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'11 WTA season lacked drama

By Scott Riley,
Tennis Editor


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Is it me or is the WTA lacking the one thing it needs to be a major player on the world's sports stage?

Drama.

Drama comes with the best playing the best. Drama comes with rivalries. Drama comes with nail-biting finishes.

None of which that we saw really on the WTA this year.

Victoria Azarenka
Victoria Azarenka captured the "Fifth Slam" in Miami and was a finalist at the season-ending WTA Championships.
The 2011 campaign finally came to a close this past weekend, with a small- star-power Fed Cup final in Moscow and a no-big-shot tournament in Bali, which seemed like an appropriate way to end a less-than-compelling season.

It's hard to even say who the big winners were this year. Caroline Wozniacki finished the campaign at No. 1 for a second year in a row, this without reaching even one Grand Slam final in that time period.

The 21-year-old Dane co-led the tour with six titles this year, with the biggest one coming at the quality hardcourt event at Indian Wells. But for the second year in a row, Wozniacki failed to reach a major final...yet she continues to remain atop the leaderboard.

It looked like Wozniacki was perhaps getting ready to make her big Grand Slam move when she reached the U.S. Open final in the summer of 2009, but she hasn't gotten back to a major title match since. She reached a pair of Grand Slam semis this season, but you would expect at least that from a "No. 1."

And she's reached only four major semis in her career, going 1-3, and this is from a two-time year-end No. 1?

Wozniacki went 6-2 in eight finals in 2011, but "where's the beef?"

If you wanna look at potential star power on the women's tour, look no further than Czech slugger Petra Kvitova, she of the booming serve and powerful forehand.

The 21-year-old broke through for her first-ever major title at Wimbledon back in July, as she smoked former No. 1 Maria Sharapova in straight sets in an all-blonde-bomber final at the venerable All England Club.

Serena Williams
Serena Williams returned from an 11-month layoff in June and was a U.S. Open finalist in September.
Kvitova, who equaled Wozniacki with six titles on the circuit this year, hit a bit of a rut after running the table at Wimbledon, but she certainly righted the ship by season's end, as she prevailed at a tournament in Linz, Austria, captured the prestigious title at the season-ending WTA Championships in Istanbul by handling Victoria Azarenka in the final, and then led the Czech Republic to its first Fed Cup title as an independent nation by winning both of her singles matches in the Czechs' 3-2 upset victory over a Vera Zvonareva- less host Russia in Moscow on her way to a career-high year-end No. 2 ranking.

What a way to cap your (her) year, with a sizzling 12-match winning streak.

A Wimbledon, WTA Championships and Fed Cup title in a four-month span? That sounds like the best player in women's tennis right now to me.

Note: The 6-foot Kvitova was a dominant 6-1 in seven finals this year, went a perfect 21-0 indoors, and was a flawless 6-0 in her Fed Cup rubbers.

The only player to reach at least two major finals this year, however, was Chinese veteran Li Na. The 29-year-old late-bloomer became the first-ever Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final, which she did at the Australian Open back in January, and became the first-ever Asian player to capture a Grand Slam title when she beat then-reigning champ Francesca Schiavone in the championship match at the French Open.

Unfortunately for the world No. 5 Li, a French Open hangover carried over for the rest of the year, including a stunning second-round exit at Wimbledon and an opening-round setback at the U.S. Open, her second-straight opening- round loss in Flushing.

Li Na
Li Na was the only woman to reach two major finals in 2011 and became the first-ever Asian Grand Slam champion when she captured the French Open.
Li would also fizzle out at the WTA Championships, where she went 1-2 in round-robin play and failed to reach the semis in Istanbul.

She went a dismal 6-9 after winning it all at Roland Garros.

Former No. 1 Kim Clijsters started her 2011 season in the finest of fashions, as the Belgian wife/mother captured her first-ever Aussie Open title and fourth overall Grand Slam championship. It also marked her second-straight major title, as Kimmy was the reigning U.S. Open champ at the time.

But the wheels fell off for Clijsters in the spring, as her '11 campaign was dominated by a series of injuries. Physical issues forced the Belgian star to shut it down for the year in August after she lost an opening match against China's Zheng Jie in Toronto.

The popular 28-year-old star was forced to pull out of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, where she was the two-time reigning champion at the time.

Did You Know: Clijsters hasn't lost a match at the U.S. Open since 2003, when she gave way to fellow Belgian great Justine Henin in the final. She's a brilliant 21-0 there since then, but has also missed the event four out of the last seven years because of "retirement" and/or injuries. Her three trips to the Big Apple since '03 have all resulted in championships.

The Aussie Open marked Clijsters' only title of 2011, and the 13th-ranked star's prospects for 2012 seem to be iffy at best right now.

In addition to the aforementioned Li, another tour veteran also broke through for her first-ever Grand Slam title this year. Samantha Stosur.

Petra Kvitova
Petra Kvitova is all the way up to No. 2 in the world after winning Wimbledon and WTA Championships titles.
The sixth-ranked Stosur reached her first-ever Grand Slam final at the French Open last year, only to be upset by the diminutive Schiavone. But the 27-year- old Aussie made it count the second time around, as she stunned on-the-mend American Serena Williams in the final at the U.S. Open in September. It marked Stosur's only title of 2011 and only the third singles tile of her career.

I have to admit that the U.S. Open title came as a bit of a surprise, as Stosur was a shock opening-round loser at the previous major, at Wimbledon, and certainly didn't head to New York as one of the favorites.

But no one told Sam, as she went 7-0 at the National Tennis Center, including an unlikely straight-set victory over the three-time champion Serena in the final. And Serena WAS among the favorites at that fortnight.

