The eight best female tennis players of 2017 are in Singapore preparing to battle for the season-ending WTA Finals starting this weekend. Earlier this week, the yearly awards were handed out. I have my own award winners picked out and have added a few categories of my own in order to better summarize everything we saw in 2017.
Player of the year: Garbiñe Muguruza
In a year where Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka all once again missed huge chunks of time, the top ranking changed hands eight times and may still change one more time.
Thus, a case can be made for many players to win this award. It went to Muguruza as it should have.
Unlike most of the other contenders, Muguruza won at least three matches at every major this year, including winning Wimbledon. She also added another trophy in Cincinnati.
Had Venus Williams won more matches in non-major events, or won one of the two major finals she contested, it would have been hard to deny her. All the other contenders had at least one rough patch this year.
Breakthrough player of the year: Jeļena Ostapenko
The small but mighty Latvian took home the “Most Improved Player” award from the WTA. That terminology has always bothered me. To me, breakthrough signifies the more permanent arrival of a player to the big time. Ostapenko’s first career title was a major.
She lifted the trophy at the French Open despite being unseeded. She backed that up with a run to the last eight of Wimbledon and a solid stretch in Asia this fall. The former Wimbledon junior champ had been a youngster to watch for the last few years. This year, she lived up to that hype and then some.
Most disappointing player of the year: Angelique Kerber
The next two categories are my own. Kerber is a counterpuncher in a sport dominated by big hitters. She overachieved by winning two majors and finishing atop the rankings last year.
Thus, taking a step back in 2017 was predictable. However, not winning a single tournament and finishing the year barely ranked inside the top 20 is pretty dramatic. Moreover, Kerber is not even the top ranked German as the year comes to a close. She simply never looked comfortable on the court this year. She had no answers for the power players this year despite staying reasonably healthy. It will be a long road back for Kerber in 2018.
Match of the year: Maria Sharapova vs. Simona Halep (US Open)
Even now several weeks removed, it is still hard to believe that this was a first-round match. With a five-time major winner like Sharapova playing as a wild card, something like this was possible.
Even so, to have two players who have had so many big matches against each other face off so early was surreal. It felt like a semifinal or final, mostly because of the quality of the match.
Sharapova’s offense and Halep’s defense made for nearly three hours of beauty. The Russian prevailed over the then World No. 2 in three sets for a landmark victory on her comeback from a drug suspension. Halep got her first career victory over Sharapova in Beijing a few weeks later, but this night belonged to Sharapova. Check out some snippets from the emotional night below from the US Open YouTube channel.
Comeback player of the year: Sloane Stephens
What happened to the 24-year-old American this year is just not supposed to happen. Stephens returned at Wimbledon after almost a year away because of a foot injury.
She was ranked outside the top 100. However, back to back semifinals in Canada and Cincinnati brought the former World No. 11 back into the top 100. Still, she was viewed as little more than a dangerous floater at the US Open. Despite that, she caused a string of upsets to take the title, including Venus Williams in the semis.
To go from working as a broadcaster in March to holding your first Grand Slam trophy in September is truly remarkable.
Featured Image by Sporting News
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