'10 WTA season was ho-hum

By Scott Riley,
Tennis Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Is it me or was the 2010 WTA season lacking in drama?

It certainly wasn't a great year if you like rivalries, considering Serena Williams and Justine Henin barely played. Those two greats met only once, and that came way back in January.

Sure, Serena captured two more major titles, Francesca Schiavone became the first-ever Italian woman to win a Grand Slam event, and uber-nice Kim Clijsters was a repeat victor in New York, but there just didn't seem to be quite enough going on among the ladies in '10.

The year ended with a new No. 1, as 20-year-old Caroline Wozniacki usurped a mostly-idle Serena atop the ledger, despite failing to reach even one major final. Wozniacki became the first-ever Dane to ascend to the top, but she's only ever reached one Grand Slam final, and that resulted in a loss against Clijsters at last year's (the 2009) U.S. Open.

Justine Henin's comeback season was cut short by an elbow injury suffered at Wimbledon, which is still the only Grand Slam event she has never won.
The year got off to a fine start with the return of Henin, who "retired" from the sport (for 18 months) in the spring of 2008, at which time she became the first-ever standing No. 1 to call it a career.

Juju returned with a near bang, as she reached the final in her first major back -- the Aussie Open in January. Unfortunately for the former world No. 1, she was unable to beat Serena when those two stalwarts renewed their bitter rivalry.

And that would mark their only meeting of the year.

Henin would compete in only nine events all told in '10 (32-7), including a stunning fourth-round loss against Aussie Samantha Stosur at the French Open and a fourth-round setback at the hands of her long-time fellow Belgian rival and fellow comeback queen Clijsters at Wimbledon, which is where Henin's season ended and the only Grand Slam event she has yet to win. Henin also lost to Clijsters in a final at an Aussie Open tune-up in Brisbane in January.

FYI: Henin had won 24 straight matches at Roland Garros before falling to Stosur.

During the first set of her Wimbledon bout against Clijsters, Henin took a nasty spill onto the famed grass at Centre Court, suffering a right elbow injury that would slow her mightily for the rest of that three-set match, which was won by Clijsters. Henin would not play again the rest of the year, as she suffered ligament damage in the elbow.

Serena Williams captured her fourth career Wimbledon and 13th overall major title in July.
The 28-year-old 12th-ranked Henin did manage to reach four finals (2-2) in nine tourneys, securing titles in Stuttgart and Den Bosch. And she's set to return in January.

Serena, meanwhile, played even less than Henin...but she certainly made in count.

The tenacious American appeared in a mere six events (25-4), but two of 'em resulted in major title numbers 12 and 13. She topped Henin in Melbourne and whipped surging Russian Vera Zvonareva in the Wimbledon finale to surpass the great Billie Jean King on the women's all-time Grand Slam champions list in what would be her last official match of 2010.

Shortly after titling at the All England Club, Serena suffered some bad cuts on her right foot on some broken glass in a German restaurant. She actually played in one more match after that, an exhibition one in Brussels, where Clijsters and Henin were supposed to meet in the "Battle of Belgium." But Henin was forced to skip the event because of her injury, and Serena filled in that week, losing in straight sets against the former No. 1 Clijsters in front of the biggest crowd to ever watch a tennis match -- 35,681 at Brussels' King Baudouin Stadium. It broke the previous record crowd of 30,472, which came at the 1973 "Battle of the Sexes" spectacle between the aforementioned King and Bobby Riggs at the Houston Astrodome.

The Serena-Clijsters match was umpired by the legendary Martina Navratilova, who'd revealed back in April that she was battling breast cancer.

Caroline Wozniacki piled up a WTA-best six titles and finished the year at No. 1.
Due to her inactivity, Serena, who was honored as the 2009 Laureus Sportswoman of the Year in March, dropped from No. 1 down to No. 4 by season's end.

We all know she's better than that.

Where were we?

The defensive specialist Wozniacki led the WTA with 62 match wins (62-17), including 17 against top-20 competition, and became the 20th woman to reach No. 1 thanks to a tour-leading eight finals and tour-leading six titles in 2010. Unfortunately for the Dane, her two biggest finals wound up resulting in losses, at Indian Wells and the WTA Championships.

