2009: Serena's back on top

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It was yet another entertaining year on the WTA Tour, and perhaps no one was more entertaining than one Serena Williams.

Unfortunately for Serena, the most entertaining thing she did was berate that line judge at the U.S. Open.

The powerful American stole the Open spotlight for all the wrong reasons after directing some choice expletives at the linesperson, who was on the bad end of a verbal tirade after calling an untimely foot fault on Serena with a big match in the balance.

World No. 1 Serena Williams is seen here chewing out that line judge during her U.S. Open semifinal loss against Kim Clijsters.
Serena's opponent that night was Kim Clijsters, who wound up winning that semifinal bout via penalty point, and then went on to capture the U.S. Open championship in only her third event back in her successful return to the tour.

The 11-time major champion Serena could still face a suspension as a result of that unfortunate incident in the Big Apple.

Blown-gasket behavior aside, Serena did have a strong year on the court. She finished as a year-end No. 1 for only the second time in her career (2002), thanks in part to a pair of Grand Slam titles, at Melbourne and Wimbledon, and a season-capping victory at the Tour Championships in Doha, where she outdueled her sister Venus in the final.

Serena actually held the No. 1 ranking on a couple of different occasions in 2009, flip-flopping with overachieving Russian Dinara Safina throughout the year.

The 28-year-old Serena went 50-12 with three titles, three BIG titles, in 2009.

Note: Serena also set a new women's record by tallying more than $6.5 million in prize money, and she's now the all-time leader in women's sports with over $28.5 million in career earnings.

Dinara Safina is seen here with WTA Tour CEO Stacey Allaster at the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships.
Safina, meanwhile, held the No. 1 spot for a good part of the year, despite having not won a major title. She did, however, reach Grand Slam finals at the Aussie and French Opens in 2009, only to lose badly to Serena and fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, respectively.

The 23-year-old Safina closed out the year at No. 2 after going 55-16 with a trio of titles.

Third on the women's list is the sturdy Kuznetsova, who quietly continues to be a fixture inside the Top 10. She, not Serena or Safina, managed to capture the French Open, by upsetting Safina in what has become a customary all-Russian finale. It gave Kuznetsova her second career major title in her fourth Grand Slam final. She also captured a U.S. Open title back in 2004.

The 24-year-old "Kuzy" came in at 43-16 with three titles this year and has now placed inside the Top 10 five out of the last six campaigns.

No. 4 on the women's circuit is happy-go-lucky Dane Caroline Wozniacki, who reached her first-ever major final this year, losing to the comeback queen Clijsters in Flushing.

The 19-year-old Wozniacki surprisingly led the tour with 67 match wins (67-24) and tallied three titles during her breakthrough campaign.

New Top-10 stars Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki share some pleasantries at the players' party at the Championships in Doha.
And speaking of Clijsters, the former world No. 1 star, of course, came out of retirement and stunned the tennis world by securing a second career U.S. Open title. We figured she'd be among the contenders heading into the Open, but who knew she could win it all with such little match preparation heading in?

The 26-year-old Kimmy was a solid 13-3 in her triumphant return, highlighted by the huge U.S. Open victory. Does she have even more major wins in her future?

The currently 18th-ranked Clijsters' success seemed to inspire her fellow Belgian Justine Henin, who also announced that she will return to the tour, in time for the start of the 2010 campaign in January.

The seven-time major champion Henin, like Clijsters, is also a former world No. 1. Actually, "Juju" was still No. 1 in the world when she stunningly announced her retirement from the tour in the spring of last year.

Henin's biggest motivation for the comeback is Wimbledon, the lone Grand Slam title she's never won. Can she do it? Sure she can.

Speaking of former No. 1s, popular Serb Jelena Jankovic ended 2008 and opened 2009 atop the rankings, but some injury problems and an understandable lack of focus while her mother was battling an illness forced the '08 U.S. Open runner- up to slip down the ledger.

The 24-year-old "JJ" settled for a 46-19 mark and two titles in '09.

Kim Clijsters captured her second career U.S. Open title in only her third tournament back after re-joining the WTA Tour this past summer.
Jankovic will enter 2010 ranked 8th in the world, but she's better than that, and I would expect a return inside the Top 5 next season.

The Top 5 is currently rounded out by steady Russian slugger Elena Dementieva. The 28-year-old 2008 Olympic gold medalist, who is still seeking that elusive major championship, went 55-18 with three titles this year and has now been a member of the year-end Top 10 six of the last seven years.

Talk about consistency.

