Let’s postpone our weekly Q/A sessions and hand out some awards. We’ll do the WTA this week, and the ATP next week. I have no issue with the media voting for sports honors. But I do have an issue with the media voting for awards behind the cloak of anonymity. So let’s go public with our picks and a few additional categories:
WTA Player of the Year
• Tennis balls are spherical. Tennis courts are rectangular. The tennis off-season is insufficient. Arthur Ashe Stadium is not intimate.…There are some immutable tennis truths. Here’s another: Iga Swiatek is the best player in the game today. The 2022 bundle looks very different from the 2021 bundle. But after the retirement of multiple stars and the decline of others (yes, Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep; but also Barbora Krejcikova and Emma Raducanu) Swiatek got her battlefield promotion in 2022. She honored it winning two of three majors and going 67-9 —including a run of 37 straight—on the year.
WTA Doubles Team of the Year
Gabriela Dabrowski / Giuliana Olmos
Coco Gauff/Jessica Pegula
Lyudmyla Kichenok / Jelena Ostapenko
Barbora Krejcikova / Katerina Siniakova
Veronika Kudermetova / Elise Mertens
• Tip of the visor to Pegula and Gauff for committing to the act, even as they cracked the top ten in singles. More of that, please. But let’s follow the rankings and go Barbora Krejcikova (also a fine singles player, of course) and Kateřina Siniakova who, most recently, defeated Caty McNally and Taylor Townsend to win the US Open.
WTA Most Improved Player of the Year – Player who finished inside the Top 100 and showed significant improvement throughout the season.
Beatriz Haddad Maia
• Lots of worthy candidates. Haddad Maia, who was playing $60k ITF events a year ago and is now ranked No. 15. Brazil has long been under-represented in the sport’s highest echelons. No more. But we will go off the menu and vote Jessica Pegula, the epitome of good-to-great. Two years ago, she was outside the top 50. She started the Australian Open at No. 21. She is now No. 3 and got there not with a spectacular points haul result but with steady, consistently winning tennis. At age 28. “Inspiration” is one of those criminally overused sport words. But countless players must draw it from watching her mid-career ascent.
WTA Newcomer of the Year – Player who made Top 100 debut and/or notable accomplishments during the season.
• It’s always a little wave, where to draw these lines. Who, exactly, is a newcomer? Fruhvirotva, 17. is a classic party-crashing upstart. Commit the name—and spelling to memory. Niemeyer who is 23, but won 39 matches and her ranking is No. 63, but even without the points for her Wimbledon quarterfinal run. But the vote here goes to Zhengage 20, who won 38 matches, nearly $1 million, and is up to No. 25.
WTA Comeback Player of the Year – Player whose ranking previously dropped due to injury or personal reasons and current season’s results helped restore ranking
• Not a lot of strong choices—perhaps happily, given that this is an award predicated on injury. A write-in for Taylor Townsend—she of the winning personality and winning lefty tennis—back from maternity leave and getting it done in singles and doubles.
Here are some categories we’ll add:
• Serena Williams. Lifetime achievement. “Thanks for all you’ve done.” Something. You can’t have a proper retirement ceremony without acknowledging her. Here’s our Sports Illustrated tribute.
Wimbledon Champion Award
• Hard to believe we need this, a special acknowledgment to the winner of the grandest of event. But also hard to recall a major champion getting less fanfare. For the record Elena Rybakina won “The Championships” by mixing power, accuracy and poise. She received no points—which is why she is, improbably at No.22, absent from the WTA Finals. That she is Russian-born and (kinda) Russia-based adds a layer of awkwardness to it all. But give the woman her due!
Match of the Year
• We’ll fill in the oval for Ash Barty beating Danielle Collins 6-3, 7-6 in the Australian Open final. This is admittedly, a cheap way to acknowledge Barty, a worthy No.1 and surefire Hall of Famer, who retired in February while inhabiting the sport’s penthouse. But a larger point to consider: we think of “great matches” as who-wants-it-more? Affairs that are 5-5 in the decisive set. But oftentimes context is important. Barty is No.1. She is playing her home major as the top seed, trying to become the first homegrown product since the 70s to win. She also knows this might be her last ever pro match. Imagine the mental strength she summoned to win that second-set tiebreak.
Coach of the Year
• David Witt? Awesome job. Issam Jellali? Well done. Diego Moyano? Congrats.* But unless there are extenuating circumstances—eg Caroline Garcia sharing ways with Bertrand Perret late in the season—if you coach the top player, you are the top coach. Which means the award goes to Tomasz Witkorowskiaide-de-camp to Iga Swiatek.
* Hat tip the WTA for taking steps to address this issue.
Quote of the Year
• Ons Jabeurtake it away.
Q. Today is a historic day in the United Kingdom. Our prime minister resigned. The man who wants to replace him, the leader of the opposition, was here in the Royal Box watching you. Do you think he made the right decision?
ONS JABEUR: I have no idea. I’m the Minister of Happiness
Shot of the Year (a/k/a the Radwanska)
• Ladies and gentlemen, the wandwork of So Jabeur.
Profiles in Courage Award
• Given tennis’ clumsiness in making a coherent statement condemning Russia and vile Vladimir Putin without creating collateral damage, Daria Kasatkina’s outspokenness has been particularly welcome.
2023 WTA Issues to follow….
• Will Naomi Osaka rekindle her flame? Will Iga Swiatek loosen her grip? Will Coco Gauff win her first Major? Will Venus Williams—for the first time in her career: the active player with the most Major titles—continue onward? Will the WTA get its balance sheets in order? Or will it return to China?
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