The amiable Wozniacki, who also led the tour with nine trips into semifinals, finished at No. 1 despite reaching only one Grand Slam semi (U.S. Open) this year. And she failed to reach the quarters at half of the '10 Slams.

If it sounds like I'm picking on Caroline, I'm not. I just don't see where she's the world No. 1 at this point.

Vera Zvonareva reached Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals and climbed up to No. 2 in the world.
Zvonareva also wound up having an outstanding season, as she was one of only two players (Serena) to reach a pair of major finals in '10 and was second only to Wozniacki on the tour with 49 match wins (49-18). The 26-year-old Russian soared all the way up to No. 2 in the world by virtue of her runs at the majors. She landed in her first-ever Grand Slam final at Wimbledon back in July (losing to Serena), and made it two straight major finals by reaching the U.S. Open one in September, only to lose to the now-three-time U.S. Open champion Clijsters.

Zvonareva was terrific in reaching no less than six finals this season. Unfortunately, she went a dismal 1-5 in said finals, with her only victory coming in a small event in Pattaya City (which is in Thailand).

Speaking of Clijsters, the world No. 3 stud could certainly make a case for No. 1 right now. The 27-year-old wife and mother is the most-recent major champion, with her run in New York, and she also closed out the '10 campaign by winning it all at the prestigious eight-woman season-ending WTA Championships, where she "upset" the reigning "No. 1" Wozniacki in the finale in Doha.

In addition to winning the U.S. Open and WTA Championships, two of the five biggest titles on the women's tour, Kimmy also won championships in Brisbane, Miami and Cincinnati. And Miami is also one of the bigger events on the circuit, having been dubbed the "Fifth Slam."

Kim Clijsters was joined on-court by her daughter Jada after securing her second straight and third overall U.S. Open title.
Sounds like a No. 1 to me.

Clijsters played in only 11 events this year and was a perfect 5-0 in finals. She was a stellar 40-7 overall, including a brilliant 10-1 mark against top-10 competition and a sparkling 32-4 mark on her preferred surface, hardcourts.

With all due respect to the talented Wozniacki, it seems like Clijsters or Serena should be No. 1. Sorry, Caroline, but you backed into the top spot based on all the biggest results this year.

Moving on.

The 5-foot-5 (and that's pushin' it) Schiavone shocked the tennis world by going all the way at Roland Garros, where she upset the hard-serving Stosur in an inspirational final. Schiavone entered the French Open draw as only the 17th seed and left Paris with the most unlikely of major championships. Never before had an Italian woman reached a major final, and Schiavone titled in Paris less than three weeks before her 30th birthday.

Prior to the '10 French, Schiavone had basically been a non-factor on the tour, having won only three titles since turning pro 12 years ago. Heck, she was best known for having gone winless in her first eight career finals before she finally broke through at a little tournament in Bad Gastein (Austria) in 2007.

Francesca Schiavone was a shock French Open champ and became the first-ever Italian woman to capture a Grand Slam title.
For the record, Schiavone's 4-2 in her last six finals since that 0-8 start, including two titles this year. In addition to her French Open shocker, the Milan native also won a championship in Barcelona back in April and reached her second career U.S. Open quarterfinal in September during a real nice 40-22 campaign. The world No. 7 scrapper also helped Italy beat the host United States (3-1) in last week's Fed Cup final in San Diego. That championship marked the Italians' third Fed Cup one in five years.

Serena's older sister Venus continues to be a force on the tour, just maybe not a major-title-winning one.

The now 30-year-old hasn't reached a non-Wimbledon major final since the 2003 Aussie Open. Venus captured a fifth career Wimbledon title as recently as 2008, but she hasn't been able to push through at the other three majors for the better part of the last decade.

Venus landed in one Grand Slam semifinal (U.S. Open) and two major quarterfinals (Aussie Open and Wimbledon) this season, so she's clearly still a top-5/top-10 performer, she just doesn't seem to have enough game at this point to raise the heavy hardware.

The fifth-ranked former No. 1 did manage to capture titles in Dubai and Acapulco and reached two other finals this season, one in which she went 38-7, including a torrid 15-match winning streak at one point. She also climbed as high as No. 2 in the world for the first time in seven years.

Way to go, V.

