Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The 2005 WTA Tour season was highlighted by a host of comebacks, as all four Grand Slam champions returned from either injuries, illness or off form to reach the top of women's tennis once again.
Serena Williams, a former world No. 1, came back from a knee injury to open the '05 Grand Slam season with a victory at the Australian Open. She saved a match point against Russian sensation Maria Sharapova in the semis in Melbourne. It marked Serena's second Aussie crown in her last two tries, as she also prevailed Down Under in 2003 and skipped Melbourne due to injuries in 2002 and 2004. Her run at the '05 Aussie Open gave her career major number seven and also let the other ladies know that she's still a force to be reckoned with on the ever-improving circuit.
As it turned out, Serena's 2005 season would also be marred by injuries (knee and ankle), limiting her to a mere 10 tournaments, with her lone title coming in Melbourne.
Up next was the diminutive Justine Henin-Hardenne, as the former No. 1 charged back onto the scene with a second French Open title in three years. By the time Justine hoisted the French hardware, she was riding a brilliant 24-match winning streak.
The four-time major titlist JH-H was slowed by injuries and illness in 2004, a year in which she still managed to win the Aussie Open and Olympic gold.
The world No. 1 Davenport reached a pair of Grand Slam finals this year.
Henin-Hardenne dropped only five matches this year (34-5), but injuries snuck up on her once again, as she appeared in only nine events all year, winning four of 'em.
And then there was Venus.
It appeared to most that Venus' Grand Slam-winning days were over, considering a rash of injuries and, quite frankly, some choppy play over the past couple seasons, but the former No. 1 reached into her bag of tricks at Wimbledon to win the sport's most-prestigious event for the third time in her stellar career.
The five-time Grand Slam champion Venus was down a match point against Lindsay Davenport at the All England Club, but staved it off on her way to a third Wimby championship in six years in what turned out to be the longest ladies' final in the event's storied history. It was also Davenport that was on the losing end against Serena in the Aussie Open finale in January.
Venus, like Serena, also had her 2005 season cut short because of an injury (left knee).
Let us not feel sorry for Davenport, as the California native still managed to finish atop the WTA rankings for a second straight year and the fourth time in her quality career. The only other person to hold down No. 1 in 2005 was the 2004 Wimbledon champ Sharapova, as Davenport and the popular Russian swapped the spot a couple of times.
Davenport closed out 2005 with six titles and the coveted top spot, but she still hasn't won a major since January of 2000.
Not to be left out, Kim Clijsters enjoyed the best comeback of all in '05, as the former world No. 1 Belgian won a tour-best nine events, including that elusive first-ever Grand Slam, which came at the U.S. Open. Clijsters headed to New York as a four-time major runner-up and had been considered the best player on the tour without a major championship. But she left the Big Apple as a Grand Slam champion and also picked up the fattest check ($2.2 million) in women's sports history for winning the Open and the preceding US Open Series.
The now world No. 2 Clijsters closed out 2004 ranked 22nd in the world and plummeted all the way down to No. 134 in the rankings while being sidelined with a potentially career-threatening left wrist injury. But by the time the WTA Tour Championships rolled around earlier this month, she had a chance to overtake Davenport for the No. 1 spot. Unfortunately for Clijsters, who was two matches away from returning to the top, things didn't work out in Los Angeles, but she certainly gets my vote for comeback player of the year, or just simply player of the year, after piling up 61 wins against only nine losses.
Way to go Kimmy!
The U.S. Open champion Clijsters led the tour with nine titles in 2005.
All four of the majors this year were won by either the Williams sisters or Belgium's dynamic duo of Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters. The runners-up were either Davenport or Mary Pierce.
In the "she finally won a big match" category, Amelie Mauresmo broke through to capture the lucrative season-ending Tour Championships, besting her fellow "Frenchwoman" Pierce in the final at Staples Center. No, it's not a Grand Slam, but the typically nerve-challenged Mauresmo will certainly take the next best thing, which also turned out to be a hefty $1 million payday.
The former world No. 1 (and currently No. 3) Mauresmo headed to LA after securing her first title in nearly six months the week before in Philadelphia.
Way to go Mauresmo!
Let's get back to the comebacks.
Pierce enjoyed a resurgent '05 campaign, not to mention one of the best seasons of anyone this year. The 30-year-old charged all the way up to No. 5 in the world after reaching major finals at Roland Garros and the U.S. Open and the WTA Championships. Sure, she lost in all three, but she was one of only two women to land in a pair of major finals (Davenport) and reached three of the five biggest title matches, when you throw in the season-ending extravaganza. And she also won a pair of Tier I events.
Way to go Mary!
Sharapova didn't pick up any major hardware in 2005, but the Russian star is ranked fourth in the world due to her consistency, as she reached at least the quarterfinals in all 15 of her tourneys this season, including semifinal efforts at three of the four Slams. She lost to the eventual champion at all four majors.
A three-time titlist this season, Sharapova became the first-ever Russian woman to ascend to No. 1, in late August and October.
In 2004, the Russians dominated, accounting for three of the four Slam titlists (Anastasia Myskina, Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova) and the WTA Championships (Sharapova), but they failed to even come up with one major finalist in 2005, despite the efforts of Sharapova. Five of the eight Grand Slam finalists hailed from Russia in '04, compared to zero in '05. Maybe that's because many of the top women weren't healthy a year ago.
FYI, Russia did place a woman in the final at the so-called "Fifth Slam," Miami's NASDAQ-100 Open, but Sharapova lost to the athletic Clijsters; and the Russians, led by two-time Grand Slam runner-up Elena Dementieva, secured their second Fed Cup title in two years by beating France (Mauresmo and Pierce) in the final for a second straight year.
And there was the emergence of some more young stars on the circuit, most notably Czech teenager Nicole Vaidisova and Serbian teen Ana Ivanovic. The 16-year-old Vaidisova compiled a trio of titles and soared up to No. 15 in the world, while the 18-year-old Ivanovic, who was only 17 during the entire season, notched one title and reached the quarterfinals at the French Open. Ivanovic will head into 2006 ranked 16th on the planet.
Also, keep your eyes on youngsters like Russian Maria Kirilenko, Indian Sania Mirza, German Anna-Lena Groenefeld, Serbian Jelena Jankovic and Bulgarian slugger Sesil Karatantcheva.