And speaking of Serena, she ended an 11-month injury/health-induced layoff by finally returning to action, in Eastbourne, in June.

Then, after losing to Marion Bartoli in the fourth round at Wimbledon, the currently 12th-ranked American caught fire on the North American hardcourts, rattling off two-straight titles in Stanford and Toronto, and headed into her first U.S. Open in two years with a 12-match winning streak.

Caroline Woziacki
World No. 1 Caroline Woziacki won six titles this year, but failed to reach a Grand Slam final.
The 13-time Grand Slam champion had her winning streak up to 18 when she succumbed to a determined Stosur in the U.S. Open finale, a match that was marred by yet another Serena implosion, this time one directed at a chair umpire at Arthur Ashe Stadium. It marked the second straight U.S. Open for Serena where emotions got the best of her in embarrassing fashion. In 2009, she wound up losing to Clijsters in a semifinal that came to an end when the American was hit with a match-ending penalty point after she verbally assaulted a lines woman following an untimely foot-fault call.

But that's another story, isn't it?

The former No. 1 Serena played in only six events over a three-month span this past summer, with her last match of 2011 being the stunning U.S. Open setback to Stosur.

How will the 30-year-old oft-injured superstar fare in 2012?

Who could possibly know.

Meanwhile, the three-time major champion Sharapova enjoyed her best season in some time, as she reached four finals, captured a pair of titles, and landed in her first Wimbledon final since she stunned Serena at the All England Club as a 17-year-old back in 2004.

Maria's two finals losses this year came at two of the tour's biggest events, Wimbledon and Miami, the latter of which is often referred to as the Fifth Slam," so there's no shame, disappointment yes, but no shame, in those particular setbacks.

The 6-foot-2, 24-year-old Russian glamour girl also appeared in the French Open semifinals and finished the year at No. 4, her best year-end finish since coming in at No. 2 five years ago.

Kim Clijsters
Kim Clijsters captured her first-ever Aussie Open title this year, but was slowed by injuries after that.
Sharapova's been trying to overcome shoulder and elbow injuries over the past couple of years...and I'd say she's doin' a pretty good job of it.

The Russian native, no doubt, has her eyes set on a return to No. 1 next year. And I wouldn't bet against her.

Belarus' Azarenka appeared to make some major progress this year, which she finished at a career-high No. 3.

The 22-year-old Vika reached her first-ever Grand Slam semifinal, which she did at Wimbledon in July, captured three titles, including a lucrative one in Miami, which also marked her second championship in south Florida in three years, and landed in the title match at the WTA Championships, where, unfortunately for her, she couldn't get past the rocketing Kvitova.

Is No. 1 in Azarenka's future?

We can't do a year-in-review piece without talking about the other Williams. Venus, that is.

With all due respect, Venus is starting to become a non-factor on tour.

She finished 2011 at No. 103 in the world, this after opening the year at No. 5. Like her little sister, Venus also suffered with injuries and health issues in '11, and, like the rest of us, she's not gettin' any younger.

After pulling out of her scheduled second-round match against rising German Sabine Lisicki at the U.S. Open, Venus disclosed that she was suffering with an autoimmune disease called Sjogren's Syndrome, an incurable condition that causes fatigue and joint pain.

Justine Henin
Justine Henin retired for the second time in three years back in January.
Venus plans on playing WTA tennis in 2012 as the disease is treatable and can be well-managed.

The 31-year-old Venus played in a mere four events and 11 matches this year (8-3) and hasn't reached a major final since capturing her fifth Wimbledon title in 2009. The seven-time Grand Slam champ hasn't appeared in a major final outside of Wimbledon since the 2003 Aussie Open.

Just like with Serena, it's hard to say what we'll get from Venus next year.

The quietest addition to the women's top 10 this year was likable German Andrea Petkovic (10th). The 24-year-old native of the former Yugoslavia "Petko" reached the quarterfinals at three of the four Grand Slam events in 2011 and picked up a title while reaching three finals. She'd never reached a major quarterfinal before this year.

Petkovic certainly has designs on the top five in 2012.

The 31-year-old Schiavone finished just outside the top 10 (11th), but continues to be a breath of fresh air on the tour. The feisty Italian, unlike many of the players on the circuit, plays with flair and actually demonstrates a personality on the court.

The 2010 French Open champ reached a second-straight finale at Roland Garros this year, only to lose to the hard-hitting Li on the famed red clay in Paris.

Oddly enough, the consistent Schiavone reached only the one final in 2011.

The 14-year pro also reached a quarterfinal at the Aussie Open.

Samantha Stosur
Samantha Stosur stunned Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final to secure her first-ever Grand Slam title.
This year also saw the great Henin retire for a second time in three years. She stepped away from the game for the first time in 2008, despite being the No. 1 player in the world at the time.

But Henin returned to the tour last year in hopes of securing an elusive first-ever Wimbledon title, the only major title she had yet to win.

As it turns out, however, a Wimbledon championship just wasn't in the cards for Henin, who injured her elbow at Wimbledon last year while battling her long-time rival Clijsters, an injury which ultimately led to her second retirement in January of this year.

Henin called it quits for good after losing to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the third round at the '11 Aussie Open, where the sweet-swinging Belgian was the runner-up a year earlier.

Can another Clijsters retirement be far behind?

The 29-year-old Henin is a seven-time Grand Slam champion, including four French Open crowns. She also captured an Olympic gold medal (2004) and Fed Cup championship (2001).

Some critics bemoan the lack of strength and depth in the women's game right now...and I guess I'm one of 'em.

Where have you gone Steffi Graf?

Ace or double fault? Send your comments to Scott Riley at sriley@sportsnetwork.com.

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