Stosur, meanwhile, enjoyed her best-ever season, highlighted by her first-ever trip into a Grand Slam final (Paris). She reached two other finals this year, winning in Charleston (Zvonareva) and losing in Stuttgart (Henin). There's no shame in losing to the current world No. 2 (Zvonareva) and former world No. 1 (Henin) in those particular setbacks.

The 26-year-old Stosur quietly ended the year at No. 6 on the planet, thanks to a French Open finale, an appearance in the U.S. Open quarters, and a quality 47-19 record.

Maria Sharapova is a three-time major champion and former world No. 1, but she hasn't been much of a factor at the Slams over the last two years.
How about Maria Sharapova? Is she still on the tour?

The 23-year-old former No. 1 failed to reach even one major quarterfinal this season, and has appeared in only one quarterfinal over her last nine Grand Slam events.

The bankable 6-foot-2 Russian star -- the highest-paid female athlete on the planet according to Forbes magazine, grossing $24 million in 2009 -- did manage to reach five (yes five) finals this season, going 2-3. She titled in Memphis and Strasbourg (yawn) and dropped finals in Birmingham, Stanford and Cincinnati en route to a 33-11 overall mark.

Sharapova is currently ranked a respectable 18th in the world, but you know she still has her eye on the top 10.

Did You Know?: Maria is engaged to LA Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic, he of Slovenia.

The biggest loss of the year was suffered by the WTA and its fans, as Elena Dementieva retired from the sport after losing to Schiavone in the round-robin portion of the WTA Championships two weeks ago. Dementieva gave a tearful on- court farewell speech in Doha, where several of her fellow players watched and wept along with the classy Russian.

The return-of-serve specialist Dementieva left the game as one of the best- ever players to never win a major title. She came close in 2004 when she reached both the French and U.S. Open finals, but she lost to compatriots Anastasia Myskina and Svetlana Kuznetsova, respectively, in those all-Russian affairs.

Elena Dementieva was one of the most popular players on the women's tour, but she never did win that elusive major championship.
The 29-year-old Dementieva leaves with 16 career WTA titles, including her cherished Olympic gold medal from the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, where Russians swept the women's singles medals (Dementieva, Dinara Safina, Zvonareva). She also captured a Fed Cup title in 2005 and is the winningest- ever Russian woman in the event, going 19-5 in singles for her career. In 2005, Dementieva almost single-handedly led Russia to the title, with all three points coming from the Muscovite, as she beat Mary Pierce and Amelie Mauresmo in a pair of singles rubbers, and then won the deciding doubles match, alongside Safina.

Dementieva reached a French Open semifinal this year, but was forced to retire from a bout against the eventual champion Schiavone because of an untimely calf injury. Many thought Elena would beat Schiavone that day and perhaps go on to capture that elusive Grand Slam title that weekend in Paris, but it just wasn't meant to be.

The blonde bomber went 41-18 and tallied two titles in four finals in her final season on the international circuit.

The steady Dementieva was still ranked inside the top 10 when she hung up her sneaks (No. 9) and resided inside the top 10 for the last eight years, eight solid years for the oft-smiling star. Her high-water mark was No. 3 in the world, last season, and she reached as high as No. 5 in doubles.

Good luck, E!

Honorable mention this year goes to two other top-10 women -- No. 8 Serb Jelena Jankovic and No. 10 Belarusian Victoria Azarenka. The 25-year-old Jankovic went 38-23, including a semifinal appearance at the French, a big title at Indian Wells, and a runner-up finish in Rome, while the 21-year-old Azarenka went 42-20, including a major quarterfinal appearance in Oz, titles in Stanford and Moscow, and runner-up finishes in Dubai and Eastbourne.

Dropping out of the top 10 this year was the former No. 1 Safina, the two-time major champion Kuznetsova and Agnieszka Radwanska.

And how 'bout China, which placed a pair of women -- Li Na and Zheng Jie -- in the Aussie Open semifinals, giving the Chinese two players in the final four of a major event for the first time ever. Li would go on to give China its first-ever top-10 player before settling for a year-end No. 11 spot.

The 2011 WTA season will get underway January 2 at the Aussie Open tune-up in Brisbane, and the '11 Oz Open will fire up January 17 in Melbourne.

See you then, mate.

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