Following Dementieva you have the former top-ranked Venus and Belarusian hothead Victoria Azarenka.

The 29-year-old Venus went 38-16 with a pair of titles this year and made an incredible eighth trip to a Wimbledon final (5-3), where she succumbed to Serena in a rematch of last year's title bout, which was won by "V."

Note: Venus paired with Serena to capture four doubles titles this season, including three of the four Grand Slam events, with only the French Open crown escaping their grasp.

Meanwhile, Azarenka's season was highlighted by a big win at the so-called "Fifth Slam" in Miami, where she shocked Serena in the final for the richest win of her young career.

The 20-year-old Azarenka posted 45 wins against 15 losses and nailed down three titles in '09.

Azarenka and the aforementioned Wozniacki are the newest members of the year- end Top 10.

Another former No. 1 endured a lost season of sorts, as Maria Sharapova was mostly unsuccessful in her return to action after being sidelined by a shoulder injury for nearly 10 months.

Melanie Oudin, seen here representing the United States in last week's Fed Cup final, defeated four straight Russian opponents during her tremendous run at the 2009 U.S. Open.
The 22-year-old three-time major titlist superstar, currently ranked 14th on the planet, went a respectable 31-9, but managed to title only once in '09.

Can Maria bounce back in 2010?

And where have you gone Ana Ivanovic? The former world No. 1 and former French Open champ seems to be slip-slidin' away. The glamorous Serb entered 2009 ranked 5th in the world, but ended it at No. 22 after going just 24-14...and titleless.

The 22-year-old had some nagging injuries, but Ana's biggest problem right now is the confidence, or lack thereof. Can she get it back?

Note: Ivanovic is currently dating former Top-5 golfer Adam Scott, who has also plummeted in the rankings of his particular sport.

Another highlight during the '09 season was Melanie Oudin's amazing run at the U.S. Open. The American teenager made it all the way to the quarterfinals by beating no less than four straight ultra-talented Russian opponents, including Dementieva in the second round, Sharapova in the third and former Top-10 star Nadia Petrova in the fourth. In her victories over Dementieva, Sharapova and Petrova, the Georgia native overcame opening-set losses en route to unlikely three-set wins.

A weary Oudin ultimately gave way to the rising Wozniacki, 6-2, 6-2, in the quarters, but what a run it was!

Oudin closed out the year at No. 49 in the world, and, unfortunately for the U.S., she's the highest-ranked American after the mighty Williams sisters. After Oudin, the next-highest-ranked American is 90-year-old Jill Craybas, at No. 77. (Sorry, Craybas is actually only 35, but that's still pretty darn old for the women's tour.)

It was an unfortunate end to the season for promising Belgian Yanina Wickmayer, who surprised most by soaring all the way into the U.S. Open semifinals in September. Too bad she grabbed her biggest headlines last week when she was suspended from the tour for one year after failing to report her whereabouts to anti-doping officials on three separate occasions.

Promising Belgian Yanina Wickmayer will have to sit out a year after being suspended for avoiding anti-doping officials this past season.
The 20-year-old world No. 18 Wickmayer can appeal the suspension, but my guess is she'll be out for a year.

On a more positive note, age-defying Japanese Kimiko Date Krumm returned to the circuit full-time and is now inside the Top 100, at No. 82. At 39 years young, the ancient Date Krumm is the second-highest-ranked Japanese player, behind Ayumi Morita (78th).

I didn't find this item to be particularly interesting either.

No women's year-end review would be complete without a mention of the Fed Cup, which was captured by Italy for the second time in four years last week. The Italians, led by Flavia Pennetta and fellow veteran Francesca Schiavone, blasted an undermanned American team, 4-0, in Reggio Calabria. Team USA was spearheaded by Oudin, as the 17-time champion Americans played without the services of Serena and/or Venus, who, I guess, had better things to do last week.

Note: The U.S. is the all-time leader in Fed Cup titles, but hasn't secured the chalice since 2000, or 10 years heading into next year...its longest-ever drought.

Speaking of Pennetta, she enjoyed one of the better campaigns on the circuit, as the 27-year-old finished the season at No. 12 after quietly amassing 57 wins (57-24) and claiming a pair of titles.

And I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the WTA Tour changed leadership this year, as chairman and CEO Larry Scott announced his resignation in order to take the job as commissioner of the Pac-10 Conference. Stacey Allaster, the WTA's president since 2006, jumped into Scott's vacated roles in July.

See you next year, ladies!

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Scott Riley
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