult European clay-court season, questions may arise about Bouchard's game. How will she perform on clay? She played well on the Eastern clay at Family Circle. If she can transfer that success onto the slower red clay, Bouchard should continue her ascent up the rankings.
15. Carla Suarez Navarro
WTA Ranking: 16
Reason for Power Ranking: Carla Suarez Navarro is Sara Errani 2.0. She's that pesky, feisty player who frustrates the big hitters. The Spaniard is a natural on clay. She considers clay her favorite surface.
One of a handful of women on tour who utilizes the one-handed backhand, Suarez Navarro is as relentless as David Ferrer and deceptively quick like Francesca Schiavone.
14. Alize Cornet
WTA Ranking: 21
Reason for Power Ranking: Alize Cornet is enjoying one of the best years of her career. She is ranked No. 10 in the road to Singapore. A natural on clay, Cornet has a versatile game.
She recently defeated Agnieszka Radwanska en route to the title at Katowice. She upset Serena Williams in Dubai. Although she lost to Madison Keys in St. Louis in Fed Cup play, Cornet will feel at home on clay.
13. Sara Errani
WTA Ranking: 11
Reason for Power Ranking: Like her doubles partner, Vinci, Errani has struggled this season. However, she built her career on clay. A relatively unknown player in 2012, Errani reached the French Open final. She's a tough out on clay. Her weak serve makes her vulnerable, yet few understand how to dig points out of the clay as well as Errani.
12. Maria Sharapova
WTA Ranking: 9
Reason for Power Ranking: Seems like a week doesn't go by without Maria Sharapova announcing another business venture. This time it's a skincare company. These days, Sharapova seems more focused on preparing for her post-tennis career than she is on her game. She's dropped from No. 4 to No. 9 and is second only to Serena Williams in terms of points to defend during the clay-court season.
Unlike Williams, who has a 4,790-points surplus to hold onto the No. 1 ranking, Sharapova leads No. 10 Dominika Cibulkova by only 131 points. With so many points to defend, a poor showing on clay could send Sharapova tumbling down the rankings.
11. Petra Kvitova
WTA Ranking: 6
Reason for Power Ranking: Petra Kvitova has yet to become the superstar many projected she'd be after winning Wimbledon at age 21. With power and talent Kvitova manages to stay in the top 10. However, she often underwhelms.
Kvitova is not a bad clay-court player. She reached the semifinals at Roland Garros in 2012 and has advanced to the fourth round or better three times. It's her Jekyll-Hyde play that makes her frustrating to watch. Her success on clay will depend on which Kvitova shows up: the aggressive big-hitter or the floundering unforced error machine?
10. Flavia Penetta
WTA Ranking: 13
Her return was so difficult that she considered retiring last year. Good thing she kept playing. This year, she reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and Dubai. She won Indian Wells. She's ranked No. 6 in the road to Singapore.
9. Angelique Kerber
WTA Ranking: 7
Reason for Power Ranking: Angelique Kerber, one of the few lefties on tour, continues to show promise. She and compatriot Petkovic handled Australia's best in Fed Cup play.
She's had an up-and-down season. She made it to the quarterfinals in Miami and Sydney and the finals in Doha, but she lost in her first matches at Dubai and Indian Wells.
8. Victoria Azarenka
WTA Ranking: 4
Reason for Power Ranking: Victoria Azarenka has been absent from the tour since she bowed out at Indian Wells with an injury. It's difficult to speculate on what type of shape Azarenka will be in when she returns. Even if she's healthy, she'll be rusty. If she's not 100 percent, how will she be able to play with any confidence? Talent and skill wise, Azarenka is easily one of the best players on tour. However, in her present state, she is simply a non-factor.
7. Ana Ivanovic
WTA Ranking: 12
Reason for Power Ranking: Ana Ivanovic has won two titles this year: Auckland and Monterrey. Her biggest win was an upset over Serena Williams at the Australian Open. Winner of the 2008 French Open, Ivanovic is comfortable on clay. However, she seems unable to put together a string of wins over top-10 players. That's what she's going to have to do during the clay-court season if she hopes to break back into the top 10.
6. Dominka Cibulkova
WTA Ranking: 10
Reason for Power Ranking: Dominika Cibulkova reached the top 10 for the first time in her career earlier this year. She's taken an aggressive approach to staying there. Cibulkova has played in eight tournaments and leads all players in matches won this season.
She reached the finals in Malaysia but lost to Donna Vekic, a 17-year-old ranked No. 95. Can she continue this hectic pace? Or will the clay courts slow her momentum?
5. Jelena Jankovic
WTA Ranking: 8
Reason for Power Ranking: Like Cibukolva, Jelena Jankovic takes on a hefty schedule. Stuttgart will be her 10th tournament this year. The busy schedule is one of the reasons she's managed to hang around the top 10. But the former No. 1 player has yet to win a Grand Slam. Jankovic, 29, is inspired by the late-career success of Serena Williams. It gives her hope that there's still a chance for her.
4. Simona Halep
WTA Ranking: 5
Reason for Power Ranking: The rise of Simona Halep has to be one of the quietest climbs up the rankings in recent history. Other young stars such as Bouchard and Stephens got buzz when they broke into the top 20.
Meanwhile, Halep, 22, broke into the top five with little fanfare. She's a decent clay-court player too. Last year she reached the semifinals in Rome, where she lost to Serena Williams. Perhaps all the media attention on Bouchard and Stephens has allowed Halep to focus on her game.
3. Agnieszka Radwanska
WTA Ranking: 3
Reason for Power Ranking: Radwanska has never made much of a splash during clay-court season, but her consistency has earned her the No. 3 ranking. Although she's only 25, Radwanska carries herself like an aged veteran. She's replaced Wozniacki as the most consistent player in the top 10 who has never won a Grand Slam.
2. Li Na
WTA Ranking: 2
Reason for Power Ranking: Li Na has set her sights on the No. 1 ranking. If she wants to upend Serena Williams' reign at the top, the clay-court season is where she needs to make her move. Williams has to defend Rome, Madrid and Roland Garros. Li has no titles to defend during the clay-court season. In fact, last year, she lost her opening match against Madison Keys in Rome. A solid clay-court season by Li and a woeful showing by Williams would create an interesting storyline going into Wimbledon.
1. Serena Williams
WTA Ranking: 1
Reason for Power Ranking: Serena Williams remains the player to beat on any surface. However, last year, she went undefeated on clay. She is 0-1 this year. After being upset at the Family Circle Cup, Williams said she needed time off. Williams has tons of points to defend. If she returns refreshed and refocused, she'll be her toughest opponent.